Sunday, November 3, 2013

As Movember Begins In The NHL The Caps Find Themselves With A 0.500 Record

Well fellow Caps fans our team is now the owner of a 7-7-0 record after a relatively slow start.  Speaking of slow starts - what is it with those things and the Capitals? but more on that later.  During an interview earlier this season, Martin Erat basically said it the right way - a point earned in October and November is as important in April as any points earned at the end of the season. 

With realignment, and the incorporation of wild cards into the NHL playoffs, those early season points might be even more important.  However, the easiest way to make sure that all doesn't matter is to not be a bubble team.  How does one do that in the NHL for 2014 and beyond? Well it's still an 82 game regular season, and in my opinion, the teams that make the playoffs will all need to have 94+ points.  Projecting the Eastern Conference "Wild Cards" right now we see the teams in those two spots as Boston and Montreal each with 16 points, though Boston has a 0.615 record while Montreal has a 0.533 record.  In fact, the current projected playoff team with the "worst" record in the Eastern Conference is the Capitals with their 0.500 record.  Why do I go through all that?  Simply to support this conclusion - Q: what's it going to take to make sure your team makes the playoffs this season; A: play 0.600+ hockey over the course of the entire season and just like prior 82 game seasons that equals 98+ points.  Less than 98 points and more than 87 points and you're a "bubble team."  The good news for the league and hockey fans all over, except those of the one or two bubble teams "on the back side" of the wild card bubble is that as you can see looking at the current standings is the wild card format should improve the caliber of the teams that make the playoffs with those wild card slots compared to the prior 7th and 8th seeds in the earlier format.  At least I think it will. 

So what does that mean to our Capitals and the next two months?  Well interestingly, the Metropolitan Division as a whole has gotten off to a slow start and the Caps 0.500 performance during this first 17% of the season.  So the Capitals are now in the thick of things in the Division as well as the conference.  Additionally over the past ten games including the just concluded 5 game road trip, the Caps have played 0.600 hockey.  In the Division, the Penguins are playing 0.700 hockey over their last ten games and 0.733 over their first 15 games this season.  Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, Atlantic Division teams: Tampa Bay, Toronto, Detroit, Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, Florida, and Buffalo are in a much different state after the first fifth of the season than here in the Metropolitan Division, at least in my view.  Unless something changes drastically there Florida and Buffalo are or should already be in "rebuild" mode and Ottawa is getting close to that point as well.  Ottawa's performance over their next ten games will dictate whether they claw their way up to where the Canadiens currently are or slip down to the level that the Panthers, Sabres and for that matter the Flyers currently are at will be telling.  Further the Senators last ten game record of 3-6-1 (0.350) is not looking too good.  So to me when I look at the Atlantic Division I see five teams fighting for the three Division Playoff spots and the bottom of those five also being in the battle for both Wild Card spots. 

In the Metropolitan Division, right now, I see Pittsburgh winning the Division unless something drastic changes.  They've started the season playing 0.700+ hockey and are continuing to do so. Even if they drop to 0.650 or even 0.600 for the rest of the season, they will clearly continue to be the team to beat in the Met Division.  Additionally,  as has been noted, those 22 points the Pen's have already won will still be worth 22 points at the end of the season and right now they give the Penguins a 7 point lead over the second place team in the division.  So then you have the next six teams in the division: Islanders, Capitals, Rangers, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Devils all separated by just five points.  What I see here is that over the next two months, during which the Caps play twenty eight (28) games (thanks to the schedule compression to accommodate the Olympic Break) is that at least one but not more than two of those teams will play 0.400 hockey and put themselves into a tough spot and make it almost impossible to make the playoffs.  That means there will then be four teams fighting for the remaining two divisional spots as well as the last Wild Card spot. 

To make sure they are one of those four teams that have record that challenges the Penguins for the division championship, the Caps really need to play 0.600+ hockey though November and December.  The good news is so far the Caps are 2-0-0 in November; and they did that by winning a back to back at the end of a 5 game road trip.  Further positives, is that after a relatively slow start both Capitals Goaltenders have looked strong over the past ten games while they've played 0.600 hockey.  Further over their past ten games the Caps have played pretty consistent and strong hockey against a variety of teams that played a variety of styles.  My one worry is their slow start in games of late and the way those slow starts have resulted in paltry numbers of shots on goal and even fewer scoring chances during the first periods of their games.  The Caps just need to up their energy level and aggressiveness in the first period of games, at least I think they do, to even have a chance of playing 0.650 to 0.700 hockey over any extended period.  That said if the Caps play 0.600+ the rest of the way, the Capitals will have 95-96 points at the end of the season.  Ninety six points is NOT 98+ so to get and stay off the bubbly the Caps need to play 0.625+ through November and December - that would be thirty five (35) more points and mean they start 2014 with 49+ points.  If they do that they will be part of the "Class" of the Eastern Conference. 

Can the Capitals do it?  I'm hopeful they can - I think they have the talent across the board to do it and I like the way the coaching staff is driving the team to play.  That said, you have to play the games on the ice.  It also means the Caps need to stay healthy.  Another wild card this season, pun intended, is the Olympic break, which sort of means we play two seasons this year.  The Olympic break is just a lot longer than the All-Star break and changes how the season will "flow".

I'm going to start looking at re-energizing this blog/my blog again now and that will mean looking closer at specific issues and musings as pertain to Hockey and the Capitals in particular.  I don't really know if I'll be able to find the time - I'm pretty busy today but I figured I'd start by looking at the overall "big picture" as regards the season outlook for the Caps.  Now next up for the Capitals on Tuesday will be a test against the Islanders at the end of Tuesday evening's contest the Caps will either be: a) 1 point ahead of the Islanders; b) tied with them at 16 points a piece; or c) three points behind them.  If you're a Caps fan like me you're rooting for "a)".  That will also mean the Caps just might get those 35+ points between 11/1 and 12/31/2013 I mentioned.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Stories Around The League - Varlamov and Avalanche Start The Season Strongly

Well this morning I noted that Semyon Varlamov is now 2-0 with a 0.968 SV% and a GAA of 1.00, not a bad way for he and the Colorado Avalanche to start the season.  As a team the Avalanche is on top of the NHL Central Division having won their first two games of the season in regulation. The Avs opened their season by beating the Anaheim Ducks at home by a score of 6-1 in a game that ended with their mercurial coach, Patrick Roy going apoplectic at several Ducks players as well as Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.  The retooled team from Colorado then beat the Nashville Predators last night at Pepsi Center in Denver by a score of 3-1 in a game that featured some highlight reel footage by a couple of former Capitals (Varlamov and Matt Hendricks) on NHL Network this morning.

The Avalanche now start a three game road trip that ends next Saturday with a game against our Washington Capitals here in DC at Verizon Center after playing Toronto on Tuesday and Boston on Thursday.  The Capitals schedule this upcoming week a game tonight against the Stars in Buffalo and then "home cooking" at the Phone Booth on Thursday against their Metropolitan Division rival Carolina Hurricanes before taking on Varly and the Avs next Saturday.  Who knows by then most of the teams in the NHL will have played four games and we should have some real ideas about how the season might really go.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Its Official HOCKEY IS BACK In The 202....

Well Capitals Fans NHL Hockey and the Cardiac Capitals are back in the District, as last nights tilt with the Calgary Flames at "da Phone Boot" so aptly illustrated. Last night the Washington Capitals opened the "home portion" of the 2013-2014 NHL season against Calgary after loosing their opening game in Chicago versus the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks at United Center on Tuesday 6-4. 
As Caps Fans know, it's been a relatively quiet off season for us fans as the Capitals have only made a few player personnel moves this off season.  I've now been to 1 2/3rds preseason games and the team seems to be shaping up nicely.  To me it looks like the roster on opening night will be:

1st  line:  Johansonn - Backstrom - Ovechkin
2nd line:  Laich - Grabowski - Brouwer
3rd line:  Chimera - Fehr - Ward
4th line:  Wilson - Beagle - Erat

1st  pair:  Erskine - Green
2nd pair:  Alzner - Carlson
3rd pair:  Hillen - Carrick

Goal:  Holtby

Additional players: Volpatti, Olesky

I think this team is looking really solid and from what we saw in the preseason and these first two regular season games, the entire team look like they have absolutely "bought in" to Coach Adam Oates' system.  This team is required to play hard on the puck from the first puck drop until the game is over too and I love that quality in any hockey team.  So while I was/am sad to see Mathieu Perreault traded to Anaheim, and I have my fair share of concerns about the Capitals current third defensive pairing have the required experience level and seasoning, as an eternal optimist, I can have nothing but high hopes for a very solid season - could this be the year?  Well the Capitals have the talent to compete for sure, now we can only watch, wait, and see where they end up when the season really ends next June. 

