Monday, January 19, 2009

Fixing A Goof Up & A Look Ahead to Today's Game Against The Islanders

So somehow my post on the Caps - Bruins game got lost in the ether, no doubt cockpit error on my part so here it is in condensed form edited slightly to fix the tense now that it is two days late...
Saturday night the Capitals beat the Boston Bruins and gained two points on the league and conference leading boys from Beantown. It was a tightly played game in front of a raucous, sellout crowd that had all the elements of playoff hockey that are humanly possible for a game in January. The key matchups were as expected and despite Boston's very large and skillful defenseman Zdeno Chara keeping the Great Eight - Alexander Ovechkin contained for much of the game, the Capitals won. They won simply because the Caps won all the other key matchups, not by a tremendous amount, but they did win them decidedly. The end result is it was a two point night and the Capitals won their second game in a row.

In goal Jose Theodore played a very solid game as did Tim Thomas of Boston. Theodore stopped 23 of 24 shots and had a save percentage of 0.958 including several key stops that kept the Capitals tied or ahead. Thomas stopped 28 of 30 shots for a save percentage of 0.933 including a couple ones where he robbed the Capitals. Thomas and the Bruins did get on gift when Ovechkin fanned on a wide open right side of the net - something Caps fans aren't likely to see occur again too often over the next 12 years. However, neight he nor probably anybody else saw the slapshot that resulted in the game winning goal by Alexander Semin in the third period. The other two goals were scored on the powerplay the first by Boston's Marc Savard at the 1:49 mark of the second period to give Boston their first and only lead of the game.

Fortunately for the Capitals the Bruins lead lasted only 1:10. At the 2:42 mark of the second period Matt Lashoff was whistled off for his second minor penalty of the game. The Caps went on the powerplay and just 17 seconds later Michael Nylander found a wide open Mike Green who was pinching in as he often does. Green put the puck past Thomas into the top shelf left side of the net to tie the game back up for his 12th tally of the season. In the end Jose Theodore kept pace with the sizzling hot Tim Thomas and the "Young Guns" didn't get frustrated by the well executed 4-1 trap the Bruins often employed throughout the night. Every game with a team in front of you in the standings mattered and it was important the Capitals used the home ice advantage and the current situation with Boston's injury depleted roster. The associated Press' three stars of the game were: 1st: Alexander Semin; 2nd: John Erskine; 3rd: Tim Thomas. The Bruins will be the Caps first game after the All-Star break when the two teams meet again on Tuesday the 27th in Boston.

The Capitals next have back to back road games between now and the All-Star break. The games are against two teams that are struggling and desperate for wins: the New York Islanders and the Ottawa Senators. They face the Islanders today at Nassau Coliseum at 2PM in a matinee game. The Islanders have struggled with injuries to key players, particularly star goaltender Rick DiPietro all season and are at the bottom of the league standings with an overall record of 12-29-4 for 28 points. The Isles home record is at 7-12-2 and they are 1-8-1 in their last ten games. By all measures the Caps should win this game without too much trouble. The Capitals lead this season's series 2-0-0, having won the first meeting between the two teams 5-2 at Verizon Center on 12/4 and then outlasted a comeback attempt by the Islanders and win 5-4 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on 12/16.

As always though there are some variables that make this game interesting and could get in the Caps way. Per Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals Captain Chris Clark and Boyd Gordon will return to the lineup this afternoon. Backup goaltender Brent Johnson is a scratch with an injury he sustained in practice last week so the Capitals have recalled Darren Machesney from Hershey. No word on whether "Cheeser" or Jose Theodore will start for the Caps this afternoon yet, nor why it was Machesney vice Simeon Varlamov who went 2-0-0 in the two starts he's made so far this season that was recalled. To make room for Clark and Gordon, the healthy scratches will likely be Eric Fehr and David Steckel.

In addition to the injuries and shuffling on both benches, there's also the fear the Caps will have a let down after beating the Bruins, the one team they really need to beat more than any other right now in the standings, last Saturday. Hopefully, the Capitals will be pros who want to go into the All Star Break riding a 4 game winning streak and no one is taking the Isles lightly. The Islanders still have several guys who can hurt anybody on the scoreboard. This is after all the NHL and that's why they play the games on the ice not via a computer simulation.

Prediction Caps take this game 5-3. Just fifteen minutes till the puck drops...

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

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tonight @ Verizon Center = Eastern Conference "Showdown" ... Sorta

[ed note: I apologize for the erratic posts the last two weeks but I've been very busy on other things and also fighting this recurrent cold/flu thing that's been going around the DC Metro area. So when I haven't been working or doing something I need to do for "real life", I've pretty much only had time to either "cough ALOT" or sleep. So even though I did happily watch the Caps-Pens game I basically crashed right after it. It seems that after 4 days of antibiotics I'm winning the battle and might be able to start getting back to normal. Hopefully, that will start with being at tonight's game with a friend I went to college with.]


Tonight it's "SHOWTIME" as they say. Two of the three hottest teams in the Eastern Conference meet. Right now the Bruins are eleven (11) points of the Capitals in the standings, they are 1 & 2 in the Conference. For the Capitals, they have the added incentive of knowing both the NY Rangers and the Montreal Canadeans are only one point behind them and the Philadelphia Flyers are only two points back. The last time the two teams met was at Verizon center on December 10th and the Capitals won 3-1 in regulation. Given the Bruins are 33-7-4,it's probably not overstatement to call that a rare loss for boys from Beantown. The Bruins are currently leading the entire league with 70 points and they have their own three team competition going with the San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings for the leagues #1 slot, who each have 69 and 68 points respectively. Further given the Bruins and the Caps play four times this season, this is the second of two games at Verizon Center, and the last two games of the regular season are at Boston on January 27th and February 28th; a victory in regulation in tonight's game is the best way for the Caps to make sure they end up no worse than even with the Bruins in this regular season series.
Overall this season the Bruins have basically feasted on teams from the Southeast Division, though you could also say the Bruins have pretty much feasted on everyone, but especially those from the Southeast Division. The B's, as it turns out, have played a dozen games against Southeast Division teams (the Caps have only played eight) and have compiled a stellar 11-1-0 record in those games. Of course as already stated that one loss, however, was at the hands of the Capitals just over a month ago. It should be a very good game and likely a tight, low scoring affair, unless one of the goaltenders has a particularly bad night. That seems unlikely the way both teams and all four of their Goalies are currently playing, but you never know. The Bruins last played on Thursday night at Nassau County Coliseum and beat the NY Islanders 2-1 in regulation. The Capitals, of course, last played Thursday Night at Pittsburgh beating the Penguins 6-3 in regulation. Both teams will be well rested, both still have several key players out of the lineup, though this might be the first time this season when the Capitals face a top notch opponent who is banged up at least as much as they are - might be. Boston's young standouts Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron are currently day-to-day and may or may not play tonight. However Marco Sturm is out for the season and team goals leader Phil Kessel is definitely not in the lineup for tonight. For the Capitals, Tom Poti (groin), Chris Clark (healthy), Boyd Gordon (healthy) and Shaone Morrisonn (lower body) will be the scratches tonight. Brian Pothier remains out for the season with no forecast return and it's looking like Poti's return will be delayed a while longer.
However, since looking almost human for the first week of January, the Bruins seem to have returned to form winning their last three games while only allowing opponents to score just one goal per game. The Capitals have also been looking somewhat human since January 1st and fans are no doubt hoping Thursday's win over the rival Penguins at the Igloo in Pittsburgh signals a return to the consistent form they displayed during the month of December. The NHL-leading Bruins look to win an eighth straight road game and continue pulling away from the Capitals avenging their only defeat away from home since Thanksgiving. The Capitals look to resume their winning ways at Verizon Center after dropping their last two games at home.
Players to watch:
Boston: Center David Krejci - With Milan Lujic and Phil Kessel out, Krejci, currently the #11 scorer in the NHL, plays pivot on the line the Bruins are looking to for their main scoring punch. In the last three games Krejci and his linemates (Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler)have delivered 4 of the 10 goals that Boston has scored.
Defenseman: Zdeno Chara - Chara can always be counted to play big in big games against "A" list talent. Look for him to work hard to have a good night against Ovechkin, Semin and Federov. Given he is a "minute muncher" for Boston, at age 31, the talented 6'1", 255# "Z" remains a force to be reckoned with on the Bruins blueline. He'll no doubt be counted on for on the order of 25 minutes of ice time this evening.
The Bruins Goaltender, probably Tim Thomas who has been on tear all season long, Tim Thomas is the best bargain for a budding superstar, yes I said superstar, in the NHL. However. "even" if Manny Fernandez gets the start, he's definitely no slouch and the Caps will need to play hard, crash the net and "get down low" to generate traffic and score some goals.
Washington: The "Young Guns" and Jose Theodore who is likley to get the start in goal for the Caps. As Bruce Boudreau was quoted last week, the Caps need their big stars to play like it in order to win. The good news is that both Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin cam alive against the Penguis and they usually stay that way for a while. Alexander Semin is playing himself back to shape and should be improved. Look for him to do well.=, especially when he's out on the ice with Ovechkin, Backstom, and/or Federov. Mike "Game Over" Green has the harder assignment tonight. He has to play well and shine, but he also has to play solid defense and that means playing within himself. Even with the guys Boston has out injured, if Green takes a chance and doesn't get solid backup from his likely defense partner, John Erskine, AND one of the forwards out on the ice doesn't lag to ensure an effective clogging of the neutral zone or backcheck, the Caps could just as easily let up a goal as score one. Given the few goals Boston has given up in most games this season, the need for a solid defensive game from the Caps overall, and likely a few saves that surprise the Boston forwards, is virtually a given. Here's rooting for Jose Theodore to get his second shutout of the season or Brent Johnson to get his first.
Prediction: Caps 3 - Boston 2 - why? Because I'm a "homer" and a Caps fan, right now due to injuries the Caps have a better overall lineup, and because the game probably means more to the Capitals. Chip and I will be Rockin' the Red in Section 103; can't wait.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Enough!!! At least that's what we Caps fans hope the boys in white, red, and blue will say tonight when they face the Eastern Conference rival Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps have now lost three in a row. However, they've now lost as many games in January as they lost in all of December so it's time for them to just look at the abyss and say "ENOUGH." The last two games have been disappointing, at times the Caps have just looked "snakebitten."

