Saturday, October 20, 2012

And the Insanity Continues - Four Weeks and Counting ---

Maybe I should have just titled this blog post, "this month's rant" but hey I really don't expect anyone to make it through to the end so let me give you the BLUF - bottom line up front:  a) the NHL's last offer to the NHLPA stinks as anything other than a starting point for reasonable discussions;b) if you were a player you wouldn't take it, I know I wouldn't; c) the latest PR campaign by the NHL to turn public opinion against the NHLPA is morally reprehensible and ALL fans should be insulted by it; d) as such I believe all fans should use every available outlet, in particular social media to let the NHL staff and Owners know they still hold the owners responsible for the LOCKOUT and the fact their henchmen Buttman and Daly aren't negotiating in good faith is wrong/stinks, etc. Now onto my rant with more details in case you want some sarcasm, etc. that you might find humor in since you don't have hockey to watch and the Nationals have been eliminated from MLB post-season play.

Well, last week the league - you know Gary Buttman and Bill Daly - finally put a reasonable initial counter-offer on the table to counter the reasonable initial offer the NHLPA has had on the table since July.  That was good news and we fans immediately got optimistic that progress might be quickly made and we might be able to attend an NHL game before January 1, 2013.  Alas it now appears that optimism was totally misplaced and the League - Buttman and Daly had no intention of using that as a starting point to negotiating in good faith and providing we abused hockey fans with the sport we crave.  Nope, not at all. Instead, what they wanted to do based on the events since the meeting on October 18th - that one hour long, grueling dialogue of emotionally draining, stressful attempt at compromise on their part, in the service of the Billionaire (or nearly so) owners , was to use it as a starting point for a PR war against the players that who after this ludicrousity is settled, are --- their product. 

You see ranging from the immediate press conference he held in front of a black background (am I the only one who see's the physical resemblance between Buttman at that press conference and "Barnabas Collins" in those old "Dark Shadows reruns?) to the ongoing self-serving portrayal of the "fairness" of the NHL's latest and  "best we can do" - so it's basically in negotiating speak a "best and final" offer; the NHL has been conducting a very urgent and concerted effort to make it sound like the players are being unreasonable now.  How crazy is that?  The NHLPA has had a reasonable starting point for negotiating a settlement on the table SINCE JULY.  The NHLPA wanted to start negotiating during the latter part of last season to avoid a lockout.  The NLPA has indicated a willingness since July and reiterated it with their three counter-proposals to move to a 50/50 split in a fair and reasonable way over time that honors all current contracts.  The League (is it really the League or is it these two wingnuts - Buttman and Daly - who fine anyone "on their side that voices a contrary opinion, call the Red Wings if you wonder what I'm talking about here.  Wait a minute, never mind they won't answer you anymore.

Let's be clear yes this is a battle between millionaires (the players) and billionaires (the owners) - no question there, this isn't your traditional labor dispute between a large group of people making between 40 and 100K and a couple of CEO's and their boards making millions.  That said, the players didn't put guns at these owners heads over the past 5 or 6 years and force them to sign the current contracts they have.  The owners did that on their own competing with each other for the services of the "best of the best" so they could own the team that held the Stanley Cup and reap all the financial and egotistical rewards and benefits that provides them and their organizations.  Sure some players play for 20 seasons in the NHL like Chris Chelios but many, many others have short careers - a lot like Brian Pothier and Tom Poti have careers shortened by injuries sustained during games.  Games that are played for our entertainment and games that provide the revenue that is being fought over.  Games that over the past NHL CBA generated revenues that have grown over 200% since that deal was struck and that the players were entitled to 57% of under the last CBA.  Before you scream "57%" incredulously, remember that 57% was a HUGE rollback and concession by "the players" last time.  Also remember since they agree to it, EVERYONE, has profited and benefited.  For the owners and players the revenue pool has grown to over $3Billion from ~$1.5B - since 2006 - that's huge growth; much better I'd postulate than any investment in almost any fan's 401K - and while the players have reaped 57% of that revenue there are ~1500 players sharing in their part of the pool; while on the owners side there are between 70 and 150 sharing in their 43% and as far as Capital gains go in addition to the increased ongoing revenues most of those owners now also own franchises worth A LOT more than the teams they owned in 2004-2005.

My point is simple - from a players perspective - pretty much any player in the NHLPA, the deal that Buttman and Dudley put on the table - STINKS.  That's right as anything other than a reasonable starting offer, it's a joke.  There is NOTHING in that deal that would or should entice any of the World's best European Players to come across the ocean and continue to enable the NHL to be what it has been up to this current LOCKOUT. (This is NOT a STRIKE - this is OWNERS depriving or attempting to deprive the best ice hockey players in the world - the ability to make a fair living and enable them (the owners) to renege on legal contracts they have signed over the last five years with those same players.)  There is also nothing in the league's last proposal that should keep the best North American players here playing for the NHL instead of "spreading the wealth" and raising the level of play in all those European Leagues where many NHL'ers are playing right now to either make a living or keep in shape.  Nothing at all on the part of the league.  If the NHLPA were to accept this deal, the only reason to play in the NHL vice the KHL, the Swedish Elite League, etc. is again you and me - a larger market of affluent fans here in North America.  In short, what i'm saying is the deal as currently offered to the NHLPA by Buttman and Daly is, in both the mid and longer term detrimental to the quality of product the NHL will put on the ice.  That's why if I were the Monumental Sports and Entertainment, MSG or any of the other 30 NHL Owners I'd be working very hard to use my Board of Governors vote and influence to show BOTH Buttman and Daly - the door.  As my dear departed father used to say - it's time to give these guys their walking papers - this is the third lockout that Buttman has choreographed, FANS DON'T FORGET THAT!  It is the reason to legitimately really dislike this guy and everything he stands for.  Whether, you have a son who plays hockey and aspires to make it to the NHL or you just have a sense of basic decency and fairness recognize that Mr. Buttman has done nothing over his tenure as the Commissioner of the NHL that hasn't been grounded in either serving his own ego or feeding the baser instincts of his collective masters (the owners), in particular their egos and greed.  Buttman is smart no doubt about it - his PR victories this past week make that clear.  But smart is NOT decent, moral, or fair.  In fact i doubt those words ever enter in Buttman and Daly's minds when they are "negotiating."

So here's where I'll reiterate some words from an interview between Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun that were reposted on PuckDaddy as I think they are "dead nuts on":

"Two questions of note from the Garrioch interview, including this one that's frankly leading the witness a bit: 
QMI: Why does the league not want to honour the deals that were signed?
FEHR: "They want to pay less money. That's all. It's really very simple: 'We've agreed to pay to the dollar all the contracts we've signed.' We've now decided that's more money than we'd like to pay.' The reason we made the last proposal the way we did was simply because they want to move toward 50-50. The players have already indicated they are willing to do that over time. The question is: Should you agree to honour the contracts you signed between now and then? Players think that's a straight-forward thing to do and not an unusual thing to do. It's sort of the way everybody does business." 
The "make whole" provision the NHL proposed tries to give the owners what they want (an immediate reduction in player costs) and the players what they want (the full value of their contracts, through deferred payment). No one can blame the players for being suspicious or mistrustful about the League's proposal, because the NHL has done little to earn that trust in this negotiation or through its actions back in 2005. 
That said, Nick Cotsonika nailed it: This was a path for the NHLPA to achieve its primary objective, and "they could have proposed that it come out of the owners' share instead. They didn't." 
The players deserve the full value of their contracts, and any NHL proposal that doesn't achieve that is garbage. But there's no question the League's latest salvo showed a desire to fulfill that obligation through some creative accounting; it's just a matter of whether the numbers add up and who pays for it. Which is why the NHLPA should build off that idea.  
It has potential.
• This was also interesting, regarding the PR victory for the League this week in gaining major sympathy from the fans: 
QMI: What's your message to fans who have spent the past couple of days calling players "greedy" after the 50-50 offer from the league?
FEHR: "It's pretty hard to treat seriously the notion that the athletes, who are the only people who anybody comes to watch, that they would be greedy in the face of a 24% reduction in their pay last time; billions of dollars went to the owners, not the players; seven years of record revenues that was more than anybody thought. The result of all that success is for the owners to say, 'OK, now we want to renegotiate all the contracts again and we want to lower them.' My message to the fans is: I don't think that characterization hits the facts very well. Hockey players are pretty down-to-earth people. That's why fans like and identify with them. They want to do the right thing. The right thing here happens to be proceeding in a way which is not merely, 'Oh the owners asked for billions of dollars I guess we have to give it to them because who are we? Hockey players.' " 
Fehr is completely right here. 
It's been stunning to witness fans and media turn off their brains and swallow up the NHL's talking points out of an insatiable desire to have an 82-game schedule. There's been way too much "oh, they went 50/50, take the deal boys!"; it's a sentiment that exists without regard for the contractual concessions the players would have to make, the revenue sharing system and other considerations that make "50/50" an unbalanced deal.
We ask these men to sacrifice their bodies on a nightly basis. We ask them to sweat and fight and bleed, to show resolve that many of us couldn't imagine having in pressure situations. 
And then we expect them to fold like origami when the League finally makes a mature, quasi-equitable proposal? 
Again, it's a credit to Bettman and the NHL (and Frank Luntz) that the proposal and the PR blitz worked this week. But like Fehr said: If you're a "greedy players" person, that characterization doesn't hit the facts very well."
So I say NHL Fans - go forth and light up the social media and the web from Twitter, to Facebook, to TSN.CA to any and all outlets including NHL.COM to let the owners of the NHL that you know how cray and stupid and disingenuous Buttman and Daly's PR campaign is and that YOU the fans want NHL hockey back on the ice and NOW and the fact it's not is wholly the fault of their henchmen Buttman and Daly.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

How Long Will The Insanity Last?

