Sunday, October 26, 2008

An Up & Down Week for the Caps In Review

[ed note: Where's this blog been all last week? Well this blogger has traveled over 8, 500 miles and had a hectic week on his day job that's why the blog hasn't had a post in 7 days - a record since I started blogging, given the NHL season is in full swing. I started the week at meetings Monday morning in Tyson's Corner. Tuesday morning found me at meetings in Anchorage, AK. I watched parts of Tuesday's Caps-Flames game while working at a desk in a business partners offices in Anchorage on my laptop - thanks to NHL GameCenter. I had meetings on Thursday morning in Seattle, WA but did catch the last half of the second and the third period of the Caps-Coyote game from my usual recliner in Bristow, VA upon my return home, though it was through bleary eyes and a bit painful. Isn't the modern marvel of air travel wonderful? Well maybe not all that wonderful but that's an entirely different story and one of relatively little interest. I did catch the shootout at the OK Corral fka American Airlines Center in Dallas last night, as the Caps avoided going 0 fer the road trip. As much has already been said and covered elsewhere on all three games last week, this blog entry will offer commentary on 5 things: i) a brief summary/recap of last week's roadtrips 3 games; ii) a review and commentary on the arrival and play of Tyler Sloan - another Caps feel good story in the making? iii) yet another different perspective on John Erskine's two year $2.5M contract extension; iv) a random thought on the already large number of 3 point games thus far in the NHL season and v) a quick-look at the month ahead (November) for the Caps. Oh and yes the crazy roadtrip I did last week was all business related, and worth the effort. Growing and making money, like ICx Technologies continues to do, takes a lot of hard work in this economy, even if you're not "Joe the Plumber." Something that isn't likely to change real fast no matter who we all elect come 9 days hence. But at least our Washington Capitals are tied in points for first in the Southeast Division once again.]

I capped off a crazy week watching the Capitals - Stars game on Saturday Night. A two point night for the Caps, almost in spite of themselves, or perhaps more fairly, because Jose Theodore outplayed Marty Turco over the length of the game and the Caps offense kicked it into gear in the OT period. Doesn't Alexander Semin have an absolutely awesome wrist shot? It sure looked like Marty Turco didn't see it until it was already past him. That is not to take away from either Sergei Federov or Tomas Fleischmann's two goals or Tyler Sloan's first NHL goal. If your keeping track based on simple extrapolation, here's some really awesome things to think about. Alexander Semin is on pace for a 72 goal, 144 point, + 6 season; Federov is on pace for a 31 goal, 72 point, +7 season; and "Flash" is on pace for a 31 goal, 51 point, +/- 0 season. Following last night's 2 goal performance "The Other Alex" is tied with Evgeni "Geno" Malkin for the NHL scoring lead with 14 goals (7 goals, 7 assists); Semin is also tied for third in goals scored with Saint Louis' Brad Boyes. So looking at the first 8 games of the season, especially the three game Western Conference/National Horseshow road trip the Caps just completed there's some things, good and some things "that are otherwise" to note. First the bright spots - a) Goaltending has been solid lately - Jose Theodore's save percentage over the three game road trip was .905; while Brent Johnson has a save percentage of 0.915 in his last two games. b) Throughout the season thus far, despite sparse first line scoring, as other teams "key" on Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom basically plays himself into shape, and first line right wing Viktor Kozlov has been slowed by injury, secondary scoring has been present in full force. So far in the first 8 games of the season, the Capitals have had 12 different players light the red light a total of 28 times scoring an average of 3.5 goals a game. c) Overall the Caps have captured just over 50% of the available points in 8 games played, and are keeping pace with their Southeast Division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes. There's also a few areas for concern and nail biting: a) The inconsistent play of the defense exacerbated by early season injuries. The value of Tom Poti to the Caps team can no longer be denied, nor can the stress the current salary cap puts on things when any of the six regular defenseman are injured. b) The inconsistent "energy?" (probably not the right word) level with which the Caps approach forechecking during parts of what has been every game, except the game against the Canucks, so far this season, is also troubling.

Overall not a bad start, though not up to the expectations built by the drive to the finish last season or the off season efforts by the Caps. It's early and no need for panic at this time, but the Caps need to pick it up to ensure they don't find themselves "on the bubble" in late March. The team has the talent to "kick it all up a notch", but the defense needs to really tighten up and the forwards need to provide that relentless forechecking that has been their trademark since last Thanksgiving. As the Caps have found out so far this season, there's a lot of talented guys in the NHL and nobody's going to just roll over. Next up the Nashville Predators at Verizon on Tuesday Night. I'll be watching from my comfortable chair here in Bristow, while my ticket partner Tom is present and "Rockin' the Red".

I really didn't get much chance to think or talk hockey last week. So on Saturday morning, when I went to see my barber Scott at "The Barber Shop" in Manassas' Westgate Shopping Center, I enjoyed the lively conversation we had about our local NHL Team - the Washington Capitals and their most recent lineup addition, Tyler Sloan. Following Sloan's turnover in Phoenix that resulted in a game deciding goal, Scott was openly questioning why the 27 year old rookie was in the lineup while "stud prospect" Karl Alzner was still in Hershey. I, on the other hand, pointed out that even including Sloan's faux paux, at that moment, he was +/- 0 with an average of 9:27 time on ice, had not taken any stupid penalties (like puck out of the rink/delay of game), and had put a masterful hit/hip check on NHL veteran center Daymond Langkow. I felt that given he had barely had time to get off the plane, lace his skates and show up to play his first NHL game in front of his hometown friends, he wasn't doing bad. Yes, I too could have done without his turnover in Phoenix, but those things have to be expected from any rookie, even a 27 year old one. We had seen some of those same sorts of things during the pre-season from both Karl Alzner and Sami Lepisto, hadn't we? Add the fact that bringing up either Alzner or Lepisto would create salary cap issues that need not be dealt with if Poti and Erskine will soon be returning to the line up and, giving Sloan, a seventh-year pro in his third season with the Bears, and who had recorded three assists in the first five games with the Bears this season, a shot to fill the Caps short term needs on Defense doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Additionally, when he joined the Bears during their run to the Calder Cup in the 2006 AHL playoffs, Sloan demonstrated a maturity and ability to jump into tough situations and quickly contribute. That maturity and trait was something the Caps needed last week. Suffice it to say, at the end of my haircut, Scott remained unconvinced. However, the discussion had clarified my own thoughts and reaffirmed my feeling that Tyler Sloan might have what it takes to play in the NHL. Well last night in Dallas, Tyler got his first NHL goal and it should have been, could have been, a game winner. Alas that was not to be, as once again this year the Washington Capitals are vying for the NHL title as "Cardiac Kids." After his fairly solid play in the first two games of the road trip, Sloan capped off the three game trial with "the big team" with a 13:48 TOI performance and was +1 for the game. Over the three games last week, after scoring his first NHL tally, a follow-up goal as a result of staying with the play and crashing the net, Sloan's statistics are solid for a rookie. For his three games with the Caps, he has now averaged 10:54 TOI, is +/- 1, has a goal and no assists, and 6 hits. Given his $475,000 price tag, Mr. Sloan continues to more than earn his money here in Washington while Tom Poti heals and gets ready to return to form. Having Sloan and Erskine back in the lineup last night allowed Sergei Federov return to his natural center position, where he scored two goals, and the reunited duo of Tomas Fleischmann and Michael Nylander combined for two more. So I'll be curious to see what Scott has to say, the next time I need my hair cut. That said apparently Japer has a similar view to Scott. I say, once again having a coach who really knows the "guys down on the farm and what their strengths and weaknesses are", is paying dividends for the Caps like it did late last season when Bruce Boudreau introduced most DC Hockey Fans to a guy by the name of Quntin Laing.

As I caught up on my blog reading following my return from sunny Anchorage, I noted a lot of opinions floating around on the John Erskine contract extension. A lot of folks are questioning the timing of the extension and also the amount. Erskine reportedly will receive $1.25M a season for each of the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons. At 6-4, 216, the 28 year old Eskine, is a gritty, physical defenseman, whose strong points are the intensity he plays the game with and his willingness to sacrifice his body when he needs to and whose weak point is generally seen as his skating agility. So why now for the resigning? and why $1.25M/season? are the general questions being directed towards Caps GM George McPhee. First - why now? - because it likely needed to be done and could be done now. Not counting Erskine or any of the folks down in Hershey or South Carolina, at the end of this season, the Caps will have 9 U/RFAs to sign or replace. Two of whom will be 39 year old Sergei Federov and 36 year old Donald Brashear. Three others will be RFA Defenseman: Shoanne Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, and Milan Jurcina. Not to mention that Sami Lepisto will also be an RFA and Tyler Sloan an Unrestricted Free Agent in July. Compounding the defensive uncertainty looking ahead to next year is the still uncertain status regarding Brian Pothier's return - chronic concussions are not to be taken lightly. So why not extend a contract to a guy who has some versatility and if necessary might fill the shoes of Brashear as protector of scoring phenoms such as Semin, Ovechkin, etc. even if they are relatively big guys who can take care of themselves. Why so much more than he's making this year - $537, 500? Because it's a fair number in light of his perfromance last season and his start this season. Looking around the league, at guys who are routinely playing top six defense minutes, a salary of $1.25M each of the next two seasons doesn't look too bad. Last season Erskine, played a career high 51 NHL games and finished the season with 2 goals, 7 assists and was +/- +1 averaging 21 shifts and 15:42 of TOI/Game. Those are solid NHL numbers so why not sign him to an extension now. Whether $1.25M is too much or a bargain - in actuality only time will tell but given his numbers last year along with the fact he has started out this season in better shape and displaying more mobility than ever before, it seems like a reasonable bet. Further, in light of the look ahead at the Cap's situation on defense at seasons end locking in one of the current six defenseman on the roster seems like a smart move before the Free Agency period kicks in.

