Friday, February 29, 2008

Catching the Caps @ the Devil'sThird Period

Well I worked late up at a partner company's facility in Glen Burnie, MD (life can be hectic these days at ICx Technologies) so that when I turned on this evening's game I found the Caps up 2-0. Then I see a tough hit on Mike Green that results in a legitimate 4:00 double minor against the Devil's Patrik Elias for High Sticking. The Devils and Brodeaur do a good job of keeping Ovechkin from scoring on a "wicked hard" (please imagine the Boston accent I wrote that with) one-timer; only to have "the other Alex" Semin score on an equally "wicked hard" one-timer about 70 seconds later while the Caps are still on the power play. Score!!!!! Caps 3, Devils 0.

They just showed replays of all three goals: Green's 17th; Kozlov's 13th and Semin's 20th. Craig Laughlin just commented about how well the Caps have played this game and while I've only seen a little over 10 minutes of play, all 10 minutes are being played by a different team, with the same players, than the team I've seen the last 3 or 4 games. Huet just smothered a rebound in a way we haven't seen in these parts for a while. Donald Brashear SCORES!!!! on a rocket wrister after a no-look pass from Matt Bradley. It's Brash's 4th of the season. Caps 4, Devils 0. And in the end, Cristobel Huet gets a shutout in his first game as a Cap, how's that for a switch the Caps go to "The Rock" and shutout the Deivls and Martin Brodeur? How'd the Caps trade deadline deals look tonight? Well statistically, Huet stopped 18 shots and shut out the Devils; Sergei Federov won 10 of 13 faceoffs (77%), had 1 assist, and 3 shots in 15:48 of ice time - not bad for a 38 year old. Additionally, the line combination of Federov - Semin - Fleischmann is definitely a solid pairing and having two world class lines clearly opens things up for the first line of Ovechkin - Backstrom - Kozlov as well. Of course one game a season does not make but looking at the statistics and the part of the game I saw, there was "nothing but net" - the Caps entire Caps lineup played great hockey tonight. Tomorrow night at the "Phone Booth" against the Maple Leafs; LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flyers 3 - Senators 1

Day 1 of the Bryan Murray firing pool and "death" (as in next guy under the bus) watch - Friday 2/29/2008.

In order to egg this situation on here's some grist for the mill (please ignore the fact the Caps are fighting for a playoff berth and despite the loss the Senators remain well inside the playoff picture):

Records since 11/23/2007:
Washington Capitals: 23-13-7
Ottawa Senators: 20-19-6.

Stupidity - Sens Fire Paddock

"Okay splain this to me..."

You're an NHL coach. Last year your team went to the Stanley Cup finals. This year for the bulk of the season your team has led the Conference and your still leading your division, over the past 10 games your team is 4-4-2 (that's 500 hockey from a W/L perspective and a points captured perspective). You walk into work today expecting to:
A) Prepare for to tonight's game against a conference rival you are 9 points ahead of in the standings.
B) Talk to your players and explain perhaps why the GM made not bold moves but that you feel the pick-up of a RW to fill a recent hole was a solid move.
C) Talk to the GM, get fired, and pack your stuff so you can be run out of town by a supposedly "hockey savvy" but really silly local media cadre.
or D) Talk to your players and figure out why they've slumped slightly to 0.500 hockey and what minor adjustments need be made to ensure your team stays ahead of their most heated rival by at least the one point you're in front of them now and perhaps stretch your lead and get back to first in the Conference over the remaining 18 games of the season.
A logical, sane person might expect the simple answer to be A) or D), perhaps B) in a really winning a Cup is everything kind of place. Of course if you work in Ottawa and your name is John Paddock the surreal is normal and the answer was C). What can one expect in a city that feels through whatever divine right the Canadian Capital possesses related to the sport of Ice Hockey their city has more right to a player named Alexander Ovechkin, or really any good player, than Washington DC (their country's southern neighbor's capital) or really any other city with an NHL franchise. Watch out Mario Lemiuex, Sid the Kid only has a few years on his current contract and those folks in Ottawa can put an 8 and a 7 on a contract in any order he might want them too, and then they can have the hockey god(s) make him sign it, after all their is divine right involved here you know.
I have no issue with pushing for high performance and holding professional athletes or coaches "feet to the fire" when they don't preform but the truth is the Senators while starting out near perfect have slumped only down to the level of just "really good" despite a fair number of distractions. What's next? Perhaps the Red Wings should fire Mike Babcock? After all the Red Wings, despite having a five point lead over the next closest team in the league have truly "slumped of late" and are actually only 1-7-2 in their last 10 games. Of course the Red Wings organization, while I'm sure not happy about really any of the month of February have folks like Jim Devellano at the helm and can understand they will soon return to form and be well on their way to going deep in the playoffs after the team heals some from their recent spate of injuries. Of course the Red Wings Western Conference rivals might pray for a broader outbreak of the "Ottawa Stupidity Syndrome" that leads to tremendous frustration and if the Hockeytown bunch doesn't heal the management of the Red Wings get very frustrated and have a talent "sell-off" this summer. Yeah that'll happen.
Getting back into the prognostication business here's my next prediction. The Ottawa Sun begins running articles about how the Washington Capitals and DC fans don't deserve a great goalie let alone two of them and a really good third so now the rumour is Kolzig is pissed about the Huet deal. Then the story they write next:Huet has already decided Washington DC isn't "cosmopolitan enough" and want's to go back to a Canadian city where he can always get his morning paper in the "language of love, his native tongue, French". Later in the week they break a story, Huet's agent has approached Bryan Murray to see if the Sens will get rid of their current two goalies and pave the way for his return to Canada at a much higher salary then he had in Montreal. Still later in the month of March they break a story, Olie Kolzig will be hired as a goal tending consultant by the Sens when he retires since he wants to be closer to the hockey gods' Mount Olympus.
Of course the Caps follow that up with an announcement and press conference on April 2nd, with all three goalies present: Kolzig, Johnson, and Huet after beating Hurricanes 4-2 on April Fools day. At that press conference they indicate that a) they would have held the press conference the prior day but because of all the ludicrous silliness in the Ottawa Sun (a main stream media publication with perhaps only one saving grace) they couldn't hold a serious press conference on April Fool's day; b) Kolzig is announcing he will retire at the end of the season and the Caps want to announce that they will hang his number in the rafters at the 2008-2009 home opener, to thank him for all he's done for the franchise the ownership Lincoln Holdings LLC and the various foundations of the owners are donating $500,000 to Athletes Against Autism in the name of Carson Kolzig which will be used to setup a grant & fellowship program administered by NIH to fund research for autism cures and treatments; c) Huet has signed a 4 year contract with the Caps for an average of 5 Million/year; and d) Johnson who has just spent 3 weeks in Hershey tearing up the AHL and getting some playing time has resigned a 3 year contract for $2M/year; and the Caps will not seek to resign Fredric Cassivi who is a UFA at the end of the season so they are a wash on the Salary Cap as regards their goaltender salary expenses. Kolzig follows up Ted Leonsis' kind words with many of his own. First the man sometimes refered to as Godzilla because of his long limbs, highlights how much he appreciates the Capitals Organization's embrace of the charity he founded and with emotion in his voice indicates how much good it will do along with the further commitment by specific members of Lincoln Holdings to support the effort till a cure is found. He goes on to say how much he is looking forward to working with Huet, Johnson and the Caps prospect goalies Machesney, Varlamov, and Neuvirth who will be in Hershey and Charleston next season. He further indicates affection for Cassivi and hope he finds a spot on an NHL roster after such a great run at the top of the AHL for the past three seasons. He then puts forth a prediction that Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Huet and his friend "Johnnie" will all be wearing Stanley Cup rings before Johnson and Huet's contracts are up or need to be extended. and Semin will be wearing Stanley Cup rings and how as a member of the coaching staff and organization he too will get one too.
LETS GO CAPS !!!! Next up the Conference Leading and Very Hot New Jersey Devils at "The Rock" in Newark.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No Hockey Thoughts Today - Lots Going On In Work

It's 11:30 PM and the first time today to think about hockey - my question who starts in goal versus the Devils in Newark on Friday night?

Another study in class look at this interview Q&A from Cristobel Huet this morning from Tarik:
Q: Because Olie has been the face of the franchise, what were your thoughts when you found out that you were coming here?A: "I respect Olie a lot. He's been here a long time and he's done well for the franchise. We're just going to work it out and I'm just going to try to be my best when I'm asked to play."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Caps 4 Wild 1 but Big News Is Trade Deadline Deals

Caps 4 - Wild 1 while Mark is working and driving home from Glen Burnie , MD but big news is the trade deadline deals. First thought - woo - I didn't think the Caps would make a move today, let alone four deals all of which you have to judge pretty positively. Yes for a loyal fan and sentimental guy like me there are downsides. First the Huet deal could easily affect Olie Kolzig in a manner he doesn't fancy and Matt Pettinger is a solid Hockey Player and Solid Citizen. But you have to admit both deals definitely have the potential to positively impact the Caps the remainder of this season and, possibly in future years.

Huet is a solid top ten goalie and easily the best potential available UFA at the end of the season, if the Caps can resign him they likely have a solid, younger than Kolzig, number one for two or three years. Matt Pettinger wasn't getting any offensive production this year a the change of scenery and getting to play for the team he rooted for as a kid has to be a potential positive for him and if he responds for the Canucks. The Caps get Matt Cooke a grittier forward then they had and that "nudgey" kind of player to compliment what Brashear brings to the team. As for the Federov deal this is unexpected, but definitely "no-brainer" move - I don't know why Columbus was willing to part with him for Theo Ruth. Ruth isn't even in the Cap's Hockey Future data base but given Michael Nylander's injury it's a good and necessary deal for the Caps if they could make it happen. The Motzko - Giroux deal is a fair swap for the two teams and given the Thrashers recent selloffs/trade offs Motzko might get a chance to play more at the NHL level in with Atlanta, Giroux is a player the Caps know who is two years younger than Motzko.

