Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Caps 3 - Canadeans 0: If Bruce Boudreau Could ...

Caps 3 - Canadiens 0: If Bruce Boudreau could bottle this game and replicate it as an elixir, I bet he would be doing so this morning. First let me say despite the final score, and despite the fact that for Caps fans this was, by and large, a fun game to watch; there was one glaring short-coming ALL night long: the officiating was awful, and worse yet the officials were involved in things that affected the outcome and flow of the game even when they didn't have to be so. I'm not saying all the calls went one way or the other, they did not - both teams "got screwed", in my view evenly so or close to it. I just think that a professional sports league, especially one which is the highest level of it's sport, or at least purports to be so, can and should, do better. More on that, maybe, later in this post. For now let's get to the good, the exciting and even probably a little of the bad from last night.

Coaching and Preparation: Grade A. First let me say I saw two things from the Capitals Coach and his staff I haven't noticed all that much before (doesn't mean they weren't there, I just really never noticed them much before) that were really good and really worked out. First thing was the basic relatively calm and reasoned reaction to what was likely the worst call all night if not one of the worst so far this year - the wash out of the goal by David Steckel in the first period. Trust me when I say I certainly didn't think this was the right move by Gabby when he did it and I was going apoplectic because it was such a bad call. Apparently though the ref whistled the play dead because he lost sight of the puck and that's not a reviewable call or certainly the hardest one to get a reversal on anyway. That said: the whistle was way too fast, and if that was how the NHL Officials usually handled this situation, there would be A LOT FEWER goals through goaltender's 5-holes by guys right on the doorstep. In any case, Boudreau and the Caps merely and rightly requested an explanation and when they got it they didn't unduly delay the game, get flustered, or distracted bay it. Instead they quickly went back to work and in short order got their second goal of the night when Mike Green joined the rush and nailed a beautiful laser fast wrister past Carey Price at the 19:22 mark of the first period. The second thing that Boudreau did that frankly shocked and totally delighted me was when with about 2:00 left in the game he called a timeout. I'm sitting there, probably like most of the crowd wondering why with just 2:00 left in the game, a 2 goal lead, and the Caps playing well, their coach called a timeout. Then after the timeout, the Caps come out on the ice and immediately start playing a 1-4 trap, regardless of who they have out on the ice. That was beautiful to see, to see this ultra-talented team full of offensive powerhouses, play a 1-4 trap in a manner that would make Claude Lemiuex and/or Claude Julian happy. They were playing for the shutout for their goaltender who had played very well all night. They were just making sure they were ready for the inevitable offensive push from the Canadiens which came less than 20 seconds later when they pulled Carey Price. Best of all both coach and team were rewarded for this solid, smart play when at the 19:28 mark of the period, Team Captain Alex Ovechkin, got the empty net goal to put the Caps up by the final score of 3-0. Folks, if anybody tells you at any point between now and whenever this season ends that this Coaching staff has lost this team, pull out a video of the last three minutes of this game to show them just how absolutely wrong they probably are no matter what happens between now and then.

Offensive Game Plan & Execution: Grade B+. Bottom lines here are: i) everyone was part of the offensive game both 1st and 2nd lines as well as 3rd & 4th lines and the Blueliners. Despite the relatively low score and the fact the Caps only scored the single empty netter after the first period, they kept the pressure up all night long. The forechecking was relentless well over 55 of the 60 minutes of play. Were it not for a quick whistle in addition to call-up Jay Beagle's excellent goal to start out the night's scoring that was the result of simple, straight forward play and hard work the first period would have included two goals that are the kind of goals you really want to see if you think you are trying to get ready for the playoffs. Beagle's goal and Steckel's disallowed tally were the result of players going where they need to go and being willing to pay the price to score, plain and simple. I guess in addition to feeling the washout of Steckel's goal was a horrible call, another reason I was so upset with the call, is because it would have been Steckel's second goal in as many games - I haven't looked but has he scored in back to back games as a Cap anytime before that? The first and second lines played very well, Mike Green's goal was the result of a blue liner activating and joining the rush the way he should and when he should. As far as putting real pressure on the opposing goaltender and getting solid offensive zone time, this was one of the best games I've seen, especially five on five. Top 2 Lines: Ovechkin, Semin, Knuble, Laich, and Backstrom all had very good nights - Backstrom was 83% in the faceoff circle. Call-up Kieth Aucoin did well filling in for the injured MP85 and MoJo90 as the second line pivot. From the third and fourth lines, the performance and contributions were great from where I sat and now post-game looking over the statistics. Jay Beagle was a truly noticeable presence in the game, in a good way - all night long. David Steckel also solid all night long - in every facet of his game. Eric Fehr +2 on the night and involved in the game in every way on every shift. Matt Hendricks didn't let a weak call against him just 0:23 into the game affect his game one negative iota and was his usual solid self. Jason Chimera was +2 on the night and chased down two pucks to nullify icing calls that helped keep pressure on the Habs and give the Caps more offensive zone time. Andrew Gordon played a solid all be it relatively unremarkable game last night after being much more noticeable in the last game, that combined with the fact that if he played two more games here in DC he'd have to pass through waivers were probably while he was sent back down to Hershey. That said A. Gordon and Jay Beagle's play of late has to be keeping everyone on the Caps roster on their toes.

Defensive Game: Grade A (it was a shutout) : So ice time leaders among the Caps Blue liners last night were: Mike Green - 28:19 TOI (4:56 SH and 11:49 PP); and John Carlson 22:13 (14:32 EV). Carlson was usually on the ice with Karl Alzner (18:13 TOI, 14:01 EV). Last night was Jeff Schultz' return to the ice from injury. #55 played 13:16 TOI (2:07 SH) and was generally paired with John Erskine. Schultz was the only defenseman who wasn't in the + column, finishing the night +/- even. Green was +2 and all the rest of the blue liners were +1 on the night. Any night you are playing the "Flying Frenchmen" and you only see Brian Gionta and/or Mike Cammelari get free and skate in on your goaltender unencumbered a few times and with either a blueliner or backchecking forward in close enough pursuit there isn't any real threat from a follow-up on the initial shot is a good night defensively in my book. Also it seemed to me that Mike Green had more than the one blocked shot and had at least one hit last night but apparently not so per the score sheet. By the way, I don't think you should penalize or reduce your opinion of a guy's defensive abilities just because he also happens to be a great skater and have a great shot too. Green had an excellent night last evening and his pairing with Scott Hannan during the shifts when Hannan joined him were really, really solid - Nice to see.

Goaltending: Grade A (it was a shutout). Semyon Varlomov was 25 for 25 and "pitched a perfect game". He seemed a lot calmer and more comfortable in the net than he did against Carolina the other night as well. The Canadiens had enough real scoring chances that you can't say Varly didn't earn the shutout, he did. By comparison, Carey Price was 27 for 29 and had a solid night as well, though not well enough to steal his 20th win of the season off the Caps at home.

Special Teams - Penalty Kill: Grade B+. The Canadiens had 8:30 TOI with a man advantage during five power play opportunities. Despite that large amount of time, from my perspective their best scoring chances came 5 on 5. At no time did they really threaten to score for extended periods and during really extended zone time. In fact there was only one of the five power pays where they seemed to get any extended zone time. During these time periods it's hard to say who in addition to Varly was the best penalty killer. Not because there weren't any others but rather because pretty much everybody did a very good job on the penalty kill.

Special Teams - Power Play: Grade F. The only special team on the ice last night worse than the Canadiens' power play was the Capitals' power play. It was the only aspect of last night's game that the Capitals didn't execute well. To be fair there is no doubt in my mind that Carey Price was his team's best penalty killer but the Capitals 7 times including a 4:00 double minor for a total of 14:27 of ice time. That's 24% of the game. To have that much power play time and not get at least one goal is just not good enough so you can't really even give the power play anything but an F. I don't know what the answer is to get the Capitals power play back on track but I do have faith in this coaching staff and team to figure it out or die trying and when they do, these guys will work their butts off to effectively change things and start scoring more power play goals again. That said until they do that, there's always a risk they won't win games without every other aspect of their game being as good as they were last night.

Next up is the Penguins in the Winter Classic. I'll be there with Wingman and we'll both be very psych'ed.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jaded? ... I'd Say Yes We Caps Fans Have Become Jaded and That Might Not Be All Bad ...

