Sunday, December 21, 2014

Last Night - The Perfect Illustration of Why I Think They Should ALL Be Three Point Games....

If you understand the title of this blog, and if you are here reading my musings you probably do, you know exactly what the title referees to.  If you don't well here it is, in the NHL during the regular season some games count for two points and some games count for three points in the standings, and well that just , well ... makes no sense at all.  Until a couple of years ago every game counted for two points in the standings, win get two points, tie each team gets one point.  But hey someone decided , we hockey fans hated ties and in every game there had to be a winner and a loser, so the solution was ... now get this, if a game ends in regulation in a tie, each team still splits the two original points, but then gets to play first a 5:00 overtime at 4 on 4 and if that doesn't result in a winner they do a shootout - basically the NHL's version of a layup completion for an extra point and the one who wins that is the "winner" of that game, with the one who loses it getting the consolation prize - keeping the "looser" point they already won. And just to make sure they make it clear how dumb they know we fans think this skills competition to decide the winner of a team sport game is, if at the end of a season two teams are tied in the standings the first "tiebreaker" is the total number of Regulation and 4 on 4 overtime wins in the season.

However this past week in the NHL, especially if you are a Capitals fan, the ludicrousity of the current way things are done couldn't be driven home to you more with an 8# sledgehammer. First our Capitals take part in and loose a 20 round shootout in Florida, now remember one of the so called excuses for the shootout vice a longer 4 on 4 OT or following the 4 on 4 with a 3 on 3 is well it takes too long.  So that really short 20 round shootout, that was the way to go right? And now we had last night, the Caps are "on the bubble" battling the NY Rangers for third in the Division, they basically owned their opponent last night, the New Jersey Devils, especially for the last 40:00 of the game beating them in a 4-0 shutout.  For their efforts they were awarded two standings points and New Jersey got no points.  That makes sense right?  Sure until you look at the game that was played between the Rangers and the Hurricanes last night in Raleigh, NC.  There while the Rangers certainly did enough to earn a win, it too them a 3 round shoot out to get is so they too got two points last night just like the Capitals.  My point is had all games been worth the same weight in the standings the Capitals would have edged one point further in front of the Rangers last night.  In fact if a Regulation win was worth three points while the Metropolitan Division Standings would be the same then the Capitals would have 50 standings points to the Rangers 47  and we wouldn't need to keep track of "ROW" at all. 
 

I could talk about last night's game in Newark more but it's been all over the web and NHLN all day so far.  Here's five quick hit take away points from the game and the coverage: 

1) Braden Holtby played very well and earned his shutout - 21 saves were required of him and several were very difficult to make.

2) Ovechkin's goal was one of those highlight reel Ovi goals we will see many times more and one of his best moves ever.

3) Nicklas Backstrom is an awesome hockey player too and it takes Ovi doing something like 2) above to cast even a small amount of shade on that fact from time to time.

4) This Mike Green guy ... really good at hockey as well, probably time for the Caps to figure out how to extend/resign him.

5)  The entire Capitals team is now wholly invested in the new system under Barry Trotz and basically getting better every game they play at executing it.

But in the end this is just hockey not world peace we are talking about here so moving on to my next hockey musing, "How 'Bout dem Caps! anyways?" Playing 0.700 hockey in their last ten games and looking more and more like a very solid team every game they play.  Next up are the Ottawa Senators, who are solidly on the bubble right now so that won't be an easy game, tomorrow night at DC's Verizon Center.  Then on Tuesday night it's a trip up to Madison Square Garden to face those very same NY Rangers on Manhattan.  Then after Christmas they face the Penguins in Pittsburgh on the 27th and the Islanders in Uniondale on the 29th before coming home for the Winter Classic on New Year's day here in DC.  And I thought I had a busy holiday season planned, wheh!

LETS GO CAPS!!!!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Is the Trend Really Our Friend? Are the 2014-15 Capitals Really Harder to Play Against Than the 2013-14 model was?

Good Evening Capitals fans and a fine late, late fall evening it is since this evening the Capitals find themselves playing 0.581 hockey for the NHL Regular season to date and once again "on the right side of the bubble.:  Additionally as one of my mentors used to say, "the trend is our friend," and with a record of 6-2-2 (0.700) in their last 10 games and 5-0-2 in their last 7 games the trend is indeed our friend. 

