Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Last Nine Days: Caps Go 1-1-1 Before the All Star Break & Re-Sign Alexander Semin

Well it's been a busy week and a half at work for me so I haven't had time until now to really look at and reflect on anything to do with the enjoyable diversion that following NHL Hockey is for me. In that time the Caps played three games and now we're in the All Star Game Break. My last blog post recapped a 2-1 win by the Caps over the 29th place New York Islanders on Thursday January 20th, in Uniondale, NY in front of 9,119 fans - that's right under 10,000 were at the game. The next game the Caps faced off against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday January 22nd and came away with a 4-1 win in front of 19,554 fans. Then on Monday January 24th, the Caps hosted the New York Rangers at Verizon Center and lost 2-1 in Overtime, though that game was their fifth in a row where they captured at least one point. The Caps last game before the All-Star break was against the Thashers in Atlanta where they lost 1-0 in regulation, despite throwing 36 shots on goal at Thrashers' goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and getting a 0.958 SV% (23 of 24 SOG) performance from Semyon Varlamov.

All in all the Capitals closed out the month of January with a 5-3-4 record (0.583), and went into the All Star Break with 63 points in 51 games played (0.618) and on track for between 99 and 105 points depending on how you choose to base your extrapolations. That's all good, of course there's plenty to worry about the biggest worry has to be where has the Capital's prolific offense gone - in the 12 games they played in January they've averaged only 2.00 GF/Game. Two ways to make winning points in the NHL hard are to score 2.00 goals or less per game and giving up the first goal to your opponents. I've already covered the fact the Caps have averaged only 2.00 goals/game in the 12 games in January; they've also given up the first goal and had to play "catch-up" in 7 of their 12 games in the month. In many ways and for many reasons I think the root cause for both issues, at least during the first half of the month were the same - just not skating hard enough to the net at the start of the game. Fortunately, since the 15th of the month the Caps have played hard and during the last six games of the month have scored first 50% of the time, now if they could just score one more goal at least half the time. The truth is the Caps are on track to make the playoffs but they really do need to get some more offense going and of course there's the power-play or lack there of to worry about. It really makes one wonder how the Caps managed to grab 14 points this past month.

In off ice news, the Caps signed left wing Alexander Semin to a 1 year contract extension for a reported $6.7M for the 2011-2012 season. Now we can only hope that when play resumes after the All Star Game break, #28 is healthy and re-finds his scoring touch. I am very happy to see Semin's contract extended.

Next up will be the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center on Tuesday, February 1st. I'll be there and am quite excited looking forward to the game.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Last Night Roundup: Caps 2 - Islanders 1; Fight - Fest in Philly; Marty Gets SO #114

So last night it was a 2 point night for the Capitals in Uniondale, NY in front of an announced crowd of only 9,119. That's a two point win that takes the Capitals road record this year to 10-9-3 or 0.523 hockey (vs. a home record of 16-5-5 or 0.716).

I must say I'm far less reserved in my thoughts about the Caps then many other blogger's this morning in the wake of the 2-1 victory over the injury riddled struggling Islanders. That's in large part that I've accepted that over the past 5 years or so regardless of where either team is when they meet each other, the Islanders play the Caps close, tight and very hard. So it just seems to me that no matter what Caps - Islanders games are usually close. I really think the Islanders "get up" for the Caps and I'll point to the fact that Rick DiPietro started and played the full game well last night against the Caps, despite the fact that he and the Islanders then indicated he was too sick (flu) and wouldn't even be getting on the plane for their trip to ---- after the game. Don't get me wrong I understand where folks like DMG over at Japer's Rink are coming from and can't even argue with this particular statement in his recap of the game:

An Islander defenseman breaks his stick on a shot from the point and lets the Caps get the puck out of the New York zone, his partner losing his footing and falls down on the backcheck, Rick DiPietro's forced to come and play the puck, shanking it to the most dangerous goal scorer of the past five years...and the end result is a penalty against the Capitals? Has any sequences summed up this season better than that one?

