Thursday, February 26, 2009

Off on Business Once Again ... Blog Suffering

Well I was on business travel from Tuesday Morning through this evening. I had to go to Fort Lauderdale on business ... really! ... Tuesday and Wednesday, and then spend today in Philadelphia meeting with a customer. So I missed the Flyers game - I swapped tonight's game with Tom and then figured out I couldn't make tonight either. Now I'm on the coach in Bristow watching the game against the Thrashers on Comcast and Jason, a fine young man from our J2 team at ICx Technologies is at the game with a friend and/or date. I'll do a recap after the game and take a good look at the remaining schedule. Hopefully there is no "going up by two goals curse" we don't know about. As business trips go, this week's was pretty good, though I really do hate missing hockey games at this time of year. So far tonight both Neuvirth and Kovalchuk look good as do Semin and Laich of course.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Here's A Wild Thought....

Can the Bruins Caught In The Eastern Conference Standings?

So after watching the Tampa Bay Lightning down the Boston Bruins, and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Rangers in overtime, on the the free preview of NHL Center Ice on Comcast last night, I had some strange random thoughts. And... What once seemed a totally ridiculous thought, anyone else winning the NHL's Eastern Conference beside the Boston Bruins, while still a highly unlikely thought is no longer an absurd, ridiculous one. Of course this should not be the objective and focus of the Washington Capitals during the 22 games remaining on the NHL's 2008-2009 regular season schedule, playing the best hockey they can and finishing the season as strange as possible should be the focus. Looking at the current standings the Caps first job should be making sure they finish ahead of both New Jersey and Philadelphia. Of course that said I just did a little mathematical extrapolation base don everybody's play over the past ten games through the remainder of the season and here's what things would look like. Now mind you when you look at the remaining schedules of the Bruins, Caps and Devils the schedules are pretty similar with regard to strength of schedule etc. The Flyers have a little tougher road then the other three guys but not too much harder and while I was at it, I decided to look at the other 6 teams in the East who could realistically make the playoffs based on recent efforts and also based on average points per game thus far in the season.

Here's where the teams are now and how many games they have remaining:
1) Boston, 88 Points, 60 Games Played, 22 Games Remaining, Last 10: 4-4-2 (0.500),
2) Washington, 81 Points, 60 Games Played, 22 Games Remaining, Last 10: 7-2-1 (0.750),
3) New Jersey, 79 Points, 60 Games Played, 22 Games Remaining, Last 10: 6-4-0 (0.600),
4) Philly, 69 Points, 57 Games Played, 25 Games Remaining, Last 10: 6-4-0 (0.600),
5) Montreal, 69 Points, 60 games Played, 22 Games Remaining, Last 10: 3-6-1 (0.350),
6) Florida, 68 Points, 59 Games Played, 23 Games Remaining, Last 10: 7-3-0 (0.700),
7) Buffalo, 68 Points, 60 games Played, 22 Games Remaining, Last 10: 5-4-1 (0.550),
8) NY Rangers, 68 Points, 60 Games Played, 22 Games Remaining, Last 10: 2-6-2 (0.300),
9) Carolina, 67 Points, 61 Games Played, 21 Games Remaining, Last 10: 6-4-0 (0.600),
10) Pittsburgh, 64 Points, 61 Games Played, 21 Games Remaining, Last 10: 5-4-1 (0.550).

If you extrapolate their performance from the last 10 games they end up with the following points and standings placings:
1) Washington: 114 Points,
2) Boston: 110 Points,
3) New Jersey: 105 Points,
4) Florida: 100 Points,
5) Philly: 99 Points,
6) Buffalo: 92 Points,
7) Carolina: 92 Points,
8) Pittsburgh: 87 Points,
9) Montreal: 85 Points,
10) Ottawa: 82 Points,
11) NY Rangers: 81 Points,
12) Toronto: 77 Points,
13) Tampa Bay: 70 Points,
14) Atlanta: 68 Points,
15) NY Islanders: 58 Points.

If they play like they have on average all season the only change in the current standings is that Florida finishes 5th and Montreal finishes 6th and the final standings for the 8 teams in the playoffs would be:
1) Boston,
2) Washington,
3) New Jersey,
4) Philly,
5) Florida,
6) Montreal,
8) NY Rangers.
The next 22 games will be intense and it's anybody's guess which three of the following five teams that will finish at 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10 in the Eastern Conference: Buffalo, the Rangers, Carolina, Pittsburgh, & Montreal will make the playoffs though there will be a "whole lot a shakin' going on" between now and the last face off in April. Likewise, it's unclear where the top five teams will finish and will be seeded for rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs but the games will be intense and fun to watch. The amazing thing is that even now with just 22 games left for the Capitals, every game will count and it's entirely possible that after an entire season has gone by, the road to the Stanley Cup for the Capitals could very well, once again, go through Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. But it's no big deal right? It's not like we're talking about any intense division rivalries here, right?


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Caps 5 - Penquins 2 - YES!!!

It was a decisive 2 point day for the Capitals today. The score sheet tells it all today as far as the game on the ice was concerned. In the stands I was disappointed with how many Black and Gold Penguin Jersey clad fans still managed to get tickets, though many were given a hard time. I didn't see anything untoward but I'm pretty amazed at how many folks wear Crosby Jerseys to Verizon Center and are surprised when they get a bit of a hard time. After all the guy is just such a little you know what - I don't know why there wasn't more bad blood from when he hit Ovie from behind as he was exiting the ice, but suffice it to say, though I'm sure the little gesture that Ovechkin made, a "bye, bye wave" to him after the cowardly move, was off camera the crowd loved it. Of course what should we expect from a guy who so far this season has under-delivered on the ice, and punched a guy in the family jewels - the face of the NHL - today he shouldn't have even been the face of the Penguins, that title clearly was more deserved by both Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin. Personally, I was hoping for an Ovechkin-Crosby brawl the next shift they were out together but it never came. I was rooting for it just so Gary Bettman would have something to get tightened up about. Well anyway, at the end of two periods, the score was Capitals 5 - Penguins 2 and new Penguins Head Coach pulled Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fluery and put in Mathieu Garon after Brooks Laich scored the Caps 5th goal at the 13: 21 mark of the second period.
Before I go much further about the game a couple of points and comments about the atmosphere:
1) Folks continue to shout RED and OH during the anthem instead of singing it respectfully. Too bad, I say, I hope the idea of singing the whole national anthem respectfully catches on before the playoffs, I know I'm rooting for it.

2) To the Pittsburgh Fan in front of my seats with a Crosby Jersey on: a) You come here wearing that shirt on a day when your "boy" gets into with our superstar, expect some ribbing or stay home dude; b) I don't care what you think, the best guy on your team wears #71 these days and "Sid the Kid's" ego is probably costing him $1.3M per year, when the guys stunts and ego continues to do that and Malkin leaves Pittsburgh like Hossa did, I hope you still like the way that Jersey looks; c) We won, you lost "nah, nah, nah, poo, poo" dude; d) While it is true the Steelers did win the Superbowl this year, that is a sport called football, we were at a hockey game and while there are Stanley Cup Banners hanging in the Igloo, the most recent year on them is 1991-1992 so since you were possibly in elementary school at the time it doesn't mean much when you're at an NHL game in 2009; and finally e) Of course you're right you are half my age and twice as mature as me, if the reverse were true, I'd be donating the money to a good cause like helping the homeless instead of buying season tickets, but hey I am an immature, selfish guy who really enjoys giving a hard time to the out of town fans the ticket broker who owns the seats in front of me sells them to, so instead I hope you get a headache staring into the sun while you drive back west on the PA TPKE to Pittsburgh. Oh and one more thing we won - nah nah nah poo poo; and yes I know that's the second time I said that but I'm immature and since it felt sooo good the first time I figured I'd do it again.
3) The crowd was indeed loud and proud, proud of their home team, and that was a great, fun thing to see.

4) I have a suggestion to get EVEN MORE folks in Red and less folks wearing opposing team sweaters - here it is. In between periods, I suggest that only a very few concession stands sell food and beverages to folks wearing opposing jerseys AND they be forced to pay a 50% premium if the are actually wearing the jersey when they pay at the register. I think it would be cool to see all those guys taking those "Crosby Penguin Jerseys" off so they could buy the good beer and pay just the normal $7.50 per beer. After all when it comes to Penguins fans we're talking about a group that in the year after the lockout, they came to "our house" and broke "Horn Guy's" horn.
Now back to the game...

