Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reaction and Commentary Caps 6 - Avalanche 1

Well last night's game seemed to be the continuation I thought I was going to see of the first period in Toronto during that game. It was a two point night and a good one by every measure save one for the Caps and Caps fans. The Caps seemed to play their game plan in just about, if not every manner, except maybe Alexander Ovechkin's shift length during the second period.

It was a storybook night for Kyle Wilson. Making his NHL debut on his 25th birthday the rookie center had quite a good first night in "the show" and made quite an impression on both Caps and Av's fans watching alike. The just 25 year old Oakville, ON native posted a full stat line: 2 Assists, 2 Points, +2, 11:15 TOI, 15 shifts including 1:30 on the Power Play; 1 SOG, 3 attempts blocked, 2 missed shots, 1 hit, 2 for 7 (29%) in the faceoff circle. The stat line is impressive in itself however even better was the quality of Wilson's second assist - a primary assist as well as his breakaway even though he didn't score. For his first night's work in a Capitals sweater Wilson was awarded the game's third star. Way to make a solid first impression and "Happy Birthday" - Kyle. Though I expect your performance last night means you won't be getting out of paying your "fair share" of the rookie dinner tab this West Coast road trip.

Jose Theodore had an almost storybook return to Denver, unfortunately he didn't get his first shutout of the year but his 27 saves of 28 shots and 0.964 SV% on the night were his best outing in at least some time. Theo's record on the season is now 19 Games Played, a GAA of 2.93 and a SV% of 0.903. With two nights off between last night's game in Denver and Friday's game in Vancouver, I anticipate we'll see Theo in the net against Luongo and the Canaucks and then Neuvrith will get a chance to recover his dignity against Edmonton on Saturday night, before the Caps return to DC for a three game home stand over Christmas. My expectation given he just started skating with pads yesterday is we won't see Semyon Varlamov in the nets again until the Capitals return to Verizon Center on the 23rd to face the Sabres at the earliest. In conjunction when I give kudos to Theodore this season, there's always a 50/50 chance I'll take the opportunity to point out how much happier I am that the Caps have Theo and his 2 year/$4.5M contract than what the Blackhawks have with Christobel Huet. I still feel that way though I won't bash Huet given his current season record is now 14-7-2 with 1 shut out in 24 games played. I will say that given that record Huet is clearly Chicago's #1 goaltender however, I have to be me and say that to the extent Huet's career numbers - SV% of 0.916 and GAA of 2.42 justified his salary and contract he is performing to and above his career GAA since his season to date GAA is 2.18 (5th in the league) however Huet's SV% has been below his career average season to date SV% is 0.909 and 25th in the league. Once again Huet's performance aside, given Varlamov's development and Neuvirth's potential, Theodore's deal clearly has and continues to make more sense for the Capitals from a strategic perspective, and with more performances like last night GMGM will really, really look like a hockey genius.

Tomas Fleischmann had his fourth two goal night of the year. His total distance from the net for the two goals was at most 11 feet. That's net presence and hands and you have to be happy about that regardless of wether you are a "Flash" fanatic or not. Flash is now on pace for a 30+ goal season. Last year the 25 year old Czech natural center scored 19 goals in 73 games, last night he scored his 12th and 13th of this season. He also was +2 in 13:36 TOI and earned the game's first star last night.

Matt Bradley scored his 6th goal of the season and got his 6th assist of the year on David Steckel's tally. "Brads" has now exceeded his total offensive production for the entire last season when he played 81 of 82 games. At his current pace this will easily be the 10th year pro's best in terms of offensive production and his play is as responsible defensively as ever. Last night's performance was one of his best so far this season. In addition to the goal and an assist, Bradley was +2 in 14:28 TOI, had 3 SOG, 1 hit, and 1 take away.

Clock and shift management were solid for the Capitals last night in the "mile high city." Only two players - Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz logged more than 20:00 TOI. Given the fact thanks to Dave Koci the Caps played a significant portion of the game with just 4 defensemen Poti's 25:59 TOI and "Sarge's" 22:43 TOI are clearly understandable. Poti finished the night + 2 with an assist and Schultz finished the night with 1 hit, a 2:00 minor and no negatives on his stat line, pretty solid nights for both blueliners. Even Brooks Laich who dropped back and played the blue line after Mike Green was injured and left the game and John Erskine was serving a 10 minute misconduct only had 19:35 TOI. Laich had a solid night though he put the puck in the net once it was disallowed as it was judged he had intentionally kicked it in.

I haven't mentioned it yet but another positive in general was the play of Karl Alzer in addition to that of Kyle Wilson. Call-ups and moves enabled by the assignment of Michael Nylander to Grand Rapids in the AHL. The Capos still pay Nyls salary however he is not counted against the allowable number of roster slots nor is his cap hit counted againt the Caps. That is of course another real positive for the Capitals as they drive through the rest of this season. It enables the un-cap-constrained call-up of whoever the Caps coaching staff wants from Hershey the rest of this season and will enable GMGM to acquire any rental player(s) deemed necessary and desirable at the trade deadline. It should also enable the negotiation and signing of extensions with both Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin before they become RFAs.

So the only real blemish to being a Caps fan since my last blog post are/were the injuries last night to Mike Green and Shoane Morrisonn. I could overlook the hit by Koci on Sha-Mo but the hit on Mike Green was truly a blatant "cheap-shot". Koci should get the maximum reasonable suspension for the hit on Green, there's no way you can watch the hit once and not conclude Koci just didn't care what happened at that point, he knew he was going to hit Green in the back, he knew Green was at least a foot away from the boards. He was just frustrated at the state of the game and he made at best, a dumb, blatantly illegal hit from behind at best. At worst he was pissed and had an intent to injure though to be sure of that you'd have to be a mind reader. It was just a dumb play and hit by a team's resident "goon" - one goal in six years ... One positive to note is the local Denver newspaper's reaction to the incident so far has been fair and balanced and doesn't defend or endorse the hit in any way.

John Erskine had a solid night and finished +3 with an assist and a blocked shot, in addition to taking Dave Koci on after Koci's frustration driven cheap shot on Green. As you would expect in a 6-1 game where the only opposing team goal was scored on a power play, a lot of Caps look good on the Event Summary - and this is a case where you'd have a hard time finding much fault with any Capital players execution last evening if you watch the game again. A very solid night indeed.

It is a shame that the best goaltending bargain in the NHL so far this season, Craig Anderson, had such a poor showing against the Caps last night. Despite last night's outing Anderson is 16-8-5 on the season to date despite facing a league "leading" 954 shots on goal. He's stopped a league leading 874 for a very respectable 0.916 SV% - including last night's thrashing by the Capitals. The 28 year old Park Ridge, IL native definitely deserves to be on the US Olympic Team along with Ryan Miller of Buffalo, IMO. But since I'm a Caps fan it wasn't too much of a shame...

Last night was the Caps 21st win of the season they now have a League Leading 48 points and a record of 21 - 7-6.

Next up the Vancouver Canucks in British Columbia on Friday Night. Let's all think positive thoughts on quick recoveries for Green and Sha-Mo and continued against the trend performance the rest of this road trip.


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