Friday, September 19, 2008

TGIF - Countdown: 21 Days Till The Caps Home Opener and..

Well it's just 21 days till the Caps regular season home opener; full squad training camp starts tomorrow at Kettler; and around the league things are heating up. Here's some background from the mainstream media on our Eastern Conference rivals.

Ottawa -It's their fourth day in camp today, they will start making cuts this weekend, they currently have 54 players in camp. Today's Ottawa Sun actually had an article by my "favorite" MSM hockey beat writer, Bruce Garrioch, on Chris Neil that didn't sound like it was written by a conehead. You can find it here. Other articles in the Sun center on the fact the Senators currently have 18 defensemen in camp as they look for a viable replacement to their former anchor, number 1 minute muncher, Wade Redden; and an article on how new coach Craig Hartsburg has a mindset that everything and everyone starts with a clean slate. I doubt that sentiment will be taken to heart by Ottawa's hockey mad press and fans - I'm betting they still expect a Cup this year, like every year. Hopefully, the Capitals will continue to "have the Senator's number" this year as they did last season.

Montreal - The Canadeans opened camp today and have an increased focus on strength and conditioning this year, or at least that appears to be the implication of this article in today's on-line edition of the Montreal Gazette. No doubt last year's Conference winners will once again be a tough group to beat and the big recent news in Montreal is the trade for Robert Lang which will only help the "rich" become "richer." though with Jose Theodore in the net, the Caps will again have a netminder with something to prove to the Montreal fans and team management and will likely play with a little bit of edge. The same edge that AO always seems to play against Montreal with.

Toronto - The Maple Leafs opened training camp with General Manager Cliff Fletcher and Coach Ron Wilson taking a look at 60 players who started camp today. Luke Schenn and Nikolai Kulemin lead a group of rookies hoping to crack the roster. Notable not absent were Mats Sundin and many Leaf mainstays such as Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe and Andrew Raycroft. As of his last press conference Sundin is still trying to figure out if he wants to play another NHL season - from what's going on it sure seems to me he's looking to play a "Scott Neidermeyer" season if he plays at all this year.

Boston - The Bruins rookies play the Islander's rookies today and the Bruins continue to try and bulk up the size of their roster. Boston will again be a solid team though there has been a lot of changes, this will be the season where fans will see if Tim Thomas can put together two All-Star seasons back to back. The Caps should match-up well against Boston but if they continue to build the size of their roster, they will not be an easy W for anyone.

Buffalo Sabres - The big news yesterday in Sabreland was that the Sabres, tired of losing their homegrown talent to free agency, have agreed on a five-year, $26.5 million contract extension with high-scoring right winger Jason Pominville. The extension will keep the 25-year-old team captain in Buffalo through the 2013-14 season. The Sabres open training camp tomorrow at HSBC Arena with a huge 56 man roster: 6 goaltenders, 19 Defenseman, and 32 forwards, a scrimmage and an unveiling of their new third jersey for their fans.

New York Rangers - The official beginning of the post-Jaromir Jagr era was Tuesday. Training camp officially got underway, as the 65 players in camp - many of whom, including all of the team's free-agent acquisitions, had already reported early - convened at the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh to take physicals before Wednesday's first official skate. The more pressing questions surrounding the Rangers have less to do with physical education than with chemistry. After the July, 2007 signings of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury gave the team potency and depth at center, this summer's departure of Jagr, Sean Avery and Martin Straka - and the limbo in which Brendan Shanahan finds himself - have completed a near-overhaul of the roster and made way for new veterans on the wings and the blue line. This offseason's four big acquisitions - wingers Markus Naslundsld, and Nikolai Zherdev, and D-men Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin - left their old teams amid doubts about their futures and have come to New York hoping to reinvigorate their careers. Alas, as can be seen in more detail in this article, my second "favorite" MSM hockey beat writer, Larry Brooks, seems to have already used his great hockey knowledge, hockey sense, and infallible intuition realtive to human nature and drive to quickly determine that Zherdev is an underachieving bust. So of course I am now rooting for Zherdev to call out Larry and suggest that he eat his hat on center ice at the first intermission of a Ranger's Home game after Nickolai scores his 30th goal this season. Yes, I just want to see it posted on YouTube for all to see.

