Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More Playoff Musings and A Few Caps Musings As Well....

Well about last night....

1) Canadiens 4 - Penguins 3. If you're a Caps fan, you are probably heartened by the fact that Montreal played great last night and have again forced one of the best teams in hockey this season to a game 7. I know I was hapopy about it, a) it was a fun game to watch, and b) well, it's petty, but the Penguins lost. Seriously, the Canadiens won last night's game, the Penguins didn't loose and they did it the way they beat the Caps in the first round of the playoffs this year. The three stars of the game tell the story: 1) Mik Cammalleri - 2 goals, 5 SOG, +2, oh and it seemed every one of his 27 shifts on the ice he gave himself a chance to make an impact; 2) Jaoslav Spacek - you read that one right, 1 goal, 2 SOG, +1, oh and 3 blocked shots; 3) Jaroslav Halak - SV% 0.919 including as has become usual when the Habs win, some really clutch ones. Mark's honorable mention - Josh Gorges with 6 blocked shots and Hal Gill who seemed to draw the most time against the Penguins when both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby were on the ice together. A clearly driven and determined Crosby was held to 1 goal and 1 assist (+1) while Malkin was pointless and -1 on the night. Assuming this series continues the way it has for the first 6 games, the only prediction I'm willing to make for Wednesday's game 7 is it's going to be a really good game to watch.

2) Flyers 4 - Boston 0. Yes you read that right. Boston had a chance to end the series in 5 games at home in TD Garden last night. If you're a Bruins fan, you are probably shaking your head today, hell, if you're a Flyers fan you are probably doing so as well. At the conclusion of last night's game, the Flyers once again had a different goaltender in net than started the series and the game. Once again this season, a Flyers goaltender was injured and taken out of the game in a hockey injury that will no doubt be shown countless times on NHL Network, and at least twice on ESPN's SportsCenter. Early in the second period, with the Flyers clinging to a 1-0 lead, Bruins Center Marc Savard looking to create some momentum for his team, charged hard to the net and generated a quality scoring chance which Flyer Goalie Brian Boucher stopped but then ended up bending completely backward, pinning his own left leg beneath his body. In typical playoff fashion, Bruin Winger Miro Satan was battling just in front of the net with Flyer Defenseman Ryan Parent to be there for any rebound (there was none) and they toppled into Boucher. I didn't watch the game but I've watched the replay several times and well ... OUCH! Clean play, tough, tough break for the Flyers, according to the recap on NHL.Com Boucher will undergo an MRI today and probably be out a couple of weeks. Speaking of Flyers' goaltenders who are or have been out a couple of weeks, in another weird storyline to the 2010 playoffs, Flyer goaltender Michael Leighton was on the Flyer bench last night as backup after returning from being out a couple weeks with a high ankle sprain. Leighton came in for the injured Boucher and stopped all 14 shots on goal he faced, giving the Boucher/Leighton pair a combined shutout of the Bruins. Meanwhile in front of Boucher/Leighton, the Flyers played a very solid game and put up four goals to the Bruins ... none ... to make the series 3-2 Bruins and heading back to Philly for game 6 on Wednesday evening. So another pretty exciting hockey game with interesting story lines to follow.

All things considered, nah I won't say it till or even think it any more until Thursday morning...

Some's Cap's musings. Last week Homer McFan Boy posed five questions, he believes the Caps must answer this off season/coming season. Here's my answers and thoughts to those five questions.