However, being me I can't help but reflect on both the 6-4 loss to the Hawks and last nights comeback 5-4 shootout win over the Flames, and then look ahead and muse about what it will take for the Caps to be successful this season.  Right after the rebuild was complete we heard a few of the others around the league talk about whether or not they felt the Caps "played the game right" and whether or not the Caps style of play under then newly promoted head coach Bruce Boudreau could ever really take them to the promised land of deep playoff runs and at least one Stanley Cup.  At the time I often really wondered what the heck those guys were talking about.  Well you only have to look at the style of play under Caps current coach Adam Oates to really, really understand what they were talking about.  "Back In The Day" - right after the rebuild was complete the Caps played fun to watch, pretty, "regular season" hockey.  Shots came from the perimeter - often without any traffic in front of the net; a lot of the time, after several years o watching Glenn Hanlon coached "trapping teams" it seemed like the Caps were thinking "defense .... we don't need no stinking defense" as the back check by the wings seldom came down past the top of the circle in the defensive zone ... and the list goes on.  Then we had the opposite style for the short time Dale Hunter was here - defense first and foremost and maybe, maybe score a goal now and then if the other team doesn't beat itself to death in frustration.  I'll be honest - I really didn't enjoy watching the Hunter led Capitals as I felt the team was too talented to play hockey that way.  Now we have the Adam Oates Capitals and make no mistake this is a team playing the game the way their head coach, a hall of famer himself, wants to see the game played.  "A great offense starts with a sound defense" is clearly the way Oates want to see the game played.  Oh and the centers - the centers are essential to this style of play.  They are the cornerstone of the defense. 

Puck possession and protection is a key element of every Capitals game plan now. The degree Oates and his coaching staff have taken this now shown when you look at how lst season, then two time, now three time league MVP has adjusted his game after being a thing or four.  The staff no doubt  helped Ovechkin transition from Left to Right Wing, and go from being an awesome scoring machine to an even "awesomer" more complete, all around hockey player.  After making the transition from LW to RW last season and winning his third Hart Trophy as well as "another" Rocket Richard Trophy as the League's leading goal scorer, its easy to overlook that perhaps the even more important change to Ovechkin's game is how much better he is at protecting the puck.  Now even though he's always "played hard on the puck" throughout his seven season, to date, career, he now seems to do it with more "conservation of energy." Further, in addition to protecting the puck he seems to be better able to protect himself - which is more important then ever for he and the Capitals since the size of the target on his sweater is bigger than ever.  I don't want to take anything away from Ovechkin or his compete level - I have no doubt the majority of these changes are due to he, himself, realizing he could get even better and his work ethic to make it so.  That said there had to be some level of coaching both of the player and illustrating to him how these changes could work better for both he and the entire team; as well as then tweaking the coach's own thoughts and preconceptions about this system to fully "capitalize" on a extraordinary athletes unique talents.  It' one type and level of coaching to take a very talented junior level player and prepare him to make the transition to he NHL, it's an entirely different type and level of coaching to help one of the worlds best at anything get noticeably better than he already was and take his (or her) game to the next level.  Especially when that level is something few have ever seen let alone analyzed and dissected so as to facilitate as a coach.

I've heard it said that it took opponents around the NHL three to four seasons to figure out and adjust to counteract Ovechkin's unique combination of size, speed, skill and perhaps the best "release" in the game that resulted in the way he played LW the first five seasons of his career (when he scored 269 goals in 414 regular season GP).  My feeling is watching his transition through lst years lockout shortened season and the fist two games this season, it ma not take as long for the rest of the NHL to "figure out" his revised approach to playing the game, but it will take them a lot longer and it will be a lot harder, for them o effectively adjust and execute any sort of counteraction to his ability to positively impact the outcome of either an NHL regular season or playoff game, this time around.  I feel strongly Ovechkin's play as the Capitals team leader the first two games of this season portend well for a solid season for both himself as an individual and for the team that has, frankly been built around him these past six years.  Perhaps the most important change, in that respect, is this is no longer, "just" Ovechkin's team it's also Oates', Backstrom's, Green's, Brouwer's, Carlson's, Alzner's, Fehr's, Laich's and the list goes on ...

Now about the Blackhawks game and more significantly last evening's home opener against the Calgary Flames.  My view of the season opener on the road in Chicago is that even though it was a loss and the Capitals gave up five "real gals" and a "empty netter" against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions for the skaters it was a more significant and better executed game than last nights win against the Flames.  The only surprise for me in the Chicago game was how much faster the relatively minor rule changes this past off season have made the game in general.  The pace of the game and the "sick, unbelievable" speed of both the Hawks and the Capitals was tremendously entertaining and "good hockey" to watch and frankly up until the Hawks scored their fifth goal at the of the 13:53 minute mark of the third period this was a fast paced, back and forth game that either team could have won. And lets be clear, there is a reason why the Blackhawks opened the season atop the NHL power rankings that is entirely separate and aside from the fact they put their second Stanley Cup banner up a United Center in three seasons before Tuesday's game and its simple - they are the best team right now in the NHL.  So the fact the Capitals had to "rely" on their power play to keep them in the game really isn't an issue to me.  To be drawing penalties generally you have to be playing well and if you then make the opposing team "pay for their penalties" with extra strength goals, well that's what you are supposed to do as a good hockey team.  The fact that Chicago's Johnny Oduya was able to adjust and blunt Alex Ovechkin's efforts in 5 on 5 situations, with some help from his friends, in the second and third isn't all that surprising given the other weapons Chicago had on the ice to counteract the Capital's first line's strengths  - really not too surprising.  After all, Ovechkin still managed a two point night and also was a factor in another of Mikhail Grabovski's power play goals that he did not "point on." Finally, think about how different the outcome might have been had Braden Holtby "matched" Corey Crawford's less than spectacular 0.875 SV% and nineteen (19) year old Connor Carrick not make one of the two, understandable, "rookie mistakes" that figured in two of Chicago's five even strength goals.  When you do that you realize it wasn't a great night, but it wasn't a horrible night for the good hockey team that is "our Washington Capitals" - our team just came up a little short against a very, very good team. Oh and even though it was in a loosing cause, Capitals nw addition Grabovski had a "hat trick".

Now we switch to last nights game and for sure the first period was indeed a switch.  The Calgary Flames surprised me from the "get go" and how "not bad" they are.  However, the Caps started a little flat as a group, and lets be honest, when Braden Holtby is "on" he's really really good.  Last night though he definitely was NOT "on"  the first goal by the Flames David Jones may or may not be one Holby "wants back" but he should.  It was "stoppable" and it set the tone and tenor for the rest of his shortened appearance last night.  An outing where the 24 year old Lloydminster, SK, native let three goals by on eleven (11) SOG; a 0.727 SV% before being pulled in favor of 25 year old Czech Michal Nuevirth.  That move proved to be the right one, as the Capitals reacted by tightening up their game and "Nuevy" ended the night allowing only one more goal and had a SV% of 0.964 on 28 Shots On Goal by the Flames.  His 27 saves included both "the ones he should have made" and at least two saves "he and his team needed him" to make.

