Monday, March 30, 2009

How Good Has/Is Mike Green's Season This Year?

There has already been a debate started about whether Alexander Oveckin, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby or a fourth player should get the Hart Trophy (MVP Award) this season, so I'm not going there, mainly because to me the jury is still out on that one.

The debates I want to start and end are: 1) Is Mike Green even worthy of consideration for the Norris Trophy this season? 2) Assuming you think he is worthy of consideration, should he win the Norris Trophy this season.
So let's look at and quickly dispense with the answer to question 1. There is no doubt that Mike Green is worthy of consideration - here's where he ranks in key statistics so far this season in comparison with the other defenseman in the league:

A) +/- ratings: Green's current +24 puts him at number 6 among all defensemen in this stat.
B) Total Points: Green's 67 points so far this season puts him at number 1 in this spot, 7 points ahead of second place Andrei Markov in this category.
C) Goals: Green's 28 goals put him in first 7 goals ahead of Shea Weber and Sheldon Souray.
D) TOI/G: Green's 25:51 put him at number 7 on this list just 00:19 seconds behind sixth place Zdeno Chara.
E) Shots & Shooting %: Green's 229 shots put him at number 4 in that statistical category 24 shots behind category leader Dion Phaneuf but Green's 12.2% shooting % puts him 3.1% better than Shea Weber, 3.7% ahead of Souray, and 8% better than Phaneuf - the only guys ahead of him in SOG. He is the number 1 defenseman in shooting % by a fair measure (0.7%).
F) Hits, Blocked Shots and Takeaways: While Green's 80 hits and 97 blocked shots both put him at #78 among the league's defensemen in those categories, both somewhat lower than Zdeno Chara (125 hits # 33 on the list and 110 blocked shots #55 in that category - among defensemen) whose name most often come up when talk turns to the Norris Trophy winner this season. Game Over's 47 takeaways put him at #5 among defensemen in that category ahead of Chara 25 takeaways/#53. For what it's worth Green is ahead of Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom in all three categories by a considerable measure, Lidstrom has 34 hits, 61 blocked shots and 26 takeaways in 72 games played so far this season, and nobody casts aspersions when someone suggests him for possible consideration for another Norris Trophy.

Now on to the answer to question 2. First the definition of the Norris Trophy is: the James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position. When you look at all the statistics and you factor in the fact that each season the premium placed more and more on offensive production without costing your team defensively is growing in response to changes in the game, is being done so for good reason; you come up with a pretty short list of worthy possible awardees. They include:

A) Nicklas Lidstrom, the award winner for the past three seasons is #4 in +/- and #15 in TOI/G. Lidstrom also has 13 G and 40 Assists including 4 game winners.
B) Zdeno Chara, Boston's Captain and shut down defenseman is everything listed above as well as #7 in +/- and #6 (26:10) in TOI/G. Chara also has 16 goals and 27 assists including 2 game winners.
C) Mike Green, the league's highest scoring defenseman is also # in +/- and #7 in TOI/G (25:51); he has 3 game winners, 11 even strength, 16 even strength and 1 short handed goal. He broke the NHL record for goals in consecutive games this season and with 2 more goals will be the first defensemen in long stretch with 30 or more goals. He is also #1 in shooting percentage (12.2%) and #4 in shots on goal (229). In today's NHL, the best defense is a good offense - it's hard for a team to score when they are focused on stopping the other team from scoring and that's what Mike green has been doing when he's been on the ice this season.
D) David Johnny Oduya , the New Jersey Devil who is +23 is #8 in that category and his 21:00 TOI/G is #89. Oduya has 7 goals and 21 assists, including 4 game winners.
E) Duncan Keith, the Chicago Blackhawk is +32 (#2 in that category) has 25:32 TOI/G is #9, He has 8 goals and 34 assists including 1 game winner and 1 short handed goal.

I'm sure you can argue whether Oduya, Kieth or someone else should be the last two guys on my list but even when you do, with between 5 and 8 games left in the season, you won't likely argue with the inclusion of Chara, Green and Lidstrom on the list. Bottom line is all three have been dominant forces most of the time they've been on the ice this season. However for my money the guy who has exhibited the greatest all around ability in the position this season is Mike Green. Perhaps the best thing Green has going for him in the voting is I suspect despite all the campaigning unless Evgeni Malkin just doesn't show up much the rest of the season, he, not Alexander Ovechkin, will win the Hart Trophy. By the way if you look at The Sporting News NHL player overall strength ratings Green is the highest rated defensemen as of the March 24th rankings at #2 wedged between MVP candidates Ovechkin #1, Zach Parise #3 and Evgeni Malkin #3. The highest rated defenseman after Mike Green is Chara at #17. Perhaps that's the best argument for Green getting the Norris this season.
Yesterday, in NHL action, there were 7 games, 6 of which had playoff implications for sure and the seventh which could possibly come in to play but it's unlikely. In the action that is most likely to affect the Capitals, the Bruins beat the Flyers in regulation. In the other game involving Eastern Conference teams Ottawa beat Tampa Bay in regulation in a game likely to be one of several games the next two weeks whose only impact is likely to see who gets into the lottery for the first draft pick. In Western Conference action: Vancouver beat Chicago in regulation, Nashville beat Detroit in regulation, St Louis beat Columbus in regulation, Minnesota beat Edmonton and Anaheim beat Colorado.
Finally Caps fans, tonight when New Jersey plays the Rangers, they will be playing their final game in hand they have on the Capitals. So once again we find ourselves in a very, very, very strange position - rooting for the Rangers to win in regulation. If that happens then the Caps will truly be in second place 1/2 game and 1 point ahead of the Devils. Yesterday, the Bruins beat the Flyers so they are now 7 points ahead of the Capitals and they still have a game in hand on the Caps. There are only three games tonight NJ vs. NYR; San Jose vs. Calgary; Dallas vs. Phoenix. The only one of the three games with any ramifications on the Eastern Conference playoff races is NJ vs. NYR.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Look At The Facts and Myths About The Type of Hockey The Caps Are Currently Playing

There seems to be a lot of banter and comments around the Caps blogsphere relative to the recent slowing performance of the Capitals and their inconsistency of late as well. There are lots of comments about performances where the Caps don't seem to exhibit lots of energy and effort when they play of late. I've generally disagreed with the folks making those statements but I began to wonder if my feelings were incorrectly placed so I decided to take a look at the Caps recent performance versus two things - their own month by month performance this season and the recent performance of the other teams in each conference who have a fair shot at post season play. I'm happy to report, my gut feelings seem, by and large, to be backed up by the statistics and data that I examined

So let's look at the recent (past 10 games) performances of the top 10 teams in each conference.

Western Conference
1. San Jose, 109 points - Last 10 Games: 0.650
2. Detroit, 107 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.650
3. Calgary, 92 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.400
4. Chicago, 91 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.500
5. Vancouver, 89 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.650
6. Columbus, 86 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.800
7. Nashville, 82 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.600
8. Saint Louis, 81 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.750
9. Edmonton, 81 Points - Last 1o Games: 0.550
10. Anaheim, 80 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.600.

Eastern Conference
1. Boston, 104 Points - Last 10 Games:0.550
2. Washington, 99 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.700
3. New Jersey, 98 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.550
4. Philadelphia, 92 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.600
5. Carolina, 91 Points - Last 10 games: 0.800
6. Pittsburgh, 90 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.800
7. NY Rangers, 87 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.550
8. Montreal, 86 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.550
9. Florida, 85 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.450
10. Buffalo, 82 Points - Last 10 Games: 0.450.

As you can see over the past 10 games, the Washington Capitals have better records than every one of the top 10 teams in each conference except four teams: Carolina, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Saint Louis. Yet many folks are worried about their "lackluster, unmotivated performance of late."

Truth be told the Capitals have played solid hockey over the past 10 games and finished the month of March strongly after an 0-3-0 start; overall for the month of March their record was 6-5-2 or 0.583. Putting that in context across a look back month by month this past season their performance was slowed by that poor streak in the beginning of March. The month by month play this season by the Capitals looks like this:

March: 6-5-2 = 0.583
February: 9-3-1 = 0.731
January: 7-4-1 = 0.625
December: 11-3-0 = 0.786
November: 8-5-2 = 0.600
October: 5-3-1 = 0.611.

So, yes March was from an overall perspective their worst month of hockey so far this season but their play over the past ten games, 0.700 hockey, is actually back above their overall season average of 46-23-7 which is 0.651 hockey. The Caps started March with 0-3-1, a four game loosing streak, their longest of the season so far, they also had four other 3 game loosing streaks this year. To look at their performance so far this season and call them inconsistent doesn't seem justified. They have the fourth best record in the NHL right now, they've accomplished that with more injuries than some of the other top teams and less injuries than others.

As for dominating and looking like a contender when they win, overall this season through their 46 wins, the Capitals average margin of victory was 2.19 goals. During the month of March the Caps won 6 games and they did so by an average margin of victory of 1.83 goals. So if they looked less dominant then their recent 0.700 record would otherwise indicate it's probably that drop in their margin of victory that have gotten people talking, or the drop off from February which was their second best month so far this season. However this brings up the point that the Capitals haven't really fallen off all that much during the second half of this season. It's just that December and February were such great months from a performance perspective, the others seem a bit of a let down.

Further on the subject of inconsistency, the Caps average performance overall so far is 0.651, the deviation of each month's monthly performance was as follows:
March = -0.068
February = +0.080
January = -0.026
December = +0.135
November = -0.051
October = -0.040.
That data would suggest the Caps have been pretty consistent, balancing their five loosing streaks have been their seven winning streaks. They've had one 6 game winning streak, two 5 game winning streaks, and four 3 game winning streaks. So again while their winning streaks out number their loosing streaks they don't do so by anything that wouldn't be consistent with their overall record to date.

