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Postseason Notebook -- November

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
After enduring an uneven 5-6 month of October, the Capitals headed into November of the 2007-08 season with high hopes. Unfortunately, the team struggled right from the start of the month and foundered for three weeks. Washington scored just three goals in its first four games of November, posting an 0-3-1 record in the process.

After a surprising 4-1 win in Ottawa on Nov. 8, the Caps dropped five straight while scoring just nine goals. At that point, coach Glen Hanlon was dismissed in favor of Bruce Boudreau. The Caps won their first two games under their new bench boss, but went 0-2-1 to close out the month.

Loss Leaders – From 1980-81 through 2005-06, a span of 26 seasons, the Capitals had just two months in which they accrued double-digit loss totals. One of those instances – a 10-loss month in Jan. 1990 – led to the dismissal of coach Bryan Murray.

When the Caps dropped 10 games in Nov. 2007, it also led to the dismissal of a coach, this time Glen Hanlon. It was also Washington’s second month with double-digit losses in its last three months. The Caps were 2-10-3 in Mar. 2007 and 3-10-2 in Nov. of the same year.

Fighting Keystoners – Four of the Caps’ first five fighting majors in 2007-08 were incurred in games against the NHL’s two Pennsylvania teams. Matt Pettinger went with Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal and Donald Brashear fought the Penguins’ Georges Laraque at Verizon Center on Oct. 20.

A Nov. 2  game with the Flyers at Verizon Center featured fights between Philly’s Mike Richards and Washington’s Brooks Laich and the Flyers’ Ben Eager and the Caps’ Brian Sutherby. Each of Washington’s first five fighting majors in 2007-08 came on Verizon Center ice.

Aw, Shoot -- Some of Washington's early season woes were directly related it its inability to get its shots on goal.

Can’t Stand Prosperity – In calendar 2007, the Capitals won 10 games by a margin of three or more goals. Seven of those 10 wins ended losing streaks, but Washington had trouble following big wins with more wins. The Capitals were 3-7 in games immediately following contests they won by a margin of three or more goals in calendar 2007.

A 4-1 win over Ottawa on Nov. 8 was followed by a disappointing 5-2 loss on home ice at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 10.

“We’re not going to go anywhere if we continue to play like that,” said Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig after that loss to the Lightning. “We made a point of it before the game to start putting some points together at home. We’re awful at home right now. We can’t get it done and the third period was a prime example of that. We’ve talked about it enough the last couple of weeks.

“It all comes down to individuals knowing what they have to do and that’s it. If you need somebody else to tell you to get motivated, you’re probably in the wrong league.”

Hall Marks –
Former Caps defenseman Scott Stevens was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame on Nov. 12, and the late Dave Fay, longtime Caps beat writer for the Washington Times was honored by the Hall that same day.

Ducking Out – With Alexander Semin coming off injured reserve before the Caps’ Nov. 19 game with Florida, Washington needed to make a roster move to get down to 23 players. That move came a few hours before game time when the Caps shipped center Brian Sutherby to Anaheim in exchange for a second-round draft choice in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

“It sucks,” said Kolzig when asked about Sutherby’s departure after the game. “He was a great teammate and a great guy. But it’s good for him. It’s a fresh start and a new opportunity. I think everybody is going to miss him here. He was a big part of our team and a big part of our dressing room. That’s hockey. That’s pro sports.”

Seven in the Wrong Direction –
The Capitals’ 4-3 loss  to Florida in that Nov. 19 game was Washington’s seventh consecutive setback in one-goal games. The Caps were 1-6-1 in one-goal games at that stage of the season.

Home Sick –
After a Nov. 21 loss to the Thrashers at Verizon Center, the Caps had scored more than three goals in a home game just once in nine games in 2007-08. They had done so only three times in 21 games overall. In their previous five games on Verizon Center ice – all losses – the Capitals held the lead for just 25:02 combined.

Washington’s 2-7 record on home ice at that point was the worst in the NHL and the worst by any Capitals team in the previous quarter century. The 1981-82 Caps went 1-7-1 in their first nine home games before reeling off six straight wins on the old Capital Centre ice to pull back to .500.

At 6-14-1, the 2007-08 Caps were off to the team’s poorest start since the 1981-82 club posted a 5-14-2 mark (12 points) after 21 games. The ’81-82 team started 1-14-1 before going on a 7-1-1 run.

That game turned out to be Hanlon’s last as Washington’s coach. In his postgame press conference, he unwittingly foreshadowed what would become the Capitals’ postgame locker room soundtrack after Washington wins.

“We have lots of good people here,” said Hanlon. “It’s not easy. Something’s going to have to happen. You never stop believing. That’s the real hard part of handling losing, is that you can never stop believing.”