On Sunday evening the Capitals bested the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh by a score of 3-2 in regulation. It was an excellent game, the goaltending at both ends was very good. Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin had a multi-point game, a goal (his first in 9 games) and an assist and was a visible presence and team leader all night long. Mathieu Perrault had a goal and got his nose broken in spectacular fashion in just 5 shifts and 3:19 TOI. David Steckel, "the defensive forward", scored a goal, went 11 for 16 in the face off circle and was another force to be reckoned, probably reminding the Hurricanes of their former Captain Rod BrinD'amor during his 25 shifts on the ice. Both Karl Alzner and Scott Hannan looked like the "stopper defenseman" we Caps fans have been looking for in prior games this season - Alzner had four hits tied with John Erskine for the team lead this game in that statistic. The Caps came away with two points and for the first time in over 12 seasons, they have swept the Carolina Hurricanes at home - 3 games, 3 Caps victories. Yesterday's Washington Post, despite a Redskins Win the same day, had the Caps coverage above the fold - on a Monday during football season. All that and yet the follow-up to the game around town and the blogsphere is very muted. Probably because despite all those things, we Caps fans know it is only December and their's no huge reason to get overly excited about any one game or event during the long NHL regular season, as long as your team is on track to make the playoffs and this Washington Capitals Team is that. Or it could be that despite all that we know, the Washington Capitals will close out this month with an under 0.500 record for the month for the first time in 21 months and that means our expectations are basically as close to out of control when it comes to expecting a lot from the team we root for and it's stars as one can get without being ridiculous. In that I think the fan base is no better or worse than this young team is when it comes to what they expect of themselves. More on that thought later.

Tonight, the Montreal Canadeans come to town and the two teams meet for the first time since last spring when the Canadeans beat the Capitals in the playoffs. The Caps come into the game with a 3-4-3 record in their last 10 outings, not having won a game in regulation at home in their last six opportunities, and finding themselves not holding onto the top spot in their Division for a period of over a couple of days for the first time in a long time. The Canadeans come into the game with a4-6-0 record in their last 10 games and coming off a loss immediately after a blizzard in front of a sparsely populated building on Long Island; and having just dropped out of first place in the Northeast Division for the first time in a while this season. In short, both teams are good teams, who find themselves in less than entirely familiar or comfortable situations - in other words, last season aside, both these teams are motivated and should come out firing on all cylinders tonight.

Unfortunately to some degree, for both teams, no matter what happens we fans, and likely the teams themselves, won't be all that happy. In the case of both teams, the expectations are high - and that's okay. Both teams are talented and want to take the next step in their development, and in both cases that is at least a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals this year, so don't be surprised if you see a lot of grit and determination on both sides of the face off circles tonight. That said, in order to make it through an 82 game regular season and the four rounds of playoffs required to attain the ultimate prize in hockey, it's also not wrong or ill advised to find and take at least a little joy in the intermediate goal accomplishments and individual game victories along the way; and it helps to maintain both perspective and sanity for my two cents worth. It's okay to be happy as long as we don't get satisfied. It's okay to be pleased with a good play, check, or game as long as it in no way modulates the "fire in the belly" needed to stay the course and drive to the final - ultimate goal.

Tonight's game is the Capital's chance to finish the month of December with a 5-6-3 record for the month, that would feel a lot better than either a 4-6-4 or 4-7-3 record and it would also mean the Caps are well on their way to regaining the form they had during the months of October and November. In any case, they are now in a three way battle for their division and they are battling an in Conference opponent who is battling for their division lead as well. This is a game that could well matter on a multitude of levels when April rolls around and we all look at the playoff teams and seeding. I'll be there and I''l be psych'ed as always - how about y'all?


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Well It's Time For Hockey To Resume After the Christmas Break And ...

Good afternoon to all who are reading this blog, and if you are reading this blog you too are probably itching for the NHL to resume play tonight. Thankfully, there will be eleven (11) games played around the NHL tonight and two of them are Southeast Division match-ups: Caps - 'Canes in Raleigh, NC and Tampa Bay at Atlanta. The only Southeast Division team not in action tonight is the Florida Panthers who don't return to action until tomorrow when they host the Boston Bruins. Of course tonight's games mean the Capitals can recapture first place in the Division from Tampa Bay assuming the Caps win and the Thrashers manage to provide inhospitable environs to the Lightning and send them home with less than two points.

The two Southeast Division contests tonight might also provide a benchmark as to whether the Division can truly become a viable, exciting Division to watch in the NHL. Only two points separate the first place Lightning from the third place Thrashers as we approach the mid-point of the season; and while the "streaky" fourth place Carolina Hurricanes are nine (7) points behind the third place Atlanta Thrashers, they continue to demonstrate the ability to play with any other team in the league. As such it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the Hurricanes could put together a good streak over the next six weeks and also find themselves in the hunt for the playoffs. Finally, to a lesser degree, the same can be said of the fifth place Florida Panthers who are but two points behind the Hurricanes. Also worth noting is that the both the Hurricanes and the Panthers have four (4) games in hand on both Washington and Atlanta and two (2) games in hand on Tampa Bay. It's all just further evidence that the Southeast Division is no longer the weakest division in the league. It also means that the hockey being played between so called "division rivals" is now an excellent sports entertainment product and with two games that have implications in the current standings on a holiday weekend, league watchers will no doubt be looking at the paid attendance at both these games to gauge the current health and longer term viability of the sport in the Atlanta and Raleigh-Durham markets. Of course that thought/statement also doesn't take into account an uncooperative Mother Nature.

Personally, I think this season is one that will begin to validate the efforts of the NHL to expand the appeal of the sport to the broader US markets in general and the Southeast, in particular. So I'm looking forward to seeing two well subscribed games tonight. I'm also hopefully optimistic that the Capitals will come off their Christmas "break" and capture two points tonight playing a grittier style of hockey than the Hurricanes have seen them play for quite some time. That said there continue to be some challenges for the Capitals coming in to tonight's game. On the sick and injured front, Matt Hendricks and Tom Poti are listed as questionable and Tyler Sloan (groin), DJ King (undisclosed), Jeff Schultz (thumb), Boyd Gordon (lower body), and Matt Bradley (finger) are all on Inured Reserve. Reports are that Michal Neuvirth was the first goaltender off the ice at this morning's practice skate so it appears he will be in net at the start of tonight's game. No reports as to what the lineup will look like relative to lines and defensive pairings but I'm going to guess the pairings will be: 52 - 23; 27 - 74; 4 - 21. Yep you got that right, I'm thinking with Poti and Sloan out and no word of Brian Fahey being called up, Brooks Laich will be on the blue line for the Capitals. If he's not, well somebody else you and I don't normally see line up there will be. That likely means the second and third lines will also be jumbled and the Capitals will need a solid. smart game from all the forwards but from Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Knuble, Johansson and Perreault in particular. Welcome to the future MP85 and MoJo90 - now it's your time.

With the injuries and other recent challenges that the Capitals have been having, in particular the drop in offensive production from their stars: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and Green, tonight might be the best chance the Hurricanes have at turning around this season's results when they face the Capitals. Tonight's meeting is the fourth between the two teams this season and so far Washington is 3-0 to Carolina's 0-2-1 record. If the Capitals win tonight it will be the first time since the 1997-98 season that the Capitals have swept their road games with Carolina. Given the Hurricanes' last tilt with the Capitals ended in a 3-2 shootout victory by Washington at DC's Verizon Center, I'm not expecting tonight's game to be an easy one for the Capitals to win. In addition to the fact that the Capitals are a little more banged up than the Hurricanes, forward Jiri Tlusty (arm) is the only Canes player out with an injury; is that fact that today's pre-game routine is different than most road games. Teams can’t travel on Christmas Day, so the standard practice of arriving in a road city the night before a game is out the window. That means the Caps flew out to Raleigh-Durham from Dulles this morning and into the unusual wintry conditions - see the picture out the window from Sergey Kocharov's twitter post when they landed here. They then bused directly to their morning practice and are in a city that is pretty paralyzed by the current conditions so actual attendance might be affected (the same goes for Atlanta too I suspect, though less so).

The last variable to whether the game will go as planned is this item - seems the officials are having difficulty getting there too according to Kukula's Korner. You can also see the anticipated line combinations for the Hurricanes recently juggled lines in the post as well. Somehow I think the NHL will find a way to get officials to RBC Center in time for the game, and if they don't I say who cares with the way some of the calls and officiating has been this year in the NHL, if the planned officials don't get there in time, there has to be a good set of officials from a "beer league" in and around the North Carolina State Capital who could give it a shot.