While the debate continues on the merits of the three point game, no one can argue that they are not having an effect on the standings so far this season. So far this season out of the approximately 120 games so far (15 x 8), by this blogger's quick count 30 have been 3 point games. That's an extra 12.5% of points available that wouldn't have been there "in the old days." The key point here to note is it's not the "loser" who ends up with the extra point, compared with the old days when a tie was a tie, but the "winner." Once again, this writer's opinion is the only fair way to handle this is to change the system so a win in regulation is "a three point" game. That way there are no "extra points" - every game is a three point game, the only question is who gets 1, 2, or 3 points. To that end as the season progresses, my intent is to do an analysis as to what the standings in each conference would look like after 20, 41, 60 and 82 games - if all games were "three point games." What's your thoughts on the subject?

So after the first month of the season, the Caps are at 0.500 and tied for first in the Southeast Division. The month ahead will not be any easier for them then the first month of the season. During the month of November, the Caps will play 15 games, 9 away games including another 5 game road trip that includes a 4 game Western Conference swing on the heels of a home-home against the New Jersey Devils. Four of the games are against Southeast Division rivals, 3 home games and 1 away game. The Caps play the Carolina Hurricanes twice next month - once at home and once in at RBC Center. They also play Tampa Bay and Atlanta once each at Verizon Center. Five of the 14 games are against Western Conference opponents. The six games against Eastern Conference opponents from divisions other than the Southeast are two games against New Jersey and one against: Buffalo, Ottawa, the Rangers, and Montreal. Washington's Western Conference opponents will be: Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Minnesota and Columbus. All five games against Western Conference teams are away. Of the thirty available points in November, 14 are against teams that failed to make the playoffs last season, though eight (8) of those fourteen are from games against Southeast Division foes and Carolina has clearly started this season in a far better fashion then they finished last season, as have the LA Kings and the Buffalo Sabres. In fact the Sabres are 6-0-2 so far this season. So the easiest games the Caps will play in November will likely be against Atlanta and Tampa Bay at home. Other than that the next "easiest points" will be their November 29th game in Columbus, and that game is right on the heels of a home game the day before against the Canadeans; in fact that game comes at the end of a four day Thanksgiving stretch when they play 3 games. The Caps are currently 1/2 game behind Carolina for the Southeast Division lead and are in seventh (7th place) in the Eastern Conference with 9 points. They need to take it up a notch and capture at 20 of the 30 available points in November to clearly establish themselves in the Division lead including ideally taking all 4 available points from Carolina and at least 2 of the 4 available points from Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Of the 12 points available from non-Southeast Division, Eastern Conference foes, once again ideally, the Caps need to capture at least 8 points, at this juncture no points available seem much more valuable then the others, given the opponents on tap. That would be the best source, from a look ahead perspective, of 14 points, then once again looking at the Western Conference opponents, the Caps need to win at least three of the five games. Of course this all won't be an easy task and to do it the Caps will need to start the month off well and finish it even better. This team has the talent to rise to the challenge though a return to the line-up by Tom Poti, more production from the first line, and a more consistently intense forecheck will all make it a lot easier a goal to attain.

Finally, here's a goofy Mike Green piece - 20 questions with Mike Green from the Calgary Sun.
My favorite goofy answer is: "13) Where do you like to vacation? Tofino. I like to surf."
I had to google it to find it, but when I did wow, once again "Game Over" hits it right on - though I think if I had his paycheck I'd be looking to surf somewhere where the water temp was a little warmer than "B.C." as in British Columbia. Though apparently Tofino does have an active surfing community.

Once again - next up the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center on Tuesday night

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's the Phillies vs. Devil Rays In the World Series

The Devil Rays just took game 7 of the ALCS - the Cinderella Story will continue in the World Series where they will face the Phillies. Ironically, or maybe not, there are a lot of Phillies fans in the Tampa Bay area since the Phillies have some roots there too. The last time the Phillies won the series I was in college and "my home of record" had a Philadelphia zip code. Gosh time sure flies.

Thoughts On Last Night's Caps Game

There's a lot of posts and thoughts out there in the "blogsphere" about last night's game which was a "1 Point Night" against the Devils. I watched the game on CSN and chatted with a lot of folks on NHL Game Center while looking at the statistics.

The starting lineup for the Capitals included Chris Bourque, who was called up from Hershey, on the fourth line, and Sergei Federov on Defense due to the injuries to Donald Brashear and Tom Poti. Chris Clark was on the first line, right wing, for the injured Vicktor Kozlov. The jumbled lines were productive and the Caps started out with a 1-0 lead off an really beautiful goal by Alexander Semin off an outlet pass from Sergei Federov, that no other Caps Defensemen and few D-Men in the NHL could ever have made. However, as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau noted in his post-game comments, the Caps never really took control of the game. Of course, the New Jersey Devils were the biggest reason for this fact. While the Caps didn't work quite as hard as they might have otherwise done, the Devils worked and played their "2008-2009 updated version" of "Devils Hockey". This years version of "Devils Hockey" is not so smothering in the neutral zone, but with a more energetic and aggressive offense, then in past seasons. Last night, there wasn’t nearly as much neutral zone slogging as you’d see in Devils games in seasons past. The result has been New Jersey has out shot its opponent in each of its first five games this season, and this game had a good bit of back-and-forth to it. However, even though the Devils have been out shooting their opponents regularly their shooting percentage has been pretty woeful. The Devils entered Saturday’s game with an average of 35 shots on goal per game this season, third most in the league. They fired 37 at the Caps on Saturday to push that average up a shade. But with nine goals on 177 shots, they’ve got an anemic 5.1% shooting pct.

Unfortunately, the Caps would have needed to get another 9 shots on goal given last nights statistics to have won the game in regulation, and that wasn't going to happen. The Caps own shooting percentage was a 12% on the 25 shots they had in regulation. Even more important is where they scored from, look at the shot chart captured over at The Peerless Prognosticator from last night's game, for a lesson in why if you coach hockey you spend a lot of time teaching mites "where the slot is" and how to drive for it. The Caps only got 5 shots on goal in the third period and in their best period last night, the second, they only had 11 shots on goal. New Jersey came out "banging" during the third period. For the Caps to have put up a total of 14 shots in the stanza, they would have had to have played a third period like they did in Pittsburgh. Instead, the Devils out shot the Caps 9-5 and outscored them 2-1 in the third. The Caps did get a point out of the game taking it all the way to "the skills competition" aka a shoot-out, and they remain atop the Southeast Division two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes though Carolina has a game in hand and are playing win-less Anaheim this evening. The real disappointing thing about last night is Brent Johnson played a super game and deserved the win, his 101st, as much or more than Marty Brodeur deserved to get his 542nd career NHL win.

The Caps now go on a three game West Coast road trip where they will face two 2007-2008 playoff teams: Calgary on Tuesday, and Dallas on Saturday with Wayne Gretzky's improved Phoenix in between on Thursday. Then they return home to face another 2007-2008 playoff team, the 3-3 Nashville Predators, who took apart the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-3 last night. By the end of the month of October, the Caps will have played 9 regular season games, 5 of those games will have been against teams that went to the playoffs last year. Only one of the Caps games in October will have been against "weak" Southeast Division rivals; their 7-4 loss in the season opener in Atlanta. Assuming the Caps continue to play well and finish the month as strongly as they have started it, they will have proven the "rebuild" is over to all. However, don't look for them to be ten points ahead of Carolina, or Atlanta like San Jose could be in front of either Los Angeles or Phoenix. The Southeast Division is much stronger this year than it was over the past three seasons. That said the Caps will need to play strong two way hockey for all sixty minutes of regulation during their next four games to keep their momentum going.

There were several other interesting things of note during last night's game.

- First the impact of Tom Poti's injury? Simple, Mike Green logged 34:05 of ice time on 30 shifts, and Sergei Federov logged 20:45 on 24 shifts. How long this can be sustained is anyone's guess but with the current Salary Cap situation, a call up of Karl Alzner would put the Capitals approximately $1M over the Salary Ca. Even calling up Sami Lepisto would put the team just over the Salary Cap, unless some other actions were taken. Tom Poti is currently listed as "day to day" an all accounts indicate that he will travel with the team and likely will return to the line-up, hopefully sooner rather than later.

