Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blue Jackets 3, Capitals 0 - Is Turnabout Really Fair Play?

Last night was a "No Point" night for the Capitals. The just looked flat as they came into Columbus, OH, home of David Steckel's Alma Mater. Unfortunately for the Caps, while the Hershey call-ups played a fair game, they didn't play a great game, and apparently Karl Alzner injured his arm in the second period. If your counting that's an entire baseball team of folks the Caps now have that are injured, as my son used to say when he was a toddler - yuk, double. What can you say, a tired, flat team ran into a team that definitely "wanted it more" and a hot goaltender. Instead of the Caps snapping a three game road loosing streak, Columbus snapped a three game home loosing streak. Not too many Caps players had good games and nobody in a Capitals sweater had a great game. Statistically the only bright spot was David Steckel winning 12 of 17 (71%) faceoffs. Brent Johnson's 28 saves on 31 shots (0.904) was respectable, though it's probably a good bet he'd like another chance at both of Rick Nash's goals. That said, Rick Nash is one of the best in the NHL and he along with several other Blue Jackets, not the least of which were R.J. Umberger and Steve Mason, clearly brought their "A" games last night and outplayed the Capitals for the vast majority of the game.

If there is any good news about last night, it's that November has come and gone and overall, the Capitals somehow managed to string together a winning record for the month. Overall in November the Caps went 8-5-2, during what was arguably, the toughest month of their schedule. Put those 18 points on top of the Caps respectable 5-3-1 October record and the Caps finished November in first place in the Southeast Division 3 points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes with 29 points. When we were looking ahead at November a short 30 days ago the idea of an 18 point month and the Caps playing 0.600 through a month with so many tough teams on the schedule and 9 games on the road was something, we'd have thought would make us elated. It only shows how far the Caps have come since just 12 short months ago that the very same result leaves many of us Caps fans wondering what could have been. For instance, we wonder what kind of month would it have been had the Caps found ways to win the two overtime games - one against New Jersey and one against Ottawa, and how about if they had beaten the two teams we, now emboldened Caps fans, feel they should have won on the road - Los Angeles and Columbus; finally add to that the possibility of snatching a victory from the Minnesota Wild where the rally come back feel just short and the possibility of at least a 25 point month all of the sudden seems very real. Well let's all just forget the "shoulda, woulda, couldas" - the Caps are playing 0.604 hockey since the beginning of the season - that's on track for a 99/100 point season. There are definitely some things the Caps need to work on, "fer sure."

The Caps road record is a very disturbing 4-8-2 on the season. The good news - the Caps two West Coast road trips are "under their belt". The bad news - the Caps finish their season on the road with a 3 game road trip against Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Florida between April 7th and 11th; the Caps also have one more 5 game road trip between now and the end of the season - March 16th - 24th, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Toronto. While the Caps need to get things turned around when it comes to figuring out how to be road warriors, arguably they have been the toughest team in the league in their own building so far this season with a 9-0-1 record through November 30th. Another piece of good news between now and the end of the season the Caps have 4 more home games then road games.

Over the past two months the Caps haven't done well on the second night of back to back games. Their record on the second night of back to back games so far this season is: 1-2-1. That's the bad news. The good news? The Caps only have 7 more games this season that are second games of back to back games. Of those 7 games, while 6 are away games, all are against Eastern Conference opponents; so far this season the Caps are 8-2-3 against Eastern Conference opponents. The Caps haven't fared as well against Western Conference foes where so far this season they have a 5-6-0 record. Of course so far this season 8 of those 11 games against Western Conference opponents have been on the road; also three of the 11 games were on the second night of games on back to back nights and yielded results of 1-2-0.

Looking ahead, the Caps have 13 games in December. Of those 13 games 12 are against Eastern Conference opponents; 7 are away games and 6 are home games. Only 4 of the 13 games are played on back to back nights; Toronto & Carolina both away on the 5th and 6th, and Ottawa at home on the 12th followed by Montreal away on the 13th. Once the Caps complete the game in Montreal on the 13th, they don't have another back to back game until January 9th and 10th. Also from this point forward, the Caps don't have another extended road trip until that previously mentioned five game road swing in March. That's good news.

The only really bad news in the near term schedule for the Capitals comes because of their injury situation. The Caps don't have any extended rests (longer than 3 days) from now until the third and fourth week of January. That's not great news with five injured defensemen and a total of nine top notch players down. Because of the injury situation, it might be way too early to start looking at and defining make or break moments when looking back to the first two months. The current situations with Mike Green, Tom Poti, Alexander Semin and Sergei Federov could cause Caps fans to have to bite their nails all the way until their January 27th game at Boston. Of course that is so far off in the future, the Caps players, organization and fans will all just have to take it all, one day and one game at a time. Next up will be the first game of December - Tuesday Night, we'll all be "Rockin' the Red", at the Verizon Center, when the Caps take on the Florida Panthers. The game is the Versus game of the week, so it's blacked out and there is no reason for the game NOT to be a sell out.

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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Catching Up - The Last 86 Hours, 2 Caps Victories & 2 Movies - 1 Awesome

Well fellow bloggers and folks who for some reason or another find my musings worth reading, this past week was one spent mainly with family either traveling to and from meeting with other family members in Myrtle Beach, SC or being together with them there.

This week's adventures started when I spent this past Tuesday morning at the local middle school as a Prince William County Department of Education "Resource Speaker" for Career Day. It's something I've participated in three years running and always interesting. Over the course of the morning six groups of middle school students come to a table and "interview" me. As in the past they start with a prepared list of 10-15 questions (this year it was 15) that they later have to turn in for a classroom assignment or extra credit I assume. The 15 questions are ones you'd expect - 1) How did I get into the field? (I do "Engineer"). 2) What special training or education do you need to get into the field? 3) Are there opportunities for advancement? 4) What's a typical day like? 5)How much do people in the field usually make? 6) What do you have to wear to work? 7)Do you have to travel outside the area? 8)Do you commute to work? Etc. If you keep them on track you also have time to let them ask other questions that they really want to ask and this is where the real fun begins. Besides the usual one that you get at least every other group - Do I have a son or daughter that goes to their school or a nearby middle school? (No our only son graduated from Battlefield High last year and is in college.) there are a couple that they usually ask like "What kind of engineer are you and how is that different from other engineers or the type of engineer i think I want to become? (From those really into it.) This year the first 5 groups I had were filled with 6 in each group except the last group in which I had 4, so that's 34 8th graders with some interest in possibly becoming engineers, not bad my understanding is that's about 15% of the class. That was the good news, the bad news only one of the 34 was female. The woman at the other end of the gym for "modeling" sold out - all females. I guess I'm wondering what things would have been like for me if I had been in spot at the middle of the gym and at the end opposite the "modeling lady" had been a guy with a sign "professional athlete"? I'm betting he'd have been a lot bigger draw then the Prince William County Prosecutor who was there. Oh well, we in the technology industries just need a LOT more shows like CSI and NUMBERS on prime time and those that fell like me need to do a better job of explaining why we enjoy our careers and find them rewarding. It's something that companies like ours at ICx Technologies need to do more of and I'm thankful that ours is an enlightened company that encourages us to do this time of outreach and community service. My last question to them - What are you doing for Thanksgiving? - anecdotally, over 80% traveling locally or regionally to spend it with family, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Tuesday night I picked my son up at Union Station and Wednesday we spent the majority of the day driving down to Myrtle Beach. I did enjoy watching the last 1/2 of the third period of the Hurricanes 3-1 home loss to the Flyers before calling it a relatively early night. Of course I was very pleased to see the Caps beat Atlanta on the Hurricane's post game show. Thanksgiving Day our family has a number of customs and traditions that are related to going out to an early dinner and then spending the afternoon together doing something. This year we went to a movie together - "The Four Christmases" - apropos and funny - at Broadway On The Beach, I'd go again but that's not the awesome one. Later that evening my son and I returned to Broadway At the Beach's IMAX theater and saw "The Dark Knight" in an IMAX (2D) Theater with a great sound system. It was as they say, totally worth the $16.00 price of admission and I wish they'd make more real movies like this in IMAX and show them in the few IMAX Theaters around DC. How about a "Miracle" or "Slapshot" remake in IMAX - that'd get the hockey crowd out I'd bet. Then yesterday, once again the day spent traveling back home. As much as I hate to admit it, now that we don't see our son much since he's at school most of the time, being locked up together in the car for 5-8 hours isn't so bad. We always seem to have plenty to catch up on.