Grown men getting paid AND MAKING absurd sums of U.S. Dollars to play that game we hockey fans love to call simply "PUCK" and now with Fehr and Bettman just screwing around, today's musing by me is when oh when will I again be able to watch a live pro hockey game in person here in the Nation's Capital? One wonders will I need to fly to Moscow or Sochi in order to see some hockey the way it was meant to be played by the Amazing Eight (or is it now the Amazing Thirty Two) if I'm to see it "live" before the middle of our current decade? Well at least there's the internet and youtube.

 Oh and for the record Gary Bettman you are truly, truly deserving FOREVER MORE of my "Hockey Hate", this it the third stoppage under your "leadership" and you truly STINK! How anyone ever thinks you are a capable and good Commissioner of the NHL is beyond me. I believe the issue is that the NHL Board of Governors can't agree on ANYTHING and that includes firing your sorry, ugly short, condescending, pompous, self-important arrogant butt.

In case anyone is forgetting what we are missing - here is a reminder: Ovechkin Highlights on YouTube .

As we used to say back in the day at my Alma Mater - "That is all, Carry, On."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Okay, I'm Back In the Blogsphere - At Least I'm Thinking I Am..

Hello there, fellow Washington Capital Fans, after a three month hiatus, I decided I'm going to start blogging again here on my Mark's Musing's page. For the most part I again plan to spend most of my blogging Musing about the Washington Capitals. We've "re-upped" our season tickets again this year and are looking forward to another season being that "Usually Frustrated Caps Fan." That said, given my break and the fact this year I've resumed another long-standing avocation - sailing, you can probably guess I'll have some musings about that as well as the life of a 50 something living in these United States. I'll try and give you fair warning of the main thrust/content focus of each blog post so you can read on or stop early on as well. This post will, surprise be mainly about, my feelings, hopes and dreams for this season 2012-2013 Washington Capitals team. While it might be hard to get inspired about ice hockey during a muggy, steamy August day in DC while we're not even positive this upcoming NHL season will start on time, I got inspired to muse about the Capitals today thanks to good ol' Corey Masisak's 30 in 30 post on NHL.Com... So what got me "Musing" well, of course I've been lamenting the signing of one of my favorite Capitals, Alexander Semin by the SE rival Carolina Hurricanes for some time and the fact it doesn't seem the Capitals changed much since NOT winning the Southeast Division for the first time in five seasons in 2012 and then I took a good look at the lineup Masisak is projecting for the 2012-2013 Capitals: Forwards Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson Mathieu Perreault - Mike Ribeiro - Troy Brouwer Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward Matt Hendricks - Jay Beagle - Joey Crabb Wojtek Wolski Defensemen Karl Alzner - John Carlson Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green Dmitry Orlov - Jeff Schultz John Erskine - Jack Hillen Goaltenders Braden Holtby Michal Neuvirth. Well bottom line is despite the fact the rest of the Southeast seems to be pretty well upgraded going in to the 2012-2013 regular season, I'm thinking the Capitals will have a heckuva good team, IF they can find the offensive outputs that their top three lines are clearly capable of while not back-peddling on defense this season. Also I like the fact the Capitals will likely start the season with ten (10) plus (+) million of Cap space. That should enable GMGM to make a trade or two and bolster the blue line corps if he needs to do that or do anything else that might need to be done during the season. Also you have to wonder if 2012-2013 is a "retooling" year, then what else really needs to be done, even without Semin, the Caps have a very solid set of forwards. There are at least nine guys capable of 20 goal seasons on that list and I see Wolski getting a sweater more nights than Crabb, and that doesn't even begin to look at some of the guys in the pipeline like Stan Galiev or Evgeny Kuznetsov, though it is indeed time for the Capitals to "reload" the talent pipeline. Just three short years ago the Caps talent pipeline was ranked in the top five in the NHL by Hockey's Future and now it's in the bottom five, this seems a bit harsh to me but not ridiculously so. That's the problem, given how much talent has "graduated" from prospects to clear NHL players in the Capitals organization, well bluntly and clearly, once again the time for success is "now". The fact true post season success hasn't happened yet is clearly frustrating to both we fans and the entire Capitals organization. What is/has been the missing ingredient, that "secret sauce" that will push them over the edge and into the true NHL elite, which to me is "the final four" teams in the playoffs? I really do not know and that's not my job. I'm just a fan, a happy go lucky fan. I love to watch a well played NHL game; I get smiles watching guys like the Great 8 make moves I know only he and a couple other humans alive can do, almost every night he plays. I enjoy the "heck" out of watching guys like John Carlson, Karl Alzner, John Erskine, Roman Hamrlik, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, and especially Jason Chimera and Matt Hendricks playing "the game" - "theee right way." I get goosebumps watching Mike Green take the puck end to end and setting up an offensive flurry by the other high flying speedy guys like Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. I really, really do. That's why I will indeed really, really miss Sasha Semin. It's also why I really don't know what's been missing, other than to call it that last little catalyst called chemistry. it's also why clearly I miss hockey and sooo terribly hope that nothing as stupid as forgetting what caused the last lockout and how much that hurt EVERYONE who wants to see professional hockey succeed delays the start of the 2012 - 2013 NHL Regular season. LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's Been An Interesting Month --- Lots of Differences and Lots of Similarities ...

I last posted a blog here on April 15th - tax day or almost tax day. A lot has changed and a lot remains the same. In the changed category there are now only eight teams left in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the same category, the Capitals are again/still locked in an intense battle to stay alive in their quest for the team's first ever Championship playing very good and very tight hockey against a favored opponent. When I last posted the Caps - Bruins round 1 playoff series was tied at one game a piece and I really had no idea how I would end up remembering the 2011-2012 Capitals. Today, the Caps are tied 2 games a piece in their second round playoff battle with the New York Rangers; and I definitely know how I'll remember this season, regardless of how the rest of it plays out. I will remember the 2011-2012 Capitals as a gritty, hard working never say die team with character. I will remember them as a team who has been able to match stride for stride two other gritty, hard working character never say die teams in this years playoffs - the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers. I was pleasantly surprised when the Caps, "our Capitals" knocked off Boston in Round 1, I mean I knew the Caps were and are a very talented team, and I know they "want it". However, when the Caps failed to close-out the series at home in Game 6, I was worried, Boston is NOT an easy place to play any time, let alone in a game 7. However, thanks to solid games by virtually everyone on the ice, a 0.969 SV% by Braden Holtby, 18 blocked shots by the team's skaters including a game high 5 blocked shots by John Carlson, and an epic game by the third and fourth lines the game ended on a 2-1 overtime wining goal by off season pick-up Joel Ward. Last spring Ward earned an off season "pay day" as an Unrestricted Free Agent signing by the Capitals because of his big game play as a Nashville Predator in the playoffs. This season's playoff performances by Ward are making Capitals GM George McPhee once again look prescient. I'll remember this team as a very gritty, never say die team because of this year's playoffs. So far this season the Capitals have played 11 Playoff Games, only one of them has been decided by more than one goal, the Rangers' 3-1 Game 1 victory at Madison Square Garden on Saturday April 28th. Five of the Capitals 11 playoff games so far have required overtime to determine the winner, including of course the triple overtime marathon game 3 versus the Rangers on Wednesday Evening/Thursday Morning at Verizon Center. A 2-1 victory by the Rangers in a goalie's duel that goes a long way in making sure no one ever thinks that "double headers" at least between the same two teams are ever going to be an idea that catches on in the NHL. Game 3 against the Rangers ran 102:09 (the 14:41 mark of period "6") at which time the Rangers took advantage of a couple of missed assignments and miscues by the Capitals in their own end that enabled Ranger sniper Marian Gaborik to put the game ending goal behind Holtby. The stat sheet from that game is pretty mind boggling to look at; both teams combined for 81 blocked shots (40 for the Capitals, 41 for the Rangers)and that's just one example of "playoff hockey" that can be found Holtby stopped 47 of 49 shots on goal for a 0.959 SV% while Lundquist stopped 45 0f 46 (0.978 SV%). On the Rangers Brian Boyle had 9 hits and 2 blocked shots, one of which he stopped with his face. After taking the puck to his face, Boyle still returned to the game to win a few more of the 17 faceoff draws he won (Boyle was 17 of 31 for a 55% face off win percentage. On the Capitals side of the ice Ovechkin also had 9 hits, though the Caps team leader in that department was Matt Hendricks with 11 hits. Hendricks' numbers balanced Boyle's nicely, in addition to his 11 hits, Hendy was 71% in the face off circle winning 12 of 17 draws and he also had two blocked shots though none with his face, at least not from my viewing angle. Yesterday's Capitals - Rangers game 4 was another tightly played game, though the Capitals clearly played their best period of hockey so far in the playoffs in yesterday's first period and the Rangers were on their heels for most of that period. In any case before the second period was over the Rangers had come back and we Caps fans again found ourselves watching a tightly played third period in a game which could have gone "either way." Both teams pretty much had their "A Game" out there except for minor faux paux' and when a team made a mistake, they pretty much paid for it. The good news for us Caps Fans is that our team is skating stride for stride with the opponents and not shrinking from any on ice battles. After yesterday's 3-2 win, the Caps find themselves again in a best of three games contest to see if they will continue their quest. The other good news is there are no doubts being cast about the team's stars' abilities in these playoffs and the entire team seems committed to each other and to winning. Look at the goal scorers so far in this years playoffs and you see familiar names; listen to the pundits and you hear some familiar names being used in unfamiliar (at least for the MSM)contexts such as Semin & "great two way play", etc. The bad news is none of their opponents are going to "mis-underestimate" them. The Rangers are also "playing for keeps" so the only thing for sure about the rest of this current series is we will continue to get to watch some excellent hockey, playoff hockey, Hunter Hockey. Next up, the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, tomorrow evening. LETS GO CAPS!!!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"The Difference" ... "What's the Difference?" You May Ask

