Sunday, January 31, 2010

Caps 3 - Lightning 2 - Streak Continues ... and Lot's Of Hockey News This Weekend to Muse About Too

Well this afternoon at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals made it 10 in a row and came away with two points. The Caps closed out the month of January with a 13-2-0 record, their best month of the season, and their best month in a regular season ever. The Caps now have 80 points in 55 games; they are in first in the Eastern Conference, eight points and 3 games ahead of the second place New Jersey Devils. They are on pace for a 119 point season. What else is there to say really... some game highlights and low lights follow, as well as a few other hockey musings this last day of January.


+++ If there was a more exciting save by Jose Theodore recently than his reach back and sweep out of the puck after so and so hit the post at about the 9:30 mark of the first period, someone needs to point it out to me.

+++ Nicklas Backstrom is awesome this season. He is just so much more physical and stronger than he used to be. His hit on Wilson at ~16:30 of the first period was a great example of how much he is maturing both physically and as a hockey player. He is truly a first line NHL center on pretty much any team in the league's roster.

+++ Speaking of Backstrom, he opened the scoring for the Caps on a power play at 00:57 of the second period. Backie just did what comes naturally - he went to the net and banged the rebounding puck between Bolt's goaltender Mike Smith's pads into the net. It was a great goal with assists by Ovechkin and Fleischmann.

+++ The Caps second line of Semin - Fleischmann - Laich continues to look pretty good. On the Caps second goal of the game, Brooks Laich's 16th of the season, was a great example of how the line continues to gel. It was a goal that was set up by great puck movement; great puck movement that was facilitated by and capitalized on by the great puck handling skill and hands of these three complimentary pieces of hockey talent.

+++ Theodore's glove save at the 9:22 mark of the third period was key. It gave the Caps a chance to catch themselves and get back on to playing "their game" after the Lightning scored two goals in a short time span (2:42).

+++ The Caps first line of Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble was solid all game but they were exception during the final 8:00 minutes of the game. From Ovechkin's goal at 13: 36 to the great play along the boards in the corner at the Caps end of the ice at the ~16:00 mark, their play was almost perfection.

+++ Ovechkin, I could have probably just written that one word and left it be at that but Captain Ovie was +1 with 1 goal (the game winner) and 1 assist in 20:35 TOI. In addition to 6 shots, 1 hit, 1 giveaway and 1 takeaway, he also had 11 attempts blocked and 2 misses. Truth be told the Lightning coaching staff did an awesome job of juggling lines and defensemen and making sure that they had Ovie, Knuble and Backstrom properly covered all game.

+++ In Mike Green's absence, the rest of the blueliners stepped up and played good smart hockey. The Caps as a whole played disciplined hockey and only took two penalties today, none were taken by Caps defensemen. Both John Erskine and Shoane Morrisonn stepped up their games and Tyler Sloane came in played 16:30 TOI on 20 shifts including 00:59 shorthanded and did well. Neither Sloane nor Sha-Mo were on the ice for either of the Tampa Bay goals and even though both Erskine and Tom Poti were on the ice for both Tampa Bay tallies, they played solid games otherwise.

Low Lights:

--- The PK Unit got verklempt during the third period and that's what led to the Lightning's second goal. The unit on the ice just got out of position and broke down. Tampa Bay just has too many offensive weapons on the power play unit to let them move the puck around like that. I'm not sure who made a bigger impression looking at the replay, how good the TB powerplay was at moving the puck or how bad the Caps PK unit looked in the ~15-20 seconds prior to the goal.

--- Joe Beninati. I mean could the guy have mentioned the win streak more often during today's CSN broadcast? I mean, think about it, how many people watching the Washington Capitals on local cable on a Sunday Afternoon didn't know they were going for their 10th win in a row? Talk about tedious, 'nuff said.

