Saturday, December 26, 2009

Caps 4 - Devils 1; A Two Point Night That Ends With The Caps Once Again Atop the NHL Standings

Lots of good news for Caps fans today in the vein of taking care of first things first. Before tonight's game the Caps signed a contract extension with Alexander Semin, tying up the 25 year old, 6th year pro to the Capitals organization for another year. Then the Caps came out and played a great game for sixty minutes to down the New Jersey Devils 4 -1 in regulation and capture two more standings points. Now that's a pretty good day by any measure.

Readers here know I've been a proponent for resigning Alexander Semin for some time. Semin reportedly signed a 1 year extension for six million. That's a pretty good deal for both he and the Capitals and it should leave more than enough room to also enable the Capitals to now turn their attention to signing an extension with Nicklas Backstrom, - how's that for focusing on taking things one step at a time. Speaking of Semin, Backstrom and the last link in the SOB line, Alexander Ovechkin, they had a pretty dandy night tonight. Ovechkin started off the scoring at 4:09 of the first period with a laser that he put past Martin Brodeur. a goal that was assisted by Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom scored the Capitals third goal of the evening at 9:52 of the second period assisted by Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin. A strong shift by the Capitals ended with Ovechkin shoveling the puck to the end boards, where Alex Semin chipped it in front to an unguarded Backstrom. Backstrom stickhandled before putting a backhand shot over Brodeur's catching glove for his 15th goal of the season; it was the only goal of the second, and restored Washington's two-goal lead.

Later in the third period Ovechkin and Backstrom each got their third points of the night when they assisted on the fourth and final goal of the evening. The "SOB's" had 7 points and were a combined +9 against the best defensive team in the NHL tonight. Ovechkin had a goal and two assists and was +3. Backstrom a goal and two assists, and went +3. Semin had an assist and was +3 for the evening as well.

The other goals scored by the Caps were potted by Matt Bradley and Mike Green. Bradley scored on a breakaway where his shot was deflected up off of Mike Mottau's stick and then up over Martin Brodeur's left shoulder into the net at 13:54 of the first period. Green's tally came eight seconds after the Devils had killed off Andy Greene's hooking minor just 39 seconds into the third period, when Ovechkin set up Green's eighth of the year. Ovechkin found Green breaking in from the right point for a shot that beat Brodeur's catching glove.

In between Bradley and Backstrom's goals, the Devils cut the the Caps lead in half on Rod Pelley's marker late in the first period. However after that it was basically "All Caps". Overall the Capitals played a solid game top to bottom of the roster though some special mention is probably due Michael Neuvirth who stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced for a 0.967 SV%, as well as Karl Alzner and John Erskine who both had good evenings tonight Tom Poti and Brian Pothier were both out tonight.

Next up the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center on Monday.


Caps vs. Devils Tonight at Verizon Center; If Every Game Were Worth Three Points Week 12

The Caps take on the Devils tonight at Verizon Center in a match up of Eastern Conference heavyweights. It's gotten pretty crowded atop the Eastern Conference as the top four teams in the Conference make a move to separate themselves from the rest of the conference before the Olympic break. The Devils are currently in first place with 53 points in 35 games played (0.757); their division foes, the Penguins also have 53 points but have played 38 games (0.697) and so are in fourth. The Capitals are in second place with 52 points in 37 games (0.703) and the Buffalo Sabres are in third place with 47 points in 36 games (0.653). There is currently 4 points between the North East Division leading Sabres and the fifth place North East Division Boston Bruins who have 43 points in 36 games (0.597); while the sixth place Atlanta Thrashers have 40 points in 36 games (0.556). So tonight two of the four Beasts of the Easts face off in DC; a contrast of styles and a good game should be at hand. Both teams come into the game rested and ready to execute. The Caps are looking to win their third game in a row, while the Devils come into the game riding a 5 game winning streak and having just helped Martin Brodeur achieve his history making 104th shutout. Wingman and I will be "Rockin' the Red" in Section 103 and hoping the Caps finish tonight in first place in the Eastern Conference for no other reason then it will mean the Caps had a two point night and took on the Devils - one day and one game at a time.

Before we finish this blog post up in traditional fashion it's time for the "If Every Game Were Three Points" - Week 12 Edition. Remember in these standings a win in regulation is worth three (3) points; a win in OT or the Shoot Out is worth two (2) points; and a loss in the OT/SO is worth one (1) point; a loss in regulation is of course a goose egg - zero (0) points. So here's what the standings would look like going into tonight's games:



I really don't think any commentary on who is where in these rankings versus in the actual standings at this point. Over 20% of the NHL's games continue to be decided in overtime and/or by the shoot out, and there has been some discussion of doing away with what is erroneously being classified as "the looser point." I couldn't be more against something in hockey then making taking an opponent to a tie in regulation worth nothing. The problem is this whole erroneous idea that it's the "looser" whose getting the extra point - that's because it's the "winner" who is getting the extra point, not the looser. What really needs to happen is that if you want to address this whole debacle properly is to make every game worth the same amount of points - three (3), and if a game ends tied in regulation you split the points. then things would make sense again - the way they did back when teams who finished a game in regulation in a tie, split the points. It's quite simple isn't it? If anything as things stabilize in this post salary cap era more games will go to OT not fewer. If you want the world to make sense then just agree that a game ought to be worth three points - every game.

So now it's time for us to get ready for tonight's game...


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Caps Continue On Pace For Awesome Season Despite Spending Much of December On The Road

It's been mentioned from time to time but little has been written to this point about how well the Capitals have been playing this season on the road. Part of that is because until the beginning of December the Caps hap played a schedule that was pretty evenly spread between home and away games. In fact from the beginning of the season on October X through November 31st the Caps played 27 games, 13 at home and 14 on the road. Further the Caps toughness at home has been something of growing note since last season, and through November 31st they had an overall record of 16-5-6 for 38 points. Of their 5 losses and 6 OT/SO losses, 3 losses and 3 OT losses were on the road. So when December rolled around and the Caps had 13 games scheduled, of which 8 were road games including a 4 game road trip that included a West Coast swing through Colorado, Vancouver and Edmonton; you had to think of December as a good month to benchmark just how good the Caps are this year.

Well happily for Caps fans the Caps have played 10 of those 13 scheduled games including 7 of the 8 scheduled road games and so far for December they are: 7-3-0. In other words through November 31st the Caps were playing 0.704 hockey "all in" and through December thus far the Caps are playing a consistent 0.700 hockey, despite spending much of this month so far "on the road." How do you like them apples? Pretty tasty, eh? Even better is the fact that as has been noted elsewhere, the Caps have accomplished this during the first three months of a season where they were banged up and until recently were very salary cap constrained when it came to moving players back and forth between DC and Hershey and couldn't even begin to consider venturing into the trade or "rental player" market in February. Two things that are no longer issues for the Coaching staff of Caps General manager George McPhee. So what's all that mean? For me it means it's time to look ahead to the next six weeks of the NHL season the time from today until the two week break for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

As we start the run-up to the Olympics the Capitals find themselves atop the Southeast Division with 52 points, ahead of the second place Atlanta Thrashers by 12 points though the Thrashers have a game in hand so in baseball speak that would put the Caps 5 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta. The Caps lead in the Southeast Division is the largest of any division leader by a margin of 8 points. The Caps are in second place in the Eastern Conference, just one point behind the New Jersey Devils who also have two games in hand on the Caps and three games in hand on their Division rival Pittsburgh Penguins who also have 52 points. The Caps and Devils will play each other on Saturday evening here in DC, should the Caps win, they will once again find themselves atop the Eastern Conference as Pittsburgh is idle until Sunday.

From Saturday through the start of the Olympic break on February 14th, the Caps will play 25 games. Of the Caps' scheduled 25 games 13 will be played at home in Verizon Center and 12 will be on the road. The 31 days of January are especially busy for the Caps with 15 games including two "back to backs" - they play in Sunrise, Fl. on the 12th and Saint Petersburg on the 13th; then they play the Islanders in Uniondale, NY on the 26th before coming home to face Anaheim here at Verizon Center on the 27th. Seven (7) of the 25 games before the break are against SE Division opponents and so far this season the Caps are 8-0 against their division rivals so if trends hold, their lead in the Southeast Division should be even greater when they break on February 14th. Nineteen (19) of the 25 games will be against Eastern Conference foes who the Caps are 18-6-5 (0.707). All told it's quite possible, some might even say likely the Caps will go into the Olympic Break with at least 86 and as many as 91+ points.

The next three games, the last for December and the 15 in January will be interesting to say the least. Saturday we have a battle between beasts of the East. On Monday the 28th, the Caps host the struggling Carolina Hurricanes, who will be looking to regain some level of respect. Following that, they close out this year and start the New year with a short two game West Coast swing out to California to face the usually strong, and even stronger than last year San Jose Sharks and then the up and coming Los Angeles Kings both of whom sport solid records against Eastern Division opponents and potent offenses of their own. The first home game of the New Year finds the Capitals hosting the Canadeans on Monday, January 5th for their third meeting of the season. The Caps are 1-1-0 against the Canadeans and the Canadeans have started to find their game again of late. Following the Canadeans the Caps host the Senators on January 7th and then make a 3 game swing through SE Division opponents Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Florida from the 9th through the 13th before returning home to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday, January 15th. The third week of the month brings four games, the Flyers at Verizon on Sunday the 17th, the Red Wings at Verizon on Tuesday the 19th, the Flightless Birds in Pittsburgh on the 21st, and the surprising Phoenix Coyotes at Verizon on Saturday the 23rd. The last full week of the month finds the Caps playing three games, the back-to-back with the Islanders and the Ducks on the 26th and 27th. They then finish the month out hosting the Florida and Tampa Bay on the 29th and 31st.

