Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One Down! - Three To Go ...

WOW - that was the only word I could think to express my feelings as a walked down "E" Street last night to get back to where I parked my car - WOW...
Last night's game was joyful, if you were and/or are a Washington Capitals fan. Unless for some odd, unfathomable reason reading this blog is your only connectivity to the outside world, you already know the Washington Capitals completed a comeback from a 3-1 best of seven series deficit against the NY Rangers last night. If you didn't watch the game at all you only know the final score was 2-1, you might not know the Rangers played an excellent game, executing the "dreaded" 4-1 trap flawlessly for the first two periods and fairly well for the final period of the game. If you didn't watch the game in person at DC's Verizon Center, you might not have any idea or appreciation just how fantastic a celebration of world class NHL playoff hockey the game was, or how loud and enthusiastic the sellout crowd was either.
Thanks to an early goal by the Rangers' Nik Antropov, setup by that pesky, nuisance Sean Avery drawing multiple Washington Capitals into a shoving match in the corner, the Rangers led or were tied in this game for all but the final 4:59. Thankfully for the Capitals, if your only going to lead a hockey game for less than 5 minutes, the last 4:59 of the third period of game 7 of a playoff series is the right time to do it though. So even though, by my estimation, Sean Avery had finally made a real impact on the Rangers - Capitals Series where it counts, on the scoreboard, the Caps comeback was completed. Interestingly from a scoresheet perspective 4 of the 5 biggest names on last night's scoresheet were Russians and the fifth was also a European. I am speaking of the 3 goal scorers and the two goaltenders. As already mentioned, Nik Atropov scored the Rangers only tally, while Alexander Semin and Sergei Federov socred the two goals necessary for the Capitals to advance to Round 2. In net for the Capitals Simeon Varlamov (pronounced var-LAM-ov) aka CZAR-lamov, made the victory possible with several excellent saves, including two at the end of the second period that were crucial. Rangers netminder Henriq Lundqvist stopped 22 of 24 shots, a save percentage of 0.917 last night and didn't give the Caps much to shoot at all night.
The Rangers executed the 4-1 trap flawlessly during the first period, limiting the Caps to just two shots on goal, fortunately one was a great one by Alexander Semin that found the back of the net at 15:34 of the first period to tie the game at 1-1. The rest of the first and remainder of the second periods were tough minutes for the Capitals, New York played measured, patient team hockey and executed a stifling trap. The Blueshirts play limited the Caps scoring chances but they did get a few. Howver, either good recoveries by relentless backchacking or "King Henriq" kept the few Caps scoring chances out of the Rangers net at their end of the ice. While at the Caps end of the rink, they too had tightend things up after giving up that first goal to Antropov at the 5:35 mark of the first period. Finally at about the 15 minute mark of the third period, veteran and future Hall of Famer Sergei Federov, playing in the 8th game seven of his illustrious NHL career, got his chance for glory on a breakaway after an outlet pass from Matt Bradley. The 39 year old from Pskov, Russia did not flinch or miss, after streaking down the right side of the ice, he saw his opening. The Swedish Monarch in the net for the Rangers moved quickly to the left side of the net, however, Federov must have sensed Lundqvist moving too far or too fast and he pulled up instantly putting the puck past him into the upper left side of net past the Ranger goalies' right shoulder. Fedorov is now tied with Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux for 15th place on the league’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fedorov now has 12 game-winning goals in Stanley Cup playoff competition, tied for 17th on the NHL’s all-time list in that department. To put Fedrov's career playoff accomplishments in perspective, last night was his 176th NHL playoff game, that's almost 3 full regular seasons without missing a game's worth of playoff experience and accomplishments. He is now one game shy of matching Hockey Hall of Famer Al MacInnis for 25th on the league’s all-time list in that department. How's that for WOW!
The moment when Federov scored is when an already loud Verizon Center crowd erupted and stayed so "rumbling the rafters" for the remainder of the game. To be sure, the Caps played excellent, dominating hockey for those last 5 minutes of play and the Rangers only managed to get Lundqvist to the bench for just two seconds as the puck was in their zone for much of the final minutes of play. The crowd noise was the loudest I have ever heard it during ANY professional sporting event of my life. However, from where I could see it the crowd was always in control, to be sure some additional precautions were taken in and around the Rangers bench and they seemed well thought out and advisable to keep in place for pretty much all games.
As for crowd behaviour, you can only pretty much speak knowledgeably about the conduct in and around your own seat. But I can tell you from my discussions with my seatmates, it seems my friend Gary brought a group with him and they managed to get a fair number of seats in and around section 103 for game 5. Per the folks who usually sit around me there were no untoward incidents then and it was clear the usual good natured chat between hockey fans of rival teams was all conducted in a civil manner. Last night two Rangers fans, a husband and wife, sat in front of Tom and I, we had several good conversations at breaks in the action, like the prolonged delay when the glass needed to be repaired and between periods. They were nice folks and I believe they would say the same about us. The only thing they probably didn't like about the game was the outcome but I'm not going to work to change that anytime soon.
Another big - WOW - story of the game and series was now just turned 21 year old Simeon Varlamov. He took over for Jose Theodore after game one and through the last six games of the series he's compiled a 4-2 record with a SV% of 0.952 and a GAA of 1.17 - WOW! CZARlamov's athleticism and flexibility proved to be a deadly combination to the Rangers 2009 playoff objectives. Other pleasant developments that are notable so far from this series - the elevated level of play of the entire Capitals line up and the mature, patient adjustments being made to the games by the Caps young stars to playoff hockey. You can't write about this series without mentioning the improved level of focus and play by the blueline corps, notably Erskine, Jurcina, and Poti. Sure Green, ShaMo and Pothier are all also playing excellent hockey as well but most pleasantly surprising to me has been the play of John Erskine. Once again another move by Caps GM George McPhee, the Erskine contract extension this season, looks prescient. The return to the lineup by Brian Pothier has also helped but right now the amazing thing to me last night was it seemed like during the third period almost any of the six blueliners could play together without miscommunication, miscues or hesitation of any sort. Tom Poti had a great, not good, but great series against the Rangers and you can't not mention that. Up front, "the grinders" especially Matt Bradley, Dave Steckel and Boyd Gordon seemed to be pushing for folks to stand up and take notice of them so here it is - great series guys - WOW!
Okay like for the Caps no time to wallow in self-aggrandizement, thanks to a third period comeback by Carolina last night, the Caps will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the next round. WOW! That one should be a barn-burner. Pittsburgh bested the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 in their opening round series. Now the Caps have to put this one behind them and understand as great as last night's victory felt, it was just one down, three to go.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Back from Fishing and Musing About Hockey