Other Musings During The Game:

+++ Forget getting into the alleged Vinnie Lecavilier sweepstakes, the big name from Tampa Bay I wouldn't mind seeing in a Caps sweater is Martin St Louis. At least during today's first period St Louis was all over the place and he is the kind of guy that could make an even bigger impact on a team using Bruce Boudreau's system. Oh and St Louis' lift check on Knuble at ~7:30 of the second period was just an awesome play and it saved a goal. Finally look at his St. Louis' goal and his hustle back to make sure the icing gets called with 2.4 seconds left to play. Not that I think either Lecavilier or St Louis are going anywhere soon. I think Tampa Bay would be crazy to trade either of them. The 34 year old St. Louis is signed through the end of the 2011 season and with a Cap Hit of $5.25M and a salary of $4.0M is a bargain. Lecavalier signed through 2020 with a cap hit of $7.727M/year and a No Movement Clause, despite numerous and on-going trade rumors, is perhaps the most unmovable guy in the league.

+++ Speaking of Lecavalier and the faceoff with 2.4 seconds left to play. Let's talk about it. Let's say you're making, oh I don't know say about $10M to play hockey, you're the Captain of your team, you're having what for you is basically an off season, and you are behind in a 3-2 game and you get whistled out of the faceoff circle. What's the biggest bonehead move you can do, yeah I'd say it would be to loose it and end up not only being thrown out of the faceoff circle but getting 2:00 unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and basically ending the game since the face off moves back to your end of the ice. I haven't understood the whole dynamic going on between Lightning Coach Rick Tochett and his team Captain Vinnie Lecavalier but if I were Tochett, I'd do two things after that great show of leadership. 1) I'd bench Lecvalier for at least a game if not two. 2) I'd take his "C" and have him trade it for St. Louis' "A" making St. Louis the team Captain. I'd also give the team's third available "A" to either Stamkos or one of the other regular TOI leaders like Mike Lundin or Ryan Malone. He may not be tradable without his consent but two things need to be made clear to Vinnie - regardless of any individuals salary Hockey is a team sport, and everyone has to do their job, play the coach's system, and play smart. It's one thing to have a guy like Steve Downie get a penalty while stepping slightly over the edge playing gritty hockey and trying to agitate the other team. It's another thing entirely to loose your cool and rob your team's last chance to tie up a game entirely. I've always respected Lecavalier and St. Louis as two of the best players in the league, well at least one of them came to play today and did so with class, and it just wasn't the one wearing number 4.

+++ In the "lots of times I'd rather be lucky than good" department, the Bolts managed to put three really good scares into we Caps fans with thre of the loudest post hits of the season.

+++ Another two guys who are going to really good for the Lightning in coming seasons are Viktor Headman and Steve Stamkos. Yhese two guys look a lot more older and experienced than they are when they are out on the ice.

--- It sure seems to me that this season, referees do not call an even handed game in the third period. I've felt this a lot this season and not just when watching the Caps play with a lead. For example, rather than talking about the call against Backstrom at the 5:07 mark of the third period in this game, I'll point to the goaltender interference call against Matt Cooke in the third period of the Penguins - Red Wings game and say I didn't see that one either. At least it wasn't consistent with the way the game was called for the first forty minutes of the game. In the end the Backstrom call was in my opinion unwarranted and it changed the complexion of the game and it certainly wasn't consistent with how the rest of the game had been called. What's worse is that after the score was tied there were at least three times that if we were seeing a consistent two way game called, the Lightning should have found themselves shorthanded. To me that's just bad officiating, sorry gotta say it.