Again on the sentimental side I like both Olie and Johnnie and feel sad about that but Huet is also a class act - just look at his final comments to the press in Montreal: "I'm very excited to join a young team like the Capitals and to have the chance to play with Ovechkin instead of facing him," Huet told reporters in Montreal. "I'm a bit surprised by the trade but I had some thoughts about it yesterday when I found out that I would not be in the net versus the Thrashers. I had 3 great years in Montreal, a classy organisation, great teammates, special relationship with the fans. I will miss that. I would have liked to finish the job in Montreal. I did not play well enough in the last few games.""Washington will be a great new challenge for me," he added. "I don't know about their plans, if I will be use as a no 1 goalie." Clearly another mature, classy goalie who takes responsibility for his actions - would you rather that the Caps tried to improve their goal tending if the off season with this guy?

So now we watch and wait to see what this means for the the goaltending situation now the Caps have three goalies. If the possibility of resigning Huet is real, I expect we are probably watching the sunset of perhaps the greatest Capital so far in Olaf Kolzig, hopefully we will all see a great person treated with dignity so he can act with dignity if that's the case. Also what about both Brent Johnson and Fredric Cassivi? Why do I bring up Cassivi? Look at his bio and age, if the Caps resign Huet and opt for a NHL level tandem of Huet & Johnson do they really need/want a 32 year old goalie logging the bulk of the ice time on their developmental team with Machesney, Varlamov, and Neuvirth in the system? I doubt it of course they could end up withKolzig and Huet for the playoff push this year, not resign Huet and be right where they were yesterday or either and be in more flux. I doubt that scenario happens but you never know.

On the Pettinger - Cooke deal, good luck Matt Pettinger, you are a classy, solid guy and on a personal level all Caps fans wish you well. Playing for the team that was/is the team you rooted for as a kid has to be cool, Vancouver is a beautiful city as well. Hopefully, Matt Cooke also works out for the Caps, his grit is certainly something that at times will be helpful. Now as this guy says "Let's kick it up a notch"; February hasn't been a bad hockey month but January was so cool you spoiled us all. Finally, I'm getting piggy I want it all - please shoot the moon - win the Division, get the secondary scoring going so teams have to give AO the room to enable him to hit 60+ goals and Caps fans eat lots of wings after home games. LETS GO CAPS!!!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Devils 2 - Caps 1 (OT) Missed most of it due to work

Well I'm still getting caught up so I only caught 5 minutes of the second period before work consumed me all day yesterday. I cruised the blogs and looked at the stats and basically came away with the consensus conclusion - Too Much Marty - another hot team we handled well but Brodeur shelled us. My buddy Jim Henry has to be happy - next time I see you up in Jersey - yes "What exit?" Jersey, you owe me a couple of beers Jim.

To make matters worse I can't make tomorrow's game either - yes it's because of work too. We all gotta eat, don't we?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What Happened? – Sometimes I Hate It When I’m Right

Bottom Line: Carolina 6 – Washington 3; a “No Points” Night for the Capitals

Why do the Caps keep coming up short in these important Southeast Division games as the season drives to a close? Generalities are rarely useful from an analytical standpoint without solid data to back things up and need to be left until another time as they don’t need to be applied to figure the reasons for this loss. Last evening the Caps just didn’t execute on the things they needed to do. On the other hand the Carolina Hurricane’s though they had some lapses executed on what they needed to do and “played their game”. Oe thing for sure is no cliches apply, look at the scorecard on things and match-ups to watch as compared to the results, and the reasons for this loss become clear. Both teams showed up and played to win, Carolina just did it all a little better last night, and it ended up making a huge difference.

Offensive Keys:
- The Caps needed to stay out of the penalty box or have their PK unit (18th in the league) play well as 28% of the Hurricanes’ goals are from the power play. Key result: The Caps put the Hurricanes on the power-play 7 times (counting Kozlov’s double minor) and the Hurricanes scored 4 of their 6 goals on the man advantage. Caps failed to execute in two ways – they gave far too many power play chances to Carolina and their PK unit went 42.8% (versus their season average of 80.5%)
- Erik Cole was indeed stoked for the game and had the intensity factor up notching a powerplay goal and an assist. For the game he logged 22:25 TOI, led the Canes in Hits with 5 an even though he went -1 for the game he was a major factor in the offense as he was on the ice for the four Carolina power play goals.
- For the Canes they got continued solid “secondary scoring” from Williams, Samsonov, Walker and Cullen. Cullen scored two, and Ladd scored one in fact “secondary scoring accounted for 60% of the goals scored by Hurricane’s forwards; and Samsonov with two assists was involved in both the Hurricanes’ even strength tallies.
- Alexander Semin: While it’s hard to be complimentary of individual performances when the team looses, Number 28 showed up for the game and had a reasonably good night. He logged 18:25 TOI, scored a goal, took 4 shots had a takeaway and no giveaways and played disciplined hockey staying out of the penalty box. In fact, Semin’s mature play when he was “mugged” by Andrew Ladd in the second period and kept his cool led to a power play that Brooks Laich capitalized on. “The other Alex” played to win and wasn’t the on the ice for either of the Hurricane’s even strength goals – take that James Mirtle; oh yeah except the Capitals lost so we can’t be too happy, nor probably is Semin.
- Alexander Ovechkin: Logged 23:03; had 3 assists “kinda” broke out of his slump and also brought his game even though he failed to score in any of his 8 shots, 6 blocked attempts and one missed shot – clearly Cam Ward enjoys stopping the league’s “big guns” on other Southeast Division rosters. Notably Ovechkin led the Caps in hits with 5, was directly involved in all three of the Caps goals, was even in +/- and logged 1:08 of successful PK time during which he and Backstrom were able to stymie an otherwise awesome night for the Hurricane’s power play. Unfortunately in what may have been one of the two most important match ups of the night – Ward vs. Ovechkin – Ward won, and though Ovie made up some ground on his buddy Malkin in the race for points leadership and personally had a pretty good night , he’s probably not too happy either.
- Backstrom and Fleischmann: Backstrom vs. Whitney and Fleischmann vs. Cole. Neither Backstrom or Flash had horrible nights, but they didn’t have great ones either. Whitney and Cole combined for 4 points, were impact players in the game and ended up the evening on a team with a 6 point lead in the standings.

Defensive Keys:
- Joe Corvo and Bret Hedican’s play: Corvo - TOI: 20:56, 2 Assists, 1 Goal, +/- even, 3 takeaways, 2 blocked shots, no giveaways; Hedican – TOI 20:57, 1 hit, 2 takeaway, 2 blocked shots, -1 on the night. Basically, a very solid night for both leading Hurricane D-Men.
- Frantisek Kaberle and Niclas Wallin’s play: Kaberle – TOI 16:44 (1:55 of PK), +/- +1, 4 shots, 1 blocked shot; Wallin – TOI 17:19 (2:30 of PK), +/- +1, 1 shot, 1 takeaway. A solid night for Kaberle and Wallin and a key to the Hurricane’s win.
- The Mike Green – Joe Corvo match up: Green – TOI: 25:25, +/- +1, 1 assist, 1 goal, 1 hit, 1 blocked shot, 2 shots, 2 blocked attempts, 1 missed shot, no giveaways or takeaways; Green had a solid outing but Corvo’s 3 takeaways and 2 assists give a slight edge to the veteran in this match-up. However last year this time and before the Caps coaching change this comparison wouldn’t have even been in the realm of reality, Green really needs to be the next Cap that Management locks up a contract extension with.

The Goaltending Matchup:
- Cam Ward stopped 31 of 34 for a save % of 91.18%, Olie Kolzig stopped 36 of 42 for a save % of 85.71%. While Kolzig had a reasonable outing, the Caps needed him to have a super night. At the other end of the ice Ward had a solid night and stoned the league’s leading goal scorer on his eight shots. But you can’t put this game all on Olie Kolzig, giving the Hurricanes 7 power plays is what enabled them to get 42 shots on goal. Even if Ovechkin had scored a goal for the Caps to have won the game 4-3, they would have needed Kolzig to have had a save % of 92.86% to limit the Hurricanes to three goals last night. On his better nights Olie Kolzig is still capable of a save percentage of 93% but it’s certainly a hard way to win. To top it off in addition to the 42 shots the Caps blocked an additional 14 attempts by the Hurricanes.

Overall the game was actually closer than the score would indicate but the Caps didn’t execute on all cylinders and the Hurricanes did. Both teams gave up too many other power play opportunities to the other but the Caps only scored on 2 of 4 opportunities while the Canes scored on 4 of 7. The Hurricane’s offense hit on all points with a shooting % of 14.29 while the Caps were a solid but unspectacular 8.82%. Putting this in perspective if the Caps had scored that fourth goal their shooting percentage would have been a much more respectable 11.76%; and if they had matched the Hurricanes’ performance they would have scored 4 or 5 goals. Despite pundits thoughts to the contrary, recent results indicate the Southeast division isn’t a cake walk or filled with “lightweights” so the Caps need to kick it up a notch and get back to the form they had in January.

Finally, Mark’s Musing Prognostication Grade: F - Leave this sort of stuff to Peerless.
- Kolzig, Backstrom and Ward made me wrong. I predicted: Caps win 4-2 on one of Olie Kolzig's best nights this season; goals scored by Semin (1); Green (1) and Ovechkin (2). Backstrom has 3 assists and both Green and Semin have great +/- nights. That said I didn’t forsee the Caps being outshot 42 – 34, nor did I forsee Ovechkin getting three assists and no goals either.