New York Islanders - The Islanders veterans started training camp today and there's not a lot of news out of their camp other than the fact that new head coach Scott Gordon is bringing an energy level and vitality to the organization that seems familiar of the same type of stuff Bruce Boudreau's arrival brought to the Cap's team last season. Time will tell if that view is well founded but the Islanders are not a team without talent and Rick DiPietro is a great guy to have in between the pipes.

New Jersey Devils - The Devils reported for physicals today and start workouts tomorrow. That is just two days before they play their first preseason game Monday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers. Per the Newark Star-Ledger, coach Brent Sutter said he will start exhibition games with his goalies playing half a game. He even thinks backup Kevin Weekes will be able to play soon enough after recovering from late May surgery to re-attach the biceps muscle to the bone in his left arm. Though they may continue to be less exciting to watch then the Washington Capitals, the Devils look once again to be a tough opponent and a contender this season. Coach Sutter is hoping that the return of free agent Brian Rolston will give the Devils some more offensive punch to compliment their ever sound defense.

Philadelphia Flyers - The Flyers and new Team Captain 23 year old Mike Richards, coming off a season in which they reached the Eastern Conference finals, will open their training camp tomorrow with 66 players. With backup goaltender Antero Niittymaki expected to miss the start of the season after hip surgery, the Flyers yesterday signed Jean-Sebastien Aubin to a one-year contract just in time to report to camp. The Flyers will start camp and the season with a solid line-up and a stable situation after going from "worst to "almost" first" last season. The local MSM lists the following five players as the ones for lyers fans to watch as they get ready for the regular season to start: Antero Niittymaki, Ryan Parent, rookie Claude Giroux, comeback story Bryan Berard (Berard is not quite a Vince Pappale story but one that ought to have everyone rooting him.), and Simon Gagne - it would be huge for the team to get back the Gagne who had back-to-back, plus-40-goal seasons, but we all know too well that concussions are a scary unknown. Even if these five guys on the roster, the Flyers will again be a tough opponent for the Capitals, and Caps fans will no doubt again be treated by the rivalry between Richards and Ovechkin when the two teams play each other. The Richards-Ovechkin rivalry is as intense or more so then the Crosby/Malkin - Ovechkin battles ever will be. That said look for Jose Theodore to work really hard to outplay Martin Biron when these two old rival teams battle each other.

Pittsburgh Penguins - Pen's coach Michel Therrien will open camp tomorrow with a 42 player roster after returning 9 players from rookie camp to their junior team's today. Pittsburgh will still still have 24 forwards, 14 defensemen and four goaltenders in camp. The lineup for tomorrow includes forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal, Janne Pesonen, Ryan Stone, Kris Beech, Jeff Taffe, Miroslav Satan, Petr Sykora, Bill Thomas and Eric Godard, defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Ben Lovejoy, Alex Goligoski, Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton and Darryl Sydor and goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin. Though the Pens lost some very good players to the Salary Cap & Free Agency this off-season the young core of Crosby-Malkin & Fleury is second to none, though our own Capitals' "Young Guns" do give them a run for the money.

Carolina Hurricanes - The Hurricanes opened training camp today with player physicals and will be in full practice mode tomorrow morning. After three weeks of camp and six preseason games. While the 'Canes don't look any stronger this year than last they will no doubt find a way to give the Caps lots of solid competition for the Southeast Division Championship. Getting edged out by the Caps last season will no doubt make them play Washington with their "A" game even when they are tired and bruised later in the season.

Atlanta Thrashers - The Atlanta Thrashers open training camp under new coach John Anderson with a roster of 51 players at 9AM tomorrow and will work hard to be ready for their season opener on October 11th at Philips Arena against the Capitals. Atlanta has a couple of challenges that it's hard to understand - they may struggle to stay above the league's minimum salary requirement and they haven't named a team captain to replace Bobby Holik who departed for Atlanta for New Jersey as a free agent in the off-season. Why they haven't assembled a solid set of players who compliment Ilya Kovalchuck using the cap room created by the "departure" of Marian Hossa and why they haven't already named Kovalchuck their captain remain mysteries to many fans of the game. All things considered the Caps should be able to handle the "Bluebirds" well this season as Atlanta takes stock and starts to build the team's offense firmly around Kovalchuck.

