Caps' Ovechkin suspended for three games

Posted on: Monday 1/23/2012 10:56pm

AP: 4bcb6751-026c-42aa-aa11-b1a9d1f3e4fc
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, top, watches his shot after being knocked down by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Already without leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom because of a concussion and No.1 defenseman Mike Green due to a groin injury, the Capitals will now be minus captain Alex Ovechkin for the next three games.

Ovechkin was suspended Monday for "a charging incident in which he launched himself to hit Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek," according to a statement from the NHL. The hit occurred during the second period of the Caps 4-3 overtime loss Sunday in Pittsburgh.

In everyday terms, Ovechkin left his feet to complete a hit, the type of play the NHL is badly trying to remove from the game.

The hit also resulted in contact to Michalek's head, further adding to the NHL's concern while reviewing the play.

Ovechkin was not available to the media after the suspension was announced, but earlier in the day the Caps captain acknowledged that he and his teammates were looking to play a more physical brand of hockey in Sunday's second period.

"[When] we play aggressive," Ovechkin explained, "we have opportunities to win the game and to score goals. It's something that we were missing [last Friday] in Carolina and in the first period in Pittsburgh."

Ovechkin would not specifically discuss his hit on Michalek, waiting instead to speak with NHL head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.

Ovechkin had a telephone hearing with the NHL Monday afternoon.

As with all suspensions this season, Shanahan gave a thorough explanation of the league's decision in a two-minute, 32-second video which can be found on the NHL's official website.

"Although Michalek's shoulder might be the initial point of contact for this hit, the act of launching causes contact to Michalek's head," Shanahan explained. "Often on big hits or collisions, a player's feet will come off the ice slightly as a result of the impact. This, however, is not one of those occasions."

Ovechkin, 26, is a repeat offender, having twice been suspended during the 2009-10 season.

In Nov. 2009, Ovechkin received a two-game ban for a knee-on-knee hit with Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason. In March 2010, Ovechkin was suspended two games for a hit from behind on then-Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell.

The Capitals went 3-0-1 in the four games Ovechkin missed due to suspension that season, out scoring opponents 24-11.

"Instead of feeling sorry for yourselves and wondering what's going to happen," Mike Knuble said Monday, "it's a chance for guys to play more and to do well and to have maybe a bigger role than they normally would."

Knuble pointed to Mathieu Perreault as an example after the 24-year-old center saw top line minutes Sunday in Pittsburgh with both Backstrom and Marcus Johansson sidelined. Perreault had two assists and skated a career high 16:22 in the overtime loss.

"Alex takes up a big chunk of ice time on the power play and during the course of the game, and that time has to be dispersed and it's a chance for someone else to step up," Knuble said. "You don't want to go the long run like that, but on a game-to-game basis, some players have to look forward to the opportunity."

The three-game ban will cost Ovechkin $154,677.75 in forfeited salary. The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

Ovechkin will miss Tuesday's home game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins as well as road games next week in Florida and Tampa Bay.

The Capitals all-star has appeared in all 47 games this season collecting 20 goals and 39 points. He will be eligible to return Feb. 4 against the Montreal Canadiens.

As of Monday night, Ovechkin was still expected to take part in this weekend's All-Star game festivities in Ottawa.

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

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Preview: Caps look for second straight on the road

Posted on: Friday 1/20/2012 2:37pm

AP: f843724d-e486-4f66-ba4f-a20472f60cc6
New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) works for the puck against Washington Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun (29), of the Czech Republic, and John Carlson (74) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, in Washington. Capitals center Cody Eakin is at top left. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Ben Raby, wtop.com
Twitter: @BenRaby31

RALEIGH, N.C.- Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth was nearly flawless in Wednesday's 3-0 win in Montreal, turning aside 31 shots in his first start since Dec. 26.

But even before Neuvirth helped the Caps snap a two-game road losing streak, Caps Head Coach Dale Hunter had already decided that Tomas Vokoun (19-11-0, 2.53 GAA, .917 SV%) would return to the cage tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Hunter had told his goalies of the plan upon their landing in Montreal and not even Neuvirth's second shutout of the season could change his mind.