February finds the Caps playing 7 games in 13 days including 5 on the road before the break for the Olympics. They start the month with road games in Boston and at Madison Square Garden against the Bruins and Rangers on the 2nd and 4th. Then they play Atlanta and Pittsburgh at Verizon Center on the 5th and 7th. They finish up the pre-break season on the road with back to back games against the Canadeans and Senators on the 10th and 11th and then travel to Saint Louis on the 13th. All in all even the most rabid NHL fan should be ready for a break and to watch the Olympics after the upcoming six weeks.

Right now the Caps are on track to amass 115 points this season and compete for the President's Trophy as well as the Eastern Conference Regular Season Championship, though more importantly they are playing for and could obtain home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Of course all that is really getting ahead of ourselves. So it's pretty easy to get caught up and look at what all this could lead to but to get there means keeping first things first. So the first thing the Caps need to do over the next six weeks is be ready for the Devils and Martin Brodeur here at Verizon Center on Saturday. The Devils game will be a good one and it will likely be another test for the Caps. The Devils are 10-1-0 for December including two shutouts by Brodeur, his record tying 103rd against the Sabres in Buffalo on Pearl Harbor Day and his record setting 104th against the Pesky Flightless Birds in Pittsburgh on Monday Night. The Caps and Devils have already met three times this season and the Caps are 0-2-1 against the Conference leading Devils. To win against the Devils on Saturday the Caps will need to play a similar game to what they played last night for all 60 minutes. The Devils like the Sabres have awesome goaltending and defense. The Devils also have a much more potent offense, because of that the Caps will need to play better team defense then they did last night and do it for all sixty minutes. In the end that has been and will continue to be the way the Caps will get to 110+ points this season and then afterwards to their ultimate goal or as far as this season will take them - one focused effort, one game at a time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Caps 5 - Sabres 2; A Two Point Night & Wings!

Well tonight's game was pretty solid from the view I had here on the recliner in Bristow as Tom had the tickets for tonight's game. I'll be attending Saturday evening's game against the Devils with wingman and am looking quite forward to it. In the meantime a recap, I thought the Caps totally dominated the Sabres the first and third periods and despite the Sabres trying to make a game of it during the second period, and the post game commentary from Craig Laughlin and Alan May, I believe the score sheet shows the second period ended with the score Caps 3 - Sabres 2, though to be fair the Sabres did score two 2 goals to the Caps 1 in the period and out shot the Caps 20 - 14. The Caps also took two penalties to the Sabres 1 in the second stanza. Not "undisciplined hockey" but I can see why May and "Locker" said what they said, I just don't agree.

Simply put the Sabres have only had 5 or more goals scored against them three other times this season. Further when you find yourself up by two goals against Ryan Miller and the Sabres, two things necessarily happen, you know you need to tighten up your defensive play as the Sabres and Miller will likely tighten up theirs and they will come at you. That's just what happened and because of it the second period was the crux of the hockey game and when it was over the Caps were still up 3-2. The Caps did score only one goal in the second but what a "sick" goal it was. Brendan Morrison broke his goal scoring slump in fine fashion with a totally awesome wrist shot after pulling the puck back to himself to create just enough room from within 10 feet of the goal to put a nifty wrister past Ryan Miller with his stick between his legs to put the Caps up 3-1 at the 10:48 mark of the second stanza. Before that Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green had both scored for the Capitals in the first period and Paul Gaustad of the Sabres got his 7th tally of the year at 5:04 of the second period to make it a 2-1 game. Morrison's goal made sure the Capitals would never trail in this game though.

The third period was pretty well owned by the Capitals despite the fact the Sabres managed to get off 10 shots on Michael Neuvirth to the 9 the Caps laid on Ryan Miller. Neuvy had a very good night stopping 32 of 34 shots for a 0.941 SV% on the night and was only victimized on two very good scoring chances and second/third shots by the Sabres. As far as executing their keys to success the Caps did and the Sabres did not and that's the story of the night. The Caps had two power play chances - a 5 on 3 and a 5 on 4 and they converted on both against a very solid penalty killing unit. The Sabres had three opportunities and a total of 4:00 with a man advantage and were held scoreless on the power play.

As far as executing their keys to success: 1) The Sabres needed disrupt the Caps offensive unit and keep the "Young Guns" especially Alexander Ovechkin in check. The four young guns and Tomas Fleischmann totalled 4 goals and 10 points tonight; Ovechkin had a goal and two assists for 3 points; Backstrom had two goals; Semin had two assists; Green had a goal and an assist for two points and "Flash" had an assist. 2) The Sabres needed to pressure Neuvirth early; they only got 4 shots on goal in the entire first period. 3) The Sabres needed to out work and out hit the Caps; for the full sixty minutes the Sabres had 16 hits to the Caps 21. Basically, the Sabres were "0 for 3" on those items. Relative to key players tonight, for the Sabres needed a solid night from Ryan Miller, they didn't really get it. Miller stopped 33 of 38 and had a SV% of 0.868, hardly a stellar night for the American Born All Star. Tim Connolly - the 28 year old veteran center had a goal and was +2 on the night, as good an outing or better than any other Sabre on the night. Tyler Myers and Henrik Tallinder both went -1 on the evening and though Myers had 4 hits and 2 blocked shots on the evening I believe he himself would not characterize this as a good night since in addition to being on the ice for Morrison's even strength goal he was also on the ice for Backstrom's second goal of the evening - a power play tally.

The Caps keys to success were 1) Play disciplined hockey and stay out of the sin bin, the Caps pretty much did that they gave the Sabres a man advantage one in the first period and twice in the second period but were penalty free in the third period. 2) Create traffic and get some scrappy goals, the Caps did that, of the 5 Caps goals only Mike Green's was beyond the faceoff circle and on all the other Caps goals besides Morrison's there was traffic in front or around the net, on two occasions Ovechkin's power play goal and Green's that traffic was Brooks Laich; on Backstrom's first goal it was provided by Alexander Semin and on Backy's second goal the traffic was provided by OV. 3) Responsible two way play and a deep backcheck - the Caps definitely did this the few times they were really challenged in the first and third periods and other then the sequence that led up to Tim Connolly's goal they did it often and deep enough in the second period as well. As far as talking about key players and needed results the only place the Caps did not dominate tonight was the faceoff circle but the rest of the execution areas were very solid and Ovechkin, Neuvirth, Backstrom, Morrison and Steckel all had outstanding nights.

That's why the game ended with a score Caps 5 - Sabres 2. Next up the New Jersey Devils, Saturday evening at home here in DC.


Caps vs. Sabres Look-ahead

It's been crazy busy with the holidays so I haven't "blogged" since December 16th, and while a lot of hockey news has happened as well as Caps good things I've just been too swamped to blog. I have watched all the Caps games and I should get back to normal here this holiday season, I hope. Looking at tonight's game between the SE Division leading Washington Capitals and the Northeast Division leading Buffalo Sabres is real interesting contrast of styles.

The Caps come into the game off a four game road trip followed by three days off where they went 2-2-0 and are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. The Sabres come into the game following a 3-2 overtime win on Monday evening in Toronto and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. This is the third of four regular season meetings between the two Eastern Conference rivals and so far the series is split 1-1-0 and each team has shut out the other on their home ice during their two prior meetings this season. For the Sabres you can slice it and dice it numerous ways but it will come back to what it has 99% of the time this season for them - goal tending. The last game between these two teams on December 9th in Buffalo, Ryan Miller was stupendous and his team managed to score 3 goals - a pretty solid evening for a team that is averaging 2.63 goals for per game so far this season. Of course in the prior meeting on November 25th here in DC Semyon Varlamov was pretty amazing stonewalling all 25 of the Sabre shots on goal to earn a 2-0 shutout.

The keys and key players for each team tonight are, assuming both teams continue to play smart hockey and not take many penalties, something they both have managed to do during the first two meetings this year:

Caps - Keys: 1) Play disciplined hockey and stay out of the sin bin; 2) Traffic, traffic and traffic - the likely Buffalo goaltender will be Ryan Miller, but regardless of whether it's Miller or Patrick Lalime, they are both excellent and for the Caps to keep up their 3.53 goals per game average they'll need at least a couple "dirty/gritty goals" in addition to putting up a fair amount of shots on goal; 3) responsible two way play - a deep, solid backcheck by all the forwards and no bad decisions and foolish odd man breaks allowed by the defense. Key Players: 1) Alex Ovechkin - he needs to play his game but not get ticked when the Sabres come at him like they are likely to do and he will get at least two good scoring chances as well as create a couple for others due to miscues by Tyler Myers, even though in 3 years or so we'll likely be thinking about Myers the way we think about Chris Pronger. 2) Michael Neuvirth - Should "Neuvy" get the nod tonight his play and the team defense in front of him will be key. Even when the Caps play their best defensive hockey, their propensity for high risk - high reward plays usually mean a goaltender is called upon to "come up big" at least once or twice a game. In his few outings this season here in the NHL there are nights where Neuvirth has done so and nights where he has not. The difference tonight could easily be the margin of victory for either team. 3) Centers Nicklas Backstrom David Steckel and Brendan Morrison - tonight the Caps need to control the tempo of the game, to do that you have to have the puck and to do that you have to win faceoffs and you need your best setup men to do exactly that. 'Nuff said as Backy, B-Mo, and Stecks can all do that in spades, tonight they should be hungry to prove they can execute after the 3-0 loss the Sabres handed the Caps in Buffalo.

