Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In Search Of Win # 50 ....

I'll be at Verizon Center tonight as the Washington Capitals face off against the Ottawa Senators in their on-going quest for win #50 of the season. Once again the Caps will face a team with more to play for as far as the standings go then them. However, there is that one thing they have left to play for in these remaining seven (7) games - pride and bragging rights. Few teams ever get a chance to win 50 games in an NHL regular season, the Caps have it and they also can't like the results of the last two outings. Hopefully that will be enough to ensure they don't come out playing tentative or ever worse sluggish tonight. We all know the team is loaded, absolutely loaded with talented players and that when they play their game they are virtually unstoppable.

Ottawa is playing for two things - their magic number to seal a playoff spot is 2 - if they win two more games or the Thrashers loose two more games, the Senators are in. That's a far cry from how things were looking for them early this season. The Senators are currently in 5th place in the East and have won their last 4 games. This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Sens and the Caps, the last time the two met, on February 11th in Ottawa, the Senators won 6-5 in regulation. In the prior two meetings Ottawa won the first meeting in November up north 4-3 in OT and then the Caps bested the Sens 5-2 the last time they visited Verizon Center on January 7th. Tonight's game should be a good one, as long as the Caps come out ready to play and focused. It looks like Alexander Ovechkin's Senator shadow - Anton Volchenkov will miss tonight's game, that should give Ovie a little more room, perhaps enough to score a couple and surpass Sidney Crosby for goal scoring lead. Also out tonight for the Senators will be Filip Kuba and Milan Michalik. Out for the Capitals are: Milan Jurcina, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, Scott Walker and Brendan Morrison.

Here's to Rockin' the Red tonight and cheering the Caps on and back to form - you know 60 minutes of fast paced, high-energy ice hockey. If the Caps do that we should finish the night with win #50 locked up. I'll be in Section 103 doing my part tonight - how about y'all?


Monday, March 29, 2010

Have I Suddenly Become A Curse As A Hockey Fan?

It has to be me. Since my last post my favorite NHL team - the Washington Capitals - have posted two straight losses in regulation IN A ROW ...AT HOME, and my adopted NCAA Team the Bemidji State Beavers lost to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. It must be me, it couldn't have been both of them, coult it? I mean a curse or something like it has to be at the center of the whole "flumux" that my hockey world has become.

First on Thursday evening 3/25 the Caps loose, AGAIN, to the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime 3-2. Then on Saturday, the BSU Beavers loose 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA Division 1 Men's Ice Hockey Tournament in Fort Wayne, IN to Michigan. Michiga, coached by former Saint Louis Blue Red Berenson simply overpowered the Beavers. BSU coach Tom Serratore was quoted as saying: "That's the hottest team in the country and it might be the best team in the country right now." after bigBlue tore up his Beavers. Just 24 hours later though the Blue had fallen to the Redhawks from Top Seeded Miami of Ohio, the team they beat in the CCHA tournament to earn their berth in the NCAA's. Oh well the Frozen Four is now down to: Miami of Ohio (last year's runner-up); who will face the Boston College Eagels in their Semifinal and the number 3 seed Wisconsin Badgers facing off against this year's Cinderella team, the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers at Detroit's Ford Field on April 8th. The final insult to my prowess as a "charm of a hockey fan" came yesterday when the Washington Capitals lost to the Calgary Flames at HOME in REGULATION 5 - 3 after having a first period that they finished behind 4-0.

So how do I feel today you might ask? Quite glad that I'm not one of those folks who gets too, too emotional about "their teams." Seriously I know folks who are Redskin fans that come into work depressed or mad on Monday's after the 'Skins loose the prior day. I just don't see that. I would say though, that I agree with Coach Boudreau, there's rarely, if ever, a reason to boo your team at home, let alone when they have what is really an infrequent off day/game; you really can't just "turn it on and off" that easily. What I mean is, isn't it about time to stabilize the roster with the one you feel will be "THE" roster for round one of the playoffs and start to let guys get in a grove? Sure I'd distribute the ice time more than you might otherwise do in the playoffs - no reason for ANYONE to play more than 21 minutes TOI in a game between now and April 11th. However, shouldn't the line-up be configured within maybe the occasional 1 person or two, if we count the goaltenders as well, of the expected/planned lineup for game 1 of the playoffs? To me, that means that Milan Jurcina, John Erskine and Tyler Sloan get little if any game time on the blue line right now. It also means the lines up front stabilize as much as possible so instead of shuffling the forward lines all around if a guy like Brendan Morrison is out, then the guy playing in his place plays "his regular line and regular shift" instead of shuffling the rest of the lineup, etc.

Fact, even though I'm a jinx and the Caps lost yesterday, they still clinched the Eastern Conference Championship thanks to the scores elsewhere around the league - in other words when the Devils lost 5-1 in Philadelphia yesterday that meant the Caps locked up the Conference Crown. Am I frustrated the Caps have failed to gain their 50th win of the season in their last two outings - yes. Would I like to see them have Home Ice Advantage throughout the ENTIRE playoffs, no matter how far they go - sure. However, right now the Capitals are locked for the # 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and are 5 points up on the San Jose Sharks and 10 points up on the Chicago Blackhawks for the "President's Trophy" - the Sharks have 6 games left to play, the Caps have 7 games left and the Blackhawks have 8 games left this season. My point is Boudreau is right, but as I said, not everything is rosy at Kettler and Verizon Centers. I'm all for the Capitals using these last 7 games to get ready for the playoffs, but maintaining that winning attitude and that "aura" of a really tough team to beat is very important. I think it's as important as anything else in the playoffs. Time and again, the team that finishes the season playing well and playing hard goes deep into the playoffs - look at how far Carolina went last season?

So it's settled, I'm a jinx and the Caps are aching and ready to turn things around. No need to panic, it is only two games but I'm sure the guys want that 50th win as bad as we fans do. I'm also sure the team next up - the Ottawa Senators are as motivated as the Calgary Flames were on Sunday. That means the Caps need to play like THEY not Ottawa are the 5th place team in the Conference fighting for their division title - after all that is what Ottawa is and will be doing. For sure they can't play a period of hockey as uninspired and unmotivated as Sunday's first period - well it's not impossible - but it is highly unlikely - thank goodness.

So let's all get with the "Zen" program, do a big cleansing breath as we get into the Lotus position and chant our mantra - sending positive vibes to the Capitals ....UMMM..UMMM....UMMM...



Thursday, March 25, 2010

Last Night, Tonight, It's All Good....

Well last night was a two, that's a TWO Point night for the Capitals once again at Verizon Center. Those were points #107 and One-Oh-Gr8, as in a club record 108 regular season points for those of you that might be counting. So as I said, it's all good. Last night was another "never say die" night for the Capitals and it was a very good game to watch. First good thing - no one on either team got hurt, and had they that would have been a shame since the Caps are fighting for the virtually meaningless President's Trophy and the Penguins are fighting for the Atlantic Division Crown which will likely mean the difference between the 2nd and 4th seed in the Eastern Conference First Playoff Round. Certainly worth fighting for, but not worth having a good player injured for. Of course there is that other thing to fight for - Pride and/or bragging rights - and in a rivalry, that is something.

The Caps and Penguins will face each other once more this regular season, and now the Caps have are 3 for 3 in this regular season on the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Of course we all remember last season and last year's playoffs, so how much is that really worth come late April/Early May? Not much - there I said it, and we all should too. Sure rejoice, another victory on the way to that 50 win milestone, it's great! So is playing a solid game and executing on your game plan, that's how you ensure you are ready for the playoff quest that is upcoming. In the end I had three high points in the game,

#1) When Semin scored, right after I said to Jasper, our oldest Tibetan Terrier: "We could really use a shortie, right now." - I have a feeling, given my superstitions, Jasper might be hearing that after every Cap goes to the "Sin Bin" during the playoffs.