They are shooting a lot but they are not scoring much. That said it's the time of year when each game starts to mean more and everyone tightens up their play. It's time for a much healthier Caps team to get things "in synch" and once again start winning. To do that they just need to tighten up the defense and crash the net more. Of course that's like saying "to make a lot of money in the stock market all you have to do is buy low and sell high." Everybody knows these things and everyone in the NHL is pretty good at both doing that very thing and keeping their opponents from doing it. Pittsburgh is 3-7-0 in their last 10 games but 2-2-0 in their last four games, last night they beat the Flyers 4-2 in regulation in Philadelphia. Now would be a great time for the Caps to win one in the Igloo and return to form before they have two days off and then they face the Eastern Conference first place Boston Bruins at Verizon Center.

There's plenty to get motivated about on both sides. Penguins fans will no doubt be complaining about Ovechkin checking Malkin again. Malkin will again pretend he doesn't know why Ovie tries to knock him off the puck all the time; and Caps fans will be hoping that he does it a lot so he doesn't score like we all know he can. The Caps who are assigned to cover Sidney Crosby will do it well and he'll keep us guessing on how he'll "get us." Will it be with great play making? Will it be with a power play goal? Or will he just get frustrated and go for the "nut tap?" It's things like this that will make tonight's game exciting and keep us guessing.

Rumours are flaying relative to the game and the subplots but both teams need a win a lot more than this "Peyton Place Stuff." My bet will Malkin hit Ovie and vice-versa, yeah; will Crosby go out of his way to hit Semin not but he won't avoid him either. Will Sidney try and score 10 goals to stick it too Semin for his off hand comments and quotes, yeah. Will Semin and Ovie try and score multiple goals to make a point to the Pens and their fans yeah they will. But in the end it will just be your usual, hard fought Caps-Pens game. There will be some shake-ups in the lineup for the Caps though to get them moving is my bet too and the rumour per Tarik.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This Weekend's Theme? "Not What I Expected"

So the theme for this weekend was "Not What I Expected." On Friday afternoon I expected to see the Capitals get at least two more points out of the four possible in this weekends game - what did I get - Not what I expected - the Caps go zero/nada/no points out of four possible in back to back games for the first time this season. I expected to see Carolina beat Arizona though I was rooting for the underdog Cardinals instead what did I get? An unexpected Cardinals win. I decided to go watch what I thought would be a fairly mindless war movie - Valkyrie instead of watching the Philadelphia Eagles lose to the NY Football Giants - when was the last time "my E-A-G-L-E-S" beat the Giants three times in a season anyway? Instead what did I get - I missed the Eagles beating the Giants for the third time this season and going to the NFC Championship Game in Arizona. Instead, I watched a very good, though anything but thoughtless action flick. I loved Valkyrie but if you are looking for some sort of Mission Impossible type of Tom Cruise action flick you will be disappointed. If you follow the theme closely, especially how the flick ends the point is more a German Military man's Schindler's List kind of thing. I knew there were numerous assassination attempts by sane, patriotic Germans in World War II. However, I did not know there were 15 such attempts by those opposed to Hitler for a variety of reasons. Good Movie - I recommend it, but ... again ... Not What I Expected.

Now back to those wild, wooly Washington Capitals. Last night was the first time this season the Capitals lost in regulation on nights where they had back to back games. Yes, the first time this season when the Capitals delivered two, two, two NO POINT games on back to back nights. It would be easy to dismiss this given the success they've had to date, despite facing and persevering through lots of adversity due to injuries. It would also be wrong to dismiss this and go on like nothing is wrong and no adjustments need to be made. I'm with Peerless who of last night's loss states: "... sometime you lose games you deserve to win. Uh, not tonight. They played their way to this loss with some rather poor defensive zone coverage, especially in the third period, when the Canadiens scored three goals in the first 4:31 to take a 4-3 lead and put the Caps on their heels." Further as Peerless notes "This is a dangerous part of the schedule for the Caps. Big game (Philadelphia) followed by middle-of-the pack opponent (Columbus), followed by another big game (Montreal), followed by another middle-of-the-pack opponent (Edmonton), followed by a game the next night against a big rival (Pittsburgh), then a showdown against the best in the East (Boston). It’s a six-game gauntlet in which the Caps now find themselves 1-2-0. And, more worrisome, they’ve allowed eight goals in the last two games. Edmonton is not a top-notch offensive team, but they aren’t incompetent, either. Pittsburgh is always dangerous, their recent struggles notwithstanding, and the Bruins are the gold standard this year. For all of the goodwill and standings cushion the Caps built to get to 27-11-3, they could go 1-5 really quickly and start seeing Carolina in their rear-view mirror. "

Time to panic no, but it is time for some changes, time to look back at the prior half season and take stock, it's been a great run so far but as the push for the playoffs hits the league here's a fact - everyone in the NHL bears down and gets to business. What was hard gets harder and there won't be many "gimmes." In fact there might not be any for the rest of the season. While, the Caps have done well so far this season against Eastern Conference and Southeast Division foes, now as everyone looks at what they need to "have a good season" - i.e. MAKE THE PLAYOFFS - and everyone, even the Islanders, Senators, Thrashers and Lightning will do so until they are mathematically "out of it," will do so - every game will be a battle. The Capitals need to set their sights on a 105+ point season and NOT take anything lightly or for granted, not that they have done so or are doing so right now, just a point. They need to look at every minor weakness and figure opponents will be working hard to exploit them. Right now that's mainly related to the TEAM DEFENSE - not just the guys playing on defense. Last night's game had some slick moves - for example Alexander Semin's second goal, but it also had some coverage lapses and subtle mis-steps. For example, I know I'm in the minority here but to me the turning point was the whole situation that turned what should have been a 5-4 Capitals power play into a 4-3 Canadiens power play in the X period. That was a real momentum shifter.