You hear it all the time, someone asks you: "What's the difference?" its a question asked about so many things. Time for instance: "What's the difference between now and 10 days ago or from now?" Well, a lot ... yes ... A LOT really for example, 10 days ago I was hoping the Washington Capitals would/could make the playoffs, I even still had some hope they might win the Southeast Division for a fifth season in a row, then. Ten (10) days from now I'll hopefully be hoping they win their second playoff series of 2012. So, A LOT will/could be different with regard to that particular item of interest to me. Things for example: "What's the difference between being tied 1 game all in a best of seven series and down 2 games to zip?" Well A LOT really, just ask any of the sixteen teams in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs but most especially ask the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Vancouver Canucks or the Florida Panthers, or better yet watch the Panthers when they play the New Jersey Devils to day and try to avoid the current predicament the Penguins and Canucks are in. Ten days ago if you had told me we'd be here today with the Caps coming home from Boston after 6 periods of regulation hockey, one full period of playoff overtime, and two partial periods of playoff overtime having allowed a total of just two (2) that's TWO goals against and with the series tied one game apiece against the Boston Bruins; while the Penguins and the Canucks were going on the road to LA and Philadelphia trailing their series two games to nil, I'd have said with as surly and sarcastic tone I could muster: "Yeah, RIGHT, sure ...." But I guess that's why they play these Stanley Cup playoff game things on the ice and not in our minds. Oh and let me just say this relative to "What's the difference?" - what's the difference in having Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup and NOT having Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup? Well it's about the same these last two games against the Bruins as not having Alexander Semin in the lineup and playing the best two way hockey of ANY foward in either Boston or Washington's lineup as having Semin in the Capitals lineup and playing the absolute BEST hockey any of us Washington fans have seen him play, ever. That's the difference. Thank you to the young guns, ALL of them Backstrom, Green, Semin, and Ovechkin for totally showing up so far this series. Also thank you to John Carlson, Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner, and Dennis Wideman who have also been BEASTS on the ice in the last 10 games but especially so in the two playoff games so far against Boston. Actually, I'll go so far as to say, the entire team is looking good, even Jeff Schultz who I have been "ragging on" a far amount during games on my twitter twit stream, has played great, playoff hockey, so far this series.

In fact, the Capitals - Bruins series has been absolutely awesome so far. Great hockey. It just goes to show you, you don't need to see a lot of goals getting scored to watch a really great game of sport. (Are you listening - Gary?) For example, take soccer or as the ROW (Rest of World) calls it football, how many games see more than a couple of goals scored? Not many. Now take an NHL Stanley Cup Playoff game which would you rather have watched, yesterday's 2-1 2OT game between the Caps and Bruins or Friday's 8-5 game between the Penguins and the Flyers? Really ... No, REALLY. Think about this right now after two playoff games:

Goaltender SV% GAA
Braden Holtby 0.973 0.83
Tim Thomas 0.964 0.83
Roberto Luongo 0.891 3.59
Ilya Bryzgalov 0.857 3.93
Marc-Andre Fluery 0.804 5.45.

Is Fluery playing hurt? and I'm not just talking about either physically or mentally but perhaps both right now. We know he is a competitor, or as Dale Hunter might say, "battler" - a term that Hunter needs to find a synonym for, but since I'm superstitious, i hope he's wearing the EXACT same blue suit on Monday he wore yesterday and Dale, even if it gets/has gotten all sweaty and stuff whatever you do, do NOT get it cleaned until either the Capitals win the Cup or loose a playoff game. Seriously, though if you are Dan Bylsma, don't you think about giving Brent Johnson a start in Philly in Game 3? Isn't game 4 too late? One can argue that it's not time to change anything if you are the Flyers, and given I'm suggesting that Dale Hunter change nothing, not even his clothes given the way the Capitals are playing, you know what I'd do if i was coaching the Flyers. Now what about Vancouver? After all even though Bobby Lou is the number one goalie and one of the faces of the franchise, and his backup is an American who only played 33 regular season games to Luongo's 55, Corey Schneider did end the regular season with a SV% of 0.937 and GAA of 1.96 to Lou's 0.919 and 2.41 - might it be a time to give him a chance between the pipe when the Canucks faceoff against the Kings in LA tonight? I mean maybe Luongo has a stomach virus or some other contrived illness management can tell their fan base so they don't have to deal with the malstrom such a move would create. But after all isn't it time to do something different for BOTH Pittsburgh and Vancouver? I mean, hey, what's the difference? Two other things on goalies to think about today. 1) I'm rooting for Jose Theodore to have a great game today, Theo's SV% in game one vs. the Devils: 0.921 and he played better than his GAA of 3.05 indicates. 2) The best goalie so far in the playoffs - well I have to say given the results and overall numbers that would be Jonathan Quick in my book, key numbers Two (2) Wins; SV% 0.946, GAA 2.00. If Quick keeps playing that way and the rest of the Kings keep up the pressure on the Canucks like they have been, it really probably won't matter whether the Canucks play Luongo the rest of the series or give Schneider a chance to show what he's got, it's hard to see the Canucks taking the Kings past five, let alone six games this series.

Now about the Caps - Bruins and game three tomorrow night at Verizon Center. I don't think I've anticipated a Caps game as much, ever. True I've really only been a true Caps fan for the last seven years/seasons. However, I haven't anticipated and been into a playoff series this much since I was growing up a Flyers fan and the broad Street Bullies were on their way to their first Stanley Cup. Really. Also Caps fans please don't think less of me, I have seen the light, haven't I? I've been trying to figure out why I'm so into this series and I think it's because of all the uncertainty I have about the teams and also how much I really, really hope the Caps go deep into the playoffs this season because I really LIKE this team and think they have the right mix of talent and grit for the future long haul as well as to win today. I know that Games 1 and 2 were absolutely TOTALLY AWESOME to watch on TV, and just thinking about how awesome it will be Rock The Red on Monday and Thursday evenings has me squirming in my seat. This Hunter Hockey thing might catch on too. I mean who would you rather be this morning Sidney Crosby, Captain of the Pens down 2-0 to the Flyers with 4 points (3 G and 1A) or Alexander Ovechkin, Captain of the Capitals tied 1-1 with the Bruins and coming to home ice with 1 point (1A)? I'm thinking it's a much better day to be Ovie than Sid, but hey that's just me. Also think about this lifetime in the playoffs, Ovechkin has played 39 playoff games and averages 1.31 points per game, so if you think that eventually players regress or progress to the norm, should the Caps get past Tim Thomas and this very stingy Bruins team, things could get even better for Capitals. That said, we are watching Hunter Hockey in the playoffs for the very fist time and there are A LOT of differences to anything we've seen played in the playoffs these last five seasons. It truly is defense first, in every way - from the way players are pulling the puck into their bodies and physical envelopes and getting control of and protecting it, instead of pushing it away, immediately being in the position to move forward, BUT being exposed for a takeaway; to the protective arc that forms around the Caps goal with three or four players blocking shots whenever the Bruins start to really press things. I don't thing the Caps will change a lot regardless of who they face next if they can get by Boston. Why the "if they can get by Boston" you might ask to which I'll reply, there have been a total of four goals scored so far this series and it definitely could go either way. Now for those of you that thought I might continue the comparison of whether I'd want to be Crosby or Ovechkin - Crosby has played 64 games, averages 1.34 points per game, and has 2 goals and 2 assists so far this year, he's not the reason the Penguins trail 2 games to zip though he has apparently made a couple of mental errors against the Flyers, and he has a Stanley Cup Ring. There are just some comparisons that aren't worth making between Sid and Ovie yet and until the Capitals win their first franchise Stanley Cup, playoff stats are one of them.

