The Knuble Dozen: His 12 best moments as a Capital

Posted on: Friday 2/17/2012 5:42pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - As the Capitals prepared this week for their upcoming four-game road trip, head coach Dale Hunter would not confirm if or when Mike Knuble will return to the Caps' lineup. Knuble has been a healthy scratch in three straight games - all Washington losses - and suggested this week that it might be time for a change of scenery.

On Thursday, Capitals General Manager George McPhee said he had no plans to trade Knuble and that he expects him to be back in the lineup this weekend.

Knuble has been a Capital since signing a two-year deal with the team July 1, 2009 -- the first day of free agency and just three days shy of his 37th birthday. He has since played 201 games for the Capitals (through Thursday), recording 56 goals and 104 points. He's also played 13 playoff games with the Caps, notching four goals and eight points.

If the end for Knuble in Washington is in fact near, the 39-year-old will be missed both for his on-ice contributions and his off-ice leadership. Below is a look at some of Knuble's more memorable moments from his tenure with the Caps.

Feb. 7, 2010 - Knuble's Snowmageddon OT winner: With much of the District covered in nearly two feet of snow, the Capitals played host to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Super Bowl Sunday 2010.

The Capitals were looking to extend their franchise record 13-game winning streak, but quickly fell behind 2-0 in the first period and later 4-1 in the second period.

It would take an Alex Ovechkin hat-trick and a dramatic third period comeback to pull the Caps even. The game eventually went to overtime where Knuble would score one of the biggest goals in his nearly three full seasons as a Capital.

Knuble parked himself in a familiar spot atop the crease and took advantage of an Ovechkin one-timer that caromed off the goal post. Before Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury could corral the puck, Knuble was already poking it through his pads.

It was Knuble's 21st goal of the season, and sent the Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy as the Caps earned their 14th straight win, the third longest streak in NHL history.

The game-winning goal also completed the second Gordie Howe hat-trick of Knuble's 15-year career. Earlier that afternoon, just seconds after Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams hit Alex Ovechkin from behind, Knuble came to his captain's defense and dropped the gloves with Adams for his first fight in seven years.

Knuble was given five minutes for fighting, two minutes for instigating and a ten-minute misconduct for instigating.

Add it up and Knuble finished the day with a career-high 17 penalty minutes while the Caps ended the day with a franchise-high 14 straight wins (a stretch in which Knuble had seven goals and 18 points).

March 24, 2010 - The shootout winner vs. Pittsburgh: By the time Knuble arrived in D.C. in 2009, there was little that the savvy veteran had not experienced in his NHL career. Scoring in a shootout was among the exceptions.

That all changed late in the 2009-10 season when Bruce Boudreau looked to Knuble to help win the skills competition against the Penguins.

Knuble was 0-for-4 in his career, but Boudreau "played a hunch" and tapped Knuble when a fourth shooter was needed.

"I thought my night was over when I didn't play in overtime," Knuble explained. "It's tough because you're not expecting to go and you can tune out a little bit, kind of looking around the crowd and then he taps you and you're like 'oh' and you have to try to center yourself again."

Knuble would beat Fleury high glove side, as the Capitals became the first team in the five year history of the NHL shootout to come back from a 2-0 deficit in the skills competition itself.

"[Knuble] just went in and did what he does which is shoot the puck and he scored a goal," Boudreau said. "I just felt that he was going to score."

April 11, 2010 - Knuble ends season on hot streak: The Capitals fell in a shootout to Boston in their 2009-10 regular-season finale, ending the regular-season with a franchise-best record of 54-15-13 (121 points).

Knuble scored in each of the final three games of the regular-season, but came up short in his bid to become the fourth Caps player that season to crack 30 goals. In 69 games in his first year with the Caps, Knuble finished with 29 goals and 53 points. Knuble spent much of the 2009-10 season playing alongside Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and his 29 goals were tops among all players aged 34 or older.

Dec. 18, 2010 - Locker room speech captured by HBO: When speaking of his own experience as an NHL captain, Alex Ovechkin often references the support he's received from the veteran Knuble.

Knuble has been a respected voice in the Caps' locker room since his arrival in 2009, but the public rarely sees that side of him. That changed when fans were given a brief glimpse into one of Knuble's locker room speeches that aired on HBO's 24/7 Penguins-Capitals series.

With the Caps looking to snap a seven-game losing streak, they trailed Boston 3-0 at the first intermission. That's when Knuble took the floor with the previous week's 7-0 loss to the Rangers still fresh in his mind.

"It will not [expletive] turn into a 5-0, 7-0 [expletive] laugher where they're [expletive] giggling getting out of their [expletive] mess here," Knuble said while pacing the room.