[ED NOTE: For convenience if you want to avoid a rant against the: a) DIVING RULE, especially when the opposition is called for tripping, and B) Players who shouldn't but do try and influence officiating with pre- and post game comments just ignore the subsequent highlighted text. I'll start with a basic rant.] To me the whole diving rule is pretty dumb and it's even dumber when an opposing player is called for ... wait for it ... TRIPPING. For the life of me I don't know how a player gets called for diving when it has been judged by the referee that the player was tripped. Technically the call is for "Diving/Embellishment" - here's what the rulebook says that was relevant on last night's call using Rule 64 as applied against Alexander Ovechkin at : " 64.1 Diving / Embellishment – Any player or goalkeeper who blatantly dives, embellishes a fall or a reaction, or who feigns an injury shall be penalized with a minor penalty under this rule. A goalkeeper who deliberately initiates contact with an attacking player other than to establish position in the crease, or who otherwise acts to create the appearance of other than incidental contact with an attacking player, is subject to the assessment of a minor penalty for diving / embellishment.
- 64.2 Minor Penalty - A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player or goalkeeper who attempts to draw a penalty by his actions (“diving /embellishment”)." If you watch the replay, I guess the fact that Ovie's arms flailed sightly was the basis and interpretation that was used to determine he "blatantly embellished his reaction" since he never totally fell and certainly didn't dive. So it's a really, really dumb rule that as you can see from it's original wording is another attempt by BET-MAN and his henchman Colin Campbell to make it harder for goaltenders to do their job but that can be applied to everyone on the ice and is rarely these days applied to anyone let alone goaltenders because it's a hard call to make. Why you would think one of the league's leading scorers would decide to delay a breakout rush from the top of the slot in his own zone to "blatantly embellish a fall or reaction" when historically he's something like 50% when he gets that odd man rush going is beyond me. Of course so was the so called charging penalty levied against Ovechkin last game - I'll cry in my beer and chalk it up to a whinny Flyer comment after they lost their last game against the Caps. [Now here's the rant on silly comments that I think started this whole junk after the Caps-Flyers game.] Here's what I know Ovechkin is a great, hard playing, CLEAN hockey player and I believe that the leagues officials will realize that pretty quickly as they give him greater scrutiny. What that means is that given a few more games of this extra attention and a lot of guys who try and "cheat" to keep up with Ovie by interfering with him, etc. will be spending more time in the sin bin for holding and/or interference. When that happens don't complain about the officials or Ovechkin getting favoritism, or get made that he starts to heat up and beat his goal scoring pace of last year. Please just send your cards and letters to this guy, especially you Scott Hartnell, yes you, I'll saw that face grab on Semin last game really well from my perch in 103 at the Phone Booth you, you, you bully you. I also enjoyed when Semin out you on your butt just about on the right face off dot at the other end like 15 seconds later. With love, a now dyed in the wool Caps Fan. [RANT OVER]
Now about the rest of the game.
- The Caps started a lineup of skaters last night that looked like this (numbers in parentheses = age and years of NHL experience based on this bloggers kind review of their career statistics) :

Forwards - 1st Line: Ovechkin (23/4) - Backstrom (21/2) - Semin (24/4)
2nd Line: Fehr (23/be kind call it 2) - Laich (25/5) - Kozlov (33/14)
3rd Line: Fleischmann (24/ Call it basically 3) - Nylander (36/14) - Bradley (30/8)
Energy Line: Brashear (37/basically 14) - Steckel (26/be kind call it 3)- Clark (32/9)
Defense Pairings: Alzner (20/rookie) - Jurcina (25/3)
- Sloan (27 /rookie) - Green (23/3)
- Morrisonn (26/call it 5) - Collins (25/rookie).

So when you look at this lineup and think "Hey if things start to get out of hand who will be the old reliable steadying hand to make sure the team stays within themselves and works the game plan? Your answers would/should be Michael Nylander (14 years experience, annual salary cap hit of $4.875M) and your team captain Chris Clark (9 years experience and annual salary cap hit of $2.63M) right? Well last night, the answer was, not so much; and that was the problem. As quoted in post game comments by Coach Bruce Boudreau, last night the Caps lost because they, especially in the third period, played "dumb hockey." Last night there were basically two games played. The first game was played from the first face off through the 16:59 mark of the second period and that game the Capitals won 2-1. Unfortunately, there are zero standings points given out to a team that is winning a game through the 19:59 mark of the THIRD period. You have to be winning the game or tied at the 20:00 mark of the third period to get a point or two. So far this season the Caps and the Canadiens have played nine periods of hockey, the Capitals have played their game plan for 156:59 of those 180:00 minutes. That's why they are 2-1-0 this season on the series. The reason they are not 3-0-0 is because they didn't play the game they needed to for the last 24:01 last night. Instead they got caught flat-footed a couple of times and tried to play the game the Canadiens wanted them to play last night. Like the Captials, the Canadiens can play either tight playoff, low scoring hockey or full on, high flying hockey. Last night they knew they were better rested then the Capitals and they knew that with the lineup the way it was if they got ahead, Coach Boudreau would find himself trying to play his top players more than he wanted to.

That's what happened and that's why the inflection point of this game was the diving call on Ovechkin. No diving call at 16:59 and the Capitals are on the power play for 2:00 worst case or score a goal and go into the locker room at the end of the second period with no penalty on Backstrom and the score 2-1. Instead they get a "dumb" Too Many Men On the Ice penalty, then right at the buzzer Backstrom gets called for a hook. The Habs have the intermission to think through their power play and start the period with a 5-4 that turns to a 5-3 when Tyler Sloan also gets a hooking penalty. Then to this bloggers minds eye, Karl Alzner misplays the 5-3 for the tying goal. Don't get me wrong, at least two or three times a game I watch Alzner and think this guy can't be a rookie. There were those moments last night for sure. Playing goalie on the weakside of the net rather then challenging the shooter or clogging the passing lane was NOT one of those moments. The net of it was that Robert Lang potted his goal with 5 seconds left in the 2 man advantage so the Canadiens stayed on the power play still with one man up. Alzner challenges and worst case the play gets in with the same result, though if he's not in the net with Johnsons reflexes and side to side speed if he needs to get over I say 50/50 at worst he does and makes the save. Also Alzner challenging Lang or clogging the passing lane has a lot, lot more possibilities for good then him trying to play goaltender without the right pads on. The result score tied 2-2, Canadiens still on a 5-4 power play.

The next goal came on that 5 on 4 just 43 seconds later thanks as Hockey Mom so aptly put it to those pesky Kostitsyn brothers, ugh. Never fear, here comes "Flash" to tie the game up just 1:36 later. But wait, why get back into the game plan and tighten up when this is so fun, let's let the Habs' respond just 00:16 later and regain the lead. So by 4:19 of the third period, in a span of just ~8 minutes of hockey on the , the Caps went from being in a tightly played 2-1 hockey game where they were leading by 1 goal to a high flying wide open game they were trailing in by a score of 4-3. WOW...that hurts.

What should have happened at this point but did not is the veterans should have come in and taken control and calmed things down. The truth is they sort of did, if the veteran leaders are Matt Bradley and Donald Brashear that is. Yes, they came out on the next shift and made sure that Montreal did not get an insurance goal and they established some more pressure at the Canadien end of the ice. However as far as leadership in the game what's it say when two players (Nylander and Clark) who account for ~$7M of cap space hit have a combined TOI for the game of 19:46 (remember that's COMBINED - Clark had 9 shifts and 6:51, Nyls had 12:55 on 15 shifts including 1:21 on the power play. If these guys are not hurt, then the Caps aren't getting the contribution from the they should be getting, regardless of who says or what inside the locker room. Sorry to be harsh but $7M is a lot of money; if they aren't hurt and according to reports, they aren't, then they need to be doing a lot more hustling. Nylander's production is horrible and has been all season. I'll give Clark a little more slack but not much. Compared to what Brashear and Bradley have be doing in their roles, at a total Cap hit of $2.25M compared to Clark's $2.66M we need "The Captain" to start getting some of those garbage goals we've seen in the past. To do that he needs to crash the net more. As far as Nylander, I just don't know; he seems to pair well with Fleischmann but their combined +/- numbers and 5 on 5 stats aren't that great and as I've said Nyls production is just abysmal this season. After sitting out the game against Columbus you would have expected a rested Nylander to come back and "step up to the plate."

Some other changes are needed as well.
- On defense Karl Alzner is indeed progressing nicely and his pairing with Milan Jurcina works. That said giving the rookie more than 20-21 minutes a game is IMHO a mistake. I think keep him to 19 to 21 minutes in regulation this season and you'll see the same amount of great plays with fewer "rookie/inexperienced" moves.
- Mike Green, well to me the benchmark/target should be 25 minutes TOI in regulation; then if you need to let him play 3 minutes of a 5 minute 4 on 4 OT, and he'll still have legs.