This evening another hot team and hot goalie – the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur at Verizon Center – LETS GO CAPS!!!!!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Today's Caps - Canes Matchups and Predictions

Looking ahead towards this evening’s match up between the Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes leads to some interesting comparisons. The game is important for both teams. But, before we review the upcoming game matchups this tidbit I found especially worthy of an ear to ear grin from Greg Kanner: “Jagr watch - 62 games, 53 points. (He needs 84 points and a 2nd round playoff appearance for his option to get picked up and that means the Caps must pay a portion. It’s looking good for us right now to finally get that jackass off our books!)”

Now onto a review of the summary matchups for Saturday’s game.

MOTIVATION: The Hurricanes lead the Southeast Division coming into the game, having captured 67 points in 64 games played (0.523 hockey) and are on track to finish the season with 86 - 88 points. The Caps come into the game with 63 points in 61 games played (2nd in the Southeast Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference). After accounting for the 3 games the Caps have in hand, the two teams are in a virtual dead heat for the Division Lead and even though after the game the Hurricanes would still be two points ahead of the Caps if the Caps win, the Caps would clearly be well within the possibility of reaching the playoffs as a Division Winner. Extrapolating the Caps overall season point capture percentage they are on track to finish with 85 points; however the Caps performance since Thanksgiving Day is 22-12-6 (0.625 Hockey). Extrapolate that performance forward through the remaining 21 games the Caps have to play and they are on track to finish with 88 points and be the likely SE division winner. Of course hockey games are played on the ice not within the confines of statistical analysis so there is a long way to go for both teams and, as they say “anything could happen”. The key point here is both teams know they are locked in a battle for what will likely be the only playoff berth gained by a Southeast Division team, so call overall team motivation equal – extremely high on both sides, but equal all the same.

Looking at each teams offensive fire power the Caps likely lineup will be similar to the game versus the Islanders:
Line 1: Ovechkin (A) – Backstrom – Fleischmann
Line 2: Pettinger – Kozlov – Semin
Line 3: Laing – Steckel – Bradley
Line 4: Brashear (A) – Laich – Gordon
Other potential forwards who could play: Eric Fehr;
Forwards out with injuries: Chris Clark (C); Michael Nylander,

The Hurricane’s likely lines will be:
Line 1: Staal – Whitney - Cole
Line 2: Cullen – Ladd - Samsonov
Line 3: Aucoin – Walker - Bayda
Line 4: Letowski – Brookbank - Conboy

Other potential forwards who could play: Patrick Eaves
Key Forwards out with injuries: Rod Brind’Amor (C)

Give a slight edge to Carolina on this aspect of the game from a statistical perspective because of a) secondary scoring and b) the many Caps with very negative +/- numbers that leads to suspicions about back-checking and defensive play. Things/players to watch – for the Caps: a) Alexander Semin –“ He’s so hot right now, just like Hansel” and a recent analytical based posting by James Mirtle was pretty unflattering towards the defensive aspect of “the other Alex’s” game. b) Alexander Ovechkin – Look for the great eight to break out of his mini-slump if Cam Ward has the slightest chink in his armor, Ovechkin usually plays well against Carolina and he hit the posts three times last game and his buddy Malkin passed him for the points lead. c) Backstrom and Fleischmann: the Backstrom-Whitney match-up is one to watch as the Caps rookie pushes hard to see the playoffs and a possible Calder Trophy in his first NHL season; and the Fleischmann-Cole match-up is another key one in this game to watch. d) The Caps need to stay out of the penalty box or have their PK unit (18th in the league) play well as 28% of the Hurricanes’ goals are from the power play. The comparison of each team’s right wings in this game is where you really see the impact of Chris Clark’s injury to the Caps lineup. Players/things to watch for the ‘Canes: a) Erik Cole – He just seems stoked for the game and has the intensity factor up. b) Ray Whitney – the ‘Canes leading scorer needs to come up big to match pace with the Caps high octane offense. c) Continued solid “secondary scoring” from Williams, Samsonov, Walker and Cullen. And d) Patrick Eaves if he plays.

The Defensive match-up looks like this:

Caps Likely Defensive Lineup:
1) Green – Morrisonn
2) Poti – Jurcina
3) Erskine – Emminger
Possibly: Sami Lepesti
Notable Injuries: Brian Pothier

‘Canes Likely Defensive Lineup:
1) Hedican - Gleason
2) Wesley – Corvo
3) Kaberle – Wallin

Again here you’d have to give a very slight edge to the Hurricanes assuming Joe Corvo keeps on pace for the season now that he’s been picked up by Carolina. Otherwise the edge would go to the Caps. Like on Offense the game is very evenly matched here as well. One of the most interesting things to watch here will be the Mike Green – Joe Corvo comparative play. If Green has a game like he did against the ‘Canes like he did on November 24th when the Caps beat the Canes 5-2 at Verizon Center in DC this aspect of the game becomes “even stevens” from an analysis perspective. So too if Tom Poti has a better than average game while the Hurricanes blue liners play average or subpar. On the ‘Canes side things to watch are: a) Joe Corvo and Bret Hedican’s play which (along with Goalie Cam Ward’s play) anchors the Carolina defensive fortunes. b) Frantisek Kaberle and Nicklas Wallin’s play which on off nights provides ample solid scoring chances for talented young forwards the likes of which include names like Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin. All in all this is a very slight edge to Carolina especially when you factor in intangibles like the adrenalin gained by playing at home in front of what will likely be a Standing Room Only (SRO) crowd.

Goaltending for the Caps: Olaf Kolzig; For the Hurricanes: Cam Ward. Again the statistical edge goes to Carolina and Cam Ward who also has been playing very well recently and seems focused on bringing his team back to the playoffs and in fact deep into the playoffs. If Ward plays like he did the last game between these two teams when he stopped 33 of 34 shots and the Canes beat the Caps 2-1 or like he did when the Canes shut the Caps out 5-0 on November 5th it’ll likely be a long night for Caps fans. Olie Kolzig though “has his nights” like he did against the Hurricanes on 11/24 when he stopped 35 of 37 shots (Caps win 5-2) and way back in October when he shut the Hurricane’s out 2-0 and he stopped 23 of 23. Even though in two of the five games so far this year the winning team has scored 5 goals when you look at the series so far, and the Canes lead 3-2, and analyze each game since these teams are so evenly matched in the end – the hot goalie won it for his team basically ever time.

Off ice intangibles: Give this one a slight edge to the Caps. While the Hurricanes will be playing at home in front of an SRO crowd and they have the edge with experience. The Caps have the following off ice intangibles in their favor: a) youthful exuberance – go out skate your game, score goals and have a lot of fun – basically a play hard and win boys attitude. b) A coach who doesn’t say quit or let his players do so either and who really seems to know how to motivate and get the most out of his team. c) A veteran goalie with something to prove tonight. And d) the knowledge that the game probably means slightly more for the Caps then the Canes.

Prediction: Caps win 4-2 on one of Olie Kolzig's best nights this season; goals scored by Semin (1); Green (1) and Ovechkin (2). Backstrom has 3 assists and both Green and Semin have great +/- nights and send James Mirtle videos of each great defensive play they make this evening. Okay probably not so much a solid conclusion based on the analysis above but that is why they play the games on the ice. LETS GO CAPS!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Back On The Beat

Well life is resuming a more normal pace here in Bristow. As I get my head above water I note the Caps are up and down in their fight for a playoff spot but so far February hasn't been the panacea that January was. So far this month the Caps are 4-3-2 (0.555) not bad but not on pace for a playoff spot. If the Caps continue on their current trajectory they will finish with 83 or 85 points. Most pundits believe it'll take at least 88 points and as many as 92 points for a team in the Eastern Conference to make the playoffs. The next game, Saturday evening at RBC Center against the Carolina Hurricanes is huge. More details and hockey thoughts in the next couple days leading up to it. LETS GO CAPS!!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Back Home and a More "Normal" Existance - Also Comments on Last Two Caps Games

Well day three back home here in scenic Bristow begins and it seems like things are getting back to some sort of normal pace. My wife, Cinday, was discharged from Bryn Mawr Hospital on Thursday after lunch and we made our way back home with a short stop to pick up Dmitri, one of our three Tibetian Terriers from the breeder's home/kennel. Of course, the transition back home wasn't without one challenge, the pharmacist couldn't read the resident's DEA number on her perscription for pain killers so that took a few minor gyratios but by Friday Morning all was right on that front; and the CPM (continuous passive motion machine) wasn't delivered until yesterday but now we have a routine that will be in place for a couple of days until she starts going to outpatient pysical therapy at Prince William Hospital. This whole experience has been both educational and motivating. Cindy and I are now motivated to take better care of ourselves, since while she was in the hospital we saw a lot of things going on with folks in the 60's and 70's that could have been amoelerated if not entirely avoided had they taken better care of themselves at our age (something my family doctor has been telling me for two years). In any case, over the past 2 1/2 weeks with only minor changes to my diet, I have lost about 10 pounds (the 10 I had gained over the prior 6 months), of course that's 10 down and 50 to go....

Of course normalcy means back to work and following the Caps at this time of year. As with any break from work the hard part is always catching up after you return from whatever hiatus you take and these past three days have been very hectic. Life at ICx Technologies did not in any way, shape, or form stand still while I was away. Of course I did work while I was away but I also deferred several things till I got back home and am now pushing very hard to get caught up. The three day weekend should help a little on that front and I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel after working most of yesterday. That said it is a busy time of year for the aspects of the business I work in - of course being busy is a lot better than the alternative - which is not being busy when you should be.