Well I'm thinking that this might be the game where Backstrom and Ovechkin get their scoring touch back. It's also going to have to happen for the Caps to control the game and win - Nicklas Backstrom has scored four of the eight goals the Caps have scored against the Canes this season. I also expect the Hurricanes to play Mike Green in a similar fashion to the way Pittsburgh did - very physically. However, I think Green is ready for it after the 34+ minutes of ice time against a Penguins team who never, ever missed an opportunity to hit him all night long on last Thursday night. The Caps also need another solid game from recent pickup Scott Hannan and I expect they will get it. So you can see, assuming this game is played tonight, it should be a battle and a good one to watch. The Capitals are working to get back on track, knowing that this month - December 2010 - will be the first sub 0.500 month after 21 months of playing over 0.500 hockey, so they will be working hard to close out their remaining two games this month with four standings points. The Hurricanes are in ninth (9th) place in the Eastern Conference and looking to start the after Christmas, pre-All Star Game portion of the season with their first win of the season over the Capitals. The desire and drive to win will therefore likely be there for both teams. So even if the crowd is small, the building and environs are cooler and snowy than usual in North Carolina, and the officials a little off their usual top form due to late arrival, this should be a good game to watch and with a few bonces going their way a Capitals victory.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Wow - That Was A Game Worth Watching ... Penguins 3 - Capitals 2 (SO)

Well last night the red hot Pittsburgh Penguins came to DC to take on the rejuvenated Washington Capitals for their first of four regular season games this NHL Season. The game was well anticipated by fans of both teams, as just next week these two teams will meet outdoors in the NHL's Winter Classic, at Heinz Field, in Pittsburgh on New Year's Day. I wasn't at the game as I had donated the tickets to our seats to a raffle that was part of a charity golf event earlier this past summer. Wingman and I also id an act of kindness last night and took a donated Christmas Tree to a family in need who didn't have one and stopped for dinner on the way home so I watched the first period at a restaurant in the area from a less than excellent vantage point. I was home in my usual seat in front of CSN HD to watch the full 2nd, 3rd, OT, and all 7 rounds of the shoot out it took to decide last night's game though.

So let me say this at least as far as the Washington Capitals 37 games played so far this season, last night's was probably the best game to have watched and one of the most, if not the most exciting to have watched. Sure it was and will be extremely heavily "hyp'ed" as a lead up to the Winter Classic, which is actually nothing more or less than another regular season game for two points, that just happens to be played outside on New Year's Day. However here's what it also was:

1) The first of four regular season games between two teams, at least one of which - if not both, who will likely be very well entrenched right in the middle of the road to the Stanley Cup this summer.

2) A game that had implications for the current standings in two Eastern Conference Divisions. The result of last night's game along with the results of the Lightning - Rangers and the Thrashers - Bruins Games mean the Penguins are the first team in the NHL to reach the 50 point mark and they have taken over first place in the NHL, Eastern Conference and the Atlantic DIvision from the Philadelphia Flyers who have "just" 49 points in 35 games played. It also means that the Capitals, who as a result of their less than desired December so far are in a battle for the Southeast Division with Tampa Bay and Atlanta, dropped from first in the Southeast to second and Tampa Bay who has the same 45 regular season points as the Capitals in two less games played is now in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference and 1st place in the Southeast Division Standings. The Capitals drop to 5th in the Conference and 2nd in the Division. The truth is none of that is all that much worth getting excited about just yet, the Salary Cap is now mature in the NHL and parity is being achieved. That means the regular season battles, at least in both Conference will matter for the foreseeable future. It also means the position the teams are in the standings will jostle regularly for at least the next month because in the case of the Eastern Conference the distance between first place and eighth place is just 10 points and in the case of the teams currently in 9th through 12th if any of them get hot and put together say a 6 game winning streak, between now and mid-February, they too would be in the hunt for a playoff spot. In the Western Conference things are even tighter, as we approach mid-season the distance between 1st and 13th is just 10 points and the distance between 5th and 13th is just six (6) points or three games - with over half a season to play. So yeah, every game counts, and I'm pretty sure that's what the goal was with the salary cap - parity. So why doesn't every game count the same amount of points in the standings, again. Hold onto that thought please, I'll be revisiting it. In the mean just take a look at these standings after last night's game:

If you are looking for a great game recap then stop reading this blogpost and go over to read The Peerless' here - it has it all and I'm not going to rehash it here. The fact is I've come to terms long ago knowing that there are folks who are just plain better writers in the world then me. Here in the Blogsphere in general and in the community of bloggers that discuss the Washington Capitals my favorite is The Peerless, to me he's aptly named, and his post after the last game is one of his best. A close second for best recap, at least in my estimation, of last night's game goes to Becca over at Japer's Rink for this effort. Of note, Garret over at Puckhead's Thoughts points out in his recap that Jay Beagle also had a good outing even though he's not overly prominent on the score sheet - I just want to say I agree. If you really like to see a guy like Matt Cooke, or more specifically the actual Matt Cooke, have a bad night and get a strange, but mandatory delay of game penalty at a most inopportune time, then go here and watch his 185 foot clearing attempt out of the rink and into the stands from last evening. Thanks Matt, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, I wonder how many people have copied this link and sent it to Marc Savard...

So no I'm not doing a gamer but I will add a few musings about last night's game, that I don't think have been included in other folks thoughts and bloggings this morning.

1) This was a great hockey game and as I noted it had implications in the standings. As will many other games the rest of the way between now and the end of the season. So two questions occur to me. a) Why doesn't every game count for the same number of points. Last night alone there were 13 games played in the NHL, this being one of them; in four of the thirteen or 30.7% of those games a total of three (3) points were awarded to the participants, while in the remaining majority of them only two (2) points were awarded. I've posted numerous musings on how illogical this is to me. After last night I feel even stronger on the subject. Here's my suggested BETTER, MORE LOGICAL alternatives to the current way of doing things in the NHL.

First of all, no matter what, I think the skills competition/shoot out needs to be done away with. Just watch the shootouts that decided last night's Capitals-Penguins and/or Lightning-Rangers Games and tell me that you feel one or the other team really bested the other in the game based on that shoot out, I mean why don't they just roll out some nets and play a game of HORSE on skates with the Captain of each team being the shooter to see who gets "the gimmick point"?

Second, fine if you don't like my feeling that EVERY game should be worth three points such that the team who wins in regulation gets all three points, then leave the game be worth two points - every game. Then go to this option, during the regular season if a game ends tied in regulation, then go to a 10 minute overtime and play 4 on 4 hockey, with no touch icing and the OT winner, if their is one gets two points, while the looser gets zero points. if the game ends tied after one OT period in the regular season it ends tied and each team gets one point. The truth is the extra point in some of the games messes up the standings more and more as parity gets more real in the NHL. At the actual mid season I will recompute and look at the playoff implications of what "every game is a three point game would mean, but I'm pretty positive it would have some impact to who makes and doesn't make the playoffs. I'll also take a look at what things would look like if the SO was done away with and every game was two with ties after OT resulting in one point per team.

2) The hardest thing I think for anyone to do after last night was pick the three Stars of the Game - I love it when that happens and I bet the coaching staff's of both teams do too. That's it nothing more profound when it comes to to that thought.

3) Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich - thank you, for that short handed goal.

4) Mike Green, great game in every respect, thanks for making hockey so fun to watch and thanks for making Matt Cooke pay for his faux paux last evening.

5) Alex Ovechkin, thanks, just thanks for being you and playing your game last evening.

6) Sidney Crosby and, now you too after last evening, Marc-Andre Fleury we Capitals fans "hockey hate" you but have to admit you played great last night and you usually do. If instead of you two guys, the Penguins had mere mortals who were a just real good first line center and starting goaltender, our favorite team's record against you most hated flightless birds would be much, much better.

7) Evgeni Malkin, if you are wondering why Ovechkin and the Capitals all try and hit you and knock you off the puck, or slow you down when you play them, it's probably the same reason your teammates do so to Mike Green - you're both really good too. You should expect more of the same next Saturday in Pittsburgh, only then it will likely be really cold and hurt more too. On second thought Evgeni, maybe you don't want to play in those cold conditions next Saturday, perhaps you, Sidney, and Marc-Andre should stay in and instead of going to Heinz Field in the cold, play WII and watch the big screen in Mario's "man-cave" right next to the basement guest room that Sid still likes to stay in. ... Seriously ...

Next up for the Capitals - Carolina on Boxing Day in Raleigh, NC. In the meantime, I wish everyone who might read this today a happy and healthy holiday season. Merry Christmas and I hope that in some way, shape or form, the joy of what this season can be finds its way into your life and home. I probably won't post another blog until before the Montreal game on Tuesday because of all that generally goes on elsewhere in my life this time of year.