"Michal hasn't played," Hunter said of the decision to rest Neuvirth again tonight. "He had lots of rubber in Montreal with the seven penalties that we had. He had to move side to side maybe a thousand times there. Definitely it's tiresome on the legs; he hasn't played for a while. It's good for him to get a rest here today anyways."

Vokoun will start for the 11th time in 12 games tonight as the Caps seek their first two-game road winning streak since winning in Ottawa Dec. 7 and in Winnipeg Dec. 15. The Caps have yet to win back-to-back games within the same road trip this season.

Vokoun made a season-high 43 saves in the Caps 2-1 win over Carolina last Sunday at Verizon Center and is 7-3-0 with a 2.07 goals-against-average and .936 save percentage in his last ten starts.

"You always have to perform, nothing is certain," Vokoun said. "If you don't perform then you're not going to be out there. So it's nice to get a vote of confidence but there are still a lot of games left and you still have to put good efforts out there."

The Hurricanes (16-24-8) are last in the Eastern Conference with 40 points but are 4-1-1 in their last six games at home. Cam Ward (16-17-7, 3.01 GAA, .905 SV%) will start in goal for Carolina.

TOP LINE MOJO:

Based on Friday morning's skate Marcus Johansson will once again center Washington's No.1 line tonight alongside Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer.

With Nicklas Backstrom missing his eighth straight game with a concussion, Johansson is among a group of players who have been looked upon to raise their games in the absence of the team's leading scorer.

"There's no pressure to be Nick," Johansson said. "No one can be Nick. He's such an extraordinary player, you can't replace him. I'm just trying to play my game the way I always play. I'm still me, so I'm trying to do what I always do."

For Johansson, that means using his speed to help create scoring chances and utilizing his teammates. In his last six games, Johansson has three goals and five points.

THIS & THAT FROM A.M. SKATE:

Defenseman Tomas Kundratek will return to the Capitals lineup tonight after sitting as a healthy scratch Wednesday in Montreal. The 22-year-old has played four games since being recalled from AHL Hershey and is still looking for his first career NHL point…

…With Kundratek back in the lineup, defensemen John Erskine and Jeff Schultz will again watch tonight's game from the press box. Erskine will be a healthy scratch for the seventh time in ten games; Schultz for the 15th time in 17 games…

…Up front, Jay Beagle will also sit his second straight game as a healthy scratch, as Mathieu Perreault draws back into the lineup after recording his fourth goal of the season Wednesday in Montreal.

TONIGHT'S BROADCAST:

Catch the Capitals and Hurricanes at 7 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online.

Tweet @Caps1500 with your predicition for tonight's game-winning goal scorer for a chance to win $50 at Carmine's Restaurant. Also tonight, we'll have a second intermission interview with Hurricanes defenseman and all-star representative Justin Faulk.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Caps face Montreal wihtout two top players

Posted on: Wednesday 1/18/2012 2:17pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - When the Capitals take the ice at Montreal's Bell Centre tonight, they will do so minus No.1 defenseman Mike Green and No.1 center Nicklas Backstrom.

Green has missed all but ten games this season, and 54 of 64 regular-season games dating back to Feb. 26, 2011. The two-time Norris Trophy nominee underwent abdominal surgery in St. Louis yesterday and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks.

Backstrom has not played since Jan. 3 when he took an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flame Rene Bourque. The Capitals leading scorer is out with a concussion and will miss his seventh straight game tonight. He has not skated since Jan. 6 and there is no timetable for his return.

Bourque received a five-game suspension for his elbow on Backstrom and the Capitals were none too pleased with what they called a "cheap shot" from the final minutes of a 3-1 Caps win.

"He's got a little bit of an edge to him," Troy Brouwer said of Bourque after their Jan. 3 meeting. "Sometimes he crosses the line.

"It's one of those things where it kind of sucks because we're not going to play [him] again this year," Brouwer said.

That all changed last Thursday when Bourque was acquired by the Canadiens in the trade that sent Mike Cammelleri to Calgary. Now the Capitals will face Bourque, who has since apologized for the elbow, four more times this season.

"Usually an apology is never enough -- at least that's what it seems like," Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. "But there hasn't been much talk about [retribution], at least not that I've heard, so I don't really know what's going on. We just have to play them hard and I think the best way to get back at somebody is just by hitting them, by outplaying them and by trying to score as many goals as you can. That's my personal philosophy -- but not everybody's."

