Friday, October 24, 2014

If You Ever Wondered ...

Fall is in the air here in "Bucoulic Bristow" the leaves on the hardwoods are turning, sunny Saturday traffic on Westbound route 66 will be packed with cars heading to Skyline Drive to see the fall splendor tomorrow. Oh and  wow, it only took six games for Hockey's "mainstream (lower case because of the following lower class examples) media" (MSM) to decide they want to continue to pummel on their made up idea that "Alexander Ovechkin is a stupid, coach killer."  See here.  Such tripe only continues to fuel my belief that since Hockey's MSM is filled with Canadians, who still can't stomach the fact that Europeans and Russians can play their National Game too, 98+% of what they write (or is that "wright" or "rite" who knows or say on TV) is fueled by Hockey Xenophobia.  But hey why listen to his current coach, who has not been fired and has an Ovechkin led team playing 0.667 hockey, on pace for a 109 point season (See Here) when you can listen to some guy who still craves the spotlight even though his on ice career is over or even worse is a "Never Was" let alone a "Used to Be".  I don't know why Healy, Krypos, or anyone else's comments but I do so here's a couple of points to muse - backed by facts and real data instead of sensationalistic, bigoted adjectives and "bloviation":

A) Ovi's average shift time, as with the rest of the Capitals is shorter than ever - and it's a product as I see it of the new system that EVERYONE on the Capitals including the Captain Alexander Ovechkin buys into.  Which I at least have always thought was a trait associated with being "coachable" though I admit and point out that is a "second order" relationship.  I offer the "Event Summary" from the Edmonton game and suggest if you or even better Glenn Healy before he spouts off inaccurate "stuff" again examine ANY of the other 5 games statistics of real data available for 2014-15 Season. If you don't want to click the link and read it in Edmonton Ovi played 22 shifts in the game with an average shift length including the 2:11 TOI he had on the PP of 53. 73 seconds; his average shift legnth has been tracking, similar and shorter than the other two forwards on his line (Backstrom and either Fehr or Brouwer) throughout the season; further reinforcing to me that he is indeed playing the system as desired by his coaches.  The only difference on this last game is Ovi only had 2 SOG and 5 attempts vice more in earlier games.  Of course a guy who's shooting percentage so far this season is markedly higher than it has been over his earlier career might be also changing where he shoots from and how many SOG he takes when he isn't in those higher percentage areas, of course that's just speculation on my part, and probably NOT something a "dumb" player with awards like a Hart Trophy would think to do.....