In any case, this morning I'd much rather wake up a Washington Capital, San Jose Shark, Chicago Blackhawk, Detroit Red Wing or New jersey Devil then a Pittsburgh Penguin or Vancouver Canuck, that's really all I've got to say about that subject. Oh and about tomorrow night:


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Morning Hockey Musings - 4/1/2012

Wow sports fans, just wow. First let's focus on the couple of really big things that happened in the NHL world this week:

1) The New York Hockey Rangers notched their 50th win of the season. Yes, I'm a Caps fan but you can't or shouldn't in my opinion fail to mention/point out a 50 win season by any team at the NHL level. So far this season only the Rangers have hit that mark and only five (5) other teams have the mathematical possibility of doing so, further I'd say only three (3) of those five (5) have a reasonable chance of hitting 50 wins this season: Vancouver, Saint Louis, and Pittsburgh. So it's a notable achievement and it should be mentioned. Further it and the fact the Caps have 40 wins of which 36 are "ROWs" but are in second place in their division to the Florida Panthers who have 37 wins (31 ROW) is why until my dying breath I will advocate that EVERY NHL regular season game should be worth 3 points, not just the games that end tied after sixty minutes; but that's a different blog post that will be shortly forthcoming.

2) The Washington Capitals did what they had to this past week and they need to keep doing it - that's win games and get standings points. The Caps are alone in eighth place this morning and the only team that can "knock them out" of the playoffs are the Buffalo Sabres who they lead by two points (1 game) and who they hold the tiebreaker over as well. Both the Sabres and the Caps have 3 games left in the regular season. The Sabres play the Maple Leafs for their home ice finale on Tuesday evening in Buffalo and then finish their season with road games at Philadelphia on Thursday and Boston on Saturday. Despite losing to Toronto in Toronto last evening after loosing a tough one to Pittsburgh on Friday evening, I can't forget that they started the week by beating the Capitals 5-1 at Verizon Center and are still 6-2-2 in their last ten games, so I don't expect the Sabres to make it easy for the Capitals. On the week the Caps were 3-1 with victories (though inclusive of a couple of nail biters) over Minnesota last Sunday and Boston and Montreal on Thursday and yesterday respectively. Let's just not talk about their loss to the Sabres on Tuesday, seriously let's not - it hurts too much since if the Capitals had won that game they'd have 90 points to Buffalo's 84 and in need of just one more win to "clinch" a playoff spot. They'd also be tied in points with Florida and be a/2 game closer to winning the Southeast Division. In any case as of this morning the Capitals are 5-3-2 in their last ten games and are two points/one game closer to clinching a playoff spot then they were last week at this time.

3) Who's the toughest/best team in the NHL today? Does that really matter since they are all just 3 or 4 games away from the "second" season? What matters to me is the remaining battles/races for the playoffs. In the East you have four teams battling for three playoff spots: Florida, Washington, Ottawa and Buffalo. Four points (2 games) separate the top of that heap (Florida and Ottawa) at 90 points from the bottom (Buffalo) at 86. In the West you have six teams battling for three playoff spots: Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Dallas Colorado, and Calgary. Calgary is basically 1/2 game away from mathematical elimination; while Colorado is a full game away from mathematical elimination. However, as the cliche' goes, it ain't over till the fat lady sings and so it "ain't over" yet for either of those two teams though it could be on Tuesday if either San Jose of Phoenix wins. In the East it could be over for Buffalo as early as Tuesday as well if the Capitals win in Tampa on Monday and the Sabres fail to get at least a point on Tuesday when they play Toronto at home.

So, we still live in interesting times eh?


Monday, March 26, 2012

Don't Look Now ...

Don't look now but the Capitals are 6-2-2 (0.700) through their last 10 games. What does that mean, you ask. It means the Caps are in 8th and the Sabres are in 9th place both with 84 points in 76 games played going into Tuesday Night's showdown at Verizon Center. It means we, Washington D.C. hockey fans live in interesting times that's for sure. It also means that if the Caps beat the Sabres on Tuesday they will be 7th or 8th place depending on what happens tonight in Winnipeg when the Jets take on the Senators. Yep, interesting times for sure. That's indeed what these times are.

Yesterday I posted it was a time for Caps fans to think positive, the past is not any indication of the future in professional sports, seriously, anything can happen - thats why they play the games on the ice. Think about it, why else is it that only once since the lockout has the President's Trophy winner won the Stanley Cup - the 2008 Detroit Red Wings. In fact here's some interesting food for thought: The 2011 Boston Bruins finished 7th in the league regular season standings before going on to win the Stanley Cup last year. The 2010 Chicago Blackhawks finished third in the league standings before going into the playoffs and winning "Le Cup." The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins finished in eighth place before going on to win the Stanley Cup. We already covered the 2008 Red Wings. The 2007 Anaheim Ducks finished the regular season in fourth and the 22006 Carolina Hurricanes also finished in fourth. Each of those teams went on to win the Stanley Cup; the only thing to note though is the only one of those teams to go on to win the Cup and finish the regular season with less than 100 points are the 2009 Penguins and they finished the season with 45 wins and 99 points. If the Capitals made a run at the Cup this year it would be something unique for sure. So history would be made... and it could all start tonight...


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Morning Hockey Musings ... 3/25/2012

Well Caps fans this morning we arise with "our team" still firmly lodged "on the bubble in 9th place in the Eastern Conference and 2nd Place in the Southeast Division. Here we are just 7 games from the end of the 2011 - 2012 NHL regular season and surprisingly the more things changed this season the more they remained the same. Overall the Caps have amassed 82 of 150 possible points in 75 games thus far (0.547) and they have the game they need to move up from 9th to 8th in hand, in fact they will play that game this evening here in DC at Verizon Center against the Minnesota Wild. How that game will go is likely anybody's guess, the 2011-2012 Washington Capitals have not been predictable, I have no idea or desire to prognosticate as to any individual game or it's results these days. I know my abilities to do so relative to the Capitals is entirely inadequate. After all on Friday Night if anybody had asked me after the first period the likely result of that game against the Jets, I would have confidently said it was going to be a two point night for the Capitals. Silly me, Trix are for kids....

Well what is there to say? I have one thing to the fellow Caps fan walking down F Street after Friday's game who said to me and others loudly: "They don't deserve to be in the playoffs" - I'll say this: if the Caps or any other team in the NHL makes the playoff cut when the 82 game season ends - they sure as heck do deserve to be there. Eighty two games is grueling. The Caps like any other team in the NHL have had more than their share of trials and tribulations over that period. For me, I can't wait and only hope that Nicklas Backstrom makes it back into the lineup this season sometime before the Caps stop playing hockey games, whenever that is. I'm glad to see Mike Green returning to form albeit with a slightly changed game. I'm ecstatic that over the last five games Ovie has been Ovie. I was very glad to see Alexander Semin out on the ice on Friday and even happier he had a good game after missing a couple. I could go on about everything I'm glad about with the Caps but I think I've made my point, if you make the playoffs you deserve to be there, so enough of that negative stuff fellow fans. No I'm not suggesting that we all celebrate the fact that on Friday the Capitals let what is now a very precious standings point "get away" - NOT AT ALL. All I am saying is if they do make the playoffs, I'll be very happy about it, I'll be at Verizon Center for the games, and I'll know it's a "second season" and "anything can happen."

So what's it going to take for the Caps to make the playoffs - This morning I'm thinking that if Buffalo keeps going the way they are going (7-1-4 in their last ten games) and Ottawa keeps playing 0.500 hockey, the answer is 92 points, which is pretty much what it's taken every season since the "lockout" to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. That's 10 more points than the Caps have right now and it means the Capitals have to play 0.714 hockey the rest of the way or they will need some help. Winning five of seven games in the NHL is never easy, winning them this time of year against playoff quality teams is even harder. The Caps seven remaining games have them playing playoff quality teams 4 of those 7, but make no mistake any one of those games could be a chance for the other team to be "a spoiler" and all professional athletes have a lot of pride to drive them this time of year. So once again I say the Capitals are in a position where "win and they are in" - they are still in control of their own fate. They need to take control of each of these remaining seven games and play like they can play for all sixty minutes. That's 420 minutes of solid, tough, in control hockey - 420 minutes of dare I say it - playoff hockey. It all just means that for the Capitals, the playoffs have already started. They need to win 5 out of the next 7 games, that's just one more game than they'll need to win in any of their playoff series this spring. As Ralph Kramden would say "Mere bag of shells, Norton." So enough of the negative stuff fellow Caps fans .....

One question though - what is a "wild" anyway?