As for the Caps I did catch both Friday Night and last night's games on the tube, which is where I'll probably catch the Islander's game on Wednsday evening from as well. As things stand the Southeast Division remains wide open. The Caps (62 points) are now two points behind the Division leading Carolina Hurricanes (64 points) but have a game in hand. They are also tied in points with the Atlanta Thrashers and again have a game in hand on the "bluebirds." Friday night's 3-2 overtime loss didn't help the Caps cause for the division title nor has their February perfromance against Southeast Division rivals, the Caps went 1-3-1 against Southeast Division foes in February. Last night's 3-2 win in regulation against Tampa Bay was a nice but their next in division game against Carolina in RBC Center next Saturday is even more important. Of course first the Caps need to beat the Islanders on Wedsnday night here at the Verizon Center. Right now the Caps are second in the Southeast Division - 2 points behind the Hurricanes and tied in points with the third place Atlanta Thrashers as well as just two points ahead of the fourth place Florida Panther bu the Panthers have a game in hand on the Caps. In the Conference race the Caps are currently tenth in the Eastern Conference two points behind the eighth place Boston Bruins and the ninth place Buffalo Sabres. They are also only one point ahead of the twelth place Islanders. It continues to be both cliche' and true that when looking at the Caps schedule and the Division and Conference standings, for the Caps and the rest of their Southeast division mates, evey game has playoff implications. In fact, while the Southeast Division race is the tightest right now and could have the highest stakes, since it is very possible only the division winner will make the playoffs, all three division races in the Eastern Conference are in play. Even in the Northeast division, the Montreal Canadeans have cut the Ottawa Senators, once commanding, lead to just two points. In the Atlantic Division the early leaders - the Philadelphia Flyers have faltered of late going 3-7-0 in their last ten games and have dropped to third in the division and sixth in the conference with 65 points, while both Pittsburgh and the New Jersey Devils have surged. At present the Devils lead the Atlantic with 71 points and the Penguins are close behind with 69. Over in the Western Conference, the only thing that looks probable to a virtual certainty is that Detroit will will the Central Division, the Western Conference and the President's Trophy and that neither the Los Angeles Kings, the Chicago Blackhawks or the Edmonton Oilers will make this year's playoffs though nobody is mathmatically out of contention yet. As a final general note on standings and statisitics, despite being regularly called the weakest division in the NHL, all four teams in the Eastern Conference, Southeast Division, have winning records over a) their last 10 games and b) since the All Star Break when the "push to the playoffs" is generally thought to occur. That doesn't help the Division get any more playoff spots though where it once appeared certain the only SE team in the playoffs would be the Division winner, it is possible that two or even three Southeast Division teams could surge to a position that would enable them to qualify for the seventh or eighth spot as well. The next four weeks are truly going to be wild in Eastern Conference play.

Friday night's game was indeed disappointing, the Caps didn't play badly, of course they didn't play great either since they came away with zero points on the short end of 4-2 score against the Florida Panthers. The Caps took too many penalties, ending up in the box seven times and were outshot by Florida; they did "out hit" the Panthers 28 - 26 and I felt two of the penalties against the Caps were questionable calls, but the game was called the same on both ends and the Panthers ended up in the box five times. All in all the Caps just left Brent Johnson "naked" a couple too many times, ending up down by one with 11:33 to play in the thiord period on a night when Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun was on his game and stopped 30 of 32. While as Caps majority owner Ted Leonsis notes on his blog the game was there for the taking but that didn't happen and the Caps found themselves two points back of Carolina and tied with Florida in the Division point totals again.

Last night was as noted by CapsChick - another "heart stopper" but thanks to super play by goalie Olie Kolzing and Alexander Semin (aka "the other Alex") the Caps came away with two points in regulation against the suddenly hot Tampa Bay Lightning. Olie Kolzig had a shutout going through 2 full periods and 15:39 of the thirds period in what was until then a true Goaltenders Duel. All in all Kolzig stopped 39 of 41 shots he faced and Johan Holmqvist stopped 32 of 35 shots. Both netminders routinely stoned the best scorers/shooters of the opposing team and as is the case some of the top scorers in the league. Tampa Bay managed to blank the other usually prolific, league leading scorer Alexander Ovechkin despite Ovie getting 5 shots on goal including two instances where Holqvist came up big. Alexander Semin had an awesome game setting up Tomas Fleischmann for a power play goal at 16:12 of the first period for what was, a long time, the only goal to get by either netminder. The second period was a fast skating, high flying affair and while the Lightning outshot the Caps 24 - 12 (yes thats right 24 shots in the second period alone), both Kiolzig and Holmqvist were perfect during the middle period of the game and the second period ended like the first - the Caps leading 1-0. The game was a clean one the Caps only took one penalty Matt Bradley went off for two minutes giving the Lightning their only power play opportunity at 18:17 of the second period. The Caps penalty killing unit held off the Bolts during that man advantage, despite the Lighting getting off 7 good shots during the waning minutes of the second period. During the third period for the first 15 minutes it was more of the same from the first period, then the Bolts came swarming and seemed to overwhelm the Caps scoring two gaols in less than a minute so the game was tied at 16:22. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wisely called a time out and settled the team down so that right after the time out Alexander Semin put the Red, White and Blue back on top for good at 17:00 in the third. Alexander Semin had a goal and an assist, as well as 6 shots and was +1 for the game. Semin was "robbed" by two other awesome Holmqviist saves as well, in what was clearly his best game this season. David Steckel and Tomas Fleischmann should imagine they are playing the Lightning every time they get on the ice when you look at their career statistics. With the win, his 21st this season, Kolzig's GAA is now below 3.00 (at 2.99) and his save percentage has risen to .889 for the season. Alexander Ovechkin is the leading sorer in the league, despite being blanked last night. Ovechkin's 78 points is two better than Tampa Bay's Lecavilier and 3 better than the Penguins Evgeni Malkin. The Great Number Eight's 48 goals are 8 better than Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuck. In order to make the playoffs the Caps need more games like last night and a lot less games like friday night. Next up the Islanders - Wednsday at the "Phone Booth" - LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another Interesting/Different Day In Flyer Country

I spent last night at my cousin's house in South Philly (in the shadow of the Wachovia Center) just blocks away from Pat's Steaks & Geno's Steaks. After getting an early start, I got a little turned around finding my way back to Bryn Mawr Hospital on the Main Line but eventually got there at just after 9:00AM. When I got here my wife was clearly in pain and attempting to cope with it a little too aggressively, so every movement was a "10" on the pain scale 0f "1-10". After she took some more pain killer by early afternoon she was able to move her new knee much better; though we still won't know what the Doctor will be recommending for the full length of the next two weeks of rehab till tomorow. We saw some big snowflakes out the windows but that all quickly ended this afternoon with little to no accumulation. Today, trying to keep up with work was a lot more difficult since I work. As soon as I finish this blog post it's back to working a couple business capture items for the ICx Technologies team - I'm on vacation but some things have external deadlines and are best not transitioned back and forth over the course of a week prior to completion. This afternoon in my wife's group physical therapy session, I watched with amazement as seven patients who recieved a total of nine Custom Fit Total Knee Replacements yesterday all began to work their "renewed" joints. The courage and stoicism of these folks is really inspiring.

I did just have about five minutes to take a quick look at the Capitals website and the NHL standings on the NHL site. The eastern and Western Conference Playoff races are really heating up. As everyone knows the Caps (59 points) are first in the Southeast Division by 1 point over the Carolina panthers and Atlanta Thrashers and only two points in front of the Florida Panthers - with one game in hand on all three. The Tampa Bay Lightning lag the rest of the division slightly 7 points back of the Caps with 52 points but have a game in hand on the Caps. The only team in the East that seems to have broken away is the Ottawa Senators with 72 points and winners of their last two games following the return of Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley who are five points up of the Montreal Canadeans in the Northeast Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins - 6-2-2 in the last 10 games (all without Sidney Crosby or Marc Andre Fleury) are atop the Atlantic Division with 69 points, they are 3 points ahead of the New Jersey Devils and 4 points ahead of the Flyers both of whom are also playing solid, competitive hockey at this time as well. Basically 6 points separate 7 teams from the 12th place Atlanta Thrashers (57 points) to the 7th place New York Rangers (63 points) and the Caps in third by virtue of leading the Division with 59 points. If the season ended yesterday the only Southeast Division team to make the playoffs would be the Caps. There are 9 games tonight four are of interest to Caps fans: Carolina-Boston; Philadelphia-NY Islanders; Montreal - Tampa Bay; Buffalo - Ottawa. There are no matchups between Eastern and Western Conference teams tonight; all games are between in conference rivals.

Over in the Western Conference, the Red Wings are just inhuman with a league leading 87 points and a 41-12-5 record (7-2-1 in their last 10); the Dallas Stars have 75 points and lead their division rival San Jose Sharks by 6 points; though the Sharks have 5 games in hand on the Stars. In the Northwest division the Minnesota Wild lead the Colorado Avalanche by three points with 68 points in 58 games played. However, the fight for the final three playoff spots in the west is just as tight as the Eastern Conference playoff race. Only five points separate the 11th place Phoenix Coyotes (60 points 57 GP) from the 6th place Avalanche (65 points/56GP).