- Second, in relief of the injured Donald Brashear, Chris Bourque logged 11:25 of ice time on 13 shifts including 2:59 of power play time, during which he took two shots and had 1 hit. During the first three games before he was injured, "Brash" averaged 9:05 of ice time and 1.3 shots on goal. Aside from the lack of a "certified heavyweight", which might have been useful against the Penguins, but wasn't necessary last night, Bourque seemed to do a very good job filling the empty slot on "the energy line." That said, it looks like Brashear is ready to return to the line up and he has played very well in the first three games of the season, including scoring a goal, as well as being a "catalyst" when he's been on the ice. So once again, C-Bo has been assigned back to Hershey.

- Third, the Capitals power play was less than overwhelming last night. Also a lot of the 25 shots in regulation were from above the centers of the face circles. When you're playing a goaltender as good as Brodeur, that's not likely to "get it done" and it didn't. All three of the Caps goals were scored from the center of the low slot. The Caps need to continue to press and crash the net - that's what's been working for the Caps so far and what they have to continue to do. That's why all 20 guys on the opening night roster now have at least one point and 10 different Caps have scored goals so far already this year. That's great news for a team that had issues with "secondary scoring" last season.

- Fourth, Alexander Semin continues to be on fire. Semin has 6 goals and 10 points and is +6 in the first five games of the season. While he is no doubt benefiting to some degree from the attention opponents direct at Ovechkin, there is no denying "the other Alex" has arrived as full blown NHL force to be reckoned with in his own right.

- Fifth, goaltending wasn't an issue last night, and hasn't been an issue in the last four games (since the abysmal performance the entire team had in Game 1). Last night Brent Johnson stopped 34 of 37 shots for a save percentage of 0.919. Overall discounting the outlier performance of game 1, during the last 4 games Johnson and number 1 goalie Jose Theodore have a save percentage of 0.904 having stopped 85 of 94 shots faced. In fact, in a show of consistency, in three of the last four games, Caps Goaltenders have had save percentages of 90% or better.

- Sixth, when the Caps haven't won, Game 1 against Atlanta, and last night against New Jersey, as well as during the early going of the games against Chicago and Pittsburgh, their Achilles heel has been a lack of energy, focus and less than relentless forechecking. Make no mistake, the Caps are one of the most talented teams, especially at forward, in the NHL; however, the great, fun, exciting style of hockey they play means they have to play with full commitment all the time. That's what has been the hallmark of "Caps Hockey" since Boudreau has taken the reigns. That's the style of hockey that has re-energized guys like Sergei Federov. That's the style of hockey that made Jose Theodore want to come to DC to re-energize his career. That's what the Caps need to play all the time. The problem? Can you play that style of hockey with just 6 defenseman on the roster for 82 games? Probably not, but given the Caps salary cap challenges the bigger question's right now are: a) can the Caps succeed at that style of hockey without Tom Poti in the lineup or calling up either Alzner or Lepisto during this next road trip (i.e. how many consecutive games can Mike Green play more than 25:00 without getting tired, burned or hurt?); and b) can the Caps play "Caps Style Hockey" for the first 40 games of the season with just 6 defenseman on the roster? In the meantime here's being very, very glad Sergei Federov is just so awesome, and we have him around. How's $4M look now for our number 2 defenseman; a guy who has one of the best face off win records on the team, and has the best Corsi numbers on the team, again this week?

Well, next up the Flames in Calgary on Tuesday night. The Flames have started slow this season, are 1-3-1, and just 3 points find themselves in the cellar of the Northwest Division. Though the Flames haven't quite gotten up to a full gallop yet this season, they have a lot of talent. Led by their own classic power forward, Jarome Iginla, and all star goaltender Finn Mikka Kiprusoff, the Flames will not be an easy opponent as they look for their second win of the season. Hopefully, the Caps can start off the road trip fast and on a solid note. I'll be watching from a hotel room as I'll be on the road most of next week, but rest assured I'll be wearing my red Caps T-shirt and "Rockin' the Red".

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

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Look Ahead to Tonight's Caps vs. Devils and Some Random Observations

If you want a great look ahead to tonight's Washington Capitals game there are two I came across in the "blogshpere." So since I hate being redundant my recommendation is to go over to "Caps Blue Line" or "Japer's Rink," both have good insights and I really would have just said much of the same thing that DMG says at Cap's Blue Line.

[Ed Note: I had hoped to finish some original analysis and commentary of the Caps first four games but my work schedule has been quite hectic and I spent some of today catching up on the 3 projects I'm in the middle of at my "day job" at ICx Technologies, where good things keep happening even though it is crowding out my available time for this avocation. I now doubt I'll get that finished and I will be traveling 3 1/2 of the four days next week so I might have to come up with another angle and will certainly need to update everything I've already done to stay current, timely and relevant. In the meantime, I'll try and keep this blog lively and interesting by offering some alternative perspectives on things that don't require so much thought or "homework". Sorry to disappoint my fellow Caps enthusiasts who follow this blog.]

Look ahead item number 1: On one hand, Alex Ovechkin has been held pointless in the Caps last two games so "he's probably due." On the other hand, Ovie has just three goals in his career against future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. Which hand will win out - this writer is betting on Ovechkin, in front of what could be a sell-out crowd at home.

Look ahead item numbers 2 & 3: Chris Bourque returns to the Caps lineup for the first time this season and Sergei Federov will play defense due to the injuries to Tom Poti and Donald Brashear who will be scratches tonight. Given Bourque's intensity in training camp and the preseason, here's betting the feisty prodigy of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque flys and makes himself a factor whenever he's on the ice. Given Federov's great play on the Blue Line so far this season, look for another solid game from him tonight. The real issue is how long can the 39 year old Federov log 20+ minutes of ice time a night before he needs some rest. Granted, "Feds" keeps himself in phoenominal shape, uses his body judiciously, and employs his phoenominal "puck sense" to conserve energy throughout a game; but, a 39 year body isn't a 27 or even a 35 year old body in Professional Sports.

Look ahead item number 4: Tonight's game will be another classic battle of two different systems. No one plays "The Trap" better than the Devils, who despite only having scored 6 goals this season are 3-1-0. On Washington's side of center ice, you'll find no more exciting team to watch in the NHL. Capital's coach Bruce Boudreau, may have single-handedly brought all out aggressive forechecking back to NHL Eastern Conference hockey. Other team's watched the Caps late season resurgence last year and have adopted this season. The result, in this writer's opinion, is the most fun to watch professional sports in DC. Here's hoping, the fun to watch Caps best the Devils if for no other reason than to again affirm the fun to watch, exciting brand of hockey they play is winning hockey, just as it was in the third period against the Penguins.

Look ahead item number 5: Will the other Caps who've gotten off to a great start (Semin, Fleischmann, Nylander, Green, Bradley, etc.) keep it up? Yes they will. However, look for all of them, especially Green as one of only six healthy defenseman in the lineup, to be a little more conservative against the "trapping Devils", especially in light of the injuries the Caps are now carrying. The Semin-Nylander pairing has been on fire, so look for the Devils to be prepared and give them the same respect they give the Backstrom - Ovechkin pairing,. Even with Kozlov and Brashear out and Federov on defense, the Capital's forward lineup is still loaded and will put three solid "scoring lines" and one "checking line" on the ice tonight. The "rebuild" is certainly over - "ain't it great?" How will "Flash" react to having recieved the hard hat from his teammates against the Penguins - I'm betting very well.

Look ahead item number 6: Speedy Brian Gionta and how the Caps counter him will be a key to the game. If the Caps let Gionta loose, it could be trouble. However, if they have guys like Bourque, Fleischmann or Steckel stay on him, Gionta could have a long, unproductive night.

All in all it will be a great game - now some random but relevant thoughts.

Random Thought Number 1: Over at "The Red Skate", as is often the case pepper has it right: Don't be that guy! There's 20 minutes intermission between the periods isn't that enough time to check you blackberry. Of course if that's a Caps fan texting a friend or spouse with "Hey Ovie just laid another great hit on Malkin" in the picture we both have some egg on our faces which lead to random thought number 2...

Random Thought Number 2: Some people really need to either lighten up or just get some cooth and class or both. I am a rabid Caps fan, I pay a fair amount for our two season tickets - granted they aren't the most expensive seats in the house and I've split them this season with a friend - but two seats in the lower bowl in the corner are over $5,000. I follow the team religiously, this summer I watched two days of Rookie Camp at Kettler, etc. I feel the Caps Organization basically owes me nothing more or less than I'm getting. Well actually that's I think the Caps give me great value for my investment when I compare it to the value I would get from a similar investment in the other pro sports teams in the DC Metro. However, that's almost besides the point, as a human being, I figure I owe other human beings the same respect, compassion and consideration I want them to give me. What's he talking about you're thinking about now, especially since it's highly unlikely the offensive individuals are folks who follow this obscure, off the beaten track blog. I'm talking about the fact that apparently, even more than in the past, and despite three direct requests to the contrary, a bunch of "muttonheads" deluged Ted Leonsis' email address with out of line, disrespectful, non-constructive emails during the first two periods of the Caps - Pens game. You know while they fell behind 3-0. My thoughts - first and foremost - it's just a game. Really I care as much as anybody and more than many but, why in the world would you let it make you act like a horse's backside? Second, I don't know of and doubt there is any other pro sports majority owner who puts himself out there and makes himself so accessible. In fact I'm fairly certain there's no other. Think about it - do you or can you easily get Dan Snyder, Abe Pollin or the Lerner's email addresses? Let alone if you do and send them an email what do you think the odds of you getting a response from any of Leonsis' peers, with the possible exception of Mark Cuban, if you send them an email? He's done that for years and now he rightfully feels he's put a very competitive team of exciting young players on the ice to watch and is providing the best pro sports entertainment value in the area to watch so he ought not to be deluged with disrespectful emails every time someone scores a goal on Jose Theodore or Brent Johnson or any of the skaters gets a penalty or take away. I agree and I posted a note on his blog as a comment thanking him for his great work, here, I urge and hope anyone who reads my blog will do the same. Finally last item on this topic, my inclusion of Mr.Abe Pollin's name here is not meant in any way to show diminished high regard for a person who has given so much to the DC Metro Area, only to highlight that not even a great, civic minded guy like him puts himself out there as much as Ted Leonsis.