The following guys had solid games for the Penguins: Evgeni Malkin; Brooks Orpik; Sergei Gonchar and Maxime Talbot, though none of them controlled the tempo of play for any extended period like an entire shift. Mathieu Garon was flawless stopping 14 of 14 shots but the damage was done before he got into the game.

The following guys had great games for the Capitals:

1) Sergei Federov - entirely deserving of the first star he got. 1 goal, 1 assist; +2; 50% (6/6) in the faceoff circle; 12:41 of ice time. He is a great catalyst for both a solid, energetic second line and the power play; and that's "all" he did this afternoon. Last year this time he may have been "unwanted in Ohio" but this year he is proving he remains one of the most elite players in the NHL of all time. The future hall of fame center is a key ingredient to this year's successful Washington Capitals team.
2) Alexander Ovechkin - second star of the game. 1 goal, 1 assist; 9 shots, 5 hits, 2 takeaways in 18:36 of ice time. He owned Crosby and during the second period when it looked like the real best player on the Penguins - Malkin - might get some room and come alive, Ovie put the body on Geno to keep him in the family of us mere mortals. That seemed to jolt the backliners like Morrisonn to life and make them play a more physical game with Malkin the rest of the game.

3) Alexander Semin - third star of the game. 1 goal, 1 assist, +2; 4 take aways. Semin had 15:21 TOI including some really excellent short handed play during 2:26 on the penalty kill. The "other Alex" clearly wanted to make a statement and show he deserved being listed as an elite player in the NHL and did so today.

4) Tom Poti - 21:16 TOI including 8:04 on the Penalty kill; 1 assist and +1 on the afternoon; Poti was NOT on the ice for either of the Penguin goals and also had 1 hit and 4 blocked shots.

5) Mike Green - Once again led the Caps with 24:04 TOI including 5:32 on the penalty kill time. "Game Over" also had 1 assist, 5 shots, 3 hits, and 2 takeaways.

6) Jose Theodore - A save % of 0.939; came up with several big saves to keep the momentum going the Caps way; a solid effort by the former Hart and Veznia winner.

7) Nicklas Backstrom - Twenty-four (24) shifts, 20:23 TOI including 4:45 on the penalty kill unit, 2 assists, 4 hits, 45% in the face off circle. Another solid game for the sophomore, he too had a couple of solid plays and looked good when matched up with Crosby, though it's hard to compare the two since I've never seen Backstrom whine, ever.
Well next up will be the ever tough Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday Evening at Verizon Center. I had planned to go but now I have to be out of town on business so I'll either swap my tickets with Tom for Thursday or give my tickets to someone in the office. I'll be listening though probably a little distractedly as I'll be in South Florida...


Saturday, February 21, 2009

WHAT Happened -

I started a new blog and this one got all corrupted - working on fixing things - sorry guys...

Disappointment & Anticipation ....

So this afternoon I am of course disappointed that Jose Theodore and the Capitals didn't play well and beat Theo's old team - the Colorado Avalanche last evening. To be sure the Avs played a great game - they perfectly executed their game plan. They pretty much owned the middle of the ice last night. Further when the Caps did try and use the wings, the Avs shut them down - there were few times when even the Great 8, who is clearly used to working in traffic, managed to create any room for himself or "capitalize" on the room his linemates may have had. Finally, when the Caps did get good shots off, Av's goalie Andrew Raycroft had an answer for them and it was "Not Tonight..." So in the end, it was a rare "No Point" night at Verizon Center for the home team. As folks who follow this blog regularly know, I'm not a "Oh well, you can't win them all" kind of guy, so of course I'm disappointed, though I am optimistic about tomorrow afternoon's nationally televised game against the Penguins. That game should be a "barn burner."

Today is our 21st anniversary so in just a second I have to shut down and join my wife to celebrate. That said I just watched Joffery Lupul victimize Marc-Andre Fleury for his 17th goal of the season and the first fight of the game between Riley Cote and Eric Goddard. The Pens will come into the game energize but they will be playing the second half of a "back-to-back," the Caps will be motivated to win and take a 3-0 lead on the regular season series. I'll be there with my friend Pat - "Rockin' the Red" in section 103.

Tomorrow's game should be the Caps eighth sell out in a row. In fact, Washington has sold out every home game since the New Year except the January 13th, Tuesday night game against the Edmonton Oilers, and it's entirely possible that every remaining game this regular season could be a sellout. When I renewed my season tickets this past week, moving seats to anywhere I might want to go other than where I'm already at in the lower bowl was simply not a real option. I was told there was one (1) open seat available in section 103; a group of 3 together in section 102; and a group of 3 as well as an isolated single in section 108. How times have changed in four years, try and tell me Washington, DC isn't a "hockey town". So I might just go to "Open Seat Night" this summer just to take a picture of the fact there are no "Open Seats". The "Frozen Four" should also be awesome too, I can't wait - I have my seat for that fiesta.

See ya at the Phone Booth tomorrow -

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Caps 4 - Montreal 3 (SO)

Another two point night at Verizon Center for the Capitals. Though thanks to three Montreal Canadien power play goals this win didn't come easily for the Caps. The Canadiens got on the board first with a quick power play goals from There was a highlight reel goal from Christopher Higgins at the 2:33 mark. Then at the 10:07 mark Alexander Ovechkin scored another GGGRRREEEAAATTTT highlight reel goal. The Peerless has a good description and a link to a video of it that I can't duplicate or otherwise match. I'll just use the word that Ovechkin himself uses to describe things like this - it was really sick! and that's sick in a good way.

At the 13:42 mark the Capitals in the form of Nicklas Backstrom took a 2-1 lead when he scored a power play goal of their own - his 14th goal of the season. However the Caps then surrendered the lead, allowing the Canadiens to tie the game with another power play goal at the 17:03 mark of the first period by Andrei Kostitsyn. The score then remained tied through the entire second period and well into the third until Montreal took the lead at the 8:57 mark of the third period when Tomas Plekanec scored the Canadiens third power play goal of the night. While the Caps seemed to generally control the game more often then not at even strength it took them until the 17:21 mark to once again tie the game. At that juncture, David Steckel tied the game up with another even strength goal. The game went into and through overtime and ended in a shootout. The Caps first two shooters Aleander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom both put the puck past Carey Price while at the other end Jose Theodore "took care of business" stopping shots from both Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov.

Mystery of the night: 1) How Markov gets the first star of the game?

Next up the Colorado Avalanche on Friday evening at Verizon Center.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sizing Up Tonight's Opponent and Tonight Game

Well tonight the Washington Capitals face off against the fabled Montreal Canadiens, it should be a very interesting game. The Canadeans have been struggling a bit of late; they 3-7-0 in their last ten and they lost their last game 4-2 against the Canaucks in Vancouver on Sunday. This latest set of struggles has led to some open concern and several personnel moves on the roster.

On Tuesday the Canadiens announced they were sending veteran forward Sergei Kostitsyn down to their AHL affilate, the Hamilton Bulldogs and they called up forward Gregory Stewart. Stewart, 22, registered one point (one assist), posted a plus-1 rating and averaged 9:38 of ice time in three games this season with the Canadiens. The left-winger, who started the season in Hamilton, has amassed 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) with a plus-8 rating and is sixth in the AHL this season with 170 penalty minutes in 51 games with the Bulldogs so far in to 2008-2009 season. Kostitsyn, the 21 year old he's replacing on the Habs roster has scored 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) and served 64 penalty minutes in 52 NHL contests so far this season. Elsewhere on their roster, the Canadiens also made some moves to shake up their blue line corps, they acquired Mathieu Schneider from the Thrashers for two draft picks. Schneider has yet to see a power play he didn’t like. A defensive quarterback by trade, the 39-year-old Schneider ranked second among Thrashers defensemen with 15 points in 44 games this season before arriving in Montreal. Schneider spent the first seven years of his NHL career with the Habs, from 1988 through 1995 and was on their Stanley Cup winning squad in 1993. Further per James Mirtle's blog: Canadiens star and Captain Alex Kovalev has been given a leave of absence and will not be travelling with the team this week to Washington and Pittsburgh. As of now, the team is saying the reason is that he is tired and not playing well. Reportedly, GM Bob Gainey called his play "unacceptable," and rumors are that Kovalev won't be on this team as of March 4. So the Capitals will be facing a shuffled Montreal lineup with a team that will have been somewhat "energized & motivated" by their general manger and coaching staff. Whether that can jolt them to life against a well playing and reasonably rested Capitals team in the first of nine consecutive home games remains to be seen by fans of the oldest team in the NHL. However, if you are a Caps fan, lets hope they come out motivated to finish their regular season series against the Canadiens 3-1-0 with a win in regulation tonight.

