Monday, August 31, 2015

Still Quite Happy to Be A Caps Fan!!!

Well fellow Caps fans it's a little more than four months and then some since my last blog post.  The Caps exited the playoffs in mid-May, before they, you and  I 'd have liked, but once again I find myself optimistic about the upcoming season thanks to the moves the Caps have made since mid-June.  Once again Capitals GM Brian McClellan (GMBM) has seemingly filled the upcoming season with promise.  The Caps Free Agent signings, especially Justin Williams, as well as what I think will be a great "hockey" trade the Capitals:  TJ Oshie from Saint Louis for Troy Brouwer, Phoenix Copley and a third round draft pick.  Overall while I am very sad to see the departure of Mike Green from the Capitals I understand it and I like the way the 2015-2016 Washington Capitals team roster is looking as far as which UFAs they are signing and which UFAs they opted not to resign. The Capital's roster as it's shaped up is pretty interesting.

The resigning of both RFA's Braden Holtby and Marcus Johannson are things I like as well, I think having both those talented guys back and in the fold are solid things. 

Then we have the UFA departures/not resigning of Mike Green, Joel Ward, John Erskine, Tim Gleason or Curtis Glencross and Eric Fehr. I'll miss Mike Green and I think the Capitals will as well however, for the role that Barry Trotz and GMBM envisioned for Green, in the salary cap era and with the cap not going up much this season, the Capitals just couldn't afford to keep him at $6+M per season.  Notice I'm not commenting on other aspects of this, as one of my biggest fears for the next couple of seasons is meeting the Red Wings in the playoffs and having Mike Green, in Norris Trophy finalist form, scoring game 7 game winners against us.  So yes, I'm a Mike Green fan and will remain so and I really wish him well.  All I will say is to make sure that doesn't happen a guy who now wears the number 2 on a Capitals sweater needs to step up his game, despite have a pretty solid season in his first year as a Washington Capital last year.

I'll also miss Joel Ward and I think if Ward had indicated a clear willingness to sign a 3 year deal in the neighborhood he ended up with in San Jose, he would likely still be a Washington Capital. Alas, I think the Capitals were smart to say a clear no to a four year term deal for the 33 year old Ward, and I think the change out of Wardo and Troy Brouwer for TJ Oshie and Justin Williams is overall a step forward and might be a big part of what the Capitals need to make further into the playoffs in 2016.

Another lesser discussed signing I like is Dan Ellis, to say that last season Justin Peters underwhelmed is understatement, now how the three/four goalie situation gets handled remains to be seen but I'm betting Peters is on waivers on his way to Hersehey at the end of training camp assuming Ellis is healthy and ready to go as Holtby's primary backup.  In fact I'm betting that Peters is Grubauer's backup in Central PA when the season starts and asking for a trade, any trade to any NHL team that will give him a shot. 

These signings and the Oshie trade all mean to me that the team that takes the ice for the season opener will be different, in a positive sense, then the one that left the ice on May 15th.  The add of Oshie and  Williams mean the Right Wing side of the Caps Forward Lines are looking  much, much different than when the Caps left the ice this spring; and that young Andre Burakovsky as well as young Tom Wilson and Marcus Johanson can all be rotated through the second and third lines so they are fresh, healthy and productive well they continue to develop their offensive and two way games, all season long.  Then on lines one and two, the Caps go from having really no clear 1RW to having ... well no clear 1RW but for an entirely different reason then this spring - because they have two guys who could/will compliment 19 and 8 on the first line.