Now kids, let's go out there, play nice, watch the "potty mouths" and bad words, and have a really fun and great evening.

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Also Let's Go Nittany Lions, right now they're up 19-17 after trailing most of the game so far.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another Look at The Caps - Pens Game; Quick Hits

So after cruising the "blogsphere" I was getting ready to put together some analysis and thoughts on the Caps 3-1 start but instead I watched the replay of last night's game on Comcast. Here's some quick hits on both, I'll use my brain and actually analyze a few things about the first four Caps games of the season tomorrow. But hey, let's enjoy the good for a few hours longer before confirming the good, the bad, the ugly and all that's in between tomorrow by looking at statistics both straight-forward and more obscure. Here's my quick hits.

- The most under appreciated play of last night may well have been Mike Green's AWESOME hip check on Evgeni Malkin with 1:11 left in the third period and Malkin breaking out of his zone while the Caps led 4-3. I haven't seen a hip check executed that well in an NHL game since Brad park retired. Green finished the game with 26:23 TOI, +2 over 27 shifts and 5 shots on goal, 4 attempts blocked, 2 missed attempts, and 1 hit. Pretty good night for a guy who is once again the top scoring defenseman in the league so far this year with three (3) goals in four games, along with two (2) assists.

- A lot is being made by some folks about Alex Ovechkin's slow start. I don't share this worry though, like Lumpy over at the Peerless Prognosticator, I note Ovie has had "only" two goals in the first four games, each of the last two seasons as well. To date this year he has 20 shots on goal and a shooting percentage of 10%. It's also true that last year over the entire season he had 446 shots on goal and a shooting percentage of 14.6%. So while he does need to pick up the pace a little, it's only slightly since last year he average 5.46 shots on goal per game and this year he is only averaging 5.0. Also each year Ovie has had to adjust his game slightly to accommodate the changes opponents make to try and counteract his extraordinary talent, like all pro stars, opponents work hard to "bring their A game" when they are matched up against them. Ovechkin is certainly no different than other stars in that he's generally out there against the best other teams have to offer 110% of the time. Also the minutes on the penalty kill, while the right thing to do for the team, will certainly most likely drag his shots per goal down slightly. But he is on track even with this current "slow start" for 410 shots on goal and 41 goals this season. As the season moves along look for his shooting percentage to again approach 15% and that means even at an average shots on goal of "only" 5, he will again have a 50+, closer to or even over 60 goal season. Truly, we Washington DC area hockey fans are lucky to be able to watch him every home game.

- A real lot is being made of the Ovechkin - Crosby/Malkin rivalry and especially of Ovie's focus and hits on Malkin last night. Why wouldn't he be focused on Geno last night. Malkin was in my opinion, and the guys who picked the stars of the game, the best Penguin on the ice. Malkin had the puck enough to get off 9 shots on goal, had a goal and two assists, and 3 hits of his own. When a guy is that active, especially when he's as good as Malkin, he deserves extra attention. If he didn't end up -1 last night, the Caps would have lost the game, and Malkin would have been a big part of the reason.

- The Malkin hit on Semin deserved a 5 minute major, he drilled "the other Alex's head into the boards". In old school hockey, yeah it's a 2 minute boarding call not the 5 minute major in the Gary Bettman/Colin Campbell NHL, like last night. But in the old school NHL, well lets just say the retribution would have hurt Geno a lot more than Ovie's hits and Green's hip check - that's why in the "old school NHL" stars like Malkin and Ovechkin didn't get into situations like this - third and fourth liners did that stuff.

- Fan sentiment is definitely very positive on Alexander Semin's play these first four games and so it should be. Semin has been "the man" much of the time so far this season and he leads all Caps scorers with 4 goals, 4 assists for 8 points, he's also +5 so far this season, and is playing two way, unselfish hockey all the time. He's been very good when he's been paired with either Michael Nylander or Sergei Federov. At his current pace Sasha is on track for a really awesome season himself. Though the simple mathematical extrapolation, 82 Goals, 82 Assists, seems unlikely, 50+ goals and over 100+ points appears very possible if he continues to play the way he has so far and stays healthy.

- Another Cap off to a super start is Michael Nylander. Nylander has 2 goals and 4 assists and is +2. Last night his face off win and setup back to Semin for the Caps second goal was masterful. Even more notable is the 36 year old Swede's overall solid play and fact he isn't "over-stickhandling so much but still generally controlling the tempo of the game when he is on the ice.

- The biggest surprise on the Caps so far might well be Sergei Federov. If the season ended today, Feds would be my guy for the player in the NHL with the most heart and drive. The thirty eight year old Russian future Hall of Famer has been solid when he's played center and even more valuable to this years Caps when he's been on the blue line. Right now his $4M salary looks like a bargain. If I was a young Cap I'd be inspired to do whatever I could just to win a Stanley Cup for him to get one more. Last night he started the game at center but moved to defense. He logged 22:17 on 23 shifts, had one assist and was +2. How he keeps doing it, after 19 NHL seasons, is something I can't fathom, but I'm sure glad he does.

- Tomas Fleischmann's play to date has been solid, well actually better than solid and last night was his best game yet. I could become a believer, in another game or two.

- The biggest difference in the Caps opponents face this year and last is clearly secondary scoring. The Caps have a total of 17 goals - and 3 or more in all four games so far this season and that's good news. The fact that 10 different players have scored those goals is even better news.

- Jose Theodore seems to be settling in and while his first period stats are an early issue (actually as I'll look at tomorrow the entire Caps teams first period stats are an issue), his play in the second period last night kept the Caps in the game and he came up big when he needed to in the third when he needed to. I continue to be bullish on Jose. There was only one time last night when it looked like the communications between he and the defense went awry.

- Bruce Boudreau looks really funny when he gets really pissed. last night his entire face "Rocked the Red" a couple of times.

- Evgeni Malkin's English has gotten a lot better, I swear I heard him drop an "F-Bomb" after one of Ovechkin's bigger hits. LOL

- After his first scoring chance of the night, on which Jose Theodore came up with a solid save, the Capitals pretty much owned Sidney Crosby, especially at 5 on 5. Sid the Kid did get 2 assists and did a good job of quarterbacking the Penguins power play but he ended the night at -3. He also was only 48% on face offs.

- CSN's broadcasting team of Koken and Laughlin missed a few things last night and need to work on the details a little bit. Of particular note, Tom Poti left the game in the first period with a groin injury, didn't take a shift in the second period at all, but it wasn't till 17:43 left in the third that Koken and "Locker" realized it and said anything about it.

- Finally, Matt Bradley may be a middleweight vice a heavyweight but he's another guy with total "heart" and he's fearless. All I can say about his performance last night is....WOW.

Next up Marty Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils at Verizon on tomorrow.

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

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Let's Go Caps! - Caps 4, Pens 3

Well the Caps clawed and scratched their way back to a victory and two point night in Pittsburgh tonight. I watched the game on CSN and also looked at stats and chatted with many obnoxious Pens fans on-line in the NHL Gamecenter chat room for the game.

Through the first five minutes of the second period the Caps allowed the Pens to get out to a 3-0 lead on three powerplay goals before Tomas Fleishmann made it 3-1 at 5:45 of the second period. The game was a very physical one and Alex Ovechkin, though held scoreless and without a point, along with Brooks Laich, led the team in hits with three. Ovechkin was often on the ice playing against Evgeni Malkin and the two continued the "tit for tat" play they exhibited during last seasons match-ups. At 9:55 of the second period, Malkin made a vicious hit on Alexander Semin and was called for a 2:00 minute boarding penalty on a hit, many including Caps color analyst Craig Laughlin felt should have been a five minute major. Despite the penalties, powerplays and intense play by both teams the Second period ended with the score 3-1 and the Penguins had outshot the Caps 20-9. At the start of the third period the Caps juggled their lines in an attempt to shake things up and generate more offense. These adjustments worked and through the third period the Caps outshot the Pens 21-6 (yes the Caps had 21 shots in the third period alone). When the dust settled the score was Caps 4, Pens 3 and once again Alexander Semin had a very good game notching a goal and assist for two points, a +2 rating and 2 shots in 17:02 of ice time. In addition to Semin and Fleischmann, Michael Nylander and Boyd Gordon also scored. All four of the Caps goals were at even strength. Despite having the man advantage for 6:57 the Caps powerplay did not score. In the bad news department Defenseman Tom Poti logged only 4:23 of ice time and did not play during the second and third periods, no information yet on his injury.

