Next up - the Tampa Bay Lightning, Thursday Night at Verizon Center.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Next up - the Tampa Bay Lightning, Thursday Night at Verizon Center.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Tonight's game in Buffalo, will likely be much like Friday night's game in Washington, a hard fought, closely played game between two solid, high octane, determined teams. It's likely both teams will have a few of the players who were injured and didn't play on Friday in the lineup tonight. Washington will have Mike Green and Jeff Schultz who returned to the lineup for Sunday's win over Toronto on the blueline once again; and it's likely that center Paul Gaustad will be back on the ice for Buffalo. Both team's sharpshooters, Russian born Alexander Ovechkin and Austrian-born Thomas Vanek will be on the ice looking to extend their scoring streaks against each others teams and drive their side to victory. Both men are currently tied for second among the league's leading goal scorers each with 25 tallies. Ovechkin has scored in five straight meetings with the Sabres, totaling six in that span - he did not play in the November 1st game between the two teams. The goaltending match up will likely be Jose Theodore, in his fourth straight start, versus Ryan Miller. Theodore will be looking to reverse his fortunes against the Sabres, he has struggled in Buffalo with a 1-7-0 record and a 3.58 goals-against average. That includes a 5-0 loss on Nov.1, when he allowed three first-period goals on his way to tying a season high. Miller who has been inconsistent at times this season is coming off a rocky game where he allowed the New York Islanders to score twice in the final 1:34 of regulation on Saturday, but stopped both shooters in the tiebreaker to salvage a 4-3 win for Buffalo. On the other hand until their last three four meetings, Miller and the Sabres have been a consist ant thorn in the Capitals sides in the recent past, especially at HSBC Center where they have won seven of the last nine at home against the Caps.
So don't expect the Sabres to make it easy for the Caps to achieve their first 11 victory month in 9 years. Per the Caps Website game preview the possible line combos and defensive pairings look like this.
41-MacArthur, 9-Roy, 21-Stafford
26-Vanek, 55-Hecht, 29-Pominville
20-Paille, 22-Mair, 12-Kotalik
76-Peters, 37-Ellis, 61-Afinogenov
30-Miller (starting), 40-Lalime
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 25-Kozlov
21-Laich, 92-Nylander, 17-Clark
56-Bourque, 39-Steckel, 16-Fehr
33-Giroux, 15-Gordon, 10-Bradley
1-Johnson, 60-Theodore (starting)
Start Time: 7:00PM EST -
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Looking around the NHL as the first three months of the 2008-2009 season winds down it seems like the league's team's now fit into four or possibly five "strata". The top echelon consisting of six teams, though one could argue the "creme de la creme" is really the two top teams San Jose and Boston followed by the next four teams. After that their seem to be two tiers of 9 and 10 teams followed by those teams likely to vie for the lottery pick to see who gets the 2009 first draft pick. Basically things look like this:
Top Six Teams and their record over the last ten games
1) San Jose Sharks/6-1-3
2) Boston Bruins/9-1-0
3) Detroit Red Wings/6-3-1
4) Washington Capitals/8-2-0
5) New York Rangers/ 5-4-1
6) Chicago Blackhawks/9-0-1
7) Montreal Canadeans/5-3-2
9) Philadelphia Flyers/6-3-1
10) New Jersey Devils/6-3-1
11) Vancouver Canucks/5-4-1
12) Pittsburgh Penguins/4-6-0
13) Anaheim Ducks/5-4-1
14) Colorado Avalanche/7-3-0
15) Buffalo Sabres/5-3-2
16) Phoenix Coyotes/5-2-3
17) Carolina Hurricanes/5-3-2
18) Edmonton Oilers/6-3-1
19) Nashville Predators/3-6-1
20) Florida Panthers/5-3-2
21) Minnesota Wild/2-7-1
22) Columbus Blue Jackets/5-4-1
23) Los Angeles Kings/4-4-2
24) Dallas Stars/6-3-1
25) Toronto Maple Leafs/5-5-0
26) Saint Louis Blues/2-8-0
27) Ottawa Senators/2-7-1
28) Tampa Bay Lightning/4-5-1
29) Atlanta Thrashers/3-6-1
30) New York Islanders/1-7-2.
Looking at this list and the recent last 10 game results a couple of obvious things jump out at you. First in the top six teams it's very possible that after a fast start, the New York Rangers could drop down to the "Second Nine Tier" and any one of the next four teams: Canadeans, Flames, Flyers or amazingly the Martin Brodeur-less New Jersey Devils could take their spot, if the Rangers don't turn things around quickly and any of those four teams get a little "hotter". Looking at the second nine, you have to ask yourself: "What's going on with the Pittsburgh Penguins? and "How about those Avs?" Looking at the third tier of ten teams Edmonton and Dallas are working hard to move up and play to their potential while Minnesota continues to underachieve while fighting off injuries. At the bottom tier, Tampa Bay, thanks in large part to Mike Smith and a renewed work ethic among its veteran lineup seems poised to make a move up the standings and play a spoiler to some.
Oh yeah and looking back again at those top six teams, doesn't the view look nice and "doncha' just gotta say":
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Both Mike Green and Jeff Schultz returned to the Capitals lineup after multiple game absences tonight. They predominately played as a defensive pair and this was apparently an effective way for Coach Bruce Boudreau to manage both of their playing time, as they work their way back to mid-season shape. Through the first period each players respective Time On Ice (TOI) was: Green -7:44 ; Schultz - 6:44. During the second period their respective TOI was: Green -8:12 ; Schultz -6:13 . In the third period, Green had 5:57 TOI and Schultz had 5:34 TOI. Overall through the entire game Green had 21:53 and Schultz had 18:31 TOI; Green finished with 2 assists, 4 blocked shots and was +2 on the night, Schultz had 2 blocked shots and was +2 on the night as well. Clearly, their presence in the lineup helped against Toronto and it will only be even more valuable on Tuesday night in Buffalo when the Capitals try and make it four (4) wins in a row against the Sabres. Mike Green came out "firing on all cylinders," and made an impact from early on. At 14:06 of the first period Green "rang the bell" by hitting the post on what otherwise would have been his first goal after his hiatus with a really sharp snapshot. Unfortunately just under 20 seconds later, the Caps gave up the puck to the Leafs and Niklas Hagman got a nice bounce when the puck came through three Washington Capitals onto his stick and he put the puck past Jose Theodore to put the Maple Leafs up 1-0. Then right after that, in another of this seasons,really bad calls, the teams found themselves playing 4-on-4 hockey, instead of a Caps 5 on 4 power play, because according to the referee felt Jose Theodore was guilty of diving when he was tripped up by Lee Stempniak. How this conclusion was arrived at since Theodore never went all the way down to the ice and was back in position within less than two second is anyones guess. However, as the evening progressed and it became clear that the Caps were a better 4 - on - 4 team than Toronto tonight, Caps fans stopped worrying about wether it was a 5 on 4 or 4 on 4 situation.
The one disturbing thing of note through the period for the Caps was the Maple Leafs were playing a more physical game then the Caps and using that to create opportunities. For example, at the 16:51 mark Nik Antropov basically decked Michael Nylander as he entered the Leafs zone, took the puck and led a solid breakout that turned into an odd man rush for the Maple Leafs and then crowded Jose Theodore when he made the stop. Brooks Laich did step in to the fray after the stop but Antropov had a clear size and attitude advantage. Donald Brashear was sent out for the next shift tried to get something started with the Maple Leafs but none of the Leafs wanted to take him on, and they continued to "finish" their plays and checks a little late for the remainder of the period.
Jose Theodore probably would have liked to have another chance at Hagman's goal but he played well all night and kept the Capitals in it a couple of times during the first period. For example, or perhaps most pointedly at 18:02 mark of the first stanza, Theo robbed Jeremy Williams, to keep the Caps just one goal behind. The save was a solid one but the Maple Leafs probably should have never had that particular scoring chance. The only reason they did was because once again they "out-muscled" the Capitals. The Caps did respond and tried valiantly to tie the game up before the end on the first period, but it was to no avail. At 18:30, the Caps first line set up nicely and had another scoring chance but they failed to "get in Vesla Toskla's face" like Antropov and the Leafs were doing at the other end of the ice. Once more at the 19:20 mark the Caps had another scoring chance turned back by Toskla, though again they didn't really get a second or third shot on net. If they had done so, maybe that scoring chance would have gone in. After one last save, at 19:50 by Jose Theodore when Milan Jurcina gae the puck up to the Leafs, the period ended Caps 0 - Maple Leafs 1.