- Ovechkin needs to be kept to the TOI and shift numbers he had last night 23:00 TOI and 0:55/shift or less, as long as Semin is in the lineup too there is no reason to be otherwise. The Ovie - Backstrom - Semin line is great but should be used somewhat sparingly. When they aren't together then keep Ovie - Backstrom together and Federov - Semin together for the third man on those lines roll: Kozlov, Laich, and Clark. If Feds needs a break put Laich with Semin. If Clark isn't up to it then put Fleischman into the mix. When Fleischman is in that mix then make Nylander a healthy scratch, nobody else seems to be able to play with him these days without getting their rythm screwed up.
- Another thing the entire team needs to do is just once play an enitre sixty minutes in front of, really either goaltender, but especially Brent Johnson. The Caps leave both Johnie and Theodore "naked" a lot more than they ever left either Huet of Kolzig naked last season. Even when a game turns wide open like it did in the third period, the Caps need to mount both a better forecheck and a more consistant backcheck. When they do they'll win games like last night against really good teams like Montreal and really pour on the offensive zone scoring when they play weaker teams.
- Now what about Milan Jurcina, contrary to the rest of or at least a lot of guys in the blogsphere today, this game was lost long before Jurcina lost a puck between his skates that he shouldn't have lost. It was lost when the Caps abandoned what had been a winning formula so far this season against the Canadeans. That said you have three choices not four in that situation - take the puck, take the man, or take the stick. None of the above and look around is not an option. When you are the second leading checker on the team, I'm betting all your teammates are expecting you to take the man. Worst case you get an interference penalty and the Caps have to kill a penalty.
Time to worry net .... no, but changes are warranted. Just look at Pittsburgh and Florida and you'll realize how fast fortunes can change in the NHL. Take a look at Mirtle's take on the push for the playoffs - and yes it is defiantly time to start thinking that two short weeks Carolina and Buffalo have held there own while Pittsburgh has played themselves down into a playoff battle with a X-Y-Z record and Florida has played themselves up into one with a 4-0-1 record. Basically right now over in the Western Conference spots 5 - 12 are a battle and in the Eastern Conference spots 7 through 10 are a battle. [ed note: My definition of a battle is it'll take a better than 0.500 record for those teams to get 90 points but they don't need to win at least 25 or more out of their remaining ~40 games to get 90. It's arbitrary sort of in that basically the teams have to play between 0.500 and 0.590 hockey. I consider both Dallas (needs 0.675) and Toronto (needs 0.650) long shots but I wouldn't bet totally against Dallas who at 5-3-2 in the last 10 games is only slightly off that pace at 0.600; Toronto who is 3-7-0 in their last 10 games, well they're currently a bit more of a long shot and on a trajectory to battle for the lottery pick right now, but once again two weeks could make a difference.]

Here's another interesting look and thought. What's it going to take for each of the current Division Leading teams to capture 100 points t his season:

Next up, Edmonton, Tuesday Night at Verizon Center but I'll be at home watching on CSN.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Caps - Zip/Nada/Nothin' - Blue Jackets 3; Gabby Indigestion Due to "Frustration" On Birthday

Well looking around the blogsphere no one is overly alarmed that the Capitals finally lost their second home game in regulation this season, even if it was to an injury depleted Columbus Blue Jackets team at the end of a long road trip. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said he was frustrated on his 54th birthday last evening. A video is available over at "On Frozen Blog" - Coach clearly wasn't happy about a lot of things but seemed to also be still in need of time to figure out what to do about the things he saw on the ice last night. The quote about "It's going to happen sometime, unless maybe you're San Jose who might go 37-0-3..." was clearly a quote from a guy who wants his team to try and go 82-0-0 over the course of a season but knows that there will be games like last night. What kind of game was last night, anyway? From my perspective on the couch here in Bristow, I think frustrating was a good word. However, maybe not for all the same reasons as some others watching but more on that later. Here's some other rationale reactions to last night's end to the Capitals' latest winning streak.
From Nation's Capital Blog: "Although the boys from Washington didn't have their "A" game, they definitely weren't sloppy or disinterested. 45 shots is a pretty good indicator that they were getting their chances (not to mention all the near misses that didn't make it on goal). Some nights, 'ya' just don't get the breaks."

From my favorite The Peerless Prognosticator: "What?...You thought they’d go 39-1-1 at home? The Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets last night, 3-0. Why? ... [See Large Picture of Blue Jackets Rookie Goalie Steve Mason stopping one of 45 shots by the Capitals on the way to his 4th shutout of the year]. ..... Later Peerless states] ... Jose Theodore did not have a poor game, just a very average one. A rebound that got away, a deflection, and a scrum in front. But it stood in such stark relief against what was going on at the other end that it had the look of a poor game."

From Puckhead's Thoughts: "...There is not much I would have liked the Caps do differently in this game, except for the bad penalties toward the end that stymied the Capitals' offensive push and allowed two BJ power play goals late in the second and third periods. Those were pretty bad penalties. ... The Caps do end a four game home stand with a 3-1 record and 6 points out of eight possible. Now they hit the road to Montreal, where confidence is abound in the Habs. ..."

From Capitals Kremlin, the headline " Worst. Birthday. Ever." says it all but the picture and sentiment is pretty cool too.

My personal reactions are mixed and I have a few more concerns apparently than others after watching last night. Sure it was a great game by Steve Mason, I counted at least three really, really good driving scoring attempts by the Capitals that normally would have gone in no matter who they were playing. Not fancy stuff but real digging down low kind of stuff with multiple scoring attempts; and yes Mason was the sole reason the Caps didn't score on those attempts. The concerns I have are in fact with the frustration the Caps displayed and their reaction to it. It seems like the Capitals absolutely felt two things that came through both of which have been covered elsewhere but bear repeating: a) the Caps felt the should win the game and b) they felt "snakebitten" from the start with the injury to Gordon before play even started. The frustration came through after the Blue Jackets scored their second goal when the Caps took some just "dumb" penalties. A normally smart Donald Brashear going off for a double minor when the team is trying to come back just shows how frustrated the Capitals were. All that said I think Caps forward, and former Blue Jacket, Sergei Federov got it right on when he was quoted in today's Washington Times as saying "It is easy to say we were frustrated, but we still have a job to do. You have to respect the opponent and work as hard as they are - if not harder." It's the highest level of the sport and on any given night pretty much anybody can beat anybody else - that's why they play the games on the ice not on a computer. Well as Coach said - good teams bounce back - how about tonight?

And from around the other league's bloggers - over at Sean Leahy's Going Five Hole there's a bizarre supposed interview with Jaromir Jagr supposedly saying he would play for the Penguin's for the NHL minimum if Mario Lemiuex asked him because he owes Mario everything. This blogger's reaction...yeah sure, why not...I'm betting the interview never happened like it was reported, but if you hit the link, you had to love the mullet, I did so I'm putting up here for you to see. No matter how silly or bad some of Ovechkin's pics look they'll never beat this one (don't get mad at me now - I love Ovechkin, especially the way he plays, but he does show up in some bad pictures, you have to admit.)
The usual hockey related silliness abounds over at The Wonderful World of Loser Domi, today they poke fun at Maple Leaf's goaltender Vesla Toskla. So that's not too original given his efforts of late, come on, be nice now everybody.

And before we look ahead at tonight's foe - the All Star heavy Montreal Canadeans, I just want to point those of you who like slightly weird blogs from brash young hockey manias over to another new blog - though not totally devoted to the Washington Capitals - that so far seems to be written by someone with a pretty good sense of humor - "Nochnaya huligana - hockey gone wild" - don't worry about the title it is written in English. Well that is if you think this blog is written in English.


Tonight's game look ahead it's simple....It's for two points in the standings and a LOT of pride, even more so than last night's chance for the Caps to show the hockey world there should be at least three Caps on the All-Star roster. The math for the second coaching spot behind the Eastern Conference All Star bench is simple - tonight's game is for it. Caps win and the second spot behind the bench belongs to Bruce Boudreau. Habs win, it's Guy Carbonneau, the last thing this year's All Star Game needs is another Canadean on or behind the Eastern Conference; no disrespect intended to the Canadeans' record or play so far this season.