The three stars of the game 1) Semin; 2) Malkin, 3) Nylander.

Next up the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center on Saturday.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

NHL Gamecenter - Webcasts of NHL Games; NHL Action 10/15 Recap

I took "the plunge" and bought NHL Gamecenter - online access to webcasts of all NHL games. I opted for this instead of the NHL option my cable provider offers so I can watch games on my laptop when I travel for business. So far I really like a lot of the features including chatting with other viewers about the games while we watch them and the access to stats while you watch a game. Its not cheap but it does provide a lot of access to hockey games and stats during the games. I also like the shot chart and the live play by play.

Tonight in sports of course the big story is that in Major League Baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and won the National League Pennant and are on their way back to the World Series for the 6th time. The Phils downed the Left Coast Dodgers 5-1 tonight and took the series 4 games - 1 in Los Angeles. Just for the record from a color perspective the Phillies love to "Rock the Red" as much as the Washington Capitals.

In NHL action around the league tonight, the Capitals were idle, they take on the Penguins in Pittsburgh tomorrow. There were five games tonight, all were "in conference games." The match-ups and results were:

1) Buffalo 3, New York Rangers 1 - the Rangers are now 5-1-0, though they are still first in the Atlantic Division and lead the second place penguins by 5 points. Buffalo looked good and remained perfect with a 3-0-0 record, but are second in the Northeast Division.
2) Montreal 4, Boston 3 - in a game that was decided by shootout - The Habs are 3-0-1 and remained atop the Northeast Division, while the Bruins are now 1-1-1 and tied for third in the same Northeast Division.
3) Chicago 4, Phoenix 1 in a game where veteran net \minder Nickolai Khabibuhlen started his second game of the year and got his first win of his season. Chicago is now 1-2-1 and fourth in the Central Division, while Phoenix drops to 2-1-0 but remained second in the Pacific Division.
4) Dallas 6, Nashville 4. Dallas moves to 1-1-1 and sit in third in the Pacific Division. Nashville falls to 2-2-0 but remained tied for the lead in the Central Division with Minnesota and Vancouver, both of whom were idle tonight.
5) Edmonton 3, Anaheim 2 in a back and forth game. Edmonton moves to 2-0-0 and a tie for first in the Northwest Division while Anaheim drops to 0-4-0 staying "perfect" and in fifth place in the Pacific Division.

The Caps face off against the Penguins tomorrow night at 7:30. This will be an exciting game and I plan to make sure I don't miss a minute of it. No predictions other than Caps will win...(homerism in practice).

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

Tuesday Night NHL Round-Up

The Capitals were idle tonight. Games and results around the league so far tonight:

Minnesota 4, Atlanta 2 in regulation;
Pittsburgh 3, Philadelphia 2 in overtime;
Calgary 5, Colorado 4 in regulation;
San Jose 5, Columbus 2 in regulation;
Los Angeles 6, Anaheim 3 in regulation.

So that means those team's records are now:
Minnesota: 2-0-0, first in the Northwest Division;
Atlanta: 1-1-1, third in the Southeast Division;
Pittsburgh: 2-1-1, second in the Atlantic Division;
Philadelphia: 0-2-1, last (fifth) in the Atlantic Division;
Calgary: 1-1-1, fourth in the Northwest Division;
Colorado: 0-3-0, last (fifth) in the Northwest Division;
San Jose: 4-0-0, first in the Pacific Division;
Columbus: 1-2-0, fourth in the Central Division;
Los Angeles: 1-2-0, third in the Pacific Division;
Anaheim: 0-3-0, last (fifth) in the Pacific Division.

Surprises in the NHL standings so far?

1) NY Rangers 5-0-0 start of the season and being firmly on top of the Atlantic Division. Given they started the season early in Europe, albeit against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the fact that since returning to this side of the pond the Rangers have gone 3-0 against 3 strong teams is pretty exceptional.

2) Philadelphia 0-2-1 start is pretty surprising given the strength and talent levels on the Flyers team. The Flyers schedule also doesn't get any easier any time soon. The Broad Street Bullies next five games are: first a two game West Coast road trip to face Colorado and San Jose; a home game against San Jose; and a home & home on back to back nights against the New Jersey Devils. Based on how teams have come out of the gates, the Flyers best chance for a victory is in Denver against the 0-3-0 Avalanche, since Colorado so far has been suffering from weak goaltending, however, the Mile High City is never an easy place for visiting teams to do well.

3) Chicago's 0-2-1 "surprise" start is even more confusing given they are spending 12+M on goaltenders this year an currently they have a team Goals Against Average in the first three games of 3.33 and they lost their last game in a shootout. None of the Blackhawk's remaining seven games this month are an easy two points but look for them to slowly begin to "dig themselves" out none the less.

4) Anaheim's 0-3-0 start is certainly a surprise and the 10 points they could easily find themselves behind San Jose after they finish the nine (9) remaining games this month will not be easy to make-up, even though it is early in the season to counting anyone out.

Next up for the Capitals are the Penguins Thursday night in Pittsburgh. Should be a nail-biter and fun game to watch. Marc-Andre Fluery looked tough tonight, hopefully Jose Theodore will match his intensity and stone both Crosby and Malkin. Look for Alexander Ovechkin to score at least one goal since he was kept off the score sheet in the Caps last game, a 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

(Pummel those Penguins)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wow! What a Game; Caps 5, Canucks 1

Wow - what a great two (2) point night tonight was. It was simply a totally dominating performance by the Capitals tonight. The Caps out shot, and basically totally out played the Canucks tonight. Overall the Caps out shot Vancouver 35 - 10 tonight, however, throughout the first two periods the Caps out shot them 25-3 and out scored them 5-1 during the first two periods. Once again nobody had a bad game, and it really was nobody. Brent Johnson had a save percentage of 0.900 on the ten shots he faced; more importantly he came up big on the two or three times he needed to.

The Caps forwards crashed the net all night long; and seemed to especially relish doing so during the first two periods while Roberto Luongo was in the net. It will be interesting to see who Brooks Laich passes the "Hard Hat" too. My vote goes to Alexander Semin, not for his 2 goals, but for his great hustle and unselfish play. The coming of age of "the other Alex" could be personified tonight when at 9:30 into the third period, with two goals under his belt, and the Caps well ahead (in fact four goals ahead), Semin instead of trying to bull his way through three defenders and going for the "hat trick", the 24 year old Russian born left wing dished the puck off to Milan Jurcina who was at the point and in position to unleash a great shot at the Canucks net. If not Semin then there are several other candidates including Federov for his solid defensive play 1 assist +3, 25 shifts, 20:25 TOI. David Steckel who did "yeoman's work" at both end of the ice with relentless forechecking and backchecking. There were at least three instances where it was Steckel's backchecking that kept the slot in front of Johnson clear. Steckel was also 8-4 for a face off won percentage of 67% tonight. Finally, another great candidate for the hard hat award has to be Michael Nylander. Nylander may have played his best game since returning to the Caps at the start of last season. Nyls was +2 with a penalty shot goal and 2 assists for 3 points, had a respectable night in the faceoff circle, had 3 takeaways and more importantly was a force to be reckoned with during the 14:32 and 17 shifts he played. During his time out on the ice Nyls seemed to be in the thick of things all the time, he also refused to be pushed off the puck and had no giveaways. More coming in the morning but for now, it's just time to enjoy the auora of a second two point night in a row. This kind of fun could be habit forming.


Looking Ahead - Vancouver @ Washington 7PM Faceoff

Well tonight the Caps face off against the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center. Vancouver comes into the game at 2-0-0 having bested their rival, the Calgary Flames on both sides of a Home and Home series. First the Canucks shutout the Flames 6-0 in their home opener on Thursday Night in Vancouver. Then they travelled to Calgary and dealt the Flames a 5-4 overtime loss to the Flames in their home opener at Pengrowth Saddledome to start the season a perfect 2-0-0. The Canucks have started the season with a more potent offense then they displayed much of least season. With 11 goals in two games, the Canucks forwards have been led by Left Wing Daniel Sedin and his twin brother Center Henrik Sedin. Daniel has a league leading 5 points (2 goals and 3 assists), while Henrik is right behind him with 4 points (1 goal and 3 assists). In net, the Canucks are "led" by Roberto Luongo. Luongo finished last season with a GAA of 2.38 and a save percentage of 0.917 in 73 games played. Through the first two games of this season he has a GAA of 1.94 and a save percentage of 0.926. The Canucks come into the "Phone Booth" as a hot team. Caps fans hoping to see former Cap fan favorite Matt Pettinger will, sadly, be disappointed. Pettinger, who was traded late last season for Matt Cooke (now with the Pittsburgh Penguins after the Caps did not seek to resign him in free agency) didn't make the big club and has been assigned to their AHL affiliate the Manitoba Moose.

Looking ahead to tonight's game, its difficult to predict any aspect of how things will play out.

The Caps certainly ought to be able to match offense with the Canucks. based on last seasons statistics, in fact, the Caps should be able to overmatch the boys from Vancouver. However, so far this season, offensively the Canucks have been a different team then last season. Last night the Caps looked like the team they were at the end of last season and should either match or exceed the play of the Canucks, but if the team that played Atlanta is the one at the Verizon Center tonight and the Canucks continue their offensive transformation all bets could be off.