"We're [expletive] down 3-0, and we are going to come back and we're going to [expletive] win this thing. We're not [expletive] going in the tank. That's enough right there. That's [expletive] more than a year's worth. It's not going to happen again."

The Caps would still lose their eighth straight game but as Knuble promised, the game did not turn into a laugher. The Bruins barely held on for a 3-2 win as the Caps outshot Boston 26-2 in the third period alone. One night later, the Caps snapped their losing streak in Ottawa.

Jan. 1, 2011- Knuble Scores at Winter Classic: With the Capitals trailing the Penguins 1-0 midway through the second period at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, Knuble scored the first of Washington's three unanswered goals.

Very much like his overtime game-winner against Marc-Andre Fleury the previous February, Knuble was parked atop the crease and able to jam a loose puck between Fleury's legs.

The power play marker extended Knuble's scoring streak against Pittsburgh to ten games and gave the Caps some much needed momentum in the Winter Classic. The Capitals went on to win the game 3-1.

Feb. 6, 2011 - Knuble scores against Pittsburgh… again: If there's one thing Knuble will be remembered for during his time with the Capitals, it may be his strong play against the rival Penguins.

From his overtime goal on Super Bowl Sunday 2010, to his first career shootout tally, to his power play marker at the Winter Classic, there is something about facing the Penguins that seems to bring out the best in No.22.

On Super Bowl Sunday 2011, Knuble again scored against Pittsburgh, albeit on an empty net, as the Capitals beat the Penguins 5-2.

It was Knuble's seventh game against Pittsburgh since joining the Caps in July 2009, and the savvy veteran had now scored a goal in all seven.

Knuble's goal-scoring streak against the Penguins would end two weeks later in Pittsburgh, but his overall point streak against the Pens would extend into the 2011-12 season.

March 13, 2011 - Knuble's OT winner beats Chicago: Two of the NHL's best met last March at Verizon Center when the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks (who entered the game 8-1-1 in their previous ten) paid a visit to the Capitals (9-1-0 in their previous ten).

Once again Knuble played the role of overtime hero, showing tremendous patience and great hands in getting the puck over the glove of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.

Knuble's goal earned the Capitals their eighth straight win in what would become a season-long nine-game winning streak. Knuble has not scored a game-winning goal since.

March 22, 2011 - Another 20-goal season: Knuble became just the eighth active player to record eight consecutive 20-goal seasons when he beat Sergei Bobrovsky in the Capitals' 5-4 shootout win in Philadelphia.

Knuble finished with a goal and two assists against the Flyers -- his second straight three-point game after scoring twice and adding a helper against the New Jersey Devils four nights earlier.

The back-to-back three point games were part of Knuble's strong finish to the 2010-11 campaign in which he'd record 13 points over the final 14 games.

April 5, 2011- Knuble's shootout clincher earns Caps the Southeast Division title: With the chance to clinch a fourth straight Southeast Division title, the Capitals went to a shootout against the Toronto Maple Leafs with the game tied 2-2.

When none of the first three shooters on either team could find the back of the net, extra shooters were needed.

More than a year after picking Knuble for a shootout attempt because of a "gut feeling," Boudreau sent Knuble to shoot again, this time in Toronto. This decision, Boudreau explained, was based on Knuble's birth certificate.

"I was going down the [roster] oldest to youngest and I had [Jason] Arnott up," Boudreau said. "I looked down and said, 'Oh geez Knuble's older.' So I went with him. There's no science or anything involved in that tonight."

Knuble would beat Toronto goalie James Reimer high glove side for his second career shootout tally. More importantly, it gave the Capitals the win and secured a fourth straight Southeast Division crown.

Sept. 18, 2011 - Knuble impresses at Caps conditioning test: Much had been made during the 2011 offseason about the grueling conditioning test that would greet the Capitals on the first day of training camp.

The test included 900-foot sprints to be done five separate times with little time for recovery in between. The 39-year-old Knuble impressed many by finishing ahead of most teammates in all five heats.

"Knubs was flying," said teammate Brooks Laich. "I was right beside him trying to keep up to him… I don't know where he got it from."

General Manager George McPhee also chimed in with some humor.

"Mike Knuble was remarkable at 39 or 49 or whatever he is," McPhee joked. "It's a great example of never judging a player based on age. You judge them on how they play and how they perform."

Five months earlier, McPhee signed Knuble to a one-year extension, assuring that he would return to D.C. for the 2011-12 campaign.

