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?