#2) When Theo stopped Crosby on the doorstep, stoned him solidly, on a powerplay in the third period keeping the Pens from going up by 2. I said it earlier this week, I'm over my "I hate Crosby, stage, really. I was just psyched that Theo kept the Caps within one, I had a funny feeling, it was "our turn" to hang around all night and come back and win against them. Oh, and there's still that "mancrush" I have going on Theo, too. and

#3a & #3b) Mike Knuble's TWO goals, don't make me pick between them. I can't.

Tied back for fourth would be Ovechkin and Semin's shootout goals. Fifth was watching Fleury slam his stick against the goalpost after Knuble's game winner, even though I suspect that will only fuel MAF's intensity against the Caps in upcoming games. It is a rivalry after all.

Tonight, the Caps take on the Hurricanes and they are playing well, they also match up well against the Caps. Sure the last game was all Caps but I wouldn't count on it this time. Still I see the Caps getting points 109 and 110 tonight, though not by more than a goal or two. I suspect we'll see the Caps have a good night and I also expect we'll see former Cap Brian Pothier have a good game too. Why? I don't know, just a hunch.

Prediction: Caps 4 - Hurricanes 2. Game Winner off of Corvo's Stick and Winning Goaltender: Varlamov.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sidney Crosby and Jimmy Howard Mix It Up At the Buzzer...

Well Caps fan, lots of chatter around the inter-webs today about Sidney Crosby's cross-checks of Herik Zetterberg and then mixing it up with Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard as the buzzer sounded at the end of last night's Red Wings - Penguins game. From my vantage point it's all much ado about nothing. Also, if we are ever going to be credible in our defenses of Alexander Ovechkin, then we ought to give Crosby a little slack on this for sure.

I watched the game, it was a good one, and Detroit won by a score of 3 - 1 if you didn't see it. Zetterberg spent much of the game about as close to Crosby as "white" gets on rice. In the last minute of the game, often not included in the pics and videos being posted, what you don't see is the jockeying for position in front of the Detroit net and the mixing it up going on between Zetterberg and Crosby for position. It was a physical matchup and really good hockey to watch, as was Crosby's driving the net and getting in Howard's face often during the night. However, even more interesting to watch was how Detroit in general and Howard in particular handled it all and kept Sid The Kid off the board and pointless all evening long. So I'm sure Crosby was frustrated at the end of the game, but the mixing it up with Zetterberg was all normal, playing hard ice hockey; I'm confident if there was 30 seconds left to play when he did it, he would have gotten a 2 minute minor for it. I'm also pretty sure given Crosby's driving the net all night long, Howard was more than happy to come to Zetterberg's aid and give "#87" a bit of a face-wash with his catcher. From my seat on the settee here in scenic Bristow, the on ice officials handled it all just right.

In the end it all works out and now if Detroit beats the odds and makes it to the Stanley Cup Finals as a #7 or #8 seed and Pittsbugh returns to the finals as well, the NHL will have another bitter rivalry to hype, in the sort of WWE fashion they seem to be gravitating towards. The moves by Crosby, the 22 year old Penguin Captain, weren't well advised. However, nobody got hurt and it was all in the course of a hard fought ice hockey game. If we Caps fans are going to credibly defend the actions of our own team's 24 year old Captain, when his youthful exuberance, passion for the game, and strong competitive nature drive him to make a poor decision, in the normal course of a game, we shouldn't fail to give Sidney Crosby the same consideration. If we act in such a manner, we really aren't credible when we air a legitimate beef. I mean it's not like either did anything universally reviled like punching someone below the belt or such.

My real question is had Zetterberg caught an edge and crumpled to the ice, breaking a bone or something, how many games suspension would Colin Campbell have given Crosby? I'm not being facetious, I think he would have suspended Crosby for the move. However, given the lack of any logic would Crosby have gotten just one game since he's not a repeat offender like Ovie is? My point is once again, in defense of Ovechkin, accidents happen sometimes. When they don't we should be happy and rejoice. When they do, we shouldn't scream for the other guy's head on a platter. Of course, just because you have a lot of money, doesn't make you immune from making stupid statements. Thankfully in the Crosby/Zetterberg tussle, nobody was hurt, no accidents happened and instead Zetterberg woke up named the #1 Star of the night in the league.

Next Pittsburgh, tomorrow at the Phone Booth...


Monday, March 22, 2010

The Caps Season So Far ... By the Numbers

Yesterday I caught up on many musings or at least had time for the first time in a while to type them into my computer. To me "blogging" is kind of like what NPH used to do at the end of each episode of "Doogie Howser, MD." In any case today is the first time in a while, basically since the NHL Season resumed post-Olympics, that the Caps aren't either just coming off a game or just going into the next game, so it seems like a good time to reflect on the season thus far, and that's what I've did late last night. I figured I'd share some of what I think are the highlights one gets when looking at the current NHL Team Stats in a comparative fashion. So by the numbers the Capitals are the #1team in the NHL in the following categories:

A) When trailing after the first period, the Capitals win are the only team in the NHL who win more than 50% of the time. They have a win % of 0.593 while the team in second place to them - the Pittsburgh Penguins only come out on top when trailing after the first period 48.5% of the time. If never saying die is a measure of "heart" the Capitals lead the rest of the NHL by at least 10%.
B) The Caps also lead the rest of the league in winning % when they out shoot their opponent. When out shooting their opponents the Caps are 0.692 while the second place Chicago Blackhawks are 0.639. This is a great statistic, especially when you combine it with the fact the Capitals are third in the NHL in average shots per game with 32.9 behind only Chicago and Detroit who each average 33.2 and 32.9 shots per game respectively.
C) Of course the Capitals also lead the league in the following categories: i)point percentage with 0.736 vs. second place Chicago at 0.683; ii)average goals for per game with 3.88 vs. second place Vancouver who score an average of 3.24 goals per game; iii)wins - so far the Capitals have 48 wins versus second place Phoenix who has 46; iv)power play % - the Caps score on average 25.9% of the time when they have a man advantage, while second place Montreal scores 23.4% of the time in similar situations; and, v) overall team +/-, the Caps are +66 as compared to second place Chicago who is +41.
D) The Caps are just 17th in the league in GA/G with a total of 2.76 goals per game, as compared with the league leading New Jersey Devils who limit their opponents to an average of just 2.34 goals per game. However, the Caps lead the league in 5 on 5 Goals For/Goals Against Ratio with 1.58 goals as compared to second place Vancouver who has 1.29. New Jersey? - they are 10th in the league 1.05.
E) When it comes to successfully closing out games where they are leading after 2 periods, the Capitals only 9th in the league with a winning percentage is 0.882 while the league leading Buffalo Sabres and Los Angeles Kings are a perfect 1.000 in that category. Of course the Caps have outright won 66.7% of their games overall, while the Kings have won 58.6% of theirs and the Sabres have only won 54.9% of theirs.
F) In fact the only summary level statistical category where the Capitals are weak and you really can't find any sort of countering statistic that either explains why or mitigates the impact and concern is the Capitals penalty killing statistics. The Capitals PK is a woeful league #24th at 79.1% while the league leading Boston Bruins are 86.2%. Of course last game the PK unit went a perfect 5 for 5, one can only hope the trend here continues and the PK unit improves to at least 85% the rest of the way this season and through the playoffs.
What's this all mean anyway. Bottom line, I think it means two things, and those two things are a bit cliche' and pretty obvious to us all but they bear stating simply and directly:

1) The 2009 - 2010 Washington Capitals are a helluva a good team, possibly the best Capitals team ever, surely current Caps fans hope they go further than ever before.
2) All that probably means at this point is the Caps may well go into the playoffs with home ice advantage throughout. Nothing more, nothing less. In other words come the 2010 playoffs, when once again "history will be made," the Caps and everyone else left in the field will start with a clean slate for the most grueling post season in professional sports. It will be important for them to be ready to scrape and claw, every way possible within the rules, for each and every one of the 16 victories required to win Lord Stanley's Cup.
Having just returned from several days at my Alma Mater, I feel it's appropriate to conclude with the traditional: "That is all, carry on", since the next Caps game isn't until Wednesday evening.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Last Week - Where Does The Time Go...