So after "spotting" the Flames a three goal lead by the end of the first period, the Capitals had their work cut out for them in order to get even one point out of last nights game.  Thankfully, the Caps started looking like the team they should and being the team they are during last night's second period.  During the second period the Caps outscored the Flames 3-1, including young "Master" Carrick's first ever regular season NHL goal which opened the Capitals scoring at 7:30 of the second period. It was a nice goal precipitated by solid outlet passes from Alzner and Johansson to Carrick as he exited the penalty box "finished" off by a cool headed Carrick as he pushed the puck into the net through Flames goaltender Ramo's five hole.  The Flames pushed back 1:35 later to again their 3 goal lead with an even strength goal by Lance Bouma before the Caps seemed to decide either "enough is enough" or "not in OUR house" or some combination of the two. The Caps then added a power play goal off an Alex Ovechkin "one timer" at 11:24 to cut the Flames led to two; before "the Great 8" then  brought the game to within one for the Caps with an even strength goal at the 15:25 mark of the period.

Over the next 18:35 of regulation, the Flames impressed me with their ability to "bend but not break" and keep the puck out of the net despite a clear onslaught by the Capitals.  That is until the Caps Nicklas Backstrom was able to leverage, Captain Ovechkin's strong effort on the puck, to "finish" the Capitals second power play goal of the game and tie the game at 4 "all" with 5:50 left to play.  That's the way regulation ended after both Ramo and Nuevirth made saves their team needed them to make.  Overtime was interesting but also ended with the teams deadlocked.  Then we went to the shootout aka "the gimmick".  In the shootout the Capital's new "Russian Connection"  Grabovski, who led off, and Ovechkin both put their "trys" past Ramo with slick moves while Michal Nuevirth was rock solid "stoning" both Flames shooters: Sven Baertschi and Jiri Hudler.  The game gave Nuevy a solid outing and win he deserved and got the Capitals season at home started off in the right manner.

So lets review last evening's "good, bad, and ugly" - I like to end positively so we'll go in "bad, ugly, and good" order.

BAD:  Spotting teams three goal leads isn't the way to ensure you'll get points out of a game, nor is any team SV % under 0.900 and right now through the first two games of the season the Caps have a team SV% of 0.889 SV5. They've also allowed 73 SOG and to me that just seems like at least 14 too many, and really asking for trouble given that so many of the opposing teams shots on goal have been inside the "scoring area" and solid scoring chances.  While Holtby's SV% through his four and half periods played is not where it should be, the eight goals he's allowed are truly not even close to being the majority "his fault". The Caps need to play much, much harder on the puck and generate significantly more defensive zone takeaways to deliver on the potential this team has.  That was definitely clear during last night's game against the Flames.  Another bad is that Martin Erat continues to be a $4M salary cap hit searching for his identity and a role that can make a positive impact every time he is on the ice for the Capitals, in relatively short order something has to give here.  Erat has too much skill and experience not to be making an impact 90+% of the time he is on the ice - regardless of the number of minutes he plays a night.  I know this may sound harsh too - but I think this required change needs to start inside Erat's head and translate to him just working even harder when he's on the ice, not worrying about his ice time or who is out there with him.  I really think he has the skills to do that, he just needs to realize that needs to start with him and then everything else he is concerned with will take care of itself.

UGLY: Jack Hillen left the game with a "lower body injury" after a hit that looked like it likely badly damaged his right ACL. That was ugly and a big stick tap to Tom Wilson for taking Lance Bouma to task for the hit.  BTW Bouma finished his night with the important two thirds of a "Gordie Howe Hat Trick."

GOOD:  This was solid character game as pretty much all comeback victories.  Once the Capitals settled down they returned to their game plan and just patiently chipped away showing the skill and confidence needed to get standings points in the NHL.  The Caps stars led the way and the Caps "role players" at least the vast majority of them played solid games when you look at the full 65:00 played.  Special mention and stick tap to Jay Beagle; "Beag's" was 6 for 8 in the Face Off Circle and 4:36 of his 6:14 TOI was on the penalty kill, those faceoffs were huge as were his efforts while Connor Carrick was in the box at the start of the second period.  While the third line of Chimera - Fehr - Ward were victimized on two eve strength Flames goals, they seemed to get it together and play very strong on the puck after they yielded the goal by Bouma on Nuevirth.  The second line of Laich - Grabovski  - Brouwer had a reasonably solid outing.  The Caps were 61% in the Face Off circle for the game, that seems to be an aspect of the game they've significantly improved on since last season.  Both Tom Wilson with 5:52 (5:40 of even strength) and Connor Carrick with 17:26 including 1:33 on the penalty kill "thanks" to the early departure of Jack Hillen, both looked pretty solid, especially since they are both U20 rookies.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Another Month Since My Last Set of Hockey Musings, the Blackhawks Won The Cup and Now We Are Into "Free Agent Frenzy" and Whle I am Still a Frustrated Caps Fans I Can Understand Why GMGM Hasn't Made Any UFA Moves Yet...

Well now Caps fans we are firmly into the "Off Season" a Stanley Cup Parade has been conducted in Chicago, doe that mean there really is NOT a President's Cup Jinx? Well at least not this season, I could give my thoughts on the playoffs in their entirety or the finals in particular but I'll confine them to just a single thought on the finals.  To me in hindsight the defining game, the game when Boston lost the series was their Game 4 loss in Boston, if ever there was a game in a seven game series that made the statement "There's a world of difference between trailing a series 3-1 and being tied 2-2"; it was games 4, 5, and 6 of this year's Cup finals.  Seriously, Boston wins game four and the world would have been a different place, instead they lost it 6-5 in overtime but worse yet they showed Chicago their weaknesses, they showed Chicago how to push the game to the Bruins and to get the Bruins to let the Hawks open things up during that loss.  It was all downhill from their for the Bruins and the Hawks made sure the Bruins fully realized it during Game 5.  After Games 4 and 5, Game 6 was really just an obvious, necessary footnote in the Blackhawks second Stanley Cup in four seasons.

Now what about this off season?  How about those Washington Capitals?  Yeah, what about those Capitals?  Well so far it's been a relatively quiet off season for the Caps.  No big trades or moves on draft day, not this season.  However, I like the young players the Caps drafted, my gut tells me that in a couple of seasons we'll see at least two of the six "kids" the Caps drafted in the NHL, maybe, well hopefully, even in "Capitals Red".  I especially like both the Caps first and second round picks: 6'-1", 18 year old, European Left Wing Andre Burakovsky; 6'-1", 18 year old Canadian Defenseman Madison Bowey; and 6'-3", 18 year old, American Left Wing Zachary Stanford. My gut says that it's entirely possible that four years or so from now, Bowey could be one of those "draft steals" that people talk about, a guy who when compared with the most talked about guy in this year's draft "Seth Jones" compares quite favorably.  I also like the Capitals other three late (5th and 6th) round picks: 18 year old, 5'-11" American defenseman Blake Heinrich; 18 year old, 6-0", Providence College bound, American Center Brian Pinho; and 18 year old, 6'-1", Canadian Defenseman Tyler Lewington.  I believe the truth is that this year's draft talent pool was so deep in other years guys like Heinrich, Pinho and Lewington could have been certainly fourth, if not third rounders.  So who knows what the future will bring for those three and the Capitals Organization.  I also especially like that the Capitals seem to be looking to get bigger and stronger.  As all six of these 18 year olds mature, they should all put more "meat on their bones" and add muscle mass to their frames, and for the Capitals I think that's important, they need to play a more physical game, IMO if they are to make deeper runs into the playoffs.  Getting a team, and an organization, whose size and style reflects that from top to bottom is important.  I feel, or maybe it's hope, this year's draft class reflects that process and trend.

Now what about free-agency?  To me it's no secret the Capitals could really use another top quality Center, and another, experienced, clearly top four, defenseman. However, so far this off season, they've made no successful moves to acquire those assets.  This fact is understandable at this point.  Last month, I blogged I hoped the Caps would resign both Mike Ribero and Matt Hendricks.  I would not have, nor would I advocate signing Mike Ribero to the contract he got from Phoenix (4 years, $22M ($5.5M/year)) or Hendricks to the contract he got from Nashville (4 years, $7.5M ($1.85M/year.))  I really like both players but in Ribero's case the contract term is one year longer than I'd be willing to go, and take away his 17 power play points this past season and his price tag is likely $500K higher in each of the four seasons he's signed for higher than I'd like to go.  The contract is great for him and I don't begrudge him doing the right thing for him, but if anyone thinks his time here in DC was "for nothing", I'd respectfully say, coming to DC this season was likely worth $5.5 - $7M of lifetime earnings for #Ribz.  As for Matt Hendricks, again another guy, I'd really hoped the Capitals resigned but I couldn't see signing the 32 year old winger to a contract longer than 3 years, or for n average salary cap hit greater than $1.5M.  Again, I'm happy for the guy, he's clearly a character guy who will likely garner the same fan loyalty in Nashville that he did here in DC, and while his "shootout skillz" add to his value, I would not have been willing to add $2-3M of value to what I'd have been more than willing to pay him for the next three seasons.