HOMECOMING FOR HAMMER

Tonight's game in Montreal also marks the Bell Centre return for defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who spent four years with the Canadiens before signing a two-year deal with the Caps in the offseason.

"I'm looking forward to it," Hamrlik said of his Montreal return. "It's just another game, but I'm excited to go back. I played there for four years and it was probably [some] of my best four years, so I'm looking forward to it.

"I still have lots of friends there, I have such good memories from Montreal, but it's just another game and hopefully we can start winning on the road and [win] some big points. It's not easy to bring points from the road - especially Montreal, it's 22,000 people and I know they're going to come hard, they have lots of speed up front."

Hamrlik has a goal and five points in 40 games this season. He also leads the Caps with 84 blocked shots and has been paired primarily with all-star defenseman Dennis Wideman. Hamrlik began the year playing with Mike Green and has recently skated alongside rookie Tomas Kundratek.

In October, the 37 year old appeared in career game No. 1,315, passing countryman Bobby Holik for the most NHL games played by an Eastern European.

Hamrlik has now played 1,351 career games and recently passed former Canadiens captain Kirk Muller into 42nd place among the NHL's all-time games played leaders.

ROAD WOES FOR CAPS

The Capitals are in desperate need of a reversal of fortune on the road as tonight's game in Montreal kicks off a three-game trip.

While the Capitals' 17-6-1 record at home is tops in the Eastern Conference, Washington is also tied for last in the conference with Tampa Bay and Carolina with 15 points on the road.

"I'd like to think it's just a lull," Caps forward Mike Knuble said of the Capitals road struggles. "We all know how to win on the road. It's not a comfort thing -- it's not being a homer type team or anything like that. We've got guys in our locker room that have won a lot of games on the road in the past.

"It's just about kind of getting the right feel going, the right thoughts and playing a boring road game. I mean, we've played boring home games, so we need to play some boring road games and do the same thing on the road."

The Caps have lost five-of-six on the road with six of their next seven games being played outside the U.S. capital.

Head coach Dale Hunter can't explain the huge discrepancy in his team's play at home versus on the road, but he points to the special teams play as one explanation.

Consider that at home this season, the Caps' power play ranks 2nd in the NHL clicking at 24 percent while on the road, the Caps PP ranks 23rd at 13.6 percent.

Washington's penalty killing meanwhile ranks 6th at home at 86.8 percent and 27th on the road at 76.0 percent.

THIS & THAT

The Capitals are 12-9-1 under head coach Dale Hunter; Bruce Boudreau had the same record when he was fired Nov. 28… Former Canadiens draft pick Tomas Vokoun (9th round, 226th overall in 1994) picked up his 46th career shutout last week in a 1-0 win over Pittsburgh, tying him with Hall-of-Famer Ken Dryden for 26th all-time… The Capitals have gone 14 straight games without firing at least 30 shots on goal… The Caps have been outshot in five straight games and 10-of-11 overall…

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

'Juice' makes return as Caps take on Islanders

Posted on: Tuesday 1/17/2012 3:28pm

AP: 3ceb3667-e1ef-444a-8a34-6db57311fa9e
New York Islanders defenseman Milan Jurcina checks Buffalo Sabres forward Drew Stafford into the boards in the first period of their NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Dunn)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The 6-foot-4, 253-pound defenseman affectionately known as "Juice" returns to Verizon Center tonight as the Capitals play host to Milan Jurcina and the New York Islanders for the first time this season.

Jurcina is in his second season patrolling the Islanders' blue line and will hit a personal milestone tonight when he skates in his 400th career NHL game.

The 28-year-old Slovak played in 211 games for the Caps from 2007-09 before he and former captain Chris Clark were traded to Columbus for Jason Chimera. Jurcina then signed with the Islanders in July of 2010.

"It's been good," Jurcina says of playing for an Islanders team that sits in last place in the Eastern Conference. "It's obviously not where we want to be, but we're working hard and doing everything we can [to improve]. It's just like when I came to Washington -- it's a process.

"The guys are young, they're learning the league, so we're still in a rebuilding mode, but these guys have a lot of potential. There is a lot of talent in this room and a lot of the right tools you need to be successful just as Washington is and was."