Oct. 13, 2011 - Knuble extends streak vs. Penguins: Knuble extended his scoring streak against the Penguins to 13 games with a second period goal in the Caps' 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh on Oct. 13 (12 goals and 16 points over that stretch).

"You might focus on Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin, but Knuble has been the guy at the net that's hurt us the most," Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said prior to that Oct. 13 meeting.

"That's something we have to be aware of because he's been the guy, really, who's scoring the big goal at the net. If he's not scoring the goal, he's got our goalie back in the crease while one of the more skilled guys is putting it in the net."

Knuble was finally held without a point against Pittsburgh in their next meeting, Dec. 1, but his numbers against the flightless fowl remain his highest against any NHL team.

In 68 career games against the Penguins, Knuble has 31 goals and 46 points.

Dec. 20, 2011 - Knuble plays in his 1000th NHL game: Knuble became the 269th player in NHL history to play 1,000 career games when he took the Verizon Center ice Dec. 20 against the Nashville Predators.

Not bad for a guy who did not play a full NHL season until he was 26, and whose goal was once to reach the work stoppage in 2004 with 400 games just to assure himself of a better pension.

"It's something I've been looking forward to for the last couple of years," Knuble said of reaching the milestone. "If you get up there in the high [800s] you start to think it's possible. … You have to stay healthy, have good fortune and be in the right situation."

At 39 years and five months, Knuble will become the second oldest player to reach 1,000 games (behind only Grant Ledyard), and after notching 50 goals while in his twenties, the power forward has scored 221 times in his thirties.

"It was like night and day," Knuble said. "I've lived two different careers through all this."

Knuble was honored before the opening faceoff with his teammates all sporting No.22 jerseys during pregame warm-ups and a video tribute on the scoreboard. Knuble was also given the traditional 'silver stick' that goes to all players who reach the 1,000 game milestone and a sea doo to be used on the lake at his Michigan summer home.

The Capitals went on to beat the Predators 4-1.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Former teammate: Ovie's decline about 'work ethic'

Posted on: Wednesday 2/15/2012 6:24pm

AP: ea9a8944-a092-4727-81eb-305fd4a91a90
FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2011, file photo, Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), of Russia, looks on during warm ups before an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators in Washington. Ovechkin is skipping the NHL All-Star game, announcing that decision a day after getting a three-game suspension from the league for a hit on an opponent. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

ARLINGTON, Va. - Even before Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin declined his invite to the NHL All-Star Game while serving a three-game suspension, there were whispers the former Hart Trophy winner wasn't deserving of a trip to the midseason classic in the first place.

For the second straight season, Ovechkin's numbers are well below his career averages. The four-time, 50-goal scorer is on pace for career-lows of 34 goals and 65 points, and the team he captains remains on the outside of a playoff position.

"I think a lot is frustration," said Olaf Kolzig, a former Ovechkin teammate and current Caps' associate goaltending coach. "Obviously he's not scoring at the clip that he's accustomed to. Part of that is not having Nicklas Backstrom [sidelined since Jan.3 with a concussion] in the lineup."

While Backstrom's injury may have something to do with Ovechkin's recent slide, an argument can be made that Ovechkin has played below expectations for the last year-and-a-half.

Along the way, Ovechkin's ice-time has dropped, new systems have been implemented and coaches have come and gone. The once high-flying Capitals have been replaced by a team that aims to win games 2-1. Still, Kolzig says the onus is on Ovechkin himself to return to his old form.

"For Alex, it's a work ethic. He just has to get back to being the way he was in his younger days and maybe not get wrapped up too much in the rock star status that comes with being Alex Ovechkin."

Kolzig is in his first year as a Capitals coach, but has worked primarily with the team's minor league affiliates in Hershey and South Carolina. The longtime Caps goalie made a rare appearance at the team's practice facility Wednesday to work with Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth. Kolzig also weighed in on the differences in Ovechkin's game today as compared to earlier in his career.

"Alex has gotten away from playing hard, no-nonsense, honesty type of hockey -- exuberant hockey -- that he displayed the first three years that he was in the league.

"I think that's what endeared him to everybody. Then all of a sudden, he was still the same Alex, he was celebrating a certain way but what endeared him to everybody now made him look like a villain. Part of it is he's probably feeling not as loved as he used to be. So he brings that on himself sometimes."

Kolzig was teammates with Ovechkin from 2005 to 2008, and says players and coaches around the NHL have made the appropriate adjustments to better defend the league's 42nd leading scorer.

"Teams have kind of got a handle on him on maybe how to close the gap on him and not allow him those fantastic one-on-one goals that he's used to scoring."