Truth be told, there's very few of the over 100 "UFA" signings listed on the site that I think are "worth it" and as far as the signings of top quality Centers and/or Defensemen.  In fact, of top quality players TSN's so called "Top 30 UFA" list, of the 21 deals made so far, the only one I wish the Capitals had made was the deal that brought former Florida Center, 30 year old, Stephen Weiss to the Red Wings.  Of all the UFA Centers available this season, my top three "wish list" guys were Ribero, Weiss, and Tyler Bozak.  I already went over what I thought would have been a fair contract to pay for Ribero, I think Weiss's 5 year, $24.5M deal is a fair deal for a guy with his skill and potential remaining career productivity.  Bozak's five year $21M deal is marginal, from my perspective, and if it's a choice between Bozak and Brooks Laich at that price (and with this season's salary cap it would be) I'm taking Laich every time.  While we're on the subject who (besides Paul Holmgren and Ed Snider) thinks a  37 or 38 year old Vinny Lecavalier is worth $4.5M/year?  My thoughts on that subject are if a 38 year old Sergei Federov isn't worth $4 - 4+M then the likelihood of Lecavalier being so is pretty slim.  So what's left for the Capitals to look at for their needs at Center?   To me the two best UFA options are Mikael Grabovski and Scott Gomez and I really don't think either of them are the answer, so my choice, if I were GMGM and Adam Oates, would likely be to put Brooks Laich into the role of second line center and hope that with Oates' coaching by December I looked like a genius.  But hey, I'm an eternal optimist, and I don't see any other easy answers.

Now what about our needs for another top four defenseman?  Well the last two on's top 30 UFA list are NJ's Marek Zidlicky and Winnipeg's Ron Hainsey.  I don't think either of those guys are the answer.  Where would I look, I'm not sure but perhaps to Pittsburgh's 36 year old Mark Eaton - Eaton had a pretty solid playoffs in 2013, the Penguins are past the salary cap, and Eaton could bring some maturity and stability to the Capitals blue line corps at a relatively modest salary cap hit, so that might be worth taking a chance on him.  Other than that, again I think, the Capitals need to look inward and take some solace in the surprise that were Steve Olesky and Thomas Kundratek's 2013 seasons.  The truth is that as it's currently shaping up the 2013 - 2014 NHL season will likely be a tough one for we Capitals fans.  The team that starts the 2013 -2014 season will likely have more question marks that the team that finished the 2013 playoffs being shutout 1-0 and 5-0 in two straight games and loosing a seven game series to the New York Rangers who then went on to loose their next series with the Bruins in five games.  So what am I saying, I guess I'm saying that by the end of the 2013 - 2014 season we'll likely know the answers to two questions: a) How good an NHL coach can/will Adam Oates be? and b) Is Caps General Manager George McPhee pat of the answer or is he really the heart of the problem?  Again, I'll be the eternal optimist and predict the answer to a) is "really good" and in fact so much so, we won't need or get to know the answer to b).


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Well Its Been A Month Since My Last Post and Three Weeks Since The Capitals Season Ended...

Hey fellow Caps Fans and other assorted readers - how ya been?  For me it's been a month since my last blog post and three full weeks since the Capitals season ended, ignominously with a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers that followed a 1-0 defeat at their hands in the prior game. Coming to terms with six straight periods of scoreless hockey at the hands of "King Henrik" hasn't really been the reason for my hiatus, I understood that prety quickly. However letting the Rangers dominate them 5-0 in a game seven was a bit harder to understand, though a week of great fishing in the out islands of the Bahammas made that all a very distant memory so that wasn't th issue either. Now not knowing what to say or add to the discourse on the overall 2012-2013 Washington Capitals and their season, that was and remains the concundrum I find myself in.  But hey, the good news is I do this stuff for fun, and when it stops being fun I can either stop doing it or change what I'm doing - like going fishing, so that's what I did.  Now I'm looking ahead to the 2013-2014 Caps season and watching the remaining four teams in the running for the Stanley Cup battle it out.  And that's starting to be fun again.

So looking at the Caps let me say, I'm excited with the way the Caps geled at the end of the season, and I like the way the Caps now play under Adam Oates and his coaching staff's system.  Doesn't change my perplexion at the way the season ended but for the Capitals Organization and we fans, its time once again to move on and look forward.  In the near term that means the resigning, or not, of Free Agents - Unrestricted and Restricted; and the NHL Draft.  The Capitals had 10 guys under contract in 2012-2013 who are now unrestricted free agents:

Michael Carmen - you too are probably saying "Michael who" so I have attached a link to his Hershey Bears bio.  He was picked up from the Avalanche in a trade of minor leaguers in February 2012 and from what I can tell is unlikely to be resigned by any NHL team at this point, though I wouldn't be surprised to see him continue his professional career in the "A" or Europe next season.

Joey Crabb - another guy from what I can tell is an easy no resign decision, at least for the Capitals the way he was handled and ended the season.  Don't get me wrong I like the grit Crabb brings and I believe he'll end up signed somewhere next season, I just cannot see it being Washington.

Matt Hendricks - to me "Hendy" is a definate guy to resign and I believe he'll be back with a contract similar to the one that Eric Fehr signed (two years at 1-1.5M/year).

Patrick McNeill - if you haven't followed McNeill's career thus far I can't really fault you, to say his development has progressed slower than the Capitals hoped since he was drafted by the Capitals in theofourth round of the 2005 draft would not be understatment, but from my perspective he's worth keeping the 27 ear old around at least another year at the NHL Minimum and assigning him again to Hershey.  Especially since I think we'll be seeing some moving and not resigning of Poti and Schultz this off season.

Tom Poti - it was great to see Poti back from what for most would have been a career ending injury but the Capitals just cannot and should not resign him this upcoming season, and personnally I expect to see the 36 year old d-man retire this off season assuing he doesn't get any significant interest in signing him for $2+M/year elsewhere around the league.

Ryan Potulny - the Capitals signed the 28 year old Center as an Unrestricted Free Agent in July 2011 and since then he has been playing in Hershey, he's 6-0 and 182# and has had two pretty solid seasons in Hershey, he is likely to be resigned at the end of offseason if he's still around and a roster spot is available for a league minimum and that seems like a fair thing to do. Who knows he could be another Matt Hendricks kind of guy.

Joel Rechlicz - this another guy definately worth giving another year and another shot - he's just too much of a charachter and with way too much grit to not see if he can't stick as a grinder somewhere in the NHL, sorry i know I'm a softee for guys like this but that's me.

Mike Ribero - I've made no secret of it, I think in order to continue to maintain thebalance they have and the ability to be a "four line team" the Capitals need to resign "Ribz".  The question at hand is that really possible.  If they don't resign Ribero then the Caps need to go after either Patrik Elias (unlikely that would work or be cheaper), Michal Handzus (also likely to be no easier or cheaper to sign than Ribero) or they could take a flyer on a promising guy whos been somewhat erratic like Tyler Bozak or Nik Antropov and hope it works out.  Personnally, like I said, that's all why i think the Capitals need to resign Ribero but both the term and the amount have to be something both sides can live with and currently that agreement hasn't been reached.

Dany Sabourin - two words on resigning Sabourin - Philipp Grubauer. 

Wojtek Wolski - I just can't see Wolski returning or the Capitals pursuing him in any sort of aggressive fashion.  Though only 27, the 6-3, 215# LW from Poland hasn't really had a season that showcased his talent or potential since the 2009 - 2010 season that he split between Phoenix and Colorado.