The Habs are playing well and having a fine season so far. Additionally, tonight they will be playing for their fourth straight win since loosing to New Jersey in Newark on January 2nd. They won their last home game 6-2 at Bell Centre on Thursday and will be rested and ready to face the Capitals. The last time the two teams played each other was December 13th in Montreal and the Caps took that game in a closely played 2-1 win on a late third period game winner from Michael Nylander and a solid net-minding game by Simieon Varlamov, who is now back at Hershey. So far this season the Caps lead the series 2-0 having won the first game on the back of Jose Thodore's only shutout so far this season. Rest assured the Canadeans will be woring very hard for the two points, their coach's "honor" and to avoid going down 3-0 in this season's series against the Capitals. As for the Capitals, here's to hoping Michael Nylander has a great game after a night off last night, the Caps Defense got things sorted out on the flight to Montreal, and Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Mike Green all get a chance to show why they all should be in the All-Star lineup and Caps coach Bruce Boudreau is the right man to be behind the bench at the All Star Game.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post's blog, neither Boyd Gordon or Sergei Federov will play tonight and Brent Johnson will likely get the start. The Habs come into the night just three points behind the Capitals and have both Philadelphia and the Rangers on their heels as well. This is a game that matters for several reasons, look for both teams to "bring it" and "bring it with their A games."


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Caps 2 - Flyers 1 (SO) - What A Game!!!!!!!

Well a lot has already been posted today and last evening about last night's game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center. Probably the best this blogger can add is some basic color commentary. First, what can you say except --- WOW!!! after a game like that? It had everything rivalry, meaning and import to the Eastern Conference standings, and just a whole lot (65+ minutes to be exact) of really solid, good hockey. Oh, and best of all another two point night for the Capitals at 7th and F.

On the rivalry end - how can you beat this - check out the reported, and also verified by this blogger, pictures of injured Flyers star Daniel Briere aka "Peeiere" in the men's room urinals. I can't speak for all of them but the one in the corner between sections 102 and 103 had 'em. Ironic that the number one answer for "Philadelphia is famous for..." was "C) Obnoxious Fans." All that said, there is much talk in the Philadelphia press belittling the 2-1 shootout win in light of the fact it came at the end of a long road trip for the Flyers and they are injury depleted. In response this blogger asks, since when is a lineup with three of seven regular defensemen injured and out of the lineup as well as one of your top five goalscorers considered healthy? Also, there were even more injuries to the Caps on December 20th and no such excuses came from the Caps. Classless moves by the Orange & White started before the game when the Flyers in a show of disrespect took the ice first while the Mites on Ice were putting their flags out and readying the arena to Rock the Red. That that lack of respect continued to silly, baseless comments by some Flyers about fictional knee on knee hits and turning legitimate open ice hits into trying to take Jeff Carter out, shouldn't be surprising. Having been at the game - I'd just like to pass this message out to Scott Hartnell, candidate-NOT for the Lady Bing - "Nice total face grab on Semin in the third period Scott, glad to see he put you on your rump shortly thereafter..."

Hey Caps fans - what can you say about Jose Theodore's play last night. It was truly another exciting goalies duel at the VC - Martin Biron let in literally only one more that JT60. That was a cool thing about last night's game. As was chronicled here earlier this week, last night was one of those rare non-shutout games (less than 9 in 100) where the team that got two points at the end of the night, scored less than two goals in regulation. Also to make it even rarer, every player on both teams finished +/- 0 since both goals in regulation were power play tallies.

Nice shootout goal by Viktor Kozlov, nice quick power play goal in the first by Nicklas Backstrom. Two points is tow points and 18-1-1 is 18-1-1 as is a seven (7) game winning streak. Next up Columbus Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center on Friday Night.

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Where Are They Now - The Original Broad Street Bullies

Regular followers of this blog know that I am a strange, unique bird - kind of like an emu - in that I grew up in Philadelphia and spent my life through age 43 as a Philadelphia Flyers fan. Six years ago, I started following the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals; four years ago I started going to more and more Capitals Games and this is is my fourth year as a Caps Season Ticket Holder. I rarely, if ever, follow NBA Basketball any more, no issues, just not my thing.
In any case, having played youth and then college club hockey, I was always much more a fan and enthusiast of ice hockey than basketball, which was a sport, I never mastered in any way. Being an ice hockey fan growing up in Philadelphia in the 1970's of course meant being a BIG, BIG fan of the so called Broad Street Bullies. Being a defenseman, my favorite Flyer of all time was and always will be Barry Ashbee. Being on the big side for my age, of course made for a natural affinity though with the so called Broad Street Bullies: Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, Don "Big Bird" Saleski, Bob "Hound Dog" Kelly, and Andre "Moose" Dupont. Of course being a different era, the bullies and many of the enforcers of the seventies were different than most of the enforcers of today. The Bullies were also a key part of the Flyers overall game and were often seen on the scorecard chipping in on offense. In that regard, "The Bullies" weren't unlike current Capitals "Enforcer" Donald Brashear. Additionally, like "Brash" the Broad Street Bullies were also very active in the community at the time and have been supportive of charitable works subsequent to hanging up their NHL skates. Basically, they were the models for the current so-called role players and "grinders" of today, with a "bit" of intimidation thrown in. On the scorecard all four of them seldom logged less than 8:00 time on ice, unless of coarse their appearance in a game ended early in the first or second period because of a game misconduct penalty, an event not unheard of in those days either. Looking back at the Bullies seems especially apropos today since the Caps host the Flyers tonight here at Verizon Center.
Dave "The Hammer" Schultz (Selected Round 5, # 52 Overall in 1969 Draft by Flyers) -

NHL Career Numbers: Regular Season: 535 Games, 79 Goals, 121 Assists, 2294 PIM
Playoffs: 73 Games, 8 Goals, 12 Assists, 412 PIM.
Best Season Numbers: Goals - 1972/73: 20 Goals; Points - 1973/74: 36 Points
Penalty Minutes (Most) - 1974/75: 472, 6.21minutes/game
Penalty Minutes (Least PIM/Game) - 1979/80: 2.15 PIM/game with Sabres.
A Legend of Hockey, Schultz currently has a business that is centered around NHL memorabilia as well as motivational speaking and owns his own limousine service. He has also done some coaching in the minors. His last coaching stint was as the head coach of the Elmira Jackels of the UHL in Elmira, NY during the 2004/05 season. Schultz also actively supports and participates in the charitable efforts of "Oldtimers Hockey."

Don "Big Bird" Saleski (Selected Round 6, #64 Overall in 1969 Draft by Flyers) -
NHL Career Numbers: Regular Season: 543 Games, 128 Goals, 125 Assists, 629 PIM
Playoffs: 82 Games, 13 Goals, 17 Assists, 131 PIM.
Best Season Numbers: Goals - 1977/78: 27 Goals; Points - 1975/76: 47 Points
Penalty Minutes (Most) - 1972/73: 205, 2.63 minutes/game
Penalty Minutes (Least PIM/Game) - 1978/79: 0.353 PIM/game split season with Flyers & Colorado Rockies.
A Legend of Hockey, Saleski is currently Principal of Business Edge Development, a company he founded in 2004 to train and mentor others to help them achieve their business potential. He is also on the Board of Directors of; he and hiw wife currently reside in the Philadelphia Suburbs.
Bob "Hounddog" Kelly (Selected Round 3, 32nd Overall in 1970 Draft by Flyers) -
NHL Career Numbers: Regular Season: 837 Games, 154 Goals, 208 Assists, 1454 PIM
Playoffs: 101 Games, 9 Goals, 14 Assists, 172 PIM.
Best Season Numbers: Goals - 1980/81: 26 Goals (Washington Capitals); Points - 1980/81: 62 Points (Washington Capitals)
Penalty Minutes (Most) - 1972/73: 238, 3.09 minutes/game
Penalty Minutes (Least PIM/Game) - 1977/78: 1.28 PIM/game.
A Legend of Hockey, Kelly resides in the Philadelphia suburbs is still involved with the Flyers organization and is their "Official Ambassador of Hockey"; in this role he works with "Hooked on Hockey" a program that seeks to bring hockey to the youth in the Flyers market and promote involvement in competitive sports in general to them.
Andre "Moose" Dupont (Selected Round 1, # 8 Overall in 1969 Draft by NY Rangers) -
NHL Career Numbers: Regular Season: 810 Games, 59 Goals, 185 Assists, 1986 PIM
Playoffs: 140 Games, 14 Goals, 18 Assists, 352 PIM
Best Season Numbers: Goals - 1974/75: 11 Goals; Points - 1975/76: 36 Points
Penalty Minutes (Most) - 1974/75: 276, 3.45 minutes/game
Penalty Minutes (Least PIM/Game) - 1980/81: 1.48 PIM/game (Quebec Nordiques).
A Legend of Hockey, Dupont resides in Canada in retirement but remains active supporting and participating in Oldtimers Hockey and other charitable endeavours. His son Danny coaches junior hockey.
As a review of their career numbers and their post NHL pursuits, you can see "The Broad Street Bullies" are not a quartet of "goons", they all were high contributing role players and both during and after their NHL careers they have continued to contribute to their communities. In this regard few of today's enforcers around the league can hark back to them as role models. Of course there are some exceptions and one is Donald Brashear. Brash's career numbers to date you ask -
NHL Career Numbers:
Regular Season: 961 Games, 85 Goals, 119 Assists, 2513PIM
Playoffs: 56 Games, 3 goals, 6 assists, 103 PIM;
Best Season Numbers: Goals - 1999-2000: 11 (Canucks); Points - 2000 - 2001: 28 (Canuks);
Penalty Minutes (Most) - 1997 - 1998: 372 PIM, 4.83 Minutes/Game (Canucks)
Penalty Minutes (Least Avg PIM/Game) - 2007 - 2008: 1.49 Minutes/Game (Capitals).