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Capitals Ovechkin skipping NHL All-Star game

Posted on: Wednesday 2/15/2012 6:17pm

AP: f708c653-4969-46b6-8faf-5974ed062b1b
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates with goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) after defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 in NHL hockey game action on Wednesday, Jan.18, 2012, in Montreal. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)
Ben Raby, wtop.com
Twitter: @BenRaby31

WASHINGTON - One day after learning of his three-game suspension for an illegal hit on Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has decided against participating in this weekend's NHL All-Star festivities in Ottawa, Ontario.

"My heart is not there," said Ovechkin, who has rarely shied away from the spotlight throughout his seven year career. "I'm suspended so why should I go?

"I love the game, it's a great event and I'd love to be there, but I'm suspended and I don't want to be a target. I feel I don't deserve to be there right now. If I have to be suspended, I have to be suspended, that's why I give up my roster spot."

General Manager George McPhee said that he supports Ovechkin's decision but remains disappointed with the suspension itself.

"I was surprised and disappointed," McPhee said of the NHL's decision. "I didn't anticipate that he'd be suspended for three games. We presented our case to the league yesterday and I thought we did real well but we didn't get the result we wanted."

McPhee said he was anticipating nothing more than a fine or at most, a one-game suspension.

Ovechkin is considered a repeat offender having twice been suspended during the 2009-10 season. In Nov. 2009, Ovechkin was suspended two games for a knee-on-knee hit on Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason. In March 2010, Ovechkin received another two-game ban for a hit from behind on then-Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell.

When Ovechkin returned from his second suspension during the 2009-10 campaign he appeared to play more conservatively for the remainder of the regular season. McPhee hopes that Ovechkin's game remains unchanged when he returns Feb. 4 in Montreal.

"We're concerned about it certainly," McPhee said. "But when he comes back, we want him to play the way he's always played. We want him to be relentless, we want him to score goals and we want him to be physical. Unfortunately, our game has changed recently. Where we are with hits in today's games has changed a lot in the last couple of years… Ovi, like a lot of players is trying to adjust, but it's hard."

Added Ovechkin: "My game is to play physical. My game is to play hard. I don't think it was a dirty hit. Yeah, I jumped but I think he don't get hurt, I don't get two minutes. I don't think it was three-game suspension."

Ovechkin will begin serving his suspension Tuesday night as the Caps host the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. He will also miss games next week in Florida and Tampa Bay.

Had he played in this weekend's All-Star Game, Ovechkin would have tied Peter Bondra's franchise record with his fifth career All-Star Game appearance.

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Catch the Capitals and Bruins tonight at 7pm. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 won Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Neuvirth disappointed with non-start against Sharks

Posted on: Wednesday 2/15/2012 6:14am

AP: 5de2482e-7aa0-4fb0-b809-51ec2a427c66
Neuvirth said he expected to start Monday night. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth arrived at the Verizon Center Monday afternoon prepared to start that night's game against the San Jose Sharks.

Neuvirth was never actually told by head coach Dale Hunter that he would start for the second straight day, but with No.1 goalie Tomas Vokoun battling the flu and unable to take part in the morning skate, Neuvirth can be forgiven for assuming he would play in Vokoun's stead.

"No one told me anything," Neuvirth explained Tuesday, "so I just figured I haven't seen Tomas on the ice and I took the morning skate. I just figured I was going to play."

Upon arriving at the Verizon Center though, Neuvirth was told otherwise. The Capitals had recalled Braden Holtby from the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears earlier in the day, and the decision had been made that Holtby would make his NHL season debut.

"It is tough, but what can I do?" Neuvirth said. "At least if I knew 'Holtsy' was going to get the start, but, you know, no one told me, so I was getting prepared for the game. And when I showed up, I found out I was not playing. It was tough to swallow."

The Sharks beat the Capitals 5-3, with Holtby stopping 30 of 35 shots. The 22-year-old returned to Hershey Tuesday morning with Vokoun feeling well enough to return to practice.

Neuvirth's numbers this season have been rather mediocre -- a 6-9-3 record, a 3.07 goals-against average and an .894 save percentage -- but his play in recent weeks gave reason for optimism that the 23-year-old was growing more confident.

In his last four starts, including Sunday's 3-2 loss in New York, Neuvirth was 1-2-1, with a 2.50 GAA and .918 save percentage. He also had a 31-save shutout in Montreal Jan. 18. Hunter apparently wanted to see more.

"He's a professional," Hunter said of Neuvirth, "and it's one of those things where if he was standing on his head every night, would Braden be playing? No. So it's always judged on how you play."

It's been nearly two months since Neuvirth last played at home -- a 4-1 win over Nashville on Dec. 20 -- and overall under Hunter, Neuvirth has started just twice at Verizon Center.