Tomorrow's Caps/Thrashers Match-up should be a battle, just like the last Carolina game since both teams will be treating it like a playoff game. Whether the Caps are one point up on the Hurricanes in first or one point back in second is up to the Bruins tonight. The Caps are only three points back of the Bruins for the eight and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, so let's hope for a clean victory and only two point game (vice a 'three pointer') for only one of the two teams playing tonight in Boston. LETS GOCAPS!!!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Monday 2/11/2008 - A Different Kind of Day

Well today has been a different kind of day for us, Cindy (my wife) & I drove up to the Philadelphia area last evening after dropping off one of our three Tibetian Terriers (dogs) - Dmitri - at the breeders to board while we are up here. We spent last night at the Radnor Hotel and then came over to Bryn Mawr Hospital where she just came out of surgery after getting her left knee replaced. The whole day, while stressful, has been pleasant. Her doctor - Joseph Vernace, MD is one of a few Orthopedic Surgeons in the country using a new type of replacement knee joint called the "Triathlon Knee" and who also has several techniques and approaches that finally gave Cindy the confidence to get her joint replaced after putting it off for seven years. Cindy does home health care as a visiting nurse and over the past 15 years she has seen many folks who've had issues after knee replacement surgery so she has many opinions on what works and doesn't as well as fears about the worst she's seen. She also wanted to wait as long as possible to minimize the chances of the replacement joint wearing out and having to get the surgery two or three times in her remaining lifetime. The technique that this new, custom sized replacement enables actually cuts less bone and muscle tissue and though I haven't seen her yet, the just completed surgery was a little over an hour vice two or more using convetional knee replacement joints. As for the hospital and overall experience so far, I am delighted - it seems the care my wife is getting is very good, and the experience has been made as pleasant as possible for family members too. Just the idea that my wife will soon again be able to walk without pain would have made the trip worth it but the way that Bryn Mawr Hospital is set up for this type of thing and the way everyone here (doctors, staff and volunteers) handles the entire experience so far has been world class.

Interestingly, I haven't thought about the Washington Capitals all day, though I have handled several work related telcons with colleagues from ICx Technologies, Inc and talked in passing with several Eagles and/or Giants fans about the Super Bowl while here in the hospital waiting room. As Caps fans know this is a big week - 3 Southeast Division games and after yesterday's win over the Rangers the Caps are again first in the division. LETS GO CAPS!!!! though I doubt I'll follow much of this weeks games you never know what type of diversions from life's normal upsa and downs I might seek and three SE division matchups might be hard to ignore even during a week where I'll spend most of my time up here in Flyers Country.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Caps - Rangers Running Thoughts

Watching the game on the tube, as we get ready to head out to Bryn Mawr where my wife will get her total knee replacement tomorrow. Matt Pettinger is in for Quintin Laing (a healthy scratch); Steve Eminger is in for John Erskine who was hurt in the fight in the Carolina game on Friday night.

17:28 of the First Period: That didn't take long. Power play goal - Alex Ovechkin from Eric Fehr and Nicklas Backstrom in tight on the rebound, a much different kind of goal then one of those all to infrequent, pretty goals the power play has previously gone for. That's Ovechkin's 47th on the season, for the NHL's current leading scorer. The youth movement is working pretty well the Caps power play unit on the ice for that goal and their ages were: Ovechkin: 22; Fehr: 22; Backstrom: 20; Fleaischmann: 23; Green: 22.

16:25 of the First Period: Now we got offsetting roughing penalties (Green & ) and we have a 4-4 for two minutes. A couple of good scoring attempts by both teams and we're back to 5-5,

12:58 Caps turned over puck to Sean Avery and he puts a rolling puck top shelf over Kolzig's left shoulder and ties it up 1-1 just as I was thinking the Caps weren't looking very good for the last 20-30 seconds.

That was humorous - Ovechkin puts a solid hit on Staal and Avery comes over and tries to get Ovechkin to fight. I couldn't tell for sure (my lip reading skills leave something to be desired) but it looks like Ovie's English skills are improving, he must be listening to some more rap music and not just techno any more.

9:28 Caps back on the power play thanks to a Sean Avery unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the Caps go two minutes with a man advantage without any shots on goal.

5:23 Shoanne Morrison off for tripping and the Rangers go to a power play without his or Laing's services. A couple of shots, a couple of blocked shots including one that hobbled Tom Poti (ouch) and everyone is ack to even strength 5-5.

2:05 Jeff Schultz - delay of game - dumb! Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky are really hanging around for loose change but Olie Kolzig is playing stingy with the rebounds, thank goodness. Penalty killed and period ends with Ovechkin taking a long slapshot for a final shot on goal.

Back to the action:

16:56 remaining: Great save by Kolzig on a Ryan Hollweig breakaway, wrist shot.

14:37 remaining: Morrisonn off (again) for tripping. Pettinger has a shorthanded shot on goal that might have scored if Valiquette didn't have such tremendously long legs. Penalty Killed!

10:35 remaining: Chris Drury scores on one that Kolzig and Semin would like to have back that started with a blown face off. I don't know if you can put that on Kolzig but I know he'd certainly like to have the first shot back so he could just smother the rebound. Rangers lead 2-1.

9:47 remaining: Brooks Laich takes a Milan Jurcina slapshot and hobbles off to the locker room.

9:20 remaining: Valiquette robs Ovechkin with a great save. NY comes right back and is denied by a good play by Kolzig but the Caps take a delayed penalty and we play 6 on 5 for almost 20 seconds.

8:36 remaining: Caps take a penalty for harassing Jagr on his way to the net (Shoanne Morrison off for hooking his third minor of the game).

7:54 remaining: Linesman Johnny Muarry down after taking a slapshot in the back, He's back up and still on the ice officiating.

Alex Semin does an awesome move but is robbed by Valiquette.

06:10 remaining: Kolzig leaves a rebound on the doorstop and the D can't clear it instead opting to take a (Brooks Laich - Hooking) penalty and see if the Caps PK unit can continue to frustrate the Hab's powerplay; and the Caps do indeed kill the penalty which featured several good Kolzig saves.

0:14 remaining in the Second Period: CAPS SCORE!!!! Boyd Gordon from Ovechkin and Semin; and the game is tied 2-2 despite the Caps having a laccluster second period.

Third period summary since I missed the first 3 minutes packing for my trip and Comcast decided we needed to spend about five minutes watching the Jim Zorn announcement by Dan Snyder. It was a great period of wild hockey whose highlights are basically some great plays and saves by both Kolzig and Valiquette. The Caps played with purpose but so did the Rangers, the only bad (as in mistaken plays were Kolzig's delay of game as he overzealously cleared a puck over the glass and Ryan Holweig trip at the end of the period.

Overtime 4-4 play which is actually a 4-3 Caps Power Play -

Mike Green steps up, shots a slapper through a screen by Ovechkin and Green scores number 15 of the season for the game winner. Caps get two points, Rangers take home one.

Caps get two power play goals; Alex Ovechkin gets a goal and two assists for three points; Green gets another game winning goal; Olie Kolzig gets win number 20 with and the Caps are back to first place in the Southeast Division. LETS GO CAPS!!!!!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Comments & Reflections on Last Night's Caps Loss to the Hurricanes

Some basic reflections and thoughts on last night's game.

- Both team's came out skating hard but the Hurricanes, particularly Cam Ward, seemed determined not to let the Caps get ahead. In the MSM Associated Press story it was noted "The Hurricanes played the Capitals as if their season was on the line. " Since about mid-January, it has been clear other teams in the league take the Caps seriously and with their recent record (January: 9-4-0) the 0.500 start to February seems anti-climatic, if not a little disappointing since in the two losses the Caps generally prolific offense has been shut down.

- Things got exciting real fast with a fight just 0:37 into the first period between Matt Bradley and Scott Walker. I'd have to call it a draw though it was pretty good to watch. At 5:25 of the first John Erskine took on Wade Brookbank and definately seemed to get the better of him but you can be the judge of that here at Hockey

- I didn't see the first 'Canes goal (Erik Cole's backhand at 3:47) well because 1) I was a bit distracted and 2) it started with a play that orginated in an are of the ice I can't see real well from my seats but I did see the second goal really well and for Brent Johnson to have stopped it, he would have had to have been the Almighty; between Shoanne Morrison and Jeff Schultz, they both uncharacteristically were out of position allowing Rod Brind'Amor and Sergei Samsonov to set up Andrew Ladd, uncovered, on the doorstep with the whole left side of the net open. Overall Johnnie's save % for the night was a repectable 0.913 unfortunately Cam Ward's save percentage was an excellent 0.971.

- The Caps didn't pressure Carolina much at all - the powerplay was an impotent 0-7 including a 1:10 two man advantage where Carolina managed to sneak in a scoring chance of their own and even though they got off a total of 34 shots many were easily handled and Ward was exceptionally stingy with rebounds.

- The Caps one goal came from a spetacular, herculean one man effort unassisted goal by Alexander Semin at 9:44 of the third period; unfortunately Semin was only 1-3 in one man efforts. That sarcasm meaning there were at least two other occassions where "Sasha #2" came in the zone on a rush skated around numerous Carolina Hurricanes and took low percentage shots rather than looking to find the open man to pass off to.

- There were a lot of groans in the third period when at 19:32 with the goalie pulled Semin took a slashing penalty and in the second period when Brashear took two minors one for Tripping and one for holding but I actually don't fault the players for that these were not great calls by the Refs in my opinion , Brash's call for tripping was especially weak in that he was doing a one hand poke check from behind. The holding penalty should have been offsetting mutual roughing penalties and Semin's slashing call looked like just a mistimed/executed swipe at the puck.

- The Caps played a hard first period but the Cane's played harder and won the period 2-0; both teams palyed with the same intesity and results in the second period and ended tied 0-0 for the period; the Caps outplayed the Canes in the third period and won the period 1-0 but that wasn't enough to overcome the two goal deficiet they left themselves in at the end of the first period...