1) Does Alex Ovechkin need to change? After the Canadiens series, Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges was quoted as saying Ovechkin has become predictable: "When he's coming in off wing, he'll try to step to the middle and shoot through you, you can bait him into that." Well to a guy who sits in Section 103 for so many home games, that's really not news. Other than agreeing with Homer that Hal Gill's comments in the same interview prove, Gill isn't the fastest guy on his feet in an interview, there's not much to say about the predictability of that move. It is indeed patented Ovechkin and he does use it a lot. Surely in a seven game series Gill, Jorges, Markov, and Spacek all came to know it was coming. The difference to m e this past series is for games 1 through 6, Ovie wasn't as physical as he has been in the past. Further, unlike during the regular season, the rest of the Canadiens also were glued to there men like white on rice - give the Canadiens team defense their due. Through all 13 of the playoff games the Canadiens been in so far this season, except for maybe game 1 against the Penguins, the Canadiens team defense has been in my estimation, truly exceptional. What did that mean, well, if as they often did, Gorges and/or Gill had played and maintained solid position on Ovechkin, since he didn't usually have an open guy to pass to, he was left with nothing else that made sense, given his fast paced north-south game, but to try to use the defender as a screen. The other thing that Gorges in particular, did well it seems to me is he forced Ovechkin to do that move 5-7 feet further out from the net than he usually does during the regular season. Given the way Halak has been playing a seeing the puck, the combination was "relatively"effective. I say "relatively" in quotes because even with all that great read on Ovechkin he did manage to score 10 points (5 goals and 5 assists) in a seven game series, though in the interest of full disclosure, we do have to admit, he was held to just 1 goal and 1 assist in the final three games of the series. So does Ovechkin need to change, sure a little, but the truth is when Bruce Boudreau and company watch those tapes other adjustments will need to be made by the other four players who are going to be on the ice with Ovie in the future as well. I say this because the Caps coaching staff won't be the only ones watching how Jacques Martin and the Canadiens approached playing the Capitals. Oh and after last night, ditto on how they approached and played the Penguins, regardless of who wins that game 7.

2) Are Semin and/or Green part of the problem or the solution? This is such a dumb question, further I couldn't disagree more with Homer's conclusion. I have to ask, why do people think Alexander Semin is "a head case"? What has he done to cause this reaction. I watch him, he is supremely talented. Each year he gets better and better. Each year he matures and makes fewer foolish mistakes, takes fewer foolish penalties and becomes a more complete hockey player. His stick handling and puck management skills are clearly some of the best in the world today. From my perspective, when I see Semin make a mistake most of the time now, the thought that goes through my mind is: "That would have worked if the guy you were trying to get the puck to was yourself, Ovechkin, or Backstrom, Alexander but it was ...." To be fair often those plays do work out if the name is also either Fehr, Green or Laich as well, anybody else and if Semin doesn't think the play through and gear down his creativity the other Capital he's trying to get the puck to is a step behind. The issue to me isn't and hasn't been that Semin is a head case, it's that the Capitals haven't had the right pivot man for the second line. I thought that Brendan Morrison might be it, and frankly if the Caps could resign him and he could stay healthy all year he might be the right pivot in the middle of a second line between Laich and Semin. Anotherpossibility in my mind is to make Laich the pivot of the second line and move Semin to left wing with Fehr on the right side. So to me clearly Semin is part of the answer/solution. pushing off/dealing the 13th highest scoring player in the league for a defender who doesn't fit at all with the system the Capitals are playing and will likely continue to play just doesn't make sense. Further, I don't think Semin has a problem or issue going to the net when it makes sense to do so and if he's on a line with Fehr and Laich two guys who do that routinely, there will be someone there to pick up his loose change and increase the 44 assists he had this past season.

Mike Green will be 25 in October this year. He is already an All Star, and Norris finalist who is compared to and categorized with the best guys at his position. So yeah, I think he's part of the solution/answer going forward for sure. By the way Homer, interesting points you make in your defense of Green and Boudreau, did you happen to notice when you were examining and criticizing Alexander Semin that he's only 26? Seriously, this question will be asked and debated relative to both these guys by we DC Metro sports fanatics since as Homer points out, the Redskins have picked up Donavan McNabb and we can't focus on Jason Campbell, and since Semin and Green are both highly paid athletes, fans will feel it's only right and fair to be overly critical of them. However, I contend neither Green or Semin would have a hard time at getting another NHL team to give them similar contracts that pay them like salaries to what the Caps are currently giving them tomorrow. Further they know the Caps system and their teammates and they are both getting better and maturing every year as hockey players.

