Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hockey Musings - Thursday September 23rd, 2010

Well I didn't get a chance to watch or listen to the Caps first pre-season game against the Blue Jackets last evening, but I did devour the information available this morning and have a few thoughts on things...

So before the more expected musings and storey lines out of last night's Capitals pre-season opener in the Buckeye State, one has to acknowledge the "little engine that could/because an ant can't move a rubber tree plant" storey of the day - namely Free agent Matt Hendricks, formerly with the Colorado Avalanche organization, using last night to make a solid case for a roster spot with a hat trick. It might not happen but with just six pre-season games and a couple of weeks before the season begins, he certainly is making a case for why the Capitals organization might at least want to reward him with one of their 50 available contract slots and a place in Hershey, at least. I mean even though it was only a pre-season game he did score three goals in a game where the Blue Jackets put a team on the ice that included all of their top six forwards and two pretty solid goaltenders. For me it's impossible not to latch on to a storey like this - Matt Hendricks wasn't on any Caps Fan's radars until this morning and now he is.

So what else is news/things to like about last night - Semyon Varlamov's reaction to Michal Neuvirth's contract extension announcement yesterday - just 30:09 of perfect performance, nothing more, nothing less - maybe I will go see him at the Capitals Convention...

Braden Holtby's night wasn't too shabby either - giving up just two goals - one to Rick Nash and one to Nikita Filatov on 19 shots on goal over 29:51 after the Capitals have gone up by a score of 3 - 0; especially given that Nash's tally came right after Holtby entered the game and was still basically cold, is nothing to be ashamed about.

In the "battle" for the second line Center roster spot, Tomas "Flash" Fleischmann ensured everyone is fully aware he has picked up the gauntlet and intends to win the duel. Last night Flash scored twice and had a primary assist in 16:17 TOI. Flash played primarily with Alexander Semin on one wing and at least during his scoring events three other players: Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Matt Hendricks on the other side. Semin had three assists, was + 2 and led all Caps forwards in TOI with 18:12 last evening - including time on both the Power Play and Penalty Kill units. He did end up with two minor penalties, hopefully he gets the majority of those things, especially minors for "Delay of Game - Puck Over the Glass" out of his system now during the Pre-Season. Also, if he and Flash are going to to play together on the second line, I'm all for this approach to the pre-season until the Chemistry between them is ingrained for to both their "muscle memory's" - however long that takes. At the beginning of last season when Semin had it with B-Mo and then during the winning streak when he had it with Flash, this was a different team than when the second line didn't have that as an anchor.

In the battle for the two or three available roster slots on the Caps amongst the six or so possibilities the winners and the losers last night from the stats perspective appear to shake out as follows. W

- Matt Hendricks: 3 goals, +3, 4 SOG, 1 hit on 19 shifts and 14:47 TOI;
- Marcus Johansonn: 2 assists, +2, 1 takeaway, on 20 shifts/16:00 TOI - his only negative last night was he went 5 for 14/36% in the faceoff circle;
- Andrew Gordon: 1 assist, +2, 4 hits, 2 shots on goal, on 19 shifts and 15:44 TOI - his only negative was he had 1 giveaway.
- Cody Eakin: Anytime you score a goal against a quality goal tender and quality opponents at the NHL level, especially when you are really fighting for a spot on a team's AHL level Affiliate, you can only view that as a very good night.

- Mathieu Perrault: Statistically, it was basically an unremarkable evening for MP85, however, the expectations just seem higher for him in a game like this and that's why I put him on the looser side of last night. Right now when fighter for a roster slot on this talent crowded team, if you're not winning, you are by definition loosing ground in your quest for those few available roster slots. Last night, statistically, Perrault wasn't a winner and nobody reporting on the event noted anything positive to make up for that lack of clear positives. His stat line last night: zero points, -1, 6 for 11 (55%) in the faceoff circle; 1 SOG, 1 takeaway, in 18 shifts and 14:54 TOI - like I said, unremarkable.
- Kyle Greentree: Not much on his stat line for 17 shifts and 12:24, besides with a Prime Number like 43 for a Jersey Number, isn't he destined to find himself playing in the "A" at the start of this season?

To be clear the only definition and difference between winning and losing in the category above is the answer to the question: "Did this player do anything last night to proactively make cutting him/sending him to the minors a harder decision?" The answer choices are digital, either: yes, or any other answer.

Of the blue line corps my take on who had good nights/bad nights - it doesn't look to me like anybody had a bad night nor does it look to me like anybody did anything to move up or down the depth chart.

Interestingly the Caps didn't play any of the "young guns" except Alexander Semin, I think that's a good sign. I already indicated why I would play Semin, as far as the other guys and the other clear opening night roster guys like Mike Knuble, Matt Bradley, etc who didn't play, I'm all for that. The other guys, the guys who did play need the TOI against opposition outside the organization to have a chance to show the staff what they can and will do. I don't think the others need the pre-season time until the last three pre-season games to get their timing, etc. fine tuned.

Last night didn't do much else other than continue to validate just how deep the Capitals organization is currently.

Of course in other Capitals news yesterday the Organization signed contract extensions with Goaltender Michal Neuvirth and Defenseman Tom Poti. If the available information is accurate relative to terms: Poti - 2 years (through the 2012-2013 season with a cap hit of $2.875M/year; Neuvirth - 2 years (through the 2012-2013 season with a cap hit of 1.15M/year); then these seem like smart moves/good signings for the Caps to me. I know some might argue but signing a solid NHL level top 4 D-Man who has been and is likely to play ATOI 20:00/game and play solid special teams for under $3M of Cap Hit seems like a smart thing for a GM to do. Besides, take a look at the pic with this post and recognize that Poti played several playoff games looking like this in 2009 for the Capitals, then tell me the guy doesn't have "grit." As for Neuvirth, here's a guy with nothing left to learn at the AHL level, a proven winner, with solid skills, and nothing but upside - signing him for a cap hit of $1.15M seems like another smart move, even though he only has 22 games of experience at the NHL level of play.

Well what's next for the Caps? Training Camp and the pre-season continues ....


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