First off, WOW - it's great to have the team we came to love all season back on the ice isn't it? Great jobs to the Capitals for coming back and tying it all back up in the Rangers series. I didn't see much of either game 5 or 6 though I did follow the series and know the final score as the 3rd period of each game was ticking down. However, I didn't see any of the incidents that are the subject of so much controversy as they were happening. Without being in the flow of the game and moment it's hard to judge but I wouldn't be me if I didn't have my opinions and this bully pulpit, so among other things tonight I'll be sharing my views on them but first a look ahead to tonight's game.

I am so psych'ed to be going to tonight's game seven at the Phone Booth - LETS GO CAPS!!!! I think Tom Poti's post game comments after game 6 are right on. Tonight, it's a one game series - these two teams will be going at it, full bore, head on - "Mano e' Mano" so to speak. It will be another tough, physical game. The keys for the Capitals: play their game, continued solid goaltending and defense. The keys for the Rangers: great goaltending, score first, knock the Caps off at least one aspect of their game-plan. The wild card: one or the other goaltender "stealing" the game. Everything else is just midway at the carnival.

Now let's look at the "drama" and sideshow of the past two games of the series.

Item 1: The Tortorella suspension - absolutely the right thing, he just knows better than to interact with fans, no matter how "bad" the insults were and/or how much he was spit on; that's my bottom line. Also the impact of him being in an MSG box instead of behind the bench for game 6 is marginal at best.

Item 2: The Brashear suspension(s) - also the right thing to do, though the length can and will be debated ad infinitum. That said, if Brash interacted with Orr, Orr interacted with Brash - both should have gottent that one game. The suspension for the late hit was correct, Brash knows better but I think he was looking to keep his team stoked and running hard. Betts is out indefinitely, if you think the hit warranted a suspension, 6 games isn't so excessive. Now let's hope for some consistency in the calls the next time Avery does some of his stunts...

Item 3: The other whining ranger from the "ShaMo bit me" to "its a conspiracy to get a Caps - Pens series - "Give me a break"....

Now on to game seven - anything can happen so boys, here's to hoping for the best but preparing for the worst....


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What Is Left To Say...It's A Series Now, Our Guys Just Have to Win Three of the Next Four...

"Hey Dude - Why haven't you been blogging much lately?"

"Well, haven't had a lot of original thought or constructive commentary to add to the dialogue, lately, buddy. It's been busy for me and after watching the pond hockey on steroids that was game 1 in person, then watching games 2 & 3 from my perch in Bristow, VA what's left to say?"

Now I'm off to the Bahamas for a fishing trip until next Monday morning...hopefully, the satellite TV will pick up the Caps games but if it doesn't I'll catch the highlights...I can't pass up fishing with college buds for a first round playoff game. So until next Monday, there won't be any blog updates here.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Washington Capitals VS NY Rangers Series Schedule

Here it is Caps Fans - the schedule for the Caps first round playoff series versus the NY "Ice Hockey" Rangers (All times are EDT):

Wednesday, April 15 7 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington TSN
Saturday, April 18 1 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington NBC, TSN
Monday, April 20 7 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers VERSUS, TSN
Wednesday, April 22 7 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers VERSUS, TSN
Friday, April 24 7 p.m. NY Rangers at Washington VERSUS, TSN, RDS
Sunday, April 26 2 p.m. Washington at NY Rangers NBC, TSN, RDS
Tuesday, April 28 TBD NY Rangers at Washington VERSUS, TSN, RDS.

NHL Playoff Updates

Okay so first off - still no official announcements on this week's playoff series schedule the Capitals - Rangers Series probably opens on Wednesday at Verizon Center, but how that will work with NBC announcing a Caps-Rangers game on tap for next Saturday during their Game of the Week this afternoon remains to be seen.

Second, I blew the match ups this afternoon....

The Match ups are as follow:

#1 Boston Bruins vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens
#2 Washington Capitals vs. #7 New York Rangers
#3 New Jersey Devils vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers.

#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Anaheim Ducks
#2 Detroit Red Wings vs. #7 Columbus Blue Jackets
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 St. Louis Blues
#4 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #5 Calgary Flames.

Also apologies to any Saint Louis Blues backers out there for my oversight this morning when I failed to recognize with a win today the Blues could overtake the Blue Jackets for 6th place in the Western Conference, also congratulations to the Blues on doing so.