- For the Caps to make the playoffs and win the southeast division, they'll need to: a) play every period with the same intensity they played the third period last night; b) get the power play moving and productive; c) stabilize the lineup to something with three productive offensive lines; and d) stop leaving their goaltender naked and exposed so often.

- How's this for arrogant motivating quotes from opposing team players - per the Associated Press Wire Article on the game: "If you can shut (Ovechkin) down or contain him a little bit, you're going to be successful against these guys," (Erik) Cole said. The Caps other young guns will have to wait till the February 23rd when these two Southeast Division rivals meet at Carolina to prove him worng but they will certainly try to do so. So far this season the 'Canes lead 3 games to 2.

Next game tomarrow at the Phone Booth 1PM versus the Rangers. I won' be there one of my USMMA classmates (Tom) will be there in my seats with his 11 year old son Dylan who is now into hockey - LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, February 8, 2008

2/8 Carolina Hurricanees 2 - Caps 1

A no point night. The Caps fell behind early and Cam Ward made sure they stayed behind.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Worst To First In 10 Weeks! - WAY TO GO CAPS!!

I missed last night's game due to business commitments and other priorities but I did go over the game recap as soon as I got free last night at 10:30PM. Like all Caps Fans I was pleased to see a win over a tough Flyers team on Philadelphia's home ice. Some interesting stats from the game that I noted:

- Olie Kolzig's save percentage for the game was 0.912 - one of his better games in the stats department for sure.

- John Erskine?!? led the Caps in Time On Ice with 21:46 including 2:41 of penatly killing time; even though he took two hooking penalties he even in the +/- catagory for the night though he was the Cap in the Sin Bin for the Flyers last goal at 19:06 of the third period. Erskine's play has been getting better every game of late, I'm sorry I didn't see how he played with so much ice tiome but in Tuesday Night's game in Columbus he had some excellent plays. The Caps' improvements since Thanksgiving now seem to be flowing over to the broader group of Caps Blue Liners - that's a good thing as they drive for the playoffs.

Go Young Guns: - Mike Green had a good night with 21:30 of ice time; +2 and the first star of the game; - Alexander Semin was +2 in 15:43 and once again had a disciplined, penalty free game; - Nicklas Backstrom - 1 point; even on +/- and 16:58 of time on ice; - Alexander Ovechkin - goal # 46 - the game winner; 18:17 of ice time; even +/-.

- Secondary scoring was present and accounted for as 3 of 4 goals came from OTHER THAN THE FIRST LINE.

- The only negative from a stats perspective was the Flyers won 57% of the faceoffs and the Caps took a lot of penalties - 6.

LETS GO CAPS - tomarrow's game at the Phone Booth against the Hurricanes should be a good one - the Caps can get a better hold on a playoff spot since they are fighting Atlanta and Carolina for the division lead. Who would have thought we'd be talking about that when we were eating our Turkey on Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Caps 4 - Blue Jackets 3 (F OT)

Well, as anticipated, last night's hockey game in Columbus was a tough one and a nail biter. They say in big games, big players - play big. That was the case tonight for Alexander Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Tom Poti and to a lesser degree Alexander Semin, Victor Kozlov, Dave Steckel, Mike Green, Ron Hainsey, Adam Foote, Jason Chimera, and Nickolai Zherdev all came with their "A games on." Since I was channel flipping between the game and the election coverage on CNN and had a late telcon for work that caused me to miss the first 7:45 of the first period, I may have missed a few things but to me the highlights were:

- Tom Poti's play particularly his two saves/blocked shots, his hit and of course his first goal of the season that tied it up at 3-3 at 13:07 of the third period. Without Poti in the game it could easily have been a 5-2 loss at the end of regulation.

- Alexander, the great, Ovechkin's goals, both of them, but particularly the first where e scored on a 1 on 4 breakaway. Ovie, along with Dave Steckel also led the team in hits with three (3)

- Alexander Semin's goal, a classic example of "great hands". Also Semin's play all night, as he played smart, hustled every shift, and he worked to be in the low slot and in great scoring positions, even when guys like Foote were working to get him out of the slot. Semin also went the night without taking any penalties, let alone "bad" penalties.

- Seeing that the shuffle in lines one and two will work, a highlight was Eric Fehr's play. Fehr was ever present around the goal and pressing for the puck, forcing the Blue Jackets to give some more room to both Backstrom and Ovechkin. Fehr had 2 shots, 2 attempts blocked, 2 missed shots, and 1 blocked shot in 20 shifts and 16:46 of ice time. Altogether he had a good first NHL game of the season and played smart hockey.

- Even though it's hard to say this Rick Nash's first goal a "shortie" during a Caps 2 man advantage was a beutiful goal and a highlight. His second goal where the referee Bill McCreary took Shoanne Morrison out of the play, giving Nash another 1-0 breakaway was not as pretty all things considered.

- Finally, the biggest highlight, "a two point night" as the Caps travel to Philadelphia to face the Flyers at Wachovia Center tonight.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Tuesday - Caps @ Blue Jackets and other highlights of my week so far

Well the week is off to a fast start even though yesterday evening I crashed for 11 straight hours after being driven to sleep by a flu I've been fighting since last Thursday evening. Tonight we get the Caps @ Columbus and the "Super Tuesday" primary results to watch. Both should be interesting and fun to watch from surreally different perspectives.

As relates to the Caps-Blue Jackets game, Alex Ovechkin meets the Jackets for just the second time in his 217 game career and for the first time in Columbus. Ovie played his first NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 5, 2006, and the Caps and Jackets have not met since that contest. The Caps lineup will be shuffled with Eric Fehr called up from Hershey and put on the first line as Victor Kozlov has been moved to the second line center in an attempt to ignite more balanced scoring in particular and more scoring in general from other than the first line. On the other side of center ice, for the first time in the team’s seven seasons in the NHL, Columbus finds itself in the playoff chase. The Blue Jackets are in 11th place in the NHL’s Western Conference, just three points behind Nashville for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. It should be a close, fun game to watch as both teams are alive in the playoff race and fighting to get above the 8th place in the conference "cutoff line" with 30 games remaining in the regular season.

The line ups will likely look like this:
Columbus Forwards
61-Nash, 12-Novotny, 9-Vyborny
25-Chimera, 19-Peca, 13-Zherdev
49-Fritsche, 16-Brassard, 17-Brule
51-Murray, 27-Malhotra, 40-Boll
Columbus Defensemen
6-Hainsey, 52-Foote
2-Russell, 97-Klesla
8-Hejda, 23-Tarnstrom
Goaltenders30-Norrena, 31-Leclaire (Probable Starter-Leclaire)

Caps Forwards
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 14-Fehr
43-Fleischmann, 25-Kozlov, 28-Semin
53-Laing, 39-Steckel, 10-Bradley
87-Brashear, 21-Laich, 15-Gordon
Caps Defensemen
26-Morrisonn, 52-Green
3-Poti, 23-Jurcina
4-Erskine, 55-Schultz
Goaltenders1-Johnson, 37-Kolzig (Probable Starter - Kolzig)

The Blue Jackets have 56 points in 54 games played points and are 25-23-6 overall and 16-8-4 on home ice this season. The Caps have 53 points in 53 games played and are 24-24-5 overall and 10-12-4 in away games this season.

For excitement and skill factor the Caps have Alex Ovechkin, the league leading goal and point scorer and at times a magician on ice as well as a reshuffled first and second line meant to re-ignite their overall offensive punch.; The Blue Jackets have All Star Left Wing Rick Nash another clutch goal scorer with smooth moves, 26 goals and 17 assists so far this season and Right Wing Nickolai Zherdev with 21 goals and 24 assists to date in the 2007-2008 season. The Caps have 152 goals for so far this season; Columbus has 133, so for offense you have to give the edge to Bruce Boudreau's Capitals.

On the defensive side of the puck the Caps have Mike Green who's having a breakout season, along with Shoane Morrison in his second game back since being out with a foot injury, as well as veteran Tom Poti, Milan Jurcina and John Erskine who have been playing a much more physical games the last three contests they've participated in and Jeff Schultz who has been threatening to breakout and fully establish himself as a blue chipper during several stretches this season. The Blue Jackets "Blue Liners" are anchored by their 36 year old Captain, 2 time Stanley Cup Winner, Adam Foote, who is paired 4th season pro 26 year old American Ron Hainsey, second pair is a duo of young, promising D-men: Kris Russell and Rostislav Klesla who have been getting an increasing amount of ice time for the Blue Jackets and playing well, and the Blue Jackets third defensive paring of 29 year old Czech Jan Hejda who is in only his second NHL season and 33 year old, 6 season veteran Dick Tarnstrom. Given the Caps have Brian Pothier out right now, you'd have to call this area even or even give a slight edge to the Blue Jackets.

Likely goalies for this game are Pascal Leclaire for the Jackets and Brent Johnson for the Caps. Despite the fact that Johnson is playing well and has if anything elevated his game of late, in this area you'd have to give a clear advantage to the Blue Jackets. Twenty Five year old Pascal Leclaire has been having a breakout season his GAA of 2.11 is third best in the league and his save percentage of 0.925 is fifth in the league. His record thus far in the 2007-2008 season is 19-11-3. If the Blue Jackets play backup Fredrik Norrena in goal give the edge to the Caps regardless of whether #1 goalie Olaf Kolzig or Johnson play for the Caps.

Overall, anticipate a hard fought game. Look for Caps Center Dave Steckel to have a big game in his "homecoming" and watch and see how Alexander Semin reacts to being taken to task for his "bad" hooking penalties of late. But if both the Caps reshuffled first and second lines click, the Caps should be able to outscore the Blue Jackets 4-2 and travel to Philly for Wednesday Night's game in the City of Brotherly Love with two more points in their pockets. LET'S GO CAPS!!!!