That said, the Caps are clearly once again on the road to a 100+ point season, and they are playing very responsible, sound defensive hockey. In fact of the 7 teams who woke up this AM with 60 or more points, the Capitals 125 GA/2.60 per game is fifth best and nearly tied with 3rd best Dallas (122, 2.596) and fourth best Philadelphia (124, 2.64). As some examples of the Caps defensive responsibility as Garret over at Puckhead's Thoughts noted after last night's game:

The Caps blocked 20 shots, including a whopping 7 shots stopped by Mike Green. They also had more take-aways than the Islanders 17-11. Carlson lead the Caps in that category with 4 TKs. The Caps PK was also top notch as they denied the Islanders a power play goal in six chances.

So my own bottom line on last evening's game is I thought it was a solidly played game by the Capitals for a couple of reasons:

1) They never trailed in the game.

2) The Caps played their game and played it well for all sixty minutes. After going out to a 2-0 lead the Islanders did get a quick goal to keep the game tight, but the Caps never looked like they were even considering leaving their game plan.

3) Call up Braden Holtby played very, very well in net for the Capitals. His 24 for 25 SOG, 0.960 SV% performance was a nice way for the 21 year old to get his third NHL win of the season.

4) The first line for the Caps was the first line, all night long. I'll admit that I wasn't sure if Jason Chimera would have the right chemistry with Ovechkin and Backstrom but at least so far his speed, skating ability, size and willingness to mix it up right in opposing goaltender's faces is bringing an even more "Knuble-esque" dimension to the duo then Knuble does. Also while we're at it, I know it was against an injury ridden Islander's team but the second line with Knuble on it is working better now too, when whichever young center (Perreault or Johannson) is on it, doesn't make rookie mistakes and take bad penalties.

5) Taking two points - on the road; and giving none to a Conference opponent. I could go on, I could qualify it with another "I know it's the Islanders and lots of them are hurt" etc. BUT that wouldn't change the fact that the game ended with two points for the Capitals and they earned them by playing solid, smart hockey.

Final item I'd like to note from last night is that John Erskine is clearly having the best season he's ever had as a Capital last night Erskine was questionable all the way up through the pre-game skate. When you look at the results at the end of the night on the stat sheet: 15 minutes and four blocked shots for the game. He did have a holding penalty.But last season he often didn't play 15 minutes on his better nights, yes I know Poti is out but right now I'd consider Poti #5 on the blue line depth chart anyway and even on nights like this in prior season's Erskine would rarely get 15 minutes if he was 100%. The caliber of his play has been raised and the confidence everyone especially himself and the coaching staff have in him is probably best shown by how he was used last night while he wasn't even 100% and everyone - including the opposing team knew that. Just sayin' that's all.

Lots of other good items noted and stats from the game in the recap by the master - Peerless over here.

Next up for the Caps will be the Maple Leafs in Toronto, tomorrow night at Air Canada Centre.

Elsewhere around the NHL last night:

The Flyers pasted a 6-2 beat down on the Ottawa Senators in a game where the Senators tried to keep things interesting and salvage some pride by getting physical with the Flyers. Umm really? seriously? You go into another team's building, get your butts kicked and then try and salvage some self respect by getting physical with against a team whose heritage includes the name Broad Street Bullies and you think this is going to play out well for you. I'd be guessing probably not and I think in retrospect, I'd be right. So from PuckDaddy here's the links to a couple of videos of fisticuffs in the so called "line brawl" in the third period. I'd argue the initial Giroux - Foglino bout wasn't as "clear" a win for Foglino as might be inferred from Wysh's choice of words and the Rutuu - Hartnell fight was no contest, Hartnell got a lot more licks in than he took; and the Shelly - Neil bout ends with Shelly clearly in total control and more than making up for the scant few punches Neil got in at first. A few other videos and descriptions of the fights are here at "The 700 Level" apparently none of the eight (8) goals scored in the game were near as interesting as the any of the five fights or the fact that combined both teams racked up 126 penalty minutes since the only place you see video around of those goals are the combined game highlights and there are numerous links to any one or more of the five fights. Yeah sure the league and others "wish" fighting would just go away and the only thing fans find interesting in hockey is goals being scored ... sure that's the way things are, just ask Gary...