BU Captures NCAA Title in DC as Caps Drop Last Game of Regular Season to Florida

Yesterday in Sunrise Florida it was a No Point day for the Capitals as the 2008-2009 Washington Capitals tried to capture a team record 109th and 110th point. In the end it was loose defensive play that did the Caps in. Now it's on to the playoffs for the Capitals who finished the regular season in second place in the NHL's Eastern Conference. Since Montreal lost yesterday we now know the Caps first round opponent will be the NY Rangers, who have been playing pretty well and who finish their season this evening in Philadelphia. Sadly, despite a solid effort and a 93 point season the Florida Panthers finish the season in 9th place behind the Canadiens who also have 93 points by virtue of the tie breaker rules. All said, it's very possible, the so called "weakest division" in hockey may well not be the Southeast Division next season. Now Florida fans need to see how they will fare in the "Unrestricted Free Agent Wars" of this off season. The Panthers clearly took advantage of what became a game of pond hockey and had the Capitals end the season the way the started it - giving up 7 goals to a Southeast Division rival. Clearly the top three teams in the SE finished the season playing solidly; in their last 10 games Washington is 6-2-2; 2nd place Carolina (6th in the Conference) is 8-2-0, though they have dropped their last two; and Florida finished the season 6-3-1 in their last 10 games.
The first round series of the 2009 playoffs are all settled now. In the Eastern Conference the match-ups are:
1) Boston (114) VS. 8) Montreal (93)
2) Washington (108) VS. 7) NY Rangers (93/95)
3) New Jersey (106) VS. 6) Carolina (97)
4/5) Philadelphia (99 or 101) VS. 5/4) Pittsburgh (99).
In the Western Conference the match-ups are shaping ups as follows:
1) San Jose (117) VS: 8) Saint Louis (90/92) or Anaheim (91)
2) Detroit (112/114) VS. 7) Anaheim (91) or Saint Louis (90/92)
3) Vancouver (100) VS. 6) Columbus (92)
4) Chicago (102/104) VS. 5) Calgary (98).
The Caps playoff series versus the Rangers opens at Verizon Center, it looks to me like that will be on Wednesday evening though I haven't been able to officially confirm that... (I do know the first round will start on Wednesday but I'm not positive the Caps will play if anyone has a reputable source/link, please post it in the comments.)
Next up the NY Rangers - Playoffs Baby!
I also know that my wingman and I had a much better time watching the NCAA finals live at Verizon Center than I would have had staying home and watching the Capitals game on Comcast. We once again sat in section 118 amongst a large group of Minnesotans who came to see, cheer and root for Bemidji State. Last night they were rooting for the Miami of Ohio RedHawks, using the logic - "A Miami win makes our team look better." Pretty reasonable logic I guess and until the last three minutes of the third period it looked like they would leave the area happy. However, the BU Terriers put on a surge that reversed, what had been a period where Miami had clearly outplayed them netting two goals in under three minutes to tie the contest at 3-3 and send it into overtime. All evening long it was championship NCAA Division I sports at it's best once again. I think the pictures pretty much speak for themselves but I am providing some captions.

The National Anthem sung by the Naval Academy Quartet and the Announcement of the Starting Lineups Kick Off the Evening's Contest.

Alonge with the Contest on the Ice, We Were Treated To the "Bttle of the Bands" as Well - College Sports at Their Best!

I'm pretty sure the Miami of Ohio RedHawk Fans in Section 103 Yesterday Knew How To "Rock the Red" - Next Week We Regulars In the Section Will Be Hard=Pressed to Outdo Them But We'll Sure Try, Eh?

These two shots of the scoreboard in the final two minutes of the third period tell the story

Boston University 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Champions

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Caps' Regular Finale May Be a "Don't Care " Except...

Caps' Regular Season Finale May Be a "Don't Care" Except

We May Not Know Who The Caps Will Play In The First Round of The Playoffs Until Tomorrow .. But ...

We Will Know Who The NCAA DI Men's Ice Hockey Champion Is Today
Today Sunrise, Florida the game between the Capitals and the Panthers is in one respect a "don't care." The Capitals have a lock on second place in the Eastern Conference and cannot overtake the Bruins, the Panthers cannot overtake either the Rangers or the Canadiens for eighth place and a playoff spot. However, in an opposing aspect, the game is all about what really matters when men "Man Up" - RESPECT - and both teams could care - A LOT - about the game and it's result, despite the fact it will have no impact on what they do when they wake up tomorrow. Except how they feel about themselves.
The Panthers have had a solid season, and it really is too bad they can't and won't make the playoffs. However, the FlaCats are playing a Division rival who they have a 2-3-0 record so far this season. If the Panthers win they do two things of note: i)split the season series with the winners of their division and, ii)end the season at home in front of their fans showing them they have the ability to beat a solid playoff team. A Capitals win also does two things of note for the pucksters from the Nation's Capital: i) it gives the 2008-2009 Caps 110 points - the most ever in franchise history; and, ii) it also means the Caps finish the regular season on a four game winning streak ... and how many games does a playoff series take to win ... that's right hockey fans, FOUR.
Interestingly at the end of today we Caps fans may not know who the Capitals will face in the first round of the playoffs - the NY "Blueshirt" Rangers or the Montreal "All Stars," sorry I meant to say Canadiens. The following last games of this season matter to both Eastern Conference teams in them relative to playoff seeding:
1) Pittsburgh @ Montreal, Saturday at 7PM - what a finale for the regular season of HNIC, eh, I can just hear Don Cherry pointing out how if the Pens win and Canadiens loose it will be because the Canadiens have too many Europeans on the team and/or Sid "The Kid" Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury made it all happen for the Pens, despite the fact Malkin carried them on his back when they were out this season.
2) NY Rangers @ Philadelphia, Sunday @ 5PM. If the Canadiens fail to gain a point today, the Rangers will finish 7th on the basis of more wins, regardless of whether they win or loose on Sunday. However, if the Habs get a point or two, the Rangers have to match or better the Canadiens point total for 7th place at the end of their game against the Flyers. The Rangers will win the first tie breaker - most Wins, the head to head series is tied 2-2-0 but it can't come to that, since the Rangers start the day with one more win than Montreal. Depending on the results of today's Hurricanes vs Devils game in NJ, and today's Flyers vs Islanders results, the game may or may not matter to the Flyers. guys down there in sunny Florida:


NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship To Be Decided Today

Here in the district fans in search of live, playoff style hockey can get a large helping of hockey excitement at Verizon Center today, even though the Capitals are out of town. After watching two exciting semi-final games with my friend Dave, in which my adopted teams - the underdogs - lost, my regular wingman, home from college for Easter Weekend, and I will be in Section 118 watching the Boston University Terriers take on the Miami University of Ohio Redhawks for the NCAA Championship. On Thursday Dave and I, who started out the afternoon with seats in Section 424, adopted the Bemidji State University Beavers at their pre-game gathering point - the Gordon Biersch Brewpub at 9th and F street. The mood was exciting and we were able to but tickets in one of their sections, section 118 from a fan who had some extras and had come from Minnesota. As Peerless noted, for a school of only 5,000 BSU did NOT lack in any way for fan support. Also I have to say, these are really nice people and they are pretty much totally into supporting their team. It's a total shame they didn't make it to the finals, but both they and the RedHawks played a hekuva game. In the end the RedHawks skated as well as the diminutive team from Bemidji and this time even continued great play from Bemidji's Sophmore sensation - goalie Matt Dalton, wasn't enough to drive the Beavers to victory. The RedHawks won 4-1 (the last goal being an empty netter). The first period was awesome though and both Dalton and the RedHawk goalie was awesome. In the second period the forwards on both teams came alive and the game continued at a frenzied pace in the third though, sadly for the folks seated around me the RedHawks seemed to dictate the pace of play most of the third period. Here's an interesting side note - the Music at the Beaver's end of the ice was provided by the George Mason University Band - how's them apples our local Cinderella University helping out the first 16th ranked team to make it to the Frozen Four? They even played the BSU fight song twice - way to go!

In the second game of the day the #1 ranked Terriers from BU, whose fans are also at the end of the ice I was sitting in. raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. However, the Catamounts from Vermont roared back until a late goal by the Terriers gave them a 5-4 victory and propelled them into the finals against the Red Hawks.

The atmosphere is awesome, it's not a "Rockin' the Red" atmosphere it's different - it's big time college sports at it best kind of atmosphere. The "tailgate" yesterday at Gordon Biersch was awesome, our waitress, Shaz saw my Caps Jersey and said - "Caps game nights are pretty wild, but these guys take it to a whole nother level, man." I told here "Yeah, but wait till the NHL playoffs, we'll be crazy too." That said I really, really got into it with the BSU Beaver Fans, urging the "Little Engine that could on to victory and was disappointed when "our team" lost.

Now it's off to the Phone Booth for my first DI NCAA Championship game!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Caps Down Thrashers 4-2 ...

Well last night was another TWO POINT night for the Capitals as they downed the Thrashers 4-2. I am in Atlanta on business and had a dream of possibly seeing the game however, since I like my "day job" and was involved doing it from 7AM yesterday through 9:00PM, I am sad to say, my dream didn't come to reality. Either way it was nice to get back to my hotel room and turn on ESPN to see the Caps are now within 1 win of: a) a 50 win season, b) clinching 2nd in the Eastern Conference and c) tying their best regular season point total - ever.

Thursday's game against Tampa should be a good one - however, I'll be at Verizon watching the NCAA semi-finals. My buddy Dave & I have adopted Bemidji State, as in - "GO BSU Beavers!" - "The Beaver's are really HOT, eh?" - "You Gotta Love These Beavers, Don'tcha?" Even if they weren't the Cinderella Team of the Frozen Four, you have to admit you'd be tempted to get "behind" the BSU Beavers, wouldn't you with the endless possibilities for smile and winks as well. Seriously though - Go Beavers!!! but I will be checking the out of town scoreboard and really, really thinking -


Monday, April 6, 2009

Does It Really Matter?

The Likely Difference Between Finishing Third and Second In the Eastern Conference

Sunday was a two point afternoon for the Washington Capitals, and with those two point the Capitals moved one game closer to finishing the season in second place in the Eastern Conference. On Friday night the Capitals managed to garner a single point and ensure they would win the Southeast Division. Next, on Saturday the results by Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Carolina made it a virtual certainty the Caps would finish with no less than a third seed throughout the Eastern Conference playoff rounds. So you have to be wondering does it really matter - third versus second seed through the conference playoffs and the answer is most probably - YES. A second seed guarantees home ice advantage through the first two rounds and the only way the Caps don't have home ice for the Conference Finals is if they face Boston. That may indeed be the case - however, the Capitals record against the Bruins this regular season has been 3-0-1 so that would seem to indicate the Caps match up pretty well with the "B"s, especially given the season the Bruins have put together. To be sure a Conference Final between Washington and Boston would be exciting, physical hockey, BUT the Caps have to get there first. If the season ended tomorrow the Caps would be the second seed and would face the seven seed Montreal Canadiens. However, if the Caps dropped to third and everything else remained the same they would face the six seed Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps are3-1-0 against the Canadiens and 3-0-1 against the Pens, however the Caps have seemed to match up better against the Canadiens and control the pace of play better. Also right now the Canadiens are struggling for Wins while the Pens are cruising into the playoffs with a great record over their last month and a hot goaltender. Also given the rivalry and the size of the rosters, the Caps are likely to come out of a series against the Canadiens with less injuries.