Then we have the 180 degree change for the Caps at the 2C positing, 2C IMO has been pretty much a no mans land since the Caps opted not to resign Mike Ribero and he went to Nashville.  But now?   Well, to me the 2015 playoffs confirmed Evgeny Kuznetsov in the number 92 car as the Capitals 2C and  McClellan has now signed  him to an entirely reasonable 2 year $6M extension.  Also, I'll go out on a limb here and assume that Marcus Johansson will play 3C and that line will be faster and more skillful and productive than it has been since the 2009-2010 season. So, I believe that will leave the Capitals with a top six of: Ovechkin - Backstrom - Williams  and Burakovsky or Johannson - Kuznetsov - Oshie; then for the third and fourth lines I see Laich -Joahnsson- Wilson and Chimera - Beagle - Latta.   This team has forward depth, size, talent and grit top to bottom in my view.

At the end of the day the guy who really doesn't fit in terms of productivity and salary cap hit vs. role though now is Brooks Laich.  A guy struggling to fit into the lineup on the third or fourth line and whose main talent, right now is on the PK,  should not be a guy with a salary cap hit forward of  $4.5M.  Look around the league and what do you see for that kind of money?  I'll tell you 20 foot, two way players who are clearly on the top 6 forward, a clear cut second liners who put pucks in the net as well as they keep other teams from scoring.  Brooks Laich used to be one of those but that day passed when he missed most of two seasons with injury.  As yourself for his current $4.5M Brooks Laich or Brad Marchand?  Brooks Laich or Matt Belesky?  Brooks Laich or Louie Erikson?  Brooks Laich or Scott Hartnell?  Brooks Laich or Matt Stajan?  Brooks Laich or Bryan Bickell?  Brooks Laich or Johan Franzen?  Brooks Laich or Milan Lucic?  Brooks Laich or Marian Gaboriak?  Brooks Laich or Max Pacioretty?  Brooks Laich or David Desharnais?  Brooks Laich of Lars Eller?  Brooks Laich or Mike Fisher? Brooks Laich or Kyle Okposo? Oh and if you said Kyle put  $1M in your pocket?  Brooks Laich or Mats Zucarello? Brooks Laich or Wayne Simmonds?  Oh and if you said Simmonds put $500K in your pocket.  Brooks Laich or Patric Hornquist?  How about this one - Brooks Laich or Joel Ward and if you said Wardo put $1.25M in your pocket.   Brooks Laich or David Backes?  Brooks Laich or James Van Riemsdyk?  Brooks Laich or Tyler Bozak?  Brooks Laich or Bryan Little?  Brooks Laich or Andrew Ladd?  I think the above illustrates my point going through the contracts and Cap hits of comparably compensated players I just named 20+ players I consider better values for ~$4.5M of salary cap hit (or less) than the player Brooks Laich is today.  Geroge McPhee made some good deals and signings, in retrospect and with another season (the 2016-17 season) to go on it, the contract Laich was signed to in 2011 was not one of them.  Hopefully he can get to be 80+% of the player/contributor that deserved that contract in the 2010-11 season.  Unless he does though he will be significantly overpaid versus his "comps" around the NHL.  I'll work hard this season not to bring this item up again and hopefully Brooks returns to the form that earned him his current contract so I won't be tempted to mention it ever again.

Now on to other items of interest - only forty days  till the 2015-16 season opens ... though before that we'll have training camp and get to once again watch heart and soul guys like Liam O'Brien, Sean Collins, and Nate Schmidt fight for a roster spot.  All while we get a chance to see how talented youngsters like Stan Galiev, Madison Bowey, Nathan Walker, Jakab Vrana, and Conner Carrick are developing and getting ready to challenge for a spot here in the NHL ... will it be now?  From what I see the Caps cupboards are stocked, the system in place and the time may even be now.  What time you ask?  The time we've all been waiting for....


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Has Sprung and You Know What That Means...