B) As far as loosing the room and/or other reasons why either Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, or Adam Oates were replaced as Caps coach, sure the easy thing to do is point to Ovi's big contract and role as Captain and say he's the reason.  However, as a guy who's been focused on the Capitals through Ovechkin's entire career to date I feel otherwise and point to the following:
  1. Glen Hanlon:  Hanlon was replaced in November 2007,  Ovehkin's current contract was signed in January 2008.  While some could say perhaps Ovi was the reason Hanlon was fired and the driver is/was Ovi's current contract, to me at best that's a third order relationship.  Perhaps Ovi then playing under his entry level contract, and his team of advisors that does include his Mother (a two time Gold Medalist and former Commissioner of a women's pro basketball league, who probably knows something about winning formulae,  was saying that among other things he did not think Hanlon didn't seem to be the coach to reach that level, but clearly there were other things they wanted before hitching Alex's star to the Capitals for what was likely his entire career. Further there were a lot of other current and former players who had issues with Hanlon's playing not to loose system.
  2. Bruce Boudreau:  Come on?  All on Ovi?  Really if you feel that you really didn't follow the Capitals.  I agree that letting Boudreau go wasn't a smart move or answer to the Caps woes when it happened, but he had lost over "half" the room if I can read between the line.  I'll also agree that Ovi was indeed one of the guys Boudreau lost.  I don't know why but I'll guess that Boudreau wanted to change up his system slightly - a system that in the regular season had frankly served Boudreau, Ovechkin and the entire team well, and Ovechkin was saying Hey, Coach Why Mess With Success? Instead of okay lets tweak things.  That said I'll bet just as Trotz's "leadership group" is a way for him to manage things and different, and Ovi is clearly responding differently to things like this now, Boudreau handled things like this differently since he arrived in Anaheim. So I guess I am saying I agree if you want to say Alexander Ovechkin is one of the reasons Boudreau was fired but he wasn't the only reason.
  3. Dale Hunter: Again come on.  Hunter wasn't the right guy.  He is like a King and Dictator in London and he likes it that way.  He was never going to be happy in the NHL as a coach.  As soon as he realized it was going to take a couple of years to get the Stanley Cup as a Coach he was going to insist whoever was GM do things his way as much as he was going to tell his star player, especially a non-North American player to shut up, sit down, and block shots first and foremost.  I'm betting the entire room, except for a few of the guys who played for him in London, grimaced every time he talked to them in front of his "Fathead" at KCI.  Total transparency here - I am not a lifelong Capitals fan and based on what he did in 1993 and I could never fault any hockey player for having trouble respecting the guy who did this. No to me Ovechkin wasn't the reason Hunter isn't the coach today - I'm betting he asked for some aspect of control, driven by his ego, that neither Leonsis or McPhee wanted to give a guy capable of being that out of control.
  4. Adam Oates:  Look Oates is a Hall of Famer and in his first half of season as Caps coach I think him moving Ovi to right wing worked for both of them and made Ovi a better player so how does that make Ovechkin "uncoachable"? Bottom line is the way last season ended lost Oates and McPhee their jobs and put this entire team, including Ovechkin, "on probation." Anyone who thinks, says, or writes otherwise is NOT looking at the big picture.  Clearly from the off-season moves the Capitals ORGANIZATION realized the blueline needed more focus, both in the system being played AND the personnel playing it.  Further a decision seems to have also been made, rightly so, IMO, that a winning team in the post season needed to play more of a "Western Conference" type game and say what you will but to me, Oates' system was more an Eastern Conference, tweaked New Jersey Devils approach to hockey than Trotz brings from his long tenure in "Smashville."  Finally post season comments by guys that include very stoic, clearly team players like Karl Alzner make me believe a LOT of post season discussions between ownership and players would have only further solidified a belief it was time for a change in both the GM AND the coaches offices here in DC.
C) Dumb? Not the sharpest knife in the drawer"?  "his mommy negotiated his contract and that's dumb" or any similar backhanded implication of such - come on.  Okay, Ovi never "gradiated" from a prestigious North American University like Western Michigan University like Healy did. Nor did he create any sort of on air in depth analysis segment, like Healy that highlights good players having bad games. I mean coming up with something like that requires deep thinking, after all it is the hockey media's equivalent of a movie like "Jacka$$", and no doubt requires a really smart creative guy to come up with something as intellectually stimulating as his TSN segments were/are. But Ovi did avoid paying 10% to someone outside his true inner circle to negotiate a contract, that at the time was the richest ever negotiated in NHL history.  He does have numerous endorsement deals worldwide that help he and others in the hockey world raise awareness for what is, world-wide, a niche sport.  He is bilingual, though it did take several years for him to be so and he still talks with pretty deep Russian accent. How well do you think Healy, Krypos, or any of these other MSM geniuses speak a second language? 

Healy played 15 NHL seasons and 437 NHL games as a NHL goaltender and managed a career 0.888 SV% a 3.37 GAA and 166 wins.  Contrast that to Ovi's career to date 9 NHL seasons, 678 games played, 422 goals, 392 assists, 3 World Championships (+ a silver and 2 bronzes) and yes NO Stanley Cups or Olympic Gold Medals, yet. Also Six (6) time first team and three (3) time second team NHL All Star; Calder Trophy, Hart Trophy (MVP) - 3X;  Art Ross Trophy (2008) and Richard Trophy (four times). Why not buy into Healy's assessments, ignore Ovechkin's current coach's recent statements and the basic facts/contrast of between a long tenured, "average" former NHL player, and one of it's current superstars?  Could this just not be a guy like Healy frustrated that a Non-Canadian like Ovi has kids in Edmonton lining up for his autograph and wearing his Jersey and number while often the only guys from Healy's era they remember or have heard about are truly generational players like Gretzky, Messier, etc?