In LA the Coyotes beat the Kings 2-0 and the Kings are still complaining about the first Phoenix goal. So here's my thoughts - I agree with the statement by Mike Murphy, the NHL's senior vice president of hockey operations, told FSN's Jim Fox that there was no conclusive replay that would have overturned the goal based on the replays posted on the interwebs. To me it's a call like the one where MAF robbed Mike Green of the OT winner against the Penguins here in DC. Was the call on the ice wrong, yeah probably. However, the video available for review wasn't adequate to overturn the call on the ice. That's hockey. Anyway did it matter? The Kings failed to score so the most accurate conjecture although you never know is that given how the rest of the game played out LA still would have lost 1-0 and taken their record in the last 12 games to 2-10-0. Bottom line really is when your team is going through a stretch like that you just have to make sure you don't grab onto any excuses and you take ownership of just making things happen to turn it around. Sure doesn't seem like that's a thought currently shared by King's GM Dean Lombardi who is being quoted on the call last night as saying:

Lombardi said, speaking of Murphy, "When the guy in Toronto making the decisions on the goals, in Ottawa and the one tonight, wanted the G.M.'s job in L.A. and was not happy about not getting it, you have to assume you are going to get those type of calls. However, we have put ourselves in a position where these calls have a monumental effect on our season, and we're going to have to find a way out of it ourselves."

Way to be the bigger man and lead, I thought "California Guys" were supposed to be all laid back and stuff even when they are being intense.

Final score in Pittsburgh last evening Devils 2 - Penguins 0. Sure the Pens were without the services of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin but hey 114 is a lot of shutouts and Marty is the current active leader in the category. Last night's SO was his fourth (4th) of the season - considering he has 9 wins the fact that 44.44% of his wins this season are by shutout would sort of say that even at age 38, this guy can and does still play the game at the NHL level and he's pretty darn good, wouldn't you be forced to agree. Especially given the way the team in front of him has had to play with what is basically a short bench while changing their system in front of him all season.

The Detroit Red Wings are working towards having Evgeni Nabakov back in the NHL and in front of the pipes for the remainder of the season. As soon as he clears waivers. Lots of speculation last night about that on Twitter but I agree with TSN's Bob McKenzie, odds are that Nabakov will in fact make it through and be guarding the net for Detroit. That's probably not great news for other teams who have their eye on the ultimate prize in Hockey and playing into late May and early June. However, as they say, that's why they play the games on the ice....

In other news my thoughts and my wish for a sound and speedy recovery go out to former Capital Tomas Fleischmann who had been on fire since joining the Avalanche in the trade that brought the Capitals Scott Hannan. Fleischmann's season has ended when two blood clots were found, one in his lungs. Flash had found new life in the Avalanche line up and the injury is yet another blow to Colorado who has been riddled with injuries all season. As many reading will recall, "Flash" missed Capitals' training camp a few years ago when he developed a blood clot when flying home after the Caps were defeated by the Penguins.

Finally before I close this post if you haven't seen what happened when news of the Winter Classic results reached "The Fuhrer" here's a glimpse from inside the brain trust sort of 24/7 like.... Wonder how he reacted when he saw Marty got his 114th SO at the expense of the Penguins, Bylsma is probably toast and already on his way to Stalingrad.....


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Checking In On The NHL With Just 10 Days Before the All Star Game

Well fellow Cap fans here we are on the precipice of the event which generally is used to mark the middle of each NHL Regular Season - the All Star break, even though in the Washington Capital's case they are now six (6) games past that actual point as are most other teams in the league as well. Today, Thursday, January 20th, 2011, the Caps are in the middle of a three game Eastern Conference road trip/swing before returning to Verizon Center to face the New York Rangers on Monday evening. Tonight the Capitals will face the New York Islanders in Uniondale and then they travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs on Saturday evening.

There's a great interview with Semyon Varlamov over at Japer's Rink and if you haven't read it you should. There were three of his answer's that really impressed me, they aren't fancy or wildly expressive, that's not the reason they impressed me. Here's the excerpts:

How did you get beat in overtime?

"Their defenseman rolled up to me and shot under my glove. I didn't have time to react."

In the last game against Ottawa the team started out down 0-1 but scored two goals in 45 seconds. Tonight you were down 0-2 and scored two goals in 40 seconds. What's going on with Washington?

"The fact that we are playing badly the first two periods. We aren't scoring. Only then do we start saving ourselves. We need to give it our all for the entire sixty minutes. We are constantly allowing the first goal. But this is a very powerful league. To fight back, you have to break through the other guy's defense-you have to put forth a lot of effort. It isn't always successful. So we need to score first and carry the game. Then everything will be okay."