Wow, it's been a week since I made a blog entry? Was I brain dead? Was my mind on total hold, I mean no musings for a week? Well, no not really, it's just been a pretty busy week and it started with the hit by Ovie on Campbell and then deciding to wait and see what the NHL would do about it. Then, the disappointment in those decision and then, well then my real life took over and I was out of town from Wednesday until late last night. So here goes a quick recap and summary musings about the last week, now that the heat of the moment and all that other stuff are over.

1) Ovie's hit on Campbell was in my opinion the following: a) The result of a bad decision by a 24 year old young man who also happens to be the Captain of the Washington Capitals and one of, if not THE, best ice hockey players in the world. b) To some degree rooted in everything you might both like and dislike about "the new NHL." Some may argue, but there is a general "lack of respect and meaningful repercussions" in the NHL today, and one of the two main roots of that is the ill considered "instigator rule." The other main root of that is that over the past several years, the NHL has made numerous rule changes that have increased the speed of the game.That has had two main very adverse unintended consequences both of which were on clear display during last Sunday's incident: i) injuries occur more frequently and when they do, they are often worse then in the past and ii) the game is now often too fast for the officials to be able to keep up and be in position to see the plays and penalties properly, thus they make poor calls or miss calls more often. In the end, I'd have to say that the way things played out, if you're a Caps fan, and I am, you feel the reaction and suspension was excessive. If you are a Blackhawks fan, or don't like Ovechkin's style of play, you probably feel he should still be in the Press Box. So, in the "logic" of NHL discipline, which is often Hammurabian in nature, all things considered the NHL probably got this as "right" as possible. The real issue is when will some of the rule changes that are really driving these things be "rolled back"? and the game returned to it's more physical but slower roots? In the end that's really the only thing that will fix this without trying to turn things into a "no contact sport" which certainly isn't going to happen. There, how's that for a musing?

2) Well the Caps have played 4 games since my last posted musings and they went 3-0-1 on a four game road trip, two games of which were without the league's leading scorer and their Captain. At the start of the week the Caps had 99 points and now they have 106, they are leading the league, in fact as I write this they are leading the Blackhawks for the President's Cup by 9 points, though Chicago has a game in hand. In the Eastern Conference the Caps lead the Flightless Birds from Pittsburgh by 16 points (8 games) while both teams have just ten (10) games to play - one of which is the Caps next game on Wednesday evening against none other than those same Penguins. The Pens first play the Red Wings in Detroit tomorrow night before coming to DC for Wednesday's contest. That means that when the two teams face off on Wednesday evening it might be possible for the Caps to lock up the Conference depending on what happens in Detroit on Monday, New Jersey on Tuesday evening, and Buffalo on Wednesday. To my minds eye, that would basically be the beginning of the real journey towards this season's real goal, a journey that hopefully won't be over until June.

3) So far the Capitals are 7-1-2 since the Olympic break, that's 0.800 hockey with respect to points captured vs. points available. For the Caps to reach that lofty 120 point season level, the level that historically has been viewed as some of the best seasons ever, they have to play 0.700 hockey for the season's final 10 games. The remaining 10 games are 8 games against Eastern Conference foes and 1 game against the Calgary Flames. Additionally 7 of the 10 remaining games are on home ice here at Verizon Center where the Caps are an amazing 26-4-4 (0.824) so far this season. That said it won't be easy pickings, nine (9) of the 10 games are against teams that all still have something to play for and games that might have ramifications on post season positioning or if the opponent makes the post season at all.

First on Wednesday, they face the Penguins here in DC - the 2nd place Pens are dueling with Devils for the Atlantic Division Championship, a loss to the Caps could make the difference for the Pens of a first or second place seeding in the Conference and a fourth place seeding. The Caps then travel to Raleigh, NC to face the 12th Hurricanes who are 5-4-1 in their last ten and still have a possibility of sneaking into the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

On Sunday the 28th the Calgary Flames come to Verizon Center, the Flames are currently in 9th place in the Western Conference "duking it out" with the Red Wings for the final playoff spot in the West. Then on Tuesday the 30th, the Ottawa Senators come to DC, the Senators have been struggling of late going just 2-7-1 and have lost heir last 5 games, however, they are in 5th place in the East though have the same 79 points that the 6th place Flyers and 7th place Canadiens have, so every game is once again a big one for the Sens.

Next month the Caps close their season out with 6 games. Two (2) games against the surprising Atlanta Thrashers, two against the Boston Bruins, the fourth regular season game against the Penguins, and a game in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. The game against the Blue Jackets in Columbus on April 3rd is the only game of the Caps' final ten (10) against an opponent that isn't fighting for a playoff berth or post season position. The Thrashers have won their last four games including today's game against the Flyers, a 3-1 victory in Philadelphia. The Thrashers are currently in 9th place in the East, just one point behind the Bruins. The Caps play the Thrashers in two games here in Verizon Center first on April Fool's Day (really) and then seven days later on Friday April 9th. The Caps play the currently 8th place Bruins who now have 76 points and 10 games remaining twice more here in DC as well. The first of the final two regular season games against the Bruins is on Monday April 5th and then the final game between the two is the final game of the regular season for both teams here at Verizon on Sunday April 11th. While the Caps final regular season match-up with the Penguins in Pittsburgh on April 6th will likely be hyped by the media much more, the four games against the Bruins and Thrashers will likely have a much greater potential impact on this year's post season.

In any case, the road between now and the end of this regular season, will not be easy for the Capitals. To my mind, that is a good thing as it should help ensure they are well prepared and ready for the even harder road the playoffs bring.

4) Looking at the Eastern Conference standings right now it seems entirely possible the Caps could face any of seven different opponents in the first round of the playoffs: Ottawa, Philadelphia, Montreal, Boston, Atlanta, the Rangers, or Florida. It's also still mathematically possible for three others to sneak in - the Islanders, Tampa Bay or Carolina though each of them need to make up 8 points in just 10 games remaining and they are all currently slumping, so it doesn't seem likely any of those final three will make the playoffs.

5) Finally, during the past week, indeed actually since January, Jose Theodore's performance has, in this blogger's opinion, made him the clear number 1 goaltender on the Capitals. I hope he continues to do so through June, as well.

As the week ends, the world is indeed in order but, next up, Pittsburgh. The journey continues, one game at a time.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Importance of Being "Earnest"

Over the past three evenings and yesterday the Washington Capitals have played in only one hockey game - Friday night - that they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning 3 - 2 in regulation. However during that time span they managed to a) clinch their third division title in a row, and b) put some additional breathing room between themselves and a couple of folks who are chasing them for playoff positioning and the NHL regular season championship, namely Pittsburgh and Buffalo.

During the past three evenings while the Caps went 0-1-0, Pittsburgh and Buffalo both played one of the games they had in hand on the Capitals. Pittsburgh went 0-1-1 in the span and no, like the Caps has played 68 games this season, leaving them only 14 remaining games to attempt to make up the 14 points (7 games) they trail the Caps. Over the same time span, Buffalo went 1-1-1, they have now played 67 games leaving them 15 games to attempt to make up the 17 points they trail the Caps and 3 points they trail the Penguins. Both the Sabres and the Penguins are also still fighting with division rivals Ottawa/Montreal and New Jersey/Philadelphia respectively for their division crowns as well. At this juncture, in the Northeast Division, Buffalo has 82 points/67 games played, Ottawa has 79 points/69 GP, and Montreal has 76 points/70 GP. In the Atlantic Division Pittsburgh currently has 85 points/68 GP, New Jersey has 83 points/67 GP and Philadelphia has 76 points/67 GP. On Thursday evening, Atlanta's loss to Columbus meant the Caps clinched their division as at that time they had at least a 15 game lead on every one of their other division rivals with just 15 games remaining.