 Of course the most ridiculous thing to note is that in spite of all the trash the SI NHL beat writers spew about Ovechkin, he was selected by them as "NHL Player of the Year" in 2013, I'm pretty sure that's the season they now say he was a coach killer to Boudreau and Hunter, showing just what jokes they are as hockey writers, at least to me.  And who is the dumb one?  I mean isn't it "dumb" to contradict yourselves so loudly and vociferously as they seem to do? Wouldn't a "smart" person, say one with a degree from such a prestigious university as Western Michigan (which ranks academically as 181 per US News and World Report) at least know when to research things and use facts accurately in a debate?  I mean even I know there's these things called the Internet and fancy search engines like "Google" to find out actual facts and statistics to use to confirm or refute my suspicions.  Then in a debate in front of millions I might actually only use those arguments that are substantiated by facts, I'm pretty sure it was news to Barry Trotz that with a 2-1-2 record he'd been fired this week. Finally yes Ovi's Mother is his agent, per say.  Her qualifications - two gold medals in Olympic basketball, and she was the head of a  Professional Basketball League and his father was a professional soccer player. So I'm pretty sure when he and they decided they didn't need some former hockey player, likely Canadian, or otherwise or an American or Canadian Lawyer to negotiate his contract with Ted Leonsis, they knew what they were doing, and it looks to me like they had about 12.5 Million reasons to go the way they did - and for my money only a stupid person would ignore that many reasons to do something.

Sure, when a team doesn't succeed and that gets a coach fired every player, particularly the leading players in the lineup bear some of the blame.  But when you read the SI article how can you ever wonder why Ovechkin, or any similar athlete say, when they are being honest, they really don't care and CANNOT care what media, has beens, used to bes or never could bes, say?  Also and this is me talking, how can you conclude anything other than these guys I) have some kind of ax to grind, ii) write/say things that are intentionally sensationalistic to garner attention, and iii) SI is the worst place to read anything about Hockey.

Next up for Trotz and his un-coachable Captain - the Flames tomorrow evening in Calgary.  I can't wait to hear the commentary from guys like Healy and Krypos after that game, regardless of the results or facts. Sorry for the rant I hope you at least found it entertaining, this fanboy, just had to get it off his chest.

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

When Will We Caps Fans Be Able To Decide This Is Going To Be A Good Season

So on Sunday Morning I started thinking about the answer to the question "when can I start to comfortably feel this Capitals team might be on track to have a good season and 'go deep" into the playoffs?"  I mean they are off to their best start to a season in several years and are playing harder on the puck than really the past four (4+) seasons, so that prompted me to think about this.

My first thought on the answer was ... well the season has to be at least 20% played out so that would be after game 17 - which occurs Saturday, November 15th in Saint Louis against the Blues.  So by that time the Caps will have played ten home games and seven road games; of the 17 games nine (9) will have been against 2014 playoff teams, and seven will have been against Western Conference teams.  That seems to be getting close to enough games to make a good estimation as to how the rest of the season will go for the Capitals, but just to be safe I'd say a few more games might be the conservative way to go before getting confident.  So since the remainder of the month of November's games after the game in Saint Louis on the 15th are six (6) more games that include two (2) games against Western Conference opponents (Arizona and Colorado) and a home and home against the Metropolitan Division Islanders who are playing exceptionally well so far this season, I've decided to wait until after game 23 on Saturday, November 29th in Toronto. 

In many ways that's being exceptionally conservative from a statistical significance perspective, but in a league at this level, where on any given evening any team can beat any other team; and injuries can drastically change how one lineup stacks up against any other team, I think that's the smart thing to do.  Also consider that right now nine (9) of the sixteen Eastern Conference teams are playing 0.600 or better hockey and IMO it's only a matter of time before the Bruins join that group and make it ten (10) before "regression to the norm" starts to pull some of those teams down to the 0.500 +/- level and "the bubble."  While I don't agree many pundits think the Caps will be one of those teams that regresses.  Certainly after the month of November, a 14 game month for the Caps, is behind them and they've played more than 25% of the season we can legitimately decide if the typical level of play of the 2014-15 Capitals can and will continue to be markedly better than the 2013-14 team.  That will especially be true with the understanding that by the end of November the Capitals will have played nine (9) of those games against six (6) different Western Conference teams, and right now there are six (6) teams who are playing 0.750 or better hockey. 