Finally another the Caps don't seem to get any credit for when folks talk about their second half performance has been their improved record on the road. The Capitals are basically dominant at home and have been all season long. The record at Verizon Center this season is an excellent 27-9-2 (0.737) but before the month of January, their record on the road left something to be desired. The Caps started the season with a road record that was well below 0.500. Since January 1st the Capitals have been 9-3-2 on the road and now have a record on the road that is 19-14-5 overall which is 0.568 hockey. Their away game record now compares favorably with most other playoff bound teams. The Capitals home record, 0.737 hockey is better than everyone else in the Eastern Conference except Boston (0.757) and only trails San Jose (0.868) and Detroit (0.778) in the Western Conference.

Their home record since January 1 has trailed off slightly and has been 12-8-1 but they've returned to their winning ways over the last two games after that rocky start to the month of March and are just as likely to extend their current home winning streak through the end of the season. Besides is anyone really that concerned with the Caps playoff prospects because of their home ice performance? After all Verizon Center has become a tough building for visiting teams this season in just about every respect. The building is frequently sold out and filled with loud, supportive Capitals fans 18, 277 strong exhorting their hometown heroes to victory.

Next up the New York Islanders at Verizon Center on Wednesday Evening. Here's rooting for Mike Green to get two more goals and become the first defenseman in a long time to tally 30 goals. Here's to a solid night by everyone and a flu-free team.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Caps Got Robbed But It Didn't Matter - They Won Anyway

Last night at Verizon Center was a solid TWO POINT night for the Capitals. Don't get me wrong, the Caps had to earn their two points, the Tampa Bay Lightning played a solid game after a rocky start. For all the hype about possible retribution, Tampa Bay tried to get back at Alexander Ovechkin and his teammates, the right way, by beating them in a physical hockey game, fairly. There was a minor matter of the Caps having a goal disallowed in the third period for "incidental contact with the goaltender." From my vantage point the contact was of a nature that was so incidental that I'm sure there might be as questionable call made somewhere sometime in the history of the rule but there probably aren't any that will be more questionable. Thus the title of this post since the final score was Capitals 5 - Lightning 3 since in the end it didn't matter the Capitals got a 2 point win in regulation over the Lightning and the New Jersey Devils finished the evening with only a one point overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, putting the Caps one point ahead of the Devils in second place in the Eastern Conference with 99 points. So now I'm watching the Villanova - Pitt game and occasionally checking the score of the Carolina - New Jersey game thinking of all things ... "Go 'Canes"?!?

To be sure last night's game, which started with the Capitals jumping out to a 2-0 lead and pretty much dominating the first period before Martin St. Louis put the 'Bolts on the scoreboard at 15:48 of the first period on a goal that Jose Theodore can't be faulted on, was "scrappy" and physical. But there really weren't any cheap shots and the game showed how close Tampa Bay is to being a "contender." Without a doubt the best player in a Tampa Bay uniform last night was Martin St Louis, but Steven Stamkos shows each game more and more how much he is "the real deal" too and former Capital Matt Pettinger had a good game as well. In the end though the Caps just had too much for the 'Bolts last night.

The "coolest" statistic of the night you ask. For me its that Nicklas Backstrom was 14 for 16 (88%) in the faceoff circle to lead the Caps in that category on a night when they were all pretty solid in the faceoff circle (59% overall). The sophomore first line center also had two (2) goals and an assist and three (3) shots on goal. Backstrom is now tied for #3 in the league in assists with Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit behind only Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, pretty good company, eh? Alexander Ovechkin had a four point night last night with two goals and two assists but Backstrom got the first star of the night while OV got the second. Defenseman Brian Pothier, who as has been well chronicled recently returned after being on the IR list for 14 months, scored the game winning goal, his first of the season and earned the third star of the game. Caps goaltender Jose Theodore put in a reasonable night's work stopping 36 of 39 shots he faced for a SV% of 0.923 and his 27th win of the season in 49 starts. Overall, it wasn't the best night by the Capitals but it was a good night. The first goal Tampa Bay scored was the result of a misplayed clearing attempt by the Caps skaters and the second Tampa Bay goal came from a shot the Theodore no doubt wanted back. The third goal was the result of a solid effort by the 'Bolts and again the five skaters on the ice will no doubt watch that section of tape and the 40 seconds preceding the goal a couple of times to understand how they got burned. However, in the end the Caps can look at the third period as an example of what they can do when they decide it's time to take control of a game, despite being out-shot by a count of 15 - 10 by the Lightning.

The Capitals are now only three points behind the Bruins in the Conference standings for first in the East. Of course the Bruins still have 3 games in hand on the Caps and the third place Devils have two games in hand on them, the Bruins and the Devils are each playing one of those games tonight. Last night's win means the Capitals finish the month of March with a 6-5-2 record (0.538 hockey) after dropping the first three games of the month. It also means Washington is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games (0.700 hockey). Much is being made relative to the motivation and drive, or seeming lack there-of by the Caps of late but from a W-L perspective, "the trend is once again our friend." The Caps have just six (6) games remaining, two against teams working to "play their way into the post season - Florida and Buffalo currently in 9th and 10th place in the Conference respectively. The Capitals other four remaining games are: the pesky New York Islanders who are playing for pride and challenging playoff teams, including Detroit who they beat tonight; a home and home against Atlanta who at 7-3-0 in their last ten games are one of the hottest teams in the league right now; and Tampa Bay one final time in Tampa who will be working hard to ensure they are not swept by the Caps this season.

The Caps seem to be on track for a 104 - 107 point season with 49 or 50 wins. That would be a pretty good bar to set and will position them well as a "legitimate contender" this year. The Devils now appear to be on track for a 105 - 107 point season and the Bruins are now seemingly on track for a 110 point season. So it certainly still appears the Capitals and the Devils are in a dogfight for second place with Boston though "slowing down" on track to hold on to the Conference lead. Last night was a good start at making sure the Caps don't get too lax during these last three weeks of the regular season while they are playing teams behind them in the standings. Next up the 15th place NY Islanders on Wednesday evening at Verizon Center...


A Look At The Playoff Races - East & West

The race to the playoffs hasn't slowed since I last looked at it, in fact if anything except for the five teams that have clinched playoff berths if anything it has intensified. Also for the three Eastern Conference and Two Western Conference Teams that have clinched playoff berths, things haven't really gotten too sanguine since they are dueling with each other, in a sense, for playoff seeding. Looking at the standings in each conference, their current situation and the finish I'm projecting for them looks as follows.


1. SAN JOSE, current 107 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 117 points; 1st & President's Trophy Winner.
2. DETROIT, current 107 points; 7 games remaining; projected finish - 114 points; 2nd.
3. CALGARY, current 90 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 96 points; 6th.
4. CHICAGO, current 91 points; 9 games remaining; projected finish - 101 points; 4th*.
5. VANCOUVER, current 89 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 99 points; 3rd*.
6. COLUMBUS, current 85 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 97 points; 5th.
7. EDMONTON, current 81 points; 7 games remaining; projected finish - 89 points; 8th.
8. NASHVILLE, current 80 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 90 points; 7th.
9. ANAHEIM, current 80 points; 7 games remaining; projected finish - 88 points; 10th.
10. ST LOUIS, current 79 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 89 points; 9th.
11. MINNESOTA, current 78 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 86 points; 11th.***
12. DALLAS, current 75 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 80 points; 12th.
13. LOS ANGELES, current 72 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 78 points; 13th.
14. PHOENIX, current 69 points; 8 games remaining; projected finish - 77 points; 14th.
15. COLORADO, current 64 points; 7 games remaining; projected finish - 68 points; 15th.


** Vancouver's "3rd place and seed" projection only holds for the first round of the playoffs for the second and beyond Chicago's projected 101 point finish puts them into the third seed.

*** Minnesota's projected 11th place finish is the one point of these projections that could be wildly off; if Nicklas Backstrom becomes a wall and plays really hot in their remaining 8 games they could easily win 6 vice 4 of their remaining 8 games. If that happens The Wild could finish as high as sixth. If that happen I project that the rest of my projections would hold and Edmonton would finish 9th and miss the playoffs.


1. BOSTON, 102 points, 9 games remaining; projected finish - 110 points, 1st.
2. WASHINGTON, 99 points, 6 games remaining; projected finish - 107 points, 2nd.***
3. NEW JERSEY, 98 points, 8 games remaining; projected finish - 106 points, 3rd.***
4. PHILADELPHIA, 90 points, 9 games remaining; projected finish - 100 points, 4th.
5. CAROLINA, 89 points, 6 games remaining; projected finish - 97 points, 6th.*
6. PITTSBURGH, 88 points, 7 games remaining; projected finish - 99 points, 5th.*
7. NY RANGERS, 87 points, 7 games remaining; projected finish - 96 points, 7th.*
8. MONTREAL, 85 points, 8 games remaining; projected finish - 91 points, 8th**.
9. FLORIDA, 83 points, 7 games remaining; projected finish - 90 points, 9th**.
10. BUFFALO, 80 points, 8 games remaining; projected finish - 87 points, 11th.**
11. TORONTO, 75 points, 7 games remaining; projected finish - 82 points, 12th.
12. OTTAWA, 74 points, 9 games remaining; projected finish - 88 points, 10th.**
13. ATLANTA, 68 points, 7 games remaining; projected finish - 78 points, 13th.
14. TAMPA BAY, 65 points, 7 games remaining; projected finish - 72 points, 14th.
15. NY ISLANDERS, 58 points, 8 games remaining; projected finish - 66 points, 15th.