Sabres - Keys: 1) Shut down the Capitals "Young Guns" + Tomas Fleischmann, the key to victories and their 0.714 points percentage has been their solid defense to maintain any sort of pressure on the Capitals the Sabres who average just 2.63 goals for per game will need to keep the Capitals formidable offense off the board. So far this season the Caps have scored only two goals against the Sabres in 120 minutes so look for some changes and urgency by the Caps, Buffalo's response and adjustments will be key. 2) Pressure Neuvirth and/or Theodore early. The Sabres won't want to play from behind against the Caps, especially with a loud, sold out home crowd rooting the Caps on. They will work hard to score first and take a lead into the locker room at each intermission. The Sabres are a hard working 60 minute opponent and will be so tonight as well. How the Caps respond to their steady intensity and whether the Sabres can be worn down without star Tomas Vanek will be a key tonight. 3) "Physicality" - the Sabres will need to play a hard, physical game and out hit the Caps in order to keep them off balance, disrupt the flow of the Caps as they work to penetrate the Sabres zone, and "turn the play" back around and into the Caps zone. Key Players: 1) Ryan Miller or Patrik Lalime - enough said already on these two. 2) Tim Connolly - the veteran center and scorer hasn't been scoring on pace with prior seasons and with Tomas Vanek out the Sabres really need him to pick up some of the missing scoring, especially if the Caps start to figure Ryan Miller out tonight. 3) Tyler Myers and Henrik Tallinder, the Sabres need these two guys to play very good or great games to continue to keep the Caps forwards "bottled" up.

Wild Cards: For the Caps - Alexander Semin and Mike Green, as always even if the Sabres manage to stymie Ovechkin and Backstrom, if Sasha or Green have a good night either can break a tight game like tonight's is likely to be wide open all on their own as well> For the Sabres - Clark MacArthur - co-leader in goals scored for the Sabres with the ailing Vanek but also -10 on the season.

Prediction: Caps 3 - Sabres 1.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reaction and Commentary Caps 6 - Avalanche 1

Well last night's game seemed to be the continuation I thought I was going to see of the first period in Toronto during that game. It was a two point night and a good one by every measure save one for the Caps and Caps fans. The Caps seemed to play their game plan in just about, if not every manner, except maybe Alexander Ovechkin's shift length during the second period.

It was a storybook night for Kyle Wilson. Making his NHL debut on his 25th birthday the rookie center had quite a good first night in "the show" and made quite an impression on both Caps and Av's fans watching alike. The just 25 year old Oakville, ON native posted a full stat line: 2 Assists, 2 Points, +2, 11:15 TOI, 15 shifts including 1:30 on the Power Play; 1 SOG, 3 attempts blocked, 2 missed shots, 1 hit, 2 for 7 (29%) in the faceoff circle. The stat line is impressive in itself however even better was the quality of Wilson's second assist - a primary assist as well as his breakaway even though he didn't score. For his first night's work in a Capitals sweater Wilson was awarded the game's third star. Way to make a solid first impression and "Happy Birthday" - Kyle. Though I expect your performance last night means you won't be getting out of paying your "fair share" of the rookie dinner tab this West Coast road trip.

Jose Theodore had an almost storybook return to Denver, unfortunately he didn't get his first shutout of the year but his 27 saves of 28 shots and 0.964 SV% on the night were his best outing in at least some time. Theo's record on the season is now 19 Games Played, a GAA of 2.93 and a SV% of 0.903. With two nights off between last night's game in Denver and Friday's game in Vancouver, I anticipate we'll see Theo in the net against Luongo and the Canaucks and then Neuvrith will get a chance to recover his dignity against Edmonton on Saturday night, before the Caps return to DC for a three game home stand over Christmas. My expectation given he just started skating with pads yesterday is we won't see Semyon Varlamov in the nets again until the Capitals return to Verizon Center on the 23rd to face the Sabres at the earliest. In conjunction when I give kudos to Theodore this season, there's always a 50/50 chance I'll take the opportunity to point out how much happier I am that the Caps have Theo and his 2 year/$4.5M contract than what the Blackhawks have with Christobel Huet. I still feel that way though I won't bash Huet given his current season record is now 14-7-2 with 1 shut out in 24 games played. I will say that given that record Huet is clearly Chicago's #1 goaltender however, I have to be me and say that to the extent Huet's career numbers - SV% of 0.916 and GAA of 2.42 justified his salary and contract he is performing to and above his career GAA since his season to date GAA is 2.18 (5th in the league) however Huet's SV% has been below his career average season to date SV% is 0.909 and 25th in the league. Once again Huet's performance aside, given Varlamov's development and Neuvirth's potential, Theodore's deal clearly has and continues to make more sense for the Capitals from a strategic perspective, and with more performances like last night GMGM will really, really look like a hockey genius.

Tomas Fleischmann had his fourth two goal night of the year. His total distance from the net for the two goals was at most 11 feet. That's net presence and hands and you have to be happy about that regardless of wether you are a "Flash" fanatic or not. Flash is now on pace for a 30+ goal season. Last year the 25 year old Czech natural center scored 19 goals in 73 games, last night he scored his 12th and 13th of this season. He also was +2 in 13:36 TOI and earned the game's first star last night.

Matt Bradley scored his 6th goal of the season and got his 6th assist of the year on David Steckel's tally. "Brads" has now exceeded his total offensive production for the entire last season when he played 81 of 82 games. At his current pace this will easily be the 10th year pro's best in terms of offensive production and his play is as responsible defensively as ever. Last night's performance was one of his best so far this season. In addition to the goal and an assist, Bradley was +2 in 14:28 TOI, had 3 SOG, 1 hit, and 1 take away.

Clock and shift management were solid for the Capitals last night in the "mile high city." Only two players - Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz logged more than 20:00 TOI. Given the fact thanks to Dave Koci the Caps played a significant portion of the game with just 4 defensemen Poti's 25:59 TOI and "Sarge's" 22:43 TOI are clearly understandable. Poti finished the night + 2 with an assist and Schultz finished the night with 1 hit, a 2:00 minor and no negatives on his stat line, pretty solid nights for both blueliners. Even Brooks Laich who dropped back and played the blue line after Mike Green was injured and left the game and John Erskine was serving a 10 minute misconduct only had 19:35 TOI. Laich had a solid night though he put the puck in the net once it was disallowed as it was judged he had intentionally kicked it in.

I haven't mentioned it yet but another positive in general was the play of Karl Alzer in addition to that of Kyle Wilson. Call-ups and moves enabled by the assignment of Michael Nylander to Grand Rapids in the AHL. The Capos still pay Nyls salary however he is not counted against the allowable number of roster slots nor is his cap hit counted againt the Caps. That is of course another real positive for the Capitals as they drive through the rest of this season. It enables the un-cap-constrained call-up of whoever the Caps coaching staff wants from Hershey the rest of this season and will enable GMGM to acquire any rental player(s) deemed necessary and desirable at the trade deadline. It should also enable the negotiation and signing of extensions with both Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin before they become RFAs.

So the only real blemish to being a Caps fan since my last blog post are/were the injuries last night to Mike Green and Shoane Morrisonn. I could overlook the hit by Koci on Sha-Mo but the hit on Mike Green was truly a blatant "cheap-shot". Koci should get the maximum reasonable suspension for the hit on Green, there's no way you can watch the hit once and not conclude Koci just didn't care what happened at that point, he knew he was going to hit Green in the back, he knew Green was at least a foot away from the boards. He was just frustrated at the state of the game and he made at best, a dumb, blatantly illegal hit from behind at best. At worst he was pissed and had an intent to injure though to be sure of that you'd have to be a mind reader. It was just a dumb play and hit by a team's resident "goon" - one goal in six years ... One positive to note is the local Denver newspaper's reaction to the incident so far has been fair and balanced and doesn't defend or endorse the hit in any way.

John Erskine had a solid night and finished +3 with an assist and a blocked shot, in addition to taking Dave Koci on after Koci's frustration driven cheap shot on Green. As you would expect in a 6-1 game where the only opposing team goal was scored on a power play, a lot of Caps look good on the Event Summary - and this is a case where you'd have a hard time finding much fault with any Capital players execution last evening if you watch the game again. A very solid night indeed.

It is a shame that the best goaltending bargain in the NHL so far this season, Craig Anderson, had such a poor showing against the Caps last night. Despite last night's outing Anderson is 16-8-5 on the season to date despite facing a league "leading" 954 shots on goal. He's stopped a league leading 874 for a very respectable 0.916 SV% - including last night's thrashing by the Capitals. The 28 year old Park Ridge, IL native definitely deserves to be on the US Olympic Team along with Ryan Miller of Buffalo, IMO. But since I'm a Caps fan it wasn't too much of a shame...

Last night was the Caps 21st win of the season they now have a League Leading 48 points and a record of 21 - 7-6.

Next up the Vancouver Canucks in British Columbia on Friday Night. Let's all think positive thoughts on quick recoveries for Green and Sha-Mo and continued against the trend performance the rest of this road trip.


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Irony Of It All...

Well here's the irony of currently being a Caps fan - ITS JUST SOOOOO CONFUSING right now - life as a Caps Fan that is. Here';s why - Saturday the Caps basically got lit up by the Toronto Maple Leafs ... 6-3 in case you missed it. I didn't - watched the whole thing there in the La - Z - Boy on the new 52" Plasma in sunny, scenic Bristow, VA. I don't think I've mentioned yet in this blog post how much i love my wife for that early Christmas present. Yes there it was the night started off so wonderfully the first period ended Caps 2 - Leafs 0 with the Caps basically imposing their will relentlessly on the Leafs and only some lights out goaltending by Vesla Toskla keeping the period from ending at least Caps 4 - Leafs 0. I imagine the discussions in the locker rooms during the first intermission went something like this:

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau: Okay guys, don't let up, this guy Toskla has been keeping them in the game. We need to continue to dominate these guyys and make sure they don't get any easy, free shots on Michael. We need to convert some more of those scoring chances, we had 8 in the first period, how we don't come away with 4 goals I don't know. But I do know we need to keep pressing and controlling the puck like we have been. We're on national TV and these guys will make some adjustments and be trying to take it to us. They're not 7-3-1 in their last 11 games because they don't know how to play. Also we need to keep pretending we didn't play last night, we need to keep our feet moving and make these guys work harder then they've ever worked before. If we do, no reason we can't crack Toskla's armour a few more times and then with a 3 or 4 goal lead it's a whole different game - these guys are then likely to take a few penalties and make the rest of the night easy for us. Until then though, these guys are only two goals away from making this a realy tough game for us. Okay, lets go out there and show the Canadian Nation we know how to play this game just like we did the first period.