The Caps didn't play a bad period of hockey though at this juncture it did seem worrisome that they hadn't ended the period leading on the scoreboard. Had they run into a hot goaltender who was going to steal a game for his team? After all they were playing well enough to be tied or winning the game. The statistics at the end of the first period were:
- SOG: Caps 12, Maple Leafs 10;
- Hits: Caps 3, Maple Leafs 8;
- Goals: Caps 0, Maple Leafs 1.
It seemd the major differences were the Maple Leafs were playing a much more physical hockey than the Caps and Vesla Toskla had robbed the Caps a couple more times than Theo has robbed the Maple Leafs.
Through the second period, the Caps played a much more physical game by a fair measure and the results were noticable both while watching the game and on the scoreboard. At 6:39 of the second period, Mike Green was called for interference and the Maple leafs got their first power play opportunity of the game. During the next two minutes, Karl Alzner was all over the place and the Caps killed of the man advantage very effectively. During the period, the Caps had a lot of good first chances, but they needed to get grittier, and make stopping their scoring chances harder for Tesla. Tesla had a solid game, no doubt, but through the 11:07 mark of the second period with the score still 1-0 Leafs @ 11:07, and the second period SOG Caps 7, Leafs 6, the Caps were making him look even better by giving him a fair amount of room to both play the inital shot and manage the rebounds. Indeed through that point the Caps first line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov were being well handled by Leafs and tightly played by the Leafs. then at the 12:06 mark, it was the Caps chance to go on the power play as a result of an interference call on Pavel Kubina when he stepped in between Donald Brashear's legs. This time the Caps power play unit quickly got control of the puck and the ice, set things up in classic fashion, moving the puck laterally with Brooks Laich setting up on the doorstep. Then the play went Mike Green to Nicklas Backstrom to Brooks Laich. Laich then took the puck across the front of the crease from the right post, and used the room the Leafs gave him to put the puck nicely into the left side of the net when Toskla couldn't follow him fast enough. Tie Game 1-1 at 12:54 of the second period, lets' go Caps.
After the Caps tied the game they worked hard to try and take the lead. There were several times when they worked hard and got their noses dirty in those attempts including at the 15:40 mark when the third line of Brooks Laich - Dave Steckel - Eric Fehr dug hard and went for the gusto but Toskla denied them once more. That attempt was quickly followed up by a nice patented Mike Green rush at 15:45, as well as another nice Mike Green rush and scoring attempt at 16:30 that was foiled once more by Toskla. Then at the 18:02 mark another 4 on 4 started after Chris Clark mixed it up a little with Jonas Frogren - it appears that "the Captain is back" since from the replay it looked like Frogren was trying to take some libertties with him along the boards, so he figured he wanted to mix it up to make sure the Leafs understood he wasn't going to let that happen in his house without retaliating. It was during this second 4-on-4 of the night that it became apparent the Caps knew how to use the open ice as well or better than the Maple Leafs. First at 19:05, with Michael Nylander and Ovechkin out as forwards for the Caps Nylander made a nice play and scoring attempt but shot it wide of the net. Then at 19:45, in another of those at least once game moments when he shows why he alone is often worth the price of admission, Alexander Ovechkin decided he wanted to make something happen and lays two quick solid hits on the Leafs in their own end, causes the Leafs to turn over the puck to backstrom who puts the puck back to Ovie. Ovie then missed that attempt but five seconds later ends up with the puck in the neutral zone, comes back into the zone at 19:50 and he uses Ian White for the screen and puts the puck past Toskla 5-hole before Toskla can squeeze the door shut. The Caps 4-4 quartet on the ice at the time was Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich and Green; a pretty awesome array of firepower and puckhandling skill given all the injuries to their opening day line-up. The period ended with the Caps leading 2 - 1 and owning all the momentum. The top level second period statistics were: SOG Caps 12, Maple Leafs 6; Hits Caps 5, Leafs 2; Goals Caps 2, Leafs 0. Score: Capitals 2, Maple Leafs 1.
The Capitals in general and Jose Theodore in particular played the third period like men on a mission, a mission for two points. For example, at 1:25 Mike Green tries to get too cute with an outlet pass that was too long by a zone, turned over the puck, but Theodore stepped up and made an excellent first save on Tomas Kabrele and made sure there was no rebound. Then at 3:59, Milan Jurcina gives the Maple Leafs their second 5 - on -4 power play of the night when he was whistled off for a weak, inadvertant hook, However, the Caps Penalty Kill unit is superb and allows Toronto only one shot on goal, successfully smoothering the Maple Leaf power play. After that the Caps try hard for an insurance goal to no avail. At 8:25 Toskla robs the Caps again, when Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich dig hard and manufacture a solid, gritty scoring chance. Then there were a couple of times when it seemed the Caps got some "divine intervention" to stay up by one goal. For instance at the 9:25 mark the Caps got a lucky break when the Leafs hit post and Ghrobovsky and Hageman couldn't finish it, most Caps fans watching had to be thinking at that point something on the order of "Whew, thanks for that clear, Jeff Schultz, better a little late then never." At the 10:35 mark, the teams got to play another 4 on 4 when Sean Collins was whistled off for interference and Andre Deveraux was called for diving, in a call on Deveraux that could easily have been a make-up call for the Theodore diving call in the first period. That 4-on-4 passed without incident.
The one possible piece of bad news from the night for Caps fans occured at the 14:45 mark. Play was stopped with Matt Bradley down on the ice after he missed a check and found himself down, and apparently out, on the ice. Bradley left the game after that and per Tarik El-Brashir's blog "Word on Matt Bradley is that he's "ok" after going head first into the boards in the third period, but no one seemed very sure of his status. We'll have to wait and see what tomorrow brings."
With the Caps up by just one goal the Leafs played them very tightly throughout the third period, hoping for a mistake Washington. However, the next mistake was by the Leafs when at 15:43, the Leaf's normal go to defenseman Tomas Kaberle gave up the puck in the Leafs zone, the Caps got real gritty, and Brooks Laich made them pay when he scored his 10th goal of the night (unassisted.) Score 3-1 Caps. They needed that goal at this juncture.
Down by two goals, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson pulled goalie Vesla Tesla at the 18:45 mark and for about 20 seconds the Leafs mounted excellent pressure on the Caps with their extra skater. The Caps responded well thought with nice protection on Theodore and the goal. Theo stopped the puck and held to force a faceoff in the Caps end at 19:16. After the faceoff the Capsgot control of the puck and Backstrom sent a nice cross ice pass to Ovechkin on the right boards. Ovechkin apparently tried to slow up and get the puck to Laich so he might get the first hat trick of his career but Tomas Kaberle responded pretty quickly and that option really wasn't available to the Caps superstar so he netted his second goal of the game, his 25th of the season to ice the score Caps 4 - Maple Leafs 1.
It was a good night for the Caps in general and Brooks Laich, Alexander Ovechkin and Jose Theodore, the three stars of the game, in particular. Next up, the Sabres in Buffalo on Tuesday night.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Looking Ahead to Tonight's Caps - Maple Leafs Game & A Review of the Southeast Division Action Since The Christmas Break
- Tampa Bay beat the Florida Panthers twice in their home & home series on Friday at Sunrise (4-3 in OT) and last night at Saint Pete Times Forum (6-3 in regulation). For Caps fans who follow former Caps play it was a very good weekend for Steve Eminger. Eminger had a goal and two assists and was +1 in 24:48 TOI during Friday Night's OT win for the Bolts. Last night he was held off the score sheet but finished the night +4 in 22:30 of Time On Ice. Last night's game was also the 700th NHL game of Richard Zednick's career. While neither Zednick or Tampa Bay's Jeff Halpren had great games in either of the contests they both turned in solid efforts on the back to back nights.
- The Carolina Hurricanes beat the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Friday evening 5-4 in regulation and then dropped their game against the Boston Bruins tonight at RBC Center in Raleigh. Canes' star center Eric Staal had a hat trick in their win over Atlanta but was held off the score sheet and finished the game against Boston at -1.