Sorry for the now almost six weeks since my last blogpost fellow musers.  I had some work related travel and a few other distractions with life in the meantime and lets face it, this blog isn't really a priority with me like it was several years ago.  Also I really didn't have all that much to write about
.  At the time of my last blogpost on February 12th, our Washington Capitals were pretty much in the same place, standings-wise as they are now, well on their way to a playoff spot but not a shoe-in by any means.  In the ensuing almost six weeks and 22 games the Capitals have gathered 8 more ROW than they had on 2/12 and an 11-7-0 record (22 more standings points).  That's not as good by any means as the Ottawa Senators who now basically trail the Caps by just 1 game in the Eastern Conference standings (since 2/12 the Senators have been the hottest team in hockey with a blistering 16-2-1 record).  I mention the Senators just to illustrate why I believe the Capitals while on the right track are not shoe-ins for the playoffs.  Six weeks ago did anyone in the Hockey world think the then 10th place (in the Conference) Senators would be in control of their own destiny right now as far as making the playoffs.  I doubt it - at least other than the Senators themselves maybe.

Right now to me it looks like to be sure your team makes the playoffs in the East, they're going to need 98+ points and at least 39 ROW.  Are the Caps on track for that - simply put if they keep playing just under 0.600 hockey between now and tax day, yes; if they backslide to 0.500 they will find themselves in the dogfight for the top spot on the bubble with Boston, Ottawa (can any team keep up the pace they are on - that remains to be seen), and to a lesser degree, Florida if the Panthers stay on their current 0.650 pace or pick it up a little. So here's how I see the Eastern Conference regular season ending.  The current top three teams: Rangers, Canadians, and Lightning will be the top three teams; in the Metropolitan Division I just don't see anyone who is within striking distance (Islanders, Penguins, or our Capitals) playing that much better than 0.600 the rest of the way - the schedules are too tough for all three teams and right now the Islanders are 0.400 in their last 10 games while the Penguins are 0.450.  Additionally all three of the teams chasing the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division are 4.5 - 6 games behind the Rangers and have less than 10 games left in their seasons and even if the Senators basically "win out" they end up with 105 points,  so assuming the Rangers who've been 8-1-1 in their last 10 games regress to 0.500 hockey in their last 11 games of the season and finish with 110 points they still likely win the Division and are one of the top 3 seeds in the Conference. Nope the scoreboard watcher's excitement here in the East is the battles for seeding between the Red Wings, Islanders, Penguins and Capitals; and the battle between Ottawa, Boston and at least for a few more games, Florida for the final available playoff spot in the Conference. 

As far as the battle between the Red Wings, Islanders, Penguins and Capitals for seeding, I'll note that while all three of their rivals have games in hand on the Caps, only the Capitals have a better than 0.500 in their last 10 games.  Additionally in my view while Detroit and the Islanders may have a slightly easier schedule but I subjectively feel the Caps remaining schedule is the toughest of those four while the Penguins is the weakest/easiest.  All that said I don't think it matters that much.  The Conference beyond 1, 2, and 3 is wide open and once the second season starts any of the eight teams that get in after the next three weeks could win the Conference and make it deep to the Stanley Cup finals as far as I can tell.

Out West while Dallas is trying to make it interesting playing to an 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games they basically have to win out in their last 9 games and finish with 98 points to be sure of making the playoffs, maybe they could loose one and finish with 96 if  both Minnesota and Winnipeg somehow choke/tank but given both of those teams are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games the odds of that happening are miniscule, IMO.  It's even doubtful to me that the LA Kings who are now 1 1/2 games behind the Jets and 1 game behind Calgary with 10 games to play get in though it will be a few more games before on can "call that ball." Otherwise it's all just a battle for seeding for 1-3 between Anaheim, Nashville, and Saint Louis and for 4-8 between Chicago, Vancouver, Calgary, Minnesota, Winnipeg *and/or, if they somehow make it, LA.  The only team in that mix NOT playing 0.600+ hockey in their last ten games are the Predators though and they already have 96 points and 36 ROW so they'd finish with 100+ and ~40 ROW even on their current (last 10 games) 0.350 pace.

So Caps fans next up those pesky Devils from Newark on Thursday evening here at Verizon Center and I say....


Thursday, February 12, 2015

How Much Tougher To Play Against Are the '14-'15 Caps than the '13-'14 Version?