Coach Ron Wilson: Okay guys Toskla you keep doing everything you've been doing. The rest of you guy, forget about that first period, the Capitals made you guys look silly. Look there's no reason for that, you guys know how this game works, you're 7-3-1 in the last 11 and if you stop doing all the stupid things that have let these guys turn 12 shots on goal into 8 quality scoring chances you can still win this thing. These guys are taking some silly chances and making some poor bets - you need to make them pay for it. Toskla is playing a great game, the rest of you guys can and should as well. Now let's go out there and forget about the first period and play these guys like I know you can.

The problem for the Caps is assuming anything like that was said in wither locker room, the Leafs came out in the second period and executed, the Caps did not. Give the Leafs their due, they played good, solid hockey the last 40 minutes of the game, they deserved to win and boy did it hurt at times to watch for this Caps fan.

The irony of course is prior to the Game the Caps were first (1st) in the league standings and the Maple Leafs were either 28th or 29th. However as i pointed out here and in my pregame discussion the Leafs were 7-3-1 in the prior 11 games and had demonstrated a solid ability to play the rest of the league, save the Boston Bruins, competitively.

Another irony is as a Caps fan should I be elated, happy or totally depressed? Both you say? Are you saying that because with 20-7-6 record and 46 standings points the Caps have the fewest losses in the NHL and are still sitting atop the standings; AND the Caps are 1-2-0 in their last three games, including a 1 goal win, despite having all 6 of their top 6 forwards in the lineup for the first time in a long while and playing 2 of those three games against teams that are 29th and 30th in the league right now? Okay I get it but hey let's cut it with the negative waves man, the Caps are on the road the next three games.

Tomorrow night the Caps face off in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche; I'm betting Jose Theodore has an outstanding night against his former club and the Caps stick to their game plan after the embarrassment in Toronto on Saturday. No predictions other than this ... c'mon you know its going to be:



Saturday, December 12, 2009

Caps vs. Hurricanes Recap/Caps vs Leafs Look Ahead

Last night was a two point night for the Capitals though I doubt many who watched the game came expecting to see the one that was played. There were some pretty plays and you can't say the Caps didn't deserve to win this one, at least I don't think you should say that; however, if the Hurricanes had won their second road game of the season last night that too wouldn't have been undeserved on their part either.

The Hurricanes got out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on two "interesting" goals. I think we've all watched Jose Theodore enough now to know he is a fiery competitor and there is no goal, he wouldn't want back. That's probably especially true of the Hurricanes second goal last night, scored by Eric Stall, when Theo didn't play the left post tight enough or tall enough. That said, unlike some other's who have commented that the second goal was on Theodore, I'd say it was only partially on Theo.

However, let's start with first things first. The guy who had the worst game, at least the first 60:30 of it, last night for the Capitals had to be Mike Green. The official score sheet shows him at +/- even on the night with his GWG and 5 SOG, 3 hits and 2 blocked shots, but no giveaways. Don't get me wrong, I love Mike Green as much as the next Capitals fan or more, but even in his post game interview with Lisa Hillary he said he didn't have a good game. In the post game talks, Coach Bruce Boudreau said Green was having a bad night until somehow, like all great players, he found a way to do something great. Green's talent is only really exhibited by the fact that in spite of what I'll describe below, he managed to be elected the games second star of the night. Here's Green's night in rough chronological order:

1) Pushed off the puck and taken out of the play during a 2 on 1 break by the Capitals he is on the ice but out of position and out of the play when at 2:01 of the first period Jiri Tlusty opens the scoring when during a 2 on 1 the other way his defensive partner John Erskine fails to cut off the setup pass from Brandon Sutter. Clearly not his finest moment on a hockey rink.

2) He decides that like Ovechkin, the best defense, to being targeted for "hits", is a good offense and he makes two good hits on the Hurricanes himself. He makes clean hits and his point without taking any penalties and also puts some energy on the ice. However in so doing he did find himself out of position. Overall though I'd call these moves a good point. The way the Caps play now and the fact they don't have an "enforcer" means the rest of the league needs to know Green can dish it out as well as they can.

3) At about the 13:40 mark Green is covering Eric Staal in the Caps end of the rink. Stall retreats behind the net to shake Green. Green opts to go in front of the net instead of following Staal. Staal goes for the wrap around and is initially rebuffed by Theodore. Neither Green or his defensive partner Jeff Schultz latch onto or clear either the rebound or Staal. Staal lifts the puck into Theo's mask the puck bounces off the mask and rolls over Theodore's shoulder. Score another on for the Hurricanes. You can't say Green misplayed that one but he didn't play it well either when you see where he is as the puck goes in the net. I'm not getting on Schultz either (more on that later) as even though he could have played that one better, he had another good night.

4) At 13:07 of the second period Green is on the ice with Jeff Schultz as his partner. He plays the shift within himself and Schultz passed the puck to Ovechkin with a solid outlet pass, Ovechkin passes across the ice to Alexander Semin. Semin lets loose a laser fast wrister through a screen into the net past Cam Ward from the left circle. Score Caps 1 Hurricanes 2. Nothing fancy and clearly the type of shift you expect when your team's highest paid blue liner is on the ice, but hey put one in the plus column for Mike Green so at this juncture he's only minus one on the night.

5) With less then a minute left in the second period, Green is on the ice and playing smart hockey when Nicklas Backstrom finds Alexander Semin with an awesome outlet pass behind the defense. Tim Gleason of the Hurricanes almost gets back in time to save it but Semin gets just enough of the puck while Cam Ward is in "no man's land." Ward's weak poke check puts the puck back on Semin's stick with just a fraction of a second left in the period so Semin scores his second goal of the night and knots the game at 2 all from "the paint." That puts Green at +/- even and means that he has been on the ice at this point for all four goals scored last night.

6) Green is NOT on the ice when Tomas Fleischman puts the Caps up 3-2 with an even strength goal at the 2:52 mark of the third period.

6) At the 13:30 mark of the third period, the Capitals are on the power play with Jonni Pitkanen in the box for interference. Green misplays a pass across to the point. Tim Gleason intercepts it, races down the ice and blasts a slap shot over Theo's left shoulder for a shorthanded score. As explained in this article in wikipedia that since Green was on the ice when a shorthanded goal was scored against the Capitals that would mean at this juncture of the night he would be -1. Game is tied at 3-3; Green has been on the ice for 5 out of 6 goals, 2 Even Strength by the Caps; two even strength and one shorthanded by the Hurricanes at this point. Also another less then stellar play by Green who isn't having a good night at this point.

7)The game ends tied, the Overtime period starts and for about a minute the first thirty seconds is going back and forth, then the Caps make a line change. On this ice for the Caps are Nicklas Backstrom, OV, Mike Green and .. wait for it .... John Erskine; not who you were thinking right? Me neither, I guess that's why Boudreau gets the big bucks instead of you or I. With Erskine minding the store as the backstopper. Backstrom and OV take the puck into the zone and hold it. OV passes to Backstrom for what looks like a give and go to create some space for Ovechkin. Two Hurricanes descend on Ovechkin to make sure the Caps #1 sniper doesn't get the GWG. Backstrom passes the puck though traffic and finds a waiting Mike "Game Over" Green who has joined the rush in the low slot. Green puts a solid, goal scorers wrist shot into the open side of the net past Cam Ward's right shoulder for the Game Winner at even strength. That goal made Green +/- even on the night.

Last note on Mike Green - Boudreau's post game comments ring true, and he did get the GWG in the end, but would you like the MSM voting last night have given him the game's second start of the night over Cam Ward who stopped 36 of 40 shots including robbing several Caps a couple of times last night - not the least of which was another laser wrist shot by Semin for what would have been a hat trick? In any case if the award for Star of the Game is for the guy who was most notable and most involved, both positively and negatively in last night's game, there is no argument that Mike Green was one of the top three. Again not getting down on him, just emphasizing how important it is for a guy who generally plays 25:00+ per game to play well.

On a related point if you are wondering why John Erskine was out there for the GWG in overtime, then you should watch this game. It was one of Erskine's best efforts, he finished the night legitimately +1 as he was on the ice for two Caps goals Fleishmann's and Green's after failing to cut off the pass from Sutter to Tlusty during the Hurricanes' first score.

Other Caps who had great games: Semin once again munched on the Hurricanes. Ovechkin and Backstrom both had solid outings and the SOB line was very good; OV had two assists and missed on one he'd definitely like to have back and would normally score on. Mike Knuble had a good night, but his game sense and timing were a little off coming off his injury. However, he had two good chances that he'd normally score at least one of last night. Jeff Schultz had a very good night, with an assist finishing +1. I am no longer at all anti-Schultz, in fact I am now por-Schultz. He is one of two guys I feel on the team who totally compliment Mike Green when paired with him, the other being Shaone Morrisonn. Mathieu Perrault - the score sheet show #85 at -1 on the night, with 1 assist, 3 SOG, 1 takeaway and a 29% face off winning percentage. Perrault's, the energizer bunny, assist and takeaway so overshadow the -1 and the FOW that it bears mentioning. Fleischmann's goal was the result of Perrault's effort, determination and smart play, this guys brings so much to the team in so little TOI, you have to love him.