All that said with the Caps heading out west this week for three (3) games in four days against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, this road trip will be an important week in further solidifying the team's resurgence.  While every game can in some way be looked at as a measuring stick, three road games in four days are never an easy trip.  For my "money" success in these next three games is any combination of results that equals four (4) or more standings points.  While first up Edmonton is one of only two teams in the league without a two point win so far in this young season, they have some young, elite talent, and two former Caps with "grit" Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon who turned 31 years old on Sunday so I don't expect the Oilers to be an easy two points for the Capitals.  Then we have the Calgary Flames on Saturday evening in the Calgary.  The Flames are playing 0.500+ hockey, just finished up a six (6) game road trip with a solid game in Winnipeg and will, like Florida was on this past Saturday evening, be a team that comes at the Capitals with a gritty game, solid defense and  sound goaltending.  That said the Flames will likely have Jonas Hiller vice Kari Rammo in net if they look at past results as a predictor of future/present performance.  Still my point is Calgary will also not be an easy game for the Capitals.  Then Sunday it's the Canucks in Vancouver who are one of those Western Conference Tams playing better than 0.700 hockey - 'nuff said.

So looking forward to Wednesday's game at Edmonton one can probably see from above why getting the season off to a good start is important and much better than getting off to a sluggish, mediocre start that inevitably leads on to "life on the bubble" in January through April.  In the meantime I'll close this musing with my usual sentiment.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Game 5: A Two Point Night - Caps 2, Panthers 1 (SO)

Well after five games at the start of the season, the Capitals are 3-0-2.  My initial reaction remains, anytime during the regular season you can end the night with at least one point, that's a good thing. 

As has been said elsewhere, last evening's win was a bit of an ugly win.  As with the Canadiens game, while the Capitals were dominant throughout the first period, and in last night's case also pretty much all of the second, they were unable to get that second goal. Brooks Laich almost got it for them in what for my money was his best game of the young season, but he redirected it under the crossbar behind Al Montoya with a stick that when you see the replay was clearly above the top of the net. 

While Montoya did give up some rebounds, he and the Panthers were able to recover and keep the puck out of the Panthers net.  This gave the Panthers a chance to revert to the dreaded trap, play "not to lose" in the third period, and hope the Caps made a mistake to let them back in the game to steal a point or even better yet two for the night.  That seemed like it might happen when they got a power play goal from Brad Boyes early in the third period.  Fortunately this team, this coaching staff, this system, and the confidence they have in both each other's abilities and the system's inherent strengths make that a lot less likely this team will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory than it has been  for a couple of seasons.  Other than one pretty weak call on a retaliation that was pretty weak, and as they all are - foolish, by Jason Chimera, the Caps did little wrong to make sure they didn't beat themselves.  Also Chimera redeemed himself, knowing his new coach wasn't going to be pleased with the penalty he took, came out of the box skating fast and smart and drew a penalty of his own that gave the Caps their only full 2:00 powerplay of the game.  Unfortunately the Caps did not convert that opportunity to a 2-1 lead but at least it seemed to get them back on track and playing smart for the last ~5:00 of the third period. 

I'll only make this comment about the officiating last night - I thought the officiating was pretty bad, and the game was not consistently called through the full 60:00 or did the rules seem to be the same for both teams - 'nuff said on that point.  The good news is this Capitals team doesn't seem to care about or get distracted by things like that much at all.

Some comments on individual performances last night:

Justin Peters - AWESOME game;

Al Montoya (Panthers) - Very good game;

Alexander Ovechkin - Good game - also nice to see him out there occasionally on the penalty kill and one of those PK shifts was probably his best of the evening;

Evgeny Kuznetsov - Very good game, nice to see you getting more ice time, though not really happy about the reason since....

Brooks Laich - Best game of this young season for Laich so fair, hope the injury is minor, he recovers soon, and keeps up the confidence to go to the harder areas on the ice like he did last evening - the Caps need him to do that (play more like he did last night and less like he did the first four games of the season, a manner I'd characterize as "tentatively.")