* This grouping is probably the most interesting to Caps fans as their finish will likely determine who the Caps play in the first round of the playoffs. However, conventional wisdom is the Caps will finish in third and I am after a lot of deliberation projecting them to be in second by a point. For my projection methodology see the listing below. It's not all that scientific but it is based on a combination of recent performance and my own "Kentucky Windage." That said, the truth is I regard these three places 5, 6, & 7 in the East to be the most difficult to project. The only thing I think I can say about them is I feel pretty strongly the three places will be occupied by Carolina, Pittsburgh and the Rangers and the biggest wild card in the group is the Rangers. If Lundqvist wins a game or two on his back or the offense kicks it up a notch it's easy to see the Rangers finishing with 3 or 4 more points and in 5th vice 7th. It's also easy to see either Pittsburgh or Carolina needing to rest and or give some wounds time to recover and finishing with a point or even two less than projected, especially if Montreal continues to slide and Florida and Ottawa slow down a little and some heat goes off of them.

** The battle and the "bubble teams" for the Eastern Conference's last playoff spot is seemingly between Florida, Montreal, and Ottawa vice Buffalo. However, once again the wild cards in projecting these races seems to be who will have a hot goaltender. Montreal may or may not be starting off with enough of a lead to hold on. My projection is they do and will. I'm actually rooting for the Panthers and the guy who could put them into the playoffs would be Tomas Vokoun. The real wild card that would come from that outcome is would that be enough to convince Jay Boumeester to consider staying in Flordia instead of bolting as an UFA this summer. On more levels then most, Florida as an organization may have the biggest motivation to make the playoffs, but will that be enough to propel their injury slowed roster to improve their current pace of play (0.450 hockey over the last 10 games to the 0.550+) I project will be required for them to make this years post-season. Ottawa just seems to be starting in too big a hole to make it even though they are the hottest team in the NHL over the past 10 games.

*** I am now projecting Washington to finish 1 point ahead of New Jersey. First and foremost, today Caps fans need to be rooting for, of all teams, Carolina for that to start down the path of happening. If that occurs the Caps will truly have a chance to take advantage of their easier strength of schedule between now and season's end to stay ahead of the Devils. It will also mean the Hurricanes extend their winning streak to six games and the Devils loosing streak extends to four games, so the Devils will be working hard to make sure that doesn't happen. The game is up in Newark at "The Rock" so that makes it even harder for the Canes and it will be an even bigger loss for the Devils. The one thing the 'Canes have going for them is they will be better rest then the Devils who lost in OT last night in Chicago. The main variable in this projection is the fact the Caps finish their season with a three game road swing to make room at Verizon Center for the NCAA Frozen Four. The Caps will also be playing Southeastern Division division foes in games after they will have most likely clinched the Division. If New Jersey were to pick thinks up over the next two or three games and the Caps were to fall more than a point or two behind the Devils at any point over the next three weeks, the basis for this entire projection probably falls apart. The basis is that both teams will be similarly motivated and in a position to fight for the second if not the first position in the Conference. Once that becomes a mathematical unlikelihood, this projection will need to be revisited.

I'll post my thoughts and musings on last night's 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning later today or tomorrow - I haven't finished editing it and I figured by this time today the blogsphere would be filled with the works of others who do that much better than I. This was something that might actually be additive to what's out there and worthy of your reading and comments.

Until then:


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Looking Ahead to Tonight's Caps - Leafs Game

Well even though tonight's game is the first of two games over ten days I've got nothing for you sports fans, other than this fans hopes and dreams the Caps win so they can overtake the Devils in the Conference standings. Sorry I'm just too swamped with work today as I'm off to ICx Technologies' Stillwater, OK location tomorrow afternoon. That said I expect tonight's game to be a good one, the Leafs have been playing some good hockey lately and seem to be relishing or at least embracing their role as spoilers - just ask the Canadiens....and the Flames...

In response to some recent chat in the blogsphere I'm putting together some comparative statistics about Tom Poti vs other first tier defensemen in the league. I'm of the opinion Mr. Poti more than earns his money for the Capitals and I want to see if the statistics over this season and last season back me up. I should have that done and post it after I get back from Oklahoma (Where the wind comes a whistling down the plains....)

Till then it's:


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Weekend Update - Caps Miss Another Chance to Overtake New Jersey

Saturday night in Raleigh, NC was a no point night for the Washington Capitals. After playing reasonably solid hockey for two periods and just under five minutes of the third period, the Caps let the Hurricanes take control of the game and the 'Canes never looked back. When the final horn sounded it was Hurricanes 4, Capitals 1. The icing on the cake for the Hurricanes was an 180+ footer short handed empty net goal by Joe Corvo with just under a minute left in the game. There is already a fair amount on this game around the blogsphere since some wonder aloud if it is a preview of a first round pairing of a third vs. sixth seed. It's one of those "if the season ended tomorrow things since right now the Caps are indeed in third and the Hurricanes are in sixth. However, the season doesn't end tomorrow, the Caps are still battling for second and could even get to first though that possibility seems farther away and third seems more likely each game; the Hurricanes could end up as high as fourth or as low as ninth though a finish of 5, 6, or 7 seems very likely.

So sure it's possible the Caps and Hurricanes could meet in the playoffs in the first round but it's also very possible the Caps will face the Rangers, the Penguins, the Canadiens or the Panthers. Yes I said or the Panthers. The only folks it seems unlikely the Caps will face in the first round is Boston, New Jersey or Philadelphia. Of course, those are all possible and likely second round opponents, if the Caps get past the first round. The Caps had a chance to get into second place today since the New Jersey Devils lost to the Boston Bruins 4-1 after Martin Brodeur got his 101st career shutout in a 4-0 win over the Minnesota Wild in front of a sellout crowd at home in Prudential Center on Friday Evening. The win by the Bruins mean they are the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the Caps remain just one standings point behind New Jersey, though the Devils do also have two games in hand on the Capitals.

The Capitals now enter a stretch of the season where they have just three games over the next eleven days. At the end of that period the Caps will find themselves "even up" on the Devils each with 77 games played and Boston will have one game in hand on each of them. Boston's last six games of the season are Ottawa (twice), the Rangers, Montreal, Buffalo and the Islanders all once. The Devils last six games of the season are: Pittsburgh (on the road), Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa, and they finish out the season at home against Carolina. The Caps' last six games are: the Islanders, Buffalo, and Atlanta all at home before they finish the season on a three game road trip (to accommodate the NCAA Frozen Four at the Phone Booth) against Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Florida. So the Bruins face "bubble tams" who are fighting for a playoff spot and/or position two or three times (depending on how Buffalo fares these next three/four games) during their last six games of the season. New Jersey faces "bubble teams" the same two or three times in their last six games; and the Capitals play "bubble teams" twice in their last six.

That schedule would seem to favor the Capitals, as would an analysis based on overall records except when you scrape below the surface that may not be true. Next up for the Caps is Toronto, who just "pasted" Montreal 5-2 on Hockey Night in Canada last night so nothing is a "given" and "that's why they play the games on the ice." Since Toronto isn't really in the "lottery race" there seems to be no reason they won't work hard to play the spoiler. Apparently the Capitals in general and Alexander Ovechkin in particular "upset" the Lightning the last time they met so during the last two meetings between the teams, expect former Flyer and Tampa Bay head coach Rick Tocchet to use that as motivation for the Bolts, for whatever that might be worth; I've already suggested that if I were Bruce Boudreau I'd consider making Alexander Ovechkin a healthy scratch for those games. I'm an old tyme hockey guy to but threatening players that way is really out of line, no matter how much Tocchet thinks OV's 50th goal celebration went over the top. The Islanders game should go the Caps way, after all in addition to their current situation, the Islanders will be playing the second game of a "back-to-back." Of course that's what I thought last night when the Caps had the Hurricanes to face. Facing Atlanta twice in their last six games would seem to be a real benefit for the Caps, except Atlanta is 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and the season series is tied 2-2. No gimmes' there for the Capitals, even though from a standings perspective the games could just as easily be "don't care/no impact" games by that point.

Finishing the season at Florida, the same day New Jersey finishes the season at home against Carolina could make for an interesting Saturday, April 11th regardless who is in the NCAA Championship game that evening at Verizon Center. Or it could just be a good day to watch the Division I College Championship game. For that one I'll be in nosebleed seats in section 424 at the "Phone Booth." I don't know who I'll be rooting for if anyone, but if they'll let me I'll be there with my Sunday WaPo and my chopping hand and "It's All Your Fault" chant at the ready. You have to keep some hockey traditions alive, even if you otherwise can't stand Don Cherry. No question that what happens between now and April 9th will mean the difference between having my undivided attention directed at the NCAA game in front of me or having one eye on the out of town scoreboard at Verizon Center and wondering why I didn't spend the money to go to Fort Lauderdale/Miami and watch the Caps season finale.

Last night ... oh yeah ... it's over time to use this stretch to look forward at the remaining 8 games and get ready for the next opponent - the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday at Maple Leaf Gardens. I wonder if Don Cherry will be there in person. Maybe they can kiss and make up like Ovie did with Malkin at the All-Star Game....


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Looking Ahead to Tonight's Capitals - Hurricanes Game

Next up Carolina, on the road in Raleigh at the RBC Center.

This should be fun, the latest The Hurricanes are, as Peerless notes 6-1-2 so far in the month of March. The key to tonight's game for the Capitals will be to play disciplined hockey and stay out of the penalty box. There are two reasons for this 1) the Capitals should be more rested than the Hurricanes so at even strength as well as when the Caps have a man advantage they ought to be able to "take it to the Hurricanes." 2) The Hurricanes penalty killing has not been very good. However, if the Caps give the 'Canes a man advantage though all bets are off. The Hurricanes' power play has been very good lately and any advantage the Caps have from being better rested than Carolina who played the Islanders last night will be squandered.