- Like the Capitals, Atlanta was idle last night. Tonight, they host the red hot Boston Bruins for the fourth and last game of their regular season series against the Bruins this regular season. The Bruins have beaten the Thrashers all three prior meetings this season and are currently on a seven game winning streak. In fact, the last team to beat Boston was the Capitals on December 10th at Verizon Center.
Through the completion of last night's games the Southeast Division standings are as follows:
Team Games Played Points Last 10 Games
1) Washington Capitals 36 47 8-2-0
2) Carolina Hurricanes 37 39 5-3-2
3) Florida Panthers 35 37 5-3-2
4) Tampa Bay Lightning 35 29 4-5-1
5) Atlanta Thrashers 35 28 4-5-1.
A Look Ahead To Tonight's Caps - Maple Leafs Game
While when you look from the top level at the tonight's match-up between the Capitals and the Maple Leafs the likely outcome looks to be obvious, don't be fooled. The numbers comparison between the two look like this:
1) Standings: Capitals - 2nd in the Eastern Conference with 47 Points in 36 games played (0.653 hockey); Maple Leafs - 11th in the Eastern Conference with 34 points in 35 games played (0.486 hockey).
2) Goals Scored vs. Goals Allowed: Capitals - 116/108 (1.07); Maple Leafs - 110/126 (0.873). Avg Goals/Game & Avg Goals Allowed/Game: Capitals - (3.22 & 3.oo); Maple Leafs (3.14 & 3.60).
While the list of top level comparisons could go on like this for several more categories of statistics, their are two other items which could level the playing field. A) The Maple Leafs have on several occasions shown themselves to be able "Giant Killers." B) The Capitals have on more than one occasion this season shown themselves to be supremely capable of playing up to OR DOWN TO the skill levels of their opponents and allowing lesser teams to stay in games they should not have been in.
A)With a win at home tonight against Toronto, the Caps would enjoy a real double-digit separation from the rest of the Southeast; as they have a game in hand over Carolina who is idle tonight and currently 8 points back. With a win tonight the Caps home record would go to 15-1-1 but still remain second to San Jose's home record of 18-0-2 in the league.
B) So far it appears that it's possible that both Mike Green and Jeff Schultz could be returning to the line-up tonight on the Capitals blueline. Assuming both are healthy and that Green doesn't try and play outside his abilities while he plays himself back to full season strength, and somehow doesn't go more than 20-21 minutes TOI; the Maple Leafs should be in some trouble. How this makes the possibility of seeing a direct comparison of Luke Schenn vs. Karl Alzner look is for the "capologists" to figure out. Bottom line is assuming one or both return to the lineup the Maple leafs will be facing a much stronger blueline corps than the Caps beat the Sabres with on Friday evening.
C) Jose Theodore will get his third consecutive start tonight and will likely face Vesla Toskla at the other end of the ice. Assuming Jose continues the trend he's had over the past five periods of hockey this will be a decided advantage for the Capitals.
D) The Caps will have a large, likely sellout crowd behind them tonight and be wearing their white (normally road) jerseys as they retire Mike Gartner's number before the game. Maybe the Leafs should start 41 year old veteran backup Curtis Joseph as Cujo played against Gartner in his heyday.
It should be a good night to "Rock the Red" as long as the Capitals play their game and don't play the Leafs game.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Last night was a great game for the Capitals, for a lot of reasons, not just the obvious ones: 1) The Caps won the game in regulation. 2) So far this morning, it appears the Caps got through the game with both 2 points and no more injuries, though Tyler Sloan's low TOI makes it clear he's probably still on the mend. 3) Because of the injuries, this was another "character game" for the Caps; and they never lost composure, despite clearly outplaying the Sabres during the first period and having Patrick Lalime keep his team tied with them despite being out shot 15 - 8 in the first stanza. Those being the obvious reasons it was a great game for the Caps here's some observations and musings on more subtle or specific reasons it was great.
The Caps did what they needed to do in every set of match ups and category of comparisons.
A) In goal Jose Theodore had a very, very solid night. The Caps never trailed in the game. Theodore had a save percentage of 0.917 (22 of 24), without any help from the referee, and the two goals that did get in were not in any way "softies." In fact Thee-O , was pretty much without fault on the two he let in. The first one he was screened by multiple guys and the second he had two Sabres, one on each side of the doorstep unencumbered. Throughout the game he made all the sames he should have and at least a couple that were pretty amazing and kept the Caps either tied at 0-0 or in the lead. Patrick Lalime, at the other end, also played an excellent game and as cited by Theodore after the game, pretty much kept his team in it for the duration. Lalime's save percentage of record for the game was 0.915 (31 of 34). But there were numerous entire shifts where Lalime didn't get the help he should have gotten from the team in front of him.
B) On defense, there was no chronic or systemic evidence during this game that the Caps blueline corps on the ice was significantly less experienced than their Buffalo counterparts. That's pretty much the bottom line but the reasons are much more subtle. The only Cap with a minus plus/minus rating for the game was Sean Collins who was on the ice with Karl Alzner for the Sabres second goal. That goal was scored by Maxim Afinogenov from the doorstep and was the only time both Caps defenseman were out of position at the same time all night. The reason that happened? Simple immediately prior to Lydman shooting the puck towards the net, Afinogenov got away with a weak cross-check of Boyd Gordon to get the room he needed to make the play. Gordon was properly lined up so Collins cheated out towards the shooter, hoping to maybe block a shot that he didn't block. A solid hockey play and why good things happen when you crash the net and mix it up. This isn't whining about the Sabres' second goal, the officiating, though with the usual level questionable calls we've come to expect this NHL season, was even handed. The point here is the Sabres didn't lose the game nor did they take it easy on Washington's relatively inexperienced blueline corps. Overall for the game the Caps Blueliners were +4, to the Sabres Blueliners -6. There is no doubt that the return of either Mike Green or Tom Poti and preferably both would greatly strengthen the Caps right now. However, the play of Karl Alzner, Sean Collins, and Tyler Sloan was solid last night. Bryan Helmer, on the other hand, had a career night and deserved to be one of the three stars of the evening, it might have been a little cheesy in light of Ovechkin's "The Goal - Redeux," but nobody is probably going to argue with Helmer's status as number 1 star of the game. The continued solid play of these four call-up defenseman will be required for the Caps to continue to win for the rest of this month. The opportunity to directly contrast Karl Alzner and Luke Schenn on Sunday, should be interesting.