Andre Burakovsky - Good game, he keeps getting better every game and over the next two years he'll only grow and get stronger which is really something to look forward to.

Jason Chimera - good game, netting his first goal of the season and looking better and better as a line with 16 and 42.  Fehr's setup of Chimmer for the goal was masterful and gave Chimmer pretty much all day to convert his primary assist.  Ward was solid the entire game and in addition to good five on five play with 16 and 25, had a couple of pretty neat shifts on the PK.

The entire Capitals group of Blue Liners had a good game - at both ends of the ice. I can and would only say good things about all six of them.  I am really, really loving the fact the team now has the ability to put any one of three defense pairing out on the ice with confidence they can and will deliver.

Marcus Johansson - another really good game he and Burakovsky are really "gelling" well as a line pair regardless of who the third that is paired with them.  Marcus is skating more confidently, shooting more and playing harder on the puck than he has ever before (IMO.)  That combined with his natural speed, playmaking ability, and creativity - along with being in a role where he is counted on to bring that to a forward line without Backstrom or Ovechkin, seemingly has been a good stimuli to push the young Swede's game up half a level or so.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Fleischmann - if the Panthers are to finish this season with more than 78 points, these two guys need to be more visible and more noticeable on the ice and one the post game "event summary." On a whole, despite shuffling their lineup and adding some solid veterans like Shawn Thorton, Brad Boyes, and Willie Mitchell, the truth is this game shouldn't have even been close.  Through the first 30:00+ minutes of regulations, there were lots of times the Capitals looked like they were the only NHL level team on the ice, dominating play for literally multiple consecutive shifts. That failure to get the "second goal" in a game like this (or against the Canadiens) is still something the Capitals need to work on.  However, two ugly points in October is still two points in April so I'm glad the Caps were able to gut it out and win the gimmick round, also even though I hate the "sudden victory shootout" I will comment that Ovechkin's shootout goal was "sick" though not unbelievable.

Next up a swing through Western Canada and games in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver starting Wednesday against the Oilers.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Caps Are 2-0-2; Playing 0.750 Hockey; and On Pace For a 100+ Point Season

The Capitals have started the season right, playing four games against 3 playoff teams and getting at least a point a game.  That's a good thing, as is the fact that four Caps skaters - Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, and Mike Green are on pace for 100+ point seasons just like the team on which they are members. So lets take a look at a brief recap of the Capitals first four games along with how the team and their "simple" vice "fancy" statistics are looking so far.

Game 1: Canadiens 2 - Capitals 1 (SO), a 1 point night.

Opening night at Verizon Center and while a good game, Caps fans left 7th and F Streets dissapointed. Unfortunately the Caps did not get a win in their 40th NHL home opener. Rather the stories of the night were solid performances by two rookies.  Canadiens rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski made 29 saves on 30 shots against through 65:00 of play and 'one more' save than Caps goalie Braden Holtby in the "gimmick" to get his team two points.  Caps rookie Andre Burakovsky got his first NHL regular season goal in his first NHL game and while failing to score in the shootout, the 19 year old had a great first game in what I believe will be a long and productive, likley notable NHL career. 

The story to me really was Tokarski, the Caps came out and dominated Montreal through the entire first period outshooting the Habs 15-2 and Tokarski stopped a several great scoring chances by the Capitals to keep it a one goal game until Montreal finally got one by Barden Holtby at 10:31 of the third period. Also as is often said a teams best penalty killer has to be it's goalie and - "That's where we lost the game is in the first," Trotz said. "We scored the first goal and then we had to back-to-back-to-back power plays and we had a chance to really take the game over. They were sort of hanging on and we really needed that second goal. We couldn't get it." Enough on the slightly disappointing home opener.

Game 2: Capitals 4 - Bruins 0, a 2 point night.

The first road game of the season led to a first road win, these two points were driven and delivered to the Caps by the goalie - Braden Holtby was spectacular at times, while he made all the saves you'd expect him to, he made several that were "highlight reel worthy. The team Captain, led by example - the Great8 Alexander Ovechkin was great with a 2 goal night, not an unusual feat for him, but even more notably and important, to me he played a 200 foot game for 60:00 with more enthusiasm and joy then I think I've seen him play in a while.  He wouldn't take "no" for an answer from anybody and he was both playing with intensity, and responsibly as a team Captain should buth seemed to be having fun doing it.