Remember kids, put out the milk and cookies for Santa and ... LETS GO CAPS!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Three Games Since My Last Blog Post and a 2-1-0 Record

Well last Saturday when I posted my last blog post I like virtually all Capitals fans was wondering how in the world, or more specifically when in the world, the Capitals loosing streak would end. Of course I was hoping, as all Caps fans were that it would end that evening in Boston. Alas that wasn't to be, try as they might last Saturday, the Capitals efforts to resume their winning ways wasn't to happen in beantown. First the Capitals decided to spot what will likely at the end of this season be listed as the NHL's "stingiest/best defensive team" a two goal lead during the first period. Then a guy named Tim Thomas was determined to send the Capitals off to Ottawa with their eighth straight loss. the Caps played well enough to deserve to win but all Thomas and his Bruins teammates would give the Capitals was two goals while they managed to send three pucks past Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

So off to Ottawa the Capitals went to take on the Senators the following evening. Once again we Caps fans were no doubt hoping the skid would end and once again the Caps decided to "spot their opponents" a two goal lead. However, the Senators are not the Bruins and Brian Elliott is not Tim Thomas, at least not this season and certainly not last Sunday evening. So the Capitals came out at the start of the second period with the score Senators 2 - Capitals 0, and they quickly (in the first 1:20 of the second period) tied the game up 2-2. At the 6:40 mark of the second period Matheiu Perreault scored his second goal of the game to put the Capitals up by a score of 3-2 and from that point forward, the Capitals played with enough abandon that they pretty much didn't have to look back. Despite not scoring again during the remaining 33:40 of the game, the Capitals played smart, dominant hockey and while the third period saw each team get three power play opportunities each, the Capitals were the more dominant team. The Caps made sure they closed out this game and ended their loosing streak and as they say "Joyous Noel". I'm not sure if the Capitals sang Christmas Carols on their flight back from Ottawa but according to what everyone is saying and was seen on 24/7 they were at least relieved to have ended the loosing streak.

Next came Tuesday evening's game against the New Jersey Devils. who have been having their own struggles so far this season. This was the third meeting of the season between the Capitals and the Devils in the first two meetings the Capitals were schitzo. The first meeting was the Capitals season home opener on October 9 and they throttled the Devils 7-2. Then the two teams met in New Jersey at "The Rock" on November 22 and the Capitals for all intents and purposes had one of their worst games in the past 3 seasons so the Devils won 5-0. This past Tuesday evening the Capitals pretty much owned New Jersey during the second and third periods after both teams played well in the first period - final result: Caps 5 - Devils 1. The fans at Verizon Center were chanting "We Want The Pens" during the third period on Tuesday and that's what we'll all get tonight.Also I guess it looks like the Caps game was John MacLean's last behind the bench as the Devils Coach at least according to the twitter feed tweets I've been seeing this morning. That's a real shame because from my vantage point the problem likely hasn't been MacLean as since the they basically got "screwed" (there I said it) by the NHL in this summer's arbitration ruling they've been a team that was going to have to deal with a very challenging transition period all year. Then the injuries they've had just made it all a tough year in Newark. I don't know what anybody could do with the current state of affairs in NJ and of course you have to try and change up what you can to turn things around but in the long run MacLean will probably end up being seen as a good NHL coach 10 years from now after he gets a fair chance at his next stop in his career.

Now onto looking ahead to tonight's normal, regular season two point game between the Capitals and the Penguins at Verizon Center. This is the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Penguins come into the game with 48 points and a 23-10-2 record while the Caps come into it with 44 points and a 20-12-4 record. Both teams have won their last two games. In their last 10 outings Pittsburgh is the hottest team in the NHL with an 8-2-0 record while the Capitals are 2-6-2 and working real hard for the remainder of this month to avoid having the first sub 0.500 month since Bruce Boudreau took over from Glen Hanlon behind the bench. During those last 10 games the Penguins top stars have been on fire and have generally figured prominently in each game's results. In short while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin generally figure prominently in virtually every game they play, it has been even more so the case so far this December. make no mistake, the other members of the team have also played well and that's why the Pen's are currently the hottest team in the league. For the Capitals, there was a similar story during the month of November but so far this month the Capital's names that were on the NHL leader board at the end of December have not lit up the scoreboard in December. That's not to say that over the past several games they haven't made their presence felt it's just to ay that unless things change tonight, don't be surprised if you see the Capitals continue to distribute the puck and the scoring more widely throughout the roster - if they continue to play well as they have for the past couple of games. I won't make any predictions other than to point out the obvious, as always, this will be a good game to watch tonight unless something totally bizarre happens. I expect both teams to play even harder than they usually do when they play others around the league - that's just based on recent past history. I also expect to see some sort of twist thrown in to the Caps lineup by Coach Boudreau - again that's based on recent past experience.



Saturday, December 18, 2010

Looking Ahead to Today's Bruins - Caps Game in Boston

Well two struggling teams go to Boston's TDNorth Garden to try and end their current slides. The Eastern Conference eighth place Boston Bruins who are 0-2-1 in their last three games host the struggling third place Washington Capitals who will be looking to end their current loosing streak at - "Lucky #7" and avoid dropping their eighth in a row. Oh how the mighty have fallen - of course maybe not if you listen to Vicktor Federov's interview over at Japer's Rink, or read pucksandbooks over at "On Frozen Blog".

Of course while reading both I didn't find either as interesting or as useful to read as Peerless' preview of the game. Thanks Peerless for a "Fair & Balanced" blog post and set of thoughts in, from a Caps Fan's perspective, "these troubled times." In that vein I'll try and add to the intelligent, non-xenophobic, discussion about today's game - just one of 82 games the Capitals will play this regular season. First let's take a look at the games within the games we'll be seeing or at least what will probably be the top five games within games:

1) Ovechkin vs. Chara: This game with a game always seems to be a good one to watch when these two teams meet. It's always amazing to me that despite what these sort of match-ups look like when the Caps play other teams, Chara is one guy who can and does at times make Ovechkin look small. In reality its always a great thing to watch - two big, or maybe that should be BIG, men with awesome skating skills and great physical presence on the ice, basically beating the he!! out of each other, for the most part well within the rules, for 33% or more of an entire hockey game. Today assuming Alex Semin doesn't play - and at this time he's listed as questionable, things will only be harder than usual for Ovechkin as with Semin out, Knuble slowed the full guard around his jaw, and the Bruins having the final line change since they are the home team, are all things that will make this key match-up even harder for Ovechkin to "win." - Go Ovie - as Bella Karolyi has been quoted saying "You can do it..." but it won't be easy.

2) Neuvirth vs. Thomas: A more classic match up given their styles might be either Neuvy vs. Rask or Varly vs. Thomas but in any case whenever you play the very defensively stingy Bruins, the goaltender match-up is one of the games within the game to watch. There's not much question that the Bruin's goaltenders will come up with one, two or three awesome saves that can and sometimes do change the direction of the momentum of the game. That always puts pressure on the opposing goalie to do the same. Today, I'm thinking Neuvy is up to that challenge but even if he does, there's no guarantee that will be enough to win this game. In fact it's almost guaranteed that it won't be.

I'm thinking that for the Capitals to win the game it will all come down to the next three "battles" so long as the top two end in what I think they will end in - draws or even if the Ovechkin and Neuvirth only win their battles by small margins. I'm not saying that Alex Ovechkin can't dictate the play of a hockey game and drive the team to victory - he can but against Boston with the match-ups they will put on him, the rice would be very high and the outcome still no more likely than 50/50. Nor am I saying that any NHL caliber goaltender cannot have an awesome game and "steal a victory" - and with 12 wins so far this season, I'd be willing to state I feel Neuvirth has demonstrated he is an NHL caliber goaltender. That said I don't think that will happen today precisely because both teams will come out ready to play and play committed ice hockey for the entire game. So that will mean that no single player will win or lose this game for either team. That leaves the next three games within a game to decide things.

3) Blue Line Corps vs. Blue Line Corps: This might be the hardest battle for the Caps to win today given their sick and injured report. Jeff Schultz is on IR. Both Scott Hannan and Tyler Sloan have been ailing and are questionable for today's game. That leaves the Caps with: Mike Green, Tom Poti, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, John Erskine, and ????. Personally I'd love to see the ???? filled by Hannan and see him have the type of game we are all hoping for him to have since arriving here in DC from Colorado. That said even though they will both play Green still looks a little banged up and off pace and Poti still hasn't had his best game on since returning from his last injury. To compare well against the Bruins blue-liners, everyone will need to have their best game on and be ready for the inevitable physical battles with the rough and tumble Bruins forward lines the likes of which include the ever ready to battle Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.