Musings about other news around the league:

1) The Penguins beat the Red Wings 2 -1 in a shootout. It really wasn't as close as that score would indicate; the truth is Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard almost stole one from the Crosby/Malkin led flightless birds. The 25 year old Howard stopped 46 of 47 today, including several robberies from the Penguins. Seriously though it pains me to admit this the Penguins looked very good and disrupted pretty much any offense the Red Wings were able to generate for most of the game. However, the Red Wings still managed to get a point out of a game that had "a playoff like atmosphere and tenor." In the end both Crosby and Malkin scored in the shootout to get the two points Pittsburgh deserved.
2) Well everyone wondered when Toronto GM Brian Burke would pull the trigger and what sort of deal he would do to remake the Maple Leafs next. Little did we suspect he'd do two major deals in one week and that he would do them before the Olympics break. Yesterday the Leafs did two big deals. First they sent Matt Stajan, Ian White, Nicklas Hagman, and Jamal Mayers to Calgary for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrick Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie. Then they sent Vesa Toskla and Jason Blake to Anaheim for Jean - Sebastien Giguere. That's moving 7 players out of the Maple Leafs organization and picking up 4 to replace them. It also means the Maple Leafs will now build their organization around Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, and ... On the Blue Line, Toronto now has Dion Phaneuf (Cap Hit:$6.5M); Tomas Kaberle (Cap Hit:$4.25M); Mike Komisariek (Cap Hit:$4.5M), Luke Schenn (Cap Hit:$2.975M), Francois Beauchemin (Cap Hit:$3.8M) and Jeff Finger (Cap Hit:$3.5M). That's a total Cap Hit of ~$25.5M or ~45% of the team's available salary cap on six D-Men. Add Mike Van Ryn ($2.9M) and Garnet Exelby ($1.392M) and I'd guess the Maple Leafs are not yet done and a few more defensemen might get dealt for some more talent up front before the March 3rd trade deadline. All things considered, I think the Flames - Leafs trade makes sense for both teams. Stajan and Hagman should help the Flames up front and they weren't getting the value they needed out of Phaneuf since they picked up Jay Bouwmeester. On the other hand, I'm not so sure I think the Ducks - Maple Leafs deal is a good one for either team. If Giguere can find his "mojo" again in Toronto it might work for them, they sure weren't getting anything much of value out of either Vesla Toskala or Jason Blake for the combined $8M of salary cap they tied up. However, even though JS Giguere's numbers are clearly better than Toskla's and he has proven in the past a clear ability to lead a team as a number one goaltender, the way things have been going for him this season, you have to wonder ... "will he?" In order to be worth his $6.0M cap hit and his $7.0M salary next season, he hast to return to form AND he has to do some mentoring of Jonas "Monster" Gustavsson. Those are two pretty tall orders. However in the end these deals have actually freed up some more space and room for Burke both in the near and mid-term for the salary cap, and on the roster. What Brian Burke and Ron Wilson do with that will be fun to watch the rest of this season and next off-season for those of us who follow the NHL Eastern Conference closely.
3) Do the Maple Leafs' latest moves take them out of the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes? Maybe/ maybe not. The Leafs still need a good foil for Phil Kessel... but they really don't have cap space unless they deal Kaberle and/or Jeff Finger. However, if I were Brian Burke the next guy I'm looking to dump off my roster is Colton Orr, plain and simple, there's no room under the salary cap for a traditional enforcer in today's NHL. Enforcers are clearly the highest salary cap cost guys if terms of TOI around these days. Also as is being proven with good team toughness and a solid power play, you don't need them.
4) Finally, I know this will sound like a "homer" kind of comment, and it probably is, but why do I look at the 3 game suspension to Mike Green and wonder why it just seems to me that the NHL Discipline Gods seem to really like to make examples of Caps' Young Stars?... Okay, I watched the replay and Green's elbow was a careless play but where's the consistency? I mean he's not a repeat offender and it sure didn't look like a hit with any intent to injure, and it's not like he himself hasn't been a victim of similar or worse hits this season... Okay I guess that's why I titled the blog Mark's Musings, even I think that last thought sounds "whiny"...

Next Up: The Bruins on Tuesday in Boston. Here's to hoping the commentary on Tuesday's CSN broadcast is about a hockey game that's actually in the process of being played and not about any sort of "history making streak." Seriously CSN guys - live in the moment and talk about the actual game in process. Hockey is exciting enough to watch, we don't need any editorial drama.


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