What do you think of Sergei Bobrovsky and his debut season in the NHL?

"I know Sergei well, we ran into each other on the national team. Bobrovsky is having a great season. He's a great guy! If you make it to the NHL in your very first season you've already played 28 games, then that shows that the guy is talented and he works a lot on himself and his mistakes. And you can achieve a lot of success if you don't stop."

To a fair degree the answers to these three questions reflect a couple of things about Varlamov that make me like him even more and make me continue you think he could very well end up really being "The Guy" here in Washington. Those three things are: 1) mature intensity, no excuses about why he got beat on an OT goal, just a direct factual answer - but underneath I sense he's been looking at that goal in his mind and thinking about what he'd do differently next time so he would have enough time to react, 2) clear understanding that even as talented as he and the rest of the Caps are, they need to work ev ery minute of every game like they can be beaten, and 3) he doesn't measure himself against others, that's why he can be both brutally frank and still be happy to see another peer like Sergei Bobrovsky do well. Anyway tonight's goaltender match up is probably Varlamov vs. DiPietro though it is possible that the Capitals might start Braden Holtby who was just called up from Hershey, and the Isles may also be without "DP" as he didn't skate today and was listed as "sick" and I don't think that's in the good way like when Alexander Ovechkin often uses the word as slang, so Nathan Lawson may be in net for them. Tonight should mark the return of Kyle Okposo and Frans Neilsen to the Islander's lineup while it looks like former Capital Milan Jurcina will not be available. For whatever reason, it always seems like the Islanders play well and hard against the Capitals regardless of how the rest of their season is going, so let's hope that tonight is one of those night's where as Varlamov said, the Caps play solid hockey for all sixty minutes.

More on the current health situation and development of Neuvy and Varly from Katie Carrera of the WaPo here - it's an article worth the read IMHO.

So with four more games before the All-Star break, the Capitals find themselves with two goaltenders who could and hopefully will make good use of the break and in the thick of a tightening contest for superiority in the Eastern Conference - right now the only team of the top nine in the Conference with any "breathing room" are the Philadelphia Flyers who the Caps battled back against before ultimately succumbing in OT on Tuesday evening with a league leading 30 wins and 65 points. There are only nine (9) points separating the second place team in the Conference (really Pittsburgh with 62 points) and the 9th place Carolina Hurricanes with 50 points, additionally the 10th place Florida Panthers (46 points) and the 11th place Buffalo Sabres (45 points) also can't really be counted out since they have three games in hands (while the Hurricanes have two in hand) on the eighth place Atlanta Thrashers (53 points). The Capitals (58 points) are battling for first place in the Southeast Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning (59 points); while the Penguins (62 points) and the Flyers (65 points) are battling for first place in the Atlantic Division, though the third place New York Rangers (57 points) also aren't out of that hunt either. Rounding out the top nine teams in the Eastern Conference are the defensively stingy Boston Bruins atop the Northeast Division with 59 points in 46 games played and the 7th place Montreal Canadeans with 56 points in 47 games played. All in all the remainder of the season, as well as the few weeks remaining before the trading deadline should be very interesting to follow when it comes to the NHL's Eastern Conference - welcome to parity.

For the Capitals it all continues tonight in Uniondale ...


Monday, January 17, 2011

Despite a 3-1 Win Over The Senators, Caps Still Need Minor Work ...

Yesterday afternoon's 3-1 win over Ottawa was the highlight of the last week for the Capitals. Yesterday's game was a good one by the Capitals, they played patient hockey, they stuck to their game plan - if you can say such a thing about a game where for the life of most people you can's discern who was playing with who on what line if they were wearing a red jersey - and in the end they prevailed convincingly. However yesterday's win meant the Capitals were 1-2-1 or 0.375 on the week when it comes to points captured vs. points possible, hardly their best week of the season. Perhaps the disturbing thing looking ahead for the rest of the season is the fact the Capitals have a schedule that is at least as tough as last week for the rest of the season, and it's not like things get any easier in the playoffs. The one team the Caps managed to beat cleanly last week is a struggling team, who arguably to a large degree beat themselves yesterday. Don't get me wrong, I'm not screaming like a crazy man for major rebuilds, etc. of the Capitals, I am just saying that playing like they've been playing doesn't give me a lot of confidence that they are on track this season for a deep run into the playoffs. They haven't been playing like that sort of team for going on eight weeks and that's a pretty long stretch of time. In fact as we all painfully remember for the month of December the Capitals went 5-6-3 and played 0.464 hockey; now so far this month they are 3-2-2 (0.571). Even more disconcerting is their play against likely "playoff teams" over that time span: 3-6-3; not exactly fear inducing to those potential playoff opponents.