Players to watch ---

For Carolina: Matt Cullen and Chad LaRose. Both Cullen and LaRose have had good outings against the Capitals of late and last night both tallied third period goals to power Carolina past a pesky NY Islanders team who are playing with drive and dedication and want to show the league they aren't going to lie down. LaRose actually had 2 of Carolina's five goals against the Islanders.

For Washington: Jose Theodore and Alexander Semin. Theodore has seemed to elevate his game when facing a solid netminder who is having a solid game, as Cam Ward often does against the Capitals. Last game Theodore matched Ward in regulation, bested him in OT keeping the Caps in the game when they took an OT penalty and then out played Ward in the shoot out to gain the Caps the extra point. Alexander Semin had the game winner against the 'Canes last time out; last game in Tampa he didn't figure too much in the game though. Semin seems to have solid nights against the Hurricanes and with Erik Cole and Eric Staal playing relatively well, the Caps will need both Alexs to create time and space for each other and the rest of the team.

Okay with that out of the way, I'd like to point out there is another reason to go to hockey games in South Florida if the fact the Panthers are fighting for a playoff spot. You can check it out over at the blog "Alex Ovetjkin" make sure you watch the whole video. Oh and I think the title and sentiment of the post is dead nuts on as well, having sat across the aisle from OV's friends and family seats in Section 102 for four years running there is no doubt in my mind as to whether OV is a legs or other attributes guy when it comes to what catches his eye first.

Here's the thoughts of a great NHL player on the Hart Trophy this year:
If you could award Hart Trophy, of the most valuable player in the NHL, who would you have given it to?
"I have two candidates, Nabokov and Malkin. I don't know who I'd choose. Malkin is carrying Pittsburgh on his shoulders, and Nabokov has played great in San Jose, he is in the second place in victories and has 6 shutout games."
It is a coincidence that you've named two Russians?
"Of course not. The Russians are playing better than anyone right now!"
So much for a guy being self-centered and self promoting, this was his answer in an interview to Soviet press publication Sport-Express by correspondent Slava Malamud.

Washington 4 - Carolina 2


Friday, March 20, 2009

Caps Down Lightning 5-2 Take 4-0 Lead in Season Series

It was a Two Point night last at the Saint Pete Times Forum for the Washington Capitals. All around it was a good night for the Caps. Yes the Lightning are the 29th ranked team in the NHL however they still have the core of a very solid team and it wasn't until the third period that the Capitals totally "sealed the deal." There was only one negative to the game - Mike Green left the game with about 1:30 left in the third period after Steven Stamkos dragged him down and somehow it seemed his right shoulder was injured. Hopefully that won't be an injury that keeps "Game Over" out for any length of time. Throughout the evening Simeon Varlamov played well in goal and earned his third NHL Win last night. Alexander Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season to put the Caps in front of the Bolts at the 7:43 mark of the first period while the teams were playing 4 on 4 hockey. Ovechkin now leads the league in goals with nine (9) more than the second leading goal scorer - Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils. He is also currently the second leading point scorer with 93, currently trailing leader Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins by nine (9) points.

The Caps finished the first period with a 2-1 lead on another 4 on 4 score by Mike Green his 26th of the season to regain the lead at the 19:50 mark of the period. Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos had tied the game at 1-1 on a Tampa Bay power play goal at the 17:39 mark. Tampa Bay scored the only goal of the second period. At the 15:54 mark Martin St Louis scored an even strength goal when the Lightning was able to catch the Capitals with a well executed breakout and solid puck movement. The second period ended with the score knotted at 2-2.

The third period was All Caps all the time. Mike Green put the Caps back in front with a really solid full strength goal at just 1:48 into the period. The goal was Green's 27th of the season was assisted by Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Ovechkin. Green leads all defenseman in the NHL in goals with 27 and points with 63, he is tied for 6th in assists with 36. "Game Over" has six more goals then Sheldon Souray of the Edmonton Oilers and eight more points than Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens. His sixteen power play goals are currently best in the league. The Capitals power play went 1 for 5 last night when Michael Nylander scored while they had a 5 on 4 man advantage at the 7:38 mark assisted by Viktor Kozlov and Ovechkin. The goal was just Nylander's eight (8th) of the season. The Capitals' "Energy Line" for last night of Matt Bradley, David Steckel and Quintin Laing put the Capitals three goals ahead at the 12:26 mark. Bradley's fifth (5th) goal of the season was scored at even strength and assisted by Shaone Morrisonn and Dave Steckel.

Overall the Capitals really didn't play a great game. They were a little less disciplined then they probably would have liked in the first two periods when they were out shot 22 -19. Fortunately, Simeon Varlamov came up with some pretty solid saves, despite not having the best rebound control during those two periods. The Capitals played their game plan and executed it throughout the entire 20 minutes of the third period though. The result was considerably different than the first two periods as well; in the third period the Capitals out shot the Lightning 11 - 6 and out scored them 3 - 0. the Capitals also stayed clean and penalty free during the entire third period as well.

The Capitals' play in the third period was solid and they came away with a regulation two point win. At the same time up in Boston, the Los Angeles Kings handed the Bruins an overtime loss so with respect to the B's the Caps had a three point night. Presently the Caps are just four points behind the Bruins in the Eastern Conference though Boston still has one game in hand on the Caps. The significance of that state is not too long ago the Bruins were nine (9) points ahead of the Capitals. Next up for the Capitals will be the Carolina Hurricanes, tomorrow to RBC Center.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

End Of Season Results Forecast - Eastern Conference

As I sit here watching the Caps - Lightning game which is now half over I decided to "Muse" about where I probably think the various NHL Eastern Conference teams will finish the season. Looking ahead to the end of the regular season and projecting likely season point totals of each team in the Eastern Conference based mainly on their performance over the 10 games prior to tonight's match ups, the projected finishing position of each team is as listed below. The bottom line is based on current recent performance it looks increasingly like the current top 8 teams will be the likely teams to make the playoffs. That said the playoff seeding and positions could and likely still will jumble a little. My projections for the finishing positions and total points are as listed below:

1. New Jersey Devils - 112 Points
2. Boston Bruins - 109 Points
3. Washington Capitals - 107 Points

4. Philadelphia Flyers - 99 Points
5. Pittsburgh Penguins - 98 Points
6. New York Rangers - 96 Points
7. Carolina Hurricanes - 95 Points
8. Montreal Canadiens - 94 Points
9. Florida Panthers - 90 Points

10. Buffalo Sabres - 87 Points
11. Ottawa Senators - 84 Points (37 Wins)
12. Toronto Maple Leafs - 84 Points (36 Wins)

13. Atlanta Thrashers - 79 Points
14. New York Islanders - 72 Points
15. Tampa Bay Lightning - 71 Points.

It seems increasingly, actually virtually certain, unless catastrophe hits the top three spots will be New Jersey, Boston and Washington. The only real questions seem to be: 1) How long can/will New Jersey keep up their current great play before they decide to start resting a few folks and will that be before or after they overtake Boston? and 2) Will the Capitals be able to take advantage of their "easier" schedule during their remaining 12 games to overtake either New Jersey or Boston?

My answers: 1) The Devils will keep their current level of ply up long enough to pass the Bruins; and 2) The Caps will come close but will not pass the Bruins who will slide into second.

The next group of teams are basically all at least 10 points and 3 or more games behind Washington. They are all basically in a pack fighting it out for playoff spot seeding between fourth and eighth. The major questions here are: 1) Will Pittsburgh be able to keep up their league leading performance of late (8-0-2) long enough to overtake Philadelphia for fourth place in the Conference or not? 2) Will Philadelphia be able to raise their performance of late against the numerous playoff contention teams they face in what will be intense games over their remaining schedule (8 of 13 games remaining) to use their three games in hand to stay ahead of the surging Penguins who they face only once more this season? 3) Will Florida be able to raise their performance in light of recent injuries enough to over take either Carolina, who they have 2 games in hand on or Montreal who seems to be sliding again of late (lost last three games)? and 4) Will a seemingly rejuvenated New York Rangers team continue to stay ahead of a surging Carolina Hurricanes team?

My answers: 1) Pittsburgh will keep up a high level of play but Philadelphia will also stop their two game losing streak tomorrow night against Buffalo and then play well enough the rest of the season to hold onto fourth place in the conference. The real key game for both teams between now and season's end is their final meeting on Sunday in Pittsburgh and I project Philadelphia as a 1 goal winner. 2) Yes the Flyers will raise their game, I'm projecting them to play 0.576 hockey (vice their recent 0.450 hockey over4 their last 10 games) the rest of the way this season. I project 5 games to be key for them in their stretch run to do that: their game against Pittsburgh on Sunday, their two games against the Rangers and their home and home against the Maple Leafs who so far this season they are 1-1 against. 3) Short answer is unfortunately no, I'm rooting for them though as I'd love to see three teams from the "weak" Southeast Division in the playoffs. However, I project they won't be able to make it mainly because Florida's final 12 games include 7 against teams who like Florida are fighting for either a spot in the playoffs or seeding position so they have a pretty tough schedule ahead and even though Montreal is sliding they are currently 1 1/2 games ahead of Florida and both teams have similar recent past performance over the last 10 games. 4) Yes barring some sort of Sean Avery blow-up which seems unlikely the Rangers with 30 goals for; 19 goals against and a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games will have enough to stay ahead of the Hurricanes who have played to a similar set of results over their last 10 games.