Coaching Change – On the morning of Nov. 22 – Thanksgiving Day in the States – Bruce Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon as Washington’s head coach. Boudreau became the 14th coach in Caps history and the 10th of those men to take over in mid-season.

Boudreau also became the third Washington coach to go directly from behind the Hershey Bears bench to the Capitals’ bench. The last time the Caps tabbed a Hershey coach as their head man in the District was in Nov. 1981 when Bryan Murray was promoted from the AHL. Murray stayed on the job for more than eight years and still holds the all-time franchise record for games coached (672) and wins (343).

Boudreau coached more than 1,000 games in four different leagues before getting his first taste as an NHL head coach. He won an ECHL championship with Mississippi in 1999 and has had a losing record only twice in his 15 seasons as a pro head coach.

Boudreau fashioned a 103-45-11-16 record in two-plus seasons as the Bears’ coach. He led the team to a Calder Cup championship in 2005-06 and an AHL-best 51-17-6-6 record in 2006-07.

Shave Every Day and You’ll Always Look Keen –
A quick look at Nicklas Backstrom’s face will tell you that his cheeks haven’t seen much shaving cream during his 20 years on planet Earth. But Backstrom got a face full of Foamy in Philly on Nov. 23.

Minutes after setting up the Swedish rookie for the first overtime game-winning tally of his NHL career, Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin snuck up on Backstrom, who celebrated his 20th birthday in style with the overtime winner. Ovie wound up and caught the kid flush in the face with a shaving cream pie. After enjoying the first multiple-point game of his 22-game NHL career, Backstrom found himself peeling pillows of the stuff off his face, out of his eyes and off his hair.

Ovechkin was on the receiving end of a Jeff Halpern shaving cream pie in Boston late in the 2005-06 season, on the night he reached the 100-point plateau.

“Halpy [got me],” remembers Ovechkin. “That was shocking. So I got [Backstrom], and he was shocked, too.”

Four in a Row –
Following Ron Wilson, Bruce Cassidy and Glen Hanlon, Boudreau became the fourth straight Caps head coach to win in his first game behind the team’s bench. The 14th coach in Caps history, Boudreau’s Nov. 23 victory over the Flyers in his debut raised the first-game record of those 14 men to 7-7 overall.

“It feels kinda cool,” said Boudreau, of having an NHL win under his belt. “This has been a good 24 hours. I think the mindset of the team today was that they weren’t going to give in. That’s all credit to them and the leadership in the room, because it would have been very easy when you’ve got a 3-0 lead and you seem to be controlling the game and they come back to tie it to just say, ‘Oh man, here we go again.’ But their mindset was pretty good.

“We talked about adversity and it makes you stronger. The good players overcome adversity. It’s easy to sit there and feel sorry for yourself when bad things happen to you. But the mentally strong person is usually the person that succeeds. No matter what happens, it was 1-0 after the first and we were still winning by one after the second. So it was a real positive period for the team.”

Rare Deuce –
When Chris Clark converted a Viktor Kozlov feed early in the second period of that Nov. 23 win over the Flyers, it marked the first time in 323:39 that the Capitals had a two-goal lead in any game.

Up Three – It had been a while since Washington enjoyed 3-0 leads in consecutive games; the Nov. 23 and 24 games marked the first time the Caps had opened up 3-0 leads in consecutive games since before the lockout. Those two contests also marked only the second time in the 2007-08 season that the Caps had scored as many as three goals in consecutive games (Oct. 27-29).

Stopping the Southeast Skid – The Caps’ Nov. 24 win over Carolina ended a stretch in which Washington went 0-6-1 in its previous seven games against divisional foes. The Caps started the season by winning their first three games against Southeast Division opponents.

First Cut is the Deepest – Washington’s 3-1 loss to the Sabres on Nov. 26 dropped the team’s record to 1-11-1 in games when it allowed the first goal of the game. That was the worst record in the league in that situation at that stage of the season.

That’s Not Right – Washington’s 2-1 shootout loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers on Nov. 28 came against righty-catching netminder Tomas Vokoun. At that stage of the season, there were five right-handed catching netminders in the league who had NHL history against the Capitals: Los Angeles’ J-S Aubin, the Islanders’ Rick DiPietro, Edmonton’s Mathieu Garon, Colorado’s Jose Theodore and Florida’s Vokoun. Those five goaltenders had combined to go 24-17-3 with six shutouts and a 2.26 goals against Washington during their NHL career.

Those same five goaltenders had a 576-576-24 career record with 76 shutouts and a 2.71 goals against average at that point. It’s fair to say that the Capitals have struggled against righty-catching netminders.

October Notebook here>>

December Notebook here>>

January Notebook here>>

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