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:
LETS GO CAPS!!!!