Well now, "How about 'dem Caps?" What a difference a week makes. The call-ups have now played two home games and the Caps held there own. Tonight the Caps travel to Columbus, OH to take on the 9-10-3 Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are led by their sharpshooter Rick Nash but have dropped three straight at home. The Caps have lost their last three road games though against teams that are all arguably (at least in Los Angeles' case) stronger then the Blue Jackets. The Caps will likely once again field a team that has at least 5 names on the ice that weren't part of the opening night roster due to injuries. The big questions in this blogger's mind are: 1) who will start in goal, will Jose Theodore who was "lights out" awesome last night want and get the start or will it be Brent "Johnnie" Johnson who has also been "pretty darn good" so far this season too? and 2) will either Mike Green, Tom Poti, Sergei Federov or Alexander Semin make it back to the lineup tonight, and if Federov makes it back will he play "D" or Center? Interestingly, if the Caps win tonight in Columbus, they will have captured 20 of 30 available standings points in the month of November. That's 0.667 hockey, in spite of being almost snake bitten on their most grueling road trip of the year and playing 8 of 15 games against teams that were playoff teams last season. They've also gone 7-1-2 against Eastern Conference Teams during the month. They remain on pace for a 104 point season, despite a spate of injuries that at least from this vantage point appears "second to none" in the NHL so far this season. Ending the month with a win in Columbus, especially if it's accompanied by Anaheim beating Carolina at RBC Center tonight, would be a great way to celebrate Bruce Boudreau's first "anniversary weekend" at the Caps' helm. Heck while we're at it let's root for the Devil's to win their sixth straight without Martin Brodeur when they face the Pens at the Igloo tonight as well.

Given that the injuries now will add some additional suspense to the December schedule as the Caps continue their quest for dominance in the Southeastern Division, and a run at potentially winning the Eastern Conference as well; starting the month tied with the Penguins for second in the Conference and 5 points ahead of the Hurricanes in the Division sounds great to me. Of course to make that happen, once again tonight the Caps have to stick to their system and get some solid play and secondary scoring from the third and fourth liners. The system and the relentless forechecking will be needed to tie up Rick Nash, "young gun" Derick Brassard, Jason Chimera, R.J. Umberger, and Kristian Huselius in the neutral zone, just like the Caps did last night to the Canadeans. Then to win the game the Caps should look for a team effort to put three or more pucks to the back of the net, again just like last night. I'll be "Rockin' the Red" from the settee in Bristow, VA. How about "y'all"?

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

Friday, November 28, 2008

Caps 3 - Habs 0 .... YES!!!! .....

To start with I only caught the last 10 minute of the third period after driving home to Bristow, VA from Myrtle Beach, SC today. However it was a great 10 minutes to watch, seeing Jose Theodore get his first shutout as a Washington Capital. I've now spent a short while catching up on reading other blogs and looking at the stats from the game. What follows in order are my most interesting stats to note.

#1 Most interesting statistic: Caps ice time leader? -Defenseman, Milan Jurcina, 23:39.
#2 Most interesting statistic: Caps hit leaders 1 & 2? - #1 Ovechkin - 8 hits; # 2 - Jurcina -3 hits.
#3 Most interesting statistic: Jose Theodore - 28 saves.

More tomorrow morning.

Next up - Columbus in Columbus.

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bettman's Gimmick - On the Rise and Having Too Much Impact on the Standings

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Through the games completed on or before Tuesday Night (11/25) NHL games, there had been 80 games decided in either overtime or the shootout so far this year. That's 80 of 308 games or just shy of 26% of all NHL games to date this season. With the increasing parity in the NHL today due to the salary cap, more games are being decided using the new "3 point game rule," that is that in a game that isn't decided in regulation time three points are awarded 2 to the "winner" and 1 to the "loser." That means so far this season their are 13% more standings points in the "point pool" then there otherwise would be in all games ended in regulation.

Before the advent of the of this post lockout rule changes, since by conventional wisdom we Americans don't like ties (I guess we're all like Donavan McNabb?), a game that ended in a tie in regulation time was indeed a tie and the two teams basically split the available points. Conventional wisdom today by most who follow this situation seems to be that it is the loser who is getting "the extra point." Being a "purist" - self proclaimed purist that is - I maintain that since in the "good ole' days each team got a point when the third period buzzer sounded and the score was tied, it is the "winner" who is getting the extra point, and in effect winners in regulation are penalized over time since there is nothing better about winning in regulation then winning in extended play. I further maintain that these extra standings points are, in part, why at this juncture of the season twice as many teams are on track to amass more than 100 points this year (10 teams) then last season (5 teams).

As such, my suggestions is that ALL games be worth 3 points, winners in regulation getting all 3, and when a game goes into extended play the two teams split the points, 2 to the winner and 1 to the loser. I also believe losers in regulation should still get no (as in Zero) points despite all discussions about potentially helping the 5 teams with the worst NHL records with some sort of 1.4 trillion point bailout between now and the end of this season.

What do you think? Write Gary Bettman Now and tell him you are for the universal implementation of the 3 point game if you agree!


Time to "Rock the Red" and pound some "Bluebird" tail.....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A "Look Ahead" at Tonight's Matchup Between The Capitals & The Thrashers

The big story about tonight's match up between the Southeast Division First Place (Washington Capitals) and last place (Atlanta Thrashers) will be injuries and who the Capitals end up dressing and playing. A couple of sidelines in order of impact to the potential outcome will be four sidelines. 1) The goaltending "matchup" between the netminder at both end of the ice - neither team has a netminder right now who has been anywhere near a "Berlin Wall" over the past several games. 2) The "Ovechkin vs. Kovalchuk" scoring duel - not near the drama of the growing epic Washington sharpshooters vs. Penguin sharpshooter rivalries but it is known that both are big game players who "get up" when they play opposing stars, especially of Russian descent. 3) The motivation the Caps must inherently feel to return the favor of the opening night drubbing Atlanta gave the Caps at Philips Center, the last time these two met. 4) Lastly, the fact that just shy of the first anniversary of Bruce Boudreau taking the reigns as Caps' coach, they are seeking to end longest losing streak at three consecutive games, and to keep their home ice streak of no losses in regulation alive.

Any more detailed look at or analysis of the match up is currently muddied and complicated by the Caps injury situation and lack of clear understanding on who will really suit up. Tune in to see just how many Hershey Bears end up making the drive from Hershey today or have already made it that we don't know of right now. I'll be "Rockin' the Red" while driving to Myrtle Beach to spend the holidays with relatives and for the first time this season neither my partner Tom or I are using our seats - compared to last season that's quite a great statement for me to make 1/4 of the way through the season. However, I'm sure Tom gave them to a worthy, nice person so here's to hoping they are Caps Fans and they are happy when the third period buzzer sounds.

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Looks Like Two As Yet Unamed Players Will Be Called Up From Hershey

This recently posted on the South Carolina Stingrays' site: "Lacroix and Pokaluk Reassigned to Hershey." My guess is that means the Caps will recall Sami Lepisto or Karl Alzner and either Chris Bourque, Oscar Osala or Quintin Laing from Hershey...but nothing is as yet posted on either the Capitals or Bears websites. My bet is it's Lepisto and Bourque. What's your guess?

Bruised & Battered, Caps Return To DC For Next Two Games

Well assuming you are reading this because you are an avid Washington Capitals fan, it's likely you already know: a) the Caps now have as many at least eight players on their roster who are injured and working to return to the roster: 1) Sergei Federov, 2) Mike Green, 3) Alexander Semin, 4) Chris Clark, 5) Jeff Schultz, 6) John Erskine, 7) Chris Clark, 8) Boyd Gordon and 9) Brian Pothier; and b) only six Caps have not missed games this season due to injury: 1) Alex Ovechkin (who missed a couple to travel to Russia for personal reasons), 2) Nicklas Backstrom (who played several games at the start of the season nursing an injury from the pre-season, 3) Tomas Fleaischmann, 4) Brooks Laich, 5) Milan Jurcina, 6) Matt Bradley. The recent five game road swing, perhaps the most grueling road trip of this year's schedule behind them, the Caps find themselves i) juggling their roster to deal with the injures to: a) one of their best forwards who is their current leading goal scorer, b) three top four defenseman, c) potentially their Captain, and d) arguably their most versatile player - a future hall of famer, and e) yet one other defenseman and one of the solid defensive grinder forwards ii) still off to their best start and in first place in their division.

While looking ahead at the start of this month's schedule it appeared November was probably the most important gauge that would for tell how the Caps' 2008-2009 season would go, it can probably now be said that because of the injury situation, as the end of November approaches, that "make or break" period has to be extended through the next 17 games through the end of December as well. In particular, between today and December 13th (a 19 day period) the Caps have another 10 games. Of the 17 games between now and December 31st, 15 are against Eastern Conference opponents of which 3 are against Southeast Division rivals. To be sure, both the Southeast Division opponents and the Caps' traditional rivals will look to these games to capture some standings points against the injury depleted Capitals. It is probably for that reason, that the character the Caps showed in trying to come back and capture a win against Minnesota last night after going down 4-0, is so important.

Once again Coach Bruce Boudreau's familiarity with the Capitals' player development pipeline, and the fact that the Hershey Bears, under Coach Bob Woods, play the same system as Boudreau's Capitals will need to be relayed on to make up for the holes in "the big club's roster." Will it be enough? Who really knows? We won't be able to tell until much until mid-December has come and gone. Further complicating putting solutions in place to address the challenges injuries create for the Caps over the next four weeks are two things: i) the current lack of salary Cap space the Caps have and b) the CBA requirements which mean that once a player plays 10 games on an NHL team's roster, he has to clear waivers to be put back down onto a club's AHL associates' roster. What's that mean? Well in the likely event the Caps call up someone like Sami Lepisto or Karl Alzner up to fill in for Jeff Schultz over his projected 4+ week period on injured reserve, who ever they decide to send down to Hershey to make Cap room for Schultz when he returns will have to clear waivers. Right now it's very possible that any of the Caps likely choices for that trip could get picked up by another NHL team. All three of the development pipeline players: Tyler Sloan, Sami Lepisto and Karl Alzner, as well as the Caps third defensive pair of John Erskine and Milan Jurcina all have various attributes that could easily make them appealing to other NHL clubs. [ed note: I stand by that comment despite what some others might be saying about Erskine and Jurcina, at times.]

As far potential back fills for any required call ups in the ranks of forwards, once again the Caps could face the same situation, loosing a good player in the pipeline when they need to send him back down to Hershey. Even if say, Quintin Laing is recalled to back fill for Boyd Gordon, just because he cleared waivers at the start of the season, doesn't mean he would again. Such would be especially true, assuming he once again makes the best of the opportunity to shine again on the NHL stage, like he did last season. As for the current sharpshooters in Hershey who are lighting the red lights behind their AHL opponents goals with regularity lately, the likelihood of one of them getting picked up as they need to clear waivers is probably even higher. What does that all mean - it probably means that Caps' manager George McPhee and Coach Boudreau will make even more moves then they might otherwise shuttling some additional players back and forth between Giant Center and KCI then they might otherwise to make sure they don't subject some of those prospects to the risk of being claimed by others off the waiver wire.

So if any of us are lamenting the pressures and problems we have to deal with in our day jobs, we'd do well to appreciate the pressures and challenges that McPhee and Boudreau will be dealing with over the next 36 days. Add the fact that they have to do what they do under the glare of media and being routinely challenged by professional journalists, TV analysts and commentators and numerous bloggers and fans and if you're like me you're glad that you don't have their day jobs. Final thoughts: 1) as Capitals fans aren't you glad that from what we all could tell, by and large the Caps came into the start of the season in much better physical condition this year then last? Sure seems like they figured out they weren't going to "sneak up" on anybody this year and lots of teams would be gunning for them, especially on the road. And. 2) If you felt strongly that Bruce Boudreau deserved the jack Adams Trophy last season, what will you think if the Caps stay on track for 104+ points this season over the next 30 days?

Next up Division foe Atlanta Thrashers, tomorrow night at Verizon Center. I'll be driving to Myrtle Beach to spend the holiday with family for at least the first and probably second periods. But, I swear I'll be "Rockin' the Red" in my Caps Sweater while I do so.

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

Caps Rally But It's Too Little Too Late: Wild 4, Caps 3

The summary first: it was a no point night and very frustrating in the first two periods. The officiating was off the charts --- bad (and not the slang bad where bad is good but the bad, bad where bad is awful.) The first two periods were not fun to watch for Caps fans, the Caps took 4 minor penalties and the Wild took two. The Caps failed to sore on their two power play attempts in the first two periods and the Wild scored on one of their 4 power plays in the first two periods. In the first period the shots on goal were Caps 11, Wild 9. In the second period mainly because of the man advantages the Wild had, the shots on goal were Caps 6, Wild 17. At the end of two given the lopsided shots on goal and the amount of power play minutes, Minnesota had, Caps fans had to be pleased their team was only down 2-0 on the scoreboard. Minnesota fans had to be happy that both goals were scored by feel-good story, almost rookie, Cal Clutterbuck, his first and second career NHL goals.

At the end of two periods the Caps were down by a score of 2-0 AND they were "down" two more players: Boyd Gordon and Jeff Schultz. Schultz reportedly (per Tarik) has a broken finger; the reason that Boyd Gordon wasn't seen after the first period is as yet undisclosed. Hopefully at some point this season, the Caps will have a night where more players return to the line-up then are placed on the injured list; and that's just a quantity statement, as far as quality of those OUT of the line up..."Don't get me started..."

The third period was really two stories - the first ten minutes and the second ten minutes. The main story of the first ten minutes was the not one, but two "closing the hand on the puck penalties" the Caps received in a period of less than 30 seconds. First Tom Poti and then Alexander Ovechkin, both of which appeared "questionable" and gave Minnesota the chance to go up 3-0 on a power play goal (Minnesota's second of the game) by Marek Zidlicky. Then 20 year old Center James Sheppard scores his first goal of the season to put the Wild up 4-0 right after the Versus network talks to his father and sister in the stands, at 7:17. Finally, the Caps start to try and respond about midway through the period and then at about 14:30, Eric Fehr looks like the first round draft pick he is (2003 1/18) when he "bulls" his way down the left side boards and the Caps exert a bunch of pressure on Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom and Matt Bradley gets "an ugly, hockey players goal" at 14:43 to make it 4 -1. Just 1:27 later, Alexander Ovechkin scores his first goal against the Wild, assisted by Fleischmann and Jurcina to make it 4-2 at 16:07. Then at 17:13 Marek Zidliky gets a hooking penalty, here we go again it's time for the "Cardiac Kids." During the ensuing power play the Caps exert tons of pressure until Nicklas Backstrom, the 21 year old Center from Sweden scores on his namesake the 30 year old goalie from Finland, at 18:16 - Score Caps 3, Wild 4 with 1:44 left to play. The Caps had several trys at 6 on 5 with goalie Jose Theodore pulled and on the bench but to no avail, at the end of regulation the Wild were still up by one goal.

Oh well, better luck next time for our guys.....we showed we can play with heart at the end of the game with a shortened roster. Next up Atlanta, Wednsday night at Verizon; my ticket partner Tom has the ticket but I think he gave them away as both of us will be traveling to spend Thanksgiving with family the following day. I hate to miss the game as does he, but I'm sure there will be a good crowd to welcome the Caps back from this grueling road trip.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sharks Sink Caps 7 - 2; Penn State to Rose Bowl...

Wow...that hurt, watching the Caps - Sharks game that was. That obvious statement out of the way, one has to ask why? Not a wailing "why? ... why? ... why?" but a simple, detached unemotional why?

For recaps of the game please wander over and take a look at "A View From The Cheap Seats", "Tarik's recaps and notes both in the online edition of the post and his blog "Capitals Insider" (note Tarik and I both get "D's" for unoriginal titles to our posts), Peerless has a nice view of the night's events, and to some extent last and least, the online edition of the Times . Since Corey Masesik, the usual Caps beat writer, didn't make the road trip, it's an AP syndicated article that includes the delicately turned line "Marc-Edourad Vlasic and Devin Setoguchi also added a goal and an assist as the Sharks found their legs in plenty of time to finish the Capitals, who haven't beaten San Jose this century". While none paint a great picture of the game if your a Washington Capital player, coach, management or fan, the AP Syndicated Article by Greg Beacham, an AP sportswriter who routinely covers the Sharks as part of his beat in the SF Bay Area, is very good, even though it really hurts to read if you're a Caps fan. That said, the Washington Times gets a D- for their coverage of the road trip so far, great to know they are looking to increase their subscription base by trying to leverage the DC area's increased interest in the Capitals and hockey. Ask yourself when was the last time the Times didn't send a sportswriter to a Redskins away game to cover it firsthand, let alone four in a row, to save money. Isn't the Times the conservative newspaper in DC, management must have forgotten that Sarah Palin is a "hockey mom". [ed note: Sorry for that rant, but with since I didn't think the Caps need me to get down on them after the last two games - enough of that going around - I figured I'd vent about something that has been bugging me that I truly do not understand.]

The last two games have not seen the Caps outshine their opponents in many, if any category. There have been a few occasional glimpses of what could have been and despite giving up 12 goals in the last two games, most agree, the primary issue has not been goaltending. Certainly as Caps Chick noted "It seemed like every Caps defensemen put the puck in their own net tonight, starting with Morrisonn’s own-goal and continuing on down the line with deflections galore." So what really has happened these past two games, well as Coach Boudreau said after last night's loss, as was reported by Tarik: "The biggest thing you need when you are down a few players," he said. "You need your best players to be your best players. And I didn't think our best players were our best players tonight." While last night that seemed to be focused on the top 3 or 4 forwards, another point is that the Caps only had one of their top three defenseman, Tom Poti, in the lineup last night and it showed. As the current league standings show, the Caps are a top 10 team. However, when they take on other members of the NHL's top echelon, they really need at least two of their top three defensemen: Mike Green, Tom Poti, and Brian Pothier (remember him) in the line-up. Also, as much is being made in the blogsphere about the coming of the savior that will be Karl Alzner, this writer doesn't share the view that he is the answer, at this time. There are not that many Drew Doughty caliber guys out there, guys who can step into the NHL and log 20 minutes or so as a 19 or 20 year old defenseman. Right now, Caps fans and management should take the "gift" that has been Tyler Sloan, a 27 year old salary cap friendly rookie who has been playing solid hockey and not looking "out of his league" in anyway, and be happy. As one might expect in last night's game, Tom Poti was the only Caps player to finish with a positive +/- rating at +1. The Sharks' on the other hand had only two players on the minus side, defensemen Douglas Murray and Christian Erhoff, at -1. In the 4:54 and 6 shifts he played before leaving the game with a recurrence of his ankle injury, Sergei Fedrov won 4 of the 5 faceoffs he contested. Brooks Laich also had a solid night in the faceoff circle winning 6 of 10. Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich led the Caps in hits, per the official stats, OV with 10 and Laich with 7. Though if Ovechkin had 10 actual hits, many could see them all, and several were ill timed.