On the defensive side of the net both teams have fairly even blue line corps so that shouldn't be a major factor in the outcome on the defensive side of the puck; on the offensive side of the puck, the Canucks while not having any single match for Mike Green do have a trio of offensively capable Scandinavians: Sami Salo, Mattias Ohland, and Alexander Edler, whose total goal production last year of 25 goals eclipsed Game Over's 18 goals by seven (7). So far in the first two games the only scoring from the Canucks trio has been from Ohland who has one of the Canucks 11 regular season tallies to date. Ohland als has 3 assists, while Salo and Edler both have one assist each. Mike Green has 2 power play goals and 1 assist in 2 games. No one on the Canucks Blue Line brings the magnitude of game changing dynamic to the game that Green does. If Green has a banner night, it could tip the scales as regards the defensive match-up. However, against the gritty hard forechecking and backchecking of Vancouver, he'll also have to be wary of being caught up ice and burned by the Canucks.

In net Roberto Luongo has been a paragon of consistancy over his eight seasons as an NHL goaltender. Luongo has played an average of 74 regular season games each of the past four seasons. During that time his best year long save percentage was and his worst was 0.931 in 2003-2004 and his worst was 0.914 in 2005-2006 with Florida. While Luongo has been consistent and Caps number one goaltender Jose Theodore's career has been peppered with inconstancy, Theodore's best year, 2001-2002 in Montreal, when he won the Hart and Veznia Trophies matches Luongo's best year with a save percentage of 0.931. Theodore's last season results a save percentage of 0.910 over 58 games followed by a stellar first round 4 games - 2 playoff series victory was pretty much the equal of Luongo's 73 game 0.917 save percentage performance. The reality is while you have to give the Canucks an edge here due to Luongo's consistency; both these net-minders have the talent required to steal a game on a good night.

In the intangibles area, the edge goes slightly to the Capitals as they are at home and should be in front of another good crowd who will be Rockin' The Red. Also for Vancouver, this game will be the second of a six game road trip and it'll be following a late finish in their overtime victory on Saturday night in Calgary. However, yesterday was likely a leisurely travel day so they should be rested and their next game isn't until Thursday night in Detroit.

For all these reasons in reality, tonight's game should be an excellent one and for either of these two good teams to win, they'll need to "leave it all out there on the ice." So regarding to tonight's outcome prediction, once again owing to blatant "homerism" call it - CAPS 3, Vancouver 2 in regulation.

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

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Caps 4 - Blackhawks 2; Home Opener Recap & Summary

Last night was a 2 point night for the Capitals, they beat Chicago 4-2, so for the season opening weekend they are 1-1-0. Before getting into the recap and game summary three other items are worth mentioning over and above the Caps own excellent play. Number one, the atmosphere and attitude of the sellout crowd of Caps fans at the Verizon Center. Simply put, it was awesome!!!! The "Phone Booth" was alive with energy and, from what I could see from my vantage point in section 103, the sellout crowd of 18,277 was truly Rockin' The Red. The Caps Fans and Faithful clearly are determined to continue to make Washington DC a Number One Hockey Town. Number two, NHL hockey fans and players everywhere should not expect officiating this year to be any different, i.e. better, than it has been the past several seasons. Last night the officiating was just as bad as on any other night; however, the Caps didn't let it get them down and played hard through the bad calls, most of which, though not all, last night favored the Blackhawks. The Capitals will need to continue to react the way they did last night to bad calls, that is ignore them and play hard "Caps Hockey" throughout the game, regardless of the officiating, if they are to go as far as they are capable of, into this year's playoffs. Number three, thirty-five year old Nickolai Khabibuhlen is a very good goaltender, without whom the game could have been very ugly for the Blackhawks.

That's right last night the Caps faced the Nickolai Khabibuhlen NOT the Christobel Huet led Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center in front of an energized, sellout crowd, some of whom were just waiting for the opportunity to get down on Huet. Apparently after losing their season opener Friday night at Madison Square Garden, Christobel Huet now has his tail between his legs; or the Blackhawks management has seen an error in their ways and decided to give the veteran Khabibuhlen, consistently one of the worlds best goaltenders, and a 2004 Stanley Cup winner, back the job of leading Chicago to the promised land. Chicago currently is slated to spend over $12,000,000 of Salary Cap room on goaltenders. Prior to the season start they had tried unsuccessfully to get someone else to pick up Khabibuhlen's salary. The 35 year old Russian born veteran of 12 NHL seasons, 637 NHL regular season games, and 57 NHL playoff games sports a career GAA of under 2.68 and a save percentage of over .908 when you add in his excellent playoff stats; the only strike against him is his 6.75M salary. Khabibuhlen's only NHL seasons with a save percentage under 90% were his rookie year (.895) in Winnipeg (1994-1995) and his first year in Chicago, (.886) with a new, shakey team in front of him (2005-2006). He has been as consistent as the 33 year old Christobel Huet (salary $5.625M) has been during his 5 NHL seasons, and Nickolai has 44 more games of playoff experience under his belt, as well a Stanley Cup that Huet lacks. Why all the buzz and pixels on an opposing goaltender (Khabibuhlen) on a blog devoted primarily to the Washington Capitals? Simply because he played an excellent game last night. He stopped 30 of 34 shots from the Capitals including several awesome scoring chances from some of the best sharpshooters in the world - "the Alexes" or in Russian "the Sashas" (Ovechkin and Semin), as well as a group of very strong secondary scoring threats including Nylander, Federov, Clark, Steckel, Backstrom, Fleischmann, and Kozlov. Kahbibuhlen basically robbed Oveckin (3 times), Semin (2 times), Clark (1 time), as well as Fleischmann (2 shots, 1 a great one), and Federov (2 shots, both good to great saves). One was only left to wonder what the score would have been if a shakey Huet was in the net for the Blackhawks instead of a well playing, unflappable Khabibuhlen.
[ed note: Please forgive the Christobel Huet bashing, the author is still trying to get over the lack of opportunity to boo and otherwise cackle at the former darling of Capital fans everywhere. This was an especially painful realization, since with the departure of Jaromir Jagr from the North American hockey scene, Mr. Huet, has become in the author's eyes the poster child for what is wrong with free agency in sports in general and hockey in particular. After this posting, the next time Caps fans will read anything about Christobel Huet is when there is something truly newsworthy to comment on and it will likely be of a far less partisan and more objective tone.]

Highlights, there are many, though the first minute of play was not one of them for Caps fans. Twenty six (00:26) seconds into the game Kris Versteeg , the lowest paid forward on the talented, young Blackhawks' roster, came down the right side and let loose a fair, but clearly stoppable shot from 20 feet out, from a very playable angle in the middle of the face off circle and found "pay dirt" through Jose Theodore's "five-hole" (assists to Toews and Havlat). After the goal, Nicklas Backstrom skated over tapped Theodore on the pads and said something that must have been encouraging because that was the last "softie" that the 32 year old French Canadian net minder let by. At 1:44 Caps D-Man Milan Jurcina was whistled off for a two minute "Boarding" call, that was a tribute to the Gary Bettman led NHL. The hit was clean, Jurcina coasted into the hit for a good ten plus feet, and the only reason boarding was called was because, despite Jurcina playing solid, clean hockey, he delivered a crushing, great check. The Caps killed of that penalty and Theodore really settled down and made a couple of very nice saves. Even though later in the first period, at 11:41, Jack Skille put the Blackhawks up 2-0 with a nice wrist shot from 18 feet out in the right center of the slot, by that time, the Caps and Theodore were settled down and beginning to play like the team from last spring. Just under two minutes after Skille's tally, the Caps "checking line" of Bradley-Steckel-Brashear narrowed the Blackhawks lead to 2-1 on a nice, gritty goal by Matt Bradley (assists to both Steckel & Brashear). My section-mates and I, in section 103 were treated to a great vantage point for this one as we got to watch the whole play develop and it was a beauty by a group of gritty, solid hockey players. At 19:08, the Caps got what might have been the make-up call for Jurcina's earlier boarding penalty or for several earlier missed calls on Brent Seabrook, when Seabrook was sent to the sin bin for hooking. The first period ended with the score 2-1 in favor of the Blackhawks, the Blackhawks had out shot the Caps 10-6 as well, but it did seem the momentum had turned and was in the Caps favor. The crowd was clearly and happily behind the Caps and there were no concerns with the capabilities of new number one net minder Jose Theodore.