So of the ten (10) UFA's, I'm suggesting the Capitals resign five of them:  Hendricks, Ribero, Rechlicz, Potulny, and McNeill. That would be a good offseason for GMGM with regard to UFAs but if he doesn't resign Ribero, then he needs to sign a player with similar potential and talent as the second line center.

On the restricted free agent ledger, the Capitals have two unsinged.  Karl Alzner - that's a no brainer.  He needs to be the first signing of this off season and I'd guess he, his agent and GMGM are talking to make that happen.  The second is Marcus Johansson, for the right price, MoJo should be resigned.  The reality though is the decision to resign him cannot be a "no brainer" - his offensive production to date and his size make it a decision worth "mulling over" but he is only 22 and is likely to continue to develop over the next 3+ seasons. 

Resigning Hendricks, Ribero, Alzner and Johannsson still leaves the Capitals - how all this happens with a healthy Brooks Laich and even thinking about retaining Jeff Schultz is likely an impossibility under next seasons salary cap but I'll continue to ponder and muse on that one.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hockey Jeaopardy for $1000: "The answer is Character, Persistence, and Unparrallelled Professionalism"

The question is: "What has Adam Oates brought to the Washington Capitals, Alex."  It's been three weeks since my last blog post, and that's what I've noted most during my "Hockey Musings" over the last three weeks, and the last eight games the Capitals have played.  Since we had to see the return of the "Cardiac Kids" to overcome Tampa Bay on April 13th, all I've seen from the Washington Capitals is the  even keeled drive and determination that exudes from their Hall of Fame coach every day.  Its clear that in Adam Oates' mind and that of his players, it ain't over until its over, and when its over some group of happy players gets to raise Lord Stanley's Cup.  It's also clear that as far as all of them are concerned, the Fat Lady hasn't even gotten onto the plane to fly into town yet on that one.

Looking at the Capitals' body of work the last two weeks of the regular season and the first week of the playoffs, one thing is certain, the Capitals are mentally ready for the long battle that a deep run into the playoffs takes.  That said, the first thing they need to do is beat the New York Rangers two more games and as noted over at Scotty Hockey: "The saying goes that a playoff series isn't over until a team loses at home."  The Capitals kept that from happening to them yesterday and make no mistake about it, Saturday's 1-0 victory over the Rangers was a game where the first team to make a critical mistake lost, in fact in overtime it took two critical mistakes in a row by the Rangers, for the Capitals to win.  And that was after we had a nail biting two minutes with the Capitals on the Penalty Kill themselves, a sequence where the Capitals didn't make that critical second mistake in a row to end up with a home loss in overtime.  That's an example why I'm saying what I'm saying about Character, Persistence, and Professionalism.  Another reason is exemplified by the comments from the Capitals players after the game, humble, sedately pleased, but self-examining and critical of their own play and where and how they could have played better.  They know they are professionals, and as such high levels of skill, execution, and energy are expected of them; that's a change from the post game comments after a victory in recent years past.  It's totally in keeping with their comments all season long though, these guys are following a team leader named Alex Ovechkin, but he is following the example of a coach he clearly truly respects, and whose respect he wants to earn every game.  And why not?  This guy, Adam Oates, is a professional, and an adult, and that's the way he treats his players.  He and his staff may also be the absolute best coaching group the Capitals have ever had as well.  Just look at the adjustments between AND during games these guys identify and explain to the team in a way that they can implement - that's a huge difference from recent years past.

How important are character and persistence  at this time of year, you might wonder, I mean as opposed to talent. For my two cents, they are everything.  When you are down to the top 16 teams in the highest level league in the world in a tournament for the championship of your sport, every team is very talented and very confident, the difference is who wants it more and who is willing to overcome occasional bad bounces and adversity to go and get it.  Illustrative of my point is the fact that as of the hour and date of this post, every playoff series in process except the Caps vs. Rangers and the Sharks vs. Canucks is such that each team playing has at least one win. Minnesota - Chicago clearly makes the point, the Blackhawks after tearing through the regular season lead the series over the Western Conference eighth seed 2-1, however two of the three games have been decided by just a singly goal.  And how about San Jose - Vancouver or the Capitals/Rangers series?  Well sure the Sharks and Caps are both up 2 games to nil, however in each series the last game required overtime to be settled; again once you get into overtime, either team could win, as it's usually "first mistake" looses.  So again I say, at this time of year character, persistence and professionalism, are pretty much - everything.

So that's why I'm very pleased that Adam Oates is coaching "my team" - the Washington Capitals.  I can't wait to see how the 2013 Capitals handle their first playoff game of 2013 at Madison Square Garden tomorrow evening.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

WOW Cardiac Kids/Caps Make A Return At Verizon Center Last Night

Well who would have "thunk it" - I had my thoughts about last night's Caps - Lightning game about half right.  The Caps needed to score more than three goals to win, and if they gave the Lightning's stars time and space an offense led by Saint Louis, Lecavalier, and Stamkos was going to score. 

As we all likely know the Caps came out executing their game plan and playing well, it was the smoothest first period of the season to my way of thinking and at the end of the period, the Caps were up 3-0 and had not gotten frustrated by what was a couple of pretty darn good penalty kills by Tampa Bay.  The second period was a tit for tat affair where at the end of the period the Caps led 5-2 despite being as out shot by the Bolts in the second period by a margin almost as large as the Caps had out shot them in the first.  And the third period you ask?  Well if the third period wasn't the Lightning's best period of hockey this season it had to be close.  From the 18:47 mark of the second period through the end of regulation, the Lightning scored four unanswered, even strength goals to tie the game at 5-5 with 2:35 left to play.  At that point the Capitals seemed to really, no kidding, wake up.  Sure during the first two even strength goals by the Bolts they tried to shake the cobwebs from their game, aggressively exhorted to do so by their Captain, Alex Ovechkin.  However, those efforts just didn't seem to thwart the high energy, wildly aggressive play by Tampa Bay until after the game was tied 5-5.  During the final 2:35 of play, Washington again seemed to find their groove but they were unable to find the back of net before the Lightning earned at least one point before leaving Verizon Center.  As "Sudden Victory Overtime" began, the Capitals "took it up a notch" and once again we witnessed a well played game by two teams with lots of talent.  Then at the 1:50 mark of the extra stanza a bounced puck enabled Marcus Johannson to get away and behind the Tampa Bay porous defense of countryman Victor Hedman such that Bolt's Captain Vinny Lecavalier had to break MoJo's stick with a well executed two handed slash to keep the game going by preventing the young, compact, speedy Swede from scoring.  Lecavalier was called for slashing putting the Capitals on the 4 on 3 powerplay for 2:00.  Personally I love watching 4 on 3 PPs simply because there is so much open ice that guys at the NHL level can and do just use so well.  Last night was no exception.  Watching the Capitals powerplay since about mid/late February has been a joy.  Watching it execute last night on the 4 on 3 man advantage in OT was as the British would say "brilliant."  Mike Ribero setting the puck out to Mike Green while the Bolts also had to worry about "yet another" one-timer from Ovechkin as well resulted in the increasingly common exclamation from "Joe B" on Comcast "GAME OVER!" 

It was, despite a very rocky ~25:00+ minutes from the last few of the second period through the end of regulation, a good night.  A good two point night was in the books for the Capitals when the teams left the ice.  Interestingly, last night was not a game with poor goaltending by either Bradon Holtby or either of the Bolts goalies, IMO, despite 11 goals being surrendered.  The seventy-eight shots on goal by both teams were filled with excellent scoring chances.  In Holtby's case he face 40 shots and ended the night with an unremarkable 0.875 SV %, but I ask you what could he have done on either of Marty Saint Louis' goals?  Those two goals by Saint Louis are NOT two that anyone would "want back."  Ovechkin's goal was "sick" - there's only a couple guys in the world ever that can make that move to the backhand while skating that fast wit the puck - I mean there's only a couple guys who can skate with the puck that fast - think about it... The issue for me relative to the eleven goals scored last night was not the goaltending but the fact that the Caps let the game get away from their game plan.  That's why I was pleas that none of the Caps players were pleased with the way their team played in the game during post game interviews despite getting both available points.  They know they can and must do better the rest of the way until their season ends.