For the Capitals Jay Beagle and Karl Alzner have been sent down to Hershey and won't play against Montreal. Viktor Kozlov also remains injured and out of the lineup. The Caps now have eight defensemen and sending Alzner to Hershey is a way to get him some playing time, additionally he didn't have his best game in his last outing. Otherwise the lineup tonight should look pretty similar to the team that took the ice against Florida.

I'll be there "Rockin' the Red" in Section 103 with my buddy Mike. Should be a good one. I expect Jose Theodore to get the start in net. Here's hoping Theo shuts out his former club and the "Young Guns" all get hat tricks, that said I don't expect a 12-0 score so here's my prognostication:

Capitals 4 Canadiens 1.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Penguins Fire Therrien - It's Just Like When The Caps Fired Hanlon Only Way Different

Pittsburgh has fired head coach Michel Therrien and replaced him with Dan Bylsma on an interim basis. So this is just like last year when the Capitals replaced Head Coach Glen Hanlon with the head coach of their AHL Affiliate Bruce Boudreau, right? Well to be sure Pens GM Ray Shero, Ownership and legions of Penguins Fans hope so given the way last season went for Capitals. However if you look at things closely, the similarities end with the fact each team was loosing, fired their head coach and put the coach of their AHL affiliate behind the bench.

First there is the fact the Capitals were in the process of an extensive rebuilding and had Hanlon and crew had several years to put their system in place and it sure seemed like it had taken the Caps as far as it could. The feeling of the Caps from ownership to faithful was one that felt the time had come for reasonable results but last season no one, and I mean NO ONE. expected the Capitals to go deep into the playoffs. Everyone figured the nucleus which was completed by Nicklas Backstrom would take 3 or 4 more years to get things settled in DC. So difference number 1 was that expectations in DC last season were reasonable.

Second, before last season the Caps hadn't made the playoffs let alone gone deep in them for several years. I just double checked and last year, the Penguins coached by this guy went to the Stanley Cup Finals. So it isn't like there isn't reason to think there are other things at issue in Pittsburgh besides Michel Therrien - don't get me wrong, I don't think he's the Phil Jackson of the NHL, ever was or will be, but when you have the talent the Pens clearly have and you don't win, it's not just the coach. (Oh and the guy who I would think of as the Phil Jackson of the NHL - that guy used to be named Scotty Bowman, these days he goes by the name of Mike Babcock. If Bruce Boudreau can keep the Caps together, playing unselfishly, and hold it all together for say 3 or 4 years where the Caps win a couple of Cups, he too will be in that class. No disrespect, I think he might actually do it with the bunch of guys in DC these days but we have a way to go. BTW, I would love to hear Sergei Federov's thoughts on that subject, perhaps Mike Vogel can get that interview after this years playoffs are over.) In any case the difference is the pressure on Boudreau in November 2007 was little to none - the pressure on new Penguins head coach Bylsma is substantial.

Third the experience of both men is markedly different. At 52 when he took the helm of the Capitals, Boudreau had extensive minor league coaching experience and had worked in several NHL organizations. He was in his third year as head coach of the Hershey Bears and had spent nine seasons as an AHL head coach. In addition to the Calder Cup he won in 2006, he had also won the ECHL championship - the Kelly Cup as head coach of the Mississippi Sea Wolves in 1999. In short, Bruce Boudreau had paid a lot of dues, after he won the Jack Adams Trophy last season, the question in may fans minds when they heard his story was "Why didn't someone give this guy a shot as an NHL head coach sooner?" This is meant as no disrespect to Dan Bylsma, the W-B Baby Pens are a well coached team that is playing well a and he may well be a very good coach. Also it's clear some changes needed to be made and it's a lot easier to replace a head coach, or a GM, then it is to totally rebuild an entire team; and what team with Sid Crosby (the guy I love to hate) and Evgeni Malkin would want to start over totally anyway? It's just clear that the coaching experience contrast between Bruce Boudreau and Dan Bylsma is stark. At 38, Bylsma instantly becomes the youngest coach in the NHL and is only five years removed from his playing career with the Ducks. This is his first season as an AHL head coach, and even if the Pens' affiliate in Wilkes-Barre is one of the top teams in the league, it's not nine years and a Calder Cup.

Finally, one has to wonder about how many of the current changes to the Penguins lineup between last season and this season is Therrien's doing vice GM Ray Shero's vice local hero co-owner/chairman Mario Lemieux's. There's probably more then enough to go around and I'd guess Therrien's alleged mercurial personality was part of the reason for his drawing the short straw, given Lemieux owns the team it was a two horse race and the first logical shoe is probably the head coach. All that said I wonder if now we'll get some details as to why the Penguins ever refused to figure out a way to keep Ryan Malone on their team, they certainly miss him now. I've always felt Matt Cooke for Jarkko Ruutu at a salary cap savings of 100K was a very smart move; I even felt that way before Ruutu did his best Mike Tyson impersonation. (And Bettman sends Avery to anger management for saying folks pick up his sloppy seconds - go figure?) I know why the Caps couldn't hold on to Cooke but boy I wouldn't have minded if they figured out a way to hold on to him, I'll take Cooke over Avery or Ruutu any day, plays the same role well, without any of the baggage. I'll also accept that Marian Hossa wasn't going to stay in Pittsburgh no matter what but Malone would have gladly stayed and retired a Penguin, they should have figured out how to make that happen, instead now they need a winger for Crosby otherwise they have to stack both he and Malkin on the first line since Miroslav Satan, good as he is, is only a "poor man's Hossa". When you look at the Penguins salary cap data, the problem is clear - up front - 3 great centermen but no "power forwards" - though Malkin can play that role, it's a waste to put him there. So as you look at the Penguins salary cap situation and you see they have no room this season, little room next season, and no clear power forward on the roster after this July who isn't a UFA, how's that the Coach's fault? Clearly last season was supposed to be "The Year" for Pittsburgh and if not for the Detroit Red Wings, it probably would have been. I guess in the end that's why it's Therrien's head not Shero's that Lemieux opted for, but with no cap room and really nobody they want to deal that anybody wants, how will Ray Shero get more help on the wings for his excellent group of centers?

Well look, I'm a Caps fan so I guess I really don't care. I'm just trying to make my point clear, there is little to no similarity between the Caps move in September 2007 and the Penguins move this past weekend. Anybody who thinks there is hasn't looked below the surface.

Yet another reason it's fun to be a Caps fan this year - it's not fun to be a Penguins fan. Sure means folks on NBC will have more to talk about besides the so called Ovechkin/Semin vs. Malkin/Crosby feud next Sunday thankfully though, eh?


Sunday, February 15, 2009

A TWO Point Day - Caps 4, Panthers 2

Ovechkin Gets Fourth Career Hat Trick
Mike Green's Goal A Game Streak Ends At Eight

The Caps-Panthers game today at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fl. started the way most folks expected, a tightly played game between two talented teams with eyes towards the post-season. The Caps wanting to send a message that after last year, they of all teams know not to look past anybody or take any lead for granted in the standings, nab two points and retake 2nd place in the Eastern Conference from the New Jersey Devils. The Panthers wanting to extend their winning streak to four and take over 6th place in the Eastern Conference from the New York Rangers. The lineup today for the Caps second game of February's Florida "Back - to - Back" was:
Forward Lines:
Defense Pairings:
Morrisonn - Green,
Alzner - Poti,
Schultz - Jurcina;
#1 Goaltender Jose Theodore took the start. [ed note: So I was off slightly on my guesses/prognostications this afternoon, Michael Nylander sat as a healthy scratch and got some rest as did John Erskine and Staffan Kronwall. It was a solid lineup to counter the hot and driven Florida Panthers team.]