Elsewhere in my life things are once again getting very busy, on the professional front at ICx Technologies I'm working on several pursuit/business capture initiatives and it's time to review our product development status versus our 2008 plans for the first time in this year's cycle. On the personal front, next week, my wife travels to Bryn Mawr, PA to get her knee replaced with a new type of artificial knee, the Triathlon Knee, so it's entirely likely that following Friday Night's home game against the Division Leading Hurricane's my updates will be spotty for a week or so. A friend of mine from College will be using my seats with his 9-year old son for Sunday's Ranger game while I drive up to Flyer country, where the hospital is and where we'll likely be until Wednesday assuming everything goes well, so if things start to get spotty here relative to posting of updates till late next week, it's because it's unavoidable.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Tale of Three Backup Goalies

Let's examine the careers, 2007 - 2008 season in process records, and "tales" of three back-up goalies: the Ottawa Senators' controversial Ray Emery, the Pittsburgh Penguins' Ty Conklin, and our own Washington Capitals' Brent "Johnnie" Johnson. First their career stats in summary:

Ty Conklin, age: 31; NHL full or partial seasons: 7, NHL games: 94, NHL Playing Minutes: 4,890; W-L: 42-27-9 (4 shutouts), GAA: 2.53, SV%: 0.909. NHL Playoff Record & Stats: 1-0-1; 6 Minutes Played; GAA: 10.0; SV% 0.667.

Ray Emery, age: 25; NHL full or partial seasons: 5, NHL games: 124, NHL Playing Minutes: 6,847; W-L: 67-35-13 (8 shutouts), GAA: 2.66, SV%: 0.909. NHL Playoff Record & Stats: 30-18-12 (3 shutouts), 1853 Minutes Played over last 2 seasons; GAA: 2.46, SV%: 0.904

Brent Johnson, age: 30; NHL full or partial seasons: 8, NHL games: 222, NHL Playing Minutes: 12,386; W-L: 98-86-22 (13 shutouts), GAA: 2.62, SV%: 0.902. NHL Playoff Record & Stats: 12-5-6 (3 shutouts), 652 minutes played over 2 seasons (last playoff game 2002 with Saint Louis Blues); GAA: 1.84, SV%: 0.931.

Next let's look at their 2007 - 2008 to date by the numbers.

Conklin: 18GP, 12-3-2 (2 shutouts); Min: 1015, GAA: 2.07, SV%: 0.936. Salary: 500K

Emery: 21GP, 8-8-3 (0 shutouts); Min: 1117, GAA: 3.01, SV%: 0.889. Salary: 2.75M

Johnnie: 15GP, 6-6-1 (0 shutouts); Min: 787, GAA: 2.74, SV%: 0.907. Salary: 800K.

Last, let's examine the intangibles and related aspects of their roles and value to their team's as of this date (2/4/2008).

Conklin: Ty Conklin is one of the hottest players in the NHL right now and is one of the key reasons the Pens continue to win despite being without their star center Sidney Crosby, AND their starting goalie Marc Andre Fluery. The other reason is a broad and deep young talent pool anchored by Evgeni (Geno) Malkin. Both Malkin and Conklin are relishing their time in the sun but Conklin is an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) at the end of this season so each additional victory and minute played without allowing opposing team's to score should mean a sizable raise to the 31 year old from Anchorage. Conklin is also reported to be a solid citizen and presence in the locker room and has had a great reputation in that regard (work ethic, etc.) at every team he has played for and has risen to a leadership role with his current team. Overall Conklin's intangibles have to be judged as overall positive, despite his relative lack of NHL level experience.

Emery: Ray Emery is one of the most controversial figures in the NHL right now despite leading the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Emery says his most recent "ruckus" was just a misunderstanding - he went to the wrong rink on Long Island to practice. Emery is a young, talented, albeit - apparently - immature player who is basically unsuited to be a backup goalie and who has the clear potential to be a solid number 1 goalie for many teams. For $2.75M per year any employer would clearly expect you to know where and when to show up to do your job. Ray Emery often shines between the pipes for the Senators during key games, however, his work ethic is reported to be very suspect and he admits that getting motivated is much easier for him when the game is important. On the other hand, Emery is only 25 years old and already he has an NHL playoff record that many NHL starters envy. For numerous reasons, several self-inflicted, he is regularly criticized by the hockey mad media in Ottawa and for all their great start this season, the Senators are now skidding and sliding toward a playoff berth. The two goalie "winner plays" system now fostered by Sen's coach John Paddock and the numerous reported criticisms of Emery by teammates such as team captain Daniel Alfredsonn do nothing but exacerbate the situation of a team in some turmoil. Despite his current statements that "he likes it in Ottawa" and "likes the guys he's playing with" there doesn't appear to be the harmony required to make it deep in the playoffs in the current atmosphere around ScotiaBank Palace. The Senators would probably already have dealt Emery if: a) there were any current serious takers AND b) their starting goalie Martin Gerber was playing well and sound. Truth is the in my opinion, John Paddock created the current horrible situation with the Ottawa goalies in an ill considered attempt to "motivate" both Emery and Gerber this season and bring the Stanley Cup back to Ottawa after an 80-year hiatus (the "old" Ottawa Senators last won the Cup at the end of the 1926-1927 season.) Instead, so far this season, the Senators have generally won in spite of rather than because of their goaltending, they've yielded 155 goals against (a team GAA of 2.925 - 22nd out of 30 teams in the league.) If it weren't for their prodigious scoring (they have 182 goals for (3.43/game) so far this season - tied for first with the Detroit Red Wings), and their fast start this season, the Senators would likely be fighting for a playoff spot like virtually the entire Eastern Conference. Instead the Senators are skidding and sliding towards their 10th straight playoff appearance with lots of fear and loathing all around being reported and stirred by the hockey obsessed local media in the Canadian capital. Perhaps John Paddock ought to reconsider his strategy and settle things down and if Ray Emery starts to play to his potential like he did last year all this might be soon forgotten. Then again maybe not, but to be sure right now Emery's "intangibles" have to be judged as overall negative despite his early career success.

Johnson: Brent Johnson is currently both a steady performer and an uncontroversial, positive presence on the surging Capital's team. Despite some general questions in the media and the blogsphere and receiving more playing time of late from the Caps new coach Bruce Boudreau, there is no distracting "goalie controversy" in DC between 16 year veteran #1 Olie Kolzing and the likable, solid, well-playing Johnson. He is often cited as a locker room leader and calming, positive influence on the generally younger Caps team. He, like Kolzig and other recognizable Caps players (Ovechkin, Green, etc.) is a positive image in the Washington community and actively supportive of various Caps charities and team marketing efforts. His "hockey pedigree" is well documented as the grandson of “Hockey Hall of Famer” Syl Apps; and he has always been a level headed player and bench presence over his 7 year career. Overall, Johnson's intangibles have to be viewed as a "Positive", despite his overall record of just 0.533 and lack of recent playoff experience.

Comparatively, when you consider all those factors, if you were a General Manager of an NHL team right now that was making the push for the playoffs with a 16 year veteran, 37 year old #1 goalie which of these three guys would you want as your back-up goalie? Looking at these three guys, all things coinsidered, you'd probably have to rank them in reverse order of what the statistics would seem to indicate: #1 - proven, reliable 30 year old Brent Johnson; #2 - level headed, current hot handed, but inexperienced NHL'er Ty Conklin; and #3 - highest potential, mercurical, young 25 year old Ray Emery. Considering the present situation and looking ahead at next season, it certainly appears that George McPhee, the oft criticized General Manager (aka GMGM), of the Washington Capitals and the coaching duo of Glen Hanlon and Bruce Boudreau have handled the whole selection of a backup for the 37 year old Olaf Kolzig smartly. Should Kolzig retire at the end of this season, or opt to end his career elsewhere as an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA), the Caps have the steady handed services of Johnson locked in for another year at $825K as a fallback position even if they choose to wait a year to look for an undisputed "blue chip goalie". Whether Brent Johnson can be a solid starting goalie in the league is a matter of debate, but at $825K he's a bargain as an experienced, steady handed back up and his perfromance so far this season has many starting to feel he might have the requisite skills.

If Olie Kolzig doesn't return, the Caps would have some fair Salary Cap room if he isn't on their payroll (his 2007-2008 Cap hit is $5.45M) and the following goaltending talent is likely to be available, either Emery or Gerber (depending on the remainder of the season in Ottawa) and the following UFA Goalies: Ty Conklin (if Conklin continues to shine for the Pens and for some reason takes them through a round or two of the playoffs you'd have to consider him as a solid guy for a couple more seasons); 43 year old Domink Hasek, if he doesn't retire, though he'd likely be only a solid back-up to Johnson; Christobel Huet; John Grahme; 32 year old former Vezina Winner and All Star Jose Theodore; Patrick Lalime; Curtis Joseph; and Johan Hedberg. With the exception of Huet, Theodore, and possibly Hedberg (who isn't having his best season this year), should Kolzig opt to retire or the Caps not wish to agree to a salary that is not acceptable to the 16 year veteran, there isn't a clearly available UFA starting goalie who will be on the market. As for trades, it's likely the Senators will look to deal the temperamental Emery but other than him, the market for goalies with the clear talent to start in the NHL isn't too glutted; and besides the Caps, the Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings and possibly the Anaheim Ducks will all likely all be on the market looking for undisputed #1 Goalies. Should Olie Kolzig not wish to retire, next the goalie UFA crop gets somewhat better after next season, the only question will be who and how the starting goalie assignments will be split. Will the Caps have a "Goalie Controversy" next year - probably not - both Kolzig and Johnson have seemed to develop a clear friendship and mutual respect, and both are very mature, "classy" gentlemen.

