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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!