The game was indeed tightly played, for the first period the Panthers out shot the Caps 11-8, while the Caps out hit the Cats 5-4. The difference was "special teams play," the Capitals penalty killers held the Panthers scoreless on their two two man advantages and the Caps power play unit went 1 for 1. At 15:38 with Panther Cory Stillman in the penalty box for goaltender interference, Alexander Ovechkin too a nice feed/set up from Alexander Semin and "walked the line" from the right point over to center ice where he used an excellent screen by Brooks Laich to zing one of the best wrist shots ever past Tomas Vokoun. The goal was Ovechkin's league leading 39th of the season.
The second period started out much differently than the first as the Caps got a quick goal off the stick of Eric Fehr at 00:30 of the period. The Fleischmann-Federov-Fehr line contiued their hot streak and Fehr continued to display his ability to light the red goal lamp. It all started when Sergei Federov took the puck out of the far left corner to in front of the net and was pulled off the his line by the defender, so he misplayed the puck. However, Eric Fehr was right there "with a nose for the net" to bang the loose puck home past a helpless Tomas Vokoun to put the Capitals up 2-0 just 30 seconds in the second period. The goal was Fehr's 9th of the season and sixth (6th) so far this month. The game continued to be a tightly played one though the Caps did take a few too many penalties. First we had the excitement of giving the Panthers a 4 - 3 man advantage for nearly a minute (0:50) at the 5:53 mark when Jeff Schultz was whistled off for holding while Tom Poti was already in the box for interference and the Panthers Richard Zednick was off for tripping. The penalty killers were excellent once again and the Panthers didn't get too many shots or clear chances though they did exert a fair amount of pressure. But then at the 12:08 mark with both teams at full strength, Stephen Weiss brought the puck all the way in and then found Michael Frohlich with a beautiful pass from the corner to the low slot that Frohlich fluidly wristed into the net past Jose Theodore. The goal, which brought the Panthers to within 1, was Frohlich's 14th of the season. Just to make sure the Capitals Penalty Kill team stayed in practice, Shaone Morrisonn decided to take an interference penalty at the 17:36 mark that pretty much kept the Caps from making a major drive for an insurance goal in the waning minutes of the second period. To be fair though it sure seemed like the Caps had more shots on net that Tomas Vokoun had to stop then Jose Theodore did during the Morrisonn penalty. Overall the period was a "tie" though the Caps seemed to outplay the Panthers or at least match their energy level at all times. Statistically the Caps out shot the Panthers in the second period 14-10 and though the Cats out hit the Caps 10 -5. Each team had a goal for their efforts and the overall score was 2-1 at the end of two.
The third period started out looking like it might be the antithesis of the second stanza of hockey. Right off the bat, Sergei Federov put the puck over the glass to rightfully draw a delay of game penalty at the 00:22 mark to give the Panthers their sixth (6th) power play of the game. While the Panthers' power play has been toothless of late, the Caps tempting of fate finally bit them and Nathan Horton capitalized on the man advantage to set Federov free at the 1:29 mark on a nicely executed effort that was assisted by Stephen Weiss and Bryan McCabe. The goal, Horton's 16th of the season brought the Panthers even with the Capitals and setup an exciting final eighteen minutes. The Caps tried to turn the heat up after Horton's tying goal but the Cats responded and kept even with them. At the 6:44 mark to keep up with Sergei Federov, Nick Backstrom did a turn of "anything you can do, I can do better" with Fedrov and also took a delay of game penalty for putting the puck over the glass from almost the same spot on the ice that Feds had done 6:22 earlier. Caps fans everywhere had to be thinking "oh noooo, Mr. Bill!!!" but the penalty killers once again did their jobs well and kept the game tied. At just past the 12:00 mark the Caps first line exerted a bunch of pressure that had folks hopping but then somehow even though neither Tomas Vokoun or Alexander Semin were in the crease, Semin got called for the Caps 8th penalty of the night for goaltender interference. [ed note: Since I'm lazy and don't want to look the rule up could someone explain to me how unless the referee didn't see the play properly how this happens? I thought since Vokoun was outside of the crease both players have a right to play for the puck and to be in the space they were in.] The Caps once again killed of the penalty though this time the Panthers did exert some pressure, both Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn got away with mistakes on the last penalty kill, thankfully and the game remained tied at two. The game stayed that way though the Caps seemed to decide they wanted to win this game when following the Semin penalty the Panthers tried to "kick it up a notch" and the Capitals responded with even more energy from everyone across the board. However, the first line really "put it all out there." At the 17:29 mark Ovechkin took the puck into the zone passed it to Backstrom who then gave the puck back to Ovie so he could put his 40th goal of the season past Vokoun to put the Caps up 3-2 with the game winner. The Caps then kept the heat up and made it hard for the Panthers to pull Vokoun though at about the 19:00 mark Vokoun got to the bench and the Panthers did a great job of keeping the pressure on with the extra attacker. Then first Alexander Ovechkin clears the puck and Panthers brought it back into the zone again. Next Ovie, got a takeaway at the top left corner of the their zone and somehow managed to clear the puck past the Panthers and just barely into the empty net for his 41st of the season to ice the win for the Capitals at 19:41, that somehow Jeff Schultz who didn't have too good a game otherwise, got an assist on.
At the end of the game, all you could probably say was ... "WOW" ... the Caps went to Florida for back to back games and came away with two pretty solid victories. Their "Young Guns" are certainly "clicking." Mike Green has had a phenomenal February so far, even today he was held off the score sheet for the first time since January 2oth when the Caps lost a game to the struggling Senators in Ottawa. As even a nearly dead Caps fan probably now knows in the following eight (8) games, Mike Green set a new NHL record for goals in consecutive games by a Defenseman. In addition to Green's 10 goals in the last nine games, league goal scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin also has 10 goals including hat tricks today against Florida and against Ottawa on February 1st. Alexander Semin has nabbed 3 goals and 6 assists; and Nicklas Backstrom has 1 goal and 11 assists (7 primary and 4 secondary) in that same nine game span.
The Caps are now 5-1-1 in February and 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. The Caps are now in third place in the Eastern Conference standings tied in points with the New Jersey Devils at 77 points. On the year the Caps now have an overall record of 36-16-5 ( hockey); their home record at Verizon Center remains at 22-4-1 ( ). The Phone Booth has indeed become a place where other teams would prefer not to play; the crowds are large (often sellout), loud, and enthusiastic - the kind of crowds that invigorate and inspire home teams. This road trip though was about taking the Capitals above 0.500 on the road. For that to happen, the Caps had to look inside themselves and then look at their Southeast Division opponents in Tampa Bay and South Florida and say - this is our division, we took claim to it last year this time and we are going to hold on to it now. Happily for we Caps Fans, we band of red clad brothers, the Capitals did indeed make that statement. The Caps took 4 points in back to back games for the first time this season, they are now thirteen (13) points in front of the second place Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division. They have also set a tone when it comes to facing their Division Rivals whom they have to face in 13 of the remaining 25 games this season. A tone that portends well for the Capitals; so far this season the Capitals are: 2-1-0 against the second place Panthers, who they will play three more times; 2-1-0 against the third place Carolina Hurricanes who they play thrice more; 3-0-0 against the fourth place Tampa Bay Lightning who they will face three more times; and 1-1-0 against the last place Atlanta Thrashers who they will face 4 more times.
Next up - the Montreal Canadeans Wednesday Evening at Verizon Center. I'll be there "Rockin' the Red" in Section 103 with my buddy Mike and texting my friend Rob, a Habs fan who lives in San Diego. It will be a good one, personally, I'm rooting for a Jose Theodore shutout, I'm all about irony.