The second period started with the Caps on the Power Play for the first 1:08; though the Blackhawks held them and killed off the penalty pretty well. At 5:08 into the period the Great Eight took an outlet pass from Tom Poti, sped down the left side, and let loose [ed note: in Boston terminology & accent please] a "wicked fast" wrist shot from 46 feet out that found the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2. At 6:15, the Blackhawks got a bench minor for too many men on the ice and despite the Capitals powerplay swarming and peppering Khabibuhlen with shots, the 35 year old Blackhawks goaltender turned them back and the boys from Chicago killed off the penalty. Starting around the 8:00 minute mark of the period, the "physicality" of the game begin to escalate even more. Lots of checking and "old time hockey" began to bubble up and since both Chicago and Washington boast rosters full of big, young, strong players there was a lot of exciting hockey played for the last 12:00 minutes of the second period. As often seen last year, when the tempo of a game picks up and the checking starts to rattle the boards more often, 2008 MVP Alex Ovechkin and Washington's "other Alex", Alexander Semin, along with 2008 21 goal scorer Brooks Laich, all raised their games a few notches. Chicago responded by trying to up the physical nature of the game even more at the other end when at 16:41 Adam Burish went to the net and pushed in on Jose Theodore for the third or fourth time of the night and Shoane Morrisonn and David Steckel decided that was just one time too many for the night. The end result was Burish and Morrisonn went off with coincidental minors for roughing and Steckel also found himself in the box for two minutes for tripping. The Caps stayed perfect on penalty killing for the night and staved off this Chicago man advantage. The physical play continued throughout the period and the second stanza ended with the game in a 2-2 tie with Mike Green in the penalty box for tripping.

The Caps started the third period like the Blackhawks started the second, successfully killing of a penalty for just under 1:30. The game continued to be played at a fast and furious pace, though in the third period Theodore, like Kahbibuhlen at the other end, began to freeze the puck more and enable the Caps to stay slightly more disciplined. The Caps were clearly playing with the confidence they exuded during the end of last season, something that was not present on Friday night in Atlanta. They were flying, swarming and routinely muscling their way to the net. After having outshot the Blackhawks 12-6 in the second period, they continued to dominate with "the best defense is a relentlessly checking and shotting offense" in the third period. The result was that at 15:33 with Laich and Semin swarming around the Chicago net like the two men with a purpose they were, Brooks Laich scored his first goal of the season after Semin bulled his way to the goal and around the net and fed the puck to Laich who was "waiting" on a very crowded doorstep. Then at 18:34 Alexander Ovechkin scored his second of the night in classic Ovechkin fashion. Goaltender Jose Theodore cleared the puck out to defensemen Jeff Schultz who found the Ovechkin streaking out through the neutral zone between two Blackhawks. Ovie did a toe drag and a head fake, then unleashed a [ed note: once again Boston accent please] "wicked, sick, fast, awesome" snapshot that found "nothin' but net" from 39 feet out. The crowd respond with a standing ovation and about a minute long chant of "M.V.P.; M.V.P.; M.V.P." With the Caps up by two, the Blackhawks pulled Khabibuhlen with just under two minutes remaining and the Blackhawks started doing some swarming of their own. Jose Theodore responded with a couple of good saves and then the Caps got a little out of synch. When they did Alexander Ovechkin tried to make a play that even he, the greatest player on the planet today couldn't quite make without a little "help", and was sent to the penalty box at 19:34 for tripping. While this was a "good penalty" it gave the Blackhawks a two man advantage and meant that Ovechkin wasn't going to have a chance at getting his first hat trick of the season on an empty-netter. For the last 26 seconds of the game the Capitals kept things solidly under control and Theodore made two more good saves to ice the home opener victory.

The three stars announced for the game were: 3: David Steckel; 2: Brooks Laich and 1: Alexander Ovechkin. As readers can tell from this posting the author felt that despite having only a .882 save percentage Blackhawks goaltender Nickolai Khabibulen played a game and was the best player on the ice last night for Chicago. That is not to say that others on the Blackhawks had a bad game, the Blackhawks definitely did not loose this game, they played well, though despite that the Capitals managed to get off 34 shots on goal and kill off 5 penalties where Chicago had a man advantage. Other Capitals playing good games, in addition to the three stars of the game, to note: Jose Theodore; John Erskine; Alexander Semin; Matt Bradley, Donald Brashear, Tom Poti, Mike Green, Chris Clark, Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Federov, and Shoanne Morrisonn. [ed note: This is probably a longer list than is prudent, but there really wasn't anybody on the Caps roster who had a bad game last night.]
Jose Theodore, despite letting in an "oh nooo softie" in the first minute of the game came back and had a save percentage of .905, coming up big a couple of times and helping the Caps dictate the pace of the crucial third period. If Theodore plays the way he did last night for 55-60 of the remaining regular season games; and Caps solid backup Brent Johnson delivers 15-20 games, playing like he did for the first 25 minutes he played last night, the Caps will easily finish with over 100 points and there will be no reason to rush any of the three good prospects the Caps have in the system to the NHL level.
John Erskine has looked more mobile in the first two games of the season than at any time in his career to dat, and has played solidly. Right now he probably should be considered number 4 or 5 on the Caps depth chart. Last night he had 16:00 of ice time, including 0:53 of penalty kill, 2 hits, a blocked shot and 2 attempts blocked. He even raced back and caught speedy Patrick Kane on one shift that had he not done so would have resulted in an excellent scoring chance for Kane. Not bad for a guy, who along with David Steckel is one of the two lowest paid guys on the team.
Alexander Semin had another good game, Friday night he was one of the few Caps to deliver a good game. Last night despite not scoring he was a force to be reckoned with all night long. The Caps second line of Semin-Federov-Laich was really fun to watch play hockey last night. They have skill along with size and when necessary deliver either really awesome flair/playmaking or really rougish, bullish grit. They can skate with anybody or they can play "old time hockey" with anybody. All three, 38 year old Sergei Federov, 24 year old Alexander Semin, and 25 year old Brooks Laich will have great years this year, if they continue to play the remaining games this season, the way they started out of the gates in the first two of this year. The "second line" finished last night with the game winning goal and with all three members doing a great job on "special teams" especially the Penalty Kill.
The checking line of Matt Bradley-David Steckel-Donald Brashear all had banner nights as well. Bradley had a goal, a takeaway and was +2 in 12:05 TOI. Steckel, the number three star of the night, had an assist, 2 shots, a blocked shot and was +1 in 13:41 of TOI. "Brash" had an assist, one shot, one hit and three takeaways and was +1 in 8:56 of TOI.
Mr. "Steady Eddy" - Tom Poti - had another solid game, bringing discipline and leadership through example, on the ice. Poti, in 22:05 of TOI, got an assist, was +1, and had 1 takeaway and 1 blocked shot. He was on the ice for 6:22 of the penalty kill time.
Despite not scoring a goal last night while scoring two power play goals Friday night, Mike Green had a much better night. Green was solid, and the clear number 1 on the defense depth chart with 25:50 TOI and +2 on the night.
Shoanne Morrisonn had a very solid night and was clearly, after Green and Poti, the best defenseman on the ice for the Caps. Morrisonn logged 16:20 TOI, two blocked shots, two hits and was +1 on the night.
While statisticly last night wasn't either Nicklas Backstrom or Chris Clark's best game, they both made their presence known in other more subtle ways. While "Captain Chris" only had one shot, it was a beauty of a one timer on the Caps powerplay, that had Khabibulen not been having a sensational night, would have been a goal. [ed note: in a Brooklyn accent please] In other words "Dat captain guy, he was robbed, robbed dats what I says." Backstrom's night, though unexceptional, was a solid one with 14:44 TOI and ended with him collecting a takeaway and +1; but perhaps more importantly it was clear that opponents will find a bigger stronger Nicklas Backstrom as the pivot between Ovechkin and Kozlov. This dynamic gives the Caps first line an even more imposing presence for opponents to consider.
As far as Alexander Ovechkin's perfromance last night, one could write a book on it's awesomeness but it speaks for itself, so if there is a replay of the game watch it. Suffice it to say both his goals last night were/are on the highlight NHL Network today.

Things to work on for the Capitals. Despite the 4-2 victory, the Caps are now only 0.500 and there are obviously things for them to work on. One would suspect that two of the areas/things Caps coach Bruce Boudreau is pondering are 1) how to get the Caps to improve their Faceoff won percentage and 2) how he might get Milan Jurcina to learn and play position like and have the wrist shot and passing touch of Jeff Schultz; as well as how he might get Jeff Schultz to learn how he might play more physically and use his 6-6, 215# body like Jurcina uses his 6-4 223# body to check, clear the crease and launch his strong, solid slapshot from the point. The Caps faceoff perfromance last night was less than "all star" - overall it was 50% but when you scratch the surface you note the only two guys who could and did consistantly win faceoffs were Michael Nylander (3 of 4 - 75%) and Sergei Federov (13 of 17 - 76%). For some reason, David Steckel, whose faceoff won percentage last year was respectable, is routinely getting beat these first two games in the face off circle. That said as long as the team that played the Blackhawks last night is the one the Caps bring to their games the rest of this season, instead of the one that played Atlanta on Friday night, all the issues are things the Caps can and will improve on throughout the season.

Next up the Vancouver Canaucks at Verizon tomarrow night. As I'm splitting my tickets this year, if anyone has a load of grain they need to charter a ship for stop by Section 103 tommarrow night and look for my classmate Tom and his friends from Phoenix Chartering and they'll hook you up. Even though things continue at a hectic pace for me over at ICx Technologies and we are busy with program startup for the JNBCRS2 program as well as several other major program pursuits, I expect I'll somehow find the time to watch both the Canaucks Devils and Preditors games either on TV or over the net. Tom has those games since I'll be busy and not readily able to see them in person. My next live Caps game will be the one against the Carolina Hurricanes after we've all voted for our next President on November 6th. Hopefully by then, I'll have the stuff I need to do for work well under control or, like our JNBCRS Start of Work meeting the end of October, totally finished.