3) Who will play Center? That will be Bruce Boudreau's decision but as I alluded to above here's who I'd use/play as Centers: first line: Nicklas Backstrom (who will get a big raise this off season and is the best available RFA at this and possibly any position this off season); second line - I'd either resign Brendan Morrison and I don't think the Caps will do that or move Brooks Laich over to Center the Second Line; third line: either David Steckel or resign Eric Belanger; fourth line: either David Steckel or Boyd Gordon. What about Fleischmann - he's either a wing or someone I consider trading this off season. I don't think the "experiment" with him as a pivot worked in critical times, he was caught out of position too often at those critical junctures.

4) Who is in net opening night next season? This is probably Homer's best question and discussion item in his post. I basically agree and have the same thoughts and questions as Homer does on this point. I'll go further, I would have started Jose Theodore in game 7 against the Habs after Varly's game 6 showing. In game 6 and 7 Varly had a SV% of less than 0.900 so that's why I feel Homer's points and questions are right on. Further, while there is no doubt the right decision was made as to pulling Theodore in game 2 after his 2 goals on 2 SOG, if he had been given the start in game 7 we'd know the answer to this question. Now, perhaps he didn't look good in practice between games or something else but I'm left wondering what he might have done in game 7. Clearly Varly played well enough in game 5 for the Caps to win, if Halak hadn't been super-human on that night, but game 6, not so much. In the end, though unless Theodore is ready to take a pay cut, I don't see the Capitals resigning him, though they could for 1 year; I also don't see him taking a one year deal. That said if you were and NHL GM and going to make a hard run at an RFA or UFA goaltender this off-season, you'd have to look at Jaroslav Halak as well as Carey Price, Michael Leighton, Dan Ellis and possibly Chris Mason, Vesa Toskla and Evegeni Nabakov, if you are willing to spend some real money for the position in addition to Theodore. So who knows given the numerous UFA and RFA goaltenders available maybe Theo will be willing to take a pay cut and come back to the Caps. He's certainly proven to be a great teammate and when he's on, he's still one of the best around. All that said, my guess at the answer to the question is Semyon Varlamov.

5) After such heartbreak, will Caps fans turn their backs on the team? Like Homer, I agree - dumb question, since it's phrased "Will Caps fans..." However, the lack of any further meaningful coverage of the rest of the NHL playoffs in the local MSM since the Caps were eliminated also makes it really fair to point out that this is a reason why the discussion of "Is DC a hockey town?" pretty silly too. Of course with rare exceptions there really aren't any true "hockey towns" in the United States by that measure except for perhaps Detroit. What not New York you ask. Well when you have multiple Daily Newspapers for the print media and a population of 12,000,000+ it's hared not to have a reasonable fan base however I respectfuly submit a comparison to the total MSM coverage of the Rangers, Devils and Islanders combined doesn't equal either any of the following individual teams: Yankees, Giants, Mets, or Jets. As such, while both the Devils and the Rangers have solid fan bases, it's hard to call NYC a hockey town. As for Pittsburgh - ditto the Steelers vs. Pens but they are closer. As for Philly, while the Flyers have a rabid fan base, I grew up in Philly, playing hockey and was there for the Broad Street Bullies era - lots of folks in Philly love the Flyers but they are a distant third in the citizens of the City of Brotherly Love's hearts to the Eagles and the Phillies, and likely always will be. All that said, I expect the series of sellouts to continue at Verizon Center for the foreseeable future and DC now, once again, has a solid fan base for the Capitals.

Is it September yet?

1 comment:

Diane said...

Good post, Mark. You made many good points. While Semin and Green didn't have a good playoff series, getting rid of either of them would be very foolish, in my estimation. Agree with your points.

On a center. Morrison was the best of the alternatives last year but I figure they'll either sign a free agent or try out Matty P.

Goalies. I assume they'll go with the kids, with Varly as 1A and Neuvy as 1B. Holtby will be at Hershey but brought back if injuries happen. At the end of next year, the decision for the #1 goalie of the long tern will likely be made.