4) Second Line vs. Second Line: Another tough match-up for the Capitals today, given that Alexander Semin didn't make the trip and is apparently injured. The Capitals second line in practice yesterday was Laich-Perreault-Fehr/A.Gordon. This would be a really good game for Laich and Fehr to shake their recent ups and downs and have "up shifts" - preferably 17 or more "up shifts" throughout the game. It will also be a game where MP85 will need to skate full speed for every minute he is on the ice less the bigger Boston players latch onto him and use their size and physicality to neutralize his "Energize Bunny" style of play. Finally, my hope is that the second line that starts the game is Laich-Perreault-Fehr and not A. Gordon, nothing against A. Gordon, in fact I like him and the grit he brings to the game I just think the mix is better if Fehr is in the RW position as "the trigger man". I'd rather see Gordon get a Jersey on the third or fourth line for this game. Of course their opponents on the Boston side of the ledger don't care whether it's Fehr or A. Gordon, they will be working hard to play their game, their way either way and it's up to the Caps second line to not let that happen. I think this one (battle) will be determined by the answer to the question: "Who wants it more?"

5) Third & Fourth Lines vs. Each Other: What can we say about this match-up, the battle of the so called grinders will likely matter a lot in this game. In a game that is likely to be tightly played and low scoring, every goal is even more important than usual. Which of these seven guys play: Chimera, Johansson, Beagle, A. Gordon, Hendricks, Steckel, Bradley is almost a "don't care" to me. I like them all and I think they all have drive, grit and heart. Johansson is listed as questionable at this time so that might make the decision as to who doesn't play today straight-forward for Coach Boudreau. That said this could be the toughest game within a game for the Caps to win, Boston plays solid team hockey and now having gone 0-2-1 in their last three games, their depth players will be more determined than ever to not be outplayed by their opponents. However as we've seen so far this season, at least before this current bad karma streak started one thing that Jason Chimera, Matt Bradley, Matt Hendricks and David Steckel do NOT lack is heart and the other is grit. I expect these guys as much as anybody will be battling in the tough areas in front of and around the net and that means they could indeed be: "the guys who put the puck into the net for the goal that wins the game that breaks the streak that has been putting a damper onto the season as the Capitals get ready to play their most hated rivals in the biggest (at least most heavily attended) of the 2010-2011 regular season..." or however HBO will spin/hype this if the GWG is the result of secondary scoring. Personally after his last post game quote that was basically "Loosing sucks." I'm rooting fro David Steckel, even though in the back of my mind I'm thinking it could be any of the others and if it were Beagle or A. Gordon that would be a nice story too.

So there you have it what did I tell you above? Summary: This will be a hard fought game and even at the game within a game level each battle is at best a toss-up. This should be a good one.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Don't Look Now But Atlanta Is Only 1 Point Back of the Capitals

If you looked at the NHL standings this morning you might have noticed that due to the recent trials and tribulations by the Capitals the Atlanta Thrashers who are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games played are only one game behind the Caps in the NHL standings with 39 points, while Tampa Bay is just 2 points behind with 38 points having gone 5-3-2 in their last 10 games. Both Atlanta and Washington have played 33 games so far this season while Tampa Bay has played only 31. Even more interesting is the fact that if the regular season ended today there would be three Southeast Division teams in the playoffs. So why am I bringing this up, well as you know if you read my last couple of blogs I am an eternal optimist and have hope for the Caps going forward; that said it won't be a cakewalk this year. The Caps have been alone with distance between themselves and their Division rivals for the Southeast Division championship the last couple of years - that doesn't look like it will be the case the this season. However here's good news - the Caps only have one more meeting with Atlanta who has seemed to have the Caps numbers often this season - in Atlanta on January 26th. They have four more games with Tampa Bay - which I think is a more fun game to watch and a better match-up for the we fans and the team. Of course the crowding of the standings both in the Southeast Division and the Eastern Conference means the distance between the Caps and the other teams in the Eastern Conference working to make the playoffs that Washington had created during their good run in November has basically now been "spent" during this current loosing streak. So it's now time for the Capitals to go out and "Just Do It."

With a little cooperation from the hockey gods that could start tomorrow evening in Boston - please hockey gods? ...please....


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Well Two Games Since Last Post, Two Losses But - Hopefully - Two Different Stories

Well since my last post about being hopeful, the Capitals have played two games and lost both. Last night, try as they may the ended up with a 2-1 Overtime loss to Anaheim here at Verizon Center. On Sunday night in New York, they lost 7-0 to the New York Rangers. So the optimist could/would AND since I'm an optimist will say "The trend is our friend - Sunday night: 0 points, Wednesday night: 1 point ..." Hopefully that means that come Saturday in Boston - well I think you get the idea. The other thing that we are all hopeful of is that the team that shows up to play every game the rest of the season is the team that played against Colorado and Anaheim on Saturday 12/11 and Anaheim last night - that team will win it's fair share of games - in my opinion. On the other hand the team that showed up for the rest of the last home stand against Conference foes Toronto, Atlanta and Florida as well as the Rangers wasn't the same team, sure they were the same physical players but their attitude and approach to the game. They were impatient, and immature.

The team that showed up and played against Saint Louis - the only win so far this month - on 12/1 and Dallas, Colorado, and Anaheim was mature, patient and focused on playing as a team and executing their game plan for a full sixty minutes. They also were willing to do the things necessary to give themselves a chance to win and not get discouraged and pull back or start to play like individuals, when the hockey gods choose not to smile upon them and give them "instant gratification." So I remain hopeful that the end of this streak is just around the corner, if not in Boston on Saturday - remember they too have two goaltenders either of whom - can steal a game and the way things are going let's be honest, it sure seems like either the coaches, the Capitals players, or we Caps fans, or all three of us, must have pissed off those elusive beings - the hockey gods. That's right - lets not get down on any individual, etc. after looking back over the Colorado game and last night's game against Anaheim, I'm sick of looking for something that caused the Caps not to win. I'm even sicker of talking about accountability and what the key players or coaching staff did or didn't do and whether this means they should be moved out of DC and/or off the roster/team. I'm especially out of time, patience and words for people who want to blame the GM and point to any particular player personnel decision over the past three years, as the problem. It's been 7 games, 7 out of the 82 the Caps need to play this season and when you look at this team's record over the past three seasons, those sorts of discussions are just without merit. Sure there need to be answers for why the skid and changes need to be made - but those changes need to be adjustments and hopefully also some additional returns to the roster of certain key players, especially on the blue line corps.

Look as David Steckel was quoted after last night's game: "Loosing sucks." However, the Caps are still sitting in the standings as one of the top teams in the Conference and the League overall standings - with 40 points - so all is not lost and its not too late. It's been said, to the point of also getting old - if you're a Caps fan, you'd rather this happen now and get sorted out now than in April. Things I hope and think will come out of this "rough patch":
1) A team dedicated to playing like a team and executing a game plan.
2) A team with mental toughness second to none other in the NHL.
3) A team whose coaching staff understands how to coach and get the most out of this extremely talented roster top to bottom.
4) A team whose roster top to bottom is dedicated to helping each other be the absolute best athlete they can be every game - the entire game.
5) A team that remains focused on the above four (4) items and goes out has fun, plays hard, plays tough and of course wins as a team.

Where are the Caps right now when you look at the NHL. Well that's why I say don't panic. Counting last nights hard won point, the Capitals are one of just four (4) of the thirty-two (32) teams in the NHL with forty (40) points after having played 33 games. In baseball terms they are playing 0.606 hockey so far this season and on pace for a 99 point season. That's no where near the pace they were on if that extrapolation was done November 30th and that's why we are all concerned - no argument there. However, if the Caps right the ship, as we all know they have the talent to do, it's not hard to see them finishing the season with the 100 points that usually is used as a benchmark of a top tier team in the NHL. All that though doesn't matter, the issue and he pressure comes from the fact that anything short of being highly competitive, and hopefully winning, this season's Stanley Cup finals will be less than everyone - Ownership, Coaching Staff, Players and Fans are looking for from this team. I've said it before and I'll say it again - we all get it - but to obtain the goal, that goal everyone needs to take a deep breath, make the necessary adjustments and just do it. The guys who really have to do it - the players - need to do it AS A TEAM. Despite loosing the last 7 games, the games against Colorado and Anaheim show me, they have the ability to do that, and they get it, even on a night when things don't all go their way. Hang in there folks, the team that played those games and the games against Saint Louis and Dallas - that's the team we all know of as "Our Washington Capitals". They're going to come through this even stronger than they went into it. We fans will all survive this - its really not a life changing thing for us - we're fans.