Jurcina arrived in Washington before the 2007 NHL trade deadline, joining a Capitals team that went on to miss the playoffs for a third straight season.

But less than one year later, the Capitals went on to win their first of four straight Southeast Division titles, led primarily by first round draft picks Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green. Verizon Center was "Rocking the Red" and a winning culture had been created.

Four years later, Jurcina hopes to be part of a similar turnaround on Long Island.

"When I came down here there was nobody in the stands -- just like 10,000 fans -- but now for three years already I think they've been sold out every game," he says. "It's the same thing on Long Island -- there haven't been many fans but now they're starting to come to the games, they realize we're having some success so it's exactly the same process as we had in Washington. We have to keep going and stay patient and good things will happen."

Just as the Capitals have been built around No. 1 overall pick Ovechkin (2004) and a nucleus of young players, the Islanders are pinning their fortunes on first overall pick John Tavares (2009) and their own nucleus of young talent.

Tavares is the Islanders' leading scorer this season with 43 points in 43 games and enters play tonight on a career-high nine-game scoring streak (five goals and 16 points over that span).

The 21-year-old will represent the Islanders at this year's NHL All-Star Game, and has teamed up with fellow first-round pick Kyle Okposo and New York's leading goal scorer Matt Moulson to form one of the NHL's best young trios.

"They have the scoring touch those guys -- they're snipers," Jurcina says. "Every time you can, you just try to get them the puck and good things happen. They have great shots; they know how to move in the offensive zone, they have all the offensive talent so it's nice to have them on the team."

Jurcina has two goals and five points in 34 games this season and has played primarily with Islanders captain Mark Streit. Jurcina also has a minus-19 rating, third-worst in the NHL.

The eighth-round pick (241st overall) from the 2001 entry draft says he still keeps in touch with a number of former teammates, but he admits that the Capitals have a much different look since he last called D.C. home.

"We were just down in Anaheim and I saw [former Caps coaches] Bruce Boudreau and Bob Woods and it felt like I was playing the Washington Capitals down in California," Jurcina says. "But when I look at the roster now, there's been a lot of change, a lot of new guys and new faces."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Caps: Mike Green out for surgery, 4 to 6 weeks

Posted on: Tuesday 1/17/2012 2:36am

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The Capitals announced Monday that defenseman Mike Green will undergo abdominal surgery and is expected be out four-to-six weeks.

Monday's news is the latest setback in what is quickly becoming a season to forget for the two-time Norris Trophy nominee.

Heading into Tuesday's game against the New York Islanders, Green has missed 33 of the last 36 games dating back to Oct. 27. Green has also missed 53 of the last 63 regular season games dating back to Feb. 26, 2011.

The 26-year-old has been sidelined this season with ankle and groin injuries and has completed just one of the three games he's played in since Oct. 22. Green has not skated since leaving a Jan. 7 game in San Jose after aggravating his previously injured right groin.

The Capitals are 9-1-0 with Green in the lineup this season (including a 7-0-0 start to the year in October) and the puck moving defenseman has collected three goals and three assists.

Without Green's services for much of the season, Dennis Wideman has seen increased ice-time and top power play minutes.

Wideman is fourth among NHL defensemen with eight goals (through Monday) and fifth among blueliners in overall scoring with 31 points. Wideman was also named to his first career NHL all-star game last Thursday.

Rookie defenseman Dmitri Orlov may also be relied upon more in the coming weeks as his game continues to grow. The 20-year-old has played 25 games since being recalled from AHL Hershey Nov. 21 and notched his first career NHL goal in Sunday's 2-1 win against Carolina.

CAPS 1500 ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

On a lighter note, the Capitals Radio Network continues to expand its brand with flagship station WFED 1500AM.

The broadcast team can be reached via Twitter @Caps1500 and on Monday radio play-by-play voice John Walton helped launch the Capitals Radio Network's Facebook page.

Catch the Capitals and New York Islanders Tuesday at 7 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at wfed.com.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Preview: Caps host Islanders Tuesday

Posted on: Monday 1/16/2012 6:35pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The Capitals look to cap off a perfect four-game homestand when they entertain the New York Islanders Tuesday at Verizon Center.