Assuming the Caps finish in second and win their first round and all four top seeds win their first round, finishing second would make the second round series a Caps - Devils series and the Caps would have home ice if a game seven were necessary. The Caps are 2-0-2 versus the Devils but both wins came against Scott Clemmensen, the only game this season the Caps played the Devils and faced Martin Broudeaur was on October 18th and resulted in a 4-3 shootout loss. The Caps and Devils have slugged it out in 3 out of 4 meetings this regular season and both Marty Brodeaur's return from surgery and home ice advantage will likely play a part in who would take away the win in a series between the two. If the Devils don't get through round 1, home ice could be even bigger for the Caps as that would mean they would likely face either Philadelphia or Carolina with home ice advantage while Boston takes on Pittsburgh.

If the Caps finish third they will likely face the Penguins who look on course to finish sixth. A Pittsburgh - Washington series will be fun to watch but it will likely beat up both teams. Assuming the Caps win a 3-6 matchup they would then face either the Devils, Flyers or Hurricanes in the second round, However if they face the Devils in this instance they would not have a home ice advantage.

The Caps are 0.744 at home and will finish with an away record of between 0.524 and 0.598 - that's not an insignificant difference. Home ice, if it makes any difference, will be a good thing for the Capitals. Finishing second in the conference greatly increases the chances the Capitals will have home ice advantage through the Conference Playoffs. That's something worth working towards, besides I want to watch as much live playoff hockey as I can this spring.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Caps Down Thrashers 6-4, Finish With Home Record of 29-9-3, Retain Second Place In Eastern Conference

Caps Down Thrashers 6-4, Finish With 29 - 9 - 3 Home Record; Retain Second Place In Eastern Conference

Maybe Secondary Scoring Isn't That Much Of An Issue?

Others always do a much better job at recapping the play by play so I trust you'll wander over to Japers Rink, read the WaPo, or Corey's recap in the Times so rather then going through a recap of play by play I'll just be giving my musings about today's 2 Point Afternoon at Verizon Center.

First off I didn't attend, Tom the classmate I split my tickets with has an early teenager so I gave him this game as the Caps always do such a truly great job with the home season finale. I watched the Jersey Giveaway on CSN and once again just had to mention it. The great brand of on-ice hockey the Caps are playing finally matches the super job the Caps organization does in treating us the fans. Seriously I've said it before, there is no better professional sports/entertainment value to be had in the region then a Caps game. I've had season tickets for four full seasons now and I've already renewed. I've never regretted the decision and I can't wait for this years playoffs.

That musing out of the way here's a few more...

Today's game was fast and loose, the Caps won because they played a less together and less talented team. They were able to dominate when they played Caps hockey. That said it's also clear why Atlanta was 7-3-0 in their last 10 games coming into the game. They were anything but pushovers. Next season, don't expect Atlanta to not be in the mix for the Division. John Anderson has them playing good hockey. I'm glad that when Hossa was on the team, Anderson was in Chicago.

I have been and continue to be a big fan and supporter of both Tom Poti and Jose Theodore but Poti made some bad decisions in the first period and Theodore made a totally bonehead one with 44 seconds left to play. Of course, we'll all forgive and forget both of them because a) the Caps won and b) just 31 seconds after Theodore's bad decision Brooks Laich got his 20th goal of the season into an empty netter to retain a 2 goal differential on this win. That said as you'll see from my sentiments below, the defense needs to tighten up before the playoffs. My fear is that during the next two games since neither Atlanta nor Tampa Bay are playing for the playoffs, loose hockey will continue and the Caps won't work on tightening up their defensive spacing, etc. I truly hope that no matter what or how the Thrashers and the Lightening play, the Caps won't degenerate to pond hockey, ever during the next three games.

How many sticks got broken during today's game? Man at $200.00+ per shaft, I could live well on what's being left on the ice these days. What gives?

Tomas "Flash" Fleischmann - while I definately don't want pond hockey, I was more than happy to see your drought get broken. I'm rooting for you to get 2 more and break 20 before the the end of the season, especially if you keep doing it by pounding the net.

If there is anybody in the AHL who wants to make the permanent leap to the NHL more than Kieth Aucoin, I defy you to find them. Also picking Ilya Kovalchuck's pocket isn't something many people can and have done.

Okay, it's been said before but I'll say it again - I love when Alexander Semin takes over and decides to dictate play during the penalty kill. Also lately the pairing of Semin and Backstrom as forwards for the penalty kill is and has been awesome.

Did we really have to give up a shortie and go 1-7 on the power play just to get the 5 on 5 scoring going again?

The Caps as a team were 64% in the faceoff circle. Nicklas Backstrom was 12 of 16 and once again over 70% (he was 75%(; something has just "clicked" I can't see what it is but I'm glad it's there. As he winds down his "sophomore regular season" and seems to have fixed the one week spot in his game, the 20 year old has truly become a solid number 1 center.

Final musing about today's game: 29-9-3, 0.744 - SWEET!

Now for a more global hockey musing...

As we wind down the last three games of the season on the road, I figured now was as good a time as any to revisit a favorite topic of hockey pundits and enthusiasts both here in the blogsphere and in the MSM (main stream media) - secondary scoring. Many folks talk loud and often about their view that the Capitals often lack secondary scoring. However, so far this regular season, 26 different players have scored goals for the Capitals this season. Additionally, the Caps have 9 players with 30 or more points and 9 players with 10 or more goals. They also have another 7 players with 3 or more goals this season. Comparatively, only 11 teams have, including the Capitals have 9 or more players with 30 or more points; however 17 teams including the Capitals have nine or more players with 10 or more goals. That said while 16 teams have more players with 10 or more goals then the Capitals, only 2 teams have more 30+ goals scorers then the Capitals. The Capitals have three (3) players with 30 or more goals, only Detroit and Philadelphia have more (4) and the Flyers only have 6 players with 10 or more goals so they actually have less "secondary scoring" then the Capitals.