Not mentioned by many is that last night's meeting was the last regular season meeting between the two teams as "Division Rivals" as next season Washington, Carolina,  as in "Conference 2" while Tampa Bay and Florida are in "Conference 1" in the East and Winnipeg moves to "Conference 3" out West.  So as we Caps fans look at the Capitals six remaining games it's interesting to note that all six are against teams that are either definitely in the playoffs (Montreal) or fighting for a playoff spot and seeding; however, none of those six teams will be in the same division as the Capitals will  be in next season. I just think that's an unusual situation and one that only happen in a crazy lockout shortened season right before league realignment. 

Well looking ahead to the Capitals' last six games of the season you can see the road to the playoffs won't be easy. On Tuesday Evening the Capitals face off at Verizon against the Maple Leafs.  The Leafs are currently in 5th in the East with 51 points and just dissected the Canadiens last night with a 5-1 pasting in Toronto - this will be a key game for the Capitals and one I am very much looking forward to.  Then they travel north for a two game road trip to Ottawa and Montreal on Thursday and Saturday.  So for the Caps this week is "Canada Week."  Ottawa is in 6th in the Eastern Conference with 48 points, a stingy team GA of 84 goals with 41 games played and goalie Craig Anderson back in the lineup and looking like a "stone wall."  Thursday won't be an easy game for the Capitals but it too will be an important one as it might be a precursor to an opening round playoff match up.  Saturday sees the Capitals facing off against Montreal at Le Centre Bell.  Montreal has been one of three "Beasts of the East" this season along with Boston and Pittsburgh.  The Canadiens currently have 57 points in 41 games and are still battling with Boston (56 points) to see who will be the Northeast Division Champions.  After last night's loss to Toronto and three games (Flyers, Penguins, and Lightning) this coming week before they meet the Capitals, it's hard to predict how Montreal will be coming into next Saturday Night's game.  The week after next the Capitals have three final games at home to wrap the regular season up.  The biggest is likely to be against Winnipeg on Tuesday evening 4/23 before facing off against the Senators on Thursday and finishing the season off against the Boston Bruins on Saturday evening in what will no doubt be a good game though hopefully it will be one with little to no suspense for either team.  An interesting note about the Capitals last two weeks of the regular season - especially their last four home games - the ice at Verizon Center should be good ice - better than usual that is - because there are no other events at Verizon besides Ice Hockey from 4/15 through 4/28.  That's just plain unusual as Verizon Center, like Madison Square Garden is on of the busiest arenas in the league.

Well there's not much else to say except ...


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Another Week of Good Play for the Capitals

Well Caitals fans it's been another week of good play by "your" Washington Capitals.  The Caps had two games this week, and they won both games in regulation. 

The Caps are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and 12-3-1 in their last 16 games (1/3rd of this lockout shortened season).  For the entire season thus far, the Capitals are 22-17-2 with 19 Regulation or Overtime Wins that's 0.561 hockey overall (46 out of a possible 82 potential points.)  The Capitals are looking and playing like we all thought they could and would for the entire season right now.  Over the last 16 games they have been playing 0.781 hockey; and an even better 0.850 over them last 10 games; and that is on pace with the top teams in the League in either conferences.  Though it bears pointing out that the Chicago Black Hawks 64 points in 39 games is an even more amazing 0.820 over the entire season.  However, the Caps current six (6) game winning streak makes them and the Saint Louis Blues (also on a 6 game winning streak) the "hottest" teams in the league going into the last two weeks of the season.  All that being said, it's unlikely the Capitals will "clinch" the Southeast Division and a playoff spot until they either beat Winnipeg on Thursday, April 23rd at Verizon Center or the last day of the season.

Thankfully though for we Capitals fans, our Capitals record is 3.7%; 2 points; 1 1/2 games better than the Jets from Winnipeg.  Additionally, even if the Capitals were not in first place in the Southeast Division they would still be a playoff team - in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.  To my way of thinking that's an important consideration when thinking about the Capitals post season prospects.  The Capitals are hitting their stride at the right time of year - the end o the regular season.  That's a positive.  The fact they have four vetran players - good vetran players - banged up right now - that's a negative.  Next up for the Capitals will be their final meeting this season with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the fourth and final time this season.  The Capitals lead the series 2-1 but beating Tampa Bay has been anything but easy for the Capitals.  Tampa Bay will no doubt come out playing hard tonight - the Lightning certainly have some very lethal weapons.  Weapons named Stamkos, Saint Louis, Lecavalier, Malone, Hedman, Pouliot, and Carle.  Tampa Bay's achillies heel this season though has been and continues to be goaltending.  At least that's the theory, I say that because Tampa Bay's "team" SV% is a respectable 0.917.  The issue is their team combined GAA which is 3.625 vs their team combined GFA which is 3.05.  So despite having a positive goal differential, the Lightning have just 17 wins and they have yielded an average of 43.65 shots against per game. 

What's all the above mean?  It means the Capitals should extend their current winning streak tonight but that's only going to happen if they score 3+ goals and keep their team defense at or close to their average GAA of 2.75/game. 


Monday, April 8, 2013

A Milestone Has Been Reached ... Now It's Time To Continue Forward ANd NOT Look Back

Well, the comeback from the disastrous start of the 2013 lockout shortened season is now complete thanks to a 4-2 regulation win over Tampa Bay tonight at Verizon Center and a 4-3 regulation win over the Panthers in Sunrise last night. The Capitals are now 1 1/2 games ahead of the Winnipeg Jets for the Division lead in the Southeast.  Additionally if the Caps were not in third by way of the seeding, they'd now be in eighth place and still be a playoff team with eight games left in their regular season.  Additionally, the Capitals first line of Marcus Johannson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin are basically on fire; and over the past ten games the Capitals are 8-1-1, which means along with the San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, and the Pittsburgh Penguins they are the hottest teams in the NHL right now. Oh and did I mention that Ovechkin is now tied for the league lead in goals with 25 goals in 39 games played - which if this were an 82 game season would mean he's on pace for a 52 goal season. So now it's clear to me the Caps are now likely to make the playoffs.
I'm a Caps fan and the Caps have now achieved something I've been pulling for since the Caps went 1-5-1 for the month of January to start the season. They've regained the SE Division lead. The Capitals overall record is over 0.500; as are BOTH their home and away records (Home: 10-8-0, Away: 10-9-2). Their number one goaltender - that would be 23 year old Braden Holtby is 17-11-1 with a Save % of 0.914; a GAA of 2.71; and 4 shutouts. They have a backup goaltender (25 year old Michal Neuvirth) that has a SV% of 0.902 and a GAA of 2.89.  The Capitals team defense has now allowed 110 goals against in 39 games played or a team average GAA of just 2.82 which is 8th best in the Eastern Conference and 19th best in the League.  Their goal differential of +7 is 11th best in the league as well. But what's it all mean?  Will the Capitals finally "go deep" ... into the Stanley Cup Playoffs that is?  Can they "seal the deal"?

The truth is I have no idea but I'm betting that I'm not the only Capitals fan who can wait to see how this whole roller coaster ride plays out.  The truth is that the way the Capitals are playing right now, they are as good as any team in the NHL and betting against them should not be done lightly.  Next up, the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Tuesday Evening.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Another Week of the NHL Season Down and I Still Hate the Loser Point...

