Thursday, November 4, 2010

An Ugly Two Points In November Counts The Same As a Smooth Two Points In March ...

Well last night's Capitals - Maple Leafs game ended with the Caps garnering two points while allowing the Maple Leafs to escape the District of Columbia with one. The game ended during the shootout with Alexander Semin winding up and looking like he was trying to blast the puck with a wicked slap shot through the net in a little sliver of the goal that existed between Jonas "Monster" Gustavsson's left arm and the left goalpost. Semin's final game ending goal came after he tied the game at 4 all on the power play at the 14:22 mark of the third period. I'm not sure what Alexander Ovechkin would actually say about that tying goal by Semin, his seventh of the season, but I'll hazard a guess - "sick, absolutely SICK" - though of course if they were talking to each other it would be the Russian translation of "sick, absolutely, totally SICK, Sasha." Seriously it was the move of the game to me. Semin was able to pull the puck back from behind the goal line just past the right side post and "roof it" under the crossbar in what was literally fractions of a second. As Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was quoted in today's Washington Post "When he scored his goal on the power play, there aren't too many guys in the National Hockey League that have hands like that - that can put it there that quickly."

While it was unfortunate the Caps ever got themselves into a situation that required them to come back and tie the game at 4 after leading 3-1 at the start of the third period, I'm not one of those folks who feels like there was any sort of total let down by the Caps at the start of the third period. It wasn't a total let down, it was a poor reaction to the adjustments made by the Maple Leafs at the intermission and a failure to properly match the intensity of the Leafs at the start of the game's final stanza though that gave Toronto the "room" and opportunities they needed to take the lead with three unanswered goals in 7:17 though. It was also a night where the hockey gods didn't smile on the Capitals young goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Neuvey didn't have a bad game but this was certainly his own worst game in a while. None of the goals scored on him were total failures on his part, and at just 22 years of age giving up three even strength goals and one power play goal to a much improved over last season Toronto Maple Leafs team isn't a bad night. Not at all. It's just that Neuvy's last several games have probably spoiled me. Even with last night's game he is 8-3-0, has a GAA of 2.31 and a SV% of 0.920. Contrast that with last night GAA 4.00 and SV% of 0.857. On a positive note for the season going forward I think last night's game might mean that Caps coach Bruce Boudreau might actually let the NHL's October Rookie of the Month have at least one game off this coming weekend, even if Semyon Varlamov isn't back and healthy. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally down with Nevey and the way he is playing but it is a long season and we are only twelve games into it.

Last night's first star according to the press was Alexander Semin, I couldn't agree more. Semin was awesome, even taking into account his two minor penalties. I can't really complain about the refereeing last night - it was consistent - I mean just as I thought the first slashing penalty called against Semin was weak, I also thought the tripping penalty against Luke Schenn on Ovechkin could have gone either way too. The linesmen on the other hand, in particular Tim Nowak ... well if you're going to call icing like he did on two, not one, but by my count two occasions where Alexander Ovechkin beat the Leafs to the puck, then it may as well be an automatic. In fact, given the potential for what is/are basically often pointless injuries to defensemen because of racing to the puck; I am actually all for no-touch icing as a rule change. Yes last night's game was a showcase for why my first two rule changes if I were able to make them would be: 1) every game is worth three points (Regulation Win = 3 points; OT/SO Win = 2 Points; and OT/SO Loss = 1 point); and 2) No Touch Icing in the NHL just like everywhere else in the ice hockey universe today. So in addition to Alexander Semin, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that last night's #2 Star of the Game was, deservedly, Jason Chimera. I could easily go on as to how well both Chimera and Semin have started this season but I'm choosing to reserve judgement and grading performance trends until at least 25% of the season has been played. That said, last night both Chimera, Semin and Mike Green all had very solid games, as did John Carlson, in my opinion, even though Green finished the evening at -2, he did have 30:20 TOI after all.

The one thing I'd close with relative to commentary on last night's Caps-Maple Leafs game is I had wondered until last night "if the Leafs were for real" this season. They started the season out of the blocks extremely well but have "sputtered" a little of late. That said after watching last night I'm feeling pretty confident in saying they are indeed for real this season. They played pretty well last night and could have won. To be sure, they forced the Capitals to play or attempt to play 60+ minutes and anytime the Caps let up a little, the Maple Leafs were there trying to capitalize on the openings Washington afforded them. The other thing you can get looking at the event summary is that the Leafs are playing as a balanced team - just look at the TOI distribution for them versus the same stats for the Capitals. The Caps need to be able to get more minutes and productive minutes from their third and fourth lines as well as their third defensive pairing then they got last night. The Leaks were playing a full bench last night while the Capitals played a short one, that's why the game went all the way to a shoot out, even though the Capitals had 1:55 of a 4 on 3 man advantage in overtime, in my view.