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Caps To Leave Verizon Center for Five Game On A High Note

It's been a four (4) point weekend for "our" Washington Capitals and that will enable the team to leave the friendly confines of Verizon Center where they are 23-10-3 (0.681) so far on the 2011 - 2012 NHL Season. Now they go on the road to Uniondale, NY; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; and Philadelphia, PA before returning to Verizon Center on Friday March 22nd to face the Winnipeg Jets for sixth (6th) and final time this regular season. If the Capitals ever needed to "turn around" their road record this season, they never needed it more than they do these next five games, so it's a good time for them to be leaving DC on a high point and with some solid confidence.

The Capitals are now 6-3-1 in their last 10 games (0.650) and have won their last three games as well as their last two road games. So once again the Capitals have me starting to think they just might make the playoffs. They are now in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and are only one point behind the Florida Panthers for first place in the Southeast Division, though Florida does still have one game in hand. Florida will have that game in hand until they play the Jets on March 3rd in Sunrise. That all means that it's entirely possible the game between the Panthers and the Capitals on March 5th here in DC at Verizon Center could be the most important game of the 2011-2012 NHL Regular Season for both the Capitals and the Panthers.

And so it begins. These next four weeks, these last four weeks of the regular season, well for the Capitals it's like "The Quickening" and they need to behave like Conner MacLeod and not Russell Nash. So to them I say: "Patience, Highlander. You have done well. But it'll take time. You are generations being born and dying. You are at one with all living things. Each man's thoughts and dreams are yours to know. You have power beyond imagination. Use it well, my friend." and if in the end, there can only be one then you know what the answer to this question must be: "If it came down to just us two, would you take my head?"


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cool A Two Point Night Comeback Victory Against the Islanders; #Caps 3 #Isles 2 (OT)

So the Capitals won their third game in a row for the first time since January 15th. This is also only the fourth time this season the Capitals have won more than two games in a row. That felt good, to have two point night and stay only three points behind the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead, as the FlaCats also won their third in a row against the Maple Leafs in Toronto tonight. Tonight's comeback victory in overtime kept the Capitals in eighth place, within reach of the post season, in the Eastern Conference. However the Caps sure had me worried there for a while. I came home late and turned the game on the TV and just as the TV picture pooped up "BOOM," Josh Bailey scores his seventh goal of the season to put the Islanders up 1-0 at 4:14 of the first period. Then it seemed to be a pretty even game even though the Capitals were outshooting the Islanders 20 - 15 by the end of the second period. The Caps had a few scoring chances by Islander goaltender Evgeni Nabokov held them scoreless.

The third period started with the Capitals continue to trail the Islanders by a score of 1-0 but Matt Moulson of the Islanders put his team up 2-0 with a solid effort that netted his 27th goal of the season. Even though I was watching from home, I could tell that hushed the crowd and took most of the energy out of Verizon Center. However, the Capitals did not give up and kept playing their game plan as they had all night but again Nabokov held them scoreless. That is until the Capitals got a bunch of traffic in front of the net and Troy Brouwer scored his 16th goal of the season at 16:31 of the final period of the game. Could it be? Were we in for an episode of "The Cardiac Kids?" Well at about the 18:00 mark, the Capitals pulled Michal Neuvirth in favor of a sixth skater. For a while though it looked like the Islanders once again had the Capitals number as they kept the Caps off balance and didn't allow them to force the play into the offensive zone for a while. However then the Caps forced an offensive zone face off and stacked up lots of traffic once again in front of Nabokov. At first to me it looked like Brooks Laich scored the tying goal but on the replay it was once again Troy Brouwer with his seventeenth goal of the season. How's that for getting off the schneid? Awesome night and game for Brouwer, he scored two goals tonight and his total combined distance from the net couldn't have been more than five feet. That tied the game at 2-2 setup the game to go into "Sudden Victory" overtime. I like probably very other Caps fan in the world was ecstatic at the time of the goal, even though at the time I had no idea how the game would turn out when it was over, the fact the Capitals scored to tie the game and they did so by once again "playing the game the right way" made me quite happy and restored my hope in the Capitals ability to pull something out of this up and down season.

Overtime, what can you say about it? Tonight overtime ended up being "Ovi-time" and that happened at just 1:35 into the extra period. The happy end to a two point night for the Capitals. This latest three game winning streak is important thing for the Capitals, hopefully they are the first three of several more. Tonight's result means the Caps finish the month of February with a 6-7-1 (0.464) record while the other two Southeast Division teams in the race for the playoffs Winnipeg and Florida finish the month with respective records of 7-5-2 (0.571) and 8-5-1 (0.607). Also, don't look now but the Tampa Bay Lightning are 6-4-0 in their last ten games and only one point behind the stumbling Maple Leafs with 64 points in 11th place in the conference. Things are getting interesting, crowded and interesting.

Next up New Jersey on Friday evening - LETSGOCAPS!!!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What If ... The NHL Season Started On 1/1/2012 and a Few other Random Musings About Hockey ...

After last night's Caps 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadians I started thinking ... what would things in the NHL look like if the season had started on New Year's Day? Why do I care you ask - well first off our Washington Capitals remain "on the bubble" even after what was another good game against Montreal, and I think that recent trends, records, etc should be weighted more heavily when trying to forecast near future performance. I wonder what a real statistician such as Neil Greenberg (see Twitter #fancystats or @ngreenberg) thinks of that line of thinking and if long term historical data backs that thinking up. In any case because I started wondering about that topic I compiled the following updated standings - the way the standings by Division would look if the season had started on January 1st vice the current 2011-2012 standings. NHL Records Since January 1st 2012 through Midnight Last Night (2/24/2012, 24:00 Local Time):

Southeast Division:
Carolina: 10-5-6 (26 points; 0.619)
Winnipeg: 11-12-2 (24 points; 0.480)
Washington: 10-11-3 (23 points; 0.479)
Tampa Bay: 9-10-3 (21 points; 0.477)
Florida: 7-8-5 (19 points; 0.475)

Atlantic Division:
New York Rangers: 15-5-2 (32 points; 0.727)
New Jersey: 14-6-3 (31 points; 0.674)
New York Islanders: 13-10-2 (28 points; 0.560)
Pittsburgh: 13-8-1 (27 points; 0.614)
Philadelphia: 11-10-3 (25 points; 0.521)

Northeast Division:
Ottawa: 13-7-3 (29 points; 0.630)
Boston: 12-9-2 (26 points; 0.565)
Toronto: 11-10-2 (24 points; 0.522)
Buffalo: 10-10-3 (23 points; 0.500)
Montreal: 10-10-3 (23 points; 0.500)

Central Division:
Detroit: 17-5-2 (36 points; 0.783)
Saint Louis: 16-5-2 (34 points; 0.739)
Nashville: 15-5-2 (32 points; 0.727)
Chicago: 9-12-3 (21 points; 0.438)
Columbus: 7-13-2 (16 points; 0.364)

Northwest Division:
Vancouver: 16-3-4 (36 points; 0.783)
Calgary: 10-7-4 (24 points; 0.571)
Colorado: 10-9-3 (23 points; 0.523)
Edmonton: 9-11-3 (21 points; 0.457)
Minnesota: 6-12-3 (15 points; 0.357)

Pacific Division:
Anaheim: 16-4-4 (36 points; 0.750)
Phoenix: 12-5-5 (29 points; 0.659)
San Jose: 13-9-3 (29 points; 0.580)
Dallas: 11-11-3 (25 points; 0.500)
Los Angeles: 8-8-6 (22 points; 0.500).

Interesting to note that looking at the Southeast Division it's definitely a race to the bottom per say. In the 55 days this year the team in the Southeast with the most points is the Carolina Hurricanes with 26 out of a possible 42 and a 0.619 record. The Hurricanes are the only team in the Southeast with a record that's better than 0.500 since New Years Day. Ironically, they started the season so badly, they are the one team in the division who are most certainly "sellers" in the short time before the trade deadline as they are on track for a season point total that likely will end up with 86 points at best. In other words, the best they can likely hope for is to find themselves 2 points on the back side (wrong side) of the forecasted 88 point peak of the bubble. However, they can certainly play the role of spoilers for their Southeast Division rivals who they will play in 9 of their 21 remaining games. Also in case you are wondering they play the Capitals in only one of those 21 remaining games: March 6th at Verizon Center. Only 6 of the Capitals remaining 21 games are against Southeast Division foes: Carolina, once on March 6th at Verizon; Tampa Bay once in DC on March 9th and once in Tampa on April 2nd; Winnipeg once in Alberta on March 16th and once in DC on March 23rd; and Florida once at Verizon Center on April 5th the Caps final home game of the 2011-2012 regular season. Given the Caps records so far this season against their division rivals (10-6-2) it's kind of a shame they don't have more games left against those division foes, of course it's also a shame the Caps can't play the 2011-2012 Montreal Canadians at least 14 of their remaining 21 games as well.

