Friday, May 8, 2009

Well What's Next ...

[ed note: I haven't been keeping up that well with this blog, lots going on in my personal and professional life that has my attentions where they actually should be, however the result is that any blog updates I would have done are or would probably be "a day late and a dollar short." I just don't see the point in posting "me too" statements when I know the folks who read this blog are often authors of blogs of their own that have great content or regular readers of those same blogs. To that end I haven't posted anything since the Rangers' game seven. For the Penguins series, I missed game 1 as I was at a funeral, I attended game 2 and have to say it was a great experience again, and then I missed game 3 due to some personal commitments. So my perspectives are based on less than complete first hand experience for the Penguins series though I did watch a replay of most of Game 1 as well. I should be getting back to more regular posting now and will be in my usual seat in Section 103 "Rockin the Red" for Game 5. LETS GO CAPS!! ]

Well what's next? By all accounts game 3 was not "Caps Hockey" and if not for the continued excellent play of Simeon Varlamov (32 stops on 34 shots in regulation - SV%=0.941 and 39 of 42, 0.929 overall through OT) the Caps would likely have been defeated by more than one goal in regulation. However, the reality of the playoffs is indeed that the Caps are still leading this series 2-1 and are still ahead in this series. A win tonight and they are two games up on the Penguins with a chance to win the series at home, however a loss and they are at the start of a very, very tight 3 game series.

So far in addition to a lot of great hockey, there has been a lot of talk in this series that is pretty interesting and both obvious and relatively "non-sequatar" IMHO. All three games have been intense "playoff hockey" and they have been one goal games. I'll summarize all the chatter into two simple consolidated statements by each team:

Pittsburgh: "We like how we are playing, we could have and should have won all three games but we didn't we lost two but we are going to beat these guys because we are outplaying them. When the Caps win it's because they are getting away with too much from the referees and we'd like to see more penalties called when they try and unfairly slow down our big guns."

Washington: "We are playing super when we play super and when we do we have the talent to beat these guys, so far that's happened two out three times and that's why we are up in this series. When the Pens win it's because they are getting away with too much from the referees and we'd like to see the games called more evenly so we get as many power play chances as the Penguins do."

See, from my perspective this sort of talk is silly. I was disappointed yesterday when I saw on the Washington Post blog that Caps GM George McPhee was taking issue with the officiating in game 3. As a Caps fan I had hoped we could and would be able to take the high road and laugh at the "whining" of Crosby, Cooke, et. al. instead we joined in with our own counterpoints. Bottom line - that game is done and over and while from what little I know I too wouldn't have agreed with the Varlamov slashing penalty that in and of itself isn't why the Capitals lost the game, in fact as often happens when there is a minor against the goaltender, the Caps and he rallied to ensure the Penguins didn't score on the ensuing man advantage. Also while Pittsburgh did enjoy 7 power plays to the Caps 2 during regulation each team only scored one power play goal.

A couple final thoughts on this subject. Two (2) of the seven penalties were "delay of game" by defensemen. I have been thrilled by the great, stepped up play of both Milan Jurcina and Brian Pothier so far since the playoffs began but there's really no excuse for these sorts of penalties. Michael Nylander, sorry to continue to be so down on this guy but here's the numbers as I see them: TOI 7:27 - 10 shifts; 1 penalty - 2:00, 1 attempt blocked, 1 giveaway, 2 blocked shots, salary this season - $5.5M ($4.85 Cap hit). Someone needs to tell Nyls when your contributions vs. cost is already so suspect you can't be taking penalties - AT ALL. So not counting the Varlamov slashing penalty that leaves: Mike Green - slashing; OV - interference; and Semin - hooking. Hardly disciplined hockey so one sided or not it sure seems like the Caps weren't trying to make things easy for themselves on Wednesday night. They really need to focus on this for games 4 and 5 - back to back games require even more discipline and sticking to your game plan then games that have a break between them.

As if this series needed any more sideshows or distractions from all the rivalry "stuff" etc. now we have the "Pens Message Board Threat" against OV. What can be added other than to say that thankfully it just looks like some stupid 17 year old comment, of course the way this series is going the next thing to break will be he's a skinhead still fighting the cold war who has a bunch of hunting rifles in his "cabin." Really folks how anyone can think "death threats" are not totally out of line and not illegal, vs. just bad "netiquette" I can't fathom, however at least so far I haven't seen anyone suggest that to be the case.

It sure seems the Caps need to get more patient and disciplined when they face a well executed trap. They also probably need to focus on improving their puck possession and cutting down the number of shots on goal they give up to the Pens in the next two games. The back to back games over the next two evenings are looking to be a potential inflection point in this series. There has been some speculation on the PensBurgh blog that they might "test" our young phenom goaltender and hopefully expose some weaknesses that he has here-to-for not displayed. I for one both hope and think this won't be the case, but regardless of that sentiment would also like to see the Caps tighten things up and derive more advantage and benefit from the great success the Caps have been having in the face off circle so far this series. I'm also hoping the "ding" that Sergei Federov took from Hal Gill last game is something he can readily shake off and get back to the success he had in Games 1 and 2 or even better yet against the Rangers. Also looking at the TOI numbers for game 3, as much as Pittsburgh fans are hoping that Varly's conditioning might cause a few issues for the Caps it sure seems like the Pens will, need to better manage the ice time of their top five ice time leaders in game three in games 4 and 5 as well.

Keys for the Caps these next two games seem to be pretty obvious to me:

- Better capitalize on the faceoff advantage the Caps have had by playing smarter puck possession, e.g. fewer shots into clogged lanes, tighter, crisper outlet passes, etc.

- Zero "stupid" e.g. automatic delay of game, penalties.

- Better protection of the goaltender and more awareness of where key players who sure seem to know where the paint is (e.g. Crosby, Cooke, etc.) are when the puck is in their zone.
- More traffic in front of Marc-Andre Fluery.

- "Caps Hockey" - out hustle the Pens, out hit the Pens, and basically out play them - not an easily done task, as much as most of us Caps fans might not like it, this is a very talented team that matches up well against our "Washington Capitals."

- NO WHINING, leave that to the poster boy who thinks a good hockey fight involves a "nut tap" to the opponent. Just focus on doing that "voodoo that you guys do so well" even if you are the best GM in the league right now, please.

So let's see how we can all band together and send great vibes over across time and space to the Caps and into the "Igloo" tonight so our boys come back to DC leading this series 3-1, then lets see if we can make the "Phone Booth" even louder than it was for the Game 7 against the Rangers.


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