Well now we'll see if the Caps can continue to stay ahead of the Lightning and hold or extend their 2-1 lead to make it a 2 point night.


Mr. Hyde & Dr. Jekyll Go To Florida for Spring Break

It's been four days since my last blog entry and other more focused bloggers and the "real media" have chronicled the past two Washington Capitals games quite well. However the real question in most Caps fans' minds this morning is which team will show up tonight at Saint Pete Times Forum to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning? Will it be the really ugly, bad Mr. Hyde Capitals how lost in Atlanta 5-1 on Monday evening or will it be the wonderful, handsome and smooth playing Dr. Jekyll Capitals who not only shut out the Florida Panthers 3-0 in Sunrise, Florida on Tuesday night but also didn't even allow the Panthers a single shot on goal?

Perhaps, just as as we wonder which Caps Team will show up, on the other side of the boards/glass the Capitals are wondering which fan base will show up tomorrow morning. Will it be the rationale, educated fan base they have had for those long, often "dry" rebuilding years who understand "you can't win them all" and "even very good hockey teams have bad games"? Or will it be the more recent, much more demanding, much faster to react, and much larger fan base that has grown as the Capitals fortunes, play and results have improved since Thanksgiving 2008? The fan base who after a "stinker" starts wondering aloud and agreeing with TV commentators that perhaps their "Golden Boy" is over enthusiastic in his celebratory efforts after a goal, or who indicate they agree their team's #2 defenseman and a key "minute muncher" and special teams player is overpaid and under performing even though comparatively looking around the league and at his statistical performance thus far this season doesn't support whether conclusion.

At this point, a more succinct and bigger hack of a blogger might say something "hokey" like "Only the shadow knows, but to find out tune in tonight at 7:30PM EDT, same bat station ...."

Instead since that blogger is not me, I'll offer a couple of points that I think are relevant to support my feeling and opinion when I say I think it'll be Dr. Jekyll.

First as J.P. of Japer's Rink points out: "In each of the first three games between the Caps and Bolts this season, Washington has out-scored Tampa three-nothing in the first period, and each time it has come against a different goaltender." Tonight's the trend of the Caps outplaying the 'Bolts in the first period will likely to continue and the victim will likely be Karri Ramo in net for Tampa Bay. The Caps might not score 3 and the 'Bolts might not be held scoreless but it would seem surprising considering the makeup of each team and their histories if the Caps don't outscore and generally outplay Tampa in the first period given how well each team knows the other and the Capitals have a chance tonight to overtake the New Jersey Devils in the Conference standings even if it is only for as few as 24 hours and Tampa Bay is basically only playing these remaining 12 games of this season for what amounts to pride.

Second as has been the case all season long Tampa's roster is in flux once again after Defenseman Corey Murphey's foot was broken by a Vincent Lecavalier slapshot. As such, Tampa Bay will have Matt Lashoff as the 20th different defenseman on their roster this season. That flux along with all the shuffling created by Tampa Bay's trade deadline deals means that much of the 'Bolts roster is just sorting out roles and style of play let alone fine tuning timing.

Third or perhaps 2 1/2, as Peerless points out at 3-2-3 so far, the month of March represents the best monthly performance thus far for the Lighting in 2008-2009 and the only month they are over 0.500 this year. In fact in statistical categories like 5-5 results, goals for per game, goals against per game or whatever, so far this season the Lightning's results are in the bottom 10 teams of the league. As for overall record, with 61 points thus far the Lighting are 29th out of the NHL's 30 teams. So while they have been playing relatively well of late with a 2-0-2 record in their last four outings and both Lecavalier, Rammo and Martin St. Louis are playing well; the Capitals should still win this one.

Final score forecast: Capitals 5 - Lightning 3.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

This Just In - Caps Recall Pothier and Varlamov, Assign Neuvirth to Hershey

It just flashed across the bottom of the screen on NHL Network, the Washington Capitals recalled defenseman Brian Pothier and goaltender Simeon Varlamov, to make room on the roster they assigned goaltender Michal Neuvirth to Hershey.

Last night against Wilkes Barre Varlamov had 29 saves on 31 shots. Pothier was +1 with 5 shots on goal during his 4 game conditioning stint in Hershey. Varlamov is 18-6-0-1 in 25 games in Hershey this season and 2-0 with the Capitals. His AHL SV % is 0.910 and his GAA is 2.47, he has had 2 shutouts at Hershey this season.

First of all it's just great to see Brian Pothier continue his comeback after such a tough concussion-related injury last year. Second, it's great to be seeing the Caps bench getting longer at just the right time of the season.

Welcome back Brian and...


A Report on Saturday Night In Bristow and Around The NHL

Well last night here in Bristow, VA watching the Caps - Hurricanes game was exciting, another nail-biter thanks to a really tough, gritty third period by the 'Canes. In the end the Capitals pulled it out, mainly due to a solid period and basically solid game by Jose Theodore. So it was a two point night at Verizon Center for the Capitals for the first time since February 26th when they bested the Atlanta Thrashers. It was good that the Caps got their first home win in March under their belts before heading off for a five game road trip.
The Caps outplayed the Hurricanes pretty well during each of the first two periods, winning the first period 2-1, and dominating most of the second period despite being tied 2-2 during that stanza by a late period "delayed powerplay" goal by the 'Canes; and going into the start of the third period with a 4-3 lead. Between the second and third period Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice must have given his team a heckuva pep talk or they must have all just decided they wanted to make last night their night because the 'Canes came out loaded for bear in the third. During the first 10 minutes of the third period the Hurricanes, who had been outshot in the first two period 23-3, held the Caps to just two shots, they also tied the game 4-4 at 10:47 mark with a "pretty goal" by Nicklas Wallin. Then Cam Ward robbed Boyd Gordon to keep the game tied up. The Caps played their system and disciplined hockey during the first 40 minutes of the evening and then somehow got broken down for much of the third period, which Carolina dominated. Regulation play ended with the score tied 4-4 and during the third period each team had just 6 shots on goal.
Overtime ensued and the Capitals looked pretty solid until the 1:17 mark hen Tom Poti was whistled off for what at least some watching (e.g. me) felt was a relatively weak hooking call. To be fair the call was valid but since the referees basically had put their whistles away for the entire third period, the call seemed incongruous with the way the game had been called for the prior ~21:00 of play. The Hurricanes used the man advantage to get off five good shots and at least 4 solid scoring chances but Jose Theodore stood firm and held the 'Canes off the board. The Caps did manage one good scoring chance after they returned to even strength which Cam Ward stopped.
That took the game into the shootout aka "Bettman's Gimmick". When it comes to the shootout, that is one area here virtually everyone who knows their statistics would rather have Jose Theodore in net than Cam Ward. Last night was no exception. The Capitals went first and Ward stopped Viktor Kozlov's backhand; then Theodore stopped Toumo Ruutu's wrist shot. (Remember Toumo is the Ruutu who DIDN'T bite anyone in the league's ear - at least not yet.) Next up came Alexander Semin. (Semin was red hot last night notching a goal and 3 assists in regulation - he was also the only skater to get back after the failed 5-1 breakaway in the second period to help Jose Theodore on the ensuing breakout by Rayan Whitney and Eric Staal that resulted in Staal's 33rd goal of the season). "The Other Alex" played the shootout masterfully and put a blazing fast wristshot past Cam Ward's left shoulder and top shelf into the net. Jose Theodore then stopped a wrist shot attempt by Carolina's Jussi Jokinen by breaking up the scoring attempt with a pokecheck. Next up "The Great Eight" who had scored his 49th goal of the season during regulation. Ovechekin came in on Ward fast and blasted a wrist shot that just squeaked through the Carolina netminder's "five hole" to end the game.
Alexander Semin was credited with both the game winner and also given the first star of the game. Semin had 21:33 TOI on 23 shifts; 6 SOG, 1 attempt blocked and 1 missed shot 1 goal and 3 assists as well as the game winner in the shootout. All in all another very solid night against the Hurricanes.
Erik Cole was given the second star of the game. Cole had a goal and an assist in 21:34 TOI; he also was credited with 3 hits.
Nicklas Backstrom was given the third star of the game. Backstrom had a goal and an assist in 22:07 TOI; perhaps more notably he went 12 for 21 in the faceoff circle; a 57% win percentage including several wins against Carolina faceoff "ace" Rod Brin D'Amor.
Overall, it was a solid night for the Capitals even though the third period was somewhat disappointing. In the recent past at least the Caps would have generally had a let down after a victory like the one on Thursday against the Flyers. Last night that rally didn't happen. The Caps came out in the first period ready to play and focused on trying to overtake New Jersey for second place in the Eastern Conference. That didn't happen, in large part because of yet another solid night by Martin Brodeur up in Montreal to capture his 551st all time win and tie Patrick Roy's record. Through the fact that power play goals don't help +/- statistics and the Caps scored 3 of their 4 goals on the power play while Carolina earned all four of their goals at even strength it was a "bad night" for the Capitals from a +/- perspective. However ask the Hurricanes if they'd trade their +16 for the Caps -15 and the extra point the Capitals earned, and without a doubt to a man they'd say YES.