A Late Afternoon Matinee - Caps @ Panthers @ 5PM


Well the dust has settled lots of happiness around the Caps Blogsphere today for Mike Green and Michal Neuvirth. Now the Caps will face the Panthers at 5PM this afternoon, no morning skate today, no news on any lineup changes this is all a guess but here's my guesses:
Morrisonn - Green
Poti - Erskine
Alzner - Jurcina
Goal: Start goes to Theodore; Backup Neuvirth
So we'll see how close I get there are really only a couple of gambles here the way these guys have been playing - the first two lines are pretty much "no brainers" given last night and the fact there isn't a pre-game skate. The only "guess" is will Jay Beagle get another game before being returned to Hershey, if he does the "Killer B Line" makes sense as they played well together before and there isn't a pregame skate. After that the question is who sits Nylander, Gordon, or Steckel? It won't be Laich unless he wants rest/is hurt, that's for sure, and at this point of the season that's unlikely against the second place FlaCats. On Defense, you have to figure Kronwall got his start last night and if we aren't shopping Schultz to the Panthers then it's Erskine, Alzner and Jurcina with Poti, Green and Morrisonn for the six defensemen since... You can't see ShaMo sitting after playing what could have been his best game of the season last night and since he's a guy Green is comfortable being paired with. Other than that if you were Coach Boudreau you'd want as strong a defense corps as possible out against the Panthers as it will likely be a tightly played game. That means Alzner who is as calm as any rookie defenseman has ever been and Erskine over Kronwall. The only choice then comes down to Jurcina or Schultz. If I were Coach I'd go with the size and physicality of Jurcina over the sound position play of Jeff Schultz, that along with how soundly Alzner & Jurcina have played together tips the scale.
CAPS WIN - 3-2.
Goals by Green, Semin and Fleischmann for the Caps.
So we'll see, it would be nice for the Caps to return from Florida with four points but Tomas Vokoun will be working hard to see that doesn't happen.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Caps-Tampa Bay Recap; A Great, Very Green, Two Point Night

So tonight the game ended with the Caps having a won their 8th straight game against the Tampa Bay Lightning having bested them 5 - 1. It was a joyous two point night where pretty much everything "clicked" for the Capitals and whenever it looked like Tampa Bay might get something going, they found themselves "stoned" by rookie goaltender Michael Neuvirth in his NHL debut. It was a true "TWO POINT NIGHT" for the Caps.
As part of the recap, how did this morning's prognostications turn out...well here they were:
- #1 Mike Green 1 G, 1A, new record set - check on the goal at the 5:33 mark of the second period with his 15th power play and 22nd goal overall on the season; no assist though, oh well.
- #2 Michal Nuevirth gets the start; wins first NHL game - Check - Accomplished, the 20 year old was more than solid in his NHL debut, just check with Vinnie Lecavelier and Martin St. Louis.
- #3 Semin returns scores a goal to keep on his pace - Check - Accomplished/True @ 5:02 mark of the first period. The "Other Alex" had a phenomenal game with a goal, two assists and a +1 night in 17:33 of ice time.
- #4 Ovie & Backstrom combine for 3 points, not sure of the mix - Check - should have said at least 3 points as Ovie had a goal and Backstrom had two assists by the end of the first period.
- #5 Lightning goals by Saint Louis, Stamkos, and Malone - Lecavilier has 2 assists - NOPE - More than happy to say the only goal was scored by Ryan Malone, but Michael Neuvirth and the Caps made sure the Lightning couldn't score more than that first goal in the second period. Neuvirth stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced for a save percentage of 0.969.
- #6 Caps win 5 - 3 - Sort of check the Caps won 5-1 so my thoughts as to what the Caps would do was right on, also had Neuvirth only had a save percentage of 0.910 Tampa Bay would have likely scored twice more; but again that wasn't going to be the story tonight. Here's the recap.

The Caps came out determined to make sure they captured two points tonight. The game started with Michal Neuvirth stoning Vinnie Lecavalier twice in the first ten minutes of the game to allow the Caps to stay up 1-0 on an opening score by Alexander Semin. By the end of the first period the Caps were up 3 - 0 thanks to goals by Alexander Semin, Alexander Ovechkin, and Shoane Morrisonn, as well as 14 saves by the rookie Neuvirth. Semin's goal was a "classic other Alex goal" with a textbook passing clinic between Semin and Backstrom until Semin had at least half the net to shot at and score his 21st goal of the season. Ovechkin's goal was a great, wicked quick release wrist shot that Tampa Bay rookie Mike McKenna pretty much never saw until it was by him. Morrosson's second goal of the year came from a nice wrist shot from the point that came thanks to a lot of traffic in front of the net thanks to Dave Steckel, Donald Brashear and Boyd Gordon. According to the stats for the period, the Lightning outhit the Caps 10-3 in the first period and out shot them 14-13 and yet the Caps outscored the Lightning 3-0.

The second period started with Lightning coach Rick Tocchet changing goaltenders sitting Mike McKenna and putting Karri Ramo into the net. The Caps got their first power play at the 4:45 mark when Jeff Halpren was whistled off for hooking. They used the man advantage to allow Mike Green to break the NHL record for goals in consecutive games at eight straight games. Green banged in a second effort wrist shot at the 5:33 put the Capitals up 4 - 0. The Bolts then got on the board at 9:30 with an even strength goal by Ryan Malone when he tipped a shot by Vincent LeCavalier. For the second period, the Bolts once again out shot the Caps, this time 14 - 12 and out hit the Caps 7 -4 but failed to outscore the Caps so the period ended with the Capitals on top 4 -1. Karri Ramo looked pretty good for the Bolts in the net and made a couple of saves that could have turned the game into a rout; of course at the other end of the net Neuvirth continued to play well in his NHL debut.
The Caps came out for the third period determined not to let the game get away from them. The Lightning didn't get a shot on goal in the third period until more than halfway through the period when a clearing effort by the Bolts penalty killers had to be stopped by Neuvirth while Matt Smaby was in the box for roughing. The Lightning successfully killed off that penalty only to be victimized by Eric Fehr for an even strength goal at 13:31. That tally was masterfully set up by Tomas Fleischmann who threaded the needle to Fehr between three Lightning defenders to put the Capitals up 5-1. It was a complete game by the Capitals, not only did they basically dictate the pace of play once they went up 1-0; the Caps power play went 1-4 (25%) and the penalty kill was perfect holding Tampa Bay off the board during their three power plays. Best of all for the Capitals nobody took any stupid penalties. Shaone Morrisonn play what was probably his best game of the season scoring a goal and going +3 on the night and Mike Green his partner tonight was once again basically magic on ice matching ShaMo's 1G +3 night while also having a hit and blocking two Lightning shots.
It was a really fun game to watch if you're a Caps fan. The three stars of the game tonight were: 1) Mike Green (of course, set an NHL record and you should get the first star of the night); 2) Alexander Semin; and 3) Michal Neuvirth, not a bad night for a rookie. Thanks to the win, the Caps remain tied with the New Jersey Devils for second place in the Eastern Conference with 75 points. With the victory, the Caps remain on pace for 110+ points - WOW. Next up the Florida Panthers, tomorrow night at Sunrise Center, it should be another really good game as both teams are playing very well. The Panthers are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and have won their last three games since loosing to the Capitals 3-1 at Verizon Center on last Saturday. Can Mike Green make it nine games in a row, who knows but once again the hockey world will be watching. And that other scoring machine, Alexander Ovechkin, he only has a league leading 38 goals and remains on pace for another 56 goal season. It's just a lot of fun to be a Washington Capitals Fan these days.

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

A Look Ahead To Tonight's Caps - Bolts Game

Well sportsfans,tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum the Washington Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second game of a three game road streatch. The Caps lost the first of the three in overtime to the Rangers on Wednsday night, however, they come into Tampa Bay rested and should be reasonably "loose." This is the "Father-Son" road trip, the Caps are in third palce in the Eastern Conference (with a game in hand and only two points behind the red hot, second place NJ Devils) and are in first place in the Southeast Division nine points in front of the second place Florida panthers (who are now in 7th place in the Conference).
Tampa Bay is having an off year, but is not as soft a team as their points standings would lead you to believe given the number 1 point overtime losses they have this season - 11. If the Lightning had those 11 more points, they'd have 60 standings points instead of 49 and be in the thick of the battle for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. They'd also have only given up 160 goals against vice 171 however,unlike the Capitals who have given up 160 goals against this season, the Lightning have only scored 141 goals for while the Caps have turned on the red goal lamp 182 times; both teams have played 55 games to date. So if your looking at overall productivity and weaknesses; the Caps have scored an average of 3.31 goals/game and have allowed an average of 2.91 goals per game (an average of +0.40 goals/game); the Lightning have scored an average of 2.56 goals/game while allowing an average of 3.12 goals/game (an average of -0.56 goals/game.) Additionally coming into tonight's game the Caps are 6-2-2 in their last 10 while the Lightning are a respectable 5-4-1. While the Caps lost their last game to the Rangers, the Lightning beat the visiting Maple Leafs 6-4 on Thursday evening in their last outing. As Tampa Bay has struggled in their games this year, so too apparently have they struggled in filling up the seats at the Forum, judging from their great offer for a package of two seats to tonights game that includes, 2 beers or sodas, two hot dogs and a parking pass for $39.00 - that's almost cheaper than going to a movie these days. [ed note: Had I seen that offer earlier, perhaps I would have had "wingman" join me in Tampa for the weekend rather than coming home for President's Day Weekend. Probably should have looked at these two games as an opportunity for a long weekend with the family in Florida, before 11AM on Saturday morning - Mark muses...]