So despite having 57 points in 46 games and being well on track for a 100+ point season, there's plenty of work the Capitals still need to do, if they want to achieve their goals this season. Earlier this month there was some speculation, locally here in the Washington DC metro, as to whether the Capitals might be "pacing themselves" - sure they're pacing themselves, just like I really worry about how winning a big Powerball Jackpot would mess with my life. Seriously, this is a team searching to identify what little tweaks it must do to win the tougher games and put away opponents consistently when they start a third period in control of the game. They aren't pacing themselves, the reason Bruce Boudreau and his mates on the coaching staff are constantly juggling the lines is not to make sure the team "paces itself" or their opponents can't get to fine "a bead" on them before the playoffs or anything silly like that. This team is looking for answers and because of the salary cap as well as the fact that of the 30 teams in the league AT LEAST 22 of them still have some reasonable possibility and hopes of making the playoffs so are NOT looking to give up anybody of "value" without getting something SIGNIFICANT in return. So making a deal that makes sense for a team is harder than ever right now for any NHL GM; and if you're George McPhee and the Capitals it might be even harder than for many others. Like many teams, the Capitals don't have much cap room; they have a very solid talent pipeline but to pick up what they need most right now, which in my and many others estimation is a solid second line center. That likely means they also need to trade away someone with a bit of a Cap hit to make room for the incoming player who will likely have a Cap hit of ~$4-5M for a full season. That won't be easy. The one place many worried about - goal tending - doesn't look to be all that much of an issue right now. Through 46 games, the Capitals young goal tending crew has had a combined GAA of 2.63, that's well within statistical norms to be considered "on par" with the other 20 or so likely and/or valid potential playoff teams. On defense while the Capitals continue to have a less "physical" defense than one might like (John Erskine is #2 on the team in hits (#1 is Ovechkin) with 97 is #44 in the league to date compared to Brent Seabrook of Chicago who is #9 with 140), the Capitals defense hasn't been the root of their issues these past eight weeks. The issue for the Capitals has been they've been weak offensively. Their previously high powered offense hasn't been putting the puck into the net, or even getting nearly as many high quality scoring chances per game as they've conditioned us all to expect. In the last eight weeks they've scored more than three (3) goals only three times in twenty-one (21) games and in those games they've been 2-0-1.

So the issue is that it's that time of year when the Capitals top six forwards need to start playing like their top six forwards - consistently. Here's a list of names for you: Scott Stevens, Patrick Roy, Nicklas Lidstrom, JS Giguire, Brad Richards, Cam Ward, Scott Niedermayer, Henrick Zetterberg, Evgeni Malkin, and Jonathan Toews. That list has three goaltenders, three defensemen, and four forwards - all centers on it; it's the list of Conn Smyth (playoff MVP) Trophy winners since 2000. My point here is, as importantly as secondary scoring, excellent team play, and great role players are to a deep Stanley Cup playoff run - this list would suggest that to win the Stanley Cup - your best players have to a) be your best players and b) be on their game, playing great hockey for the entire playoffs. The only way that usually happens is for those guys to be "on their best games" going into the playoffs, for the Capitals the only guys who are even close to fitting that are: Mike Green, Semyon Varlamov, and/or Michal Neuvirth. Given that in the post "lock-out" era, three of the five Conn Smyth Winners have been forwards, that's also not an especially comforting thought. It's time guys - its time - time for the best players to start consistently playing like the best players so the coaching staff can stop CONSTANTLY juggling the lines and this team can return to being a team with offensive flow as well as one that plays responsible hockey and defense. It's time to do that if this team is going to be ready for the 16 - 28 game second season that starts in the third week of April. To do that it's probably time for GM George McPhee to locate and obtain a solid, veteran second line or even "rental" first line center to enable that all to happen. That probably means it's going to cost the Capitals something. If the move works and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals results, everyone is likely to be happy. If it doesn't everyone will be looking at the move that gets made in the next couple of weeks in hindsight come June and thinking if not saying, well that wasn't all that smart. And like many other aspects of the game - that's hockey and that's why McPhee gets the big bucks. One things for certain the current status quo, especially against other playoff quality teams, isn't good enough to get there.