C) Forwards - The Capitals first line of Ovechkin - Backstrom - Kozlov was excellent throughout the entire game; their numbers also reflect that, even with Ovechkin's power play tally negated a goaltender interference call, on Brooks Laich in the last two minutes of the second period. Ovechkin's game winner is a highlight real centerpiece and has already been well chronicled elsewhere here on the net and in the mainstream media; in addition he finished the night +2, had 8 shots, 8 attempts blocked, 3 missed attempts, 3 hits, 1 giveaway, and 3 takeaways. Just your typical Ovechkin night at the game, the guy is well paid but he tries to make sure he earns his money every game, last night there was no doubt about that. Nicklas Backstrom finished the game with a primary assist (his 28th of the season) and +2 on the night with 21:11 TOI during 20 shifts. Last night was another great night for Viktor Kozlov, he scored the Caps first goal of the evening, breaking Lalime's "shutout" at the 17:46 mark of the first period on a very well played give and go that Backstrom was in the middle of; that goal was Kozlov's 9th of the season and the third goal he's scored in the last four games. Kozlov's play over the past three weeks has been as good as he's ever played since joining the Caps. It sure looks like he's having fun out there, and perhaps most importantly, he's playing hard, all out hockey, the enitre time his skates are on the ice and the results are speaking for themselves. The Caps second line of Giroux-Nylander-Fehr seemed the most challenged of the Caps forward lines last night but they hustled and perhaps with a little more time together might start to "click." Nylander is clearly working hard to adapt to a more North-South style of play and shoot more, though his shot selection of a slapshot over a wrist shot from the center slot last night was clearly wrong headed as it gave Lalime more time to square up on him. Giroux, was clearly working harder on playing both ways and back-checking more than his prior outings, he also used his size more against the Sabres and was credited with 4 hits. Fehr still seems to be playing his way back into shape and favoring his shoulder, he only had 1 hit, but he did have 4 shots on goal and 6 takeaways as well as zero giveaways. Nylander's wheeling and counter-motion, which sometimes makes it look like the puck is glued to his stick, also makes it harder for wingers newly paired with him to get their timing right. If Fleischmann is out for a few more games, it seems like Giroux might be the guy to pair with Nylander on the left wing. Overall the line was played sparingly and while at first the Sabres seemed to take advantage of their communication challenges, by the end of the game they seemed to be moving the puck well out of the Capitals zone and keeping it in the Sabres end of the ice. The Caps third line and energy line played a great game and clearly over matched the Sabres' third line, though the Sabres energy line also played well when they found themselves on the ice against the Caps first or third lines, they were generally outplayed by a significant margin. The Caps third line of Laich - Steckel - Bradley played a great game and when they were on the ice you could just about hear the theme song from "True Grit" in your ears. That the Caps energy line of Brashear - Gordon - Clark scored the Capitals second goal speaks for itself. Overall on the night the Caps forwards were a combined plus/minus +6 while the Sabres forwards were -4; the Caps forwards had 18 takeaways and only 10 giveaways while their Sabres counterparts had only 3 takeaways and 6 giveaways; Caps forwards had 23 hits, while the Sabres forwards had just 7 hits. Clearly despite saying otherwise in the main stream media, after looking at the game tapes and reviewing the statistics from last night's game, the Sabres will understand, they stayed in the game because of solid play by Patrick Lalime. It sure seems the Sabres forwards need to "kick it up" a couple of notches, if they are to reverse their current trend and regain and hold on to a playoff spot through April. Right now both the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes are playing better hockey then the Sabres did last night. As a Caps fan, I'm sure glad that under the current Capitals coaching staff and management, it's okay to admit both your mistakes when you have a bad game and also to show that you hate loosing.
In some other interesting, sort of sports related, news, according to a Wall Street Journal Report yesterday, the New York Times Company is looking to sell it's 17% minority stake in New England Sports Ventures one of the minority owners of the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park, and indirect ownership/control (80%) owner of the New England Sports Network, the other 20% of which is owned by the Boston Bruins. Reportedly NYT is looking to get $166Million for this asset sale, not a bad haul in what is generally a down market, eh? [ed note: I just thought it interesting that the New York Times even owned both the Boston Globe and 17% of the Red Sox. It also seemed very small world, 6 degrees of separation-esque that that then gave them ~13.6% of the network that broadcasts the Boston Bruins too, if you're looking for a "hockey tie-in" here. No doubt as the current economic turmoil sorts itself out we'll all continue to learn about more and more details about the "interconnectivity" in our economy.]
Last night's game gave the Caps a total of 47 standings points so far this season, and kept them 8 points ahead of the second place Carolina Hurricanes, who also notched a two point victory in regulation last night, in the Southeast Division. The win also takes the Capitals home ice record this season to 14-1-1, best in the Eastern Conference; and takes the Caps up to second place in the Conference 7 points behind the Boston Bruins, who have 2 games in hand on the Caps, and tied for points with the New York Rangers but with a game in hand on the Blueshirts. Next up the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on Sunday Evening. Per Tarik El-Brashir, Bryan Helmer, after earning the number 1 star last evening, was returned to Hershey so it would appear that either Mike Green or Jeff Schultz will be in the lineup against the Maple Leafs. That should help, but the 11th place (in the Eastern Conference) Leafs at times this season have been "giant killers;" just last Saturday evening (December 20th) they beat the Penguins 7-3 in Pittsburgh. The last time the Caps and Leafs met, December 6th in Toronto, the Caps won the game 2-1. The Leafs are 5-5-0 in their last ten and lost their last game against the Islanders 4-1 at Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum last night. It should be a good, fun game, the Caps will retire Mike Gartner's number before the game and will be playing in their White Sweaters, if the Caps win they will remain at 8-2-0 in their last 10, as they are currently but will once again be making quite a statement as their home record would go to 15-1-1. Coach Bruce Boudreau has said, a goal for the season is to make other teams not look forward to playing the Capitals at the "Phone Booth" - that's one goal for this season the Caps seem well on their way to accomplishing.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Friday, December 26, 2008
Looking at the goalscorers for each team who will be in the lineup the top six for each team look like this:
1) Thomas Vanek: 24 Goals/30 Pts. Alexander Ovechkin: 22 Goals/46 Pts.
2) Derek Roy: 11 Goals/30 Pts. Nicklas Backstrom: 10 Goals/37 Pts.
3) Jason Pomminville: 9 Goals/26 Pts. Viktor Kozlov: 8 Goals/22 Pts.
4) Clarke MacArthur: 9 Goals/18 Pts. Tomas Fleischmann: 12 Goals/19 Pts.
5) Drew Stafford: 8 Goals/17 Pts. Brooks Laich: 8 Goals/19 Pts.
6) Jarislav Spacek: 1 Goal/17 Pts. Michael Nylander: 3 Goals/17 Pts.
As you can see both teams still have pretty high octane offenses and each has one of the leagues top five sharpshooters in their lineup. During the last game between the two teams Thomas Vanek scored twice and was +2 on the night, while Alexander Ovechkin was in Russia for personal reasons and did not play. In looking at the first line comparison: Vanek-Hecht-Pominville vs. Ovechkin - Backstrom - Kozlov goes marginally to Washington, unless Viktor Kozlov brings the A game he has had the past two outings in which case it goes more clearly to the Caps. Comparing the second lines: MacArthur-Roy-Stafford vs. Fleischmann-Laich-A. Gordon(?) and the advantage goes to the Sabres by a less than insignificant margin. Looking at the comparison of the grinders (third and energy lines) and right now you have to call it a tie or give a razor thin edge to the Capitals.
The big difference in the line ups tonight will be in the experience on the blue line. For the Capitals the line up will likely be the following three pairs: Milan Jurcina - Karl Alzner, Shoane Morrisonn - Sean Collins, and Tyler Sloan -Bryan Helmer; a very green crew, while Helmer at 36 is the "elder statesman" he only has 141 games of NHL experience, Morrison with 307 NHL games under his belt is the veteran of this group. For the Sabres the pairs will likely be: Toni Lyndman - Henrik Tallinder, Teppo Numminen - Chris Butler, and Jaroslav Spacek - Andrej Sekera; four veterans and two young players. The edge here has to be given to Buffalo.
Comparing the goaltending is virtually an impossible task. The goaltending for both teams has been inconsistent this season. Take the Sabres beating the Capitals 5-0 one night and loosing to the Blue Jackets 6-1 on another; the Capitals beating the Bruins 3-1 one night then beating both the Senators and the Canadeans while allowing them each only one goal, then being taken to overtime before beating the Islanders 5-4 in overtime and less than a week later loosing to the Flyers 7-1. The goaltending match-up will likely be Ryan Miller vs. Jose Theodore; call it a slight edge to Miller - he's lost the last two games in OT and he's probably due to get some breaks but if Theodore continues to play like he played the last 30 minutes of the Rangers game then it'll be all Caps.
Intangibles go to the Caps, they are near perfect at home with a record of 13-1-1, and 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. Also the Caps are confident and motivated after finding and playing their game in their come back victory in New York.
If your looking for a prediction about the games final score then you need to go to Peerless' blog. Here all you'll find is enthusiasm and encouragement. Here's to rooting for a two point night for the Capitals.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thursday, December 25, 2008
This time last year the Capitals had played 36 games and had a record of 14-18-4 (0.444 hockey); this year they have played 35 games and have a record of 21-11-3 (0.643 hockey). That's quite a nice change, eh?
By this time last year, the Caps had fired their coach Glen Hanlon and promoted the coach of their AHL affiliate, Bruce Boudreau from Hershey to the position of "Interim Coach" and through his first 15 NHL games, Boudreau was 7-5-3 and the "jury was till out though cautiously optimistic" on the new coach. This season, Boudreau is the prior season's Jack Adams Trophy winner, who just seemed to team up with his superstar to turn the team around and avoid what appeared to be near certain defeat, once again, at the hands of the NY Rangers at Madison Square Garden and there are few if any doubts of his abilities to coach well at any level.