Okay on to Toronto, tonight. Here's the short and sweet. The Maple Leaf's overall record - forget about it, they are 6-3-1 in their last ten games. The Caps have played them twice this season and are 1-0-1 against them. The Leafs are looking for their third straight home win tonight and have been playing solid hockey. Over their last ten games the Leafs have outscored their opponents 34 - 33 despite two one sided losses to Boston.

Toronto should be well rested and ready for their Hockey Night In Canada showing. The Caps - eh, not so much... apparently after last night's game the Capitals boarded their charter only to find out when it hit the runway, the plane had mechanical problems. The plane was repaired overnight and left Dulles at about 10AM this morning per Tarik, however between getting on and off the plane, sorting things out, etc, it's probably likely none of the Caps got a full eight hours sleep last night. Additionally, the Caps had an optional morning skate scheduled at 11:30AM today at Air Canada Centre that didn't happened. What all this means, we'll see. For my two cents it'll mean, what it'll mean and given this is the second half of back to back nights for the Caps and the Leafs are rested and don't play again till Monday evening in Ottawa it probably isn't much worse than it would have been. I believe that the second of back to backs means two things all the time - to win you need 1) a solid night from your defense and goaltender and 2) a couple of forwards to step up and leverage some adrenalin to make things happen, tonight I'm looking for that to be Ovechkin, Knuble and Laich.

Injured for the Maple Leafs are: goalie Jonas Gustavsson who practiced Friday as he aims to return soon following a procedure to correct an elevated heart rate. Forward John Mitchell (knee) and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (hyperextended elbow) are out indefinitely and defenseman Mike Van Ryn is out for the season following knee surgery. The Caps are healing though still list the following as out: goaltender Semyon Varlamov, the Capitals remain without forwards Boyd Gordon (back) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw) and defenseman Brian Pothier (ribs).

Prediction: Caps 4 - Leafs 2 (hey I figure if I keep predicting it, sooner or later it'll happen and I'll look ohhh sooo smart...not really, I figure OV scores 2, Knuble 1, and Laich 1 in front of a Canadian Nationwide TV Audience and just to spite Don Cherry. I can't wait to hear his comments during intermission, what xenophobic, humorous garbage will he spew tonight?


Friday, December 11, 2009

Looking Into The Eye of A Storm; Caps vs Hurricanes, 12/11/2009

I'll be watching the game from the comfort of my recliner here in Bristow; a colleague from work, Bob and his daughter will be in Section 103. Apparently Bob's daughter really, really wanted to go and since I didn't have a person to go with me and hockey is just soo much better to watch when you are with someone, I had no problem selling my tix to him. Enjoy the game Bob and I hope the Capitals are as much a source of quality time with your daughter for you as they have been for me with my son in the past. Now let's look at the game ahead...

Well looking at the Carolina Hurricanes is like looking into the eye of a storm indeed; and not so much in a good way as you would have expected after the way they finished out the playoffs last season. Everybody who regularly reads this blog knows the deal and facts, but for some reason I'm deriving perverse enjoyment writing them here. Perhaps there really might be a bit of a rivalry here - a Southeast Division rivalry? C'mon, can't be, can it? Well not really so far this season, because the Hurricanes aren't holding up their end of the deal right now. Forget the division standings, forget the conference standings, let's just look at the league standings overall. As of today and in spite of loosing their last game to the Buffalo Sabres the Washington Capitals are in first place in the overall league standings; the Carolina Hurricanes re in thirtieth (30th). In case your memory needs refreshing, that would be last place as there are 30 teams in the league, in spite of Jim Balsille's desires and wants otherwise. In case you want to look at that a little while here's a link that's fun to gaze at right now.

As division "rivals" the Caps and 'Canes will play each other six times this season, this is the second meeting of the six scheduled. The Caps faced off against the Hurricanes for their first meeting of the season in Raleigh on Monday, November 30th. The Caps won that game by a score of 3-2 in regulation. Unlike the last time these two teams met, Hurricanes star goaltender Cam Ward is likely to be back in the nets. Ward returned from a leg laceration of his own that cost him 13 games and played a solid game against the New Jersey Devils in New Jersey on Wednesday evening even though the Hurricanes lost 4-2. It's unclear who will get the start for Carolina tonight as it is the first of a two game back - to - back for the 'Canes. They face the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa tomorrow evening. However, if I had to bet on it, I'd bet that Ward will be in the nets tonight and perhaps tomorrow as well. Tonight's game is the first of two meetings this month for these two teams - both of December's games are in DC, then they won't see each other again until March when they meet three times. The Hurricanes are hoping that winning their first road game of the season in Pittsburgh on Monday evening is a sign that things are turning around in "Canes country; that 3-2 win against the Penguins certainly means the Hurricanes have the ability to take on anyone and so shouldn't be taken lightly even though the Capitals lead them by 25 points (in baseball speak that's 12 full games since the Hurricanes currently have a game in hand) in the standings.

Players to watch:

Carolina: Ray Whitney has been relatively hot of late - he had two goals and five points in the two games leading up to Wednesday night. Eric Staal, who looks like he may be "heating up" as even though he has just three goals this season, he had three straight two-assist efforts until he was also held scoreless in New Jersey. Of course there's also Cam Ward, Ward has been a thorn in the Capitals sides in the past. He is 12-5-2 with three shutouts, a 2.54 GAA and a .920 save pct. lifetime against the Capitals. However, the Carolina netminder is only a very human 4-4-1 with a 3.18 GAA and a .905 save pct. in 10 career starts at Verizon Center. Also with Joe Corvo out, there's Joni Pitkanen. Pitkanen has five assists in the three games since the Hurricanes met the Caps. He also leads all NHL defensemen in time-on-ice per shift (1:00/shift), and he has logged more than 30 minutes of ice time four times this year, including two of his last four games.

Washington: The usual list of suspects should appear here as all of them will want to bounce back after being held scoreless in Buffalo by Ryan Miller's awesome performance. They won't want to let Ward get out in front of them like Miller did, so look for all the Young Guns to come out hard and fast. I also expect to see the second line of Brooks Laich - B-Mo - Eric Fehr to have a solid night. It's unclear to me who will get the start for the Capitals Neuvirth or Theodore. Personally I hope it's Theo and I look for him to have a solid outing.

Sick and Injured Reports;

Carolina: Key minute muncher defenseman Joe Corvo is currently out. The Hurricanes lost defenseman Corvo to a laceration to his leg; he underwent surgery and is expected to miss several months. In addition to Corvo, the Hurricanes are likely to also be without the services of defenseman Niclas Wallin tonight due to an upper-body injury; he is listed by the Hurricanes as day-to-day.

The Capitals injury list is longer than the Hurricanes but on the positive side of that list, they expect to have forwards Mike Knuble and Matt Bradley back in their lineup on Friday. Knuble missed the last 13 games with a broken finger and Bradley missed the last pair of games while his wife gave birth to their first child. To make room for Knuble and Bradley, forwards Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin were reassigned to Hershey yesterday. The list of Capitals currently out of the lineup tonight are: Semyon Varlamov, Boyd Gordon, Quintin Laing, Matthieu Perrault and Brian Pothier.

In spite of the improving trend for the Hurricanes and the return of Cam Ward look for the Capitals to bounce back from the loss to the Sabres and "capitalize" on this short visit home before next week's West Coast road trip. I could do a set of numerical, statistical comparisons but suffice it to say that was already well covered by Peerless (here's the link) and the only category the Capitals aren't in front of the 'Canes is the PK unit. On the penalty kill the Hurricanes are 17th in the league with a 80.0% and the Caps are 19th with a 79.2%.

Caps 4 - Hurricanes 2.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Caps 0 - Sabres 3, A No Point Night And Why Goaltenders Still Matter in the NHL...

Last night was a great game to watch, except for one minor detail - the Capitals came away from the visit to Sunny Buffalo with NO points. For the first time this season the Caps executed to their game plan, played a full sixty minutes, and basically outplayed the Sabres, except for one man in blue - goaltender Ryan Miller. That's right look at the stat sheet last night and try and figure out why/how the Capitals lost last night - in hockey parlance "Miller stole two points." Ryan Miller is clearly in the drivers seat for the Vezina Trophy this season and last night he showed the Capitals and we Caps fans why. Miller was fantastic. To be sure the Sabres team that played in front of them rebounded well from their prior game, a loss; but it was Ryan Miller who in the end made sure, on at least five occasions pucks off the sticks of Capitals players stayed out of the Buffalo goal.

However, just as an ugly win is nothing less than two points in the standings, a no point night is a no point night. Also to be sure the coaching staff will dissect the tape and find things the Caps need to improve on, and the way this team has been playing they will continue to improve. So there's not much worth saying about the game. However it is worth mentioning that several Caps played very good games last night though nobody was able to get on the board. I also think it's worth mentioning/asking - am I the only one whose nerves Craig Laughlin gets on when he gets hung up on a point, especially when it just doesn't seem correct? "Locker" repeatedly talked about the Caps lacking spark and energy last night however, they outplayed the Sabres every period, even the second period when the Sabres out shot the Caps by two shots, the Caps had more and better scoring chances. Also why talk about a win the Caps had last season against the Sabres you didn't think they deserved - did anybody remember the details about the game so they could either agree or disagree with Laughlin? I sure don't it wasn't a playoff game or a notable on in my memory.