Elsewhere around the league, if you follow James Mirtle's logic and forecast for the playoffs last night the Phoenix Coyotes were basically eliminated from the playoffs while the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs managed to "stay alive", though improbable in their quests for the post season. Phoenix now has the possibility of a maximum of 88 points with the likely need for 90 to gain a berth in the Western Conference. Both Toronto and Ottawa need to continue to "win out" their remaining 12 and 14 games of the season respectively to gain the projected 93 points required to gain a berth in the Eastern Conference. Both Florida and Pittsburgh managed to capture a point yesterday while Montreal and the Rangers lost in regulation so in the Eastern Conference you still have six teams who are fighting for the final four playoff berths within a range of four points. Boston, New Jersey, Washington and Philadelphia all won their games so the top of the standings and point separations remained unchanged. The Caps remain just one point behind the Devils but the Devils have two games in hand.
Well once again last night on Hockey Night in Canada between games Don Cherry made Alexander Ovechkin's goal celebrations, or perhaps it was Don Cherry's sense of self importance, a video feature. Not surprisingly, once again, Don Cherry got it all wrong. First let me be very clear, I have never had the opportunity to speak to Alexander Ovechkin about anything, and if I did get the opportunity to do so between the fawning and thanking him for being so fun to watch when he plays from our seats at Section 103 at the Phone Booth, I am positive Don Cherry wouldn't even be a subject of any resultant conversation. That said, I'm pretty willing to bet most anything I have, within reason, that like Ovechkin has gone on record as saying, he doesn't even think about Don Cherry. So I'll remain totally positively convinced that any tempering of Ovechkin's celebrations over the past week or so HAS NOT been the result o Ovechkin listening to Don Cherry or even to any monitoring he or "his people" might be doing of the resultant "hub-bub" about it. If I had to guess it's probably because of two things - 1) over the past week the Caps have all decided to get focused on "The Goal" and attainment of that goal is now 28 - 40 games away and 2) it's now truly "playoff push" time and Capitals' games over the past week have pretty much been against teams who they will face at least once more this regular season or may well face in the playoffs, if those current "bubble teams" (Pittsburgh and Nashville make the playoffs, so why give them something that they may use to motivate themselves with next time?
In any case last night from the recliner in Bristow I concluded five things were still true:

1) My wife is a darn good cook - Saturday dinner was a simple straightforward great, home-cooked meal, Thank You dear.
2) Verizon Center remains a tough place for opposing teams to walk away with even a point, Carolina played a very solid game, especially the third period and still if not for Cam Ward robbing Boyd Gordon in the third would have walked away empty handed.
3) Alexander Semin is an awesomely super-skilled hockey player.

4) Kieth Aucoin deserves to play in the NHL just like he did when the Capitals picked him up last season from the Hurricanes and there still isn't room on the Caps roster for him when everyone is healthy.
And perhaps least surprisingly:
5) Don Cherry is still and will always remain a total tool.


Next up the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena in Atlanta tomorrow night.

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

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Looking Ahead to Tonight's Caps vs. Hurricanes Game

Are you ready to "Rock the Red?" I am. I'll be Rockin' the Red from the reclining settee here in Bristow tonight. Tonight is a pretty important game for the Capitals, tonight they get to make it three in a row for the first time in the month of March, with a solid regulation win, they'd take the record for March to 3-3-1 (0.500). They'll also reach the 92 point plateau in the standings, just two shy of the mark they reached last season. With a win they'd be 14 points and 7 games up on the Hurricanes who are currently in second place in the Southeast Division with just 12 games remaining in the regular season. Depending on the4 outcome of tonight's Devils - Canadiens game the Caps may or may not recapture second place in the Eastern Conference, however New Jersey still has two games in hand on the Capitals.
Tonight's match up will be interesting. The regular season series between the two teams is tied at 2-2-0; Carolina definitely "needs" the win more than the Capitals in their push for the playoffs. If you believe Mirtle, it'll take 93 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. To reach 93 points, Carolina needs to close out the remaining 12 games of their season 7-4-1. Carolina doesn't have the explosive set of forwards the Caps have but they do have a balanced attack. They've used their balanced attack, solid goaltending by Cam Ward and have played disciplined hockey to take the last two meetings they've had with the Capitals. The two teams will play twice over the next 7 days and both are hoping to make a clear statement to the other team as to "Who's the Boss" in the Southeast Division. The Hurricanes have dropped their last two outings after going 18-12-0 between January 1 and that game in Chicago on March 11th to play their way into the battle for the post season. Interestingly after their last meeting at Verizon Center on March 3rd where Carolina handed the Capitals a 5-2 loss, it's entirely possible that even though the 'Canes need this game more, the Capitals may actually WANT it more. Add to that the fact tonight's game will be in front of a sellout crowd and the last home game before a five game road trip and it's clear both teams will likely bring their A games and play hard for both points tonight. That said, the Caps are coming into the game off a 2-1 victory at Philadelphia on Thursday night and the Hurricanes are coming in off a 3-2 loss at Dallas on Thursday night. Both teams should be rested so give a slight edge to the Capitals on intangibles after all they are the home team. The only intangible I can't even begin to try and quantify is the return of Erik Cole and as Peerless points out that's a big item that could sway things either way.
When you look at the Forwards, the Caps have an explosive offense that has been pretty sedate in their last two games and it's easy to say they have a clear edge here. However closer examination shows the Hurricanes, with their balanced scoring attack, should and do match up well against the Capitals. The Caps have 6 forwards with more than 30 points; the Hurricanes have 7 forwards with 30 or more points. The Hurricanes have four forwards with 20 or more goals and another 4 with ten or more tallies. The Capitals have two forwards with twenty or more goals and another 5 with ten or more goals on the season. However, the Hurricanes don't have anybody on their depth chart with the possible exception of Eric Staal who can light it up like Alexander Ovechkin or Alexander Semin. A slight edge in this department goes to the Capitals, even with Sergei Federov likely to be sitting this game out. Who knows maybe Michael Nylander might even take this opportunity to remind the fans at Verizon why it is he is making $5M a year; though the way those sort of things have been going lately it's more likely that either Tomas Fleaischmann or Eric Fehr will "kick it up a notch" and light the lamp again or Kieth Aucoin will get his 6th career NHL goal and demonstrate to Carolina why they should have held on to him last season.

Defensive matchups you say well the Caps have Mike Green +23, with 23 goals and 35 assist in 56 games played; the Hurricanes have Joe Corvo -2 with 13 goals and 17 assists in 70 games played. The Hurricanes Defense Corps may be the only one in the NHL without a Canadian in the top six and their +/- and Corsi ratings are relatively unspectacular. If Tom Poti were in the lineup you'd have to give the edge to the Capitals but Poti still injured, call this a draw on the statistics right now. However, the last two game the Capitals have tightened their defense up and as if they don't have a let down after the big win in Philly on Thursday night they could actually turn this game for the Capitals. That might be what the Caps need if the Hurricanes play a stifling, frustrating 4-1 trap tonight.

The goaltending for both teams has been solid of late. In his last 6 games, Cam Ward has posted an 2.00 GAA ,and he has posted a save percentage of 0.950 in his last three outings. Jose Theodore has been outstanding in his last two games with a GAA of 0.98 and a save percentage of 0.969 in his last two games. In the four games he's played in March since being pulled against Florida on March 1st, Theodore has a 2.00 GAA and with his performance of late his season save % has risen to 0.902, which is in line with his NHL career average of 0.908. All things considered, this is another area where you have to call the category a draw, as long as the Capitals don't have a let down tonight after the win over the Flyers.

Forecast for tonight's final score: Capitals 4 - Hurricanes 2.
Why/How? Because even though there is no statistical basis for a two goal game between these two teams tonight, there wasn't any basis for a three goal game between them on March 3rd -0 the reason tonight is because it's payback time. What better way to pay the Hurricanes back for March 3rd and those tough years between 2004 and last January then to deny them any points at a time when they need them most? I can't think of any. Let's all hope: 1) there's no let down from Thursday and 2) the Caps decide it's time to start winning at home again. Tonight should be a good game.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's Going On With This Blog? Where You Been Dude?

Mark's been missing in action lately...but finally Captain Insane-o caught up with him. Once that occurred he was cornered and Insane-o got some answers.

Captain Insane-o (CI): "Dude where have you been first we get sporadic updates and 'den nuthin' for a week, what gives?"

Mark (M) - shaking in fear at the sight of the menacing former professional wrestler: "Well Cap, I'm sorry, first it was so hectic at work and then me and the family spent five days at Myrtle Beach on vacation. The wireless access wasn't that good and all I could get on the TV was an occasional Carolina Hurricanes' highlight. But you know, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede was pretty good - 40 bucks for mediocre chicken and no utensils but if you think Dolly looks good in person, you should see here on a 30 foot screen. Weee-ooooohhhh."

CI: "Well you know what you missed dude? Tonight while you were driving in your stinkin' car for 8 hours, you missed the second of the Caps first back to back wins since February ended."

M: "Get outta town, really?"

CI: "Yes, really, schmuck. And because you went MIA, I had to go find more blogs, other blogs, blogs by more dedicated hockey bloggers. Hockey bloggers who know what it takes to reward people who follow their blogs regularly - dependable updates, or in the absence of that - CASH!"

M: "Well, Captain, you may kick my butt, but now i've got neither of those things. However, I should be able to provide more regular updates now that I'm back from my South Carolina vacation. Unless of course, that pesky "day job" gets in the way again. Until then this quick update will have to do."

Caps 2 - Flyers 1 - YES!!!! Sweet....

Tonight in Philadelphia was a two point night. The second one in a row for the Capitals. In fact in their last three outings, the Capitals have come away with points. and have managed to claw back to 0.416 for March after an uncharacteristic 0-3-1 start during and extended homestand. Interestingly the Caps are now 12-3-2 in their last 17 road games after a relatively slow start in that department this season, overall this season the Capitals are now 17-12-4 on the road this season. At home for the season they are 25-9-2. The Caps now have 90 points and are just 1 point behind the New Jersey Devils, although the Devils have two games in hand and continue to be one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference.