So hockey fans once again thanks to the loser gift point from Gary Bettman’s NHL twenty four (24) of the thirty teams (30) in the NHL are playing over 0.500 hockey this week while last week that number was a mere twenty one (21) teams.  In a sport that supposedly invented the overtime and shootout so that there is always a winner and always a looser, isn’t it ironic is that the only real losers are the teams that win and/or lose their games in regulation and split two vice three points?  Think about it while you look at this week’s power rankings for teams that are over 0.500 in their last ten games.  Here they are:

Rank      Team                     Last 10 Games   Streak                   Conference

 1)            Pittsburgh:           0.800     8-2-0        won 7                    East
 2)           Chicago:               0.800     8-2-0         won 1                   West
 3)           Anaheim:             0.800     7-1-2        won 5                    West
 4)           Montreal:            0.800     7-1-2        won 4                    East
 5)           Winnipeg:            0.750     7-2-1        won 2                    East
 6)           Boston:                0.750     7-2-1        won 1                    East
 7)           Carolina:              0.700     7-3-0        lost 1                     East
 8)           Columbus:           0.700     5-1-4        OT2                        West
 9)           Saint Louis:          0.600    6-4-0         won 2                   West
10)          Minnesota:         0.600     6-4-0        won 1                    West
11)          Washington:       0.600     6-4-0        won 1                    East
12)          Los Angeles:        0.600     6-4-0        lost 2                     West
13)          NY Islanders:       0.600     5-3-2        won 1                    East
14)          Detroit:                0.600     5-3-2        lost 1                     West
15)          Ottawa:               0.600     4-2-4        OT2                        East
16)          Calgary:               0.550     5-4-1        won 1                    West
17)          San Jose:             0.550     4-3-3        won 1                    West
18)          Philadelphia:      0.500     5-5-0        won 1                    East
19)          Phoenix:              0.500     5-5-0        lost 1                     West
20)          NY Rangers:        0.500     5-5-0        lost 2                     East
21)          Vancouver:         0.500     4-4-2        won 2                    West
22)          Edmonton:         0.500     4-4-2        won 2                    West
23)          Buffalo:               0.500     4-4-2        won 1                   East
24)          Dallas:                  0.500    4-4-2        OT1                        West.
So to me the good news in this week’s power rankings are: 1) at least no team playing over 0.500 hockey in their last ten games this week had less than four (4) outright (in regulation time) wins versus last week when X teams did so, ad 2) for the second week in a row the Washington Capitals have played 0.600 hockey which is likely what it may well take for them to make the playoffs.  The travesty of course is that of the 240 games that these twenty four teams contested in the last ten game span, 26 (10.8%) of the time they received a gift “loser” point; last week that number was 11.3% of the 230 games the teams that were over 0.500 played.  That means that in the standings this season it is likely to take 5 to 10 more points to make the playoffs than it did during the last 48 game season.  That’s why I say in either conference the way things now look, to even be on the bubble coming down the stretch (the last 10 days/5 games) your team will need to have played 0.550 over the prior 40+ games. 

You’ll also note that thanks to loser points five (5) teams, San Jose, Ottawa, Columbus, Detroit and the NY Islanders are all listed higher than they would likely be if every game were worth three points (three points for a regulation win; 2 points for an OT or SO win; and 1 point for an OT or SO loss.)  Enough with my continued jihad/rant about how it makes NO sense to me to give teams an EXTRA point for games that go beyond regulation time to be decided.
Another interesting thing of note as of this morning is that there are five teams – the three Beasts of the East (Montreal, Boston, and Pittsburgh) and the two Best of the West (Chicago and Anaheim) that are simply at least a head, if not heads and shoulders, above the rest of the league at this point.  While as of this AM Boston “only” has 39 points, they’ve only played 25 games so far this season and overall they have played 0.870 hockey.  Additionally the Bruins have captured 20 of those points on the road and their goal differential is +22 (.88 goals per game and best in the East) and their average goals against of 2.16/game is second best in the league while their average goals for of 3.04 goals/game is more than respectable.  Boston though trailing Montreal and Pittsburgh for the Conference Championship is certainly poised right now for an excellent season and a deep run in the playoffs barring a meltdown or some totally unforeseeable issue.  As noted the same seems to be in the cards for the Penguins and the Canadiens both of whom also have played 0.714 and 0.740 hockey so far this season.  The only real intrigue in the Eastern Conference in my mind is who of these three will be the 1, 2, and 4 seeds for the first round.  That’s a big difference from two weeks ago thanks to Pittsburgh being on a 7 game winning streak right now.  However, both Montreal and Boston have been playing 0.700 or better hockey pretty steadily since early in the season.  Once you look elsewhere in the Eastern Conference from these three teams though you find 8 other teams who are within 5 points of each other, two of whom (Carolina and Winnipeg) who are playing 0.700+ hockey in their last ten games.  If the current trends continue another two weeks things could again look much different as to who the stronger and weaker teams are in the conference and in addition to the eight clustered teams, depending on how things continue to go for New Jersey, Ottawa, Toronto, the Rangers, the Islanders and the Flyers, the Capitals may or may not find themselves also among the cluster of teams on the rather large Eastern Conference “bubble”.

Out West, what else is there to say other than Chicago’s season record thus far of 0.870 is pretty other worldly?  In fact the only thing that has kept them from running away with the entire conference is that Anaheim’s 0.827 start to the season is “pretty” good too, eh?  Looking beyond these two teams we see twelve teams that are within 6 points (3 games) of each other with an average of approximately 21 games to play.  It’s unlikely that any other team in the Conference will win either the Central or the Pacific Division but everything else is clearly “up for grabs” with regard to the Western Conference seeding; and who can forget that last season Lord Stanley’s Cup was won by the eighth seeded team in the Western Conference.   Right now though I am very “high” on Anaheim’s prospects to go deep into the playoffs and if they make the finals, I would not bet against them to take the Cup.  They just looked very intensely good during their current five game winning streak.  Besides who can’t get behind Selanne winning another Cup at age 42?  Besides of course hockey fans of pretty much every other team in the Western Conference right now.
Now let’s talk Washington Capitals hockey over the last week.  In the last week’s games the Capitals dropped from sixth (6th) to eleventh (11th) in my power rankings this week.  The reasons for the drop are X-fold.  1) The Capitals dropped off from playing 0.700 hockey to 0.600 hockey.  2) They Capitals traded a three (3) game winning streak and 3-1-0 record for a 1-3-0 record this week.  3)  Last week there were seven (7) teams including the Capitals playing 0.700 or better hockey, this week there are eight (8) teams playing 0.700 or better hockey and the Capitals are not one of them.  4) In the three games in the first week of March the Caps scored 14 goals and allowed only 4 to be scored against them; in the four games they played in the second week of the month they scored only 6 goals and allowed 15 to be scored against them.  As such the Capitals find themselves in twelfth place in the Eastern Conference, seven (7) points out of a playoff spot and eight (8) points behind SE Division leader Carolina with 22 games left to play in their season. 

Can the Capitals make up three to four games with just 22 left to play if they keep playing 0.600 hockey?  That’s really the question and the answer is, it’s possible but it won’t be easy, especially if the two of teams they need most to catch – Winnipeg and Carolina – continue to play 0.700 plus hockey. 
The seven teams that could most impact whether the Capitals make the playoffs right now are likely Winnipeg, Ottawa, New Jersey, Toronto, Philadelphia, the Rangers and the Islanders.  For the remainder of the season the Capitals have 22 games to play.  Of those 22 games they play those seven teams ten times – including three more games against Winnipeg.  The Capitals also have five games remaining against the three “Beasts of the East” including two against the Bruins and two more games against the Canadiens.  The “good” news for the Capitals looking at the remaining 22 games this regular season is they play Southeastern Division rivals eight (8) out of those 22 games, and so far this season the Capitals are doing well against their division rivals (7-3-0).  If they continue to play 0.700 hockey against the rest of the division, especially Carolina and Winnipeg, they should climb in the division.  Making up the four (4) games they trail the Hurricanes though will require some help by Carolina’s other remaining opponents though as otherwise the runway is simply not long enough to get past the Hurricanes in my opinion.  The three games remaining against Winnipeg are simply huge for the Capitals and the fact two of them are rare back to backs in “The Peg” won’t make it easy for the Caps either.  Over the next week, including the current in process game against the Bruins will likely determine whether the Caps will remain in a position to possibly make the playoffs.  Unfortunately as I type this the Caps trail the Bruins 2-1 at early in the second period at TD Garden but hey last time these two teams met the Caps trailed at the end of the first period and the Capitals haven’t played poorly so I’ll remain the eternal optimist.