To the team: all of whom I'm relatively positive share David Steckel's sentiment, I say stay the course. The team that played last night is a team that could very easily be 5-5-2 for the month of December come Christmas Day. Loosen up the grip on your sticks, play the hockey with sound fundamentals and active sticks you've had drilled into your brains since you were five years old, and you'll all start enjoying being at the rink again AND getting the results you've gotten and spoiled us fans with over the last thee seasons.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hope - I Have Hope - Despite The Final Score Tonight

So it was a "No Point Night" tonight for the Capitals at Verizon Center. They lost 3-2 in regulation to the Colorado Avalanche. Sure at the end of the season, whenever that occurs this coming spring we aren't likely to remember much about tonight's game. However, it was a good game. The Capitals fought hard - ALL 60 MINUTES. They also played their game plan and for the most part did it well - all four lines. They never got away from the game plan from what I could see, even when they had a few shifts where Colorado made the necessary adjustments and got a little more zone time than we might have liked. So like I saw Matt Hendricks say in his post-game comments: "If we play this way every game we'll win more than we lose." I watched tonight's game and I agree. In fact there were at least two instances where were it not for an amazing save by Craig Anderson the Caps would have won tonight's contest.

So let's start off by saying this - the Capitals lost and that isn't something any of us like to see. However, there was plenty to enjoy and celebrate about tonight's game.

Driving the net. Lot's of Net Presence and driving the net by the Capitals. Lots of solid forechecking AND back-checking. Sure the Caps made a few mistakes and the Avalanche made them pay for it. Finally when you look at the shot chart of the Captials shots on goal tonight you can see they were indeed on the doorstep a lot. So now it's time for some sleep before tomorrow evening rolls around and we get to see if the Caps will play this well against the Rangers.


Friday, December 10, 2010

How About Those Capitals?

Yes how about our/your/my Washington Capitals. This is what I just saw posted over at Japer's Rink ...

The Noon Number
3.8 - Caps' shooting percentage during their current four-game losing streak, down from 10.7% over the previous 26 games.

Well that says something for sure, especially when you understand that's just the number based on actual shots on goal that got through and the number looks even worse when you consider the attempts that were blocked or missed the net. There is no doubt the Capitals are slumping right now and as a fan watching a slump is nothing but painful anguish. However, I've gotta believe living through it as a coach or player has to be a lot, lot harder. The crazy thing here is that when you look at the comments, etc. on various message boards, etc. there is just so, so much total drivel in response to this. From statements that amount to crazy conclusions that these sorts of numbers and the past four games mean that Alex Ovechkin will never win a Stanley Cup to things like this all is total, unequivocal proof that Bruce Boudreau is a lousy coach, Mike Green isn't a good defenseman, etc. To me all of it - and I mean all of, also actually including this blog post - my own thoughts and words should totally be ignored by the coaches and players as they and they alone are the ones who can and must change and "fix" whatever it is that really needs fixing.

What am I talking about you justifiably ask. I'm saying that a group of professional athletes and coaches - the ones on the Washington Capitals - are a talented, driven team. They are all getting paid hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to play and WIN ice hockey games. I'm not sure of much but I'd bet and bet A LOT that these guys might not have the answers this second, and they really didn't seem to have the answers last night while they were playing the Florida Panthers. So what can and should be done about this? I really do not know as far as what can and should be changed, I do know that whatever changes do need to get done, they seem to me to be about being a team - using this reaction to the current issues and adversity as a reason to bond together and be a team. It's needs to be a lot, lot more about things like Ovechkin's stick salute to DJ King while King was in the box serving his five minute fighting major after Ovechkin scored in the third period of the game against Toronto on Monday night and a LOT LOT less about looking for things to blame or quick fixes and heroics by single players to "fix this". It's clear every and I mean EVERY one of these guys, including Coach Boudreau is frustrated and looking for answers. I am absolutely not going to sit here and say that people should be dodging the tough questions or not stepping up and identifying issues. I am going to say that for a team to be a team when things are going like this, everyone has to shoulder a portion of "the blame" because in the end everyone is as much a part of the problem as they are the solution. We need to recognize this is an excellent hockey team, they are playing below the level they are possible of, no issue and they need to make some adjustments to fix that.

That being said, they are not going to win all their remaining regular season games nor will they make it through all four playoff rounds without a loss or even a bad game. We fans and the management are expecting a lot from this team - rightfully, it's a very, very talented team. However that does create a pressure cooker for them at times. So here is a change that I don't think you need to be a world class athlete to make since it's really about leadership and dealing with adversity, etc. The first thing I would do if I were Bruce Boudreau is I'd stop calling out players - ANY players to the media in his post game pressers. I'd also tell the players I wasn't going to do it, but that doesn't mean I have any issue with them taking exception to their OWN performance on any given night. I'd also encourage players - win or loose - to point out and to teammates who had good games and did good things. I know, you're hearing "kumbayah" being sung in the background. I'm not saying be ridiculous or practice denial, I'm just saying at this point the emphasis needs to be you win or loose AS A TEAM. So here's some not so bland comments all of which are okay in my book and some that would be way out of bounds as well in this regard.

Fine post game comments after a loss like last nights to Atlanta:

1A: "We got frustrated after the first period and didn't stick to the game plan like we should have in the second and third periods."

2A: "Vokoun played well, we didn't make it as hard on him as we should have and the Panthers picked up on our frustrations and were able to bait us into shooting from the perimeter too much in the second and third periods."

3A: "Well, I really wouldn't fault Varley for any of the goals, I'm sure like just about every goaltender that ever lived he'd like them "all back" but tonight on at least two of the three he made the first two stops, we just didn't give him enough help and allowed the Panthers to get even more chances than the first two."

Post comments that I don't think help the situations at all - and seem to be the type of comments we are hearing these days (all be it with a lot of exaggeration and satire laced in) in reverse order:

3A: "Well we didn't loose tonight because of having a young goaltender. We just sure didn't backcheck or play defense well a lot of the times. I mean go back and look at Bernier goal, I mean, jeez, Carlson takes out Alzner who is sprawled in Varley's way and the guy gets the third whack at the puck that's right on the doorstep. I know Carlson's a rookie and he and Alzner get better every game but we just gotta do better. The forwards could have been back checking deeper and maybe ..."

2A: "Okay so we come into the locker room at the first intermission and I see them down after that late score by Florida. It's my job to build them up and I give them my usual good words on that that should work. However, they don't go do it. I mean hey Ovechkin isn't scoring much lately, even Semin hasn't scored in a while, Backstrom where'd he go? Knuble almost nothing all year. Heck you'd think Green would take advantage of things lately - heck he loves to score and instead he goes out there and throws his body around. Don't look at me on this one guys, talk to those guys, why they can't find the back of the net and don't keep driving it and revert to perimeter shots on a guy like Vokoun is beyond me."

1A: "So last game we get that great "I'm back in the bigs effort from MattyP and you know we don't win. This game we let these guys put one in on a third whack at the puck with seconds left in the first period, then we let them put one in on a third whack at the puck about halfway through the second period, then we give them a power play with just under 2:30 left in the game to kill any momentum we might have AND we let them score the third goal of the game. First period was fine, Vokoun frustrated us but we stuck with the game plan. Last two periods - you know that scene from that "Replacements" movie that Keneau Reeves is in and that speech about "quicksand" well s#&t next time we have an intermission right after a late goal forget about the whole coach is happy pep talk, forget about showing video and you know maybe actually coaching, forget about talking to Ovechkin about maybe trying moving things around and giving him some time on the off wing, forget about pointing out that the real issue is we didn't score when we had man advantages and people got to get in a guy like Vokouns face, forget about admitting to the team that putting MP85 on the first power play unit might not have been my best idea of the season and taking my share of the heat/blame - I'm gonna talk about freakin' BEES AND SPIDERS - yep you heard me right. It's all the best players faults because they weren't the best players tonight and they are making me and my Mercedes Benz "cup holder" commercial look really bad. I'm so pissed right now I could be Joh Tortorella..."

What changes should they make - I don't know but the coaching staff and the team need to do three things to fix this:
1) Communicate;
2) Get On the Same Page are: the issues and changes that need to be made;
3) Make the changes, stick to the revised game plan and "Just Do It>"

To do that if it were me in charge here's what I'd do if it were my call though relative to a process to address this:
1) Spend a bunch of time together looking at the video;
2) Have the Coaches tell them what they think the problems and mistakes have been - but not the changes ... yet..
3) Let the players have a players only meeting to discuss it and come up with some suggestions and hold themselves accountable for some of this.
4) Concurrently brainstorm with ALL the coaching staff and make some changes - also setup a lineup that we will stick with for at least the next 5 games no matter what except if somebody goes sick or injured.
5) Get back together with the Team present the plan and then if we agree with any of their comments/suggestions tweak the plan and lineup that will be used for the next five games.