The Caps are 3-0 on their latest homestand, with wins over Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Carolina all decided by one goal.

Dale Hunter's Capitals have won seven straight games in Chinatown and nine of ten overall on home ice. Washington's 17-5-1 record at home is tops in the Eastern Conference.

"I think anytime you can kind of hold at home and get points at home you want to do it," said Jeff Halpern. "You want to make it a tough building to play in. I think [Sunday] we probably didn't deserve to win and were able to get two points anyway. Anytime you can take wins you want them. We'd just like to play a little bit better, especially at home."

Hunter would not say who will start in goal against the Islanders but it would be hard to argue against starting Tomas Vokoun for a season-high tenth straight game.

Vokoun stopped 43 of 44 shots in Sunday's 2-1 win against the Hurricanes to improve to 7-2 over his last nine starts with a .940 save percentage and 1.97 goals-against-average.

"I think he's been of late very consistent and playing well and playing confidently," said Mike Knuble. "He's just been solid, and I think that's been the big thing is you got your goalie that's just a solid goaltender. He doesn't need to win the game every night but just be solid and make the saves you're supposed to make. That's all you can ask out of your goalie every night."

Evgeni Nabokov is expected to start in goal for the Islanders. Nabokov became the twenty-sixth goalie in NHL history to win 300 career games after New York's 4-2 win over Buffalo on Saturday.

THE OPPOSITION:

The Islanders just completed a four-game homestand of their own having gone 2-2-0 after Monday's 3-1 loss to Nashville. The Predators beat Isles goalie Kevin Poulin on their first two shots of the game marking the ninth time this season that the Islanders have allowed a goal on the first shot of the game.

Former No.1 pick John Tavares played the role of shutout buster when he beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with less than four minutes remaining in the third period.

It was the 16th goal of the season for Tavares who is riding a career-best nine-game scoring streak (five goals and 16 points over that span).

Tavares' nine-game scoring streak is also tied for the second longest in the NHL this season (Boston's David Krejci entered play Monday with points in 11 straight games).

The 21-year-old Tavares played briefly for Capitals head coach Dale Hunter with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights in 2009.

In 38 games total (regular season and playoffs combined) with London, Tavares had 42 goals and 71 points.

FAMILIAR FACE RETURNS TO D.C.:

Former Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina is in his second season patrolling the Islanders blueline and will hit a personal milestone Tuesday at Verizon Center.

Jurcina will skate in his 400th career NHL game, 211 of which were played with the Capitals from 2007-09. The 28-year-old was an eighth round pick (241st overall) by the Boston Bruins in 2001.

AVSWATCH2012:

The Coyotes beat the Avalanche 6-1 Monday in Phoenix as former Capitals forward Boyd Gordon beat ex- teammate Semyon Varlamov twice for his first career two-goal game.

The Avs drop to 24-21-2 and remain on the outside of a playoff position in the Western Conference. Washington owns Colorado's first round pick in the 2012 entry draft dating back to the trade that sent Varlamov to Denver last July.

Catch the Capitals and Islanders Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online www.wfed.com.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Vokoun starts, Backstrom out in stand against Lightning

Posted on: Friday 1/13/2012 1:47pm

AP: 6628efef-23e8-4cef-9a04-6640c07fa365
Washington Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun (29), of the Czech Republic, defends the goal against Pittsburgh Penguins center Tyler Kennedy (48) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, in Washington. The Capitals won 1-0. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Tomas Vokoun will make his eighth straight start tonight as the Capitals (22-17-2) continue their four-game homestand against the Tampa Bay Lightning (17-21-4).

The Caps have won five straight at Verizon Center and own the second best home record in the Eastern Conference at 15-5-1.

Nicklas Backstrom will miss his fourth straight game after taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flame Rene Bourque Jan. 3.

Mike Green will also miss his third straight game after aggravating his previously injured groin last Saturday in San Jose. Green has missed 25 of the past 27 games and was placed on LTIR yesterday. He is not eligible to return until Feb.1 at the earliest.

With Green placed on LTIR, prospect Cody Eakin was recalled from AHL Hershey and will be in the lineup tonight against Tampa Bay. Eakin has three goals and six points in 19 NHL games this season.