Overall, given the Caps up and coming talent pool in the position, their current salary cap position over the next two years, and the overall state of the NHL's "goalie" market the next two years - this (Goalie Planning and Management) might be an area where you have to give GMGM at least a B+; especially if Olie Kolzig can elevate his play just slightly between now and the playoffs. LET’S GO CAPS!!!!!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

You Just Have To Wonder

After waking up and reading Tarik's piece on last night's game I just started wondering what pieces of the Cap's team would need to elevate their game to win without Ovie. Atlanta wet 2-0 this weekend without their star scorer, Ilya Kovalchuck and Pittsburgh is 3-2-1 so far this season without both Sidney Crosby and Marc Andre Fleury. Clearly Pittsburgh with a 29-19-4 record and 62 points on the season has "arrived" as a team that is back in the NHL's top tier; and there is no questioning their depth either now that they are still winning despite being as hobbled by injuries as any other team this season. The Thrashers are nothing if they aren't inconsistent, so explaining what happened with them this past weekend is harder but, the explanation seems to be as simple as they really wanted to show they are more than a one dimensional team and they have a fairly deep bench with offensive talent and a goalie who’s decided it’s his time to shine.

Looking at the Caps it’s hard to see them having that sort of balance, but that’s what they need. The second, third, and fourth lines need to add offensive production as well as they have escalated their defensive efforts. Over the past 10 games, second, third and fourth line players contributed 10 of the Capitals 33 goals, not a bad number; however in the last three games the supporting cast has scored “nada”, “zip”, “zilch”. Perhaps even more devastating to the Caps – in the last three games the the Caps have not scored a power play goal despite having at least a one man advantage for a total of 8:06. During the prior 7 games the Caps scored a total of nine (9) times on the power play. In the post lockout era special teams’ play is indeed a key to winning, and when the Caps power play is working, it opens up the game for everyone not just AO or Semin who are often the power play goal scorers. Another disturbing issue the past three games has been “bad penalties.” In the 4-0 loss to the Canadeans, John Erskine got the automatic delay of game penalty not once but twice. In the 5-4 OT win over the Canadeans, Alexander Semin ceded a power play opportunity to the Habs by getting nabbed for hooking 11 seconds into a second period power play. Last night, Semin, was twice the cause of lost power play opportunities. During the first period just 6 seconds after Atlanta’s Bobby Holick was sent to the box for slashing, Semin was again caught out of position and nailed with a hooking call as he tried to recover; then in the second period he was called for diving after he was held by Alexei Zhitnik. I really don’t understand how a guy who is truly fouled gets called for “diving” so I don’t hold the second penalty against him but the first one, especially two games in a row?!? These “bad” penalties were especially damaging during the two shut out losses, since the Caps didn’t get that many power play chances. If the Caps don’t make the playoffs it will be because of games like those two shutout losses this past week.

Are the Caps playoff chances much less than they were at the start of post all star push – not yet, but the team needs to stop reading the hype of their post Thanksgiving achievements and concentrate on the business at hand – winning hockey games one period and one shot at a time. If they return to that focus and level of play, then they’ll be able to win even on nights they don’t score 2 power play goals or nights that AO doesn’t score. LET’S GO CAPS!!!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Thrashers 2, Capitals 0

Well the Capitals outshot the Thrashers 36 - 12 (the Thrashers lowest shot total all season) but Kari Lehtonen and Mark Recchi had good games. The Caps played a tight game to be sure (one of the Thrashers two goals was an empty nettter) but they just couldn't keep the momentum long enoungh to "capitalize" on what was otherwise a reasonably solid effort. That said, the Caps also didn't "swarm enoungh" around Lehtonen and force any rebounds he didn't otherwise want to yield. To be sure there seemed to be a reasonable energy level at the "Phone Booth" - the crowd was a good one - 17, 205 and they were into the game right up till the empty netter at 19:20 in the third period. The Thrashers outhit the Caps 30 - 23, the Caps hit leaders were Matt Bradley (4); Milan Jurcina (3); and Quintin Laing (3), though Defenseman Tom Poti, Jeff Shultz, and Mike Green didn't make a hit between them. Hit leaders for the Thrashers were Steve McCarthy (5); Bobby Holick (5); Ken Klee (4); Garnet Exelby (3); Marian Hossa (3); and Alexei Zhitnik (3).

Tonight was a game where everyone came to play but Mark Recchi and Kari Lehtonen were "game on" all night for the Thrashers and on the Caps side of the ice both Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom "brought it" all night as well. In the end the Thrashers smothering play and Lehtonen's excellent goaltending won the side. The Caps have been shutout two of their last three games despite mounting a reasonable offenesive charge in both those losses, however in both cases the opponents won out by having solid goaltending and keeping the Caps from swarming on rebounds and/or their powerplay. The Caps next two games are on the road in Columbus on Tuesday against the Blue Jackets and in Philadelphia on Wednsday agaist the Flyers. The Blue jackets are 16-8-4 so far this season at Nationwide Arena and will be coming off tonight's 4-1 home loss against the Northwest Division leading Minnesota Wild; the Flyers are 13-7-5 so far this season at Wachovia Center after blanking the Anaheim Ducks tonight 3-0 in Philadelphia. The Flyers play the Thrashers on Tuesday Night in Atlanta before meeting the Caps at home on Wednsday. LETS GO CAPS!!!!!

Caps vs. Thrashers 2/2/08 Preview

The Caps play the Thrashers tonight at Verizon Center in a Southeast Division Matchup that could give the Caps 4 points in the standings versus the Thrashers. Atlanta is 2-0 and the Caps 1-1 in the post All Star push to the playoffs. Additionally, while the Caps still have two games in hand on the Thrashers, the boys in blue from Atlanta are one point ahead of them in the Conference standings. Carolina continues to lead the SE division with 56 points in 54 games, Atlanta is in second in the division (10 th in the Eastern Conference) with 54 points in 54 games and the Caps are third in the division and 12th in the Conference with 53 points in 52 games. This past week, the first in the post All Star break push to the playoffs, has seen the majority of Southeast division teams elevate their level of play; Carolina and Atlanta are both 2-0, while the Caps and the Florida Panthers are 1-1, and the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-0 since the break. Eastern Conference playoff "bubble" teams are also playing hard since the scoring fest in Atlanta last week. The Bruins are 2-0, the Rangers 2-1, the Sabres 1-1 since play resumed while the Flyers are 1-1 on the Devils 0-2 this past week. Overall the Eastern Conference Playoff race remains a "free for all" and may actually be getting tighter. The Caps remain 5 points behind the conference eigth place Rangers and three points behind the division leading Hurricanes with two games in hand on each. The total point spread between the 13th place Florida Panthers (51 points) and 10 of the 12 teams in front of them is 9 points (the fifth place Pittsburgh Penguins have 60 points while the Hurricanes who are in third by virtue of leading the SE division have 56 points. With between 28 and 30 games to go the whole eastern conference playoff picture with the possible exception of Ottawa and Montreal continues in flux. In the last 37 days, Washington has played just one divisional game, a 5-3 win over Florida on Jan. 19. Beginning with today’s game against Atlanta, the Caps will play six of their next 10 games against Southeast Division opponents in a 22-day period. The tightly packed divisional standings change almost nightly, and Saturday’s classic four-point game shapes up as one of the most important the Caps have played to date this season.

The tight playoff race means tonight's SE conference matchup between the Caps and Thrashers should be a tough game. The season series between the two is tied 2-2. The key to both teams will be "depth scoring" the Thrashers will play without All Star forward Ilya Kovalchuk who is out this weekend with a knee injury. Last night the Thrashers beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 in a shootout win without their star and like the Caps have been surging. The Caps come into the game off a 5-4 overtime win against Montreal on Thursday night that saw a five point/four goal perfromance turned in by Alex Ovechkin despite playing with a broken nose much of the game. In nine games since signing a $124 million,13-year contract, Ovechkin has 11 goals and seven assists. Viktor Kozlov has benefited from his linemate's stellar play, collecting six goals and three assists in his last six games. With Kovalchuk out and barring the unlikely chance that Washington's "Great Eight" repeats his Thursday night performance, both teams will be looking for goals from their other key forwards, for Atlanta look for Marian Hossa, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Todd White Mark Recchi and Bobby Holik to try and "pick up" Kovy's slack. Over in the Caps lineup look for Nicklas Backstrom, Vicktor Kozlov, Alexander Semin Brooks Laich and Thomas Fleischman (and Mike Green if Shoane Morrison is back in the lineup) to try and contribute more offensive production then they have since the All Star break.

Possible Line Combos and Defensive Pairings

Atlanta Forwards
49-Stuart, 11-Perrin, 18-Hossa
21-Sterling, 12-White, 8-Recchi
13-S. Kozlov, 16-Holik, 9-Dupuis
36-Boulton, 23-Slater, 27-Thorburn
Atlanta Defensemen
28-Havelid, 39-Enstrom
22-Klee, 77-Zhitnik
2-Exelby, 5-McCarthy
Goaltenders: 1-Hedberg, 32-Lehtonen

Washington Forwards
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 25-Kozlov
43-Fleischmann, 21-Laich, 28-Semin
53-Laing, 39-Steckel, 10-Bradley
87-Brashear, 15-Gordon, 18-Pettinger
Washington Defensemen
26-Morrisonn, 52-Green
3-Poti, 23-Jurcina
4-Erskine, 55-Schultz
Goaltenders1-Johnson, 37-Kolzig