Saturday, October 9, 2010

Saturday Morning Musings ... #1) Best Wishes Go Out To Ondrej Pavelec

Having worked for extensive periods of time in foreign lands away from my friends and family, I'd be extremely self-centered, let alone remiss, if I failed to make my first thoughts on hockey this morning about sending positive thoughts out to Ondrej Pavelec. And of course to his friends and family, one or two of whom at this very moment may well be sitting on an airplane, worrying as they fly over the Atlantic. Hopefully for them all, the hardest days will only be these next few while they are worrying about what happened to Ondrej that caused him to collapse and be unconscious for what seems like is probably well over 30 minutes, and that when his doctors figure out what it is/was he can get better and resume his playing career and life in a manner that is relatively close to the promising career and future he had before last night's episode and ensuing drama. Obviously I don't know him or his family but I share the thoughts and words of his teammates Chris Mason and Dustin Byfuglien, as reported over on Peerless' game recap:

“It was awful. You imagine his family across the sea, they are probably following the game and something like that happens. It must be a helpless feeling. It was tough. To be honest, I had trouble focusing when I first got in there. I couldn’t stop thinking about him.”

“It’s something where you step up and play hard. He wouldn’t have quit working if it happened to someone else. We can’t do the same. We felt bad for him. As a team we had to come together and get the victory for him.”

So as someone who found suffering through a week of a tremendously epic stomach virus while working in a foreign country trying, I can only say that being ill away from home has so many additional reasons to be emotionally as well as physically trying, I will keep Pavlec and his family in my prayers until I hear he is well on the way to recovery. As of this morning the 23 year old Czech is awake and in stable condition in the Atlanta Hospital where he was taken.

As for my other hockey related musings this morning, I find my excitement at going to this evening's Capitals Home Opener decidedly muted by reflections on their performance in Atlanta last night. While I'm probably less critical than some of the other bloggers and blogs on the subject of recapping last night's "No Points Night" in Atlanta, there wasn't much at all to cheer about if you're a Capitals fan. Other than the two Capitals goals and a minute or so on either side of them, I have to agree it was not an enthusiastic return to NHL Regular Season Play, that "our" much loved Capitals brought out to the ice last night. The reason I'm a little less critical than others is that I did see a well coached team, stick to and execute their game plan pretty well last night, the problem for the Capitals is that team was wearing Atlanta Thrasher uniforms. The Thrashers made many moves this past summer, all of which will likely improve the team's performance on the ice for the entire season, not just last night. However, I think the one whose impact was most noticeable last night was bringing in Craig Ramsey as their new head coach. If you watched the game on CSN last night you heard enough about this from Caps color analyst Craig Laughlin, but I do agree with Laughlin that Ramsey's style and approach was very obvious last night and it made a difference in the game. The other thing the Thrashers did last night is they played "team hockey", and IMO they got the benefit of at least one iffy call - I still don't understand how you make the call that resulted in Evander Kane getting that penalty shot, but since you can't tell otherwise from TV angles it's also hard to definitely say the on ice official didn't see something we at home couldn't.

To me, as a Caps fan, the most frustrating thing is that I felt Michal Neuvirth played a very solid game. The problem is I'm not sure the Caps are done with the pre-season yet. Isn't six pre-season games enough to sort out the Defense Pairings and to get the lines settled and some of their timing right? You're probably asking that this morning as you shake your head looking at a box score that reads Atlanta 4 - Washington 2, it's my initial reaction for sure. However, as I reflect and muse on things, I remember that this is really the first game of the year where the Capitals have a settled line-up, so to some degree it's the first time guys can really focus on that, with the possible exception of the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble line. However, even there Backstrom didn't play much in the last week or so of the preseason. So while the Caps went 5-1 in the preseason and Atlanta went 0 and whatever, the Caps success was fueled primarily by the bottom of the depth chart playing hard for roster slots, while the Thrashers lack of success was primarily fueled (IMHO) by them making changes to their "system." So I'm sincere when I say, I'm not sure the Caps are done playing "pre-season" hockey - i.e. experimenting with Defense Pairings and line combinations, etc.

The good news for me is as I muse about tonight's home opener, I feel the same way about where the New Jersey Devils are as a team coming out of the preseason and into the regular season as I do about the Capitals. Because of their own last minute roster manipulations to get under the salary cap, the Devils lineup wasn't finalized and stabilized until a day after the Capitals was. How the Devils managed to take a point away from their game with Dallas in Newark, at "The Rock", last night with all the distractions and weirdness to their roster right now, is beyond me, but they did. So the Deils come into tonight's game 0-0-1 while the Caps come into it 0-1-0. I expect both teams will get up for the game, as both ended the playoffs at about the same time last spring and both weren't happy with how that happened. I'm actually hoping that the Capitals go with the exact same lineup tonight as they did last night in Atlanta. I think if you throw in an ounce or two of energy to that lineup, it will match up very well against this year's Devils team.

As has been noted elsewhere, this year the New Jersey Devils seem to be modifying their "formula" for success in some significant ways. I think that means that this year the Devils won't just be good, they'll also be a fun team to watch play. Whether the changes will also result in them being able to climb further up and/or to the pinnacle of NHL Hockey, remains to be seen. The same can and is said about our Capitals, at least - the NHL Power Rankings have both the Caps and the Devils ranked pretty high right now. Of course the interesting thing to note is that after the first two days of the regular season, Carolina is leading both the League and the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 record.

Speaking of Carolina leading the Eastern Conference in the standings and the Caps loosing last night to the Thrashers, to me the good thing is that I believe that means there are at least 4 good teams out of the 5 in the Southeast Division. That means that the games the Caps have against those SE division opponents will be competitive games to watch. That also means the Capitals are less likely to run away with the Division, let alone the Eastern Conference this season - and that means, to me, the Caps will be better prepared for the playoffs - IF - they make them. Mind you the Caps should make the playoffs this year, but they need to approach the rest of the regular season - all 81 games remaining - like they count, because they do indeed count and the playoffs don't start until AFTER you get into them. We certainly don't want to finish the season in any manner close to what these current bizarre standings look like now do we?

There's no need at all to react to last night's game. I only posted the above image because of how eerily different it is from where my hopes, dreams and expectations were. There is a need to focus on tonight's game and play hard, good, solid hockey. Also if it's not too much to ask, can we see a game that's fun to watch - I mean with the Caps and Devils rosters, it seems like it should also be able to deliver that. I'm thinking the Capitals are more than capable of playing and winning a game that is "all that", this evening.


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