The biggest issue for the Capitals tonight - SHOULD - be the potential concern they look beyond tonight's game to tomarrow's against red hot second place Florida. However, Tampa Bay does have some real weapons on offense and if they can hold the Capitals to three or fewer goals tonight's game won't be easy for the Caps. The injury situation for the Caps in goal means that Michal Neuvirth may well see his first NHL action either tonight or tommarrow against the Panthers at Sunrise, unless Jose Theodore goes for both games. Speculation is Theo will be in the net one of the two nights this weekend and then rest the other There is little doubt he'll then return to take on one of his former teams - the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center next Wednsday evening. At the oppositte end of the rink, because of injuries to Olie Kolzig and Mike Smith, Tampa Bay is "getting by" or trying to with with Karri Ramo and Mike McKenna in the interim. It appears that rookie Mike Mckenna will make his fifth consecutive start in net against the Capitals. There is no doubt that both Vincient Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis will come out gunning and both Ryan Malone and hearladed rookie Steve Stamkos have been "stepping it up" a nothch of late. For the Caps, it appears likely that Aleander Semin will return to the line up after a one game absence but that Viktor Kozlov will remain sidelined tonight. Semin will likely be paired with Ovechkin and Backstrom on the first line. Where Michael Nylander skates on the second or third line, center or wing, remains a mystery at this point however early speculation is he will center the third line. Jay Beagle has remained up with the Caps and traveled to Florida with the team and it appears he will center the fourth line tonight as pivot between Donald Brashear and Boyd Gordon. Over the past couple of games the Defensive corps and pairings have remained steady but with the With the official addition of defenseman Staffan Kronwall to the roster, the Capitals now have eight healthy rearguards on their roster. It seems likely that all eight defenders will see action in the two games this weekend, and early speculation is that Kronwall will play tonight on the second pairing with Tom Poti.
Of course many eyes around the league tonight will be on "Game Over" Mike Green to see if he breaks the NHL record for most consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman. As any Caps Fan with a pulse knows, Green has scored in each of his last seven games, matching the mark establised by Boston's Mike O'Connell in 1984. With multiple point games in six straight games, the young Caps blueliner has matched a feat achieved by only Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey - that heady hall of fame company have been the only defensmen who have had half a dozen consecutive multiple-point games among all defensemen in NHL history. Congratulations Mike and GOOD LUCK tonight. It would be an even sweeter record, if you and the boys brought back four points from the trip this weekend ;->

1) Mike Green 1 G, 1A, new record set.
2) Nuevirth gets the start; wins first NHL game.
3) Semin returns scores a goal to keep on his pace.
4) Ovie & Backstrom combine for 3 points, not sure of the mix.
5) Lightning goals by Saint Louis, Stamkos, and Malone - Lecavilier has 2 assists.
6) Caps 5 Lightning 3.

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

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wow....It Makes You Think...

The link here to today's article by Larry Brooks of the New York Post made me think ... a lot. It's all a matter of perspective. When I put myself or at least try to put myself into the perspective of the Rangers and their fan base (gosh that is scary!), I guess last night's game was indeed a potential turning point for them. The Rangers have been going through a rough spot and they needed a win against a clear 2008-2009 playoff team to break that cycle and feel like they were back onto the road, they probably felt they started the season on. Truthfully, it needed to be against an Eastern Conference team so it could have been against the Bruins or the Devils as much as it could have been the Capitals. However, given the way the rivalries are viewed by the Rangers and their fan bases (where either the Devils or the Bruins are bigger rivals), it was probably better for them that it was the Capitals they defeated.

I had to really think about the article before I could shrug off my initial impression which now that I'm a total Caps fan was basically on the order of "you've got to be kidding me, Larry." But I sincerely do agree that from the Rangers and their fan base's perspective it probably was a very important game and they did control the game, sorry I can't go as far as say "dominate" given who was NOT on the ice for the Caps, the fact the Caps played ~1/2 the third period due to stupid penalties and the game still went to a shootout, oh and the Caps did manage to get 4 pucks past Lundqvist. Now looking at the regular season series between the Caps and Rangers which the Caps took 3-0-1 in a broader light, it's also clear that while the Caps captured 7 of 8 available points, they really didn't dominate the "Blueshirts" this season either. The first game on November 8th at Verizon Center was the only one where the margin of victory was more the 1 goal - the Caps took that game 3-1 on the back of a great game by goaltender Brent Johnson. The Caps then beat the Rangers twice by one goal; a 5-4 overtime game at MSG on December 23rd, and a 2-1 win on January 3rd.

The Rangers now have 65 points and are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Based on quotes in the Brooks article, they clearly believe they have found the secret to breaking the cycle they were in and allow themselves to play a looser style of hockey. If that's true and the confidence to do that started with last night's game, then it is the pivotal game for the Rangers that Mr. Brooks describes. Hopefully, that won't be something that comes back to haunt the Capitals in the early rounds of the playoffs.

As a Caps fan, I saw a much different game and result then described by Mr. Brooks and really couldn't have foreseen the quote of Marcus Nasland by Brooks: "It was huge for us, as close to being a must-win as it gets at this time of year." But upon reflection, can understand and concede from their perspective why they say things along these lines. I saw a game between the Capitals and a struggling conference foe, where the Caps did not have their best night and where two top six forwards, Alexander Semin and Viktor Kozlov, did not play. This enabled the Rangers to really focus and tie up the Backstrom - Ovechkin pairing, especially since the timing and chemistry of adding Michael Nylander on the right wing of these two hasn't yet fully gelled. In the end, the most depressing thing as a Caps fan is that the penalty killing by the Capitals was great ... because it had to be for ~10 minutes of the third period. The really, really dumb penalty award for the night goes to .... Shoane Morrisonn. In any case, while the Rangers deserved the win, but for the life of me I don't know how the play that is shown in the picture accompanying Brooks' article wasn't a penalty for roughing or interference. That said, I don't think Tomas Fleischmann would have scored or it would have made a difference. The Caps seemed determined to let the Rangers stay alive and in the game; they rarely led and never held a lead for more than 10 minutes. If they were going to win, they should have turned the game into a 3-1 game that they led during the first 8 minutes of the second period. Instead, Lundqvist held them back and Lauri Korpikowsi tied the game up at the 8:49 mark.

The big thing I thing about after games like this is how far the Capitals have come in the last two seasons. They truly can win any game against any team in the NHL right now. I'm not saying they are playing at the pace of Boston, San Jose or even Detroit right now. What I am saying is it's clear they have the talent to take on any team and win a best of seven series. That portends well for the post season, however first you have to get there and at least so far this season home ice advantage is important for the Capitals who are 0.830 at home and 0.500 away this season. The Caps are 3-1-1 so far in February and are 6-2-2 over their last ten games so it's easy to see how I as a Caps fan would look at the last game differently then a Ranger beat writer, player or fan. The Rangers are 1-2-1 so far in February and 4-5-1 in their last ten. Despite Kozlov and Semin not being in the game, the team that was more "in the groove" and who should have won last night, let themselves be outplayed, made dumb mistakes and played undisciplined hockey. Other than Mike Green and Tom Poti, the Caps blueline corps really gave the Rangers a lot of space and time. The only forward line that had a good game as a whole was the second line as both Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann played the way the Caps hoped they could when they were drafted. The only guy who was good for the Caps in the faceoff circle was Sergei Federov and he was really good, maybe through some miracle we can get the 39 year old future hall of famer to stay around for 3 or 4 more years.

In the end it was indeed a pivotal game for the Rangers, but for the Capitals it was a game where they did not play to their potential and they let an opponent stay in a game until they made mistakes and lost to them. All that said, all is not lost as I said in my earlier post the mistakes and concerns were/are all addressable. As a Caps fan, I was just happy to see crappy ice somewhere else besides 7th and F Streets in DC.

Next up Tampa Bay on Saturday; don't get distracted and have too much fun with your Dads guys. A really great present for them from "y'all" during this two game trip through the Sunshine State would be four (4) points...