Unfortunately for me I missed the last two games. Unfortunate, because during those tow contests, goaltender Jose Theodore has had two very solid outings. On Tuesday in Nashville, Theo had a 27 save, 0.964 SV % evening; tonight according to the scoresheet he had a 35 save, 0.972 SV% night and earned the Second Star of the Game. I'm so glad that Theo and the Caps are back on track. I was getting nervous and wondering if my faith and optimism was misplaced. I once again am feeling confident and very happy that I renewed our season tickets early. Tomorrow is the renewal deadline, maybe I'll be able to move my seats a little and edge over from the folding seats we're currently in back towards some stadium seats again.... Just maybe... when I renewed there was only one love unsold seat in Section 103... What a great change from just three years ago.

With just 13 games remaining, 10 against Southeast Division foes, the Capitals are 12 points ahead of the second place Carolina Hurricanes and 13 points in front of the third place Florida Panthers. The Caps have two more games against both the Hurricanes and the Panthers. In fact next up for the Caps is a home game on Saturday against the Hurricanes, then Monday is the start of a 5 game road trip where they open against Atlanta on Monday Night at Phillips Arena and then play the Panthers in Sunrise, Florida Tuesday night in their last "back to back" game of the season. As I just came back from vacation thinking about catching one of those away games isn't even an option since Tom has our seats on Saturday my next live hockey game will be at Verizon on the 27th when the Caps take on the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, just for grins I went and looked and good seats are available in Sunrise for the Caps-Panthers game on Ticketmaster...ohh that is just so wishful thinking on my part.

Next up Carolina, Saturday at Verizon Center -


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Well It Wasn't Fun But It Was Better Than Tuesday Night - Caps Drop Another Game 2-1 to the Maple Leafs

Well what can you say. It was the third NO Point Night in a row for the Caps. That makes the Capitals ) 0-3-0 for March, March Madness indeed. Everything about tonight was a little better, but not better enough than Tuesday night was, despite the Caps playing without Alex Ovechkin or Tom Poti, both out with injuries. However, nothing was good enough in part because the Leafs played well, especially Martin Gerber who with a save percentage of 0.974 (37 of 38) kept the Leafs in the game and led them to the victory.

Jose Theodore played well - stopping 27 of 29 shots on net (Save Percentage = 0.931) but the Caps failed to mount an effective offense against Gerber and the Leafs defense held the Caps at bay. The Caps had their lines pretty jumbled the entire game and that may have contributed to the relatively toothless offense, as well. In the end I was left wondering if George McPhee regards Michael Nylander and his $5.5M salary with both a relatively long term and a no movement clause as the only big mistake of the "rebuild" as much as I do. The 36 year old "Nyls", after sitting out three games returned to the lineup and had a totally unremarkable game and of course ended up -1 for the night.

At the other end of the spectrum, Sergei Federov played defense a fair amount tonight and took a couple of turns at center tonight and had more ice time and more shifts then a 39 year old should have to take - 22:45 TOI in 30 shifts. "Feds" was all over the score sheet generally in a good way. Mike Green spent more than 1/2 the game out on the ice - 31:03 on 28 shifts to be exact and also put out a solid body of work tonight. Alexander Semin once again turned in a solid game that unfortunately was unable to push the Caps to victory. Semin had 24:23 TOI on 24 shifts a goal, 7 SOG, 2 hits, 3 takeaways and no giveaways. In many ways the Caps were not outplayed tonight and they stuck to their game plan but the Maple Leafs skaters managed to block 24 shots and Martin Gerber stopped 37 of the 38 shots they managed to get on goal, and in the end, that was the story tonight.

Next up Pittsburgh, Sunday at Verizon Center.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Okay - That Was Painful and Confusing...Caps Drop One To Hurricanes 5 - 2

So in the spirit of this blog it was a no point night. Well actually since where it counted the Caps lost in regulation and the New Jersey Devils won despite Vesa Toskala trying to help we Caps fans with a 50 save effort, tonight was actually a "negative 2 point night." The Caps now trail the Devils by two points, and the Devil have a game in hand on the Capitals. However, unless the Capitals turn things around quickly, that's not even worth talking about. Tonight's game was truly painful to watch, the crowd was light, lighter than it has been for some time. The atmosphere was horribly reminiscent of games BB..."Before Boudreau" - subdued and listless. I'm pretty sure that started with the Caps and bled over to the crowd, which was announced as 17, 903 but there seemed to be more than 900 empty seats. To be clear, this was the first game I've been to since Christmas where there were any empty seats in Section 103 where I sit.

So I'm worried - Tom Poti was pulled from warm-ups - reportedly because he aggravated a groin injury. On nights like this - when the Caps start out shaky and take more than three penalties, the Caps really need Poti. That said, had they played even adequately in front of Michal Neuvirth, this would have been a different game. The Caps gave the 'Canes two short handed goals and a penalty shot goal. The young netminder was "hung out to dry" on several of the Hurricane goals.

I'll start with the good...the following Caps had okay to good games:

Alexander Semin, despite being on the ice for three of the five Hurricanes goals including the second "shortie." - Yes I said second, Semin was also involved in both Caps goals, the first he scored on the power play from his knees and the second, he set up Sergei Federov on an excellent effort. Semin had 3 takeaways but also countered that with 4 giveaways. Perhaps most notable though and why I'm saying he had at least an okay game is he played like he wanted to be there and didn't look sluggish anytime he was on the ice.

Sergei Federov, once again the "old man of the Capitals" spent time both on the forward lines and the blue line in attempts to get the Caps offense "moving." Feds was also on the ice for three of the Hurricanes five goals, including both shorties, but again was on the ice and involved in both Caps goals - he had a goal and secondary assist. He also logged 17:22 TOI, was 47% (9 of 19) in he faceoff circle, 2 hits, 2 takeaways and NO giveaways. Federov was another guy he played all three periods tonight and like Semin that's in part why I'm citing his play as relatively good.

David Steckel, the Ohio State Buckeye was 67% (10 of 15) in the faceoff circle, 3 hits, 5 shots, 1 giveaway but 2 takeaways. Keep it up Dave, sooner or later two or three of those five shots will go in. Thanks for the effort, even during those long twenty minutes when the Caps were down 5-1 and 5-2.

Alexander Ovechkin, while not his best night - those are four goal nights as we all know, Ovechkin spent most of the night wearing a "Joe Corvo" sweater and still managed an assist, 6 shots and 2 hits. He did have 2 giveaways and he was victimized by Matt Cullen's "allie-oop" on Carolina's first shortie. How often do you see Ovechkin on the short end of a highlight reel move - not often that's for sure. So again not his best night, but Ovie on a slow night is still at least "okay."

That's about all I can say without stretching it on the good. The bad, well there's a lot of that to go around, it's in two categories: team "efforts" and individual "accomplishments". In the team efforts category let's start with the ugliest item of them all.

Forty (40) turnovers - twenty eight (28) giveaways by the Caps and victims of twelve (12) takeaways by the Hurricanes.

Next has to be yielding two (2) short handed goals in a single game, if not for a Neuvirth save or two on shorthanded attacks it could have easily been three shorthanded goals.

In the "individual accomplishment" category there's a couple - as you might guess from a game like this.

Peerless' perspective is that Mike Green had a horrible game, he was -3 and on the ice for the 4 goals by the Hurricanes he could be on the ice for. To be sure it wasn't "Game Over's" best outing by a long shot.

That said, from my vantage point is Section 103 it was another totally horrible night (the second in a row) on the blue line by Jeff Schultz. There was a shift in the second period where Schultz got victimized by three different Hurricanes but somehow Michal Neuvirth came up with the needed saves, despite being screened by the 6'6" Schultz twice. I mean comon' if you're going to be a big guy who doesn't hit anybody much at least try to tie them up some other way when they are in the low slot.

One of the best shifts of the night was from Chad LaRose of the Hurricanes on the shift in the second period when he scored. That said it was because somehow after he had made two hits and generated lots of havoc in the Cps zone that apparently Shoanne Morrisonn felt LaRose must be too tired to require any sort of defense on his part and let LaRose just come in and get the puck and put it into the net.

Anyway, the game was no fun to watch if you were a Caps fan. Hopefully, we'll all get out of this funk both fans and Caps and by Thursday's game against the Maple Leafs we'll all have a better day.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Musings As We Start Another Week Amid A Winter Storm

First things first - yesterday's game against the Florida Panthers was a total stinker. Every once in a while this season, actually yesterday was the fourth time so far this season, the Caps just play an awful game. Yesterday they did exactly that. Now I'm not one to take anything away from the Panthers, the Panthers rebounded from an awful showing against the New Jersey Devils and played what was probably one of their best games of the season against the Capitals. The victory by the Panthers evened the regular season series between the two division rivals at 2-2. It also moved the Panthers into sixth place in the conference ahead of the New York Rangers. Both the Panthers and Rangers have 72 points but the Panthers have a game in hand on the Blueshirts. The victory also give the FlaCats a little breathing room between themselves and the rest of the teams "on the bubble."

Yesterday the Panthers outplayed the Capitals in just about every respect of the game. While according to the game sheet that doesn't look to be true, watching the game once the Panthers got up 3-1, they never looked back. During the first ten minutes of the second period, the Capitals tried to mount a comeback but the Panthers kept pace until it was they who struck with the only goal of the period. Once that happened, while as a Caps fan it hurts to say this, it was pretty much "all over except for the crying." Panthers' goaltender Craig Anderson played a solid game in net, through the first two and half periods, he came up with a couple of big saves when he was called on to keep his team in control of the game and I even felt sorry for him when up 6-1 he was victimized and yielded a cheapie to league leading scorer Alexander Ovechkin - his 46th of the season in the games final moments. The Panthers played a disciplined game and executed their game plan pretty much flawlessly and the scoresheet shows that; the Caps well as for discipline, they took six minor penalties and gave up four (4) power play goals to what had previously been one of the worst power play units in the league. I say previously because if Florida keeps the kind of puck movement and clogging the middle they showed against the Capitals up, there power play will do just fine down the rest of the streatch.