So where am I going with all this background? Remember back in October when, after the Caps 3 - 2 shootout win over the Nashville Predators on the 17th, or after the 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders in Uniondale, we talked about "ugly wins" but how in April we'd only be talking about and thinking about the two points? Well, now is that time and indeed all we're talking about is the two points, they earned on those days and how now with a season total of 99 points, the Capitals sit atop the NHL standings. The Caps are in control of their own destiny today, and if they play to their potential through the rest of the season, they should continue to be so. How did they get here - let's look back at a month by month to get an idea.

  • October: The Caps opened the season 8-2-3 and captured 19 points while playing 0.731 hockey.

  • November: The Caps went 8-3-3 capturing another 19 points and played 0.679 hockey and finished the month with 38 points for the the first two months of the season.

  • December: The Caps went 8-5-0, capturing another 16 points, playing 0.615 hockey and finishing the month with a total of 54 points.

  • January: After opening the new year with a 2-1 loss to the Kings in LA on New Year's day, the third loss in a row, the Caps went 13-2-0 including finishing the month with the first ten of what would end up being a 14 game winning streak. The fantastic January record, 0.867 hockey, gave the Caps 80 points and propelled them into a clear battle for the league's regular season point title. It also clearly gives this year's Caps team a chance to finish the season with the best record of any team in franchise history and enter the playoffs with a top seed and home ice advantage throughout.

  • February: After continuing the in process winning streak to 14 games the Caps went into the Olympic break on a three game loosing streak and a record of 4-1-2 and a total of 90 points. Even with a three game loosing streak the Caps were 0.714 for the month.

  • March: Returning from the Olympic break, the Caps have started the month 4-1-1, made some interesting, relatively low cost trade deadline pickups and were the first team in the league to clinch their division and a playoff spot. The Caps now have 99 points and are on the verge of their second 100+ point season.

When you look at those month by month results, what you see is the Capitals have played consistently strong and with clear purpose and drive to win, throughout the season. One might say, the Capitals have played with earnest all season long, working hard to make sure they get back to the playoffs and go further then they did last year. The Capitals have clearly shown they understand it is much better to be finishing the season in a manner that is preparing for the post season rather then scurrying to make sure they make the playoffs. Now whether or not that means this Capitals team achieves what no other Capitals Team has during the franchises 35 year history remains to be seen. But it's sure been fun to watch them try, and it likely it will continue to be so. Of course, all that continues to require focus on the immediate task at hand by the Capitals and that means one game at a time. Next up, Chicago, today on the NBC Game of the Week.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Looking Ahead... I Mean Sort Of Way Ahead ....

So while you are looking around the blogsphere today reading previews on tonight's match-up between the Caps and the Lightening at Verizon Center I decided to hit you with something completely different.

On Monday evening while I was at the game at Verizon Center and in one of those long lines at the men's room between periods I overheard a different kind of conversation between two guys in front of me. The gentlemen in the regular attire was talking to another in a new style Red Caps Jersey and explaining he wasn't buying a Jersey right now because he couldn't figure out if "anyone" on the current team other then Ovechkin would be here then and he just didn't want to get an Ovechkin Jersey because "everybody" has those. Asides from thinking it a convenient excuse not to spend ~$200.00 on something you only wear to games if you are a grown man, I thought how much I disagreed with the basic supposition of the argument. As I look into my crystal ball, besides Ovechkin, I for see a lot of the current core still here as long as the Caps keep producing and winning. Sure I understand that will put pressure on the roster because of the salary cap and some departures are inevitable but I still see much of the current core remaining intact for another two or three seasons.

Of the "young guns + one": Ovechkin is signed through 2021; Green is signed through 2012 and at that point will still be a RFA so will likely be resigned for several more years then; Backstrom becomes a RFA after this year and at this point the discussion of his next contract is probably limited to just how long a new contract he is willing to accept but since he doesn't turn 27 for five more years there's no reason to believe the next contract term won't be at least four years. Of the young guns, Semin is the only one where there is doubt because it seems clear from his signing a one year contract extension this year that after next season, he might want to test the UFA marketplace before committing to remaining here in DC. The +1 being Brooks Laich will be a UFA after next season and in my book it's 50/50 whether he tests the UFA waters or gets a contract extension offer and resigns sometime next season after January 1st. So of those five core guys I see at least three still here for at least three years and likely longer; additionally it sure seems at least 50/50 to me that at least one, if not both of the other two are still here in 2012 as well.

For the other seven forward slots, sure there is a lot of possibilities and uncertainty but a look at the current roster and their contract status gives you some idea of where things are more firm or less so. Steckel is signed through 2013 at an affordable number for the role he plays on the team; Chimera is signed through 2012 at an affordable number for a 2nd/3rd line winger, so consider those two here next season and the next as well. Knuble is signed through 2011 so he's here next season and depending on what he's done and doing at that time it's reasonable to see him sticking around for a final additional year or two at reasonable if he wants to play beyond age 38 and the Caps want him back. Additionally Matt Bradley is signed through 2011 at reasonable numbers as well. So as of right now just with those guys I see 8 of the normal 14 forward line slots filled for the start of next season. The looking at the other Caps who are RFAs at the end of this season you've got: Tomas Fleischmann who is an Arbitration Eligible RFA and Eric Fehr, and Boyd Gordon, who in addition to Backstrom are RFA. Unless someone puts some sort of ridiculous offer sheet in front of either Fleischmann orr Fehr, given their performances so far this season, I'd expect the team to want them back and to resign them for sure. I'd also expect that since Flash is 25 and Fehr is 24 the team would loom to sign both to at least two if not three or four year terms that they can afford. I'd put Gordon at 50/50 though I'd expect the Caps to resign him as well though perhaps not to anything longer than two years. That would fill 11 of the 14 spots for next season and it gives the line up: 2 Centers - Backstrom & Steckel, 3 Left Wings: Ovechkin, Semin, and Flash; 4 right wings: Knuble, Chimera, Bradley and Fehr; and 2 swing men: Laich and Gordon. The biggest need left open up front that then needs to be addressed for next season by resigning one of the UFAs or looking elsewhere at the UFA pool is that of a second line center and perhaps a third line center as well. The final spot would then logically fall to a swing man, preferably one who can help out on the penalty kill, in my view.

Looking at the available talent pool in house right now might be the easiest way to address those needs and by the end of this coming post season we'll likely know if that's the way to go for those needs. After this season, the following folks currently on the Caps Roster will be UFAs: 36 year old Right Wing Scott Walker, currently overpriced at $2.5M but probably available for less if he wants to continue to play after this season; 32 year old Center Eric Belanger currently fairly priced at $1.75M; 34 year old Center Brendan Morrison fairly or even slightly discount priced at $1.5M; 30 year old Left Wing Quintin Laing who is currently signed to a League Minimum contract. Additionally down in Hershey we have: 24 year old center Kyle Wilson who will be a Type VI UFA after the season as well as 28 year old center Alexandre Giroux and 31 year old left wing Boyd Kane who will be UFA. 23 year old center Chris Bourque, and 23 year old wingers Andrew Gordon and Jay Beagle will be RFAs. My point here is there are several ways to see much, if not all of the current team staying together virtually in their entirety through the end of next season at this juncture. That means there are currently an additional 16 months with which Caps GM George McPhee can work his trade to maintain or improve this great team up front, and right now I think you'd be hard pressed to find fault with the roster management being done on the Caps forward lines.

On the back end the Caps made a lot of moves at the deadline that create some interesting possibilities and discussions. First let me say I see the following top four defensemen on the roster next season assuming nobody makes any sort of ridiculous offers to either Joe Corvo or Jeff Schultz - Mike Green, Tom Poti, Joe Corvo, Jeff Schultz. Depending on the price tags I see the number five guy being either Shoanne Morrisonn or Milan Jurcina. That said if the Caps don't or can't afford to resign Corvo, I see both Sha-Mo and Juice back, again assuming they are affordable. The number 7 guy on the roster next season will be John Carlson, in my opinion. I see John Erskine being dealt or waived to make the cap space and contract slot available, and I suspect someone will gladly pick up his $1.25M price tag. I see King Karl shuttling between Hershey and DC through the first half of the season before settling in with the big club after Christmas while the Caps manage the transition/end of season negotiations set-up with Tom Poti. I see Tyler Sloan being traded in some draft day deals. The wild card here in my mind would be something totally unanticipated out of McPhee though like - the Caps don't resign Corvo, they go after and sign a guy like Tomas Kabrele, they then trade or waive Poti to free up the needed Cap space and they plan on and move both Alzner AND Carlson to the big club right at the start of next season.