All that said the one thing that last night's game(s) as well as Monday night's games did for me was highlight just how important solid goaltending is in the NHL during this compressed regular season schedule. Most NHL teams have 15 or more games in the month of December, every team has at least 13 games and Montreal and Ottawa have whopping 17 games in the 31 days of December. The Caps have just 13 days but they include a West Coast trip. My point here is that every team in the NHL will be playing at least some games on back to back nights or as part of hectic road trips. During those sorts of games it would sure seem likely a goaltender will be called upon to make some clutch saves and play in some tight games where one gal is the difference. Add to that thought that in games that go to "extra innings" - overtime or the shoot out - the goaltender is clearly the most important cog in the gears to victory. So far 62 games have been played in the NHL during the month of December; goaltending has been a key factor, if not the primary factor in 58% of those games. Fourteen (14) games or 22.5% have ended in overtime or shootouts; while eleven (11) other games or 17.74% have ended in regulation but have been decided by a single goal. Additionally it seems that a growing number of games are shutouts. Over the past three nights eight (8) games have been shutouts, overall eleven (11) games or 17.74% have been shutouts. To further highlight the importance of goaltending in the eight shutouts so far this week, none of the loosing teams were playing game 2 of a back to back nights effort.

So it seems odd to me that only eight goaltenders in the NHL currently make $6M or more in current salary - they are: Luongo, Vancouver $7.5M; Kiprusoff, Calgary $7M; Lundqvist, NY Rangers $6.875M; Miller, Buffalo $6.25M; Giguere, Anaheim, $6M; Nabokov, San Jose, $6M; and Tim Thomas, Boston, $6M. Further only goaltenders who are the highest paid members of their team are Luongo who bests each of the Sedin twins by $1.4M; Kiprusoff who is tied to be the highest paid guy on his team with Iginla; Nicklas Backstom of the Wild who is the highest paid member of the team by $700K; Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers who with a salary this season of $5.7M is the highest paid member of his team by over $1M; and Rick DiPietro of the NY Islanders who with salary of $4.5M leads his team by $400K. So of thrity NHL teams eight have goaltenders who they pay in the top echelon of league salaries (over 10+% of the salary cap) and two others have goaltenders who they feel are worthy of the highest salary on their teams. To be sure few if any NHL starting goaltenders are hitting the soup kitchens other then possibly to preform charity work any time soon. However I wonder with goaltending so important why aren't more teams being forced to cough up higher salaries for their starting/#1 goaltenders than just 30% of the league?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wow - Just Catching Up ...

Well I missed Monday night's game as the internet connection in my hotel room in Atlanta was horrible and the NHL Game Center setup on my laptop kept freezing up. I finally gave up and read my book and did some work related email before reading the game recaps, etc.

Now I am totally ready to Rock the Red here at home in Bristow as the Caps travel to Buffalo in search of their 7th straight win and apply an effort to continue in first place in the Eastern Conference with a league leading 44 points. I'll post a game related story as well as my reaction to Monday night's FOUR shut outs including Marty Brodeur's record tying 103rd.

In the meantime it's a few minutes before opening faceoff in Buffalo and all I've got to say is ...


Monday, December 7, 2009

December Game 3 Tonight In Tampa Bay...

The Caps take on the Tampa Bay Lighting for the first time this season at St. Pete Times Forum tonight. Tampa Bay comes into the game in 8th place in the Eastern Conference and Third in the Southeastern Division with 30 standings points 3-5-2 in their last 10 games and with a record on home ice this season of 7-2-4, tonight's game will be Tampa Bay's fourth in six nights. The Caps play their third game in 5 nights tonight, they are in first place in the Conference and the Southeast Division with 42 standings points. The Caps are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and have an overall record of 9-2-3 on the road so far this season.

The Caps come into the game averaging a league leading 3.72 goals for/game and 2.83 goals against/game, a +0.89/game goal differential over their opponents. The Lightning come into the game averaging 2.64 goals for/game and 2.93 goals against/game, a -0.29 /game goal differential. The Capitals have the longest current active winning streak in the NHL having won their last five games including scoring 14 goals in their last two games while allowing only 4 goals to be scored. The Lightning's last game was a 4-0 shutout of the Islanders in Saint Pete on Satuarday and they have at various times this season shown they have the ability to give any club in the NHL a run for their money.

Players to watch:

Tampa Bay: Martin Saint Louis, Victor Hedman, Mike Smith, Steve Stamkos, Jeff Halpern and Vincent Lecavalier.

Washington: After the last two games you could put just about anybody on the roster on this list, however, I'll take a shot, Semyon Valamov, Alexander Semin, Tom Poti, Mike Green, Matt Bradley, if he plays - Brian Pothier, and of course assuming he's back on the ice after his suspension Alexander Ovechkin.

Prediction: Washington 5 - Tampa Bay 2.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

If Every Game In The NHL Were Worth 3 Points - Week 10

It's time once again to look at the alternate universe were a win in regulation gets you 3 points, a win in extra time/the shoot out gets you 2 points, and a loss in extra time gets you one point. So as of the completion of tonight's, Sunday, December 7th (Pearl Harbor Day) games here's what the standings would look like.
Eastern Conference:
Western Conference:

So where's the differences?
Well in the Eastern Conference, the Caps would still be leading the Conference and the Southeastern Division, and Pittsburgh would still be in second and leading the Atlantic Division, Sabres would be in third by virtue of leading the Northeast Division, instead of the Bruins who only have won 9 of their 16 games in regulation. The Devils would still be in fourth and the Atlanta Thrashers would be in 5th place instead of 6th while the previously mentioned Bruins would be in sixth. In 7th and 8th in the Every Game is 3 standings we have Ottawa and the NY Rangers, instead of Ottawa and Tampa Bay.
In the Western Conference, San Jose still leads the League, Conference and the Pacific Division, however, in second we have Colorado vice Chicago or Calgary by virtue of the 14 wins in regulation for the full 3 points. So in the three point standings its 1) San Jose, 2) Colorado, 3) Chicago and 4) Calgary vice the current method where it's 1) SJ, 2) Chicago, 3) Calgary, and 4) Colorado. In both the three point and real standings 5th and 6th place in the West are: Los Angeles and Phoenix. However 7th and 8th in the 3 point standings are 7) Vancouver 8) Nashville, but the current official standings are 7) Nashville and 8) Dallas. The cause of the juxtaposition being Vancouver's 14 wins in regulation which are as many as anybody else in the league.
So doesn't this scoring system make more sense to you than the current system? Sure does to me.
Next up for the Washington Capitals will be Tampa Bay for the first time this season at the Saint Pete Times Forum tomorrow night.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Wow - December Started With A Bang and Now Philly, Laviolette and Snow...

So I know I'm a little late with this but I have to get this in, Thursday night at Verizon it was a great night to be a Capitals fan. Further if you can imagine anything that would make it better, wouldn't it be watching one of your favorite players have a 4 point night, while sitting close enough to his mother so you could get a high five from her when he scored his two goals? Well if that isn't worth the price of admission, you have much, much higher standards that me. I'm just going to give a big Jim Cramer-esque "BOOO - YAA" to a) Alexander Semin, b) Semyon Varlamov, c) the entire experience. It was a well played game the only very minor down point was when Weiss scored and broke the chance for Varly to get his second shut out of the season as I think it would have propelled him right into the thick of Calder Trophy discussions.

The game has been well re-capped and fully discussed here in the blogsphere as well as the main stream media but I just have to say there were good games turned in by everyone on the team from my vantage point. I'll only comment on the performances of five other players at Thursday night's game: David Steckel, Keith Ballard, Stephen Weiss, Alexandre Giroux, and Mike Duco.

David Steckel: A solid game, but he really just needs to relax, this goal drought will end soon enough, he's just getting too many good chances for some of these pucks not to bounce his way. Also I'd like to see him get a few power play minutes out there with the first unit in the role of being in front of the net while Knuble, spelling Brooks Laich is still out if there is another looooonnngg power play. I'm thinking a double minor type of thing as I don't foresee too many more 7:00 power plays this season. That was simply amazing - amazingly stupid on Duco's part but more on that later.

Keith Ballard: This guy should have gotten at least three minor penalties and is clearly playing frustrated. Seriously, he laid a cross check on Alexander Semin behind the Panther's net at the end of the first period that should have been called but wasn't, and he hacked several other guys through the second and third that I venture to say if the Caps hadn't been leading by 3 or more goals on each occurrence would have been called. He clearly wants to make up for his bone-head move earlier this week but playing as he did Thursday night wont cut it. In a game where the majority of the team is outplayed it won't matter but in a close game it will. Ballard is too good and too experienced a player to not get it, he needs to watch the tape of this game and start playing more disciplined hockey.

Stephen Weiss: This guy is good. In a game where the rest of the team was being outplayed, there were numerous times when Weiss and his line were on the ice that I worried Varly's shutout was at risk. The goal he scored to put the Panthers on the board in the third period was a solid one and not of the type a goaltender would usually "want back" as it was a laser shot through a screen. Weiss is a pretty unassuming name around the league but I think he's the kind of guy that is part of a solid foundation to build a team around, Thursday's game only solidified that in my opinion.

Alexandre Giroux: Giroux's statistic line in the game is pretty empty from Thursday's game. A solid example that as I am often reminded statistics aren't everything. Giroux had no points, finished +/- even and in 13:39 TOI his only stat line entries are 6 shots on goal, 2 attempts blocked, 1 miss and 3 hits. Of course one of his three hits was the Elin Nordegrin Woods Hit of the Game on Dmitry Kulikov that led to the 7:00 power play prompted by Mike Duco's retaliation. From our vantage point in section 103 I can tell you the hit was a solid, totally legal one, and one if you are a coach you want a forechecking wing to make EVERY time. That Giroux wasn't able to score after knocking Kulikov off the puck on that play is the only thing that didn't go the way you'd want if you were a coach. Kulikov is a fine young player and I expect will be a solid NHL defenseman for years to come. But on the play, the 19 year old Russian did so many wrong things you can't keep count but lets start with 1) where he was on the ice, why wasn't he stopped firmly behind the middle of the net instead of slightly behind the left post off to the side, just begging a forechecker to try and take the puck away? 2) If you are putting yourself in such a vulnerable position why do you alternate from looking down at the puck to the back of your own goaltender, especially when you apparently didn't have your feet in a nice well balanced base position? If you were Bruce Boudreau and Giroux hadn't at least tried to knock the guy of the puck in that play you'd probably want to drive him back to Hershey yourself on Thursday night before going home to sleep. Seriously, the fact that Giroux responded with a very solid, totally legal hit is a compliment to him and I hope that it means he gets another chance to show all the haters wrong. Giroux had a great game and whether it was because of discipline or just total shock that he didn't respond to Duco's retaliation, the result was awesome and just helped "seal the deal" on Thursday.