What needs to be different? Coach Boudreau aid it during last night's pregame comments. The Caps need to tighten things up and play "Caps Hockey." To do that, when the puck is in their own end, they need the Defense to step up and push the play to the sideboards and keep the front of the net clear in a way that is legal in "the new NHL." Also, the forwards to step up and take control of the play in the neutral and/or opponents zone. Forechecking relentlessly, like they have when they've won this season and like they did at the end of last season. Finally, even though several of the 6 first shot goals have not been the Goaltenders "faults", they need Theodore and Johnson, to find a way, no matter what to stop the first 3-5 shots they face, every night. To do those things when they face the current other top 10 teams in the league, they need two top defensemen and with Pothier out on LTIR, that means between Poti, Green and ... wait for it ... Federov, the Caps need two of them in the game time roster and on their games.

Maybe this article could/should be called "Yet another reason/voice to trade Michael Nylander." Nylander has played better these past two games and after solid defense the next thing a team needs most for a deep playoff run is depth at center, but his current salary and style of play v. the Bruce Boudreau system make him the best option for trading for another solid defenseman and possibly freeing up some cap space. Nylander's recent play makes the thought of "dealing him" harder to fathom, especially when you consider his No Movement Clause, age and the other implication he has to whoever might pick him up under the current NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Also what moving Nylander this year means for the Capitals next season if Federov decides not to play another season, or the Caps decide they don't want him back because of something unforeseeable at this time is hard to forecast. However, assuming the Capitals keep wanting to play their current system, and why wouldn't they even with these two recent losses they are off to their best season start in a long, long time, if not ever, a strong center who plays more "North-South" than Nyls (read more like Federov) is what the Caps will probably really want. Oh well, let the trade rumours continue.

Here's this blogger's top 10 reasons the Caps and Caps fans should just shake these past two games off and look forward to tomorrow night's game on Versus between the Wild and the Caps.

10) Caps and Wild fans will get to hear how great Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are and highlights of their last five or six games from the Gary Bettman "We Love the Penguins PR Machine" at NHL Headquarters and the Versus Network, at least 10 times in the course of the game. Something we all love since we don't have any elite offensive players on our own favorite teams - NOT.

9) There will be 18,568 reasons why the Caps Players will want to win Xcel Energy Center tomorrow night. But hey, the "real" Minnesota NHL team plays in ... Dallas ... go figure.

8) The Wild are coming off a 2-1 home loss to the Saint Louis Blues last night and hey, if a team named "The Blues" can do it why can't "The Capitals". In other words at least unlike at LA or San Jose the Caps are NOT facing a team with four (4) days rest.

7) The Wild have a really "dweeby" a) Team Name and b) Team Logo; even weirder than the Capitals name or any of their logos, ever. So the Caps can win, and look and sound good doing it.

6) As noted by one of the Wild fan's blogs Minnesota Team Owner Craig Leopold and "Family Guy" Peter Griffen were indeed separated at birth. Since Cap's majority owner Ted Leonsis wasn't separated by birth from anything and the Wild are actually owned by a cartoon character, this game shouldn't be a problem for the Caps at all. Okay, maybe not true but hey this is a Caps centric blog.

5) Russia always beats Finland and Eastern Europe at the World Chess Championship, so too in Hockey. Or more succinctly for/from Caps fans, "Our Europeans are better than your Europeans, Wild... so just give up okay?"

4) Alexander Semin is projected as 50/50 to play the game, assuming he returns and the top line responds to the coach's exhortations after the last two games, against those teams who shall not be named any further in this post, respond the Caps should score at three and probably four goals, a total the Wild have seldom exceeded this season.

3) Mike Green is projected as a 60/40 to play the game, assuming he returns to the lineup, that's two of the Caps top three defenseman in the lineup.

2) After today's Hurricanes - Predators game, the Caps could be playing to regain first place in the Southeast Division - how's that for motivation.

1) Even after the past two road losses in Los Angeles and San Jose, if the Capitals win, they will have captured 5 of 10 possible standings points (0.500 hockey) during what could easily be viewed as their toughest road trip of the year. They will also still be 7-3-2 for November going into a 3 game Thanksgiving Holiday "extended weekend." As Coach Boudreau said, let's just get back to playing capitals hockey.

Well that about sums it all up for the Caps. I guess it was too much to ask for - a great win over Michigan State by Penn State to go to the Rose Bowl AND a Caps win against the Sharks in San Jose on the same day. For the Caps that was two bad games, and no good anniversary gift for Coach Bruce Boudreau last night. Lots of lessons learned, or reinforced, like good things happen to those who go to the net and shot the puck, even when it's the other team. Time to move on.

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Contemplating Tonight's Caps - Sharks Game

For a good look ahead with analysis on tonight's match up please go over the Peerless's blog, here. Since this is a late post, probably because I was catching up on the sleep I lost watching the Ducks' and Kings' games against the Caps earlier in the week, I'll just be "throwing my two cents in on what you've probably already read elsewhere. That being said, tonight's game will be a tough one. I know that's hard to figure out since the Sharks are leading the league and have their number 1 goalie back in the net. According to Tarik, the Caps got the day off yesterday to rest, and like almost everyone else who watched the Kings game, I think that was probably a good idea. Also according to Tarik, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel and both Sergei Federov and Mike Green returning to the line-up are possibilities tonight. Though it looks like Alender Semin is still out. On Green's status this is what's in Tarik's blog from yesterday: As far Green's injury, the Caps feared the worst yesterday. But his MRI came back negative and today he's feeling "a lot better." "I'm not ruling him out of anything," Boudreau said. "At the same time, we're going to make sure he's ready to play before we put him back in." (That last remark is a bit of a Yogi Bera, isn't it, Coach?) That has to be great news, as does the possibility of Federov coming back into the lineup. "Feds", "Game Over", and the "Russian Wizard" (I'm still searching for a good nickname for Alexander Semin - how's that one sound, I kind of like it...) account for 24 of the 64 goals the Capitals have potted to date. Getting at least two of the three back will help take some pressure off of Backstrom, Ovechkin, Fleischmann (who is having that breakout year we've been waiting for) and Laich.

A few other things to note...
1) This season so far the Caps are getting secondary scoring. Something the Caps will need to continue to do, if they are to win tonight. To date 16 Caps have scored 1 or more goals this season, and 12 Caps have two or more goals on the season.

2) Tyler Sloan has now played in 11 NHL games, one more than the current NHL CBA specifies so that he will need to clear waivers if he is to be sent back to Hershey. Given his salary cap friendly price and the numbers he's been posting, he may not see Hershey ever again, one way or the other. Personally, I hope he stays here in DC for the rest of the season. He has played very well for an undrafted rookie and has not made many rookie mistakes at all. His numbers are very solid, both from a defensive perspective and from a perspective of supporting the offense when needed.

3) To win tonight, the Caps have to come out ready to play and play both well and hard for all sixty minutes; Jose Theodore or Brent Johnson have to have a great night in the net; and the Caps defensemen have to do a better job of keeping the low slot clear by pushing the play to the boards. For the Sharks to win, they need to tie up the Capitals, not get frustrated by the relentless forecheck the Caps are capable of, and not buy all the hype associated with their new "BlackArmor", though that last one probably won't be too hard for them to accomplish.

4) Don't bet against Alexander Ovechkin breaking his "Never scored a goal against the Sharks" streak, even though the Kings kept that in tact on Thursday evening.

5) From a standings perspective, tonight's game is more important than Thursday night's was for the Caps. They are now just one point ahead of Carolina, the Caps have a game in hand. The Hurricanes are idle today but play the Nashville Predators tomorrow afternoon. We've already pointed out the Caps are playing the team with the best record in the NHL tonight. The Predators are basically playing 0.500 hockey and won't be pushovers for the 'Canes, especially if Preds' goalie Dan Ellis has a good game, but it's not hard to see Carolina walking away from that game with two more points either.

6) I made my friend Pat's son very happy last week. Pat is a Shark's STH, he came to the VC for last year's Caps - Sharks matchup and invited me out to the game. For a lot of reasons both personal and professional commitments made the possibility of me going a "no-go." Pat's son is ecstatic as he now gets a chance to see Alexander Ovechkin play. All I can say is it's too bad it looks like he won't also get to see Alexander Semin play too, and I hope he enjoys the game but that his father doesn't finish the night in too good a mood, since I'm hoping at the end of the night BlackArmor is 0-1-0 and the Sharks have their first home loss in regulation this season. Let's all hope the Caps team gets together, decides to win this one as an "anniversary gift" to Coach Boudreau, and just plays phenomenal hockey "ALL NIGHT LONG". Cmon guys "You Can Do It!"