The Capitals begin a four-game road trip Friday against the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers. It's then a quick turnaround when the Caps visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

Catch the Capitals and Florida Panthers Friday at 7:30 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:00 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at FederalNewsRadio.com.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Once again, Schultz can't crack Caps' lineup

Posted on: Monday 2/13/2012 5:37pm

AP: 39a61aca-c24d-454e-8a27-fbda5982bcfc
Washington Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz (55) battles Florida Panthers center Shawn Matthias (18) for control of the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz could be forgiven if he felt a little dejected as the Caps trained back to D.C. after Sunday's 3-2 loss in New York.

Not only had the Caps lost, but Schultz was once again relegated to the press box -- a healthy scratch during the Caps' annual Mentors Trip with his father John in attendance. Sunday was also the 13th time in the last 18 games overall that Schultz failed to crack Dale Hunter's lineup.

Despite the lingering frustration, Sunday's train ride to D.C. is one that neither Jeff nor John Schultz will soon forget.

"We were about halfway home on the train after the game," Jeff explained Monday morning, "and I got a text from my brother just saying that he had just been called up to the NHL."

The Montreal Canadiens recalled Ian Schultz yesterday and the 22-year-old could make his NHL debut as soon as tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"My dad and I couldn't be happier for him. It's kind of every kid's dream to get that call when they say that you're going up to the big club with the chance to make your NHL debut."

Ian Schultz was acquired by the Canadiens in June 2010 in the deal that sent Caps nemesis Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues.

"We were in the car together," Jeff told WTOP shortly after the trade, "and he got a call from the GM of St. Louis Larry Pleau and he was saying that he had just been traded for Jaroslav Halak. It was almost like somebody was playing a joke.

"ian didn't know if it was true and we called our agents and they didn't know either. But we went on the computer and we went on TSN and we saw them reporting it so we knew it was real. I think it's a better opportunity for him and Montreal is such a great hockey city."

In the 20 months since the trade though, Ian Schultz has spent very little time at Montreal's Bell Centre. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward has played 81 games with the American Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs over the past year and a half, recording six goals and 17 points and 132 penalty minutes.

"He's a little grittier than I am," big brother Jeff said. "I would say he's similar to a Troy Brouwer type of player- he can score, he fights quite a bit and if he just goes out and plays he can hopefully get a few points."

Ian Schultz is expected to add some muscle to the Canadiens lineup with veteran Travis Moen sidelined with an upper-body injury. In 45 games with Hamilton this season, Schultz has nine fights.

Jeff's advice for his younger brother- "just go out and have fun and make the most of it up there because your first game, you always remember that one."

Jeff also said that his father John was prepared to fly up to Montreal for tonight's game, but wanted to first make sure that Ian would in fact be in the Canadiens lineup before making arrangements.

Catch the Capitals and San Jose Sharks tonight at 7:30 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:00 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at wfed.com.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Rangers have familiar faces for Caps' Hunter

Posted on: Monday 2/13/2012 5:55am

AP: 08249d55-744f-4786-b604-a8dcb0ff5874
The New York Rangers' Dan Girardi (5) was under Hunter's tutelage in the OHL. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - More often than not Sunday afternoon, Capitals coach Dale Hunter could look out on the sheet of ice at New York's Madison Square Garden and find a player he had coached long before any of them were earning NHL paychecks.

While Hunter's having coached Caps defensemen Dennis Wideman and John Carlson with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights has been well chronicled, Sunday's game against the Rangers offered Hunter the chance to see three more of his former players.

Brandon Prust, who snapped a 48-game scoreless drought in the Rangers' 3-2 win over the Capitals, played for Hunter in London from 2002-05.

New York defensemen Dan Girardi (2005) and Michael Del Zotto (2009) also had brief stints with Hunter in the OHL.

"When they played for me," Hunter recently recalled, "Del Zotto was the offensive D, jumping into the rush and creating a lot of offense. Girardi was our shutdown guy -- he blocked shots and shut down people."

Girardi was acquired by London in 2005, joining a team that went on to win the Memorial Cup later that spring.

"Dale was a great coach for us," Girardi told WTOP. "We had a real old team, he gave us the guidelines and the game plan and he just let us play. He was good like that. He didn't say too much but when he said something it was obviously important and needed to be said. He did a great job handling all of us guys that year we won."

Girardi was never drafted by an NHL team, instead signing as a free agent with the Rangers in 2005. He has since emerged as one of hockey's elite shutdown defensemen, helping lead the Rangers to the top of the Eastern Conference this season.

But Girardi says that his career could have turned out much differently if not for his time with Hunter in 2005.