That said, not to be a buzzkill, it is worth noting that so far this season through 31 games the Caps have 36 points and a record of 15-10-6 with 14 ROW while last year at this point (31 games played) they had 36 points and were 17-12-2 with just 10 ROW.  You'll remember last year  when the end of the regular season came along the Capitals all took off their skates and immediately put on their golf shoes.  That's why it is important that two things we all seem to feel right now are true: 1) the trend is indeed our friend and the Capitals can sustain that trend for the remaining 3 1/2 months in this regular season; and 2) the Capitals of 2014-15 are a harder team to play against than the Capitals of 2013 - 14.  So let's take a look and see if the data and facts support those two anecdotal "feelings."

First are they harder to play against?  and Is the trend indeed our friend? Facts/data - through 31 games the Caps this season have earned a standings point in 21 games (67.7%) while last season they had done so in only (61.3%).  This season they have ROW in 45.2 % of their games while last season at this point it was an abysmal ~30%.  By the ~tens last season games 20 - 31 the Capitals went 6-4-1 with 4 ROW (0.650) ; this season's games 20 - 31 the Caps are 6-2-3 (0.750) with 6 ROW.  Seems like the trend is more our friend right now than last season and the difference in ROW is some indication of the results of being harder to play against - the real driver of that is their overall improvement in Corsi For and Corsi Against, IMO as well.  Team Goal Differential to date is +6, at the end of 8 games last season the Caps team goal differential was -5, that's a huge difference that says the Caps are tougher "on the puck" now then last season, IMO.  So when you look at both the basic as well as the "fancy stats" and then also consider the roster's individual stats  so the Caps have balanced scoring more than they've had in a long time, and it's obvious the offense is starting in the defensive zone with the scoring being well supported by the entire Blue Line Corps, the answers are indeed.  Yes the Caps are a much harder team to play against this season than last, and Yes, the trend is our friend. 

BUT fellow Caps fans don't celebrate quite yet, from what I can tell, the Capitals aren't even close to getting off the bubble and being solidly a playoff team quite yet and they have to keep up their current play of 0.700 for another months to be so, They are solidly in the middle of the "bubble pack" right now and we are only 37.8% through the regular season right now. If you look at the league standings the  Caps are in 8th place in the Eastern Conference: 1/2 game behind the Panthers who are in 7th; 2 games behind the 6th place Maple Leafs, 2 games behind the 5th place Canadians, 2 1/2 games behind the fourth place Red Wings, and three games behind the third place Islanders.  The , Habs, Wings  and Islanders all have 6 more points that the Capitals but really all nine teams from the third place Islanders through the 11th place Senators are within a 10 point spread with 60+% of the regular season still to play.  Even the Second place Lighting and First Place Penguins are theoretically within striking distance for the Caps, Panthers, Bruins and Rangers (10th place). However the reality is Pittsburgh has played awesomely though all sorts of adversity this season and (goal differential +28, overall 0.742 on the season through 31 games played) and the Lightning have been pretty solid across the board as well (goal differential +23, 0.652 on the season through 33 games played).  However if the Capitals can finish out December (13 games total) with at least 19 of the 26 available points, 0.731, which is possible given they have 12 of those 19 points so far and have the opportunity to capture as many as 10 more, so "all" they need to do is "just" keep playing 0.725+ hockey.  Then for the Caps to likely get off the bubble "on the right side" as quickly as possible, they continue playing that style, effort and getting those results through, at least their game on January 16th against the Predators in Smashville, (another 8 games) so they have at least another 11 points and that would give them a total of 54+ points through 44 games and give them a 0.614 record overall on the season.  Then if the Caps can keep that up they would end the season with what I consider a magic number ... 100 points and be solidly on the right side of the bubble and very, very likely NOT need to play the "Wildcard Sweepstakes" to get into the playoffs.

But the quest for all those things starts tomorrow evening in Newark, NJ against those pesky Devils who are always tough for us to play against even though they are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games.  The Devils have a -22 goal differential in 33 games played primarily because they don't score enough goals, they only have 74 goals for (2.24 GFG) so far, as compared to the Capitals' 2.94 GFG so far this season which coincidently is only slightly more than the Devils' GA/G of  2.91.  So, as long as the Caps drive the net as hard tomorrow evening as they did last evening against the Blue Jackets they should come away from Newark with "a two point night."  However, as I said we are talking about the always pesky Devils and that's why they play the games on the ice.