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Injury Depleted Caps Outplayed By Kings, Lose 5 - 2

Last night's game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center was a ZERO, NADA, NO point night for the Washington Capitals. The Caps were beaten by solid play and hard work by the Los Angeles However, a large part of the story was who did NOT play on "Russian Heritage Night due to injuries for the Capitals: Brian Pothier; Sergei Federov; Alexander Semin; and Mike Green. So two of Washington's three Russian stars were on the sidelines tonight, as was their star Defenseman; and they were playing for the second night in a row - they were indeed vulnerable. How things would play out with the once again slightly shuffled defensive pairings was a question before the game started. The Caps lineup for the game looked like this:

Poti - Sloan
Schultz - Morrisonn
Erskine - Jurcina

The Line-up for the Kings was:

O' Sullivan - Kopitar - Brown
Frolov - Stoll - Moller
Calder - Handzus - Simmonds
Ivanans - Boyle - Zeiler
O'Donnell - Doughty
Greene- Quincey
Preissing - Gauthier


Both teams seemed to start the game playing tentatively. In the first 8 minutes of the game the Kings out shot the Caps 5-3. At 13:58 into the period, Kings rookie defenseman, Drew Doughty put a slap shot on net that was deflected by Alex Ovechkin's stick, when he tried to block it, by Brent Johnson to put the Kings up 1 -0. At the 16:29 mark the Caps went on the power play when Brian Boyle hooked Dave Steckel. Up to that point the Kings had been outplaying and out shooting the Caps (12-2). The Kings penalty kill unit just did a great job collapsing in front of Ersberg and disrupting the Caps power play unit. The Caps had life at the end of the period but really never exerted much pressure on Kings goalie Erik Ersberg. At the end of one it was Kings 1 - Caps 0. The Kings had out shot the Caps 12 -3. Without Mike Green in the lineup, the Caps power play had a couple of opportunities in their two chances but never really got going in the first period. This was as much the Kings doing, with excellent penalty killing as anything else. All three of the Caps shots on Ersberg were by OV, on the power play. The Kings were just somehow able to just smother the Caps.

The second period started with both teams at even strength and the game went back and forth until 3:54 when the Caps got a 5 on 3 power play. The Caps power play got some real good play making and patience until at 4:48 Nicklas Backstrom banged home as forehand writer from a good feed by Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Ovechkin. Then the second power play unit came out and once again, as on Wednesday evening, Michael Nylander couldn't get anything going as the pivot on the 5 on 4. However, up to that point the Kings penalty kill unit did a great job and pretty much tied up any 5 on 4 power play unit the Caps put out there. The penalties ended with the score tied at 1-1. After the 5 on 3 was over, the Caps seemed to turn up the pressure for the next five minutes but the Kings were able to hold them off. Then at 10:17 Chris Clark was whistled off for Tripping Alexander Frolov. Then Dave Steckel high sticked Dustin Brown at 10:53 giving the Kings a 5 on 3 for 1:25. Somehow the Caps killed off the 5 on 3 without allowing a goal. Brooks Laich had three blocked shots over a span of 30 seconds when he played without a stick. At about the 15:30 mark, John Erskine got tangled up deep in the Kings zone and they got a breakout that exerted pressure on the Caps and Brent Johnson, while rushing back to help out Eric Fehr committed hooking penalty giving the Kings another power play. The Caps killed the penalty off and Dave Steckel found Eric Fehr out of the box but Fehr couldn't pull the trigger before he was tied up by the Kings smothering defense. Unfortunately, shortly after that Kings' defenseman Matt Greene found Patrick O'Sullivan with a nice outlet pass. O'Sullivan came down the right side and let loose a slick wrister from the center of the face off circle between Milan Jurcina's legs and past Brent Johnson to put the Kings back on top 2 - 1. At the end of the second period the shots on goal differential continued to heavily favor Los Angeles: Kings 23 SOG, Caps 9 SOG. The Caps looked a little sluggish at times and when they didn't LA either put on a "full court press" or collapsed around Erik Ersberg. At the end of two the Caps were fortunate to still be within "striking distance" of a win. Through two periods the Kings out hit the Caps 28 - 18; the Caps had 12 giveaways to the Kings 8; the Kings had 6 takeaways to the Caps 3, and finally the Kings had 12 blocked shots to the Caps 8. Through two periods the Kings had won 18 face offs and lost 16. At the end of two, it was unclear how the Caps were going to get things going their way and even try to take control of the game so they might capture even 1 point.

During the first six minutes of the third period, both teams once again tried to establish themselves as dominant. The game got a lot more physical, however neither team really took control of the game and the play continued to go back and forth. Then at about the 10:30 mark of the period the Caps kicked it up a notch with their forecheck and started creating some scoring chances. However at 12:54 Dustin Brown drew an interference penalty on Alex Ovechkin and then Brown scored a power play goal to put the Kings up 3-1 a minute later. OV was clearly upset with the call and when he left the penalty box he once again tried to plead his case to the referee; of course, it was at least 1:05 too late for that. After that the Caps responded at 15:25 when Brooks Laich got a goal on a rebound from a Michael Nylander shot. Unfortunately right after that at 15:51 Chris Clark put the puck over the glass and got a two minute delay of game penalty, though it was questionable as he had at least one foot on the blue line. The Caps killed off the penalty but ultimately gave up an empty netter to put the Kings up 4 -2 at 19:20 to Michal Handzus, and then another one at the buzzer Anze Kopitar . While the Caps were coming off a hard fought game with the Ducks on the prior night, you should take nothing away from the LA Kings, they played an excellent game and basically outplayed the Caps in virtually every statistical category. Also you have to love the quality of play and maturity that Kings rookie defenseman Drew Doughty played with all night.

All you can do after a game like that is move on and get ready for your next opponent. There were some bright spots, Brent Johnson handled 28 of 38 shots for a SV% of 0.903 in his first game back from being injured; Tyler Sloan blocked 6 shots; in the stats sheet Brooks Laich blocked 2 shots but I counted 3 and scored a solid goal to pull the Caps to within one; and Viktor Kozlov has clearly elevated his game and wants to stay on the first line even when Alexander Semin gets back in the lineup.. Next up the league leading San Jose Sharks on Saturday evening. The Sharks are 16-3-1 overall so far this season and are the only other team, besides the Capitals who are unbeaten in regulation at home this season with a record of 10-0-1. Hopefully at least one of the three - Semin, Federov, or Green - will be back in the lineup because the Caps are going to need as much firepower as they can get to beat the Sharks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Caps 6 Ducks 4; Looking Ahead To Tonight's Caps - Kings Game.

Last night was a two (2) point night for the Caps, who opened their first game of three in the "Golden State" with a win over the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center. Yes indeed, the Caps and the Ducks played a pretty wild game from start to finish. The Caps power play looked good, especially when Mike Green WAS IN the it's make up; and generally when Michael Nylander WAS NOT. One item of concern, Mike Green left the game and didn't return after a monster, high hit from Chris Pronger late in the first period. Green seemed to lose his balance as Pronger checked him behind the goal and appeared to hit his right shoulder and head on the end boards. Green only played 7 shifts and 5:11 before leaving the game. He seemed to skate away from the hit fine but looking at the replays he really banged his hip on the boards. Hopefully it won't be too serious.

The game started with a flurry. In the first period the Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the period. Then the Ducks responded and scored the next two before the period ended 3-2. Coming out of the gates, the Caps did something they had to do, make Anaheim pay for taking penalties. Washington scored on the first two powerplays the had. First at the 2:19 mark, Tomas Fleischmann tipped in a Mike Green slapshot from the point to open the scoring while the Caps had a man advantage with Brett Hedican in the box for hooking. Right after that at 2:59 Ryan Getzlaf was called for interference and the boys from DC "capitalized" another powerplay goal at 3:54 off the stick of Mike Green. The Capitals third goal was scored at even strength by Nicklas Backstrom who banged in a backhander at 7:13. Backstrom was totally setup by Vicktor Kozlov who displayed some "wicked sick" stickhandling through three Ducks and found Backtrom on the other side of the crease who beat Jonas Hiller for the third time of the night. After the Caps Third goal Ducks coach Randy Carlisle pulled Hiller and put in Jean Sebastian Giguere/ Just when it seemed the Caps might runaway with it the Ducks responded when Corey Perry emerged from traffic in front of the net and found linemate Bobby Ryan on the doorstep who got the puck past Washington goaltender Jose Theodore for an even strength score at 7:37. Then at 16:56 Ryan found Ryan Gretzlaf unencumbered in front of the net and he beat Theodroe to bring the Ducks within one at a score of 3-2. It looked like the Ducks might pull even before the period was over when at 18:53 John Erskine got his stick tangled up with Ryan Gretzlaf right in front of the referee and was whistled off for tripping, however the Caps killed off the man advantage until the period ended. Alexander Ovechkin had the secondary assist on every one of the Capitals 3 goals in the first period.