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A One Point Night - Rangers 5 - Capitals 4 (SO)

Tonight the Washington Capitals basically escaped from Madison Square Garden with a point. It was a bit of a weird game, even though there were 8 goals scored in regulation in some regards the game was about the goaltending. The game was back and forth through the first two periods and at the end of two the score was tied 4-4, on two goals by Defenseman Mike Green. With tonight's tallies by Green, his 20th and 21st, he tied an NHL record for goals in consecutive games by a defenseman - seven, tying a record that was set in 1984. However, that wasn't enough to sink the normally low scoring Rangers as they managed to score four goals themselves during the first forty minutes of regulation.
At the start of the third period, the Caps decided to make it tough for themselves - during the third period they took 5 minor penalties while the Rangers took none. Despite the fact the Capitals gave the Rangers at least a one man advantage for 9:43 during 6 powerplays throughout the game, all eight goals scored in regulation by both teams were scored at even strength. However, playing one or two men down for over 9:20 of the final period sure seemed to slow the Caps down in what is often their best period. Jose Theodore and Henrik Lundqvist kept their teams in the game, particularly during the third period. Theo stopped 28 of 32 shots (save % = 0.875) while "King Henrick" stopped 26 of 30 shots (save % = 0.866), so it's hard to call tonight's game a "goalie's duel" but watching the game, it didn't seem like a horribly bad outing for either netminder. When the game ended at the end of overtime, both men between the pipes looked pretty on their games, the shootout was it's usual "thing" - if you like the gimmick you like it and if you don't you don't. I won't "go there" re: the "rebound goal." It really doesn't matter, in the end neither team really deserved to win, the caps deserved the point or points less then the Rangers due to the undisciplined hockey they played and penalties they took during the third period. The final score means the Caps didn't "sweep" the Rangers in this season's series instead going 3-0-1.

There were some highlights for the Capitals, not the least of which was Mike Green's two goal performance, though I'd expect both he and the rest of the Capitals would like the two points and a regulation win. However, Mike Green is on "as good a roll" as you can imagine. He has 49 points in 41 games - 21 goals and 28 assists. Currently, Green leads all NHL defensemen in scoring by a fair margin. He leads in overall points by six (6) points over Brian Rafelski of the Red Wings. He leads in goals by seven (7) over Sheldon Souray of the Oilers and Shea Weber of the Predators. He is also currently tied for third in overall +/- with the Bruins Zdeno Chara at + 24. Despite all these facts, amazingly, there are still some Caps fans who question whether he should be considered for the Norris Trophy. From my perspective there is no doubt he has scaled the ascent and reached the heights of the group of players who are in the top echelon of defenseman in the NHL.

The "energy line" tonight was "The Killer Bees": Left Wing Donald Brashear and Right Wing Matt Bradley were centered by Hershey Bear call-up Jay Beagle. Beagle has been out a while down in Hershey due to a concussion earlier in the year but he had a great training camp before going to "Chocolatetown." Tonight he played well, despite an anemic faceoff percentage, he had 3 shots (including one great scoring chance that almost beat Lundqvist), 2 hits and 2 takeaways. during 15 shifts and 7:41 Time On Ice.
Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann each had another good game. Each had a goal and an assist; on the night "Flash" was +3 while Fehr was +2. The first line - Ovechkin - Backstrom - Nylander played pretty well and further improved their timing. Well with tonight's final score the Caps are 3-1-1 so far in February and appear poised for their next two games on the road in Florida - it's a father-son trip so let's hope the Capitals aren't too distracted as they are now tied with the New Jersey Devils for second in the Eastern Conference.

Next up the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Saturday Night.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Last Night Caps 3 - Panthers 1; Trade Rumors, & NHL on NBC

Last Night Caps 3 - Panthers 1
This Morning More Trade Silliness From The Usual Suspects

NBC Milbury Makes Things Even Sillier

Last night the Caps took a big first step. First things first though, it was indeed a two point night. The Capitals played the first of 29 games between now and the end of the season, the way "the game was meant to be played." It was a game where they played tight, tough hockey for a full sixty minutes against a playoff contender with a hot goaltender in net. The outcome of the game wasn't sealed until the final minute and the opponents as well as the Caps knew it and played that way. The Caps came into the game with some concern centered around their penalty killing unit's ability to shut down opponents and a more general concern around their defense after a general let down and dysfunction against the LA Kings last game. However, when it was over the Caps had erased those concerns and turned back the Florida Panthers 3-1 for a win and two points against a division rival. Last night's win was Jose Theodore's 20th of the season, the sixth 20 win season of his career, and the season is only 2/3rds done. More importantly, Theo's overall Save percentage for the season is now 0.900 and his GAA is 2.77. Mike Green scored two goals (18 & 19) and now has a seven game goal scoring streak going. "Game Over" is now on pace for a 31 goal, 77 point season. The line shakeups looked fairly good for the game. Certainly Federov & Semin click right away. The move of Nylander to right wing with Ovechkin and Backstrom looked okay, though as you would expect that line needs another while to get their timing down, something the three days off before the next game could work for if they stay together. The other lines looked good and it is indeed nice to see both Steckel and Gordon at center on lines 3 & 4. Unfortunately, Boyd Gordon had an off night in the face off circle so it'll be at least another game before we see if the complexion of the game changes with more dominance in the face off circle by the Capitals.

Today around the league we started/continued the "Trade Deadline" rumor silliness. The usual suspects weighed in. First we have Bruce Garroich being his usual blockhead self but more so yet. Why would a hockey beat writer in Ottawa write about the stories in his own back yard, it's not like the Senators have imploded or anything right? Why write about that when you can speculate about which team besides yours might win the "Jay Bouwmeester sweepstakes" and whether that will before or after the end of this season? especially if you can get in a swipe or two at a non-Canadian team, eh? Garrioch's now on record as saying he thinks Bouwmeester will end up in Edmonton AFTER the season. Let's see if his total wild guess this time comes out any better than his belief that Alexander Ovechkin would end up in Montreal which is where he felt Ovie would be a great fit in November 2006. To put my thoughts in perspective, I too doubt Boumeester will stay in Florida, last year's negotiations were too contentious. That said I don't know why one of the, if not THE, most desired UFA in this year's crop would trade one bubble team in a small market for another bubble team in a small market. Yes I understand Edmonton is much more a hockey town than South Florida, and it is Bouwmeester's hometown, but there are likely to be many solid suitors for the big blue line presence and league leading minutes played guy in addition to Edmonton. Sure Edmonton will have plenty of salary cap room and a blueline corps anchored by Boumeester, Sheldon Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky would be tremendously imposing; however, the Oilers need a clear number 1 goaltender and Dustin Penner to turn things up a notch or another true power forward to compliment their other young talent up front to make a real run at a Stanley Cup. Also given the other choices Bouwmeester is likely to be able to look at will he really give Edmonton that much of a hometown discount? Really, we're likely talking millions here.

So what does that other sage of all things hockey, Larry Brooks, from that total hockey town New York City think? Well, for once it's time to give credit where credit is due. Larry's headline and focus is on the most recent controversy being manufactured by a guy who is a bigger boob when it comes to things professional hockey than Bruce Garrioch or Larry himself could ever be, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. In addition to being "dead nuts on" relative to his view on the ludicrous notion the NHL should stop supporting the Olympics, Brooks also reports the larger, more substantial trade rumours around the league but doesn't make any silly comments or speculation in their regard. Solid reporting Larry! Brooks does offer a commentary on the Denis Gauthier - Josh Georges incident, and while it is laced with lots of sarcasm, it too is solid editorial journalism. Today's New York Post article by Mr. Brooks was a pleasant surprise to me and I actually recommend you read the two pages at the link here.

As for the news out of Edmonton itself regarding trade deadline deals and rumors? Check them out here - not much on it all except some open musing about the Glen Sather - Sean Avery - Chris Drury dynamic and a belief that Jay Pandolfo who has sat as a a healthy scratch for six straight games is likely to be dealt.