Interestingly the New Jersey Devils who the Caps are currently fight for second place in the Eastern Conference have fewer 30+ point scorers (8, though they have 20 others with 29); fewer 10+ goal scorers (8), and fewer 30+ (2) goal scorers than the Capitals. However, the Devils have yielded 33 fewer goals to their opponents and scored 23 less than the Capitals; the result being that the Devils goals differential per game (0.456) is 28% better than Washington's comparable performance (0.329). In tight playoff games, that could make a difference. So perhaps rather than focusing on secondary scoring or the lack there of, the thing that will matter most could easily be tightening up the defense overall after next week's three road games, all of which could very possibly be against teams that can't make the playoffs since the only one that might be against a playoff team is the finale in Sunrise against the Panthers. Personally, I'm betting, and hoping that the Caps themselves feel as I do, who care how many more goals any individual player scores in the next three games, I want the Caps to be well positioned and mentally fully immersed in playoff hockey come Sunday April 12th. After taking a look at the comparative statistics and performance relative to "secondary scoring" it doesn't seem to me the Capitals have too many fewer scoring threats than any other playoff team. What they do have that seems to need rectification before the first game of the first round is occasional breakdowns in defense and a propensity to turn over the puck looking for "the home run" pass to start a spectacular odd man rush.

Of course in the meantime, they'll be playing three games against divisional opponents who all have a reason to want to "play spoiler" and if they are to keep pace with New Jersey they will likely need at least 4 and could need at least 5 out of a possible 6 points from next weeks road trip.

Next up the Thrashers (again) in Atlanta on Tuesday night.


Backup Data gathered by the author from NHL.Com website at 20:55 EDT 4/5/2009:

30 or More Points Scorers by Team: Caps -9; Bruins-12; Calgary - 11; Carolina - 10; Chicago - 10; Detroit - 12; Edmonton - 11; Florida - 12; Pittsburgh -1 10 (1 more w/29); San Jose - 10 (2 more w/20+); Toronto - 9 (2 more w/ 20+)10 or More

10 or More Goal Scorers by Team (number in parenthesis = 30+ goal scorers): Caps -9 (3); Bruins - 10 (1); Sabres - 10 (1); Calgary - 12 (2); Carolina - 10 (1); Chicago - 10 (1); Detroit - 11 (4); Edmonton - 10 (0); Florida - 11 (0); Minnesota - 11 (0); Montreal - 11 (0); Phoenix - 9 (1); Pittsburgh - 12, 1 more w/9 (2); San Jose - 10 (2); St Louis - 10 (2); Toronto - 10 (0); Vancouver - 11 (1)

New Jersey Stats - skaters with 30 or more points- 8 (2 with 29) ;skaters with 10 or more goals 8 (2 @ 30+)

Philadelphia Stats - 8 skaters with 30 or more points (4 more w/20 or more); skaters with 10 or more goals 6 (4);

Vancouver - 8 skaters with 30 or more points 8 (7 more w 20+).-

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Capitals Repeat As Southeast Division Champions

Last night was a one point night at Verizon Center for the Capitals as the had a "One Point Night," they also as Coach Boudreau explained in his press conference after the game, anticlimactically clinched the Southeastern Division title, there second in a row. The feat was anticlimactic, not because it isn't a solid accomplishment, but rather because it was a clear intermediate goal set at the beginning of the season, and a goal that was well within reach for some time.

If not for the excellent play of the Carolina Hurricanes since mid-February (16-4-2 since February 15) and a solid second half of the season by the Florida Panthers (22-16-6 since January 1st), the Capitals would have easily clinched the division a couple of weeks ago. As it is last night's 5-4 overtime loss to the Sabres puts the Capitals 9 points (4 1/2 games) ahead of the Hurricanes and 15 points (7 1/2 games) in front of the Panthers with each team having only 4 games left to play in the season..Clinching the division means the Capitals are now free to concentrate on staying ahead of the New Jersey Devils as both the Caps and Devils play their remaining four games as well. Finishing second in the conference would guarantee the Capitals home ice advantage in both of the first two rounds of the playoffs. Given the Capitals are 0.738 at home so far this season and 0.566 on the road this season, and Verizon Center has turned in to one of the hardest buildings in the league to beat the home team this season, a game 7 home ice advantage in at least two of the four series between the Capitals and their ultimate goal would figure to be pretty desirable.

Before delving deeper into that discussion though it would seem a closer look and deeper discussion about the second half play of what is supposedly the weakest Division in the NHL is in order. Presently it's a real possibility that the Southeast Division teams will finish the regular season next week with three teams qualifying for post-season play: Washington, Carolina, and Florida. If the Panthers manage to move up from 9th to 8th and qualify for the playoffs in the four remaining games that would likely mean that the Rangers dropped out of the playoffs. If that's how the Panthers get in to the playoffs that would mean the Eastern Conference playoff teams would consist of: 3 Atlantic Division Teams, 2 Northeast Division Teams and 3 Southeast Division Teams - who would have forecast that makeup at the start of the season? Of course in the season ended tomorrow the Eastern Conference playoff mix would consist of 4 Atlantic Division Teams, 2 Southeast Division Teams and 2 Northeast Division Teams.