The second period started with the Ducks on the power play but the Caps killed it off. Then at 1:29 Rob Niedermayer was whistled off for slashing and the Caps powerplay once again made the Ducks pay. This time it was Alexander Ovechkin who nitched a "goal scorers" goal by capturing a bouncing puck and putting a wrist shot past J.S Giguere at the 2:43 mark. Right after Ovechkin's goal, on the next faceoff, Duck's "heaveyweight" George Parros squared off with Caps' "heaveyweight" Donald Brashear. Parros got his licks in early before "Brash" responded; overall as hockey fights go, I scored this one a draw. Then at 2:57 the Ducks tried to respond with some solid pressure but Jose Theodore robbed Bobby Ryan with a key save. At 6:06 Dave Steckel took an uncharachteristcally, well ..., dumb hooking penalty behind the Caps own net, but the Caps did a good job on the penalty kill. After that about a minute Steve Montador took a cheap shot, spearing Ovechkin after the play that went unnoticed, but was well caught by the TV cameras. The game continued to be intense with one more power play for each team that were successfully killed off until the 17:48 mark when at even strength, Matt Bradley made it 5-2 Caps. Bradley's was a solid "garbage goal" on a rebound from a Boyd Gordon shot that went off David Steckel's skate. During the next 1:30 or so after Bradley's goal, the Caps tried hard to take advantage of the chances the Ducks are gave them to no avail. Then during the final 35 seconds of the 2nd, the Ducks put on the pressure and Jose Theodore responded. First he made a good stop on Brendan Morrison (turn around slapper from about 20 feet) so that he and the Caps hold the Ducks off and went into the locker room with a three goal lead.

The third period starts with Joe Benenati announcing that Mike Green would not return for the rest of the game due to the previously describe injury. Right as the period started Theodore came up big with a great save 33 seconds into the period to hold off Kris Kunitz and the Ducks. The Ducks tried hard to get something going before the 15:00 minute mark but Theodore, Tom Poti and the rest of the Caps team held them off until at 4:22 when Scott Niedermayer put a hook on Nicklas Backstrom and was whistled off for a 2:00 rest in the sin bin. The Caps put on good pressure for the first 1:30 of the penalty then the Ducks break it up. Right as Niedermayer exited the box the Ducks had a 3 on 2 breakaway but Jose Theodore stopped them again. Thing basically continued with good back and forth hockey until at 10:06, David Steckel scored on when J.S. Giguere gave out a rebound off a long range wrist shot by Milan Jurcina, the score then went to Caps 6, Ducks 2. Once again just when you thought the Caps might run away with the game the tied turned. At 10:33 Bobby Ryan came in and just dug and dug the puck from under Theodre's pad to bring the Ducks back to 6-3, all of 24 seconds later. Theodore looked pissed, he really wanted that one back. It sure seemed like somebody on the Defense should have gotten there to hold off Ryan after he banged under Theodore's pad the second time. Then at 11:23 Ovie was called for interference when he basically went over to "set a moving pick." On that one the penalty kill could hold up, so at 12:00 Teemu Selanne made the Caps pay when Ryan Getzlaf found him on the right side of the slot, uncovered, with a whole side of the net open. Score Caps 6 - Ducks 4. Caps coach Bruce "Gabby" Boudreau then called a time out, smart move Gabby. I guess he said let's all just hold on, be calm and get this game back under control. Though Anaheim tried to put things on a track and pull even the Caps held them off. The Ducks did increase the pressure on Theodore. That was until the 14:31 mark when it almost looks like they have an extra man on the ice, wait they did have 6 skaters and a goalie out there. Chalk up minor penalty number 8 of the night for the Ducks. The powerplay didn't really click on that one, it just seemed the vast majority of the time Michael Nylander was on the power play last night, it did NOT click. More back and forth, gritty hockey ensured until the 18:49 mark. At 18:49 two more minor penalties were assessed. Chris Pronger gets 2:00 for hooking; David Steckel gets 2:00 for slashing. The excitement continued until the game ended with teams playing 4 on 4; and Giguere on the bench. Before it was over Jose Theodore had to make 2 more solid saves; which he did. Sure seemed that even though he gave up 4 goals tonight on 25 shots, JT60 once again looked in control the entire game and came up big a couple of times when he needed to. Caps win in regulation 6-4 .
The three stars of the game:
3) Viktor Kozlov (1 assist, +1, 18:38 TOI, 21 shifts, 3 shots, 1 hit, 1 takeaway)
2) Bobby Ryan (2 goals, 1 assist, +2, 16:16 TOI, 22 shifts, 5 shots, 1 hit)
1) Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 3 assists, +1, 24:03 TOI, 6 shots, 2 hits).

Now, the Caps will play their second game in as many days in Southern California this evening. Tonight, they will take on the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. The Kings finished last season with the second worst record in the league. Like Tampa Bay they only captured 71 points however they had 32 wins to Tampa Bay's 31. While this year is another rebuilding year for LA, they are on track to finish the season with at least 10 more points then last year and they have the core of a good young team forming. Think the Washington Capitals two seasons ago. They cannot be taken lightly. In 17 games so far this season they've beaten Anaheim once, Carolina once, Saint Louis twice, Dallas twice, and they took Detroit to overtime. Overall their record is 7-8-2 and while they are a year or two and a couple of players away from where the Capitals are currently in terms of franchise development, they will give the Caps a "solid run for their money" and could win this one if the Caps let up at all. So how do the match-ups look?

Forward Lines:
The Kings are led by third year pro and 2005 1st round (11th overall) draft pick Anze Kopitar. Kopitar is the pivot between veteran LW Kyle Calder and 23 year old, 4th year pro RW Dustin Brown. Based on last night's game and assuming Alexander Semin is still not back to form with his upper body injury. This line will go against the Caps first line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov. How do they compare? Well as we all know on the LW Ovechkin gets the advantage both for how he has been playing recently and because he is playing recently ON FIRE vs. Calder who has been COLD; and of course just the comparison both offensively and defensively. Calder, is an 8th year pro, whose best season ever was in Chicago in the 2005-2006 season when he played 79 games and had 26 goals, 59 points and was +/- -4. In OV's worst season, his sophomore slump in 2006-2007 he had 46 goals, 92 points and was -19 in 82 games. As all Caps fans know last year he was superhuman and over the past week he has been so once more. Kopitar had 32 goals, 77 points and was -15 in 82 games last season, however over the last three games he has been held without a point and so far this season he is +/- -5. Nicklas Backstrom has shaken off his training camp injury and slow start, has 10 points in the last 3 games and is +/- +11 for the season thus far. Last season, his third in the NHL, 24 year old Dustin Brown played 78 games, scored 33 goals and had a total of 60 points and a +/- rating of -13. This season, even though he hasn't scored a point in his last three games, he is on track for a similar season of productivity with an improved +/- rating. Viktor Kozlov is 33 years old and in his 13th NHL season. Last season he had his usual solid productive season - 16 goals, 54 points and a +/- rating of +28. He has been playing well lately and had a very good night last game as well. The first line match-up, even without Alexander Semin goes to Washington. The second line match-up is LA: Frolov-Stoll-Moller, Washington: Fleischmann-Laich-Fehr. Tomas Fleischmann vs. Alexander Frolov: The 24 year old Fleischmann is in his third NHL season; he is on track for a breakout 25+ goal season and has exhibited a complete two way game of late as well. The 26 year old Frolov is in his 5th NHL season and he is on track to match or better his 23 goal production of last season for the Kings. Brooks Laich vs. Jarret Stoll: The 25 year Laich is coming off a breakout year and has been showing that last year was no "fluke" of late. Twenty-six (26) year old Stoll, has apparently regained the form of 2005-2006 and is on track to better his best ever season; he is currently on pace to finish the year with 25 or more goals and is currently +5. Eric Fehr vs. Oscar Moller: For all intents and purposes this is a match-up of rookies, even though Fehr has already played a total of 55 NHL games over 4 seasons. Fehr is on track to have a solid season and at times during the first 17 games he has shown the skills that made him a first round draft pick (18th overall) in 2003. Moller a 19 year old Swede is already making an impact up front for LA, he has 4 goals, 4 assist and is +1 in 16 games played. The most interesting facet of the Fehr-Moller match-up to watch might be the size differential. Fehr is 6-4, 212# while Moller is 5-11, 179#. Even with these combinations the match-up is at best a draw; if Federov returns to center and Laich moves over to Right Wing, the Caps have a decided advantage. The third line match-ups of Steckel-Gordon-Bradley vs. Ivanans-Handzus-Simmonds is basically a draw or slight edge to the Caps. The fourth/energy line comparisons of Brashear-Nylander-Clark vs. O'Sullivan-Boyle-Harrold is interesting. If Nylander and Clark play to 2/3rds of their potential, even if O'Sullivan plays to his, these match ups should go hands down to the Capitals. However, for it all to come together Clark has to be the "trigger-man" and start scoring goals and that hasn't yet been the case this season. For LA the equation is simpler, O'Sullivan is the trigger-man on this line if it is to have one. Forward match ups go to Washington.