Going through the specifics or at least the first two periods before my attention span was taxed watching what had become a total foregone conclusion. The game started out lots of fun and with a lot of interesting events. During the first four minutes of the game the following occurred: 1) a truly beautiful power play goal by Alexander Semin (his 25th of the season) fed by Brooks Laich; 2) a failed penalty shot attempt by David Booth; and 3) a nice power play goal by the Panthers Stephen Weiss that was primarily due to uncharacteristically poor penalty killing by Caps forwards David Steckel and Boyd Gordon. Of course the second Panthers goal was almost identical to the first, except the play by the Caps penalty kill was worse then the first failure. In addition to the forwards (Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich) failing to "set up the box" at all, defenseman Jeff Schultz decided to set up a really "excellent" screen on Jose Theodore that Bryan McCabe capitalized on. The Panthers third goal, another power play goal by the 29th "best" power play in the league, was another poor showing by the PK unit on a blistering slap shot on Theodore by Jay Bouwmeester. Next the Caps decided to spot the Panthers a 3 goal lead when the defensive pairing of Milan Jurcina - John Erskine decided to pretty much misplay a 3 on 2 breakaway and Theo decided to give ex-Cap Richard Zednick an empty net to shoot at. This being the only the third time so far this season the Caps let an opponent score 4 goals in a period, it was pretty much the low point of the game. The crowd seemed stunned and awfully quiet as the first period ended. Give the Panthers their due, they played a very solid twenty minutes of hockey and the Caps needed to get their act together between periods.

The Caps came out for the second period with a new goaltender in net - Michal Neuvirth and tried to turn things around but Florida hung tough. Through some see-saw back and forth play over the first 10 minutes of the period, the Caps failed to mount any real intense scoring threats on Panther goaltender Craig Andersen. At the 10:24 mark, the Panthers scored a fifth goal, their first against Neuvirth. The goal by the Panthers came against the Caps first line and two of their top four defensemen. Even "worse" it was scored by the Panthers 3rd line on a shift when they kept the Caps hemmed into their own zone. The third period was pretty much more of the same. Panthers rookie Center Michael Frolik scored his 14th goal of the season on a backhander that Michal Neuvirth pretty much didn't see at 7:20, an even strength goal that took the Panthers up 6-1. At the 19:38 mark, Craig Anderson misplayed a high shot by Alexander Ovechkin that somehow dribbled into the net for Ovechkin's 46th goal of the season. A poor play with just 42 seconds left in the game by a guy who had pretty much played flawlessly through the prior 59 minutes stopping 32 of 33 shots before that goal. So when it all ended the Panthers became the only team so far this seaso to beat the Capitals twice at Verizon Center. The Caps have two more games against the Panthers - both at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, FL.

Next up for the Caps - Carolina at Verizon Center, Tuesday Night...


Now for some of Mark's General Musings on a variety of specific topics in the Hockey World of late....

a) Don Cherry's Xenophobia ranging from his "calling out Ovechkin" for excessive celebrations to his complaints about Pavel Datsuyk's "hits from behind" and the "unemotional and boring play" of the Europeans on the Detroit Red Wings during Saturday night's "Hockey Night in Canada" telecast.

So because we're Caps fans we all want to react to Cherry's comments about Ovechkin's goal celebrations but the ones I found more controversial and offensive were his negative comments about Datsuyk. A lot of people are taking issue to the cockiness of the Capitals of late from Sidney Crosby to Claude Julien, so be it, the Caps probably do need to tone down the outward display of cockiness that their youthful confidence manifests itself in. Of course I totally disagree with Don Cherry about Ovechkin and his goal celebrations - Ovie's exuberance is natural and it isn't usually "out of bounds." How is what he does any sillier than when someone scores a goal while there team is down by more than a goal and goes over and "fist taps" every one on his bench? No, watch the replay of Cherry's comments from his intermission comments and all you see is xenophobia, sour grapes that right now many of the NHL's stars are Europeans, and unhappiness that right now none of the teams in the thick of things except Calgary are Canadian, all manifesting itself in toxic, and frankly surprisingly unfounded rants against the "European Influence" on Canada's National past time by one of the best known names in the sport.

b) Why when I "muse" about the Capitals roster looking ahead I cannot imagine a Caps team without Alexander Semin or with Michael Nylander at the start of the 2009-2010 season.

First let's look at Semin's statistics so far this year:
45 GP; 25 G; 34 A; 59P; +28; 63PIM; 4 PP; 6 GWG; 147 SOG; S% 17.0; 18:54 ATOI

Then let's look at Nylander's statisitcs this year:
31 GP; 11 G; 17 A; 28P; +3; 30PIM; 3 PP; 2 GWG; 76 SOG; S% 14.5; 14:29 ATOI

Now think about this the Capitals probably need $2M of Cap space so they can give Semin on the order of $6M/season to keep him in Capitals' red, white and blue the 2010 - 2011 season. Likewise if things keep going the way they are for Nicklas Backstrom they'll need $5-7M/year for him - that's 3-5M more than he is making right now. Sergei Federov is 39 years old, the Caps might get him to come back next season and play one more year but it's hard to see Federov wanting to play more than that - even with the reneed energy level he's found in Washington last year, the novelty will probably wear off sometime. Add to all that - the simple facts, Nylander is 36 years old, and his style of play really hasn't meshed with either of the top two Caps lines and $4.875M is just too much to spend for a third line center and probably too much to pay for a second line center anyway. Semin on the other hand is currently # 7 in the league in goals/game (0.56), 12th in assist/game (0.76) and #5 in points per game (1.31).

Now look at the Capitals who could and likely will be UFAs after this season ends (2008-2009 Cap hit in parentheses): 1) 39 Year Old Center Sergei Federov ($4M) ; 2) 34 year old Forward Viktor Kozlov ($2.5M); 3) 31 year old backup goaltender Brent Johnson ($813K); 4)28 year old minor league defenseman Tyler Sloan ($475K); and 5) 36 year old journeyman defenseman Bryan Helmer ($475K). Additionally minor leaguers Graham Mink (Salary $500K - 26 goals, 49 points, +18 in 55 AHL games this season), Quintin Laing (salary $488K, played a solid grinder rol in 2007-2008 for the Caps), and Alexandre Giroux ($475K, 28 year old forward, an AHL All-Star this year, 40 goals, 70 points, +15 so far this season). So what's that all say - it says the Capitals don't have a lot of guys who they want to deal to others as rental players and they don't have much cap space right now - actually, they have none. In the end the guy you have who you might deal is Nylander, he a mature, solid leader at 36 but his style of play doesn't mesh with the Caps, however on a team that plays the trap more, he's a no brainer with solid puck control who doesn't get impatient, in fact that's exactly why he doesn't mesh with the Caps new "North - South" game since Boudreau took over for Hanlon.

As far as RFAs at the end of this season here's who the Caps will need to negotiate or arbitrate with: 1) Eric Fehr ($735K); 2) Boyd Gordon ($725K); 3) Chris Bourque ($634K); 4) Shoane Morrisonn ($1.975K); 5) Milan Jurcina ($881K); 7) Jeff Schultz ($650K), 7) Sami Lepisto ($675K); 8) Staffan Kronvall ($250K). Of those the guy who might get dealt could be Morrisonn as he went to and through binding arbitration last season and the Caps seem to have settled on Jeff Schultz and John Erskine over ShaMo going forward but you never know how that will play out. Finally, Morrisonn might be the only guy the Caps could move to make cap room for a return to the lineup by Brian Pothier if that were to happen next season. The real questions here relate to what do the Caps do with Chris Bouque, Eric Fehr's latest coming of age combined with Tomas Fleischmann's good season and solid play by both David Steckel and Boyd Gordon make you wonder if the Caps might deal him as a solid prospect in a deal to get either a key rental player this year or a draft pick this summer or next. Bourque has shown NHL potential and talent but his size and the embassment of riches the Caps have at left wing and center make it possible to consider moving him in return for something of either immediate or future value.

In the end though that leaves Nylander as an odd man out this year. Look for the Caps to try and move him before the trade deadline and if they can't move him before the summer to buy him out. Then look for the Caps to at least start working to negotiate an extension to Semin's contract this offseason, they'll use Cap Room they create by moving or buying Nylander out to do that. GM George McPhee will then probably hold any Salary Cap space he'll get when Sergei Federov retires either at the end of this season or next to keep Nicklas Backstrom solidly in the fold and keep folks from making stupid offer sheets to him. Sure Semin's skill level, solid two way play this year and numbers mean that at his current salary of 4.2M this year and 5M next year he's more than earning his money; his cap hit each of these two seasons is 4.6M so there is no reason to think the Caps won't try and be successful in figuring out how to keep him here in DC for some time to come. For those reasons, I just can't see breaking up "The Young Guns" anytime before Mike Green enters restricted free agency in 2012-2013, the chemistry on the ice and in the stands is just too good to consider it.

c) Where I think Jay Boumeester will end up next year.

I'll make this short - Florida. Why because I don't think the Panthers' management is totally stupid and with the general concern around the league the salary cap will contract, Florida is in a good spot to retain him and build around him.

That's all I got today, hopefully everyone including the Capitals are getting into a real hockey mood because of the weather... I'll be at the game tomarrow and Rockin' the Red - How about you?