Put in place two inviolate rules for the next five games and post-game comments to the press and fans:
1) Stick to the Plan - Keep executing the plan and approach the coach's call for whether it's relative to shift length, distance from the net for shots, etc. - Just Do It.
2) Stick Together - everyone, - No more negative waves, just like oddball says in Kelly's Heroes. No more calling anybody out before or after or between games. Do whatever it takes to bring this team together both on the ice and off it so they play more team focused hockey - every minute of every game.

Then, I'm pretty sure when we say "How about those Capitals?" I think we'll be doing so "in a good way."

LETS GO CAPS!!! AND Don't forget to post at least five write in votes every day for Alexander Semin on your All Star Ballots.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

So, I've Been Thinking About a Hockey Road Trip to the Southeast (Florida & Tampa Bay) Later This Season But...

So, I've been thinking about taking a hockey road trip to/through the Southeast Division (Florida, Atlanta & Tampa Bay) later this season but I'm now wondering if going to the UK might be more fun. If you haven't watched this little bit of "Olde Tyme Hockey" from the recent UK's Elite Ice Hockey League game between Coventry & Nottingham you should. It'll explain why I'm thinking of taking in a little culture on London's Strand and then heading to see the next meeting between these two teams as an alternative. When was the last time in the NHL there was something as crazy "mad" as this game/clip. Simply brilliant as the Brits say.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hockey Musings After A Brief Hiatus...

Well it's been a while since I last made a blogpost a week and a half ago and since then the Capitals played six games and made a relatively major trade - and one many Caps watchers have been looking for. I haven't been away though I have been fairly busy, but I've also watched or attended all 6 of the Caps games that have occurred during the past 10 days. They've been pretty good games, IMO, and the Capitals have gone 4-2 in that stretch. In fact there's really not much I haven't liked about how things have been going on the ice or off the ice with the Capitals over these last 10 games. In reverse chronological order here are my musings about the games and events from my perspective since November 23rd.

Last night's game, a 3-1 loss at Verizon Center to the Atlanta Thrashers. So there's not a lot to like about going 3-2 against the Thrashers so far this season. However, the one thing I can and do enjoy is this basic musing: "SouthLeast No More." Look this past summer Atlanta made a bunch of good moves and they are paying off. I think the best move they made was picking up Andrew Ladd, sure many will argue going with Ondrej Pavlec as their number one goaltender was an even better move but I believe I can defend my belief that the pickup of Ladd was an even better move that that. Last night I was at the game with an old friend and colleague, and I must admit the atmosphere in Verizon Center just wasn't that energetic. The game was a good one and the crowd should have, IMHO, been into the game better. Of course as Coach Boudreau noted, the forwards needed to make Pavlec's night a bit tougher and should have created more traffic and drove the net more. The Caps failure to do so can be seen in many areas of the stat sheet and though it pains me to say it, right now and especially last night, Atlanta has our number. Bottom line we face these guys one last time this regular season in Atlanta next month and if we want to win that one, and we should want that as it's not inconceivable that we'll end up seeing them again in the playoffs, the Caps need to simplify their approach, and get in the Atlanta goaltender's face A LOT more. Bottom line we need to be ready and willing to work for the greasy goals and to play harder then the Thrashers in every aspect of the game if we are going to finish out the last game we'll play against them this regular season with a solid victory.

The Caps faced off against the Dallas Stars in Dallas on Thursday, December 2nd and also came away with no points for their efforts after a 2-1 loss in regulation. I watched that game on Comcast HD and enjoyed it except for the basically royal hosing the Caps got from the wrong call by the on ice officials that resulted in the waiving off of what should have been the Caps tying goal with just 7.6 remaining in regulation. Alas that apparently was also a non-reviewable call - the goal was waived off as the on-ice official felt that Alex Ovechkin interfered with Stars goaltender Andrew Raycroft. Oh well, win some, loose some; yadi, yadi yada ... Okay so if you read my blog regularly, you know that's BS - I hate loosing and I'm sure the Capitals do too. Michal Neuvirth played well enough to deserve the victory, heck, I thought the entire Caps team did too. I thought this game was great in that it was a nice tight game; that said i thought it was horribly officiated and that didn't start with the call at the end of the third period. It started with a set of poorly thought out calls in the second period that resulted in a disparity between the Caps and the Stars extra man advantages, that no Caps fan, and many other disinterested folks are likely to agree with. That said, the official(s) could have made all that mater not, if they had just made the right call with less than 10 seconds left in the game. Well you have to shake those sorts of nights off and move on. I mean it's just a game, it's not like it resulted in a life or death situation going "the wrong way." But you know it does, you know, kinda, ya know - suck when things like this go against the team you root for. Makes me wonder what it's like when you have Gregory Campbell on your team and something like this happens. I mean I guess if that's the case you just have him call his dad and get Colin to pop off an expletive laced email concerning the botched calls to the Director of Officiating. Even though we all know that would only be Colin joking with his other buddies in the NHL Hockey operations office, so if you don't get it or see it that way, it's probably because you just really aren't an educated "hockey kinda guy." [editor's note - several expletive laced thoughts here were removed because, well I'm not a classless idiot, like some folks, especially when I'm so drunk that I forget to tip the cab driver and instead get into a fight with him.

On Wednesday, December 1st the Caps played their first of back to back road games against Western Conference foes when they traveled to Saint Louis to take on the Blues. I watched this game on ComcastHD and like the others around the "blogsphere" and the MSM I was almost giddy about the performance the Capitals turned in against the Blues. Things to have loved about that night's game:
1) Varlamov's stopping 37 of 38 shots on goal.
2) Backstrom's two goals/1 assist night and Ovechkin's assist of Backy's second goal - an empty netter.
3) DJ King getting his first point as a Capital on his assist of a Boyd Gordon goal against his former team.
Bottom line it was an excellent two point night for the Capitals and one of their best games played either at home or on the road so far this season.

On Tuesday, November 30, the Capitals acquired defenseman Scott Hannan from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for forward Tomas Fleischmann. Hannan, 31, is an 11-year NHL veteran who has played for Colorado and the San Jose Sharks. The 6’1”, 225-pound defensive defenseman has played 775 career games, recording 30 goals, 150 assists, 456 penalty minutes and a +22 rating. As regular readers of this blog would expect I'm very bullish about this move. Flash, though a solid citizen and basically worth his current salary to the right team, is someone I felt, no longer really fit into the Capitals roster in a way that let them get fair value for his salary. To me for Flash to be worth his current $2.6M cap hit; to be worth that I think you have to be using Fleischmann as a top six forward consistently and that wasn't happening nor was it likely to happen the rest of this season. As we've seen so far this season, especially with the amount of games being missed by Tom Poti so far this season, the Caps can definitely use another clearly experienced, Top four (4) blue-liner. From my perspective Scott Hannan gives them that, and with a cap hit of $4.5M he is affordable and still leaves them some salary cap room for either another move or to close a deal to extend Alexander Semin's and/or Brooks Laich's current contracts. Further Hannan's 73 playoff appearances should come in handy in April, and his arrival to Washington now, as opposed to at the trade deadline, should give him more than enough time to build some chemistry with the rest of the blue line corps here in DC - something that was spotty when it came to the Capitals late season pickup - Joe Corvo - last year. So the only real open question about the Caps and their upcoming quest for the 2011 Stanley Cup is the 2nd line center and whether 20 year old Marcus Johansson is ready for that role and/or ready to play through the res of the season and the 16 - 28 games required to get through the post season and win a Championship. For my part, I'll say I just don't know and as such wish we had an option that wouldn't force us to find out. However, the ability to make a worthwhile pickup for that position to make finding out unnecessary is a subject that is worthy of a full blown post all to itself. We'll see if I can get to do that sometime soon. For now I'm just glad the Caps picked up a solid, stay at home blue-liner with a lot of experience to add to the current group.

On Sunday, November 28th, the Capitals hosted the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center and beat them 3-2 in a shootout to gain two points. I was at the game, along with my wingman, who also had with him three of his friends from college - one from Southern California, one from Singapore, and one from South Korea. We were fortunate to get three additional seats in our usual row in Section 103 so they all got to experience our "usual, excellent Capitals game experience." I was a little disappointed that the Capitals didn't win in regulation, but to be fair the goaltending, at both ends, was excellent and I agreed with the selection of Cam Ward as the number 1 star of the game. Ward came up with several excellent saves to keep his team in the game. Bottom line though is this was another solid game and another game which made me keenly aware that the Southeast Division is no longer the weak sister of the NHL.

On Friday, November 26th the Capitals hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning, in a pretty highly anticipated game of two teams on a roll with a lot of offensive firepower. I wasn't at the game though I did watch it in it's entirety. For us Caps fans, it was a good game - the Capitals dominated the game and came away with a 6-0 shutout victory and two points. The game was basically all about a 4 goal second period by the Capitals and these two post game quotes basically sum things up.