Looking at the Northeast Division team's play since 1/1/2012 you can see the "hottest" team in the Division has been the Ottawa Senators who are playing very well after getting the season off to a relatively slow start. Also of note, eight (8) of the Senators remaining 20 regular season games are against Northeast Division rivals, including two against the Bruins who they are battling for first in the Division. If the Senators are able to win all four of their remaining games against the Maple Leafs and Bruins (three are against the boys from beantown) they could well overtake Boston and finish the season with the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Also, despite dealing with a spate of injuries this past month, Boston is still playing solid hockey and thanks to Tim Thomas and Tukka Rask never a team to give up points easily to opponents. If recent past efforts are solid predictors of future performance then Toronto will continue to struggle with getting off the bubble and end the season with between 85 and 90 points. That means tonight's game in Toronto is going to be an important one for both the Capitals and the Maple Leafs.

The Atlantic Division has been the toughest division in the Eastern Conference all season and the last eight weeks have not been any different in that regard then the first three months of the NHL season. That said the last eight weeks have seen the Philadelphia Flyers struggle while the New York Rangers continued to soar and the New jersey Devils came alive. To be clear even though the Flyers have the worst record since January 1 in the Division - EVERY team in the Atlantic has a record that is greater than 0.500, they are the only division in the NHL that can make that claim though the Pacific has two teams who are at 0.500 even since New Years Day and no one below 0.500 as well. It's pretty much a toss up in my view as to which division is the toughest in the NHL right now between the Atlantic or the Pacific. I guess that's a good thing if you like the beach. As for the battle to win this division, despite the resurgence of the Devils, the Rangers looked pretty unstoppable until their last two games, it will be interesting to see what they do in Buffalo tonight.

The Central Division led by the Detroit Red Wings and Saint Louis Blues have been the standard of consistency. Their standings remain the same wether you are looking at the entire season or just that stretch of it since January 1. Both the Red Wings and the Blues are battling each other for the Division, as well with the Canucks for as the Western Conference title. Ironically only two of the remaining 61 regular season contests the Blues, Red Wings and Canucks play are between each other so their performance against other Division and Conference foes will determine who wins the Central Division and the Conference. the most important team in that mix is likely to be the Nashville Predators who play the Blues once in Saint Louis on March 27th; the Red Wings twice more (3/10 and 3/30). Another interesting team likely to play a factor in the mix is also the Anaheim Ducks who have the third best record in the NHL since New Years Day, of the Ducks remaining 21 games, they play the Blues twice, the Red Wings twice, the Predators once and the Canucks once...

In the Northwest Division, here too the standings remain unchanged if the season had started on 1/1 instead of the first week of October. Additionally, just like the actual full season standings, the Vancouver Canucks are poised to pretty much lap their division foes. In fact Vancouver's relative between themselves and their division rivals is even great since January 1st as it has been over the full season. Since January 1st the Canucks are 6 games ahead of the Flames and since October they are 10 games (20 points) ahead of Calgary. The one difference is a likely bright spot for Calgary, they could finish the season with as few as 85 and as many as 95 points, but since New Years they are playing better and better hockey, since January they are 0.571 but over their las ten games they are playing 0.700 hockey. In short, the trend is the Flame's friend right now and thirteen of their remaining 21 games are at home in Calgary where they have they have a season long 0.625 record and where they have a 6-3-1 record in the last 10 games played in the Saddledome. As important as Calgary's own play in their remaining games is to whether or not they make the playoffs, so too is the play of the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes. The Blackhawks are 4-6-0 in their last ten games and have the worst record in that stretch of any team in the Western Conference Playoff battle not named San Jose who are 3-6-1, but again more on the Pacific Division shortly. If Calgary and Chicago continue the play they've each had over the last ten games through the next ten games, they will find themselves within a point of each other and battling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. In the case of Calgary that's not bad for a team who finds themselves training their division leaders by 10 complete games with just 21 games remaining in the season. In short unless something like the roof blowing off Vancouver's arena, there's pretty much no other way Calgary will be playing hockey this post season.

That all brings us to what is shaping up to be the most interesting Division in the NHL to follow for the remaining six weeks of this regular season - the Pacific. How bad was the Anaheim Ducks first three months of the 2011-2012 season, well they've played 0.750 hockey since january 1st, the third best record in the league and they are still: i) in last place in their division and ii) at best going to finish on the bubble and likely needing some help to make the playoffs. that said, for any #Caps fans, if you needed proof that bruce Boudreau knows how to coach in the NHL, well the Anaheim Ducks record since January 1 of 16-4-4 ought to be it. Further, the Ducks team goal differential over their opponents during that 24 game span is +11 also their GAA over those 24 games is only 2.04 vs a GFA of 2.92, in other words this is a team that is playing and winning stingy hockey, "the right way." As you can imagine if there's a possibility that the way things are going the team at the bottom of the division could end up on the right side of the bubble and in the playoffs, AND the rest of the division is also playing 0.500 hockey or better over the past eight weeks things could be getting pretty interesting "on the left coast" of the NHL. They are. Anaheim could finish with as many as 94 points and in the playoff race. San Jose is trending the other way, the Division leaders are 0.580 since 1/1/2012 and just 0.350 in their last ten games. It's entirely possible if San Jose doesn't turn things around they too could finish with as few as 88 points and out of the playoffs. Meanwhile the rest of the division is trending as follows. Phoenix is on fire they are 9-0-1 in their last ten games and 0.659 since New Years, they will likely win the division with between 98 and 103 points, though they could finish with as few as 94 points I just don't see that happening unless some key parts of this team gets hurt. Dallas will likely finish with between 85 and 92 points; they are in a dog fight. The Stars remaining 21 games includes playing the Vancouver Canucks four times; additionally they play the Calgary Flames, another "bubble team" three more times. As far as "four point games" against division rivals, the Stars play San Jose three times, and Anaheim once, so at least eleven of their remaining 21 games are shaping up to be potentially battle royales. That leaves us with the enigmatic, at least this season, Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are 0.500 since January 1 and 0.540 over the entire season; LA is likely to finish the season with between 83 and 90 points. How's that for a bubble team? The Kings remaining schedule involves 12 road games and 9 home games, since the Kings are 12-9-8 (0.552) on the road, vice 15-13-4 (0.531) at home that's likely not a factor in how they finish the season. The Kings' remaining schedule involves playing a pretty balanced schedule against predominately higher quality opponents, they only have 6 of their remaining 21 games against opponents who are under 0.500 since January 1. They likely need to raise their game "a little" above the 2-6-2 level they've displayed over their past ten outings to come close to being on the top, let alone the "right side" of the bubble; but that's why they actually play the games on the ice.

As for prognostications about "my team" the Washington Capitals, I am steadfastly avoiding doing that. It's clear by the fact that Alexander Ovechkin is playing through an injury, the team knows they need to play to win every one of their remaining 21 games and they are ready to try and do that. Last night's 4-1 win over a pretty hapless, or at least a Hal Gill-less, Montreal was a solid outing. Tonight's second of back to back nights, away game against a much more solid playing Toronto Maple Leafs team will be a real test. I'm hoping for another solid performance and will be watching here at home and cheering for the boys. Some things I liked about last night's game at Verizon:
1) A solid leadership performance by @Ovi8;
2) Great game and two way hockey by Sasha Semin;
3) Joel Ward - off the schneid;
4) Mike Green well on the way to getting his game and timing back;
5) Nuevy made all the saves he should have made and more than enough of the really tough ones the team needed him to make;
6) Blue liners looked pretty solid all night.

Of course it's a lot easier to be positive after a W and two points but you have to take things one game at a time. As for tonight in Ottawa:


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Week That Was 2/12 - 2/18/2012; Caps Go 1-3-0, Now 3-4-1 So Far In February

Well good morning fellow Capitals fans, and that's what I've decided I am for sure. Yesterday my season ticket renewal package arrived in the mail and with no hesitation, I know I'm in for another season (2012 - 2013). Yep, I'm in despite the fact the Capitals continue to flirt with not making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons this coming spring, that's pretty much why I know for sure I'm a fan and not a "band wagoner." That said it also meant that once again I have to admit this is not a blog written by an objective online journalist, though I don't think I've ever alluded to or contended that, rather the blog of a fan about "his team" and his feelings about that team when it comes to NHL hockey.