Mike Duco: Short and sweet - Bonehead award of the Game! I don't know what set this guy in his second NHL game but his reaction to Giroux was unfounded. Seriously is there some history between the two from last years AHL season? If Duco was trying to make an impression, I guess he did. The penalty he took put his team a man down for 7:00 minutes. One of the funniest images I'll remember from Thursday night's game was Ref Kerry Fraser using his fingers counting off the penalties while explaining the result to Capitals Captain Chris Clark and then seeing the 7:00 pop up next to #68 on the scoreboard. No doubt the results from Thursday's game will further skew the data about a home ice advantage for penalty minutes, even in spite of the 4:00/2 calls I thought were pretty blatant make-up/try and keep things even calls against the Caps. I'm all for old tyme hockey, but I want to be clear I don't consider Mike Duco, or anybody else's retaliation against a totally warranted, clean, legal HARD hit - Old Tyme Hockey. The resulting penalties and 7:00 man advantage for the Caps was warranted and exactly why bench clearing brawls are no longer the de-rigor in the NHL. If Duco was smart once he jumped Giroux and had him on the ice he'd have just stopped instead of punching him several times. That Giroux wasn't bloodied in any way shows he knows how to cover up pretty fast and I believe understood the best thing he could do at that time was "take one or three" for the team.

So on to looking ahead to tonight's game in Philly. Well the big news is the Flyers have a new coach - Peter Laviolette. If the name sounds familiar it should be, as most fans know Laviolette last coaching job was at the helm in Carolina, since then he's been a TV commentator for the most part. So the Flyers have a coach who definitely is familiar with the Capitals. The replacement of John Stevens is in response to a season start that has been underwhelming to say the least. Laviolette, 45, has a record of 244-184-59 in 487 games over seven seasons with the New York Islanders (2001-03) and Hurricanes (2003-09). He also coached the Providence Bruins to the 1999 Calder Cup championship, and coached the U.S. at the 2006 Olympics. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said he came to the decision to dismiss Stevens not long after Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. It was the second-straight game the Flyers have been shut out, the first time that's happened since February 2003.

The Flyers come into tonight's game 3-7-0 in their last ten games and looking to break a 3 game loosing streak. The Capitals come into tonight's game 6-2-2 in their last ten and looking to extend a four game winning streak. This is the second of six games in 10 days for the Caps and the second game of a equally very busy December 13 game schedule for the Flyers. So far this season the Caps and Flyers have met twice. The Caps are 1-0-1 and the Flyers are 1 - 1 - 0 in those meetings. Both teams have won their games at home, though the last time they played in Philadelphia it took overtime for the Flyers to gain a 6-5 victory. It should be an interesting game, which Coach Laviollete hasn't been on board long enough to make any significant changes to the Flyers game plans, the Flyers reaction to being put on notice by recent statements from GM Holmgren and the basic understanding that Laviollete generally prefers a more up tempo pace and game to what Stevens preached will bear watching. Make no mistake, in spite of the fact the Caps are in first place in the Conference with 40 points and the Flyers are in 11th place with 27 points, this will be a hard fought game.

I won't be watching much, if any of this game as we will be at a friend's holiday party tonight. Tomorrow I'll put together and present the "If Every NHL Game Were Worth Three Points" Week 11 Standings, and perhaps some summary reaction to the highlights and other thoughts on the four games the Caps will play next week.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dollar Dogs!!! Dollar Dogs!!! and the LitterBox Kittys...

Whhhoooo Who! It's dollar dog night at Verizon Center tonigh and I'm a going. I'm a going to Dollar Dog night at Verizon Center tonight. Sooo cool.

Sorry for the digression and I don't know why I always seem to really like this promotion. Yes, I'm "okay:" with Esskay frankfurters but I'm not crazy, I'll have two and be very satisfied and happy but I'm not a maniac during these nights like I see some folks with four or so of the little beasties. I guess it's just knowing that I'm inside a sports venue and actually paying less for somethign to eat then I would normally pay for it outside the venue - that could be considered a sad commentary on my now middle aged existance I suppose. It's not that I'm cheap or not cheap, I prefer to think of myself as thrifty vs. "cheap" these days vice the "proflagate" I was in younger days so I suppose that's part of it but a very small part. No I think it's just appreciating this particular promotion and the fact everyone in the phone booth seems to enjoy it. Kids get hot dogs from their folks who might not otherwise spend the money for the dog so they seem happier. Their parents seem happier I suppose because the kids are happier. And I just appreciate the whole thing so want to really enjoy the game.

About the game, it's against the Florida Panthers. a Southeast division "rival" if there are such things in the NHL's "youngest division". The Panters are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, the Caps are in first place. The Caps are 16-5-6 overall; 8-2-3 at home and 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. The Panthers are 11-12-4 overall; 7-6-1 on the road, and 4-3-3 in their last 10 games. The Caps average 3.48 GF/game and 2.89 GA per game (+0.59 G/Gm); the Panthers average 2.85 GF/game and 3.41 GA/game (-0.56 G/gm). This should be solid outing for the Capitals but the Panthers are often decieving, first thing to note is the Panthers record this season so far is much better on the road then at home, The second is that Panthers Tomas Vokoun has been known to steal an occassional game though he needs to get a better warning from his team mates the next time teammate Keith Ballard decides to immitate this guy:

However he need not worry, I had an extra ticket tonight and since there isn't an LA Lakers Home game the older guy said he'd come with me to the game in case his services and expertese are needed:

I ran across this guy and thought he was a swami so he and I meditated on it and our prediction for tonight is:
Caps 4, Panthers 2.
Even though without seeing who actually is going to play that's nothing but a WAG. See you at VC in an hour.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ovechkin's Two Game Suspension - On Contemplation Probably About Right ...

Since it seems obligatory that if you have a blog or other outlet to express your thoughts and you are a Caps fan, you absolutely must publish your reaction to the 2 game suspension of Alexander Ovechkin in response to his 5 minute major for kneeing Tim Gleason, here's mine...

So to have a considered reaction to the result I personally must first get over and ignore the fact I don't think a 5 minute major was warranted for this particular hit, which I will now do, only to probably come back to this after my reaction to the suspension.

So upon contemplating the data at hand and trying to put myself in Colin Campbell's position in the League offices I think the suspension is fair and basically necessary. Here's the data I'm looking at I have a player who in the span of a week has gotten two 5 minute majors and in the "new, improved" NHL I must review every major penalty and consider possible additional disciplinary action. I don't know what the league officials supplied Campbell but I have to believe that whatever the referee(s) saw at the game that they felt warranted the major penalty was well documented and given the situation probably a little amplified since they knew a major penalty to a 2 time Hart Trophy winner would be scrutinized by all. I can either back up my officials and looking at the tape I have to agree it was a knee on knee hit and that Ovechkin was the hitter and Gleason the hitee. It looks on tape like Gleason made a defensive move to try and avoid the hit and that it's very possible, even probable that Ovechkin didn't mean to hit him knee on knee (my basis of that conclusion is at this point it's clear Ovechkin took the worst of the hit). That said, Ovechkin wasn't able to avoid hitting Gleason knee on knee and has to bear some responsibility for it all.

He also has in the past been involved in similar situations. Since I'm going to accept that the 2 time Hart Trophy winner is one of the most talented players in the game today, I'm going to say the only one who can ensure that similar collisions and potential injuries to other players are Ovechkin himself, I have to conclude he needs to feel some repercussions from the issue to ensure he thinks at least a little about it in the future. So I'm going to issue a 2 game suspension to put him on notice that he is now officially "a one time offender" and that while he is indeed an exciting player and free to play the game as he sees fit, just like an expert skier on the slopes, he needs to be in control at all times since 99.x% of the time with his amazing skating abilities and hockey sense he'll be able to avoid situations like this in the future and still "play his game" - a very exciting and fan-friendly brand of hockey.

That's how I have to see it if I were Colin Campbell so I'm okay with this.

However, here's how Mark unabashed Caps fan and total lover of the way Ovechkin plays the game, as well as "Old School" Guy who really is getting dis-heartened by the "wussification" of the NHL as is currently going on sees it.

I watched the game, it was a good move by Gleason and he was looking to draw a penalty on AO - probably for charging or tripping - and that's what should have been called, in this case. That said to be far over the prior two/three seasons the penalty that was called on OV the other night could already have been called many times previously. Hard to take issue with this call now given that. If Ovie hadn't of gotten a major two games prior he probably wouldn't have gotten a major for the Gleason hit, IMO, protestations to the contrary noted and he probably wouldn't have gotten the two game suspension.