I won't go into the goaltender situation, the Caps have three solid young goaltenders in their system in Varlamov, Neuvirth and Holtby, and from what I can see 33 year old Jose Theodore is in the middle of his best season since he won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2001 - 2002, so the Caps seem to have some good options and problems of a "good nature" there.

So bottom lines here. This year's Caps are a great team, the ability to keep the majority of it together through 2012 (the next two or even three seasons) appears to be there. All that said, the Caps are playing with urgency now and it's the kind of urgency a team needs to strive for excellence and make a deep run into the playoffs and maybe, just maybe win a Stanley Cup. ...

Of course all that happens one game at a time. Tonight - Tampa Bay at Verizon Center.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Caps Quell 'Canes 4-3 in OT

It was a 2 point night once again at Verizon Center last night as the Washington Capitals calmed the storming Carolina Hurricanes to capture points 98 and 99 of their 2009 - 2010 regular season. In many ways it wasn't pretty as once again Bruce Boudreau and the coaching staff juggled the line-up to see how and where "the trade deadline new guys" fit and play best with the rest of what has been a relatively stable line-up since early this season. Don't get me wrong, I think these are the types of issues and challenges we as fans want the team to be having right now, except of course the Penalty Kill units.

My overall impressions and thoughts from the game since other more detailed recaps have already been posted and are being discussed around the net follow. First before getting hyper-critical here let's acknowledge that since the resumption of play and the pickup of Corvo, Belanger, Walker and Jurcina at the trade deadline the Capitals are 3-0-1 and that's 0.875 hockey in terms of points captured vs. points available; further they stretched their lead over the rest of the NHL to 6 points. Say what you will about the SE Division/Quality of Competition, etc. all you want the Caps accomplishments and overall strength of team is impressive, regardless of any editorial qualifying statements. Put in 50,000 foot level perspective, as of today, season overall the Capitals have played 0.734 ice hockey in terms of points captured vs. points available and even if they only play 0.500 hockey the rest of the season they will finish with 114 points. Clearly that's not what they or we fans want them to do nor is it what I think they will do, I'm just putting things into perspective before taking a hyper-critical look at the team in light of the good, bad, and ugly from first last night and then actually the last four games.

First the good from last night:

1) Jose Theodore played well, in my opinion, a) no softies, b) answered the call and made a couple of big saves when needed to keep the Caps in it, and had a save percentage of 0.903 against a resurgent, confident, well playing Hurricanes Team during a tight game, and of course he stopped the Brandon Sutter penalty shot.

2) Mike Green's two goals.

3) Tomas Fleischmann's game winner got him off "the schneid."

4) The Caps first and second lines looked good and most shifts they dominated and controlled the play and pace of the game.

The some good/some bad from last night:

1) The Caps power play unit scored two goals in four man advantage situations so it was 50%. However they gave up too many shorthanded chances/shots to the aggressive Hurricanes penalty kill and there seems to be a book developing around the league on the Caps about that. Going into the playoffs the power play unit needs to step back and watch the video of those games where they've played folks with an aggressive PK and make some adjustments in this regard.

2)The PK unit clearly made adjustments and at times was very good. The D-Pairing of Poti - Sha-Mo was especially effective on the PK unit. However, the Hurricanes Power Play unit was still able to go 1 - 5 and the end result was the PK Unit was 80%. As Craig Laughlin covered in the pre-game on CSN, you'd really like to see that number up at around 85%+ when you are looking at comparable performance by recent past Stanley Cup Winners.

The bad & ugly:

1) Overall, the Caps played a solid disciplined game but at least two and in my view three of the five penalties they took could have been avoided. The easiest way for them to improve the PK is to avoid these sorts of short handed situations entirely, the game is changing and at this stage of the season guys know certain things that will be called - "every time" - those are the penalties that ought to be avoided. Of course the 5 penalties also doesn't take into account the sixth because it was a penalty shot....

2) Mike Green's "assist" on the Carolina's power play goal by Jossi Joikenen in the second that tied the game at 3-3.

3) Regardless of their dominance at times, the Caps first and second lines failed to get the puck by Manny Legace and put the game away during the second period when they had chances to do so. From my perspective, watching on the CSN Broadcast, it seemed they needed to crash the net more and harder as they took many of their shots on the perimeter and didn't get either traffic or a rebound chance.

Bottom lines:

A) Based on the pre- and post-game comments by Coach Bruce Boudreau, I'd expect the line-up juggling and shuffling to continue for 5 or so more games. That's not a bad thing in my view. It should give everyone a chance to get to know each other and how they might interact if a brutal series results in injuries that require such shuffles in the post-season.

B) If the playoffs started tomorrow you'd have to go with Jose Theodore in goal. Personally, I don't have a problem with that - AT ALL. Since January, Theo has been consistent, confident, and very good. I think he's ready for the playoff run and I don't have any of the concerns or fears relative to him being able to shoulder the load required throughout the playoffs that many of the pundits seem to have.

C) While last night wasn't pretty and I don't expect the next five or six games to be so, the results certainly seem to be saying this team has what it takes and knows how to win, let's all continue to think good thoughts and hope that holds through June.

Next up: Tampa Bay tomorrow night at Verizon Center the last game of the five game post-Olympic home stand.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stars 4 - Caps 3 (SO)

Last night it was a one point night for the Capitals at Verizon Center. The Caps didn't play their best game in that they let the Stars come back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period - one of the few home game losses and one of the few losses in a game the Caps started the third period leading in this season, they are 28-0-3 in such situations. The reason for all of the above was a 34 year old from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario named Marty Turco.

Turco a three time NHL All Star had a career best 49 Saves through overtime, more importantly he stopped 40 of 42 shots on goal and displayed superlative rebound control through the first two periods. He single-handily kept the Stars in the game through two periods, and I believe though they didn't show it too blatantly, Turco's play frustrated the Caps and knocked them off their game enough so they played one of their worst 10 minute stretches of hockey this season to start off the third period. The Caps went from being up 2 - 0 in a game they had clearly controlled to being behind 3 - 2 during the first 8:00 of the third period. To say "it wasn't pretty" about those 10:00 would be understatement. The Caps took too bad penalties and each resulted in a goal, the first Stars goal by Brad Richards, Varlamov didn't have a chance. The second one - by Daley, Varly had a chance on but not much of one. If it was the same Varly who we saw in the series against the Rangers in the 2009 Playoffs he stops it, right now that wasn't happening. The Stars third goal by Neal at the 7:53 mark, that one I'm thinking Varlamov would like back, and would likely stop at least 3 out of 4 times. After Neal's goal the Stars continued to swarm for another minute or two before the Caps "got it together" and returned the game to the Stars end of the ice.

When Ovechkin tied the game at 3-3 with his second goal of the game at 16:44, I don't know about other folks but I wondered if that didn't signal the end of Turco's good fortunes. However, any thought about that was dashed during the game's final 4:00 and the 5:00 overtime. I won't talk about the shootout, neither Ovechkin nor Semin looked great relatives to the moves they tried let alone the results there. Varly looked better than I thought he would during the shootout, but once again Turco's "Mojo" and presence with the force was stronger.

Next up: The Hurricanes come to town tomorrow evening, wonder what sort of G2 Walker and Corvo are giving their new teammates?


Monday, March 8, 2010

Caps vs. Stars Preview

Tonight at Verizon Center the Capitals take on the Dallas Stars at 7:00PM; the game is on National TV - Versus Network and it should be a good one. I know I almost always say that but it's also almost always true, and it's likely to be even more true at this time of the year. The Stars are in 11th place in the Western Conference but they are still in the hunt/fight for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West with a 28-24-12 record and 68 points. The Stars are currently 6 points behind the 8th place Detroit Red Wings. The main issues/challenges for the Stars in their quest for the post-season center around the fact they are only 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and they have lost their last 3 games.

The Capitals come into the game looking for their 14th consecutive win on home ice and their 4th win in a row. The Caps are currently sitting atop the league standings with 96 points and a 44-13-8 record overall. They are 25-3-3 on home ice so far this season. The Caps have amassed a positive goal differential of +75 so far this season and are the highest scoring team in the league by a margin of 40 goals at this point; the Capitals score an average of 3.95 goals per game and have given up and average of only 2.8 goals per game. Additionally the Caps only strengthened their team at the trade deadline.

The Stars and the Caps played once last season in Dallas, the Caps won that game 6-5 in overtime, if both teams play to anywhere near their potential, this game shouldn't be that close. When the headline and opening sentence on the story about your team's trade deadline pickups are: " Segal Adjusting to Life With New Team" and "Dallas' newest forward is a valuable foot soldier who brings a lot of energy to the Stars'lineup." when you are on a three game post break road trip and have lost your last three games, things aren't exactly all roses in cowtown. The Stars are averaging only 2.82 goals per game while averaging 3.12 goals against. They have actually stood pat pretty much all season, except for picking up goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Brandon Segal was claimed off waivers just before the Olympic break, playing with the team they started the season with. Now they are on the bad side of the trend while fighting for the last available playoff spot in their Conference. They still have a fairly solid team but they haven't been clicking all that well all season long. The stars of the Stars among the forwards are Brad Richards, Mike Ribiero and Brendan Morrow. None are having anywhere near career years, though Ribero seems to be on pace to produce his usual numbers. However, one could easily look over Richards' production this season and his career statistics and wonder why anyone ever thought he was worth $5.7M/year - compare his production to say oh I don't know, Alexander Semin, and one might easily understand why Semin's agent talks about "not taking any hometown discounts.". On the blueline the top three defensemen are: Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, and Karlis Skrastins. In net the Stars have two accomplished veterans: Marty Turco and Kari Lehtonen. In team defense based on GA/G the Stars rank 25th so the collective efforts of the five defensemen and goaltenders mentioned here has been underwhelming to date. Against the leagues leading offensive team, that should mean the Caps ought to be able to put the puck into the net, unless the Dallas netminders have an anomalous game of the spectacular variety tonight.

Prediction: Caps 6 - Stars 3.

To get an idea just how far the Capitals have come in the past 3 or so years take a look over at the WaPo site and read today's article by Caps Beat Writer Tarik El-Bashir. The quotes by Joe Corvo about being dealt to the Capitals echo the good feelings the other trade deadline pick-ups also said about being dealt to the Caps. However, those of us who've followed the team for "a while" can readily remember the rebuild and times when the Caps used to have to really scrape and claw to get the attention and consideration of the better players in the NHL as they approached free-agency, I won't mention any names or specifics but consider what sort of things they had to include in say a guy with the initials MN in his contract a couple of years ago. In any case, it's a lot more fun to be where we are now as a team for everybody: Ownership, Management, Players, and Fans....

Speaking of fun, if your in the Security business and going to be out in Las Vegas for ISC West make sure you come see the unveiling of ICx Technologies' CommandSpace Argus, March 24 - 26 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

In the meantime, let's all get ready and go Rock The Red at Verizon Center tonight as the Caps go after their 14th consecutive win on home ice.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Rest of the Season In The Eastern Conference

The Capitals pace this season is blistering and they've picked up where they left off once the Olympics Break was over going 3-0 since play has resumed. The Caps now have a few interesting magic numbers. They still have 17 games left to play this season but because they lead the Southeast Division by 30 points and 14 games their magic number to clinch the Southeast Division is just 3 - any combination of 3 wins by the Capitals or 3 losses by the the Atlanta Thrashers and the Caps likely clinch the Division since their magic number to ensure the Tampa Bay Lightening cannot win the division is 2, and the Florida Panthers is 1.

As far as the Eastern Conference goes right now the Capitals are basically fighting it out with four other teams for the Conference crown: Pittsburgh who has 82 points, New Jersey who has 79 points and two games in hand, Buffalo who has 77 points and two games in hand, and Ottawa who has 77 points and whom the Capitals have one game in hand on. So right now the Caps lead the Conference by at least 7 games on their next closest rival with 17 games to play. That puts their magic number on New Jersey at 11, Pittsburgh and Buffalo each at 10, and on Ottawa at 7.

These numbers are interesting and even more exciting when you look over the Caps remaining schedule. Eight of the remaining games are against other members of the Southeast Division. So far this season the Caps are 14-2-0 against teams in their own division. Further the Caps play the Carolina Hurricanes 3 more times this month - once at home and twice in Raleigh at RBC Center, and at this point following their trade deadline moves with just 59 points, the 28th place Hurricanes are playing solely for pride with a depleted roster, so it's probably not hard to see the Capitals capturing 4 or more of those available points, unless somehow Cam Ward manages to steal more than one game from the Caps. The Caps play the Tampa Bay Lightening and the Atlanta Thrashers each two times, Tampa once at home and once in Tampa this month and Atlanta twice here at Verizon Center in April. As they showed the other night the Lightening still has a team that isn't an easy match-up for the Caps if they get some reasonably solid play out of their goaltender so lets be conservative and say they split those 4 available points with the 'ning. However looking at Atlanta things get even more speculative, if the Thrashers come into the games with the Capitals still fighting with the Bruins, Canadiens and Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Conference, they might be able to fight hard and split the two games with the Caps, even though so far this season the Caps are 25-3-3 on home ice. Then we come to the Florida Panthers, the Fla-Cats have basically all but admitted they are already thinking about next season, so even though the game is on their home ice in Sunrise, I'll assume the Caps win and sweep this years series 6-0 since in the first 5 contests this season the Caps have outscored the Panthers 26 - 12. So just from playing 0.625 hockey against a set of opponents against who the Caps have been 0.825 so far this season, they should capture another 10 points putting them at a season total of at least 106 points.

The Caps have another five (5) games against other Eastern Conference teams from outside the Southeastern Division. They play Pittsburgh once more here at Verizon Center on 3/24 and once in Pittsburgh on 4/6 - the second game of a back to back and probably the hardest challenge for the Capitals in the remaining 17 games; Boston twice both games here in DC on 4/5 and then in the Caps final game of the season on 4/12; and Ottawa here in DC on 3/30. So it's not unfathomable to see the Caps snagging at least 6 of those 10 points which would put them at a season total of at least 112 points, which would be their best season total ever and that doesn't even take into account the other three games the Caps have to play against Western Conference opponents before the season concludes. The Caps play Dallas - their next opponent - on Monday Evening here at Verizon Center. The Caps come into the game riding a three game winning streak while the Stars have lost their last three and are rapidly sliding out of the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference so I'll call that one for the Caps. On Sunday 3/14 the Caps travel to United Center in Chicago to take on the Blackhawks on National TV and while that will be "one bodacious game" I'm again picking the Caps to come home with two points.Finally we have Calgary here at Verizon Center on Sunday 3/28 and in that game I'm figuring the Flames walk away with two points while the Caps get one. So with those five points the Caps finish the season with 117 points and their best season record and point total ever. the amazing thing about this analysis and recap is that it is conservative since a) it forecasts the Caps to capture points at a ate lower than they have so far this season, and it forecasts they do so against a strength of schedule that is weaker than they face so far this season. That's pretty intense wouldn't you say?

Of course it all has to happen one game at a time starting tomorrow evening against Dallas. That should be a good one...


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Caps Best Rangers 2 - 0; Theodore Gets First His Shutout of Season

It was a two point night for the Capitals, in fact tonight they earned their 95th and 96th point of this regular season. That's two more points than they totalled the entire 2007 - 2008 season when they won the Southeast Division with a total of 94 points; last season of course the Caps finished the regular season with 108 points, we'll come back to that later. In 2005-2006 and 2006 - 2007 the Caps totaled 70 points each season, for the entire 82 game season, aside form last season, the last time the Capitals were on anywhere near this pace or this good was a decade ago the 1999 - 2000 season which they finished with 102 points. As of tonight they have 96 points, lead the Eastern Conference and currently lead the NHL having captured 73.84% of the standings point they have competed for this season and they are on pace to capture 120+ points at this juncture. To put into perspective just how good this team is playing, the last team to capture 120 or more points was the 2005-2006 Detroit Red Wings with 124 and they are the only team to have done so since the lockout. Prior to the lockout, and the implementation of 3 point games only 10 teams, in the post expansion era have achieved anything like the Capitals success so far this season:

1) the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens with 132 points in 80 games,
2) the 1995-1996 Red Wings with 131 points in 82 games,
3) the 1977-1978 Montreal Canadiens with 129 points in 80 games,
4) the 1975-1976 Montreal Canadiesns with 127 points in 80 games,
5) the 1970 - 1971 Boston Bruins with 121 points in 78 games,
6) the 1972 - 1973 Montreal Canadiens with 120 points in 78 games,
7) the 1971 - 1972 Boston Bruins with 119 points in 78 games,
8) the 1985-1986 Edmonton Oilers with 119 points during an 80 game season,
9) the 1983-1984 Edmonton Oilers also with 119 points in an 80 game season,
10) the 1981-1982 New York Islanders with 118 points in an 80 game season.

Further if you look closer at the rosters of the teams that played and won those games you'll see rosters filled with depth and great names, many names who are in the Hockey Hall of Fame today. Caps fans, if you're not having fun watching games this season, you likely never will have fun at a hockey game.

Now about tonight, Jose Theodore - first star of the game and deservedly so, stopping 30 of 30 for his first shutout of the year, his third as a Washington Capital and the 29th of his career. Including tonight's game Theo is 22-7-6 with 1 shutout, a GAA of 2.79 and a Save Percentage of 0.910 in 37 appearances so far this season. Further in his last three games Theo is 2-0-1 and has better than a 1.90 GAA and better than 0.933 SV%. It would be great to see Theodore continue this level of performance until June, it would be a career year for him and it would mean a great year for the Capitals as well. Theodore played superbly the entire game tonight. Eric Fehr scored his 17th goal of the season on the power play in the first period and it was the game winner, although no one expected it to be at the time. Fehr scored by going hard to the net and roofing a nice pass from Tomas Fleischmann past Ranger backup goaltender Alex Auld. The third star of the game went to "new guy" Eric Belanger. For most of the game Belanger skated as the pivot between Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin and tonight he and his linemates looked very good the entire game. Belanger scored the "insurance goal" at even strength at the 13:38 mark of the second period assisted by both Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Caps Resume Season With Lots Of Activity and Two Victories

I missed posting anything yesterday - I had to support a pesky habit I've had my entire life - eating, to have food to eat I must work. Working, that's what I've been doing lately, though I did manage to catch the tail end of the game on Wednesday evening in Buffalo - actually I stopped at Hard Times Cafe in Manassas on my way home to catch a bite before working some more and caught the last couple of minutes of the Third Period after listening to most of it on the radio while I was driving. From everything I could tell - radio and hockey really don't work well for me - and the recaps, etc. it was a good game and the Caps played well. I also caught all of last night's game at Verizon with a friend.

It was awesome to have live NHL hockey back in the District again last night. It was a pretty crazy game, especially the third period. First we had "the new guys" - 3 of the 4 trade deadline pickups Joe Corvo (#77), Scott Walker (#24) and Eric Belanger (#18) dresses and played last night as did call-up John Carlson (#74). Milan Jurcina is apparently sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks with a sports hernia, but we know how he'll fit into things and he knows the corresponding points and the system as well, so that shouldn't be a big deal, especially since we picked him back up for what looks like a 6th round pick. All of the new guys looked good, though like Lisa Hillary said to Scott Walker in teeing up her post game interview with him, Walker who was picked up for a seventh round pick made General Manager George McPhee look like a genius. Walker, a 36 year old right wing from Cambridge, Ontario had 2 goals and was +2 in just 10 shifts and 7:33TOI last evening. If that's not bringing some impact to the fourth line, I don't know what is. Up until he scored his first of the night, a backhand that dribbled through Lightning goalie Mike Smith's 5-hole into the net, the kind of gritty play and energy I think everyone hoped he would bring to the team, I was thinking that the guy who looked like he was going to have the easiest transition into a Caps uniform was defenseman Joe Corvo. However, the results at least say of the pickups the one who made the most impact with the least amount of TOI last night was Walker. Speaking of Joe Corvo he was paired most often last evening with Tom Poti and he looked god as did they both look good together. Corvo clearly worked very hard to take time and space from Lecavilier, St Louis and Stamkos when they were on the ice with him and he also was great at mixing it up with Ryan Malone at those times. He played 20:19 in 23 shifts and had 1 SOG, 3 A/B, 1 miss, 1 Hit and blocked 3 shots. It was a solid night and the only time he looked awkward was a power play shift in the first when it was clear the entire unit on the ice hadn't practiced much, if at all together. Things seemed to settle down on the power play after that clearly failed experiment, don't get me wrong the "new guys" bring some interesting new elements to the Caps but it's clear, harvesting that potential for the special teams (power ply or penalty kill) will take a lot more time than the 24 - 35 hours these guys have been wearing Capitals Sweaters.

In my view it's unclear whether either Eric Belanger or Joe Corvo will be the trade deadline pickup to make the most impact. However last evening it was clear it will likely take Belanger a little longer than Corvo to get used to his new teammates and linemates. For most of Belanger's 18 shifts and 14:50 TOI he was paired with Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann on his wings and while it looks like that will gel into a very solid, potent line, there were a few times last night where it was clear they were having to look around to find each other rather than knowing where the other two guys would be.

In an adjacent note, John Carlson was called up from Hershey and he had an excellent game. He finished the game with these numbers: TOI - 14:46, Shifts - 15, +1; 1 shot on goal and 4 blocked shots. He also sprang "Flash" with a really nice stretch pass on a breakaway that unfortunately Mike Smith was able to stop. It was a really good game for him, because for the entire game he played with a lot more maturity then a 20 year old rookie.

With all the attention I'm paying to the new guys, I can't forget to mention that off season pickup and first line Right Wing Mike Knuble had a super game - 2 goals, +1 in 15:43 and 21 shifts on ice. Mike Green was +2 and had 2 assists on the night. Jeff Schultz was +2 on the night as well.

Overall it was clear last night the Caps now have a team loaded with great skaters and they intend to use their skill in this area to create time and space for their offensive game plan as well as to tie up other teams defensively. Through the first two periods the Caps led the game 3 - 2 on the scoreboard and on the ice it seemed like an even bigger lead. However Tampa Bay is a team with some very talented driven players - both veterans and youngsters, namely: Marty St. Louis, Vincent Lacavilier, Steve Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Ryan Malone. They weren't going to make it easy for the Caps and they always seemed to find the energy and a "hole" in Semyon Varlamov's pads somewhere last night so they could stay within one goal. They even tied it up 4 - 4 on a goal by Stamkos, his 38th of the season, at 12:28 of the third period. Luckily that goal seemed to be the one that really woke up the Capitals fully and just 00:41 later at the 13:09 mark when Scott Walker scored his second goal of the game, the ultimate game winner, his 5th goal of the season and his second while wearing a Caps sweater. After that Tampa Bay tried to respond and surge a couple of times but the Caps generally never let them get too fired up or skate freely enough to score. So the game ended up being another two point night for the Capitals, their third and fourth in just two games since the NHL season resumed. Next up the New York Rangers at Verizon Center, tomorrow evening - more on that another time. In the mean time - - -


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Caps Trade Deadline Moves And a Quick & Dirty On Tonights Game Against The Sabres In Buffalo

First, Caps GM George McPhee GMGM made some moves today and from what I can tell it sure looks like he did so in a manner that a) didn't cost the Capitals all that much and b) won't in any way upset the chemistry on the team already here. McPhee acquired 4 players and he did so in moves that only affected/moved 1 person who is really on the existing Capitals roster.

- In his first move of the day GMGM acquired 36 year old Right Wing Scott Walker from the Carolina Hurricanes for a 7th round draft pick in this years upcoming draft.

- Then later this morning GMGM acquired 32 year old Center Eric Belanger from Minnesota for Washington's Second Round pick in this years draft.

- After that GMGM turned his attention to the in process salary dump underway just over in Columbus, OH and reacquired 26 year old Defenseman Milan Jurcina for a conditional pick in this summer's draft. Jurcina was sent to Columbus earlier this season in late December in the deal that brought Jason Chimera to the Capitals. Jurcina had played in 13 games between that deal and the Olympics, where he was on the Slovakian National Team. In his short stint with Columbus and in the Olympics, Juice looked strong, and got to play a bigger role and more minutes than he usually did with the Caps before the trade, GMGM and Gabby must have liked how they saw the 6'4", 233# Slovak respond. I certainly was sorry to see him go in the Chimera trade, as prior to the deal he was one of the bigger guys in terms of Hits and physical presence in the line-up.

- The latest deal to be announced was the biggest and the only one affecting someone on the current Capitals Roster. GMGM acquired 32 year old Defenseman Joe Corvo from Carolina in exchange for 32 year old Defenseman Brian Pothier, 22 year old Left Wing Oskar Osala of the Hershey Bears, and the Capitals Second Round Pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Pothier was slated to be an UFA this summer and I didn't expect the Caps to resign him, Osala had a couple of shots at the NHL level but had as of yet to catch on, though he will have a better chance at cracking the Hurricanes roster as a scoring left wing since he's not competing with Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann for that role. However, the price tag for Corvo seems a little high if we're just going for a rental. Don't get me wrong, I think Corvo is a good pickup and Corvo is slated to be a UFA at the end of this season. His current salary is $2.65M and if the Caps could resign him at or near that number for a 2 or even 3 year deal he's probably a keeper but if that happens then there will be other moves this summer as well. It is nice to see the Caps now have a veteran blueliner with experience playing Bruce Boudreau's system.

The general news and emotions on the wire from pundits like The Sporting News seems to be that the Caps and GMGM had a good day and strengthened their roster or improved depth in the areas they made moves so they can make a deep run in to the playoffs. I agree with Michael Peca, Joe Corvo should take some of the heat and attention of opposing teams gritty forwards like Sean Avery off of Mike Green. That should help Green stay healthier through a 5 or 7 game series and maybe it even opens up some more room for him on some of his shift. The grit that Walker and Belanger bring only adds to the grit that Knuble and Chimera brought earlier this season. Additionally Belanger brings in another solid responsible older statesman at Center ice to compliment Brendan Morrison and ass a little more depth there. All of which helps ease the pressure on young superstar Nicklas Backstrom.

I think these moves are all pretty good and all at a reasonable cost, some will bemoan the price paid for Corvo but if as I hope it takes some pressure and attention off Mike Green in one or more of the playoff series the Caps play this post season, the deal is probably worth it, the only real impact/price the Caps likely feel from it is the loss of a second round draft pick in 2011, as in terms of the swap of Pothier for Corvo, at worst that's a wash and it wasn't looking like Osala was making the roster any time in the next two seasons here in DC. Everything else didn't cost much except for the second round pick for Belanger in this year's draft and his presence on the roster means at the end of the season and playoffs the Caps have two experienced guys who will be UFA at the end of the season competing for the 2/3 spot on the depth chart for Centers that currently make $1.5M and $1.75M so that means they ought to be able to resign the one they want to keep for a reasonable, and affordable number under the Cap while giving Backstrom the raise he will get this year as an RFA. Jurcina is a known commodity and a positive locker room presence who returns to the team with more experience and upside than he left it with, and Walker is a heart and sould kind of player who basically "didn't cost nuttin'" and played well for Carolina in their playoff run last season so to me, that deal was a "no-brainer."

Now about tonight and Buffalo we have disappointed American Olympians Tim Connely and Ryan Miller vs. disappointed Russian, Czech and Swedish Olympians Ovechkin, Semin, Fleischmann and Backstrom. I don't see Jurcina making it to Buffalo and playing tonight so no disappointed Slovaks will be on the ice for the Capitals tonight. Buffalo is fighting it out these next twenty games with Pittsburgh, New Jersey and a resurgent Ottawa for playoff seeding and home ice advantage, so they are also motivated there. This is the second of a back to back for the Sabres, they lost 3-2 last evening in Pittsburgh. This will be a close, well played game so hopefully the Caps will re-start the season on a high note. It should be a fun one to watch as these are two well coached and talented teams. I won't make a prognostication but you know where my heart is. The Caps called up Hohn Carlson so it will be interesting to see if he plays tonight as well.
Welcome back Milan Jurcina, and welcome to DC Scott Walker, Eric Belanger, and Joe Corvo. BTW in case you haven't heard, this is our year.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Well Between Work and Some Disappointment About The Silver I'm Late Posting Today....

Wow, how about that Gold Medal game, all except for that last minute and final score. First let me say I now have a big time "man crush" on Zach Parise. I text'ed one of my friends who is a long time (as in since 1983) Devils fan and season ticket holder and asked him if he thought Lou L might take any two or three Caps, except Ovechkin and Backstrom for Zach. Talk about a guy who never gives up...

The ending of the game was just horrible from my personal perspective. My initial feelings were totally in synch with the exasperation and disappointment Ryan Millers reaction to the goal expressed. Before I spout off once again about Sidney Crosby, let me admit the guy has a way of making a different no matter what and he is a great hockey player. That said the Gold Medal game, at least the first 61 minutes of it were clearly NOT his best hockey ever played. Also just as so many fans who don't like Ovechkin would have made this point, I'll make the point that if it weren't for those final 60 or so seconds he spent on the ice, many, many, many folks would have been all over about how he didn't make a difference and rise to the occasion this game. Instead somehow the bloody guy manages to score what is probably the most important hockey goal scored by a Canadian Player in at least the last 8 years. Ugh, so cruel to those of us who feel the guy is already excessively deified by far too many hockey fans and pundits. Unbelievable...makes me root against him even harder but you know what I'm pretty sure he never cared and I know for sure now he doesn't have to care about nor no matter what will he ever.

Give it to both teams though it was a great game and it could have gone either way to use the cliche'. It did go to Canada and you have to congratulate them all, even Sidney bleepin' Crosby. The guy is uncanny, but does he have to be so perfect when he's interviewed so he always sounds so scripted? It's like watching a 21st century version of Leave It To Beaver but in a Bart Starr Athletic Level Talent's body.

Also in the vein of admitting I was wrong, as long as he doesn't do anything monumentally stupid, Patrick Kane can be on the next three or four Team USA's at the Olympics as well. If he wants to go out partying call me I'll fly to Buffalo and be his designated driver if he doesn't want to spend cab fare and he doesn't have to tip me. I just want to make sure neither I or anybody that matters ever feels the need to question having him represent our nation at Ice Hockey, the guy has rockets on the end of his legs.

Now with all that said it's time to get back to the last ~20 games of the 2009-2010 NHL season. Tonight the NHL returns to action with Detroit at Colorado in just 15 minutes and then tomorrow it's a full slate of games - 12 in all. The Caps return to action on Wednesday evening in Buffalo...there they all will be looking to make sure they return to the winning ways they were enjoying during most of the time since the New Year and looking to wrap up the regular season in fine form.

Some good blogs today by Tarik El-Bashir on Capitals Insider, first from this morning and then later this afternoon... as we all wonder about will the Caps be active here before the trade deadline...