So without further ado lets face it this is a confounding year for us Capitals fans. Take this past week for instance: 1-3-0 and you'd think I should or would be really just plain disappointed and upset. Yet that's really not the case because of the one victory of the week, a 2-1 comeback victory over the Division leading Florida Panthers. Never mind the Panthers should not be leading the Southeast Division, they are and they are proving to the league they are "for real" as they pretty much have been since the end of October. Why are they for real, simple - they are the only team in the Southeast Division who is playing better than 0.500 on the road (13-12-4). They are also a team that is "ripe for the picking" with an overall goal differential of -16 and a team GAA of 2.80. The problem for us Caps fans is that right now, our team isn't looking like the team it needs to look like to be the one who "pick off" the Florida Cats, despite beating them 2 out of 3 contests so far this month. The team that looks like it could pick off the Panthers this morning is the Winnipeg Jets who are 6-4-0 in their last ten games, have won their last two games including a 4-2 victory over the Stanley Cup Champion Bruins on Friday night in Winnipeg where the Jets have a great 17-9-2 record so far this season. Simply put the Caps needed a win last night against the Tampa Bay Lighting and they didn't get it, that's going to be a problem. So why am I not needing to be talked off the ledge this Sunday morning? Well probably because A) it's (NHL Hockey) just a nice diversion and entertainment for me; and B) the win in Sunrise was perhaps the best game the Capitals have played since Dale Hunter took the reins from Bruce Boudreau. Alan May summed up the game in Sunrise best, in my opinion, during the pre-game show before the Tampa Bay game: "no passengers." Yep, no passengers, in other words everyone played the system and played it hard for all sixty minutes. That's what it takes, even when your a team or a player with an amazing talent level. Oh and lets face it, that's what frustrates we Caps fans, and I'd suspect Majority Owner Ted Leonsis, most - we know this team has an amazing talent level and several plyers with truly amazing talent levels. Sure there's Mr. Ovechkin, and the other three young guns: Backstrom, Semin, and Green; but there's also Vokoun, Wideman, Johanson, Knuble, Laich, Ward, Brouwer, Alzner, Carlson, and Chimera - all guys who are "no slouches" as well. Pound for pound and dollar for dollar the Capitals who have the second highest payroll in the NHL, are "well stocked" so yes playing 0.500 hockey which is what they've pretty much done so far this season, is disappointing and frustrating, but life does or should go on, at least for those of us who are not NHL professionals.

Over the last three weeks, I've shown two things with various numbers, 1) Why I think to make sure you get into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference of the NHL you should be shooting for 95 points, and B) how the Caps need to play much better on the road and continue to play very well at Verizon Center to ensure they make the playoffs (basically resulting in an overall record of 0.600 the rest of the way this season). Last week the Caps neither played great at Verizon Center, especially against the San Jose Sharks or great on the road consistently. You can't and shouldn't candy coat that just because of the excellent comeback game in Sunrise on Friday evening. You also can't wish for 0.600 hockey when since January 1st the Caps have played 3-5-1 so far in February after a 6-4-2 January for an overall record of 9-9-3 or exactly 0.500 since the New Year. The problem/challenge with managing or coaching a team that is playing 0.500 is with every contemplated move or change there's as much downside as there is upside. I believe we saw that last night in spades when in order to get Mike Green in the line-up Dale Hunter, wisely opted to have 7 defensemen on the bench and only three full lines + 2 extra forwards in the game against Tampa Bay. The odd man out from the prior evening's fourth line ended up being Jay Beagle. Beagle was in the press box despite having played a very good game, IMO, against the Panthers on Thursday evening and the fourth or energy line being one of the best in that game. Was that the right thing to do? I think it was but it certainly changed the game plan and made coaching the game as well as managing the overall flow of the game very different and again IMO harder than things were the night before in South Florida. As for the stats for yesterday's Tampa Bay game, well to me they are the opposite of the stats for the Panthers game on Thursday. Statistics in my view never tell the entire story. In Sunrise on Thursday, the Capitals actually played even better than the games final statistics say they played. At the Saint Pete Times Forum last night, the Caps didn't play badly but they didn't play as well as the statistics say they did. Both Lightning goals last night came off of Capital miscues that should not have happened. Sure Mathieu Garon played very well and the Caps had opportunities and Tampa Bay limited the Caps shots on goal pretty well but there were too many times where the Capitals let the Lightning dictate the pace and tempo of the game and that's why I think the Caps didn't play as well as the stat lines indicate. As for the offensive zone slashing penalty by Marcus Johansson at 16:41 of the third period, well it was sort of a 21 year old rookie mistake and you have to believe those things can and will happen. Of course while they will, we really need MoJo to step up his game and it will be nice to have Backstrom back which I hope happens within the next week or two. As for last nights effort at rolling 7 defensemen, that went okay from what I could see and was well managed, Mike Green played just over 14:00 in his return and is indeed shaking a fe cobwebs out relative to timing, etc. Most of his time on ice came at the "expense" of Roman Hamrlik and let's face it, at 37 years of age only playing ~10:00 TOI the second night of a back to back isn't the end of the world though I felt "Hammer" looked very solid last night and his three blocked shots led the team. The other D-Man whose minutes were down was Dmitry Orlov, though there may have been another reason besides Mike Green being back in the lineup. As I often get down on Jeff Schultz who had 15:49 TOI last night and two blocked against the Bolts - I just wanted to say I thought last night he played very well, in fact better than his stat line indicates. Getting chippy with the Bolts after they hit Green a few times was exactly the kind of play I hoped the Caps would adopt when Dale Hunter was named head coach; also I thought Schultz looked very solid on the PK last evening. "Good on ya, Jeff."

As for my overall feelings about the Caps playoff chances and "life on the bubble"; I'll revise my needed point total down to somewhere between 91 and 93 points to MAKE SURE you are in in the East. I'll also say the 8th seed might squeak in with as few as 88 points, but if they do, they will need to rely on the ROW tiebreak to do so. For the Capitals to finish with 93 points they need another 30 points in their remaining 24 games, that's still 0.625 hockey. For the Capitals to remain firmly on the bubble and finish with 88 points, they need to play 0.521 hockey. There's really not much else to say about it. They need a spar and they need a winning streak, something they haven't had this season since their 7 game explosion to start the season. The talent is there, the drive seems there - at least it did in Sunrise on Thursday. Another, bigger Center would be a nice trade deadline pickup for sure but really who is out there and with the team firmly on the bubble should they be buyers this season or just go with what they've got since they really have no Cap space? Who knows, certainly not me.

Another oh by the way, since January 1st, Bruce Boudreau's Anaheim Ducks have played 19 games; in January they went 9-2-1 and so far in February they are 5-1-3 - that's 14-3-4 or 0.842 hockey overall so far in 2012. The Ducks are also 6-1-3 on the road in 2012 and 17-11-6 (0.571) since "Gabby" took the Ducks' helm on December 1st. I don't mention it to draw any comparisons - really I do not. I only mention it because a) I am keeping track because I really think Boudreau is a very good coach and I hope that he succeeds in leading an NHL team to a Stanley Cup since I find watching teams he coaches really entertaining and exciting; and b) while I do think he had lost the Caps as a team and they needed a change, he really wasn't 'the problem." I think with the Ducks playing 0.841 hockey since his system has really taken hold, even though this morning the Ducks are in 13th in the Western Conference, they could make the playoffs. Oh and did I mention that today the Ducks play the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida at 3:00. Can I have at least one loud "LETS GO DUCKS!!!!" from "all" 17 or so of my loyal followers please.

Now back to Musings about the Capitals. This coming week the Caps again have four games - three of which are on the road: Carolina tomorrow night, Ottawa on Wednesday, Montreal here at Verizon Center on Friday, and Toronto in Toronto next Saturday. All four games which come April 7th, the last the Capitals season, could end up in retrospect having been "four point" games. If ever there was a better time than any other in the 2011-2012 season for the Caps to have a four game winning streak, now would likely be it. That's really all there is to say about that. Oh and remember kids, especially those of you who are Washington Capitals fans this season, if you like me are finding yourself confused while thinking about the Capitals this season and it's causing you to at times be "flumoxed" there are a few simple rules to ground your life that may help in these times:

1) Always, but especially if you are befuddled and confused, look bot ways BEFORE crossing that street, even if it doesn't seem that busy.

2) At really disappointing times and junctures in life, The Prayer of Saint Francis, is often your best option and it can help.

and whatever else remember number three:

3) Life is like a box of chocolates, your usually just never know what you're gonna get, so sit back and savor the ones you really like.

In the meantime, as we look at this upcoming week of NHL hockey:


Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Caps Month by Month So Far 2011 - 2012 and What The Caps Need to Do Between Now and April 7th.

Will the Washington Capitals make the 2012 playoffs? What was once a question some of us would have found ludicrous is becoming more and more real as every game of the 2011 - 2012 NHL season becomes a "postgamer." Overall this season the Capitals are now 28 - 21 - 5 with 61 points and 54 games played (0.565). This morning the Capitals wake up to once again find themselves on the wrong side of "the bubble" in ninth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference. How does that happening? Well it's pretty simple actually so far this season the Capitals are 19 - 7 - 2 (0.714) at Verizon Center and only 9 - 14 - 3 (0.403) on the road. The Capitals road record is one of the worst in the league this season; because of their lack of victory and points on the road, the Caps find themselves with a record that is only slightly over 0.500 whereas if the Caps were 0.500 on the road they would be waking up this morning with 66 points and leading the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division by 3 points (1.5 games) instead of trailing them by 3 points.