Tampa Bay Lightning - Coach Barry "the mullet" Melrose opened camp 4 days ago with a vengeance, encouraging hard play and "physicality". The Lightning will be a wild card for every team that plays them this season; they have a high powered offense, a very young defense, and an interesting situation in goal. The big thing to watch in Tampa Bay over the next couple of weeks will be the development and acclimation of Steven Stamkos to the NHL game.

Florida Panthers - The new-look Panthers get back on the ice Saturday for the first time as training camp opens in Coral Springs. The Panthers signed defenseman Keith Ballard to a six-year extension on September 9th. Ballard, was acquired from Phoenix along with defenseman Nick Boynton for Olli Jokinen in a trade at the draft, is expected to start the preseason skating in the first pairing with Jay Bouwmeester. The biggest question for the Panthers this season is who will fill the scoring void left by the departure of Jokinen. The Panthers look solid on defense (fitting for a team whose color commentator is Dennis Potvin) and in goal; scoring/power forward is the area that the Panthers leave the most questions. Free Agent pick-up Cory Stillman provides a possibility for filling some of the gap left by the departure of last year's team captain (Jokinen) but those will be big shoes to fill. The Panther's now formidable defense will keep them in most games, if they can put together a fair offense they should win their share of games. The Caps - panthers match-ups will be interesting to watch but the edge is defninately with the Capitals. The other thing that is a sure thing, is that after last season Caps Fans will cheer for Richard Zednik when he hits the ice, every time, as long as he isn't the one filling that scoring void.

The last team to talk about in the Eastern Conference ....

Washington Capitals - The best, most fun to watch team in the NHL. That's all I have to say on that one. I can't wait for the home opener on October 11th when we'll all be "Rockin' the Red".


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday Hockey News Round-Up

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A) Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Federov are back in town and skated at Kettler this morning.

B) The Caps Rookies shut out and dominated the Flyers Rookies 7 - 0 in the Rookie Scrimmage this afternoon.

C) Alexander Semin was to arrive in DC today as the final Capital to arrive for the opening of training camp Saturday.

D) Individual Caps game tickets go on sale on Saturday as well.

Can't wait to ROCK THE RED at the home opener on October 11th.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Not Much Hockey News Today ... But Busy Times Continue at Work

For the hockey news today - tomorrow is the last day of Caps Rookie camp - I didn't score tickets to the Rookie Scrimmage against the Flyers and wouldn't have time to go if I did. From around the blogsphere:

Tarik has two interesting posts: a) Tom Poti is 100% healthy and b) Coach Bodreau's shortlist from the first 3 days of rookie camp.

Corey has a couple interesting notes from yesterday but some really good news that Nicklas Backstrom is on the ice skating this morning and looking pretty good. Hopefully his ankle is fine.

On Frozen Blog has a recap of the recent print and blog news and will live blog tomorrow's scrimmage.

Japer's Rink has a neat set of stats on where Semin and Brooks Laich score from and their willingness and propensity to go to the net.

The Red Skate has a neat piece on insurance and participation in International events by NHL players that is fueled by the AIG crisis - truly a relevant piece that only an attorney in NY and a hockey fan would come up with.

I spent yesterday going down and back to Atlanta to one of the Security Industry's premier conferences and exhibitions - ASIS 2008. Our ICx Technologies, Inc booth looked awesome, we had lots of great traffic and meetings. For my part, it was a productive but fairly long day - 6AM flight down, 8:40 PM flight back, and six meetings about 4 deals/initiatives, along with several impromptu meet and greets with folks from the industry on "the show floor".

As a side note, my trip yesterday made me realize how easy it is to get to the Philips Arena (home of the Atlanta Thrashers) from the airport (Philips Arena is right across the street from the Georgia Dome and Atlanta large convention facility the Georgia World Commerce Center) and with a little advance planning how cost effective flights from Dulles to Atlanta are on Airtran (my round trip ticket was just under $250.00), and MARTA (Atlanta's "Metro) is an easy way to get from the airport to the arena and other downtown locations. A road trip to see the Caps season opener in Atlanta is starting to look tempting.