Who doesn't love it when "your team" gets a shutout of a division opponent in their barn, it's hard to be anything but effusive or say anything too reflective after a result like that, but hey why not try.  As I mentioned above to me the great story here was Ovechkin being the Ovechkin we've come to know and love through his early career - two goals, one on the powerplay and one 5 on 5 to start his season's scoring.  Another good story (if not great) is it was Mike Green's first game in the lineup and he scored a PPG and 19 year old Andre Burakovsky had another excellent game with two assists, as did Nicklas Backstrom.  Green's return also was the fuel the Caps second powerplay unit needed to enable the Capitals to put out two different PP units that had ten skaters, any one of which, could be the one to find the back of the net.  Something that should make nights like the home opener loss against the Canadiens where the Caps power play didn't produce when given the chance(s) few and far between.

As far as the team developing and "everyone" buying in to Trotz's system, I really liked this Trotz quote after the game on Ovechkin: “He’s playing good offensively, as you saw tonight,” Trotz said. “He’s shooting pucks, he’s scoring goals, but I’m really happy with him. The other part of his game is really good. He’s committed on the walls, he’s committed defensively, he’s just skating. He’s actually really fun to watch now again which is exciting for me, but it’s really got to be exciting for him because he’s one of the best players on the planet.”

Game 3: Sharks 6 - Capitals 5 (SO), a 1 point night.

To me this was the game the Caps needed, even though they only got one point out of it.  The first period ended with the Sharks up 3 - 0, so perhaps you might be tempted to say the Caps "stole" a point in this game.  To any statement like that I'd had to respectfully disagree, because the Caps got back in this game by sticking with their system and playing hard the rest of the game; in other words, this was to use a cliche' - a "charachter game." A BIG TIME "charachter game."  Another two goal night (one 5 on 5 and one PPG) for Ovechkin; a PPG to start Marcus Johansson's season scoring; a 5 on 5 goal by Mike Green to get his second of the season; a great 5 on 5 effort and goal by Troy Brouwer at 15:25 of the third period to tie the game completed the comeback and pushed the game into OT.  Unfortunately the Caps couldn't "finish it" off and get the second point in either the five minute OT or the shootout.  However there was a lot the Caps could be proud of in the second and third period and take forward with them for the rest of this season though it's early.  I like the Marcus Johansson quote after the game:

"We knew they were going to do it and I just think we let them," Johansson said of the Sharks' first-period dominance. "They came out hard and we didn't push back and I think that's what got them those early goals. It's tough to come back from three goals behind, but I think we did a great job of doing that. That start cost us the two points. In the long run, that can cost us a lot, but I think we've got to bring the last two periods of the game with us and keep working off that because we played great and worked really hard and that's what we need."

Game 4: Devils 2 - Capitals 6, a 2 point night.
In a game the Caps never trailed (Ovechkin scored his fifth goal of the season, 5 on 5, just 34 seconds into the game) with the first period ending in a 2-2 tie, the Caps showed they understood what its going to take to put opposing teams who play hard on the puck away.  That's being harder on the puck, playing a 200 foot game, and playing with intensity for all 60:00.

Post game notables, in my view:

A)Five (5) of the Capitals 6 goals were five on five and the fact they came out in the second period and "got better" than they played in the first are key things.  That along with the fact the powerplay was 20% (1 for 5) while the PK "batted 1.000" making it hard for the Devils, despite having three chances, to generate any momemntum while playing on the road.
B) A great "bounce back" game by Braden Holtby in goal after a "rocky" first period against the Sharks, in game three was also excellent to see. As Trotz said after the game: "Braden Holtby was really good in the first," Trotz said. "They could've put a couple of goals on us and he made some big saves at key times when the game was 2-2. Up 3-2, he made a big save. That's what good goaltenders do. They give you the timely saves."