At this point last year the Capitals had almost played themselves into oblivion for the the season and needed to just about win every game to stay alive. After 36 games, the Caps had 30 points, 92 GF and 106 GA; they were 3 points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and were working hard to climb out of the Eastern Conference cellar. This season, after 35 games the Caps have 45 points, 113 GF, and 106 GA; they are 8 points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes leading the Southeast Division, and on pure straight points are tied for the third most points in the Eastern Conference. Further, despite constantly battling injuries to impact players, the Caps have and continue to be perennially ranked in the top 10 teams in the NHL Power Rankings.
This time last year, Caps fans were wondering aloud if they needed to get a new goaltender to even contend for a playoff spot. This year, Caps fans are wondering aloud if they need to get a new goaltender to contend for the Stanley Cup and preside over a deep run into the playoffs. Okay so maybe not everything is all that different, but it's not like changes haven't been made here as well. Further, Jose Theodore's last 40 minutes are cause for hope. Also yesterday they played a replay of the 2003 outdoor game between the Canadeans and the Oilers, if Theo can keep some of that magic up, the Caps will have the goalie they need between the pipes.
The Capitals are on track to a 105+ point regular season. However, they have some real challenges right now that continue on the injury front. The defense corps continues to miss Brian Pothier, who, thankfully, is once again skating with full gear, Tom Poti, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, and John Erskine. Fortunately, Karl Alzner is maturing quickly; Milan Jurcina ha stepped up his play at least two notches; and Tyler Sloan has been nothing short of a wonderful surprise, as, Bryan Helmer also generally has been as well. Per Tarik, the Caps have recalled Simeon Varlamov, Alexandre Giroux, Andrew Gordon and Bryan Helmer today so it doesn't look like Coach Boudreau is counting on the short two day break to allow many of the regulars back into the lineup in time to face the Sabres on Friday. Given Varlamov's call-up it would appear the Brent Johnson's injury will keep him out of the line-up at least tomorrow, and Giroux and Andrew Gordon's call-up would seem to indicate Eric Fehr, Sergei Federov and Alexander Semin continue to be out as well.
The Buffalo Sabres come into tomorrow evening's match up with 37 points in 34 games - 97 GF and 98 GA - an overall record of 16-14-5 and a road record of 7-6-4. In their last meeting, earlier this season, Saturday November 1st, in Buffalo, the Sabres blanked the Caps and won the game 5-0. The Caps will surely be looking to even the regular season series 1-1 against Buffalo tomorrow night, who is 4-3-3 in their last 10 games compared to the Capitals more desirable 8-2-0 record. After tomorrow night's game, the Caps take on Toronto on Sunday before traveling to Buffalo, to take on the Sabres again on Tuesday night, December 30th, for their last game of 2008. After tomorrow's game with the Caps, the Sabres return home to take on the New York Islanders, the second of a back to back night pair of games.
These next three games will not be easy for the Capitals but they will be looking to try and finish out the month of December with a four game winning streak and an 11-3-0 record for the month. I'll be in section 103 Rockin' the Red tomorrow and hoping to see the second of that four game winning streak.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Caps fans got an early present last night. Instead of a second potentially embarrassing defeat at the hands of another Eastern Conference foe in a row, they made a ferocious comeback and came away with a 2 point 5-4 overtime victory. In a second character game in a row, the Caps could have easily folded like a cheap suit after falling behind 4-0 and having their top four defenseman, as well as Alexander Semin and Sergei Federov out of the lineup. Instead, Coach Bruce Boudreau and the rest of the coaching staff exhorted them to play their game and continue taking it to the Eastern Conference 2nd place New York Rangers and their standard bearer, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Capitals, led by their star left wing, 2008 MVP, Alexander Ovechkin responded and when the Rangers didn't continue to play 110% through the entire third period, Alexander The Great and his teammates made them pay for every slight miscue to tie the game by the end of regulation. For Caps fans and those in attendance at Madison Square Garden, it was a sight to behold and at times an amazing one at that. The Rangers really didn't loose the game so much as Jose Theodore came up with some very special saves late in the second period and throughout the third period to ignite Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals team to come back and steal a victory from them. To be clear it wasn't like the rangers stopped playing at all, it was like they slowed a little bit to try and hold their lead instead of building it at times and when they did get good scoring chances after the 5:00 minute mark of the second period, Jose Theodore came up with the saves to keep them from building or re-building their lead.
The game started out in a rocky manner for the Capitals and Jose Theodore. Theodore let in three goals on the Rangers' first five shots during the first 11:15 of the game. At that point, with the Rangers up 3-0, Coach Boudreau pulled Theodore in favor of Brent Johnson who was nursing a cold as well as a tender hip. Johnson finished out the first period, stopping the three shots he faced but did not return in the net for the start of the second period apparently because of his hip injury. (Whether that means a return to DC for Simeon Varlamov for Friday's game against the Sabres remains to be seen). While Coach Boudreau rightly pointed out that during the first 11:15 of the game, Theodore got little if any help in front of him, 3 goals on 5 shots is not a good night in the NHL by any measure. To be sure the Caps Blueline corps for the game was a little on the green side and we're not talking about Mike Green in any way. The blueliners for this game were: Jurcina-Alzner; Morrisonn-Collins; and Sloan-Helmer. After the game, Bryan Helmer (along with Andrew Gordon and Alexandre Giroux) was sent back down to Hershey. A recap of the first three goals is as follows: Here's a rundown of the goals is as follows: #1: Markus Naslund puts a great pass from Nikolai Zherdev into the net. Basically, Theodore was left naked because Tomas Fleischmann couldn't get to where he was supposed to be in time; #2: Michal Rozsival pots a nice wrist shot in from the right point after Chris Drury beat Nicklas Backstrom on a faceoff. Theodore was apparently well screened and got caught looking around the masses to the inside and the puck went to his outside. Unlucky, but probably one JT60 should have nabbed; and #3) Ryan Callahan catches bouncing puck and bangs one in an empty net. Lots of blame to spread on this one - Theo was totally out of position trying to square up on Drury. Callahan's shot was actually near the near post and Theo still couldn't get to it. Of course you can't ignore the fact that the whole play was started with a 3-on-2 odd man rush by the rangers when an outlet pass by Karl Alzner was picked, and the two defenders were unorganized and offered little support. The puck went off Alzner's skate to Callahan, but the Caps were going to need a great save or a lucky bounce to avoid a goal there. However, add to this that it was the third ranger goal on the fifth shot of the game and that goal number three occurred only 11 SECONDS after goal number 2 and you can see why it was time for a time out and a change of goaltenders in Coach Gabby's mind. Luckily for the Capitals, despite the fact the Rangers played one of their best periods of hockey this year during the first period of last night's game, the Caps knew not to loose faith and that a game isn't over till it's over. Brent Johnson stopped three more shots during the remainder of the period and the teams went to the first intermission with the score Rangers 3 - Caps 0.
The second period started with Jose Theodore once more in the net and initially it seemed as though not much had really changed when Ryan Callahan scored his second goal of the evening to put the Rangers up 4-0 at the 4:48 mark. Callahan scored his 11th goal of the season when he was left all alone for a breakaway after a faceoff at center ice. Callahan was Ovechkin's man, and he didn't try nearly hard enough to back-check on the play. But Tyler Sloan was the other guy back, and he too failed to pick up and pressure Callahan fast enough before the play turned into a 2-on-1 and Nigel Dawes, ended up an easy play to Callahan for a nice assist. The Rangers fourth goal capped off 4 1/2 straight periods of poor defense by the Capitals, who could have just called it a night and crumbled at that point of the evening.
Instead, after the Rangers fourth goal, the Caps first line (Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov) seemed to decide to change back to the type of awesome play they can deliver and take charge of the game. To be completely frank, up to that point in the game the first line had been just plain uncharacteristically poor. Ovechkin and Backstrom had been on the ice for three of the rangers four games and Kozlov had been on the ice for all four. All four of the Rangers' goals were even strength goals, the kind of goals that just kill a players Corsi Numbers in what might be the most meaningful statistic in the game. Additionally, it also seemed that Jose Theodore just looked deep inside himself and said "Enough is enough, I'm going to show these New Yorkers that I can be as much a world class netminder as that Swedish guy at the other end of the ice." Theodore made at least three "impossible" saves between the 5:00 minute mark of the second period and the end of regulation. His play seemed to further fuel the drive of the Caps first line and ignite the rest of the team as well. At the 12:35 mark, Ovechkin was Ovechkin and Backstrom was Backstrom as Ovie netted his 21st goal of the season off a play setup by Backstrom who got his 25th assist of the season. The period ended with the score Rangers 4 - Caps 1; but somehow there seemed to be an energy level coming through by the Caps that had you wondering if they didn't just feel like they might pull this one off after all.