I don't think the call on Ovie was either inconsistent with current practice or excessive in light of how things are done today, I just think they are wrong the call the other night to some degree and the way the game is "policed" as well as the rules today in their entirety. To me the inconsistency is the rules get changed to speed up the game in just about every facet and now the League and some fans who don't have big, extremely, fast tough guys on their team like Ovechkin (6-2, 225#), Malkin (6-3, 195#), Brown (6-0, 207#),and Richards (5-11, 195#) , complain when those guys use a combination of their speed, skill, physicallity and the "improved" equipment in today's game to their advantage and "play with an edge." That said if everyone stepped back and looked at why they play the way they do it's a combination of things but all originate with the changes to the game and rules over the past 5 years. That's why commentators such as HOF member Dennis Potvin have pointed out, albeit in relatively muted tones, a contributory thing is the lack of "immediate justice and accountability" since there really can be no retribution. That's why an increasing number of teams are going without an "enforcer" and frankly the ones that have them often participate in games that seem really funny in a weird way and seem to contain staged fights almost as "stilted" as some WWE events.

Because of rule changes and this focus on removing obstructionism and fighting from the game to speed things up and make it "better" to watch, it seems to me, fan posts to blogs and even the occasional player post game comments start to sound like lawyers discussing issues. Comments and discussions ranging from this one above to the post of how so and so ought to be considered a repeat offender or "why didn't so and so get an instigator penalty, he dropped the gloves and the other guy skated away" yadi, yadi, yada. In any case we could discuss the what would have happened in the old days, etc. till the cows come home but isn't the bottom line answer to the question that Potvin and others have quietly posed somewhat rhetorically "Why do these guys often play like there are no repercussions from their actions on the ice?" because as they are leading us, the answer is, "Because 9+ times out of 10 there aren't any?"

Was the NHL really worse to watch back in those bad old days of brawling and "obstructionist" plays? From my perspective, no it wasn't. If you want more goals limit the size of goalie pads, etc in a more constrictive fashion, but the changes to the rules that have and continue to further "wussify" the speed in attempts to speed things up will:

1) Only lead to more and more opportunities for high speed collisions, some of which will undoubtedly be knee -on - knee hits or even worse.

2) Only continue to provide more and more opportunities for skaters to run at goalies rather then be tied up by defensemen in the low slot.


3) Only create situations where "new fans" think hockey is more like basketball and squash then what it was meant to be and debate whether or not their favorites are handsome and cool instead of rugged, tough and get it done kind of guys.

Hey in the end you had to know that like any of the other few things I don't like about the NHL and Hockey I was going to find a way to trace blame for this onto the one thing I most don't like about today's NHL:

Monday, November 30, 2009

Caps Earn A Potentially Expensive Two Points In Raleigh Tonight

It was a two point night on the road for the Capitals in Raleigh, NC tonight. With Jose Theodore returning to the nets and stopping 38 of 40 shots (SV% - 0.950) and Caps Center Nicklas Backstrom having a 2 goal/3 point night it should have ended in an outright celebration. However, the post game interviews and discussion were subdued, any desire to celebrate was tempered with the uncertainty surrounding the status of Caps scoring ace Alexander Ovechkin both from an injury and suspension perspective. War is indeed hell.

During the first period of tonight's game Ovechkin ended up with a 5 minute kneeing major when he apparently tried to line up Hurricane Defenseman Tim Gleason in response to a big hit on line mate Backstrom that ended badly for both when they ended up with a knee on knee hit, both men on the ice and Ovechkin with a 5 minute major penalty and game misconduct - his second major in three games. Gleason returned to the game after missing a couple of shifts but even if Ovechkin hadn't gotten a game misconduct he was done for the night, the Caps have said OV will get an MRI tomorrow back here in DC and after that they will issue a statement on his physical status. The Caps responded and killed off Ovechkin's 5 minute major to once again exert their dominance over the struggling Hurricanes.

As if to make my point, from earlier today, about the reactionary nature the DC Metro sports press and MSM some are already predicting gloom and doom and a lengthy recovery period. On both counts I feel these are things that must be kept in perspective and may well not be inevitable at all. To be sure the hit looked pretty tough and OV took the worst of it. Throughout the game both before and after the hit Gleason was on a mission as well, the lack of credible repercussions and retaliation in the game today is definitely a problem. I'm not making excuses for OV, but look at the hit, Gleason had the puck, the hit wasn't late, he turns and goes low to avoid the hit and Ovechkin follows through to finish his check but catches Gleason's knee. Later in the third period Gleason and Tyler Sloan got into it as well.

Ovechkin's 5 minute The Caps, the Hurricanes and the Referees sure seemed to let this game get a little out of hand in the third period. The third period both teams took a tremendous amount of penalties. The Caps took a total of 7 minors, one 5 minute major and a game misconduct throughout the game including 4 minor penalties in the third period alone. The Hurricanes took a total of 6 minors and a 10 minute misconduct including 3 minors in the second and 3 minors in the third period. There really was no reason for the Caps not to play more disciplined hockey in the third period and for the Hurricane's to play more disciplined hockey all night long. The Hurricanes out shot the Caps in both the first and second period 28 - 17. However during the third period the Caps out shot the Hurricanes 16 - 12. The three stars of the game were 1) Nicklas Backstrom (2 Goals, 1 Assist, +2, 22:05 TOI, 12 of 23/53% in the faceoff circle, 1 takeaway); 2) Jose Theodore (38 Saves on 40 shots SV% 0.950); and 3) Eric Fehr (1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 13:44 TOI, 2 hits, 1 takeaway).

Keeping Things In Perspective...

Keeping things in perspective is very important, whether it's David Steckel's current goalless stretch or the on-going battle for truth, justice and standings points in the current NHL regular season. I've lived a lot of places in these here United States during my almost 50 years and I've got to say no place I've lived is more reactionary to "emotional mood swings during a season in terms of reactions to their local sports teams and players than the DC Metro. Just today I was talking to someone here in the ICx Corporate office about how when I moved to the DC Metro, my boss's assistant would truly be depressed on a Monday following a Redskin's loss and that amazed me. I mean as far as the NFL goes I've been an Eagles fan my whole life and trust me there were some really lean years for long stretches there - I mean if I was depressed over Eagle game losses there were years upon years when the best we could muster was 8-8. As for MLB and the Phillies, yeah, it's a lot of fun now, but as Billy Crystal would say - "DON"T GET ME STTAARRRT -EED." In any case like the last commenter to this thread says, emailing a team's owner during the middle of a game is just down-right silly. Professional Sports is Entertainment, if it doesn't provide you with enjoyment and diversion from life's real problems then I really think you should find a different hobby ... and as regular readers know I'm as rabid about my sports teams, especially our Washington Capitals as virtually anyone. Though I must admit I don't see myself and Mrs. Mark celebrating our upcoming 25th anniversary by renewing our vows on at Center Ice of Verizon Center - Mrs. Mark just don't play that tune, know what I mean. So folks, as we get ready to tune in to the Caps - Hurricane's game tonight, let's all just keep it in perspective.

Here's a little perspective for you, the NHL Power Rankings for Week 9 were posted over at Red Light District Hockey Blog, despite injuries and some struggles if you are a Washington Capitals fan, "your" team is ranked 6th, up from 7th last week; and don't forget those ranking take into account injured and LTIR players. I did my own rankings based on percentage of points captured vs. points available to date and the Caps came out 5th. Those rankings and their percentage results through the end of last night's games for the top 9 teams in each division are: 1) New Jersey (0.729) 2) San Jose (0.714); 3) Chicago (0.700); 4) Calgary (0.700) 5) WASHINGTON (0.692); 6) Pittsburgh (0.666); 7) Buffalo (0.652); 8) Atlanta (0.630); 9) Ottawa (0.625); 10) Nashville (0.620); 11) Colorado (0.611); 12) Dallas (0.596); 13) Boston (0.594); 14) Los Angeles (0.593); 15) Tampa Bay (0.583); 16) Phoenix (0.574); 17) Philadelphia (0.563); 18) Detroit (0.560). Simple extrapolation for the Caps so far to the end of the season: 0.692 * 164 = 113.4 points - Folks look at that again and realize that last season the San Jose Sharks won the President's Trophy with a total of 117 points and the Boston Bruins won the Eastern Conference with 116 points. Please get a grip, as I've said I know there's a lot to be worried about, but there is also a lot to like about this team. Contrast the things that frustrate you like loosing a two goal lead against Montreal, against the things you should like, such as the never say die, fight to then comeback to tie and then win the Montreal game in the gimmick. If you must start thinking about April things here in the weeks while some focus on those last shopping days before Christmas, ask yourself if the game against Montreal had been a playoff game and gone to a 20 minute 5 on 5 OT period vs the 4 on 4 5 minute OT period who's performance did you like better then the Caps or the Habs? Then if you're still upset, grab a cold one from your fridge return to your seat and like Frankie Goes To Hollywood said - Relax.

On the David Steckel goal scoring slump, again everyone needs to keep it in perspective. Like Ted Leonsis indicates in his blog and Tariq El Bashir does in today's WaPo, Steckel means a lot more to this team then scoring goals. His numbers in the Facdeoff Circle as well as his penalty killing skills mean he''s an important member of the team and hockey is a team sport to be sure. Yes it's frustrating for all of us who like and root for Steckel to see the seeming total lack of any bounce going his way, but fear not, he's getting chances at games I've watched this season alone he's hit the post at least 5 times, and as long as he keeps doing that two things are going to happen, the first already is - the opposition can't score when they don't have the puck and it's being shot towards their net; and the second is those pucks will start to bounce his way and he'll be scoring. In the meantime, once again put on Frankie and Relax.

Okay bey the clock on my PC it's 10 minutes to game time and I want to go see: 1) Jose Theodore get his first shut out of year; 2) Steckel and Ovechkin both have multiple goal nights; and 3) Backstrom dominate the faceoff circle and take every draw from Brind'Amour. My father gave me lots of good advice before he passed away, one piece of it was "Mark, if you are going to dream, dream big. It doesn't cost any more."

Okay now lets all Relax, Rock the Red and use that Zen Master stuff and think: