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.


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