The third period ended up being pretty much "ALL CAPS" thanks in no short part to an "ALL FORWARDS" power play that tallied twice. Due to the Capitals injury depleted regular blue line corps that has both Tom Poti and Mike Green out of the line-up the Capitals' first powerplay unit consisted of Brooks Laich opposite Alex Ovechkin on the point, with Nicklas Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann up front. It was this unit that produced Capitals goals number two and three. First at 1:41 with Michal Rozsival in the penalty box for hooking, Fleischmann got his 12th goal of the season assisted by Backstrom (assist #26) and Brooks Laich (assist #11). Then at the 7:04 mark with Blair Betts in the box for kneeing, Viktor Kozlov notched his 8th goal of the season assisted by Backstrom (assist #27) and Ovechkin (assist #24). All of the sudden, this is a 4-3 game that has gotten very interesting. The momentum was clearly with the Caps but Theodore was certainly part of it as well, JT60 faced and stopped 17 shots in a row including absolutely robbing Chris Drury at one point when the score was still 4-3 Rangers. The game tying goal was classic Alexander Ovechkin, at even strength, at 12:38 of the third period, the Rangers blew a clearing attempt and failed to get the puck out of their zone. Ovie grabbed the puck off the boards on the left side of the ice in the rangers zone, wheeled around and made a shot without taking a second look so that Lundqvist probably never saw the puck until the red light went on. Both teams bore down and regulation ended with the score tied 4-4, but again the crowd was basically stunned and the Capitals were now all believers in their ability to garner two points from a game at Madison Square Garden - something they hadn't been able to do in a long time.
In classic "Cinderella" style, the game ended during "Sudden Death Overtime" went Capitals defenseman Shoane Morrisonn, wearing number 26, scored his first goal of this season, in fact his first goal since last February, the 7th of his NHL Career, on his 26th birthday to give the Capitals the win. Morrisonn's shot was a bomb, a blistering slapshot through a screen that went laser beam straight into the right top shelf of the net over Lundqvist's left shoulder. It completed a truly amazing comeback by a team that is battling numerous injuries to many impact players but has so far managed to go 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and 8-3-0 (0.727 hockey) for the month of December. Add the fact that the Carolina Hurricanes lost to the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in regulation last night and the Caps are once again 8 points up on the second place 'Canes in the Southeast Division, and what's not to like?
Next up: The Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center on Friday evening. I'll be there with my old wing man (son Chris) Rockin' the Red in Section 103. Until Friday Morning, I wish all who read this blog a Happy, Healthy, Safe and Joyous Holiday.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!
Monday, December 22, 2008
The Blackhawks style of play is probably even better suited for Nylander than the style of the Bruce Boudreau Capitals and the average age of the top 4 centers in Chicago is 23 years old. Further the 44 games of NHL playoff experience that the 36 year old Nylander has could be to the Blackhawks what Sergei Federov was to the Capitals these past two seasons. The only players on the Chicago roster with significant playoff experience are 27 year old Martin Havlat and 35 year old Kahbibuhlen. So Nylander would probably help the Chicago front line attack with his mature steady hand. However, the whole Christobel Huet/Nikolai Kahbibuhlen "deal" continues to befuddle. So far this season as #1 and #1A goaltenders the Chicago goaltenders statistics look like this:
Khabibuhlen: 10-1-4 with 1 shutout; a GAA of 2.44 and a save % of 0.922;
Huet: 8-5-3 with 1 shutout; a GAA of 2.38 and a save % of 0.916.
Over their careers Kahbibuhlen has a save % of 0.908 (652 games) in the regular season and 0.922 in the playoffs (57 games), while Huet has a save % of 0.918 (199 games) in the regular season and 0.918 in the playoffs (13 games). So why trade down from Khabibuhlen who has a Stanley Cup ring now when they are only trailing the Red Wings by five points and they have a game in hand on Detroit? On the season the Blackhawks have played 31 games so far and have 114 goals for and 82 goals against. They also have two experienced defenseman in Brian Campbell and Brent Sopel - in short other than one or two more experienced forwards they have what they need for a playoff run and they do indeed have an extra number 1 goaltender. However, the goaltender with the most playoff experience is Khabibuhlen and while he does indeed become a free agent at the end of the season, does it make sense for the Blackhawks to count on Huet who has only 13 games of playoff experience to drive them deep into the playoffs this season and next? Of course, based on signing Huet to a four year contract, the Blackhawks have probably already made that decision. Assuming the Blackhawks trade either Huet or Khabibuhlen, they will be counting on either 25 year old prospect Corey Crawford or 25 year old prospect Antti Neimi to step into the void and provide a solid backup to their number 1.
Would having Khabibuhlen as a Cap make sense and make the Capitals better? Could the Caps make such a deal work? The Caps have Jose Theodore and Brent Johnson. So far this season both have done adequately, Johnson probably more so. However, both are now battling back from hip injuries and neither have had the success of Kahbibuhlen either this season or consistently over the length of their careers. So far this season their numbers look as follows:
Theodore: 8-6-1 with 1 shutout; a GAA of 3.26 and a SV % of 0.883;
Johnson: 10-5-2 with no shutouts; a GAA of 2.55 and a SV % of 0.916.
Over their careers Theodore has a save % of 0.908 (462 games) in the regular season and 0.914 (47 games) in the playoffs; while Johnson has a save % of 0.903 (243 games) in the regular season and 0.931 (12 games) in the playoffs. While Theodore has a Vezina and Hart Trophy to his credit, he doesn't have any Stanley Cup Rings and the deepest he has been in the playoffs is 12 games. Johnson becomes a free agent at the end of this season, Johnnie's salary cap hit this season is $812K. Theodore is signed through the end of next season with an average salary cap hit of 4.5M. Kahbibuhlen is a free agent at the end of this season, his full season salary cap hit to the Blackhawks this season is $6.75M. Michael Nylander is signed to a contract with the Capitals through the 2010-2011 season that has a salary cap hit of $4.875M and a no movement clause. Another factor, though doubtful will be that Kahbibuhlen might be willing to take something more on the order of what the Caps could afford next season for their number 1 goaltender - say $4.5 to $5M and accept a two or three year deal, to play on a team with Russian countryman like the Alexes: Ovechkin & Semin, even if Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Federov do not resign, and to be the mentor to Caps 20 year old prospect Simeon Varlamov. That assumes that somehow the Caps resolve the issues such a deal would create with Theodore as well. That Khabibuhlen would be a fair to great mentor for Varlamov shouldn't be in doubt; just the fact someone with Khabibuhlen's NHL experience could coach the protege' without having to battle a language barrier has to be a plus. The bigger issues are who back fills Nylander until everyone is healthy and what do the Capitals do with Jose Theodore if they decide that neither he nor Brent Johnson are likely to be the goalie to take them deep into the playoffs this spring. Also what has to happen to make the salary cap numbers even begin to work this season? The Capitals basically have no Cap room right now and Khabibuhlen's cap hit is a prorated $1.9M larger than Nylander's. Clearly there has to be another player or two involved to make the numbers work and with the Capital's injuries to date, it's very hard to figure out who that might be.
So to me everything about this discussion looks like a definite maybe.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Well to make a bad weekend worse, as far as the professional sports teams I follow go, today's scores were all negative for the teams I root for. Being from Philadelphia I'm an Eagles fan; yes, I know that's a weird combination Eagles & Capitals but those are my teams. So the easy one for most Capitals fans to take first. The Eagles' receivers lost the game for them - seven dropped passes that should have been caught and then failing to push back three more steps so you're in the end zone when time runs out are just inexcusable at the NFL level.