In the meantime, thanks for a solid game and two points yesterday Caps; next up the Flyers in Philadelphia on tomorrow evening.


Monday, January 10, 2011

At Just Past The Halfway Mark of the 2010-2011 NHL Season

Well here we are, as of tonight - January 9, 2011 - every one of the 30 teams in the NHL have played 40 or more games with most having played 41 or more, so I think it's fair to say the NHL current 82 game season is halfway complete. So what can we say about the NHL this year? Here's my thoughts and conclusions:

#1) The Salary Cap/Post "Lockout" Era is a mature concept and the result appears to be parity. Right now, halfway through the season out of 30 teams in the league I look at the standings and to me it seems we can only point to two, possibly three teams who have virtually no hope of a playoff spot. Only two teams in the Eastern Conference and one team in the Western Conference are more than 5 games out of a playoff spot when the games in hand are accounted for. Those teams are New Jersey with a league worst 24 points; the 29th place New York Islanders who have just 32 points, despite having a 7-3-0 record in the last 10 of their 40 games played to date; and the Edmonton Oilers whose 33 points in 40 games has them in last place in the Western Conference. Right now the eighth place team in the Eastern Conference is the Montreal Canadiens with 49 points in 42 games played, while the eighth place in the Western Conference is the Los Angeles Kings with 47 points in 41 games played. So here we are with every team having about a half of a season to play and the battle for every point mattering to 13 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 teams in the Western Conference.

In the Eastern Conference the are six teams battling for position in a band separated by eleven (11) points while at the top of the Conference there are six teams battling for Conference supremacy in a band separated by six (6) points. Here's what the Eastern Conference Standings look like this morning:

In the Western Conference it's even tighter. Only ten (10) points separate the 4th place Nashville Predators with 50 points and 14th place Calgary Flames with 40 points. The Western Conference standings this morning are:

#2) There's no doubt that that Winter Classic should be played in prime time from this point forward in anybody's mind, save possibly Gary Bettman's. Of course yet another reason why the NHL needs a new Commissioner that will likely be ignored by the Board of Governors.

#3) In addition to the three teams at the very bottom of the standings, the following seven additional teams should probably step back now or no later than the middle of January and consider this a "rebuilding year": Calgary, Columbus and Saint Louis in the West and Toronto, Ottawa, Florida and Buffalo in the East.

#4) Until the Capitals win a Stanley Cup, Hockey Pundits will continue to question everything about them and talk about how they aren't built right and/or don't play right - even when they play like everyone else in the league.

#5) This could be the year when in June, Hockey Pundits stop questioning everything about the Washington Capitals.

Next up the Florida panthers in Sunrise FL on Tuesday.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Capitals 3 - Panthers 2, A Two Point Night at Verizon Center ... But Does Any Of It Matter?

Well tonight I didn't go to the game, I wasn't feeling all that great and then this afternoon that horrible event in Arizona just took what little bit of possible enthusiasm I might have been able to muster for the game and sapped it all from me. So before I blog about the hockey game I watched here from my comfortable family room in bucolic Bristow, VA, i'd just like to say my prayers and thoughts are with the families of all those killed and injured this afternoon in Tucson, Arizona. From the family of a young 10 year girl, to the family of a Federal Judge both of whom lost their lives today to the family of Rep Gabrielle Giffords, whose husband Mark Kelly is a 1986 graduate of my own Alma Mater. I won't pretend to understand any of it, I do not. I can only say I will pray for you all and I wish you the best thoughts I can in getting through these trying times.