However, another note on who you do and don't want to play right now (i.e. who's hot vs. who's not) as you drive to the close of the season looking at each team's performance over the past ten games gives you a decidedly different perspective then looking at the overall season records. Right now the hottest team in the NHL over their last ten games is Western Conference's Anaheim Ducks who are playing 0.800 hockey who are 8-2-0; in the Eastern Conference both Carolina and Pittsburgh are also playing 0.800 hockey by virtue of their 7-1-2 records in the last 10 games as well. After that there are 4 teams that are playing 0.750 hockey, 3 Western Conference Teams (San Jose, Vancouver, and Saint Louis) and 1 Eastern Conference Team (Boston).

At the end of the season it'll take 90-92 points to make this post season that's an overall pace of 0.556 - 0.568 hockey, so it would figure that as you drive for a playoff berth and every point counts a hot team would certainly be any team that is playing 0.650 hockey or better. Besides the aforementioned teams the following teams have been 0.650 or better through their last 10 games, in the West: Columbus, Nashville, and Phoenix; in the East: Washington, and Atlanta. That's a total of 12 "hot" (0.650 or better) teams. Their Divisional Breakout is: Pacific Division - 3 Teams, Southeast Division - 3 Teams, Central Division - 2 Teams, Northwest Division - 1 Team, Northeast Division - 1 Team, and Atlantic Division. This is not a case about who's the toughest and/or weakest division to play in over the course of the season or overall - that's not what this analysis is about. This analysis is about whether or not the Capitals who conventional wisdom a couple of weeks ago said had the weakest schedule remaining in the drive for the playoffs do/did in fact have that "advantage" over New Jersey. The current data would suggest that this supposition and prior conclusion is/was in fact just about dead wrong. Right now it's true the Capitals control their own destiny, with each team having four games remaining, the Capitals one point ahead of the Devils, and games tomorrow (at home against Atlanta), Tuesday in Atlanta, Thursday in Saint Petersburg, and next Saturday in Florida, while the Devils play today in Buffalo, take on Toronto in Newark on Tuesday, play in Ottawa on Thursday and finish the season at home in Newark against Carolina. Assuming the Capitals and the Devils each win today and tomorrow the Caps will remain in control of their own destiny however right now using their last 10 game records as a gauge of strength of opponents things look like the list below:

>>>>>>>>Capitals >>>>>>>>>>Devils
SAT/SUN: Atlanta (0.700)-H/ Buffalo (0.600)-A
Tuesday: Atlanta (0.700)-A /Toronto (0.500)-H
Thursday: Tampa (0.400)-A/ Ottawa (0.600)-A
Saturday: Florida (0.600)-A/ Carolina (0.800)-H.

Looking at those matchups in that light and taking in to account that right now when the meet their opponents only two are "bubble teams" Buffalo and Florida, along with the "extra" road game the Caps have to play a purely qualitative view would be if the strength of schedule favors either team it's New Jersey. However, the Devils only managed to squeak by Tampa Bay (5-4 OT) last night in Newark to break what had been a 6 game/1 point loosing streak. While back up goaltender Kevin Weekes started and exited the game with an injury so that means Scott Clemmensen should return to New Jersey as the backup, that won't slow the Devils down assuming Clemmensen resumes where he left off this season if needed in Newark. The big question mark is was this recent loosing streak and the issues it exposed in the Devils game rectified once and for all. On Washington's side the questions at hand center on focus, and the other factors contributing to the intermittent defensive miscues. Those unknowns and how they play out over the next week may well totally overshadow anything to do with strength of schedule but a few things are clear and bear keeping in mind:

1. Atlanta seems to be fine with their role as spoiler and will play every remaining minute for pride and to win, the Caps cannot take the next two games lightly or they may well NOT be in control of their destiny when Wednesday morning dawns.

2. Buffalo will play "with a vengeance" tonight at home in their struggle to stay alive and that may well be the Capitals best hope at getting some daylight between themselves and the Devils before their season finale against Carolina.

3. Given all the attention and controversy surrounding Alex Ovechkin's 50th goal celebration, along with the fact that Mike Green also broke the consecutive goal scoring record for defensemen in Tampa this season, you have to think the Lightning will play "extra hard" against the Caps in what should be their best chance for victory in their final three game road trip of the season. Proving, their are no "gimmes" in the NHL and "that's why they play the game on the ice."

4. In a strange turn of events depending on how things go for Florida and the Caps between now and next Saturday, the final regular season game for both teams may actually mean more for the Capitals then it does for the Panthers.

5. Depending on the next 6 days, it's entirely possible the final season games between the Caps & Panthers and the the Devils & Hurricanes could be the two most important games for the playoff implications in the NHL next weekend. At the beginning of the season who would have thought that Southeast Division teams would be 3 of the 4 teams involved in a situation like that?

Coming up later musings about a look ahead to tomorrow afternoon's Caps - Thrashers game, then on Monday some musings on do the Caps have what it takes to get to and possibly through the Stanley Cup Finals.

In the meantime, congratulations to our Washington Capitals for clinching their second consecutive Southeastern Division Title. Next up Atlanta at home tomorrow so, now let's get back to work and clinch home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Looking Ahead to Tonight's Caps-Sabres Game

I won't be at tonight's game as I'll be a Congressman Frank Wolf's Academy Night in Chantilly telling interested prospective students about my Alma Mater the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. However I should be home in time to see the third period on Comcast SportsNet. The Caps will be working to stay ahead of the NJ Devils in second in the conference standings and will be playing for their 102nd and 103rd standings points for the year. The Buffalo Sabres will be fighting for what is left of their playoff "lives" - the Sabres are currently in 10th place, 6 points and 2 games behind the 8th place NY Rangers (the Sabres have 2 games in hand on the Rangers and 1 game in hand on the 9th place Florida Panthers.)