Can't wait to Rock The Red on October 11th.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rookie Camp Opened Yesterday

Tarik's blog had a nice post yesterday on the first day of rookie camp, sounds like Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Simeon Varlamov all showed up in shape, ready to play and brought their "A" games. Could be an interesting year for some of the Cap's defensemen and Daren Machesney. That said I'm looking forward to seeing what Machesney does in training camp and believe he will prove to be the real deal this year. Personally I see Machesney and Varlamov in Hershey at the start of the season and Michal Neuvirth on loan to another AHL team, though it's obviously way too early to make any predictions along these lines. The report on Alzner and Carlson is good news even though Brian Pothier has been spotted around KCI in the past two weeks.

Of course the Caps still need to sort out their $2.6M+ over the salary cap issues, and the good news has a flip side in that it'll make the cap overage even larger.

Corey Masisek's blog had one interesting addition to Tarik's note - after the rookies left the ice, 6 peope took to the ice including none other than Mike Green.

The blogsphere is making a lot out of the 25 minutes of "Herbies" that Coach Boudreau put the rookies through at the end of their first two hour workout, yesterday. For his part Boudreau explained to the press that he did this to make a point - according to Gabby there are three kinds of shape a) Juniors Shape; b) AHL shape, and c) NHL shape. Sounds like an extension of his "holding yourself accountable philosophy" and that he plans to continue to put his imprint on the post rebuilding Caps. It also sounds like a great way to make sure that you minimize injuries during the season - that is start the season and play every game, all year long, "in game shape". It also sounds like the veterans who are all showing up plan to show up ready to play and intend to bring their "A" games, too. For my part, I'm recalling, that Football camp tradition of "two a days" to whip yourself into shape and build teamwork and "esprit de corps".

Well, once again I left with the same feelings and conclusions. You guessed it. My overarching feeling after musing on the Caps this morning - I really can't wait till I get the chance to go to the "Phone Booth" and Rock The Red on October 11th (that's just 26 short days away). My conclusion:

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Western Conference vs Eastern Conference -Myths and Realities

So as I look ahead towards the upcoming season on the eve of the opening of Caps Rookie Camp tomorrow, I decided to ponder and muse on what it will likely take the Caps to repeat as Southeastern Conference Champions and make a run deeper into the playoff then last season. The first thing I noted when looking at last season's statistics and standings is that last year in the supposedly softer Eastern Conference. It took 94 points to make the playoffs while over in the "tougher" Western Conference it took only 91 points for the Western Conference 8th place Nashville Predictors to make the playoffs. Of course the only Eastern Conference team that didn't make the playoffs in the East that would have made them if they were in the West were the Carolina Hurricanes.

What does that mean? Well looking at the year end standings and the pickups/changes from last year to me it means that the Detroit Red Wings are the only reason folks say the Southeastern Division is the softest division in the NHL. You got it, if it weren't for the President Trophy winning Red Wings, the "softest" division in the NHL last year would have been the Central Division - by a visible margin, in this authors opinion. What about looking ahead to this upcoming season. Well first we need to note that the schedule this year has each team play each of their division rivals only 6 times vice eight and that every team plays each other at least once. From a vantage point of "fairness", I think that's a good thing. From a Season Ticket Holders perspective, I also say thank goodness, I'm actually tired of seeing the Caps play the Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers and Thrashers. From a scheduling perspective it means that instead of 8 games (2 each against the Hurricanes, Panthers, Thrashers and Lightning) the Caps will play one each against Western Conference Teams they didn't face last year (LA Kings - 71 pts, Phoenix Coyotes - 83 points, San Jose - 102 pts, Anaheim - 102 points, and Dallas - 97 points); they also play the Nashville Predators of the Western Conference (91 points) twice vice once and play two additional games against non-Southeastern Division Eastern Conference teams. So as far as strength of schedule they trade 2 games against the Lightning (71 points) for a game against the Kings (71 points) and the Coyotes (83 points); two games against the Thrashers (76 points) for games against the Predators (91 points) an the Flyers (95 points); two games against the Panthers (85 points) for games against the Rangers (95 Points) and Dallas (97 points); two games against the Hurricanes (92 points) for games against the Ducks (102 points) and the Sharks (108 points). So in review all 8 games the caps trade for non-Southeast division games are even or against stronger opponents then the Southeast Division based on last year's regular season standings. Further looking at the off-season moves by the teams the Caps add to the schedule this year, one generally concludes they are either on track to perform at least as well as last season or better. Phoenix, in particular looks read to make the playoffs.