What do you think? Could Brash have been a Broad Street Bully in the best sense of the word? A solid role player who always helps make sure his team doesn't get run off the ice, but can contribute and play the game with anybody on the ice? The kind of guy who even though he has a tough reputation around the league is also always known as a positive influence in the locker room and who also is always willing to step out in front of a good cause? Personally, I think so. I find guys around the league who are listed mainly as enforcers and who when they do suit up average less that 5:00 or 6:00 TOI - those are the so called goons. Brash and the original Broad Street Bullies, they were and are solid role players. Heck, even Dave "The Hammer" Schultz can point to his 20 goal 1972-1973 season as clear evidence he was a lot more than "just a goon", as for Brash - he has the best +/- and Giveaway/Takeaway numbers of any of the current so-called enforcers in the NHL today.
Now it's time for the rivalry to resume in earnest. Caps vs. Flyers at 7PM tonight at the Phone Booth. Be there or be square and let's "Rock the Red" alright kids on 3...
1, .... .... 2, .... .... .... 3.

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

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Caps 2, Rangers 1 - A Two Point Night With Lots of Color Thrown In To Boot

Musings Prompted By Caps 2, Rangers 1
It was another two point night at Verizon Center last night as the Capitals bested the New York Rangers 2 -1. As has already been chronicled elsewhere in the blogsphere, it was an interesting game despite, or perhaps because of, the low score to say the least. Commissioner Gary Bettman please not, good, exciting hockey does NOT necessarily mean that five or more goals need to be scored, every game.
Of course, Bet-Man and his sidekick Colin Campbell, aka Police Commissioner Gordon, can't be happy with the thuggish/rogue image professional Ice Hockey displayed yesterday. In case you missed it there were several events that probably disturbed them yesterday. League favorite/poster-boy/Mr. Clean (at least according to the Penguins' blogsphere) got into the second real fight of his career; AND he managed to finish it without hitting anyone below the belt. Way to go, Sid; by the way that phone ringing is Colin, he wants to talk. Then after that, the Capitals second best forward, Alexander Semin, got into a fight with Marc Staal of the Rangers in the third period, and "Ohhhh myyyyy gooodnesss", ... lost his jersey, because he didn't have his fight strap/tie-down on (game misconduct). (Yet another dumb rule of the Bet-Man era. Ladies chime in here but be honest, your reaction at being able to see Semin's upper body contours outlined in his armor-all garb was what? If the majority of you say aghast and disturbed, I will drop my objection to the rule, despite being populist by political persuasion.) Please note, that while Semin automatically gets a game misconduct for failing to properly use his tie-down; Mr. Crosby did not get one for his, using the vernacular from the Penguins fan blog, Pensblog, "nut tap." Also, contrary to all those who want to see ice hockey become a non-contact sport and allege that Alexander Ovechkin's style of play is not passionate but rather is reckless; Jamie Heward, the former teammate and freind who was accidentally injured during a collision with Ovechkin on Thursday has weighed in on his feelings about the hit. Heward indicated two things of note, he is sure knowing Alex Ovechkin well the injury wasn't intentional, and he will be working to come back ad return to play. Sorry Pensbloggers, I don't think you can call that the NHL sweeping the "incident" under the rug; also I doubt you'll find anyone besides you saying they feel the most reviled unsportsmanlike act in male athletic contest - hitting below the belt - is just Sidney Crosby. or anybody else for that matter, "playing hard on you, but now that I know it was him that punched my crotch, I know it wasn't intentional." I know watching that YouTube Video is why I'm glad he's the face of the NHL and that he got over 1.5M votes on the All Star Game Ballot. (For the record, in the 2000 Census, the city of Pittsburgh had a population of just over 335,000, of which apparently at least 100 are Crosby and Malkin fans and know how to use PERL and/or JAVA scripting. Aside from being the home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the city is indeed also home to Carnegie Mellon University. Why the guys in Silicon Valley couldn't figure out how to get the Western Conference lineup stacked with San Jose Sharks though remains a mystery; I guess the recent economic turmoil on Wall Street and the devaluation of their portfolios have them a little preoccupied.

Why You Don't Want To Be The Lowest Scoring Team In The NHL -
No Matter How Good Your Defense Or Goaltending Is......

While a good defense and solid goaltending are essential if your team is to win a Stanley Cup Championship, a minimum amount of offense is required to win games in the NHL. What level is that you might ask. Well consider this statistic, exclusive of the 69 shutouts logged in the NHL and as of completion of tonight's play there will have been 575 games completed. In 470 of the 506 non-shutout games (92.9%), in order to garner two standings points, the winning team needed to score 2 or more goals. There are two basic rules of thumb to look at when determining by statistical analysis how many goals a game on average you need to score to consistently win in the NHL - average number of goals per game and average GF vs. GA differential. Basically, if you see a team with an average number of goals per game of 2.75 or greater AND a positive GF vs. GA differential, you'll also notice they are looking pretty good in the standings. In fact of the top 8 teams in both conferences, at this time only five do not meet the statistical criteria listed above. In the East there are two teams in the top eight who don't have BOTH an average goals scored per game of 2.75 or greater AND a positive GF/GA differential: the fourth place New York Rangers (2.70 avg. goals/game, -1) and the seventh place Carolina Hurricanes (2.625 avg. goals/game, -11). In the Western Conference there are three teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today, that don't meet that criterion: the sixth place Anaheim Ducks (2.85 average goals/game BUT a -1 GF vs. GA differential), the seventh place Phoenix Coyotes (2.62 avg. goals/game, -8), and the eighth place Columbus Blue Jackets (2.67 avg. goals/game, -5). Factor in the consideration that with the exception of the Anaheim Ducks, all of these teams have been playing better than 0.500 hockey over the last 10 games and it appears likely that all the teams that make the playoffs at season end will indeed have an average goals scored/game of at least 2.75 goals/game. It also appears extremely probable that with the possible exception of the eight place team in each division that all teams in the playoffs will have a positive GF vs. GA differential at season's end as well. Over 82 games that means that a team will need to score on average at least 226 goals in order to attain the 92-96 points it will take to make this years NHL playoffs. Just another perspective to consider when looking at the outlook between now and the end of the regular season.

This isn't meant to be a slam on the Rangers, at least not as much of one as it appears, they have talented scorers in their lineup, they just aren't getting enough production out of them right now. To be clear last night's game with the Capitals was as close to "playoff hockey" as you are likely to see in January; however, it's still the regular season and in the regular season, you need to score at least 2 goals in regulation if you are going to win the majority of your games. Unless the Rangers open things up a little on the offensive end and get more shots on net, they aren't going to do that. The same can be said of the other teams in the league with similar or fewer average goals/game than the Rangers. This is disquieting to me since I believe the league office will continue to work to dilute other aspects of defensive and physical parts of the game until they see the average total goals per game begin to rise again. I feel they will do this under the misguided notion that more goals/game automatically means more excitement and that will automatically bring in more fans.