The Caps are 7-2-1 in their last ten games and have won their last two games. Tonight's game will the second to the last game of this regular season at home for the Capitals, who have been very tough at Verizon Center achieving a home record so far of 28-9-2 for the season. Overall the Caps are 47-23-7 this year and have a very real chance of a 50 win season and a chance to exceed the best record in their history and gather more than 107 points. What concerns their have been about their recent motivations are rooted in what have been slow starts by them in their last several games. However, those concerns have been modulated by their seeming ability to catch themselves and find ways to win.

The Sabres are 4-4-2 in their last ten games and lost their last game 3-2 in overtime in Atlanta against the Thrashers on Wednesday night. On the road this year the Sabres have compiled a 15-17-6 record thus far this season, against the Caps to date they are 1-2 having lost their last two meetings in December on the 26th and 30th. All three games between the Caps and Sabres so far this season have been completed in regulation including a highlight reel game winner by Alex Ovechkin in the third period of the December 26th game for the game winner in a game that ended 3-2. So far this season the Sabres' sharpshooter Thomas Vanek and Caps ace Ovechkin have done well in the series. It seems likely that once again during tonight's game they will be key players to watch. Also key to tonight will be goaltending and it seems likely the starters will be both team's number one goaltenders Ryan Miller and Jose Theodore. So far this season Miller has a 19-10-4 record in 34 games played with a 2.49 GAA and 0.917 SV%. Theodore is now 28-16-5 in 50 starts with a 2.80 GAA and 0.9-2 SV%. Since December 23rd, Theodore is 21-10-4 with a 2.57 GAA and a 0.911 SV%. The other player to watch for the Caps seems to me to be either Tomas Fleischmann or Alexander Semin, both seem due to come alive. Flash's March "drought" has been pretty well chronicled elsewhere and #28 was the only "Young Gun" not to score in the last game against the Islanders.

Assuming both teams show up focused and ready to play hockey this game should be a good one. Here's to hoping the evening ends with our Washington Capitals in possession of victory #48 and point 103 for the season.


Playoff Tickets Are Here...Now We Just Need the Playoffs to Start

I got home tonight to find our playoff tickets had been delivered...they look awesome. Congrats to the Capitals for breaking 100 points last night and to Mike Green on scoring his 29th & 30th goals of the season.

Lots of talk around the blogsphere about both items...people are actually talking 107 points plus - I just want the Caps to finish the regular season on a high note, healthy and ready for the post-season.

Next up the Sabres at Verizon Center tomorrow night...


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Let's Hope for No April Fools Day Letdowns - A Lookahead to onight In the NHL

First things first, Caps Fans like me will be watching, or better yet, at tonight's game at Verizon Center where the Eastern Conference 2nd place Capitals take on the 15th (last) place NY Islanders. There's some good pre-game analysis and prognostication already available online thanks to The Peerless and a nice summary by Reed-CK of Capitals Kremlin. Reed's sentiment's: "The key to tonight's game will be focus, not just because the Capitals should easily walk over this Islanders club, but because a momentarily lapse of focus could turn an easy win into a disappointing loss" capture mine very well too. For some reason the Caps haven't had the easiest of times in their recent games against the Islanders, despite holding a 3-0-0 lead in the season series this year. The Islanders have managed to take the Caps to overtime in each of the last two meetings and will be looking to not be swept tonight. Both statistically and because of injuries and trade deadline moves, the Capitals are stronger in every category than the Islanders team they will face tonight. The Islanders are no higher than 12th in the league in any major statistical category and in most categories are in the bottom third in the league. However as their last two meetings against the Capitals show, that's why they play the games on the ice. The Capitals are coming off of four days rest and hopefully the Capitals "Flu Epidemic has run it's course. According to Tarik over at his WaPo Capitals Insider Blog, Mike Green is set to play after battling it, and Kieth Aucoin and Simeon Varlamov have been recalled from the Hershey Bears for tonight's match up. Aucoin will be in for an injured Donald Brashear who is still recovering from a sprained knee. No word on the started in goal but after four days rest you have to believe it will be Jose Theodore in net for the Caps and Varly backing him up as Brent Johnson is still on IR from his hip surgery. The Capitals "Magic Number" to lock up the Southeastern Division is 3, a win tonight gets them 1/3rd there. See you at Verizon tonight when it's time to Rock the Red.... just keep thinking


Elsewhere around the league there are five other games to be thinking about as the drive for the playoffs continue and just 5 points separate 4th place from 9th place in the Eastern Conference, and 6th place from 9th place in the Western Conference. For the Capitals and we Caps fans, who now sit just one point in front of the New Jersey Devils in the standings, thanks to the continuation of their recent loosing streak at the hands of the Rangers on Monday night, in addition to urging the Caps to victory against the Islanders, we'll be watching Devils at the Penguins. as the Devils try and halt their loosing streak at five against a hot Penguins team who now seem focused on making another run deep into the playoffs. In other Eastern Conference action 10th place Buffalo, who hasn't given up hope of the playoffs yet, basically have a must win game against a resurgent 13th place Atlanta team; and 4th place Philadelphia hope to keep the heat on the Devils for the Atlantic Division crown by beating the 12th place Maple Leafs in Toronto tonight. In Western Conference action the the red hot Saint Louis Blues who have won five in a row travel to Chicago to take on the 5th place Blackhawks who have lost their last two; and in a battle for pride the 14th place Phoenix Coyotes visit the 15th place Colorado Avalanche. A win in Chicago would vault the Blues into 7th place, 1 point ahead of both Anaheim and Nashville in a 3 way dogfight for the last two playoff spots in the West.

Wow....when was the last time as a Caps fan you ever saw yourself rooting for the Rangers and the Penguins to win in a span of less than a week?

I just wish I didn't have so much going on at work right now so I could think about this some more but it's time to get to work now... And just because I never seem to tire of sayin it...