So in the midst of all that real life stuff, the Capitals played another NHL regular season game at Verizon Center tonight and beat the Florida Panthers 3 - 2 in regulation. Overall it was neither the prettiest nor the ugliest Caps game this season. The Caps started slow allowing the Panthers to score first early at the 3:49 mark of the first period and that's how the first period ended Panthers 1 - Caps 0. The first period was some kid of boring hockey to watch, neither team played very well or with any real energy. The Panthers managed to out shoot the Caps in the first stanza by a margin of 6-5 and outscore them by a margin of 1-0. Fortunately for us Caps fans, our heroes came out to play the second period with visibly more energy than they played the first period with, and the hero of the Winter Classic - Eric Fehr - knotted the score one all at the 5:32 mark of the period. The Caps kept the pressure on the Panthers pretty much the entire period but Panthers backup goalie Scott Clemmensen kept his team in the game. The Caps out shot the Panthers in the second period 12-9 and outscored them 1-0; the second period ended with the game tied 1-1. The Caps came out in the third and I just had a feeling they were going to win, despite Clemmensen continuing to play well. My positive thinking and the Capitals continued good play were rewarded at the 13:07 mark of the third when Mike Green and Eric Fehr teamed up again, this time with Green getting his 8th goal of the season on the power play to put the Caps ahead for the first time in the evening. Then at the 16:05 mark, Alexander Ovechkin, broke through both figuratively and literally scoring an "Ovechkin-esque" goal to put the Capitals up by a score of 3-1. It turned out the Caps needed the insurance goal because at the Panthers' Evgeny Dadonov scored his third of the season to pull the panthers within one goal at the 18:23 mark. Then just to make things really interesting, Nicklas Backstrom was sent to the penalty box for a 2:00 minor for cross-checking just 32 seconds later at 18:55 and we got to watch a 6 - 4 power play by the Panthers when they pulled Clemmensen. The Caps held on and got their 24th win of the season and pocket the two points.

The Caps outstanding players tonight were, IMO: Mike Green - another great game, he was all over the ice , playing for 24:10 @GreenLife52 had a goal, an assist, was +1, and had 5 SOG, 3 hits and 2 blocked shots; @EricFehr16 who also had a goal and an assist, was +1 and 2 SOG in 13:29 TOI - of late Fehr has been on fire and now has 6 points in his last 6 games; Alexander Ovechkin - a goal, an assist, 20:39 TOI, 6 SOG, 1 hit, 1 blocked shot - simply put tonight "Ovie was Ovie"; and Semyon Varlamov who stopped 25 of 27 Panther SOG for a 0.926 save percentage and had another great outing to earn his 8th win of the season.

Alexander Semin left the game in the second period after a "hip on thigh" hit that caused an unspecified injury and did not play in the third period. No more details than that on Semin's condition at this time.

The Caps are now 6-1-3 in their last 10 games; that's 15 out of 20 possible points or 0.750 hockey. That's pretty solid especially considering they are coming off what was their worst streak/stretch since Bruce Boudreau took the helm. The Caps have now played 42 games this season and they have amassed 54 points. They are on track to break 100 points for the third straight regular season and defense isn't the problem of late, a little more offense from their star forwards would be nice though when they are getting the kind of goaltending they've been getting it's not too much of a problem. Right now Varlamov has a SV% of 0.928 and a GAA of 2.08 for the season 3rd and 2nd respectively in the league; and Michal Neuvirth has a SV% of 0.911 and a GAA of 2.56.

Next up ... deja vu' the Caps and Panthers meet again on Tuesday evening in Sunrise, FL. Hopefully by then all the surviving shooting victims out in Arizona will be in stable condition and on the mend.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sorry Caps It's All My Fault; Lightning 1 - Caps 0 (OT)

So tonight was a one (1) point night for the Washington Capitals and in retrospect it's probably all my fault they didn't get two points. You see being superstitious, they won the last two games I've been to those being the 3-0 victory over Montreal and the 3-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Winter Classic. So I should have kept everything the same, but noooooo, I couldn't leave well enough alone. You see for the last two games I wore my brand new shiny John Carlson, Winter Classic Sweater, but tonight thinking that I should return to my "Rock The Red" Federov Red Sweater, that's what I wore to the game. What I failed to realize was that at some point early in December, that d@m* Federov Sweater had become evil, yep downright evil, so evil that it angers the hockey gods. In fact the hockey gods were so angry tonight that after looking down and bestowing three (3) goals on the Capitals in each of their last two games, those same hockey gods looked down and "smote" the Capitals on three occasions making pucks miss relatively empty nets on the three occasions during regulation play where Dwayne Roloson cracked the door open for the Capitals.