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Midwinter's Night's Dream

This evening I was musing (that's sorta like dreaming right? - well to me it is anyway) musing about the Capitals and the month of December, you know the run-up to the Winter Classic.  Right now the Caps sit in fourth place in the Metropolitan division with 34 points in 30 Games played with 13 ROW. Just on the wrong side "of the bubble" behind the Panthers for a Wild Card (Florida has 34 points in 29 games played) and the Rangers for Third Place in the Division (also 34 points in 29 games played.)

So far during the month of December, the Caps have played seven (7) games and are 4-1-2, (4 ROW) that's 0.714 hockey getting standings points in 6 of those 7 games.  In their last ten games, the Caps are 5-2-3 (0.650).  So right now the Capitals are playing pretty well, and that's a good thing as the Caps have six more games to play this month, five of which are on the road against Division rivals. So my midwinter's night dream is that the Caps keep playing like they have been and play at least 0.700 hockey the rest of this month which would mean they'd end the month with 43 points (18-11-7, 17 ROW) and 0.597 on the season on the eve of the Winter Classic.  That would likely put them "on the right side" of the bubble again.  It would also mean the Capitals had played 0.731 hockey through a 13 game month where 9 of the 13 games were on the road.  Basically the month of December is looking more and more like a very critical month in the Cap's quest to ensure they make the playoffs when the regular season comes to an end on April 11, 2015.

My other hockey musing of late, I don't know why, is how much I hate "the shootout."  What a horrible way to determine the winner of a sport that is so much a team game.  Also why do teams that can't win in regulation get to split more points than teams that can?  I mean if a game is worth three points, why isn't every game worth three points?  If you want to give a team that takes the winner past regulation play one point fine do that, but if a team wins in regulation why don't they get all three points?  Look in reality I'm fine with every game being two points and if at the end of 60:00, during the regular season, end it a tie and each team gets 1 point; if a team wins in regulation give them two.  But if you are for three point games I'm definitely for playing 10 minutes of 4 on 4, then 5 minutes of 3 on 3, or 5 minutes of 5 on 5 and 10 minutes of 3 on 3 before going to some potentially ridiculous (20 rounds for example of ridiculous) shootout/skills competition.  But hey, I'm just saying....

In the meantime, tomorrow night the Caps take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus.  The Jackets are on a 7 game winning streak and 7-3-0 in their last ten, the key to beating them is "beating Bob" - Sergei  Boborvski has a GAA of just 1.71 in those 7 games including a 3-2 OT win over the Capitals just six nights ago here in Verizon Center.  Also don't count on a 60:00 game, only 2 of the Blue Jackets last 7 games have been settled in regulation, one of those extended time games was a 1-0 shootout win against the Red Wings last night while the Caps were going through their 20 round shootout in Sunrise.  Anyhow I think the Caps have shown they can score pretty well against the Blue Jackets and the way they played last night was pretty solid against a pretty solid goalie so I'm looking for the game to end:

Capitals  2 - Blue Jackets 1.


LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Up or Down? Heads or Tails?

Two weeks ago I mused that the Caps had a busy time ahead and how their play to that point exemplified "life on the bubble".  At that point their 2014-15 season was 23.7% complete and they were playing slightly over 0.550 hockey, well this morning their season is 30.5% complete and they are now playing 0.520 hockey to date.  So they are still exemplifying life on the bubble - it's just that this morning they are on the wrong (as opposed to the right) side of the bubble. why that is the case simply remains a mystery to this fan boy but it is the case.  Why they are 4-5-1 as opposed to something considerably better is a mystery to me as well.  I mean I know its because they can't or won't finish off an opponent, you know get and keep that two goal lead next goal as opposed to letting their one goal down opponent tie the game in the third period, I just can't figure out why that keeps happening.  If I could figure it out, I could probably make a good living as one of Barry Trotz's assistants right now though so I'm not alone in my quandary.