The bottom line is that for the Capitals to "get off the bubble) they need to play more consistently on the road. The last time this season the Caps had a good string of games on the road was in October. That's why on a month by month basis the Caps performance in this years regular season look like this:

October: 7-2-0 overall (0.778) and 2-2-0 (0.500) on the road;
November: 5-8-1 (0.393) overall and 2-5-0 (0.286) on the road;
December: 8-6-1 (0.567) overall and 3-3-1 (0.500) on the road;
January: 6-4-2 (0.583) overall and 1-3-2 (0.333) on the road;
so far in February: 2-2-1 (0.500) overall and 1-1-1 (0.500) on the road.

The Caps have just 28 games remaining to play of which 15 are on the road and 13 are at Verizon Center. To finish the season with the 95+ points I have and continue to forecast it will take to make sure a team in the Eastern Conference makes the playoffs the Caps need another 34 points; so overall they will need to up their game and play 0.607 hockey. That means they need to continue to play as tough as ever here in DC and play at least 0.550 on the road. If they do that they will finish the season with between 95 and 98 points. That should put them into the playoffs regardless of what either Florida or Winnipeg do the rest of the way until April.

The best place and way to start that journey is to play the Rangers hard and bring 2 points home from MSG this afternoon on the NHL on NBC.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Caps Edge To The Positive Side Of The Bubble While FlaCats Continue to Stumble

When I last posted a blog post two weeks ago I mentioned the Capitals needed to rev things up and drive towards at least a 95 point season to be confident of making the playoffs. So how's that looking for us Caps fans now two weeks later? Let's take a look in at the Caps record since the New Year, that would be 3-2-0 (0.600), how about their last 10 games, that would be 6-3-1 (0.650). So far so good though they didn't put anything in the bank and we all had high hopes they would win at least one of two during their last swing out west and they did not do so.

So while things are looking better for the Capitals and they are at times looking like the team we all thought they could be at the beginning of this season (congratulations to Troy Brouwer on the hat trick and to Alexander Ovechkin for "getting his mojo back" and scoring 6 goals in the past 10 games), they aren't "out of the woods" yet. That said when you look at the Capitals recent record as well as comparing them to their opponents for the remaining schedule you can see a clear path to 95+ points, that really wasn't the way things were just 3 weeks ago. So here's another take on things and some musings.

Since Thanksgiving the Caps and their Southeast Division rivals have records as follow:

Overall Last 10 Games Last 5 Games
Florida: 9-8-5 (0.523) 3-5-2 (0.400) 2-2-1 (0.550) Caps play 4 more times (2 Home, 2 Away)
Washington: 11-10-1 (0.500) 6-3-1 (0.650) 3-2-0 (0.600) 48 pts in 42 Games Played (0.571)
Winnipeg: 13-9-1 (0.587) 5-5-0 (0.500) 2-3-0 (0.400) Caps play 3 more times (1 Home, 2 Away)
Tampa Bay: 8-13-2 (0.391) 3-5-2 (0.400) 0-4-1 (0.050) Caps play 4 more times (1 Home, 3 Away)
Carolina: 7-12-3 (0.386) 5-4-1 (0.550) 2-2-1 (0.550) Caps play 4 more times (2 Home, 2 Away).

The other Eastern Conference "Bubble Teams" records since Thanksgiving:
Overall Last 10 Games Last 5 Games
New Jersey: 13-9-1 (0.587) 6-3-1 (0.650) 3-2-0 (0.600) Caps play 1 more time at home
Toronto: 10-8-3 (0.548) 6-3-1 (0.650) 4-1-0 (0.800) Caps play 2 more times (1 Home, 1 Away)
Pittsburgh: 10-11-0 (0.476) 4-6-0 (0.400) 1-4-0 (0.200) Caps play 1 more time at Pittsburgh
Buffalo: 7-11-4 (0.409) 3-5-2 (0.400) 2-2-1 (0.500) Caps play 1 more time at home.

Other eastern conference foes on the Caps remaining schedule:
Montreal 4 games (2 home, 2 away)
Boston 4 games (2 home, 2 away)
Islanders 3 games (2 home, 1 away)
Rangers 2 games (2 away)
Flyers 2 games (1 home, 1 away)
Islanders 3 games (2 home, 1 away)
Ottawa 1 game (away)

Western conference foes the Caps will play in their last 40 games of the season:
San Jose 1 game (home)
Chicago 1 game (away)
Detroit 1 game (away)
Minnesota 1 game (home)

The Caps have 48 points as of today and 40 games remaining. To finish with 95 points they need to play 0.588 hockey the rest of the way and win 47 of 80 available points. Of their remaining 40 games they have an even split of 20 home games and 20 away games and they only have 4 games against Western Conference teams. So after reviewing the Caps recent results as well as the remaining schedule I'm now projecting the Caps to finish with a total of between 94 and 98 points, and they should make the playoffs. If Winnipeg and Florida continue on their recent trajectories, then it could be a three way battle for the Southeast Division Championship until the end of the season. It would also mean the Caps would indeed need 95+ points to make the playoffs and they could still fall off the backside of the "bubble" if they don't win at least a couple of "tough" road games as well finding a way to grab at least 8 points in their 8 games against the Bruins, Flyers and Rangers. It also means their remaining 7 games against the Jets and Panthers have added importance.

Just thinking it sure would be nice to start that quest for those 47+ points with an eight game winning streak and a win against the Bruins who are on a different level from the rest of the league right now.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Capitals 4 - Blue Jackets 2 after Capitals 3 - Sabres 1; Nice Weekend Signaling The Return of the Caps To NHL Relevance


Okay, here we go C-A-P-S! I've never made any pretense that my hockey musings are anything but a fan blogging about his own thoughts and passions here at Mark's Musings on Blogger. So it's probably no wonder to other #Caps fans as to why my blog posts have fallen off markedly this season. Between a busier "day to day" life and the fact there really hasn't been a lot of Caps hockey thoughts that have been pleasurable to muse about for a while, I just haven't felt too enthusiastic about blogging much. That is until recently, lie the past week. However, I decided to as they say "keep my powder dry" until there was more evidence to point to the start of a recovery to where they should be.

Over their last 10 games the Capitals have been playing 0.650 hockey with a 6-3-1 record; over the past 5 games the Capitals are 3-1-1 and are also 0.650. Maybe more importantly during the month of December the Capitals are 3-3-1 or 0.550 on the road, as opposed to their road record this season through November of 4-6-0 (0.400). For the Capitals to definitely make the playoffs regardless of whether or not they win the Southeast Division, I believe they need to finish the season with 95 points and that means they need to win 53 more points in their remaining 45 games, that's 0.589 hockey. Given they have 23 more road games and 22 more home games this season, it's very important the Caps continue to play 0.500 or better on the road while also keeping Verizon Center one of the toughest buildings in the NHL to get a point on the road for their opponents. So far this season the Caps are 0.710 at Verizon Center so it's not unreasonable to continue to believe they will be at least 0.650 at home. Playing at least 0.650 hockey at home the rest of the way gets the Caps 29 of the needed 53 points. To get those additional need 24 points, the Caps need to play 0.522 hockey or better in their remaining 23 road games. The past two weeks the Capitals have proven themselves more than able to "make the grade" the rest of the season. They and the Winnipeg Jets also got the best records in their Division (6-3-1) over the last 10 games., and they are showing themselves as capable of confident play, resilience and being willing to work hard to win. This is the team we Caps fans have been looking for since the beginning of November, and I for one am quite glad we are seeing them now, before it's too late to make the playoffs.

More evidence that this is the Caps team I've been looking for and was expecting this season can be seen in the performances of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Roman Hamrlik these past two weeks. While Backstrom, Dennis Wideman, John Carlson, Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Karl Alzner have all generally been playing at levels most of us Caps fans expected to see throughout the majority of the season, the productivity and effectiveness of Ovi, Semin and Hammer has until these past two weeks been less than justifiably expected. However in these last two weeks we've seen our Captain return to form and score 6 goals and 3 assists while going +5 in the 6 games played since December 18th. Alexander Semin has also had a run that fantasy hockey players with him on their rosters are happy about with 4 goals, 3 assists and +5 over the same six game stretch; while "the Hammer" has notched 3 assists, gone +6 and over the past three games been one of, if not the best, Caps penalty killer. Additionally he's shown that when necessary he can still find a way to find 1/4 to 1/2 of the step he may have lost over his 18 NHL season career when it comes time to join the rush. So while the Caps aren't "out of the woods yet" - this morning they arose to the New Year finding themselves in 9th place in the Eastern Conference and still just barely on the "back side" of the bubble - they are showing real signs of life and they seem to now be starting to perform with more comfort and ease after having adjusted to the changes made by Coach Dale Hunter. There have been two unanticipated bright spots so far this season too that should continue to help the Capitals the rest of the way: Marcus Johannson and Dmitri Orlov and it is nice to see Jay Beagle back on the ice as well.

All this means I am once again looking forward to attending home games at Verizon Center and watching road games on CSN HD. It also means I'll be there when the Caps faceoff on Tuesday evening when the Caps take on the Calgary Flames.