Defensive Pairings:

Let's assume it's Green/Schultz vs. O'Donnell/Doughty; though as noted by Tarik; Green was wearing a shoulder sling last night after the Ducks game. Rookie Drew Doughty is on track to have a super season and could be part of the discussion for the Calder but even at his current pace he isn't on track to have 1/4 of Mike Green's production, "Game Over" is on track for 28 goals and 38 Assists, and is currently +11. Jeff Schultz finished last season with 72 GP, 5 goals, 13 assists and +12. He is currently +5 and on track for 28 assists. Sean O'Donnell is in his 13th NHL season, last year in Anaheim he played 82 games, had 2 goals, 7 assists and was +9. This year O'Donnell is on track for 19 assists and is currently +3. This match up goes to the Capitals, but for it to go the way of the stats Schultz has to stand up more physically to the Kings' bigger forwards. This game could be a good night to give Tom Poti some rest so let's assume this match up is Morrisonn/Sloan vs. Quincy/Greene. Assuming Shaone Morrisonn is recovered and gets back to form, no one else in this foursome has the consistency that he showed for solid +/- performance on the other side's pairing. That said even as good as Tyler Sloan has been with his production of 1 goal and 1 assist in 8GP; no one else in this group is even close to on pace with Kyle Quincey with the ability to chip in on the offense. Quincey is on pace for 11 goals and 33 assists. Matt Greene appears to be a solid, stay at home defenseman in the making; however, he is the reason the Caps might have the ability to give Poti a night off. Give a slight edge in this match-up to the Kings if Coach Boudreau give Tom Poti a needed night off; though these pairings are probably all wrong and Poti will play and Green will sit out the Kings game. Erskine-Jurcina vs. Gauthier/Preissing: Since coming to LA from Ottawa as an UFA after the 2006-2007 season, Tom Preissing has not approached the form that made him a 7 goal, 31 assist, +40 performer as a Senator. Though he has 3 goals and 3 assists in 6 games, he is -7 to date, and 5 of his 6 points to date are on the Power Play. The oft maligned Milan Jurcina with one goal and -3 in 13 games to date compares fairly well to Preissing at a salary of ~$1.9M less. Thirty two (32) year old Denis Gauthier is in his 9th NHL season. Last year he played the entire season in the AHL for the Philadelphia Phantoms. His last "full" NHL season was 2006-2007 when he played 43 games for the Flyers, that year he had 4 assists and was -11. So far this season he has played 17 games, has 1 assist and is -7. Twenty eight (28) year old John Erskine is arguably having the best season of his career so far this year. Erskine, who played 51 games last year for the Caps and had 2 goals, 7 assists and was +1, is on track to play 80 games this year. He currently has 2 assists and is +3 in 15 games and looks stronger with each passing night. Advantage on this pairing goes clearly to the Capitals. Overall the defensive pairings comparison goes to the Capitals.

Goaltending: The Kings have 26 year old Swede Erik Ersberg who has played 9 games so far this season is 4-3-1 and has a GAA of 1.96 and a SV% of 0.910 and 28 year old Jason LaBarbera who is 3-5-1 in 10 games played with a GAA of 3.o1 and a SV% of 0.884. Based on last night's results and starter the Caps are likely to start Brent Johnson; though Jose Theodore played well. My guess is that Theodore will p;ay against the San Jose Sharks later this week unless Johnnie has a great game, like a shut out Slight edge in the goaltending category to the Capitals.

Intangibles go to the Kings as the Capitals are on a long road trip and played last night, where as the Kings are coming off three days rest and will be playing in front of a home ice crowd.

Overall prediction: Caps 4, Kings 2 in regulation.

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Look Ahead - Tonight's Caps vs Ducks Game In Anaheim

Well looking ahead to tonight's Caps - Ducks match-up at Honda Center in Anaheim there's some interesting contrasts. Both teams have solid records in their last 10 games; the Ducks are 6-2-2 and the Capitals are 7-1-2. However, both teams are in some ways searching for consistency. The Caps because of a spate of injuries of late, particularly to key players Alexander Semin; Sergei Federov and defenseman Shoanne Morrisonn. The Ducks, well because they have had spates of inconsistency of late. The Ducks, after starting the season strong, have lost 3 of their last 4 games including a 3-0 shutout, at home, to the Atlanta Thrashers, who are 2-5-2 on the road so far this season.

Tonight's match-ups pose some interesting challenges for the Caps. As of yesterday, it appeared Alexander Semin, though he is on this Western Conference road trip, will probably not play tonight. Further it's unclear as to who will play and who will sit on the Defense, as during Morrisonn's injury, Tyler Sloan certainly played well enough to justify consideration for a spot in a "rotation" and he has made the road trip. Also will Sergei Federov play tonight or wait until tomorrow night to return to the line-up? If Federov plays who will be the healthy scratch? After yesterday's practice, per Corey Masisak of the Washington Times, Coach Bruce Boudreau indicated Semin as doubtful, Federov as questionable, and Morrisonn as a game-time decision for tonight. Corey also indicated that the Coach had selected a goalie for tonight but that he didn't elaborate or share his decision with the Times Hockey Beat writer. Perhaps if the Times sprung to have their main hockey writer travel with the team for what could be the most important major road rip of the year with the team, the Caps coach might talk a little more to them and the readership might be a little better informed. Thankfully the Washington Post is sending their hockey beat writer to the West Coast today and he'll actually report some details from today's practice. Per Tarik El-Bashir, the Post's hockey writer, the lines and pairings in yesterdays practice at Honda Center were listed as:





Per Tarik those lines would change if Federov plays. My assumption based on those pairings and his performance in New Jersey, if Federov plays the healthy scratch is Nylander. Of course if the Caps are shopping Nyls on this road trip, I'll be wrong and the healthy scratch will likely be Gordon. Even if Nyls is the scratch will Laich or Feds be be second line pivot? Who knows, let's all just be glad the Capitals have this sort of depth and so many guys are turning things up a notch right now as far as the forward lines goal. What this means is that the Caps have lit the "red light" a total of 56 times in the 17 games (3.29 G/game) they've played so far this season, including 20 goals in the last 5 games (4.0 G/game). The Ducks have scored a total of 57 goals in 19 games so far this season (3.0 G/game), but only 13 in the last five games (2.60 G/game). However, the Caps are likely to be without their leading goal scorer, Alexander Semin, so they will again need a solid game from everyone on the forward lines like they got during the two games against New Jersey on Friday and Saturday. As for the comparisons, well right now the leading scorers for Anaheim are Center Ryan Gretzlef with 7 goals, 15 assists, 22 points, Right Wing Corey Perry with 6 goals, 14 assists 20 points, and Right Wing Teemu Selanne with 9 goals, 9 assists and 18 points. After that the scoring drops back to defenseman Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin who each have 4 goals. However if the Ducks can shut down the Caps, the Caps might have trouble keeping them below 3 goals simply because their offense is so balanced. In any case when you look at the forward lines, even with Nylander in a slump and Semin and Federov out, the advantage in this area of the game goes to the Caps.

No details on the Defense pairings other than if Morrisonn plays, the pairings will change from what we've been seeing; whatever that means. Personally I hope that means Tyler Sloan plays. It could also mean that Tom Poti gets some rest, there were some reports that he played the last Saturday's game in New Jersey with bronchitis. If Poti and Morrisonn are both once again healthy my hope for the pairings tonight are:

Green - Schultz

Poti - Sloan

Morrisonn - Erskine.

If Poti needs the rest and Morrisonn is ready then I'm for:

Green - Schultz

Morrisonn - Sloan

Erskine - Jurcina.

as Defensive Pairs. I have a lot of faith in Sloan after watching him the past two games where he logged over 21:00 TOI in both games. He looked very solid in New Jersey, and the Devils are a similar team to Anaheim, though more physical. That said whoever the Caps put out on Defense will matchup against the Ducks' pairings of:

Pronger - Hedican

Niedermayer - Festerling

Huskins - Montador.