Now that's off my mind how about the bad set of circumstances for the Capitals this weekend. First the Caps loose 7-1 to the Flyers last night, then Carolina beats Montreal in overtime today, and Florida shuts out Colorado. So at the end of this evening while the Caps retain first place in the Southeast Division they are only 6 points ahead of Carolina, and they are only 7 points ahead of Florida - who have a game in hand on both the Caps and the Hurricanes. Also, don't look now but the Florida Panthers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games (after going 5-6-3 in the month of November). During the last 10 games the Panthers have outscored their opponents 23-20 and both Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson have each notched a shutout. Making Florida's recent run even more impressive are the facts that 6 of their last 10 games have been on the road including a 10 day/5 game in a row road trip from 12/8-12/18 AND the fact that four of the six wins were against Western Conference foes, 3 of which were on that road trip. Finally, lest we not forget this recent 10 game sure started with the Panthers beating the Capitals at Verizon Center on Tuesday, December 2nd. Clearly, the Caps can't afford to take the Panthers lightly the next time the two teams meet on Saturday, February 7th. Possibly by then the Panthers will have come back down to be the team many thought they were. However, it's just as possible that over the next 6 weeks the Panthers continue their new found ways and keep playing 0.700 plus hockey, like the Capitals did last season once they found their "mojo." The Panthers next six weeks schedule is decidedly easier with regard to travel and rest than it has been over the past seven weeks, so it is indeed possible that the real threat to the Caps for the Southeast Division Championship will come from Florida. The Carolina Hurricanes are 4-4-3 (0.550 hockey) in their last 10 games, including a 3-1 home victory against the Capitals at RBC Center on Pearl Harbor Day (12/7). On the season the Hurricanes have played 0.530 hockey and since opening the season with a 5-2-2 October have basically played 0.500 hockey or slightly below that level since. The one team they have dominated this season has been Montreal - they are 3-0-1, but in a quirk of NHL scheduling, they will not see the Canadeans again this regular season as for some reason they have played them four times already. Based on last years playoff teams as well as current team power rankings, discounting Montreal over the next 7 weeks, the Hurricane's schedule is slightly more arduous then it has been thus far this season.
Theoretically, the Capitals own schedule over the next 4 weeks should be easier then it has been. Of course that ignores several facts - first and foremost the injury situation, especially with the blue line corps; second 7 of the 16 games the Caps will play over the next 7 weeks are away games and it seems like any away game is posing a challenge for the Caps so far this season; finally the Caps have all to often played up or down to the level of their opponent so far this season and not had the killer instinct needed to put opponents away early of with finality. With any luck, Saturday's 7-1 loss to the Flyers will have shown the Caps the errors in their ways and that the time has come for them to use their size and really start to pack the low slot in a way that gets more scoring from the second, third and energy lines, even if Alexander Semin is out for a few weeks to get his back into shape. It'll also take a little luck with regard to the injury situation with the defense as once again Tom Poti has an injured groin and Mike Green is being asked to play what amounts to basically too many minutes. The luck would be the continued excellent play of two guys most Caps fans hadn't heard of before this season - Tyler Sloan and Sean Collins as well as the continued rapid maturation of Karl Alzner and the continued higher level play of Milan Jurcina. An on track recovery by Jeff Schultz wouldn't be a bad thing either. No one should rush the return of either Brian Pothier or John Erskine - concussions are not something to mess about with.
Next up the rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday Night. The Rangers are 0.639 on the season (22-12-2); though, after starting fast they are only 5-5-0in their last 10. The rangers have been tough in the Garden this year though and are 12-6-1, they have also gone 6-3-1 in their last 10 home games. Interestingly, during their last 10 home games, the Rangers have been outscored by their opponents 27-25. Given the motivation the Caps should have to make up for the lack of getting puck by Antero Niittymaki on Saturday, one might expect the Capitals to come out shooting again on Tuesday evening, but with even more grit.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The Capitals came out for the start of the game ready to play getting 8 shots on goal during the first 3 1/2 minutes of the game (including 1 2:00 minute 5-4) power play while the Flyers only logged 1 shot on Brent Johnson. Unfortunately at 4:29, Joffery Lupul scored for the Flyers on their second shot on goal, when he put a slapshot past Johnson. This first goal, what ended up being the only goal of the period resulted from Shoane Morrisonn getting caught up ice and Lupul giving Hershey call-up Alexandre Giroux a lesson in how to play one on one at the NHL level. A short time later at 7:38 Donald Brashear and Riley Cote decided to "mix it up" in a short bout (his 198th of his career) in a fight that Brashear clearly got the best of. Less then a minute after the Brashear/Cote fight, Kimmo Timonen tripped up Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps went onto the power play, their second of the game. However, Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki once again was the Flyers' best penalty killer making several saves including one that robbed Ovechkin on a rocket fast one timer with an equally "cat like" glove save. After 11 minutes the Capitals had notched 6 scoring chances to the Flyers 1 but Niittymaki had frustrated them all. The Caps got their third power play chance of the game when Lupul cross-checked Matt Bradley and was whistled off to the "Sin Bin." During the third period the Caps finally got "dirty" and put a ton of traffic in front of the net, however once again Nittymaki miraculously kept them off the scoreboard. After 13:30 of the first period had been played the Capitals had outshot the Flyers 22-2 but somehow trailed in the game 1-0. By the 14:00 mark the Flyers were beginning to look a little frustrated while the Caps continued to play what might well have been their best period of hockey so far this season. Unfortunately the Caps were the ones who had nothing to show for their efforts, despite outshooting the Flyers 23-5 to that point in the game. Brashear was called for a cheap penalty with 2 seconds left in the period, the kind of a call that wouldn't have been made on anybody else on either team except for maybe Riley Cote. When will the officiating in the NHL get more, well everything - consistent, even-handed, or just generally better? It's not like these NHL officials aren't fairly paid and are just amateurs who are moonlighting. Despite having clearly outplayed the Flyers in the first period: shots on goal: Caps 27, Flyers 7; hits: Caps 12, Flyers 7; penalties: Caps 2, Flyers 4. Alex Ovechkin - 6 shots, 3 hits, time on ice 9:36, robbed by Antero Nittymaki at least 3 times. Score at the end of the first period: Caps 0, Flyers 1; go figure.
The second period started with the Flyers having a 1:57 second power play and no doubt determined to make their mark against a team that was outplaying them in front of their home crowd. The Capitals appeared determined to keep up what to that point had been a clinic in forechecking on the Flyers but first they had to kill off their second minor penalty of the game. Once again the Caps basically outplayed the Flyers but they made a couple of mistakes and the Flyers made them pay. First at 15:11 Jeff Carter scored an even strength goal to put the Flyers up 2-0. Then at 16:05, with Flyer defenseman Ossi Vaananen in the penalty box for interference, Jeff Carter scored his 24th of the season, and it was an beautiful "shorty" where he just deked the pants off Johnnie while on a 1-0 breakaway, and put the puck left top shelf off his backhand. The entire thrid goal started because Mike Green inadvertantly gave away the puck. During the second period the Caps outshot the Flyers 14 -7; they also outhit the Flyers 10 -8. Overall for the game at the end of 2 periods it was shots on goal: Caps 39, Flyers 14; Hits Caps 22, Flyers 17; Score Caps 0, Flyers 3.
Through the end of the second period, the Caps had played a game that ranged from excellent (first period) to fairly good (worst minutes of the second period). The difference was a combination of several things. Antero Niittymaki performance through the first two periods ranged from was flawless to superhuman through the first 40 minutes of the game, for difference #1. Difference number two was the fact that while the Caps had 39 shots during the first two periods, many were first shots and many were made without any Capitals in the low slot creating traffic and looking for tightly kept rebounds. Difference number three was while the Caps weren't making many mistakes, when they did make mistakes, the Flyers made them pay for it. Unlike the first period where the Caps clearly outplayed the Flyers, in the second period, depsite the shots on goal differential, the Flyers were much more engaged in the game and had more scoring chances. Another piece of bad news for the Capitals was that early in the period, it became apparent that Caps Defenseman Tom Poti had left the game with an injury, an apparent re-injury to his groin during the first period. That was a tough break for the Caps given the belief that Mike green still isn't back to being 100% and through two periods he had already played 22:35 TOI. Things didn't go quite as well during the third period.