"I think that really jumpstarted my career," Girardi said of his experience with the eventual Memorial Cup champions. "Teams want guys that know how to win and can win those big championships even in a junior league. I think [Hunter] trading for me from Guelph was a big point in my career …Obviously it helped open some doors with the Rangers and now I'm here."

Girardi appeared in his first NHL All-Star Game last month and he leads all NHL players this season with an average of 27 minutes and 16 seconds of ice time per game. The 27-year-old is also fifth in the NHL this season with 133 blocked shots.

"Danny is a great shutdown defenseman and he blocks a lot of shots," Hunter said. "He was very good at it [in junior] and he's carried it over to the National Hockey League. Both [Girardi and Del Zotto] are kind of the same players that they were with me."

Del Zotto was an offensive-minded defenseman while playing for Hunter in London. Through 54 games this NHL season, he leads all Rangers defensemen with seven goals and 29 points.

"It was awesome," Del Zotto said of playing for Hunter in 2009. "They treat their players like pros and Dale has been through the ranks. He's played and so he understands how to treat the players. He was great for me."

Del Zotto, 21, was a secondary piece in a 2009 trade that also saw OHL MVP John Tavares land in London. But in 42 regular and postseason games with the Knights, Del Zotto recorded nine goals and 49 points and teamed up with John Carlson to form London's No.1 defensive pairing.

"[Hunter] is going to play his top guys, especially if they're playing well," Del Zotto said.

"But another great thing about him is that if you're not playing well and you're one of the big guys, he's not afraid to come after you and I think that's pretty important. You can't just let guys roam around and do whatever they want. They have to buy into the structure and buy into the team and he's not afraid to put his foot down."

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Catch the Capitals and San Jose Sharks Monday at 7:30 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:00 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online here.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

After shaky start, Vokoun found success

Posted on: Tuesday 2/7/2012 5:40am

AP: 75bda52e-4f03-4471-9e27-a137cb41e374
Vokoun is now in 26th place on the NHL's all-time shutout list, following Saturday's blanking of the team that drafted him. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

MONTREAL - Earning shutouts against the Montreal Canadiens is starting to seem routine for the Washington Capitals. On Saturday, Tomas Vokoun became the third Caps goalie to blank the Canadiens in as many games as he stopped 30 shots in a 3-0 Washington win.

Michal Neuvirth blanked the Habs 3-0 on Jan. 18, while Braden Holtby earned a 2-0 win last March. Throw in Semyon Varlamov's shutout over Montreal Dec. 28, 2010, and the Caps have kept the Canadiens scoreless in four of their last six meetings overall.

But despite the frequency in which the Caps have shut down Montreal's offense, Saturday's shutout was a first for Vokoun against the team that drafted him in 1994.

Coincidentally, it was also his 47th career shutout, which allowed him to pass Canadiens Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden for 26th place on the NHL's all-time shutout list.

Vokoun was taken in the ninth round (226th overall) by Montreal in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft before going on to star with the Nashville Predators (1998-2007) and Florida Panthers (2007-11).

Given his success with both the Predators and Panthers, it's easy to forget that the Czech goalie made his NHL debut with Montreal in 1997.

Fifteen years ago Monday, Feb. 6, 1997, Vokoun made an emergency start for the Canadiens in what quickly became a humbling experience. Philadelphia's Mikael Renberg beat the 20-year-old Vokoun on the very first shot he faced in the NHL, and from there the Flyers rout was on.

Vokoun was lit up for four goals in the first period alone as the Flyers went on to beat the Canadiens 9-5.

"Obviously it didn't go as planned, but I'm still here 15 years later," Vokoun told WTOP last week. "It was a pretty tough experience, but on the other hand it was a big learning experience, too. It showed me that I needed to work harder on my game, on my [conditioning] and on my physical attributes. It was a good lesson -- not just in hockey but in life."

Vokoun lasted just 20 minutes in his first career NHL game before being replaced by fellow goaltending prospect Jose Theodore to start the second period.

"Obviously I wasn't comfortable at all," Vokoun said. "You picture playing your first game and having success and when you fail it's tough to swallow, but in the long run I think it did me a lot of good."

Vokoun wasn't exactly put in an enviable position either for his first career NHL start. The Canadiens had won just once in their previous seven games as they prepared to visit the eventual Eastern Conference champion Flyers.

Philadelphia was led by its famous "Legion of Doom" line of Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Renberg -- one of hockey's best trios of the past 25 years.

Against Vokoun and Theodore that night, Lindros, LeClair and Renberg combined for six goals, 16 points, a plus-16 rating and 21 shots on goal.