Finally Mike Milbury does it again, the guy is working hard to make Don Cherry look really intelligent and unlikely to put his foot in his mouth. Milbury just loves to create controversy or try at least. Hey, don't get me wrong, I like the devil may care attitude "say it and let the chips lay where they fall." His commentary between the first and second periods of the Red Wings - Penguins game was truly one of those sets of things, it wasn't into the "pansification of hockey class" but he continues to try and create a controversy between Malkin and Ovechkin. That said Pierre Maguire's choices of Zdeno Chara and Evgeni Nabalkov instead of Milbury's Ovechkin - Broudeur paring truly shows once again that Pierre is playing the game a couple cents short of a dime, eh? Of course Pierre did it all just to rib Mike for dealing Chara when he was the coach of the Islanders but hey what can you expect? Maguire is clearly one of those with a total man crush on "Sid the Kid." The NBC broadcast team spent over 2 full minutes between the second and third periods singing Crosby's praises, but Milbury hit it right on the mark if Pittsburgh doesn't make the playoffs this year, it's a disaster in Steeltown.

Now back to our regularly schedule subject - next up for the Capitals: the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, the first of a three game road swing.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tonight's Matchup and Foe - The Florida Panthers

Tonight two NHL Southeast Division foes meet at Washington's Verizon Center, aka "The Phone Booth" (too bad we aren't in Brooklyn so it could be "Da Foone Boot" eh?). When the Washington Capitals host the Florida Panthers tonight, it will be the number one team in the division taking on the second place team in the division. The Capitals come into the game with 70 points, an overall record of 33-16-4 (0.660), a home record of 21-4-1, and a 6-3-1 record in their last ten games. The Panthers come in to the game with 58 points, an overall record of 25-18-8 (0.569), an away record of 12-12-3, and a 6-2-2 record in their last ten games. If the season ended today, both teams would be in the playoffs, Washington firmly in second place in the Eastern Conference and Florida holding precariously onto the eight and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, just one point ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins. As far as stakes for the game go, tonight the Capitals are looking to stay ahead of the New Jersey Devils who take on the Los Angeles Kings at Prudential Center in Newark for second place in the East and stay on pace with or gain two points on Boston who take on Philadelphia this afternoon. Meanwhile, Florida is looking to increase their lead on Carolina who plays tonight in Arizona against Phoenix, and Pittsburgh who is idle tonight. Florida also has a chance to make up some ground on Buffalo, who plays Ottawa in the second of back to back games tonight having beat Montreal 3-2 last night, and Philadelphia, if the Flyers and Senators win tonight. Florida is three points behind both the Sabres and Flyers. Yes .. it is that time of year again - the push for the playoffs, the time of year when each game really starts to matter. Right now in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals, Devils and Canadeans (and too a lesser extent, the Bruins) are fighting for seeding and home ice advantage in the first and second rounds of the playoffs. The Panthers, Flyers, Sabres, Hurricanes, Penguins, and to a lesser extent are six teams fighting for the final four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs, Lightning, Thrashers and Islanders are playing for respectability and pride since even though they are not mathematically "out of it" they all need substantially better records than they have had over the past two months to make the playoffs. So with the stage set how do the key match ups between the Panthers and Caps look tonight?
There are some really hot players on both the Caps and Panthers right now. The match ups between the two teams will depend on how those key players perform. Additionally, the overall match up between each squad's "grinders" will be key, especially for the Capitals. If the Capitals need any extra motivation, they need only look to the idea of preserving and extending the best home ice record in the Eastern Conference, but the fact they are playing a team they will face five times in the final nine weeks of the season and three times in the next three weeks, may well be the best motivator. The defensive-minded Panthers are one of three East teams without a 40-point scorer, so a key to their success or failure tonight will be their goaltending and their ability to slow the high powered Washington Offense. The Capitals have four players who already have more than 40 points and two others who are at 31 points, though Viktor Kozlov is currently day to day and will probably not be dressed for tonight's game. The Caps high octane offense include Alexander Ovechkin who leads the league in goals scored and Mike Green who leads all defensemen in goals scored. As for further motivation, Florida is one of the few teams to have won a game against the Caps at Verizon Center this season; Florida won 5-3 in the nation's capital on Dec. 2, a result that remains the Capitals' only regulation loss to an East team at the Verizon Center.
Key Matchups:
In Goal: Theodore/Neuvirth vs. Vokoun/Anderson
For the Caps Jose Theodore will be in net backed up by rookie Michal Neuvirth, who has yet to play a minute in the NHL due to injuries to Brent Johnson and Simeon Varlamov. Theodore will have a heavy workload over the next two months, with backup Brent Johnson slated to have hip surgery next week. Though Theo is five goals against versus Los Angeles matched a season "high", he is still playing quite well overall with a 11-3-1 record and a 2.21 GAA in his previous 15 starts. The twenty year old Neuvirth is the eighth goalie to suit up for a game for the Caps this season. The Panthers' Thomas Vokun is one of the hottest goalies in the league right now, he is coming of his 15th victory of the year. The Panthers snapped the New York Islanders' four-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory on Thursday where Vokoun continued his strong play, making 20 saves to move to 7-2-2 with a 2.15 goals-against average since the beginning of January. While Vokoun will be the likely starter for the Panthers, Florida backup Craig Anderson is also available, ready and playing well this season. With a 10-4-5 record and three shutouts in 23 starts this season, Anderson is a guy who can also be counted on to make the Capitals' forward lines night hard work. Rating goalie match ups is always a "dicey" thing this time of year, especially when looking at and prognosticating about the likely performances of what amounts to three pretty hot, talented guys and a very talented "kid" with something to prove. That said call this one for the Panthers.
Earlier this week, the Caps recalled rookie first round draft pick Karl Alzner and John Erskine will be a healthy scratch tonight according to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. The biggest defenseman match up of course is Mike Green vs. Jay Boumeester, both are two of the most talented defensemen in the league today. Comparing them to each other is pretty tough though, they play very different games and are very different guys. Green is a 6-1, 205 pound skating defenseman who is freewheeling player who hits sparingly and whose key defensive play is rooted in his speed and stick work at both ends of the ice. He is recently being talked about as a potential Norris Trophy candidate as well and he has been fairly hot with 8 points in his last three game splayed. Boumeester is a 6-4, 212 pound solid, more traditional defenseman who plays tough hockey and, though not flashy, has solid offensive skills. His talent has made him a two time all-star in his five NHL seasons. The next match up would be the Panthers Bryan McCabe vs. the Caps Tom Poti. The 33 year old McCabe has four more years left on a relatively rich contract, is the Panthers' highest paid defenseman. On paper McCabe is the Panthers offensive minded defenseman, however his productivity over the past three seasons have not matched the levels of his earlier career and as was displayed during his 19 goal 2005-2006 season with Toronto. The 31 year old Poti has three years left on what now looks like a very good deal for the Caps. He is a solid minute muncher, has proven capable of quarterbacking the power play when neither green nor Federov are available, and has been solid on the penalty kill for the Caps. At a $3.5M price tag, Poti routinely matches up well against higher paid, flashier names such as McCabe for the Capitals and balances the frenetic play of Green, Ovechkin and the other Capital "Young Guns" on one shift with a more deliberate, calmer, controlled play when he is one the ice. The rest of each pack is solid on both sides with an edge to the Panthers that counterbalances the advantage the Caps have when looking at the top two match ups. Call this facet of the match up a draw.
It's not as simple as it looks to just say from the statistics that clearly favor the Capitals. The two teams play very different games. If the Caps play their game, aggressive, forechecking and talented disciplined short passes to break out of their zone so they don't fall victim of a clogged neutral zone and 4-1 trap, they will win these match ups decidedly. If they don't, it'll be December 2nd all over again. Given the Caps had a let down on Thursday against the Kings and they want to make a statement to a team they will face five times before the end of the season, it's probably a safe bet the Caps will work hard to make sure that doesn't happen. The key to this match up probably is Vokoun/Anderson - the Caps forwards need to expect the Panthers' goaltenders to come up big often and not get frustrated. In addition to their usual play, they will need traffic in front. As much Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin's play needs to be big; Laich, Fehr, Bradley, Fleischmann, and Nylander will need to generate traffic in front to ensure the Panthers' netminders are vulnerable. The key for the Caps forwards will be to NOT get frustrated and stay on their game plan. The Panthers forwards need to play the game they play so well,clog the neutral zone and look for the Caps to get frustrated and impatient and then pounce on their mistakes. A few big saves by Theodore should have an even greater negative impact on the Panthers since the FloridaCats don't take nearly as many shots on goal as the Capitals do in a normal game. Assume the Capitals come out, stay to their game plan and execute and this match up goes decidedly to the Caps.
All things about this game says unless Vokoun or Anderson steals this one for Florida it's:
Caps 4 - Panthers 2. Time to Rock the Red is nearing.

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