Defenseman Tomas Kundratek is also expected back in Washington's lineup after making his NHL debut in Wednesday's 1-0 win against Pittsburgh.

The Capitals and Lightning will meet five times in the second half of the season and have not met since Oct.10, a 6-5 shootout win for the Caps.

The top two teams in the Southeast Division a year ago enter play Friday fighting for a playoff position. The Caps begin the day tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, eight points clear of the 13th place Lightning.

The Lightning are still seeking their first win of 2012, having dropped five straight (0-4-1) since a 5-2 win over Carolina on New Year's Eve.

Steven Stamkos remains the NHL's goal-scoring leader with 29 tallies in 42 games, but the Bolts have allowed a league-worst 3.40 goals per game.

PROJECTED CAPS LINEUP:

  • Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Alexander Semin
  • Mike Knuble - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
  • Matt Hendricks - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward
  • Jason Chimera - Cody Eakin - Jay Beagle
  • Karl Alzner - John Carlson
  • Dmitri Orlov - Dennis Wideman
  • Roman Hamrlik - Tomas Kundratek
  • Tomas Vokoun
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Vokoun solid in Caps' win over Penguins

Posted on: Thursday 1/12/2012 9:30am

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Washington Capitals head coach Dale Hunter was non-committal Wednesday morning when asked if he intends to ride goalie Tomas Vokoun for the remainder of the season.

"I don't know about that," Hunter said. "I'm a tonight person myself; I worry about tonight. We made mistakes in front of him [in Monday's 5-2 loss in Los Angeles]… But he's a veteran. He'll be ready to go tonight."

Those words rang true at Verizon Center 10 hours later as Vokoun stopped all 30 shots he faced in the Capitals' 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Vokoun was starting his seventh straight game (two shy of his season-high nine straight starts from Oct. 10 - Nov. 1) and earned his second shutout of the season.

"There were no three-on-ones or breakaways or breakdowns," Vokoun said of the play in front of him. "It's more about playing the right way. Maybe they get a shot off a cycle or something, but you don't allow the Grade-A scoring chances or odd-man rushes. And usually when you do that, you have a pretty good chance to win."

It wasn't always pretty, but the Capitals will take the two points and look forward to Friday's tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Capitals now have won two of three meetings with the Penguins this season, with one more regular season game set for next Sunday in Pittsburgh.

With Wednesday's win, the Caps moved into an eighth-place tie with the Pens in the Eastern Conference, although Washington has played one less game.

The Capitals also pulled within four points of the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers.

"Every one [of the points] you lose at this time of the year, it gets harder and harder to scrape up those points," the Caps' Mike Knuble said. "These points are just going to be incredibly valuable down the line. Today was a good test."

Jason Chimera scored the lone goal of the contest, beating Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury blocker side with 4:35 to play in the opening period.

The goal came seconds after Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin turned the puck over just inside the Washington blue line. Joel Ward then chipped the puck into the neutral zone where it was collected by Jeff Halpern, who then fed Chimera in the slot, setting up the eventual game-winning tally.

"We had just changed and we caught them extending their shift," Chimera told the Capitals Radio Network, "and a lot of times when you're tired, you can't come back -- you're not physically able to come back… I don't think the defenseman saw me coming in behind him and then Halpy made a great play and it was nice to see it go in."

Chimera now has 14 goals on the season, three behind Alex Ovechkin for the team lead, and three shy of his personal career high set in 2005-06 with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Capitals improved to 10-1-1 when scoring first and 13-0-0 when leading after two periods.

Washington also has won five straight games at home and seven of their last eight at Verizon Center. The Caps 15-5-1 record on home ice is tops in the Eastern Conference (the Boston Bruins also have 31 points at home but have played two more games in their home arena).

Catch the Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning Friday at 7 p.m. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at WFED.com.

Follow Ben Raby and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Caps-Pens rivalry minus key players Wed. night

Posted on: Wednesday 1/11/2012 1:42pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The Capitals begin a four-game homestand tonight at Verizon Center when they meet the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third time this season.

The teams have split their first two meetings, with the Caps winning 3-2 in overtime in Pittsburgh Oct. 13 and the Pens returning the favor with a 2-1 win in Washington Dec. 1.