At the start of the third period, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau made a change in goal to Jose Theodore and just 39 seconds into the period he was tested and came up with the needed save to let everyone know he was ready. Things still looked like this was going to be a tightly played game. While during the first minute of the period it did become clear that the Flyers were determined to put the game fully away, it was also clear the Caps wanted to fight back despite trailing by three goals and facing a hot goalie. The Caps started driving hard, putting even more forechecking in the Flyers end and trying to exert pressure on Niitymaki. Of course once again after 4:44 the Caps made another mistake (actually 2) and the Flyers' Scott Hartell made them pay for it. Score Caps 0, Flyers 4. Thankfully, right after that the Flyers came out and gave the puck away with Brooks Laich on the doorstep and all the sudden Niittymaki's phenominal shutout bid was gone. Score Caps 1, Flyers 4. However, that was it for the Caps. The Flyers had other ideas on the other hand. At 7:29 with the Flyers on the power play because of a Shoane Morrisonn cross checking penalty, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game. Score: Caps 1, Flyers 5. Then at 9:19 with the Flyers on a 5-3 powerplay, Simon Gagne netted his 17th goal of the season. Score: Caps 1, Flyers 6. At the 12:03 mark of the third period, Riley Cote decided he wanted to go for round 2 with Donald Brashear, while not as much of a beat down as round 1, once again Brashear got the better of the Flyers enforcer. At 16:25, Hartnell got his hat trick assisted by Lupul and Carter. Score: Capitals 1, Flyers 7. The final fight of the evening at 17:54 was Matt Bradley vs. Josh Gratton, a bout that Gratton won handily. The Flyers offense ended up the night quite well: Scott Hartnell led the charge with 3 goals and 1 assist for four points; Jeff Carter also had four points (2 goals, 2 assists); as did Joffery Lupul (1 goal, 3 asssists). The three stars for the game were 1) Niittymaki, 2) Hartnell, and 3) Carter (who along with his 4 points was also +5 on the night).
In summary, the first period portended the games final outcome. Anytime a team takes 25 shots (a new record for the Caps) and doesn't get a goal (or four), it's setting the stage for a disappointing defeat. What's worse is that the Caps couldn't keep things together and in the end Niittymaki didn't even have to come close to stealing the game for the Flyers. Tomorrow is apparently a rest day for the Caps, with a little luck the injury to Tom Poti won't be too serious and some other Caps (like Sergei Federov) will be getting better as well. When they watch film from this game, the Caps will need to take a lot of notes. If they are to make a run deep into the playoffs, it's likely their road to the Stanley Cup will need to go through Philadelphia. The Flyers seemed to know that during this game and put the Caps on notice that they respect the Caps and will not let up at all whenever these two teams meet. The Caps could also learn a little from the Flyers as to how to use their imposing size to their advantage better. The Flyers crash the net every chance they get and they love to get gritty in the low slot. The Caps on the other hand look for more puck movement and tend to be in the mid-slot when they are in front of the net. The Flyers adjusted well to this often clogging the passing lanes and using the extra space between the Caps and the net to block shots and box out the Caps forwards. Clearly the next time these two teams meet the Caps will need to make some adjustments in this regard.
For Caps Fans, the only good thing about this afternoon was the Bruins beat the Hurricanes as well, so the Cps remain 8 points up in first place in the Southeast DIvision.
Next up, the New York Rangers, Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Tuesday's game will be the second of four this season against the Rangers; the last time the Caps met the Rangers was November 8th at Verizon when they lost 3-1. Hopefully, they will bounce back from this game and tie the series up at MSG.
The high point of the evening, for me, was when I made another Kings Pointer from my era's evening - Vic, Class of 1984 - when I found out he and his 16 year old son are Caps fans. Vic and his son Patrick are now speeding up I-95 on their way to the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, clad in their Red Capitals Home Sweaters to watch today's game (a 1PM start) and hopefully see the Capitals extend their winning streak to 6 games in a row. I hate to see good hockey tickets go to waste, the fact that Vic paid me for them this morning before leaving the DC Metro area is truly "just gravy".
Last night's events were a testament to both the Kings Point experience and the surging appeal of the Washington Capitals and NHL Hockey. Last night, the Kings Point experience and its enduring traditions enable communication and socialization across at least 4 generations of USMMA graduates and their families. Watching 20 something Kings Pointers socialize and related to 70 something Kings Pointers and all clearly enjoying the company of one and other always amazes and delights me. It's a big reason, I am so pleased to see my own son on a path to join the "fraternity." The fact that on short notice, actually no notice, the Capitals fan base now includes so many people in the region who can't wait to see them play is a testament to the great effort that the entire Capitals organization has made and the success they have achieved.
To Kings Pointers everywhere - Happy Holidays - Fair Winds and Following Seas - and "Acta Non Verba" always.
...and of course .... LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Forward Lines are a guess (could be way off as neither Nylander or Semin skated today) but here they are:
Ovechkin - Backstrom - Kozlov
Poti - Collins
Green - Morrisonn
Jurcina - Alzner
Good luck to Simeon Varlamov in his second NHL start.
The Blues are pretty injury decimated - if the Caps come out fast and play their game my prediction for the score is Caps 5 - Blues 2.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The season is 32 games old for the Washington Capitals - 50 games to go before the playoffs begin - the Capitals have picked up the pace again here in December so far going 6-2-0 since the beginning of the month (0.750 hockey). Washington is now 8 points ahead of second place Carolina in the Southeast Division standings; third in the Eastern Conference both by virtue of being the SE Division Leaders and on straight points; and fifth overall in the league 3 points behind the NY Rangers but with two games in hand over them. The Washington Capitals have arrived, last night they proved that not only can they be dominant over most on their good nights but they can still eke out an ugly win over at least some NHL teams when they are having a bad night. The change has been gradual but in the end the Caps have built themselves into this sort of team by having a core of players - not just one superstar, though there can be no doubt that the Caps have at least one superstar and who that player is.
A look at the overall league leaders and the stars of the month in October and November easily confirms that the Capitals - like the leagues other solid stable teams - are not "one trick ponies." As of this morning a look at the statistics for the leagues leading skaters - the top 50 statistical leaders for each of the major categories shows the following.
#3: Alexander Ovechkin - 19 (30 games played);
#14: Alexander Semin - 14 (20 games played).
#6: Alexander Ovechkin - 23;
#9: Nicklas Backstrom - 23 (32 games played);
#34: Alexander Semin - 17.
#3: Alex Ovechkin - 42;
#14: Nicklas Backstrom - 33;
#18: Alexander Semin - 31.
#1: Alexander Semin - +20;
#17: Mike Green - +13 (21 games played);
#29: Alexander Ovechkin - +12.
Points per game:
#3: Alexander Semin - 1.55;
#5: Alexander Ovechkin - 1.40;
#28: Nicklas Backstrom - 1.03;
#42: Mike Green - 0.95.
#10 Mike Green - 20.
#4: Mike Green - 8;
#47: Tom Poti - 3 (21 games payed);
#51: Milan Jurcina - 3 (32 games played).
Defenseman Points Per Game:
#3: Mike Green - 0.95;
#29: Sami Lepisto - 0.57.
Face Off Leaders (Face Off Won %):
#5: Boyd Gordon - 58.2% (29 games played - 335 faceoffs);
#12: David Steckel - 55.6% (29 games played - 333 faceoffs);
#58: Nicklas Backstrom - 48.9% (32 games played - 444 faceoffs);
#59: Michael Nylander - 48.6% (31 games played - 288 faceoffs).
Shooting % Leaders:
#7: Alexander Semin - 23.0% (averages 3.0 shots/game);
#39: Tomas Fleischmann - 16.7% (averages 2.1 shots/game; 29 games played).
#1: Alexander Ovechkin - 5.9;
#25: Mike Green - 3.3;
#47: Aleaxnder Semin - 3.0.
#3: Alexander Ovechkin - 107;
#59: Milan Jurcina - 57.
Isn't nice to talk about real, meaningful statistics and facts instead of the obscure ones that used to get flashed up on the jumbo-tron during the "rebuild"? Remember things like: "Over the last 20 games Jeff Halpern leads the league in goals scored after his former high school in Potomac, MD's basketball team wins a game"?
Next up - the Saint Louis Blues on Thursday Evening at Verizon Center. Please keep "Rockin' the Red" - I know I will be.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!