All that said, if the Caps continue to play like the team that finished the regular season or even one that plays like they played after Thanksgiving last year they could break 100 points, even against this tougher schedule. From all reports the team's stalwarts and anchors worked pretty hard in the off-season and are arriving back in better shape then they were after they exited the playoffs last year. Further it looks like veterans Michael Nylander and Chris Clark are 100% healthy and ready to go as well.

Separating myth from reality the facts are, despite the negative hype, over the last 8 seasons, Western Conference Teams have won the Cup 4 times and Eastern Conference Teams have won the Cup 4 times. During that time Southeastern Division Teams have won the cup twice (Carolina - 1, Tampa Bay - 1), the same number as the Central Division (Detroit - 2), the Atlantic Division (New Jersey - 2), or the Western Division (Anaheim - 1, Colorado - 1). The Southeast Division hasn't been doormats, particularly when they get into the playoffs. The Caps have the ability to repeat but the Carolina Hurricanes are going to give them a run for their money and the Tampa Bay Lightning are a total wild card at this point. Once in the playoffs the Caps will have to overcome one of the usual suspects from the Atlantic and Northeast Divisions. The Flyers will again be strong, as will the Canadeans, and while Pittsburgh's depth up front took a small hit from off-season departures, they too will be a solid, tough playoff contender. New Jersey and Ottawa will also likely make solid runs this year and be playoff contenders to watch. Even given all of the above, the Washington Capitals have definitely arrived and are firmly in the top half or quarter of the leagues team, even on off nights.

I can't wait to Rock the Red on October 11th at the Phone Booth - can you?

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Well It's Done - Renewed My Season Tickets

Well I finally got around to renewing my season tickets. I don't know why I was so slow in doing it - I'm back in Section 103 but I lost my aisle seats. Oh well I'm three rows higher up and that should give me - actually us - I and a partner have 2 seats - a better view of the far end adjacent corner. Down where we were we had to look at the jumbo-tron to see the action in adjacent corner. Of course being further in (12 seats further in) we are farther from center ice. Oh well, we'll get our better seats back by renewing early this season. Also since my son is now away at college many of the games I go to just won't be as much fun, but I'm now a totally addicted Washington Caps fan after the past two seasons.

Can't wait till the season opener on October 11th - Are YOU ready to Rock the Red? I know I am.

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Latest Hockey News from the Blogsphere

So here's all the news I know about our Washington Capitals today:

1) Alex Ovechkin is back in DC and skated with the team in the optional practice/skate. As Napoleon Dynamite would say - YES!

2) Nicklas Backstrom sprained his ankle in the optional workout yesterday. Still need to see where that's going. Not so much - yes....

Elsewhere in the NHL - good news from Florida Panther-land, Richard Zednick was/is skating with the Panthers in their optional workouts. Truly a great piece of news.

Can't wait till the season starts.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not A Lot of Hockey News Yet.....

There hasn't been a lot of hockey news these past few days but around the Cap's blogsphere it appears there is starting to be some buzz. As many as 14 Caps have been sighted practicing together at Kettler Center this past week including Jose Theodore, Brent Johnson, Karl Alzner, Michael Nylander, and Boyd Gordon. The Caps have also posted their training camp schedules. ... And that's all I've got. I can't wait till the season begins.

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day Round-up of Hockey "News"

First there's really not any hockey news of note today. Around the Caps "blogsphere" there are some interesting posts and articles.

After a relatively long hiatus, dmg has an article at "Caps Blue Line" which I whole heartedly endorse. basically every game becomes a three point game - three for a win in regulation; two for a win in OT or during a shootout; and 1 point for a loss in OT or a shootout. I also like his idea that the first standings tie-breaker become wins in regulation. This way everyone has an incentive to play hardest for the win in regulation, then has an incentive to play for win in OT.

Peerless has started a review and prognostication series projecting the upcoming season for each of the players on the Caps roster. today. He started with Milan Jurcina. "On Frozen Blog" has a neat link to a funny clip from the movie - Slapshot. "The Red Skate" celebrates the return of the fan base to Caps Hockey. CapsChick continues with reasons #21 and #22 of why she loves hockey over at "A View From The Cheap Seats".

Can't wait till next season - - - LETS GO SEASON!!!!!!!