So the game ended a 0-0 tie in regulation. Both Washington and Tampa Bay come into the game with an average goals for per game of 3+ with rosters that boast some of the best scoring forwards in the league and at the end of regulation we have a 0-0 goaltender's battle in process. Not at all what I expected to be watching at Verizon Center tonight. But you know it was a very good game to watch. The Capitals have been playing some good defensive hockey of late in fact in their last 7 games they are while they have gone 5-0-2 they have allowed just 11 goals against (an average of 1.57) while scoring 19 goals (an average of 2.71). the problem is that other than the 5-1 victory over the New jersey Devils, they have not scored more than 3 goals in any of those seven games, and the biggest reason for the drop of in production seems to me to be the power play. In those seven games the Capitals have scored just 3 power play goals despite having 54:47 of power play time on 32 power plays during that span - that's a power play that is just 9.375% effective as opposed to their usual 25% since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the bench. Had they scored an average of 25% on the man advantage they would have scored 5 more goals and their average GF/G would be 3.43. While that might sound like a lot the reality is the games would have all likely been much more comfortable wins, including the two overtime losses. Do I think the answer is to "blow up the power play" as I've started to hear some folks discuss - not but I do think that some adjustments and changes need to be made. The Caps need "more" on the power play. More shots on goal, more traffic in front of the net, and more of a sense urgency to start with.

The penalty killing units were great tonight and have been over the last seven games as has the defense, the 5 on 5 scoring could ratchet it up a little but if the power play could only get back on track a huge portion of the current issues would be over come.

Congratulations to 41 year old Dwayne Roloson who got his 26th NHL shutout tonight; the man gets a shutout before he's even able to get his mask repainted after being traded earlier this week to Tampa Bay by the Islanders.

Well next up is the Florida Panthers here in DC on Saturday Evening.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

More Later But Winter Classic Was Awesome!

The Winter Classic - as far as the NHL Season goes it's just like any other two point game and in the end that's probably the bottom line. That said - it's an awesome fan experience as far as Wingman and I are concerned or at least the Winter Classic 2011 was.

I'm late posting and as far as tweeting goes I couldn't get AT&T Data Service while I was at the game so you know the score of the game ended 3-1 Capitals and the Caps came away with two points. You also know the Caps-Pens Series for 2010-2011 is now 1-0-1 Caps. That's nice but as I was reminded by many Penguins fans it's not about this time of year and the Penguins already have 3 Stanley Cups - and the core of this team has one of them. Okay, I get that and so do the Capitals. I'll also say my experience here in Pittsburgh has been great - even when I wasn't with my relatives and was with just ordinary Pittsburghers. However, like any exceptionally large group there''s always going to be some really out of control folks. In our section early in the game a Capitals fan who was out of control needed to be removed and left peaceably when security came over (he was using A lot of profane language and was very loud.) Of course that's nothing compared to the jerks in the section above us who threw beer on us from above after the Caps scored their third goal. I won't say "You Stay Classy - Pittsburgh" because I found the majority of the place to be excellent and the vast majority of people to be Classy. In fact until the beer throwing incident the only guy I felt didn't have good judgement or was a little misguided was the guy in front me in the restroom between the first and second period with a Jagr Sweater. So I'll say to the guys who tossed beer on us - "Real Classy Schmucks - you don't deserve such a good team."

I felt the game was played by both teams - excellently, except Marc-Andre Fluery. Fluery made three really poor decisions tonight, he got away with two of them but one cost the Penguins a goal; a second one should have, IMO as well. I felt the washout of the Ovechkin goal was not a good call - it sure looks like in the replay that Fluery skated into Ovechkin and not vice versa and it all happened because Fluery was out of position. Of course by the time it happened it really didn't matter. Once again the Caps played excellent defensive hockey the last five minutes of the third period.

Anyway, I'll have more tomorrow with some pictures, etc. But let me say as hockey experiences go, this one is absolutely right up there. The last time I had this sort of experience was at the Frozen Four in DC and this was actually better, and the fact it was a two point night made it even better.