The Caps awaken this morning with 26 standings points in 25 games played, ten (10) of their 11 wins on the season are ROW so that's on a better pace than they had last season (a good thing since last season they didn't make the post season).  Of the four "loser" points they've captured, two (2) are from shootout losses and two are from OT losses.  That's balanced play, unfortunately as I've mentioned before balance that equals 0.500 hockey is for all intents and purposes "mediocrity" at the NHL level.  I'm not ranting, you really cannot disparage being in the middle of the pack when you are talking about playing any professional sport's highest level.  I certainly couldn't do it, and I've seen some good hockey so far this season played by the Capitals.  However let's be clear when a professional athlete is paid to play at a sport's highest level whether it's under an NHL CBA league minimum deal or a deal closer to the  maximum under the salary cap - you know one of those say 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10M/year deal, a team's ownership, management, coaching staff and fan base are all asking when will we see this team raise Lord Stanley's Cup in June of what year? What will it take to make this team better and able to do that? Meanwhile, you can bet if they are playing regularly in the NHL every one of those athletes is saying how can I help my team go deep in the playoffs and ultimately win a Cup?

That's why in many ways "Life On The Bubble" is probably more frustrating than "Life in the Conner McDavid Sweepstakes" for both we fans and for the professionals.  Right now there are 13 of the 30 NHL teams , I'd characterize as "living on the bubble", number 11 in the league overall standings Winnipeg Jets have 32 points (in 27 games played) (0.592) while number 24 Arizona has 23 points in 27 games, though having lost their last two games and with a 3-5-2 record in their last 10 the Coyotes like the Flyers seem to be looking to solidly enter those McDavid Sweepstakes.  In any case the difference between number 11 and number 24 is just 9 standings points that's a pretty tight grouping around the midpoint of the current "bubble" upon which sit the Capitals and the New York Rangers each with 26 points in league overall standings positions 19 and 20 respectively.  Since neither the Capitals nor the Rangers look like teams destined to enter and win the McDavid Sweepstakes, it's likely going to be a year where we Caps fans will continue to frequently be on the edge of our seats and frustrated between now and April and we may not know if we'll need to buy playoff tickets until the last day of the season.  As such I for one wish to implore "my team" to please, please, please STOP playing down to the levels of your opponents on any given night .... PLEASE.  I know a lot of folks seemed to be pleased with Thursday's evening's game in Carolina, I was not.  I thought the Capitals could have easily played a better second period and put the Hurricane's away, I thought they should have never allowed the Cane's to tie the game and after that with just a little more grit and a bounce here or there that they could have/would have manufactured had the first and second lines worked just maybe 1.5% harder would have come, they could have had two more goals so the last 3:00 wouldn't have been a time where the Hurricanes even had a chance of tying the game.  That's what needs to happen - EVERY NIGHT - for this team to be playing 0.600 hockey instead of the 0.450 hockey they've played through their last 10 games.

Let's be clear and put this into perspective the 2014-15 Washington Capitals have the second highest salary payroll against the salary cap of the 30 teams in the NHL for this season as projected by capgeek.com - this team has been assembled and is being paid to win now.  The highest paid team - the Pittsburgh Penguins are doing what they are being paid to do - they are playing 0.720 hockey on the season to date; the top two three teams in the league standings to date, 1)the Tampa Bay Lightning have 39 points in 27 GP (0.722), 2) the Anaheim Ducks have 39 points in 28 GP (0.697)  and 3) New York Islanders have 38 points in 26 GP (0.731) all have payrolls that are $4, 5, and 6 million less than the Capitals so they are definitely doing what they're being paid to do and earning their money. The Caps need to play in a manner and achieve results that make an irrefutable case that they have earned their money for each of the remaining 57 games this season in order to ensure they make the playoffs, it's that straightforward.

My points and thoughts today are simple:

A) Caps Team please play YOUR game, play it "RIGHT" and play it with 110%+ effort from the initial faceoff for ALL 60:00 tonight.  Do NOT, please, play down to the level of your opponent the New Jersey Devils. Do that and you should get a 2+ goal led by the middle of the second period lead and keep it through the end of the game.  Please don't play like you pretty much have most of the other 25 games to date this season and keep us on the edge of our seats to the bitter end of the game - the Devils really aren't good enough this season that this game should be in doubt with less than 10:00 left in regulation. Oh and to make sure that doesn't happen by Corey Schneider stealing a game or a point - crash the net.

B) Once you do that all tonight imprint it in your minds and please repeat it every game for the rest of them until the regular season ends in April and then just turn it all up a couple of notches for the post season.