While the Caps and Pens have produced one of the NHL's premier rivalries since the 2005 work stoppage, tonight's game could be missing some of its usual luster.

The Caps return to D.C. following an 0-2 western road trip in which they were outscored 10-4, while the Penguins are just beginning a three-game road trip as they look to snap a season-long five-game losing streak.

"They're hungry," Caps head coach Dale Hunter said of the Penguins. "Everybody goes that way. But they'll be ready to play, just like us."

Like the Capitals, the Penguins are a banged-up bunch. Pittsburgh leads the NHL with 215 man games lost and the Pens will again be without captain Sidney Crosby (concussion), No.1 defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) and forwards Jordan Staal (knee) and Dustin Jeffrey (knee).

The Capitals, meanwhile, will again be without leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom (head) and No.1 defenseman Mike Green (groin). Backstrom was placed on injured reserve today and will miss his third straight game after taking an elbow to the head last Tuesday from Calgary's Rene Bourque.

Green left Saturday's game in San Jose after aggravating his previously injured groin. The 26-year-old has missed 24 of the past 26 games and 30 of the last of 32 overall.

Hunter said there is no timetable for either Backstrom or Green to return.

Catch the Capitals and Penguins tonight at 7:40. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:00 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at WFED.com.

Follow Ben Raby and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Defenseman Kundratek to make NHL debut with Caps

Posted on: Wednesday 1/11/2012 1:41pm

Ben Raby, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Hershey Bears defenseman Tomas Kundratek was packing up for a nine-hour bus ride to Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday afternoon when he was informed by Bears General Manager Doug Yingst that his travel plans were changing.

The 22-year-old Czech native got the news that every hockey prospect hopes to someday hear -- he was heading to "the show," promoted to the NHL for the first time in his pro career.

"I'm really excited," the newest Washington Capital told reporters Wednesday morning. "It's unreal."

Kundratek will make his NHL debut tonight as the Capitals (21-17-2) begin a four-game homestand against the Pittsburgh Penguins (21-16-4).

"He's been playing well down there," Capitals head coach Dale Hunter said of Kundratek. "We thought we'd give him the chance up here to see what he can do up here and get a good look at home."

Hunter describes the 6-foot-2-inch, 201-pound Kundratek as a good skater who moves the puck well.

"I like to do everything," Kundratek said. "I like to hit, I like to play good defense and I like to score."

The Capitals acquired Kundratek from the New York Rangers organization on Nov. 8 in a deal that at the time involved a pair of minor leaguers and former Caps prospect Francois Bouchard going to the Rangers.

Kundratek was buried on the Rangers' organizational depth chart and was being used sparingly with the Rangers' AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale.

"It was huge," Kundratek said of being traded to the Caps. "It was a tough position down in Hartford. I was a healthy scratch probably for seven games, so I was talking to my agent and he helped me get the trade, and since then I've been really excited and I've been enjoying hockey again."

In 21 games after joining the Bears, Kundratek had six goals and eight points. In his 77 total games with Connecticut since the start of the 2010-11 season, Kundratek had just two goals and 14 points.

"It was a really tough position there because they had a lot of really good players -- there's Wade Redden, Brendan Bell and a lot of older guys," he said. "There were nine defensemen also and I was the youngest and that's probably the reason why [I didn't play]. The coaches had a tough time, I was talking to them and they didn't even know what to do, it was a really tough position.

"I was waiting, waiting until probably it was the seventh game I was healthy scratched and I said, 'That's enough, I'm a young player and I need to play.' So I talked to my agent and he got me traded here."

Kundratek is expected to be paired tonight with fellow Czech and 19-year NHL veteran Roman Hamrlik.

"I just told him to keep it simple," Hamrlik said of his message to Kundratek. "Don't try to do too much, make the first quick pass and get some confidence early. I do remember my first game, I was so nervous, so hopefully if he's nervous too, I'll try to help him as much as I can."

Added Kundratek: "I was watching that guy since I was young so it's unreal. It will be a huge experience and I'm really looking forward."

Kundratek is also familiar with Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth, having played with him on the Czech national team at the 2008 World Junior Championships.

Catch the Capitals and Penguins tonight at 7:40. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 7:00 on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at WFED.com.

Follow Ben Raby and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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