C)Once again the Caps played a 60:00 - 200 foot game; oh, and who said Barry Trotz was a "defensive coach"?  I think we are seeing a more aggressive style of play and game than we've seen since Bruce Boudreau left town - yes the Caps are a defense first team when you look at the "little things" now (the "devil" is in those details) but they are virtually always pressing forward during a game as soon, as often, and as much as they can.  The result? An average of of 4.0 goals for per game (GFG) versus 2.5 goals against and scoring up and down the lineup - so far everyone on the roster with the exception of Jason Chimera, Nate Schmidt, Jack Hillen and Michael Latta have a point or more, and Hillen and Latta have not played in all four games.  I am surprised Chimmer is still looking for his first goal or assist as he has been flying and playing well in all four games I've watched, his points will no doubt come - perhaps when he and Ward get the center between them who adds to their chemistry? Schmidt is playing his role on the team and with three (3) SOG with an ATOI of 14:38 per game Schmidt's points will come - he has a very heavy shot from the point and with the traffic the forwards are generating even though he doesn''t take many SOG, I think he will get at least a couple points and get off the scheid soon.  Latta has nly played in two games for a total of 14:02 TOI, and his major role and value right now seem to be his 75% face off win percentage.  However he drive the net hard and when the time comes that he is needed and given the opportunities I'm thinking he'll respond - I love his game.  Jack Hillen has only played one game and when Orlov returns from IR he's either number eight (8) or nine (9) on the depth chart so I'm not sure he'll get too many more games in a Caps sweater.

All in all to me Matt Niskanen's post game quote below sums up how the season is shaping up so far for our Washington Capitals and I remain very optimistic about what this team can and WILL do this season.

"It's early in the year. A lot can change, but two points is two points. They're in the bank now," Niskanen said. "Things that felt good for us [are] the process of how we want to play and who we're going to be. You saw at times even tonight, where we weren't that detailed and we weren't that good and they had some good looks and Holtby had to bail us out, keep it tight, then we got to what our game should look like and we had good success. That's encouraging. Hopefully guys can believe in it now."

A couple of "notes" and thoughts on the team so far this season worth looking at and thinking "on" IMO:

1) Time On Ice:  The team's average TOI (Time On Ice) leader so far is, perhaps surprisingly to many, Matt Niskanen with an average of 23:42 per game played (and an average of ~0:51 secs & 28.3 shifts/game); thats pretty low especially since its despite the fact he's played in all four games so far including two that were 65:00 (vice 60:00).  Think about it, the league leader is Duncan Kieth with a total of 28:18 per game (and 00:51.46 per shift). The Capitals forwards average TOI/game leader is Nicklas Backstrom at 20:57/game (followed closely by Alexander Ovechkin at 20:33/game (24.8 shifts/game, 49.72 seconds/shift). Compare that to the league leader Steven Stamkos with 21:31 and 23 shifts/game. Before the season started I indicated I thought one of the hallmarks to watch and a key to what I thought the system changes Barry Trotz and staff would put in place would involve had to do with ice time and shift length. I truly believe that to play the game/system Trotz preaches and teaches requires a lot more energy than the system either Oates or Hunter wanted to play.  I think to do that well you need more, shorter shifts up and down the line up.  These stats seem to confirm that, as well as the buy in, and the intensity the team plays the system both comes from and is fueled by (both mentally and physically) the shorter shifts and more logically distributed TOI up and down the lineup.   length.  So far it seems to be playing out that way.  Shorter, more intensly played shifts and more "logical" distribution of ice time, particularly 5 on 5 ice time are evident in the statistical recaps from each of the first four games of the season.  By "more logical" I mean you can see/coorelate ice time to depth chart location for each of the forward lines and defensive pairings.  Also the ice time spread is not in anyway glarringly diproportinate for any individual on the Capitals - they are playing a "team game" in that regard, rolling four lines and all three parings whenever possible. (No Dan Girardis or Duncan Kieths on this team/in this system - at least so far.)