"I don’t know if it was perfect,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “but it’s as good as we’ve played all year. When you score a couple on the power play and you kill a 5-on-3, I thought it was a good game by us.”

"We just got outworked today, plain and simple.” says Tampa’s Steven Stamkos, the NHL’s leading scorer. “There’s nothing more to say.

The 17 save shutout was Semyon Varlamov's first "perfect game" this season and the third in his NHL career. The game also featured a rare "natural" hat trick by Alexander Semin who scored all three of his goals in the second period - at the 6:52, 8:56, and 11:21 marks of the stanza. Any night the Caps get two points and the fans in attendance get free wings the following week from "Glory Days" is a good night of hockey at 7th and F Streets. That's pretty much all I have to say about that.

On Wednesday, November 24th, the Caps traveled to Raleigh, NC to take on the Hurricanes at RBC Center and came away with a 3-2 two point, win in regulation time. The game was Semyon Varlamov's first win of the season and he had to work for it turning in a 30 save effort. I also liked seeing Alex Ovechkin on the right wing and think the Caps should ply him there more often. Putting Ovechkin on the right wing seems to require defenders to make a much bigger set of adjustments then it seems to require of The Great Eight.

So with those recaps and highlights in mind here's some other musings or expansion of musings I've made above, all hockey related:

A) The Southeast Division is definitely not currently anywhere near the weakest division in the NHL, for my two cents that distinction currently goes the Northwest Division whose teams are: Vancouver (3rd in the Western Conference with 31 points), Colorado (9th in the Western Conference with 29 points), Minnesota (13th in the Western Conference with 26 points), Edmonton (14th in the Western Conference with 24 points), and Edmonton (15th in the Western Conference with 24 points). In a bizarre twist the weakest division in the Eastern Conference is the Atlantic Division whose teams are: Philadelphia (one of the best in the league this season and currently 2nd in the Conference with 38 points), Pittsburgh (also battling for the league and conference lead with 38 points, though currently 4th in the conference despite being 9-0-1 in their last 10 games), the NY Rangers (currently 6th in the Conference with 33 points), the New Jersey Devils (currently 14th in the conference with 18 points), and the New York Islanders (currently 15th in the conference with a mere 15 points). Of course the thing dragging down the quality of the Atlantic Division this season is the current state of affairs in both New Jersey and on Long Island, so even though it is conceivable that the Atlantic Division will send three teams to the playoffs and either the Southeast of Northeast Division will send two to the post seasons, the truth is by any summary statistical analysis the Atlantic Division is likely to be determined to be the weakest division in the East. Further right now, on an overall basis you'd have to rank the Southeast Division as stronger than the Northeast Division as well. If the season ended tomorrow, the Northeast Division would have only two teams in the playoffs - Montreal & Boston. Maybe the bigger issue is the growing parity in either conference.

B) The salary cap is working - parity is maturity and it is making games over the course of the regular season both more important, and IMO more interesting/exciting. The situation is a bit different in the two conferences but it's still making the regular season meaningful enough in both Conferences that fans aren't likely to get sanguine about the games too soon.

In the East there's basically looking like three tiers in the division this season: 1) The Breasts of the East - really the top four teams: the Capitals, the Flyers, the Penguins and the Canadeans - all four teams currently have pretty much the same winning percentages so far this season. 2) The Middle Seven Teams - starting currently with Tampa Bay in 5th with 33 points and going through arguably Ottawa in 11th with 24 points and the five in between: the Rangers, Bruins, Thrashers, Hurricanes and Sabres. I expect that over the next four months and 40 or so games of the regular season, each of these these seven teams will be of a mind that they have a realistic possibility of being one of the other four teams besides "the Beasts" that makes the playoffs. 3) Looking for their Game - the bottom four of the Eastern Conference right now are seriously approaching or have reached a point when it's about rebuilding and positioning for the long haul starting next season. Earlier this season I wrote about how I view the need and importance of the concept of "balance" over the long haul of the regular season and throughout the playoffs. The four teams currently at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, for differing reasons, are inherently unbalanced in some manner or form. Perhaps the most unbalanced and he one that could be fixed the most easily is the 12th place Florida Panthers, despite have 64 GA and 66 GA in 26 games played I believe the Panthers are unbalanced. The issue is up front, the Panthers just don't score enough, really from anywhere but in particular from their secondary scoring - through 25 games, the guys up front who are not among the Panthers top six goal scorers have scored just 18 goals between all of themselves. Of course as I said the Panthers have scored only 64 goals in those 24 games and they've scored 3 or more goals in only 9 games this season, notably they've won 8 of those 9 games. So that's why I say they just aren't scoring enough period they've only won a total of 11 games and in the 9 of the 25 games they've played to date when they could score 3 or more goals they've won 8 of 9. So looking at Florida, they are only a couple of players away from being a consistent winner, but I can't tell if what they need are two more top six forwards or 3 or 4 different #7-#13 forwards who can score as well as "grind", hopefully for South Florida fans, Dale Tallon can figure that out. Looking at the 13th place Maple Leafs is probably not all that useful an exercise at this minute. Despite public protestations to the contrary, I believe this year is clearly a re-tooling and rebuilding year in Toronto. I also think it's clear that this year's Maple Leafs are significantly better than last years though long suffering Toronto fans may really be wondering if the only way they'll see a consistently winning NHL team in their area is if by some miracle Jim Balsillie is allowed to start a team in Hamilton - I think real fear of such an underlying sentiment in the fan base is really why the Toronto ownership will NEVER let that happen. In the case of 14th place New Jersey, balance was made impossible at the beginning of this season by the arbitration rulings related to the Ilya Kovalchuck signing. New Jersey essentially been playing with a short bench since the start of the season, and the injury situation there have made putting a consistent group of skaters capable of playing balanced hockey consistently less than fully possible. The Devils foray into this unfamiliar area of the standings is understandable. As for the last place New York Islanders, well it was going to be a tough year on the Island no matter what but the injury situation with this squad has only exacerbated things. Balance? well after Matt Moulson and Jonathan Tavares anybody who scores looks a little surprised, in addition to being very happy; and 25 GP, 53 GF and 83 GA doesn't make for much chance of seeing any balance.

Out in Western Conference as far as the parity discussion goes, the season is slightly more that 1/4 complete and as of today no team is more than 3 full games out of a playoff spot - that's where you see the real effect of parity.

C) Whether we like it or not; and regardless of the fact he may well be a bit of a "cry baby" - there's no denying Sidney Crosby is one of the best ice hockey players in the world today. Crosby's play so far this season in general, and over the past two weeks in particular has been nothing but notable and awesome. I still wouldn't trade Ovechkin for him, I enjoy watching Ovie's style of play better and always will; but right now Sidney is really just pretty much making the rest of the league his "B". I am truly wondering what the Capitals and Flyers will have to do to stop him. I say this because over the past 10 games the Penguins are 9-0-1 and Crosby is the driving reason. In those last 10 game, Crosby has scored 11 goals, had 7 assists (18 points) and been +6 - those are pretty awesome numbers and they are merely the statistics that are resultant of his dominance over his opposition. Best of all for his supporters and sponsors, he didn't even once feel the need to protect himself by "sack tapping" any of the opposition, I guess when you are making everyone your "B" on the scoreboard, you're too busy to do it any other way.

D) Last Friday I watched the last ~10 minutes of the Sabres - Blue Jackets game on NHL Center Ice and for those of you who continue to follow and/or root for old Capitals fan favorites as I occasionally do - let me just say I really don't know how ShaMo's (Shoane Morrisonn) season is going up in Buffalo overall, however his performance during the last 5-10 minutes of that game (Buffalo shut out Columbus 5-0) was something that even a taskmaster like Lindy Ruff had to be happy with.

E) Speaking of the above let's check in on our comparison between favorite former Cap goaltenders - Christobel Huet and Jose Theodore. The 34 year Theodore is playing in the NHL this year - he's the backup for the Minnesota Wild. Theo has now played in 9 games, his record is 3-4-1 and his GAA is 2.89 and his SV% is 0.914 against what most would say is the best competition in the world. Huet is assigned to the Fribourg-Gotte'ron SCL Tigers of the Swiss Elite League, so far this season he's played in 21 games and he has a GAA of 2.34, a SV% of 0.935 and has logged 3 shutouts against the best professional players who ply their trade in Switzerland, a group that also includes former Capital Brian Pothier who plays for a different team than Huet.

Well that's about all I have to say today on hockey. Next up the Maple Leafs come to Verizon Center tomarrow evening.