So I know I'm a little late with this but I have to get this in, Thursday night at Verizon it was a great night to be a Capitals fan. Further if you can imagine anything that would make it better, wouldn't it be watching one of your favorite players have a 4 point night, while sitting close enough to his mother so you could get a high five from her when he scored his two goals? Well if that isn't worth the price of admission, you have much, much higher standards that me. I'm just going to give a big Jim Cramer-esque "BOOO - YAA" to a) Alexander Semin, b) Semyon Varlamov, c) the entire experience. It was a well played game the only very minor down point was when Weiss scored and broke the chance for Varly to get his second shut out of the season as I think it would have propelled him right into the thick of Calder Trophy discussions.
The game has been well re-capped and fully discussed here in the blogsphere as well as the main stream media but I just have to say there were good games turned in by everyone on the team from my vantage point. I'll only comment on the performances of five other players at Thursday night's game: David Steckel, Keith Ballard, Stephen Weiss, Alexandre Giroux, and Mike Duco.
David Steckel: A solid game, but he really just needs to relax, this goal drought will end soon enough, he's just getting too many good chances for some of these pucks not to bounce his way. Also I'd like to see him get a few power play minutes out there with the first unit in the role of being in front of the net while Knuble, spelling Brooks Laich is still out if there is another looooonnngg power play. I'm thinking a double minor type of thing as I don't foresee too many more 7:00 power plays this season. That was simply amazing - amazingly stupid on Duco's part but more on that later.
Keith Ballard: This guy should have gotten at least three minor penalties and is clearly playing frustrated. Seriously, he laid a cross check on Alexander Semin behind the Panther's net at the end of the first period that should have been called but wasn't, and he hacked several other guys through the second and third that I venture to say if the Caps hadn't been leading by 3 or more goals on each occurrence would have been called. He clearly wants to make up for his bone-head move earlier this week but playing as he did Thursday night wont cut it. In a game where the majority of the team is outplayed it won't matter but in a close game it will. Ballard is too good and too experienced a player to not get it, he needs to watch the tape of this game and start playing more disciplined hockey.
Stephen Weiss: This guy is good. In a game where the rest of the team was being outplayed, there were numerous times when Weiss and his line were on the ice that I worried Varly's shutout was at risk. The goal he scored to put the Panthers on the board in the third period was a solid one and not of the type a goaltender would usually "want back" as it was a laser shot through a screen. Weiss is a pretty unassuming name around the league but I think he's the kind of guy that is part of a solid foundation to build a team around, Thursday's game only solidified that in my opinion.
Alexandre Giroux: Giroux's statistic line in the game is pretty empty from Thursday's game. A solid example that as I am often reminded statistics aren't everything. Giroux had no points, finished +/- even and in 13:39 TOI his only stat line entries are 6 shots on goal, 2 attempts blocked, 1 miss and 3 hits. Of course one of his three hits was the Elin Nordegrin Woods Hit of the Game on Dmitry Kulikov that led to the 7:00 power play prompted by Mike Duco's retaliation. From our vantage point in section 103 I can tell you the hit was a solid, totally legal one, and one if you are a coach you want a forechecking wing to make EVERY time. That Giroux wasn't able to score after knocking Kulikov off the puck on that play is the only thing that didn't go the way you'd want if you were a coach. Kulikov is a fine young player and I expect will be a solid NHL defenseman for years to come. But on the play, the 19 year old Russian did so many wrong things you can't keep count but lets start with 1) where he was on the ice, why wasn't he stopped firmly behind the middle of the net instead of slightly behind the left post off to the side, just begging a forechecker to try and take the puck away? 2) If you are putting yourself in such a vulnerable position why do you alternate from looking down at the puck to the back of your own goaltender, especially when you apparently didn't have your feet in a nice well balanced base position? If you were Bruce Boudreau and Giroux hadn't at least tried to knock the guy of the puck in that play you'd probably want to drive him back to Hershey yourself on Thursday night before going home to sleep. Seriously, the fact that Giroux responded with a very solid, totally legal hit is a compliment to him and I hope that it means he gets another chance to show all the haters wrong. Giroux had a great game and whether it was because of discipline or just total shock that he didn't respond to Duco's retaliation, the result was awesome and just helped "seal the deal" on Thursday.
Mike Duco: Short and sweet - Bonehead award of the Game! I don't know what set this guy in his second NHL game but his reaction to Giroux was unfounded. Seriously is there some history between the two from last years AHL season? If Duco was trying to make an impression, I guess he did. The penalty he took put his team a man down for 7:00 minutes. One of the funniest images I'll remember from Thursday night's game was Ref Kerry Fraser using his fingers counting off the penalties while explaining the result to Capitals Captain Chris Clark and then seeing the 7:00 pop up next to #68 on the scoreboard. No doubt the results from Thursday's game will further skew the data about a home ice advantage for penalty minutes, even in spite of the 4:00/2 calls I thought were pretty blatant make-up/try and keep things even calls against the Caps. I'm all for old tyme hockey, but I want to be clear I don't consider Mike Duco, or anybody else's retaliation against a totally warranted, clean, legal HARD hit - Old Tyme Hockey. The resulting penalties and 7:00 man advantage for the Caps was warranted and exactly why bench clearing brawls are no longer the de-rigor in the NHL. If Duco was smart once he jumped Giroux and had him on the ice he'd have just stopped instead of punching him several times. That Giroux wasn't bloodied in any way shows he knows how to cover up pretty fast and I believe understood the best thing he could do at that time was "take one or three" for the team.
So on to looking ahead to tonight's game in Philly. Well the big news is the Flyers have a new coach - Peter Laviolette. If the name sounds familiar it should be, as most fans know Laviolette last coaching job was at the helm in Carolina, since then he's been a TV commentator for the most part. So the Flyers have a coach who definitely is familiar with the Capitals. The replacement of John Stevens is in response to a season start that has been underwhelming to say the least. Laviolette, 45, has a record of 244-184-59 in 487 games over seven seasons with the New York Islanders (2001-03) and Hurricanes (2003-09). He also coached the Providence Bruins to the 1999 Calder Cup championship, and coached the U.S. at the 2006 Olympics. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said he came to the decision to dismiss Stevens not long after Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. It was the second-straight game the Flyers have been shut out, the first time that's happened since February 2003.
The Flyers come into tonight's game 3-7-0 in their last ten games and looking to break a 3 game loosing streak. The Capitals come into tonight's game 6-2-2 in their last ten and looking to extend a four game winning streak. This is the second of six games in 10 days for the Caps and the second game of a equally very busy December 13 game schedule for the Flyers. So far this season the Caps and Flyers have met twice. The Caps are 1-0-1 and the Flyers are 1 - 1 - 0 in those meetings. Both teams have won their games at home, though the last time they played in Philadelphia it took overtime for the Flyers to gain a 6-5 victory. It should be an interesting game, which Coach Laviollete hasn't been on board long enough to make any significant changes to the Flyers game plans, the Flyers reaction to being put on notice by recent statements from GM Holmgren and the basic understanding that Laviollete generally prefers a more up tempo pace and game to what Stevens preached will bear watching. Make no mistake, in spite of the fact the Caps are in first place in the Conference with 40 points and the Flyers are in 11th place with 27 points, this will be a hard fought game.
I won't be watching much, if any of this game as we will be at a friend's holiday party tonight. Tomorrow I'll put together and present the "If Every NHL Game Were Worth Three Points" Week 11 Standings, and perhaps some summary reaction to the highlights and other thoughts on the four games the Caps will play next week.
LETS GO CAPS!!!