2) 20.8% - that's Alexander Ovechkin's shooting percentage so far this season.  That more than anything tells me he's bought in to Barry Trotz's system and is both playing that system harder on the puck than he has in a couple of seasons, and he's skating to and shooting from the higher percentage areas that system intends for him to get to and shoot from.  I mentioned earlier that the changes Trotz's system has over the last aggressive system the Caps played under Bruce Boudreau are subtle and sublime and to me they are. Whether it's noticing that at the end of a powerplay, the second unit is on the ice and Matt Niskanen drops 10 feet back from the offensive blue line so making a quick breakout pass to an opponent exiting the sin bin is more than "a little hard"; or it's noticing that in five on five play the forecheck is different than under Oates - it's a two man forecheck and it's in many ways a simpler system where if you have any room to drive towards the low slot every forward regardless of who they are does, these sublime details are how you know this entire team has bought in.  Ovechkin's shooting percentage while still averaging 6 SOG/game are the result of him "buying in" and playing this system - it's a statistic that you can watch to validate any belief you ight have in the star's positive statements on his new coach and the system as it's in many ways directly tied to where he will be when he is playing without the puck in the offensive zone. The fact it lets him play the game to his strengths and have fun being Ovechkin is the gravy, the results, including being the Captain of a winning team is the steak that will continually reinforce his buy in to this system; of course, I don't expect many, if any of the NHL main stream media journalists to notice or change their mantras on our team's Captain any time soon. In fact look at the "ice tracker" on NHL game center and where the Caps are shooting from this season and you're likely to see what I'm talking about pretty easily from the display of where the Caps' SOG are being taken from.

3) Pleasant surprises - i.e. "the new guys" Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, O'Brien, Orpik and Niskanen.

While Evgeny Kuznetsov might not be a surprise, his transition onto the team in this regular season has seemed to go smoothly and with each game he seems to get more and more "comfortable" with the NHL/North American Game. With each game his number of shifts/game and his TOI rightfully is increased.  With each shift on the powerplay in game situations he gets more dangerous as the playmaker/quarterback of the Caps' second powerplay unit.  All good things since at least so far this season Brooks Laich hasn't found his stride in 5 on 5 play and seems tentative regardless whether he is on the wing or playing pivot on the second and third lines.  Kuznetsov's versatility and quiet, solid work ethic playing 200 foot hockey as the fourth line center is somewhat a pleasant surprise to me.

Andre Burakovsky is a great story and of course a pleasant surprise, at least to me.  Anytime a ninteen (19) year old can come onto any NHL team and clearly deserve a roster spot in every game he plays, that's a pleasant surprise, at least to me.  "Bura" is a surprise, especially playing ceneter for the first time in his career.  He, along with Kuznetsov, hold the answer to the Capitals' second line center questions.  The 19 year old is averaging 20 shifts and 13:59 TOI per game; and with 5 points (2 G, 3A) is currently the Caps third leading scorer.  Hopefully he won't wake up and realize playing in the NHL is "really hard" until sometime in late June 2015.

Liam O'Brien - everyone's pleasant surprise, undrafted, came to camp unsigned. Yet here after four regular season games played has earned his sweater and shown he's deserved it every second of the 26:04 he's been on the ice so far this season. O'Brien is still in quest of his first NHL regular season point but he's +2 and he's played well, IMO.  To me his best game so far was the Boston game.  I'm really rooting for this kid - how can anyone not?

Matt Niskanen - the pleasant surprise is so far to me, he's even better than I thought he was/would be in a Capitals' sweater. Look we all knew he was good, but nobody on this team's blueline puts the puck on net faster from the offensive blueline from what I've seen.  That's another pleasant surprise because it seems to be helping the team's five on five play improve in ways I didn't anticipate.  Niskanen is currently the team's ice time leader and that is deservedly so. 

Brooks Orpik - my pleasant surprise(s) with Orpik are several.  i) I'm pleasantly surprised how much I enjoy watching him play and how he plays in this system.  ii) I am surprised, pleasantly, just how much Orpik helps the Caps penalty kill effectively, and how good he is at playing the PK. iii) I am pleasantly surprised at how fast, when he needs to do so, Orpik can and does get back in proper position. and iv) I am surprised at how good his hockey sense and IQ is - how else do you explain a guy with 0 SOG having 2 assists in 4 games played.  Right now he's on pace for a 40+ point season - last season only eight (8) defensemen had 40 or more assists. Think about that the next time someone tells you they are "positive" the Caps overpaid for him.

In the meantime, next up are the  Florida Panthers at Verizon Center at 7:00 PM tonight.