"Philadelphia was a pretty good team at that time too, but it was an opportunity," Vokoun said of his debut. "It wasn't a pleasant experience but just like with everything, when time passes you kind of look back and say, 'Well maybe that was the best thing that could have happened to me.'"

Vokoun's first taste of the NHL was brief and a return to the big leagues wasn't exactly imminent. He was eventually returned to the American Hockey League's Fredericton Canadiens where he remained for the next year and a half.

With Jocelyn Thibault, Andy Moog and Theodore all ahead of Vokoun on the Canadiens' organizational depth chart, it would have been easy for Vokoun to wonder if he'd ever get another shot in the NHL. But those doubts, he says, never entered his mind.

"I was pretty young back then and 20-year-olds don't think in long-term plans, so that made it a little bit easier," he said. "If it had happened to me when I was 30 years old, it would probably have been tougher.

"I was skilled enough to play -- I just wasn't prepared enough and that's something you could always fix. I just had to work harder and wait and make sure if I had another chance that I'd be ready."

That chance came in the summer of 1998, when Vokoun was left unprotected by Montreal before being selected by Nashville in the expansion draft.

It would take nearly two years from the time of his disastrous debut, but Vokoun was back in the NHL. He would continue to shuffle between the minors and the NHL for another few seasons, before emerging as a Nashville regular during the 2000-01 season.

By the time he would leave Tennessee in 2007, Vokoun had become (and still is) the team's all-time wins leader with 149 victories.

He also would top 100 wins with Florida before signing with the Capitals last summer. And since the 2002-03 campaign, Vokoun and Roberto Luongo are the only two goalies to have won at least 20 games each season.

His 670 games also rank 25th all-time among goalies, and he begins the week just 17 wins shy of 300 for his career.

Follow Ben Raby and WTOPSports on Twitter.

Catch the Capitals and Panthers Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, 1500AM and online at federalnewsradio.com.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

5 All-Star moments in Caps history

Posted on: Monday 1/30/2012 5:21am

Ben Raby, wtop.com Twitter: @BenRaby31

WASHINGTON - The NHL All-Star Weekend may be complete, but in the spirit of the NHL's midseason classic WTOP counts down the top five All-Star moments in Washington Capitals history:

  • Feb. 5, 1993- Al Iafrate sets record with 105.2 MPH Slapshot: Capitals defenseman Al Iafrate impressed the Montreal Forum crowd at the 1993 Super Skills Competition firing a 105.2 MPH cannon to win the Hardest Shot event.

    Iafrate's record stood for 16 years before Bruins defenseman hit 105.4 MPH at the 2009 Super Skills Competition.

    One day after Iafrate's performance, his Capitals teammate Peter Bondra made his NHL All-Star Game debut. Bondra would go on to appear in a team-record five all-star games total, winning the Fastest Skater event in 1997 and 1999.

    In '93, Bondra recorded a goal and an assist as the Wales Conference beat the Campbell Conference 16-6. Former Caps forward Mike Gartner was named the game's MVP after scoring an all-star record four goals.

  • Jan. 24, 2009- Alex Ovechkin wows Bell Centre crowd: Alex Ovechkin has never shied away from the spotlight, and one of the game's most exciting players stole the show at the Mecca of hockey in Montreal.

    Ovechkin brought some swagger to the Breakaway Challenge, loading up on props before heading to the net with a pair of sticks. Among Ovechkin's accessories was an oversized pair of sunglasses, a safari hat and a Canadian flag.

    One day later, Ovechkin had a goal, two assists and the shootout deciding tally as the Eastern Conference beat the Western Conference 12-11 before an all-star record crowd of 21,273.

  • Feb. 12, 1985- A club-record four Capitals represent the Wales Conference: For the first time in franchise history, the Capitals had multiple players in the NHL All-Star Game.

    The Caps led the Wales Conference with four players. Forwards Bob Carpenter and Mike Gartner and defensemen Rod Langway and Scott Stevens. Carpenter, Langway and Stevens were all named to the Wales Conference starting lineup by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

    The Wales Conference beat the Campbell Conference with Gartner becoming the first Capital to ever score in an NHL All-Star Game.

  • Feb. 9, 1982 - The Capitals host the 34th NHL All-Star Game: The Capitals have played host to the NHL midseason classic only once in franchise history, doing so in February 1982 at the Capital Center in Landover, Md.

    A sellout crowd of 18,130 watched the Wales Conference beat the Campbell Conference 4-2. There has not been a lower scoring all-star game since. New York Islanders forward Mike Bossy was named the game's MVP after scoring twice, including the game-winning-goal.