Can't wait to watch tomarrow's game against the Roberto Luongo led Vancouver Canaucks -


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Last Night and Looking Ahead - Tonight's Home Opener vs. Chicago;

Local Caps fans get their first firsthand look at the 2008-2009 NHL regular season Caps roster at Verizon Center on Saturday , when the Caps take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Those who watched last night's 7-4 loss to the Thrashers in the season opener in Atlanta. What happened last night, well not much that you want to see again if you're a Caps fan. That said, even with the intermittent , tentative play of the Caps were it not for a good night by Atlanta Goalie Kari Lehtonen, the game could have just as easily ended regulation play in a 7-7 tie. Truth be told, last night when the Caps were dominant, they were really dominant; unfortunately that was only about 1/2 the game - the first 10 minutes of the first period and the majority of the second period. Also, unfortunately for Caps fans during much of those 30 minutes when the Caps were "clicking" so was Lehtonen. Also unfortunately for the Caps, starting Goaltender Jose Theodore and the Caps defense didn't click much at all last night during the 29:30 time he spent in the net. When Theodore was pulled 9:30 into the second period, the Caps trailed the Bluebirds 4-2. While only one of the first three goals scored on Theodore was one he probably would have wanted back, the fourth goal a powerplay tally by Atlanta's Vyacheslav Kozlov, was basically a "softie". Following that score, Coach Bruce Boudreau called a timeout and backup Brent Johnson took over in the net. For the remainder of the second period Johnson and the Caps seemed to turn things around and the second stanza ended in a 4-4 tie. However, after the second intermission, the Thrashers returned to the ice and initially matched the Caps tempo and then ultimately exceeded it winning the final period 3-0. Lehtonen's play in the third period was flawless save the play that resulted in Alexander Ovechkin's unsuccessful penalty shot attempt at the 4:01 mark of the period.

While there were few highspot's last night in the Atlanta game there were a few. Mike Green had two power play goals in a span of less than a minute, also grabbed an assist for a three point game, logged 23:31 of ice time and was +/- even on the night. Alexander Semin and Sergei Federov also had good games. Semin had a goal, two assists for a three point night, was +1 ove 18:15 TOI and saved at least one goal last night. Federov had an assist, was even +/- in 16:44 of ice time and looked like the Hall of Famer he will be during his 2:48 of powerplay and 2:57 of penalty kill play. In fact, the only Caps who were on the positive side of the +/- ledger last night were Semin and Defenseman Shoane Morrisonn at +1; Erskine, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich, Green and Federov were even. John Erskine played a good game and looked considerably more mobile then he has earlier in his career. The Poti - Erskine pairing seems to work fairly well. The Caps outshot Atlanta 43 - 31, which means Lehtonen's save percentage was 90.7% while Theodore & Johnson combined for a save percentage of a woeful 77.4%. Johnson's actual save percentage on the night was 78.6% while Theodore's was 76.5%. So Neither Johnson nor Theodore had anywhere near their best nights, but two other issues were Goalie - Defense communications; and the play of the defense, all of Atlanta's goals were basically scored down low and five of the seven were scored from the low slot.

For Washington superstar Alexander Ovechkin, who logged 23:02 of ice time, had six shots, 1 hit, but was held to no points, the night had to be a disappointment; especially in light of his usual production against the Thrashers. That said, it seemed that the Great Eight was and is trying to make some adjustments to his game which in the long run should benefit the team overall, and ensure his future career is longer and just as productive as the beginning of it has been. The adjustment, Ovie seemed to be trying to make was looking to dish the puck off to the open man when he finds himself double-teamed rather then tucking in, bulling through the two or more opponents as he crosses the blueline and unleashing a wicked shot. Given these are often Ovie's lowest percentage shots, the team's overall productivity ought to improve as the season progresses, the passes and timing gets crisper, and the overall team execution improves.

Last night the officiating was tight, there were a total of twenty two penalties called including six fighting majors (three fights). Hopefully the officiating will loosen up a little and the referees will let guys play, many of the minor calls seemed questionable.

Looking ahead to tonight's home opener against the Chicago Blackhawk's, Caps fans can only hope the Washington team that dominated the first 10 minutes of the Thrashers game is present all night long. Like the Washington Capitals, the Blackhawks are a young, talented, energetic team, the average age of their first line is 23.33 years old. Like Caps first line center Nicklas Backstrom, their first line center is 20 year old Jonathan Toews. Toews is the Team Captain. The average age of the Blackhawks second line is also, young at 23.00 years old and includes 19 year old 2007-2008 Calder Cup (Rookie of the Year) winner, Left Wing Patrick Kane. In fact, the Blackhawks only have one forward on their current depth chart over thirty (30) years old - 4th line right wing, Craig Adams, who split last season between Carolina and Chicago, playing the last 35 games of the season with Chicago.

The heralded "match up" of the night will probably be Backstrom vs. Toews or Theodore vs. Huet. At their last meeting, March 19, 2008 in Chicago, the Blackhawks roughed up Olie Kolzig and the Caps for a 5-0 victory. That game turned out to be Kolzig's last for the Caps and Christobel Huet, who is now the Blackhawk's starter started in net for the Caps and played very well as the Caps made their run to the Southeastern Division Championship. The last time the Caps faced Huet in a regular season matchup, he wore the Montreal Canadeans' uniform and the Caps beat the Habs while Alex Ovechkin scored four goals on Huet, despite suffering a broken nose. Before playing the last two seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, current Caps starter Jose Theodore played for Montreal and lost his job to Huet. The point of all these sagas - there's lots of grist to get both teams and these central figures "up" for tonight's game. So far this season Washington and Chicago are both 0-1-0. The Blackhawks dropped their regular season opener to the New York Rangers 4-2 last night. Theodore, who will likely be in net again, is 4-6-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average versus the Blackhawks. Washington has lost three straight against Chicago since a 4-0 road win on Feb. 15, 2004. The Capitals are 0-1-1 against the Blackhawks at home since a 3-1 win on April 9, 2002. Also, for Chicago, former starter Nikolai Khabibulin may get a start in this game, having gone 8-5-0 with three ties and a 2.00 goals-against average in 20 games versus Washington. Huet is 6-2-1 with a 2.45 GAA in nine games versus the Capitals and looked less than stellar last night against New York.

Predictions (owing to blatant "homerism"): Washington 6, Atlanta 2.
Ovechkin 4 Goals as well as a Gordie Howe "hat trick" especially if Huet is in the net for Chicago. Huet thinks about what could have been all the way back to the windy city on the charter home. Theodore, another 90+% save percentage night. Okay, the Huet comment is petty and childish but hey, you don't like "me/us" why should we like you anymore, Christobel? I'm rooting for the guys who are here because they wanted to be here and many Caps fans will still be wondering and worried about Theodore, I'd like that to be able to end tonight.

Me and my formerly usual "wingman" will be in our seats at Section 103, Rockin' The Red and celebrating the raising of the 2007-2008 Southeast Division Championship banner to the rafters.

Can't wait till 7:00 PM EDT tonight.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Looking Ahead - Season Opener Caps vs. Thrashers, Friday Night in Atlanta

The Capitals open the 2008-2009 NHL regular season, on the road, in Atlanta on Friday night. The Atlanta Thrashers are somewhat a work in process particularly their blue line corps. The "bluebirds" just picked up two time All-Star 39 year old defenseman Mathieu Schneider from the Anaheim Ducks a little over a week ago who will be in their opening night lineup. At the other end of the spectrum, the Thrashers first round draft pick (3rd overall), 18 year old American, Zach Bogosian, will also start on the Thrasher's blue line in his first NHL regular season game on Friday evening. The Capitals opening night line-up card in Atlanta will be as follows:

Forward lines:

The defense should be as follwos::


The heralded "match up" of the night will be between each team's Russian sharpshooters - Alex Ovechkin for the Capitals and Ilya Kovalchuck for the Thrashers. Looking at the match ups between the two teams, Sharpshooter/Power Forward: Alexander Ovechkin vs. Ilya Kovalchuck. Ovechkin is well, Ovechkin but he may be slightly slowed by a sore groin/upper leg muscle. Kovalchuck is almost Ovechkin, having scored 52 goals last season; 42 goals in 2006-2007 and 52 goals in 2005-2206. If Ovie is slightly slowed call this battle a tie. Once you go beyond that match up, while the Thrashers do have talent up front, in the post- Marian Hossa era it doesn't match-up with Washington. On Defense, the Thrashers made some late moves in the preseason and may well have the third best defense in the Southeast conference, the top two being Florida and the Caps. In goal the match up is: Jose Theodore vs. Kari Lehtonen, you have to give this duel to Theodore and the Capitals.

The banter and divisional rivalries aside, the Caps should be able to handle the Thrashers and come back to DC for their home opener the following night 1-0. The Caps overmatch the Thrashers in all key areas, and even with a slowed Ovechkin, the Caps have the edge in 3 of 4 categories. So the Caps have the edge in 3 of 4 comparative catagories. Prediction: Washington 4, Atlanta 2.