How's this for weird, actually I guess "just dumb" are better words for it
As of today the Eastern Conference's starting lineup for this year's NHL All Star Game doesn't have a single player on it from any team that is winning it's division. In fact the top two vote getters on the Eastern Conference team, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, deserving as they are currently the number 1 and number 3 scorers in the NHL today, wouldn't be in this year's playoffs in the season ended tomorrow. The other four spots are all Montreal Canadeans, again solid players but all currently on a team that is second in it's own division and fifth in the conference, 12 points behind the Conference leaders. The Western Conference starting lineup is no better it's evenly split between 3 Chicago Blackhawks and 3 Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks are currently in fourth place and the Ducks are currently in sixth place in the conference, and while it's hard to argue against Ryan Gretzlaf and Patrick Kane's inclusion the rest of the West's starting lineup is as questionable as the Eastern Conference lineup other than Crosby and Malkin. The lack of the presence of Alexander Ovechkin and at least one of the Bruins goaltenders, I'd say Tim Thomas on the Eastern Conference starting lineup and the lack of presence of Evgeni Nabokov and either Pavel Dasuyk, Hemrik Zetterberg or Nicklas Lidstrom on the Western Conference lineup is basically laughable. When you look at the results of this year's All Star Game lineup selection process, you have to agree with Caps coach Bruce Boudreau who reportedly has said: "It's dumb." If ever there was an argument AGAINST having fans vote in any sort of manner that lets them vote more than once a piece AND NOT balancing that somehow against input from a) other players, b) NHL team coaching and management staffs and c) the professional hockey writers who follow the sport routinely, this years "balloting process" (using the term process loosely) is it.

Well, time to get on with "Life Approaching 50" type stuff. Next up, the Flyers at Verizon Center, Tuesday Night. I'll be there cheering the Caps on towards, what will hopefully be their 7th win in a row. We all know that the last team to beat the Capitals was the Flyers, so it'll be another tough one.

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

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Quick Look Ahead to Tonight's Caps - Rangers Matchup


Tonight's game between the Caps and Rangers could have a fair amount of significance. The Capitals have a chance to make a clear statement that they are indeed now among the top tier teams in the League by beating the now Eastern Conference 4th place New York Rangers. The Eastern Conference rival Rangers, need to win to possibly regain the lead in the Atlantic Division from the Philadelphia Flyers (who have a game in hand on both the Rangers and Caps and are tied in points with the Rangers @ 49.) The Caps come into the game surging and with a 9-1-0 record in their last ten games. The Rangers come into the game, well ..., backsliding and with a record of 5-4-1 in their last 10 games including going 1-1-1 during their last three games which were at Madison Square Garden. Per the Ranger's official website, they are looking to extract some payback from the Caps, who last beat them in overtime at MSG on December 23rd 5-4 in a game that saw the Caps come back from a 3-0 first period deficit. That should be interesting, as the Capitals, who are 16-1-1 at home so far this season, have made it a mission this year to be exceptionally tough to play against at DC's Verizon Center.
So far this regular season the teams have met twice and the Rangers are indeed 0-1-1 while the Capitals are 2-0-0. The Rangers managed to salvage a point from the Capitals in the 12/23 overtime loss. At the meeting prior to that, on November 8th at Verizon Center, the game was tightly contested until the Capitals' Alexander Semin put the game away with an empty net goal at 19:54 of the third period. Washington surged through the month of December and opened 2009 with a New Years day win over Tampa Bay. The Caps have now won five in a row and 10 of their last 11. The one blemish on that record was a particularly ugly 7-1 loss in Philadelphia on 12/20, that may have helped drive the Capitals to ensure they didn't make it 2 losses in a row the last time they face the Rangers.

That the Capitals continue to achieve the success they are attaining despite the continued number of injuries to impact players is perplexing to many around the league. Caps fans are just thankful that the fruits of a "multi-year" rebuilding program are becoming self evident and being reaped. On that front, only Mike Green, is a definite player in in tonight's roster compared to the players who missed the last "bout" with the Rangers. Green has generally enjoyed success against the Broadway Bangers and should be a real force tonight, as long as he "doesn't get too cute." However in more good news this morning from Tarik El-Bashir, it appears that both Alexander Semin and Donald Brashear will also return to tonight's line-up for the Caps. Semin's return means the Blueshirts will have to defend against scoring threats from four of the Caps top five goal scorers this season. However, Tomas Fleischmann, Sergei Federov, Tom Poti, John Erskine and Brian Pothier all remain sidelined. Jose Theodore will face the Rangers for the second time in less than two weeks tonight and will be looking for his fifth victory in a row. Theodore and the Caps had a rocky start on 12/23 then came back into the net for the second and third period and played just superbly. The confidence he gained/displayed during those 40 minutes have, at least so far, carried over to his play since then. Here's to hoping the first period against the Rangers on 12/23 was the last wake-up call the Capitals will need until after the 2009 playoffs are concluded.

Caps fans have to be hopeful that, the Rangers read and believe their own press releases and play accordingly. According to the Rangers press releases (linked to above), they are a defense first team and the Caps are "all about offense" and the offense is predominately Alexander Ovechkin. While there is no doubt Ovie IS the face of the new Capitals and its #1 superstar, the last game, in which the Capitals scored 7 times, all 7 goals were by different players. To be clear, the Rangers press release clearly meant no disrespect to the other Capitals, it was just very one-sided, perhaps justifiably, in its praise of Ovechkin. You can't really blame them, he is no doubt, one of the best, if not the best player in world right now; and he scored the tying goal that sent the 12/23 game into overtime. However, the Capitals offense is clearly as well distributed or better than the Rangers when you look at their goal scoring statistics to date. The Caps currently have 7 skaters with 8 or more goals (on pace for 20+ goal seasons) while the Rangers only have 5 skaters with similar productivity: Aaron Voros, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, Nickolai Zherdev, and Markus Naslund, though you have to believe that Scott Gomez, who only has 7 goals so far this season will also find a way to 20+ goals before the last regular season game is played in April as well.
In case you're wondering who to be rooting for tonight in other NHL games that matter to the Eastern Conference Capitals, its: Buffalo over Boston, Florida over Pittsburgh, and the LA Kings over the Flyers. You'll notice that for the most part, Caps Fans probably shouldn't care about the outcome of either Ottawa vs. Toronto or Carolina vs. Atlanta other than that both games end in regulation, since freebie, extra points can only hurt a conference team who isn't involved in that particular game in the standings.
Here's to hoping the "third time is the charm" since this is the third time the Capitals have won five games in succession; a win tonight by the Caps would push that streak to six for the first time in the 2008-09 season. I'll be "Rockin the Red" here on the couch in Bristow, Tom and his son will be watching from our seats in Section 103.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Reflections on Last Night's Game and the Road Ahead for the Capitals (along with a little bit of a rant)

Well as usual The Peerless beat me to the punch with a great post on last night's game. It was everything, good and bad that he said it was here.

Before getting into the thoughts about the Caps perfromance last night, an item of note about Jamie Heward , this from Tarik El-Bashir's Blog: "Update: *Just got off the phone with Lightning PR director Jay Preble who said Jamie Heward has been released from Sibley Memorial Hospital with a concussion and is on his way back to Tampa Bay. He is expected to land in Florida this afternoon." That seems indeed good news, especially for this blogger and the other 18,000+ hushed fans at Verizon Center last evening.