    Capitals forward Dennis Maruk was Washington's lone representative and received the loudest ovation during pregame introductions. Maruk finished the game with an assist.

    Maruk would finish the 1981-82 NHL season third in the league with 60 goals and fourth in league scoring with 136 points.

  • Feb. 1, 2003 - Caps Rookie Brian Sutherby Named YoungStars Game MVP: The Caps 1st round pick from the 2000 NHL entry draft was named MVP of the 2003 NHL YoungStars Game in Sunrise, FLA. Brian Sutherby had two goals (including the game-winning goal) and an assist as the YoungStars East beat the YoungStars West 8-3.

Catch the Capitals and Lightning at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7pm on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at WFED.com.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Get your hockey fix during Caps All-Star break

Posted on: Friday 1/27/2012 6:14pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com Twitter: @BenRaby31

WASHINGTON - The Capitals are off this weekend for the annual All-Star break and will reconvene Monday for a skate at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. The Caps then begin a three-game road trip Tuesday in Tampa Bay.

Between now and Tuesday's game against the Lightning, D.C. puckheads searching for their hockey fix won't have to look very far:

  • Friday, Jan. 27, 7:30pm, NBC Sports Network: One of hockey's oldest rivalries will be renewed Friday as the Yale Bulldogs visit the Harvard Crimson in NCAA Men's Hockey action.The game airs on the NBC Sports Network beginning at 7:30 p.m. with the radio voice of the Washington Capitals, John Walton calling the play-by-play. Walton, who says he last called an NCAA game in 2001 when Miami (Ohio) faced Ryan Miller and Michigan State, will work alongside former Boston Bruin and New York Islander General Manager Mike Milbury.

  • Saturday, Jan. 28, 6pm, WFED 1500AM & www.wfed.com: It's an All-Star Weekend edition of Saturday Night Caps as we look back at the first half of the Caps 2011-12 campaign. Along with John Walton, Ken Sabourin and Ben Raby, guests this week include Comcast Sportsnet's Al Koken, Capitals forward Mathieu Perreault, and Ottawa Senators play-by-play voice Dean Brown.

  • Sunday, Jan. 29, 4pm, WFED 1500AM & www.wfed.com: The 58th NHL All-Star Game goes Sunday afternoon from Ottawa, Ontario and can be heard exclusively in D.C. on WFED 1500AM. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. as Doug Brown hosts the NHL Radio pregame show. Dean Brown will work the radio play-by-play alongside color analyst Gord Wilson. Dennis Wideman is the lone Capitals representative in the NHL's midseason classic.

  • Monday, Jan. 30, 7pm, CSN Washington: The American Hockey League's All-Star Game goes Monday night from Atlantic City. The game will air locally on Comcast Sportsnet with local Caps broadcasters Joe Beninati, Craig Laughlin and Alan May on the call. Three Hershey Bears will represent the Eastern Conference with Keith Aucoin, Chris Bourque and Boyd Kane all appearing in the AHL's midseason classic. Aucoin is appearing in his record-tying sixth AHL All-Star Game, and he leads the AHL in scoring this season with 68 points in 41 games. Bourque is second in league scoring with 62 points in 41 games. Kane, who made the Caps opening night roster in 2009-10 will captain the Eastern Conference all-stars.
Catch the NHL All-Star Game this Sunday 4 p.m. on the radio home of the Washington Capitals, Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com. Pregame coverage begins at 3:30 p.m.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Alex Ovechkin: No-star?

Posted on: Tuesday 1/24/2012 7:55pm By jwarner

Jonathan Warner, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Should it matter that Alex Ovechkin is skipping this weekend’s NHL all-star game in Ottawa?

After all, the league suspended him for three games for launching himself into Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek Sunday.

Ovie knows that if he attended the game in Canada, it would be like jumping into shark-infested waters.   He’d be the story, fielding question after question about his style of play.

The weekend wouldn’t be fun for Ovechkin and that’s what the all-star game is supposed to be about.

Canadians love their hockey and love their Canadian hockey players.   The media there feeds the frenzy.   Ovechkin’s presence while under suspension would only reinforce their belief that he’s the league’s bad boy, especially with their hero and countryman, Sidney Crosby, still on the mend from a year long concussion.

If the NHL won’t allow him to play regular season games, Ovechkin feels he doesn’t deserve to be at All-Star weekend.    The Capitals support his decision and I’m sure most Capitals fans do as well.

Ovie’s first game back will ironically be in Canada, on February 4th at Montreal.

Till then, I hope he enjoys the time off on some warm beach and returns rested and ready to be The Great 8 once again.

Follow Jonathan Warner and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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