C) Caps management - the time to start fixing this team or finish doing so, depending on your viewpoint is now.  Step (1) is getting yourself some Salary Cap space now so you can get what you need. I've said it before and I'll say it now - if the Capitals are ever going to win a Stanley Cup there can be nothing off the table.  To me I look at the roster in two directions 1) From the highest paid guys to the lowest and 2) from the goal line out. From either direction the first question I ask is: "Can I see this guy skating around Verizon Center with a Stanley Cup raised above his head blood seeping from a re-opened cut on his head from "doing whatever it took to win" and an ear to ear grin on his face in a Capital's Sweater and here's my answers:

TOP PAID DOWN                                 GOAL LINE OUT
Ovechkin    - YES                                    Holtby - Maybe
Backstrom  - YES                                    Peters - NO
Green          - Probably                            Green -  Probably
Niskanen    - Probably                             Niskanen - Probably
Orpik          - YES                                    Orpik - YES
Laich          - No                                       Carlson - YES
Carlson       - YES                                    Alzner - Probably
Brouwer     - Yes                                      Schmidt - Maybe
Ward          - Yes                                      Orlov - No
Alzner        - Probably                              Erskine - No
Chimera      - Probably                             Hillen - NO
Johannsson - Yes                                      Backstrom - YES
Orlov           - No                                      Johannson - Yes
Erskine        - No                                      Burakovsky - Maybe
Holtby         - Maybe                                Kuznetsov - Maybe
Fehr             - Probably                             Beagle - Probably
Peters          - NO                                       Latta - Maybe
Beagle         - Probably                              Ovechkin - YES
Kuznetsov - Maybe                                    Laich - No                                          
Burakovsky - Maybe                                 Chimera - Probably
Wilson         - Yes                                      O'Brien - Probably
Hillen           - NO                                      Wilson - Yes
Schmidt        - Maybe                                Brouwer - Yes
Volpatti        - NO                                      Fehr - Probably
O'Brien         - Probably                             Ward - Yes
Latta             - Maybe                                 Volpatti - NO

So musing on this list forced me to think about the following in order -

i) If this guy is on the roster and playing in a Stanley Cup Finals do I see the Caps having the requisite talent and drive as a team to be able to win?

ii) If this guy is on the roster and playing in a Stanley Cup Finals do I see him as an individual player as having the requisite talent to be able to be in a position at this time in his career to help win games in a Stanley Cup Finals series?

iii) If this guy finds himself playing in the Stanley Cup Finals in May 2015, hurting or hurt, sucking for air at the end of a shift late in the third period or in the second overtime, do I see him doing whatever it takes to win even if he knows he's going to loose two teeth stopping a shot (in other words at that moment would he play like Bobby Clarke of the Flyers in the 1974 Finals) etc?

iv) Do I think this guy currently durable enough to make it through playing the majority of the season and several seven game playoff series in a way that he can stay healthy enough to be able to play well enough and hard enough to make a difference in a final game of a series if it were to need to go to multiple overtimes to be decided.

Rankings from best to worst are: YES, Yes, Probably, Maybe, No, and NO.

- At this point therefore what I'm saying is that if approached with a reasonable offer Brian MacLellan should consider offers for anyone whose name isn't spelled Ovechkin, Carlson, or Backstrom. Of course if they are a "Yes" need make sure that without a doubt unless you are crazy you'd agree the move makes the Capitals a better team - so it's a fair trade that would make both teams better by a trade of likely equally good players but puts them into positions on teams where they are better fits.

- I'm also saying that all NO, No and most if not all "Maybe" players should be shopped to either provide Cap space for "deadline deals" or to try and ensure this team can and does play 0.600 or better hockey during the rest of this season. So what I'm saying is NOW is the time to move Dmitry Orlov to another team and get something we need, maybe a solid backup goalie who we all would say is a "probably" NOW instead of a No or NO ....

- Probably guys should be closely examined and it needs to be determined how they can be either better utilized on the roster to make the team a more consistent 0.600+ team or moved for value that does. So for example, NOW is the time to make a decision on Mike Green, resign/extend him or trade him.

If management and the coaching staff doesn't do this now, it's likely that at the end of the season this team will still be drowning in a sea of "up or down" and "heads or tails" mediocre play and results.  Also at that time we Caps fans will again likely again in a situation where we can use the money we have in our pockets for a really good vacation at the beach instead of spending it on playoff tickets.

In the meantime a start in the right direction would be kicking the Devil's butts in Newark tonight.

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!