Well that said two points is two points regardless of whether they are pretty or "gritty" and whether they are obtained in early November or late March. Because of the other action around the league, the Capitals are now tied in points and 1/2 game behind both Tampa Bay and Los Angeles for the lead in the NHL standings. Speaking of which tonight Tampa Bay takes on the Kings in LA that should be a good game to watch, I'm glad I got the Center Ice package...

Elsewhere around the other eight games played in the NHL last night here's what my understanding is of what happened:

Boston @ Buffalo: Bruins 5 - Sabres 2
- Tim Thomas gave up more than one goal against in a game for the first time this season but still skates out of Buffalo with a 7-0-0 start to the season and a league leading 0.720 GAA, a 0.977SV% and 3 shutouts so far this season. The only goaltending category Thomas isn't leading in is Wins, his 7 are one less than Capitals rookie Michal Neuvirth's 8.
- Buffalo gave up two short handed goals in the game, maybe Lindy Ruff would like the option to refuse penalties like you can in football be discussed as a possible rule change?
- The Sabres are now 0-5-1 at home this season.

Pittsburgh @ Dallas: Penguins 2 - Stars 5
- Gotta highlight this hockey fight Sidney Crosby vs. Matt Niskanen. So how's this exchange work - the Penguins loose the services of one of the premiere players in the world and a key to their offense for five minutes while the Stars loose the services of a second pairing d-man for five minutes. How do you guess Dan Bylsma felt about that trade-off?
- The number one "Star" of the game was Loui Ericksson who had two goals and an assist on the night. Both of the twenty five year old Swedish Left Wing's goals were unassisted in that he scored his first on a penalty shot and his second was an even strength unassisted goal.
- Last night's win over Pittsburgh means the Stars are off to a solid 7-4-0 start this season.

Detroit @ Calgary: Red Wings 2 - Flames 1
- Mikka Kiprusoff bounced back from his pasting by the Capitals but it wasn't enough.
- Jimmy Howard's regular season unbeaten streak continues.

Tampa Bay @ Anaheim: Lightning 2 - Ducks 3 (OT)
- Tampa Bay is for real, but even more so than the Maple Leafs.
- Stating the obvious, Stamkos is one of those pretty special players and can make some pretty "sick" moves himself.
- Both Dan Ellis and Jonathan Quick played solid games.
- Selanne to Getzlaf for the game winner in OT, now that's a combo.

New Jersey @ Chicago Devils 5 - Blackhawks 3
- Kovy two assists and looked really good quarterbacking the Devils power play last night.
- Broudeur left the game in the second period with a bruised right elbow but says he will be back in the net next game.
- Hedberg comes in and was victimized for two goals before the Devils battled back.
- Two of the Devils five goals were into an empty net, during the other three when you look at the highlight reel see if you aren't wondering as was I, why Marty Turco was playing so deep in his net at the time.
- The Devils leave the Windy City with a much needed win, does this mean they will start to turn things around? They are now currently 27th out of 30 in the NHL.

Nashville @ Phoenix: Predators 3 - Coyotes 4
- A quick goal by Nashville had the Predators up early.
- The Coyotes battled back and got four goals, all by their blue liners to win the game.
- Three of the four Coyote's goals came off the stick of veteran all-star Ed Jovanovski who got his first career hat trick.

Atlanta @ Florida: Thrashers 4 - Panthers 3
- The Panthers fail to get a point at home despite firing 55 shots on goal.
- For the night Thrashers goaltender Dan Ellis stopped 52 of 55 Panther shots for a SV% of 0.945; Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 19 of 23 for a SV% of 0.826.
- Even though I'd say at least two of the Thrasher goals were gritty, I'd pin this failure to win on the Panther's star goaltender. I'm not saying vetren center Freddy Modin isn't good but Vokoun allowed the 36 year old Swedish winder to put two goals past him and into the twine - including those two goals, Modin has scored just 76 goals in 283 NHL games since the lockout and he's not known as the high scorer he was earlyier in his career, of course much of his post lockout play was in the wide open Ken Hitchcock system in Columbus too... Bottom line is this season for Florida to win, Vokoun needs to play better than he did last night.

New York Islanders @ Carolina: Islanders 2 - Hurricanes 7
- Isles loose their 5th in a row.
- Islander goaltender Rick DiPietro has had much, much better games than he played last night.
- The fast skating Hurricanes went out to a 5-0 lead before the slanders seemed to even start skating with them.
- I'd put the goal by Hurricane's Captain Eric Staal as one of the "prettiest" of the night.

Well there are six games on tap in the NHL tonight. I'll be watching "The Big Bang Theory" - sorry I just love those guys and "she's not bad to look at/watch either - as well as part of the Rangers @ Flyers and Tampa Bay at Los Angeles Kings games. Next up for the Capitals the Bruins return to Verizon Center tomorrow night to take on the Caps for the third time this season. The Caps will be looking to begin to try and split this season's series with the Bruins by besting them for the first time this year. I'll be there for that game as well as Sunday's contest against the Broad Street Bullies.


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