Well if you're wondering just how much tougher a team to play against this season's version of the Washington Capitals are than last seasons, I say look no further than one particular column in the NHL Standings.  I'm not a total "fancy stats" guy, in the end I'm really a bottom line kind of guy.  To me to answer the question: "are this season's Washington Capitals Much Tougher a team to beat than last season's model?"  I say the answer is a resounding "YES!" and point to the NHL Standings column "ROW" - Regulation & overtime Wins - last season through all 82 games the Caps tallied a total of twenty eight (28).  This season through fifty five (55) games the Caps now have twenty seven (27), that's why this season the Caps are on pace to total 100+ points and last season they totaled 90 when the season was over.  So if you're "STH" - Season Ticket Holder start saving your sheckels to pay for your playoff tickets and keep rooting for the Caps to keep playing like they've been playing since the start of December.

The Caps are not playing tonight and to be honest I dozed off at the backend of the second period during last evening "tilt" in San Jose, so if you're looking for a good recap/summer go on over to Peerless's Blog

In the meantime if you are going to watch tonight's games I put this little guide so if you like me are a Capitals fan you can easily identify who you should be rooting for this evening.

In the meantime, I'm already thinking about the Caps next game in LA at Staples Center and hoping "our boys" are charged up to put on a good show and snatch another two points in front of their Dads as it's the start of the annual Fathers Trip.



Friday, February 6, 2015

It's All Good As Far As I can Tell In "CapsLand" Today....

Well fellow Caps fans in the week that has occurred since my last public musings/blog post as far as I can tell it's pretty much all good here in "Capsland." 

From a "big picture perspective" the Caps remain on track for a 100 point/40+ ROW season even though currently they are in the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as the third place NY Rangers have 3 games in hand on the Caps.  However the overall metropolitan Division race has tightened as only three points separate the Caps from the First Place Islanders.  Additionally the top of the Eastern Conference Standings have also tightened, even though 7 points separate the seventh place Caps from the first place Tampa Bay Lightning, only three points separate them from the Third Place Montreal Canadiens. Additionally there are now 8 points between the Caps and the currently "wrong side of the bubble" ninth 9th place Florida Panthers.  All things to ponder, muse/consider with just three weeks left before the 2014-2015 NHL Season trade deadline.

The Caps have played four games this past week racking up a 2-1-1 record, that 0.625 hockey, more importantly they had a GAA of slightly under 1.50 in those four games including a less than stellar defensive performance against the Saint Louis Blues where they allowed a high of 40 SOG by the Blues and lost 4-3.   Backup Goalie Justin Peters posted a SV% of 0.900 in the Saint Louis game but the Caps were basically just slightly outplayed by the Blues in every facet of the game and neither team played even close to their best hockey in front of wither Peters or Blues goaltender Brian Elliott who posted a 0.917 SV% against 36 Capitals SOG.  To me the second two periods of the game were the best goaltending we've seen from Peters since the start of the season and give me cause for hope.  I feel much of the fan calls for Peter's head are as much a result of just how well Braden Holtby is playing as they are caused by the fact that to date Peters has played just that much under where the Caps need him to play.  I've said it before, in the Caps are on their game and our net-minder posts a 0.915+ SV% two regulation goals should get the team at least one standings point and three goals all but guarantees a two point ROW night.  Hopefully in his next outing Peters gets more team defense in front of him and he notches his gam up from a 0.900 SV% to a 0.915+ SV%.  The other three games the Caps played this week were well played, if not excellent+ efforts all, even the 1-0 OT loss to Montreal at Belle Centre.  My view of the Montreal Game is the loss was due to two words - Carey Price, the Caps were very good up in Montreal but it was a night where Carey Price basically stole two points from Washington. 