Now back to the regularly inteded blog. It has indeed become a season where "good is not good enough," for as last night was a clear two point night, in that the Capitals never trailed and a 2 point win wasn't in doubt for more than 2 or 3 minutes at a time, the Capitals have now transcended to a much higher level of hockey than they ever achieved or many, including this writer, ever thought during the so called rebuilding years. This year the Caps are generally playing excellent hockey, so much so, that during those periods of a game when they are not, you notice it, even, perhaps especially, when the opposing team is also not playing great hockey. Last night was one of those games. The Caps won by three goals, "going away" and never trailed, but because they have now conditioned us to expect great hockey, you notice when they don't play at or near their potential. For example, the whole team seemed pretty flat the last half of the second period, sure it's hard to stay driven and "into it" when you are up by such a margin and it seems like you can't loose, but guess what, it's the NHL and you can - didn't you watch the Winter Classic? And while it was great to see Sean Collins get his first NHL goal and on the score sheet go +/- even, if you watched the game you noticed that his miscues resulted in two Lightning goals. That's not to say the 25 year old rookie is the first,nor will he be the last, NHL caliber defenseman to have his pockets picked by Martin Saint Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. I bring it up to highlight the level of play, we all have come to expect from the Capitals, every game, regardless of who is or is not in a particular game's lineup. It's really pointless whether or not, we the fans, now expect the Caps to play near perfect hockey and strive for perfection every night. The teams setting the standard in the NHL are the ones driving the Capitals to do so; the Caps have a goal this year, it's the goal every professional sports team should have. At the risk of superstition, I'll say it - to win the Stanley Cup Championship. You have to know and believe it is the same goal shared by 29 other teams and the same goal that at least ten other NHL teams are thoroughly convinced is possible.
Who is setting the bar now, well here's the top 10 teams in the NHL based on the results of the last 10 games:
1) Boston Bruins/10-0-0 (1.000 hockey)
2) Washington Capitals/9-1-0 (0.900 hockey)
3) Chicago Black Hawks/8-2-0 (0.800 hockey
4) San Jose Sharks/6-1-3 (0.750 hockey)
5) Calgary Flames/6-1-3 (0.750 hockey)
6) Detroit Red Wings/6-3-1 (0.650 hockey)
7) Montreal Canadeans/6-3-1 (0.650 hockey)
8) Philadelphia Flyers/6-3-1 (0.650 hockey)
9) Columbus Blue Jackets/6-3-1 (0.650 hockey)
10) Dallas Stars/6-3-1 (0.650 hockey).
So if you think you've been watching some of the best hockey played in the NHL of late, you're probably correct.

A final "heart warmer" for other Caps fans who felt unjustly spurned and used in June when the Blackhawks picked up Christobel Huet. From James Mirtle's blog on the Winter Classic comes this subtle reference (my emphasis added): "The best part if you're a new Blackhawks fan? While the team (Blackhawks) was outplayed in this one, mostly in goal, this is the tip of the iceberg for this group, and there's a very real possibility they'll be a contender over the next few years." So as I told the two overly smug Red Wings fans (who wears Redwings sweaters to a Caps - Lightning game anyway - do they think that is "Rockin' the Red"?) that were in section 103 with wingman and I, I'm happy with Theodore. Of course the guy wearing the Yzerman Jersey thinks that the other goalie (yes he plays goal so he's an expert) in his beer league has "better form," his words I kid you not, than Theodore.

Now I ask your indulgence and for you to please excuse the following rant, however one of the most disturbing things for me of late is to continue to hear folks "worry" about Jose Theodore and/or continue to second guess the Capitals goaltending situation. I feel it does three egregious things: i) trivializes the great team (including the goaltenders) effort that has resulted in a great start to the season, ii) fails to take into account that the current situation was not one of first choice for the Caps organization, and iii) really fails to recognize that goaltending hasn't been too much of an issue despite a game of total musical chairs on the blueline due to injuries for over the past 7 weeks. First and foremost, let's review the bidding on the Capitals choices re: netminder at the end of last season and how things look after three months of the 2008-2009 season are in the bag.

As of yesterday afternoon had the Caps gone for a 3 year/$5.5+M deal they MIGHT have had Christobel Huet in the net as their number 1 goaltender this season; Huet's numbers with the Blackhawks to date are as follow. The 33 year old French-Canadian netminder is 9-6-3 with 1 shutout, a GAA of 2.55 (17th in the league) and a save percentage of 0.910 (tied for 21st) in 18 games played. These numbers (save percentage and GAA) are slightly below his career NHL regular season numbers of 0.918 and 2.44 in 201 games played. Last regular season he played a total of 52 regular season games for the Caps and Canadeans, the most he's ever played since entering the league. He's been in the playoffs twice (2006 and 2008) in both instances he took his team into the second round but not beyond; his career playoff save percentage matches his regular season numbers of 0.918. In brief, he was and is a solid NHL netminder but NOT someone you'd want to overspend on nor one you could likely build a team around for the long haul from a proven talent perspective. Ask yourself this. Had the Capitals spent an extra million this season for Huet and also gone for the extra million for next season, AND agreed to give him a contract one year longer than they gave Jose Theodore, do you think their record would be better than it's current 25-11-3? Would they be on par with Boston's pace? As data for making your choice of answers A or B consider this - Of the Capitals 11 losses only 3 are by one goal and only 2 are by two goals, the remaining 6 are by 3 or more goals. So even if you feel Huet would have been the difference in a game you could only reasonably feel he would have won a maximum of 8 more games than Johnson and Theodore, if he were superhuman - being reasonable and assuming he is an almost mere mortal, NHL starting goaltender as his current rankings would suggest call it 4 games and give the Caps 8 more points maximum and he still isn't the silver bullet to overtake the freight trains that are Boston and San Jose in the standings.

So how does the Theodore pickup look right now anyway? The thirty two year old French-Canadian netminder is: 12-6-1, with 1 shutout, a GAA of 3.08 (36th) and a save percentage of 0.889 (39th) in 22 games played so far this season. Okay, he got off to a very rocky start and he does need to show consistency. The solid netminding of his last four games have been well chronicled elsewhere, but what hasn't been discussed much is the comparison of potential and the value of having been there before. As well as the value of wanting to be here versus the apparent fact that Huet realy didn't care that much where he played his next three seasons after last year. Theodore's career regular season numbers are a save percentage of 0.908 and a GAA of 2.68 in 466 games; he has played over 60 games in two seasons and over 50 in three others, his numbers are better in seasons where he has played over 50 games. In 47 career playoff games his GAA is 2.76 and his save percentage is 0.914. He's been through the second round of the playoffs and into the third before and his career statistics indicate two things: a) he gets better as the season goes on and b) even more importantly he clearly elevates his game come playoff time. All for $1M less a season than Huet and for a contract term the Capitals wanted for their goaltender. So yes i) rocky start, ii) improved play of late, iii) so far three more wins in four more starts than Huet, and iv) wants to be here and seems committed to the system - so far no prima donna stuff over the goaltender rotation or play when your hot stuff though to be fair this seems to be the case for Huet and Khabibuhlen in Chicago as well, and v) the Capitals have $1M more of Cap space then they would have had.

How about Brent Johnson, how's that guy look? Well, funny you should ask, he looks pretty good compared to both these guys too. So far this season the thirty one year old American netminder is: 11-5-2, with no shutouts, a GAA of 2.61 (22nd) and a save percentage of 0.913 (15th) in 19 games played. All for more than $4.6M less than Huet and $3.6M less than Theodore. Johnson, like Theodore has been a little inconsistent, and of late hampered by a nagging hip injury but he has been one of several feel good stories for the Capitals. His career numbers also compare favorably with Huet's both in tenure and results. Over a ten NHL season career that started in Saint Louis in the 1998-1999, "Johnnie" is 110-93-13-12 with a GAA of 2.62 and a save percentage of 0.903 in 245 regular season games; his career playoff numbers are 5-6 with a GAA of 1.84 and a save percentage of 0.931 in 12 playoff starts he took the Blues through the first round and into the second round of the 2001 - 2002 season. The only "knock" of sorts against Johnson is he is basically untested over the long haul as a workhorse goaltender, the only season he's played more than 50 games was the 2001-2--2 season with Saint Louis. He is a consummate team player and a solid citizen on the ice, in the dressing room and in the community. The biggest challenge for the Caps with Johnson at the end of this season will be affording him if he keeps his level of play up to where it has been so far this year. His play so far has enabled the Capitals to have a 1A/1B situation in goal and it seems that both he and Theodore get along as well as he and Kolzig did in the past. Another plus for Caps fans to note about "Johnnie" is that while like Huet he has limited (less than 15 games) playoff experience, like Theodore, he clearly elevates his game in the playoffs. All for a bargain basement price of less than $900K against the salary cap this season.

Next up the blueshirts, the New York Rangers, at Verizon Center on Saturday evening, I'll be watching from the couch as Tom has the tickets to this game since growing up he was a Ranger fan. I don't know who he'll be rooting for but I'll be hoping the Caps make it six in a row and find themselves at six points ahead of the Rangers at the end of the evening's contest.