Looking at the paring matchups and assuming the first pairing for the Caps is Green - Schultz things shape up like this. Green/Schultz have a combined +/- of +16, though you need to temper that with Schultz's mediocre Corsi rating. Pronger/Hedican have a combined +/- of +4. Green/Schultz a combined 6 goals, 12 assists. Pronger/Hedican 5 goals, 10 assists. Green/Schultz a total of 18 PIM (1:03 per game) ; Pronger/Hedican 28 PIM (1:28). Give this matchup to the Caps if Green AND Schultz bring their "A" games and only if Green looks before he rushes and Schultz plays more physically than he has in the last two entire seasons. The next pairing comparisonn has to be Poti-Sloan or Morrisonn vs. Niedermayer - Festerling or McIver. Okay breaking it down Poti vs Niedermayer; what can you say Poti is having a good year but is probably a little slowed right now getting over bronchitis and Niedermayer is the better player even though right now Poti is +/- +5 and Niedermayer is -2. Both have 2 goals. If the other guy for the Capitals is Morrisonn give them a slight edge for experience over either McIver or Festerling. If it's Sloan call the match-up a draw though I like Sloan in the matchup since he's +/- +2 and has a goal and an assist in 9 games and only 2 PIM. Comparing him statistically to either Festerling (1 Game played so far and NO STATISTICS) or McIver (10 Games Played, +1, 1 assist and 21 PIM) you'd have to like the 27 year old undrafted rookie from Calgary. Call this matchup a draw if Poti is healthy and plays well but otherwise give a slight edge to the Ducks. Call the next matchup Erskine/Jurcina vs. Huskins/Montador and here's how it looks. Erskine/Jurcina are currently a combined +/- 0 while Huskins/Montador are a combined +11; additionally Huskins finished last season playing 76 regular season games with 4 goals 15 assists and was +23. Montador played 73 games last season for the Florida Panthers and had 8 goals and 15 assists and was +1 for the year. In the 2007-2008 regular season, Erskine played 51 regular season games, had 2 goals, 7 assists and was +1; Jurcina played 75 games, had 1 goal and 8 assists and was +4 for the year. This pairing matchup goes decidedly to the Ducks. Overall give the Defensive matchups to the Ducks.

Goaltending matchups: Ducks: Jean-Sebastian Giguere - on the season 15 games played, GAA 3.12; save percentage = 0.90. Last 3 games GAA=4.51; Save percentage = 0.851. Jonas Hiller - on the season 6 games played, GAA 2.18; Save Percentage = 0.92. Last 2 games GAA= 0.62, save percentage = 0.976. Capitals: either Jose Theodore or Brent Johnson. Theodore on the season so far: 11 games played, GAA=3.11, SV%0.890; last 3 games GAA=2.20, SV%=0.924. Johnson on the season: 8 games played, GAA=2.20, SV%=0.906; last 3 games GAA=1.72, SV%=0.949. Theodore will probably get the start for the Caps given his familiarity with the Ducks and his career record of a SV% of 0.917 and a GAA of 2.72 in 10 games, AND his solid play the past three games. Even if, the hot rookie, Hiller is in goal for the Ducks, this category goes to the Capitals regardless of which of their two hot goaltenders are in the net.

Intangibles: Slight edge to Anaheim. The Caps have been off for three days and skating in Anaheim since yesterday. They are 5-1-2 so far in November. However, they are still pretty "dinged up." The Ducks will be playing at home and are 4-2-1 so far in November but 1-2-1 in their last 4. They shutout the LA Kings last game in front of a good crowd, and will likely draw 17,000+ fans to tonight's game. Assuming rookie Jonas Hiller is in goal for the Ducks, the crowd should be firmly behind their team and that will give them a little more spring in their step, as will facing the #1 and #2 NHL Stars of the Week.

Expect a physical game but if it starts to open up and be faster pace the Caps advantages up front and with the skating ability of the first D pairing give them more of an edge. Prognostication: Caps 3, Ducks 2 in regulation.

For my part, I'll be Rockin' the Red and watching the game in my den in Bristow, VA.

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So About Those 2009 NHL Playoff Races and Projections...

The NHL Season is approximately 22% over as of today. Playoff projections you say - crazy you say. Of course it is too early to project actual teams since as early as we are into the season, it's impossible to project what will happen with injuries. However, the likely minimum number of points it will take to make the playoffs in each conference can be projected based on results to date. The interesting thing to note is that salary cap parity is affecting both conferences and driving the projected magic number down slightly this year. Last season the minimum number to be 91 points in the Western Conference (the 8th place Nashville Predators) and 94 points in the Eastern Conference (3 teams Washington, Ottawa, & Boston). This season despite an increased rate and number of "3 point games", the projection for the magic number both conferences based on play to date is 87 points. Also projecting ourselves to April 2009 it's not hard to foresee a dogfight for the last three spots in each conference by five or more teams in each conference.

What does this all mean to NHL teams right now, in mid-November? It sounds cliche but as the saying goes, each point won now, especially points earned on the road could be worth 1 1/2 points in late March and early April. Why do we always hear things like that? Basically because they are true. It might be hard for Caps fans to relate after last years amazing finish to the regular season. But it's true and that's what makes the Washington Capitals run last March and April even more amazing. However, it's far better to start off well, like the Capitals have done so far this season and keep up a solid pace, than to face a do or die every game from February 1st until the end of the season. By doing so, you give your coaching staff options. Options like not having to cross your fingers and ask a 38 year old future hall of fame center come back early and play hurt. Or options like keeping a young, solid journeyman who is surprising everyone an emerging as a top 4 defenseman after toiling in the minors for seven years so you can give one of your other minute munching defenseman, a 31 year old top flight guy, who recently logged over 24:00 TOI on 36 shifts in a Shootout Loss, a little time to get over bronchitis. These options only come with continued solid play by the entire team in all facets of the game. They come because one aspect, such as goaltending, solid goaltending by both players on the roster, sometimes to the surprise of those around the league who picked this aspect of the game as the likely Caps weak spot; makes up for a dinged up and currently depleted blue line corps, or for a slow starting group of richly talented forwards and allows your team to start off the seasons first five weeks with a 10-4-3 record.

To date the Caps have captured 23 of 34 (or 0.676) available points. That alone projects as a 110 point season. Last year, the Montreal Canadeans had the best record in the Eastern Conference with 104 points and the only team with more than 110 points were the President's Trophy/Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings with 115 points. Think about this one, while it is highly unlikely the Capitals can keep up their recent 7-1-2 pace, if they did they would finish the season with, are you ready for this, 127 points. There, now if you are a Caps fan, you know how the Ottawa Senator fans felt this time last year. The morale of that story - don't get too cocky; the Senators finished the 2007-2008 season in 7th place in the Eastern Conference with 94 points and were defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The logical conclusions from these analyses and projections:
1) It's unlikely that the top 4 or 5 teams in either division will keep up the pace they are on but it's also likely that winning a division in this year's NHL will take at least 104 or 106 or even more points, no matter which division you are looking at.
2) The top teams in both conferences are all playing very, very well right now as each conference has at least 5 teams on pace to reach 100+ points. (Last season only a total of 5 teams reached that mark; this season twice as many are on track to do it.)
3) Coach Bruce Boudreau is probably smart to already be looking for opportunities to rest various players, especially those other than the "young guns" - Nylander, Poti, Federov, Kozlov, Bradley, Brashear, and Clark; and to build some confidence in the second tier group of defenseman: John Erskine, Milan Jurcina, Tyler Sloan and to a much lesser degree Jeff Schultz and Shoane Morrisonn, now so the entire team will be available, in fairly decent shape and ready for a real playoff run this spring. He'll be looking for these opportunities while working hard to keep the Caps sharp and on or above their 0.650+ pace.
4) Goaltending coach Dave Prior will be working hard to make sure both Caps goalies #1 Jose Theodore, and recent #1b Brent Johnson are both played enough to stay sharp, happy and ready for anything that comes their way the rest of the regular season and, hopefully the playoffs. Coach Prior might end up with the toughest job on the team, for all the right reasons; if Theodore and Johnson keep playing with the verve and skill they have exhibited during the first 17 games of this season.
5) General Manager George McPhee has to be looking at his options and thinking about how he might use some of the flexibility the continuing maturation of so many "home grown" talents gives him to make some salary cap room so he has some real options and flexibility again at the trade deadline. He'll be wanting that flexibility so he can use it to once again pick up some help for the final stretch run and the playoffs; since everyone knows you can't anticipate exactly what a team will need then but you know it will be something. Rumors of late have been circulating about Michael Nylander, moving Nylander has several complicating factors: a) he hasn't been playing to his potential in the last 6 or so games; b) he comes with a $5+M cap hit; c) he is 36 years old - 1 year over that 35 year old mark in the NHL CBA; and d) he has a "No Movement Clause" in his contract so he can "pick his spots." Another mitigating factor is that when he is "on his game" Nylander is very good. Nyls started the season "on his game" but then cooled off. He over stickhandles at times and his reaction to being told to play more North-South hockey sure seems like it has driven him to take more low percentage shots. After not having seen him take a slapshot in the past two seasons; Caps fans have seen him take one or more in each of his last three games played - from low percentage angles without having a man in position to get a rebound. While this type of action is bad enough from a young defenseman with a blistering slapshot and mediocre stickhandling skills; it's inexplicable from one of the better stickhandling centers in the league who makes five times as much. This has to be only one of several things that Coach Boudreau and GMGM are looking at. Right now the Washington Capitals only have just under $670K of salary cap room; you have to believe that GMGM sure would like to free up at least $1 - $2 million more before the winter meetings are over so he has some "maneuvering room" when the trade deadline approaches.
6) It's a great year and time to be a hockey fan, especially a hockey fan in the DC Metro. Everyone should come out and "Rock the Red" at least once or twice this year since the Capitals are not only playing very, very well; they are indeed the most exciting team to watch in the NHL.

Next Up the Anaheim Ducks, Wednesday 11/19 in Anaheim, CA.

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