The other two games were just awesome clinics in one way or  another.  Tuesday evening the reigning Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings came into town and faced Braden Holtby and the Capitals and all the Caps did is have Holtby pitch a perfect game 4-0 shutout while Troy Brouwer-Power scored two goals in 16:10 TOI while playing in his 500th NHL game.  As others noted afterward it was as complete and perfect execution of the Caps game plan as we've seen thus far this season. Against Ottawa last evening in Ottawa the Caps put on a clinic in three things a) how to properly respond to an opposing team opening the scoring in a game; and b) how to kill off penalties when the calls are going against you (Senators had 4 PP, Caps 0); and finally c) how to play with and protect a one goal lead in the final period of a game, other than the penalties, that is.  Finally a simple observation, perhaps only in Ottawa does a one tem get basically outplayed in pretty much every aspect of the game, lose 2-1 and still somehow end up having two of the three named stars of the game. 

In any case now looking ahead to this coming weeks games, the Caps have two home games this weekend - the Ducks tonight and the Flyers on Sunday afternoon.  Then they leave for a West Coast/California road trip facing the Sharks in San Jose on Wednesday evening; the Kings at LA's Staples Center on Saturday Evening and then the Ducks on the other side of LA LA Land in Anaheim at Honda Center on Sunday Evening before jetting home. So over the next nine (9) days the Caps have five games - 2 at home and 3 on the other end of a pretty darn long road trip.

Before we look forward and muse about tonight's Duck-Caps tilt at Verizon Center a couple of season to date notable statistics and associated musings:

1)  Along with his score of his thirty second goal of the season last evening, Alex Ovechkin returned to his position atop the NHL goal scoring leaders in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. As noted elsewhere, Ovechkin is just the fifth player in the "modern era" to put up thirty or more goals in his first ten NHL seasons and as long as the stars stay aligned for him, he could possibly "notch" his sixth 50 goal season this year.  He also has 18 assists and is + 13 for people that care about those things as well.  Oh and over the past couple of weeks he gave a car away to a charity, you might have heard about it cause it means that unlike last season when he was a selfish, self-absorbed, person and not very good/incomplete hockey player, this season he's both great at hockey and a really, really excellent human being.  Don't you just love it when a young man turns his life around?  ... Just kidding but lets be clear Ovi is now a great person having a great season, and apparently Sidney Crosby is as close to an enigmatic professional hockey player as someone not born in Russia can get. Maybe this off-season Sid can retain whoever counseled Ovi last summer.

2) Braden Holtby is now in the top five NHL Goalies stats for GAA and Save Percentage with season to date numbers of GAA 2.14; SV% of 0.925.  Holtby is also number two in shutouts with six (6) and and sixth in wins with 25.  Solid numbers given his league leading forty - five (45) games played and 2,634:04 time on ice this season to date.

3) Nicklas Backstrom has slowly climbed his own way up the league leaders overall scoring leaders to fourth with 54 points; Nicklas is also second on the "assists" leaders board with 38 apples.  Also not too shabby.

4) The Capitals now have six players on the roster with 11 or more goals; eleven (11) players with 15 or more points; and eighteen different players have scored at least one goal. 

5) Among NHL Defensemen, John Carlson is 10th in scoring and Mike Green is 14th with 35 and 30 points respectively.  Overall as a team to date the Caps are 9th in the Goals Against Department with just 130 goals against allowed and sixth in differential with a +23.  No doubt this is a much tougher team to play against then the Capitals teams of the past two seasons.

Now about tonight - I'm rooting for another two point night for the Capitals and the way I see it they'll get the ROW.  I figure the Ducks should be tired from scoring 5 goals on the Predators and Pekke Renne last evening in Smashville and flying to DC last night - that flying stuff really makes those guys wings/arms tired as I hear it.  Seriously, another great test for the Capitals, if they can keep playing like they have for the last four games, smart, disciplined, structured hockey the Caps could win tonight against a team coached by their old coach. 

I'm calling it 4-2 final for the Caps with the fourth goal into the empty net with under 1:30 to play.