Why do I rail against the “free”/”gift” loser point?  It’s simple it’s hurt the Capitals and teams like them much more often than it’s helped them.  For example so far this season the Capitals have only benefited from the policy/rule one time out of twenty six games (3.8%) while other teams like Montreal, Ottawa, New Jersey and Boston have all benefited from the rule considerably more.  Ottawa 22.2%; New Jersey 21.4%; Montreal 14.8% and Boston 12%.  The fact that because it truly is a gift point to the loser instead of a point that a team takes from the other team if they extend the game past regulation it’s not really at all equitable in how it might affect the standings.
Okay that’s about all I’ve got for now so back to game …


Friday, March 8, 2013

Digging Out of The Deep Hole and What Are Reasonable Expectations for the 2013 Capitals Season?

Well Caps Fans as of this date – March 8th, 2013 the Capitals are two games shy of the mid-point of the shortened 48 game season that is the 2012-13 (really just 2013) NHL Regular season.  Thanks to a 10-5-0 record since the first (1st) of February, the Capitals have almost recovered to an overall respectable record after a January that ended 1-5-1.  As of this morning, the Capitals have an overall record for the 22 games they’ve played so far of 10-11-1 (21 points/ 0.477 overall), more important run they’ve gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 games or 8-3-0 in their last 11 games depending on who and what you want to compare and talk about.  The Capitals have not lost consecutive games since February 23rd when they lost to the Devils by one goal (3-2), after losing to the Rangers 2-1 two nights prior.  They’ve not lost a game by a margin of more than one goal since losing to Pittsburgh 5-1 on February 7th.

Why do I point all these good things out?  Well because if the Capitals manage to get three or four of the four possible points available to them in their next two games, they will have recovered from an absolutely horrible start to this lockout shortened season.  That’s quite a feat considering they will have done so while instituting new systems and making large changes to their make-up while starting the season with a new first year NHL head coach – yes I know Adam Oates is a Hockey Hall of Famer, but he’s also a first year head coach in the NHL.  That’s a pretty big deal.  Now also consider this if the Capitals win at least three out of the four available points this weekend they will be at least 0.500 on the season at the halfway mark and they will have amassed at least a 6-3-1 record in their last ten games as well as a record of either 4-0-1 or 5-0 in their prior five games and a record of at least 10-6-1 since February 1st.  Better yet they will NOT be in a deep hole that will need to be dug out during the second half of the season to make the playoffs.
In fact the Capitals are/ will be poised to make a great run and that’s where I think they are likely to be.  Why do I say that?  Well right now, thanks to the thing I hate most in the NHL today – the loser point – 23 out of 30 teams have/are playing 0.500 or better hockey in their last 10 games and that means during this second half of the lockout shortened season something has got to give.  Especially when you realize that after this weekend basically every team in the NHL will have to play 24 games in 7 ½ weeks or more precisely 55 days.  That’s an average pace of 1 game every 2.25 games – that’s pretty intense and overall team health, as well as other factors like who you have left to play, etc. are all key.  Also where your team is mentally as well as physically as this second half of the season sets going will come into play.  Looking at the teams in the NHL who have 0.500 or better records in their last 10 games as of this morning I rank the Capitals at 6th in my own personal version of “power rankings:

Rank      Team                     Last 10 Games   Streak
 1)           Chicago:              1.000  10-0-0       won 11
 2)           Anaheim:            0.800   7-1-2         won 1
 3)           Boston:                0.750   7-2-1        won 1
 4)           Montreal:            0.750   6-1-3        won 1
 5)           Pittsburgh:          0.700   7-3-0        won 3
 6)           Washington:      0.700   7-3-0        won 3
 7)           Los Angeles:       0.700   7-3-0        lost 1
 8)           NY Rangers:        0.600   5-3-2         won 4
 9)           Detroit:                0.600   5-3-2        won 2
10)          Winnipeg:           0.600   6-4-0        won 1
11)          Toronto:              0.600   6-4-0        lost 1
12)          Ottawa:                0.600   5-3-2        lost 1
13)          Dallas:                   0.550   5-4-1        won 2
14)          Calgary:                0.550   5-4-1        won 2
15)          St. Louis               0.550   5-4-1        won 1
16)          Phoenix:              0.550   5-4-1        lost 2
17)          Minnesota:         0.550   5-4-1        lost 1
18)          Philadelphia:      0.500   5-5-0        lost 2
19)          Carolina:              0.500   5-5-0        lost 1
20)          Columbus:          0.500   4-4-2        won 3
21)          NY Islanders:      0.500   4-4-2        OT 1
22)          San Jose:             0.500   4-4-2        lost 1
23)          Vancouver:         0.500   3-3-4         OT 2.
So right now I’m pretty “high” on the Capitals and I have them in the 6th spot largely on the solid record and pace they’ve had over the past 10 games as well as the fact that since 2/1/2013 they’ve played 0.667 hockey.

So now you have to ask yourself - what if this is as good as it gets?  What is the “this” I’m talking about – well it’s winning 2 out of 3 on average the rest of the way to the end of the regular season is “as good as it gets”?  What would that mean?  Well what?  WHAT would that mean?  Would the Capitals make the playoffs?
My answer is probably; also it’s entirely possible if not probable if the Capitals play 0.667 or better hockey “the rest of the way” they will win the Southeastern Division.  Basically if the Caps play 0.667 hockey the last 24 games of the season they will pick up 4 games/8 points on any team that plays 0.500 hockey.  Right now Carolina leads the Southeast with 27 points in 23 games played (0.587 overall) but they are 5-5-0 in their last ten games and their starting goaltender – Cam Ward – is likely out the rest of or at least the majority of the rest of the season.  So for me it’s hard to see Carolina playing much better if at all better than 0.500 hockey the rest of the season.  So again if the Caps play 0.667 for the final 24 games while the Hurricanes play 0.500 the Capitals will finish the season at least 2 points in front of Carolina. 

That leaves us to compare the likely finishes of the other three Southeast Division rivals: Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Florida.  Florida as we saw last night is currently pretty decimated by injuries and they are 0.350 over their last ten games; additionally the Caps currently have 2 games in hand on the Panthers.  It’s hard to see how the Panthers can finish this season making the playoffs or playing over 0.425 across the 48 games season right now.  In fact right now it seems to me the Panthers likely finish the season with between 38 and 44 points total.  Perhaps the best thing about the remainder of their season for Panther fans is they only have to face the Capitals once more and when they do in Sunrise on April 6th it’s unlikely the series will continue its current trend and the Capitals probably won’t score 8 goals.  Tampa Bay is also well under 0.500 with a 3-7-0 record in their last ten games and a current “streak” of 1 loss and an overall season record of 10-13-1 and 21 points.  Like Florida, their season is already ½ over.  It’s hard for me to understand how a team with so much talent, especially fire power, that in this offseason made significant investments in their blue-line, and overall for the season a +7 goal differential, can have such a poor record their last ten games.  Then you look at the underlying data and faces and you see they started the season on fire (January 5-1-0), but since 2/1/2013 they’ve gone 5-12-1.  Their defense has been as porous as their offense has been prolific.  Since February 1st while they’ve played 0.306 hockey they’ve scored 53 and allowed 60 goals.  Basically Tampa Bay needs their blueliners to play much better and they need a reliable goaltender.  I say that from looking at the numbers and from watching them when they’ve played the Capitals. Tampa Bay has an awesome power play and their forwards still can forecheck and backcheck with the best teams in the league.  That said this year doesn’t seem to be the year.  Even if Steve Yzerman picks up a goaltender, their blueline corps is still not playing well as a unit and that isn’t likely to be fixed overnight.  For that reason, it’s hard to see Tampa Bay playing better than 0.500 hockey the rest of the season or finishing with more than 45 points. 
That leaves one worry for the Capitals – if they continue to play 0.667 or better – the Winnipeg Jets.  Let me say this, I think the Capitals should worry about Winnipeg.  The Jets are 6-4-0 in their last ten games; they have a2 point/1 game lead over the Capitals in the standings – the one game the Caps have in hand on the Jets.  Other than Toby Enstrom, the Jets are looking pretty healthy going into the second half and they are playing well.  They play Florida tonight in Sunrise and the Devils on Sunday in Newark.  It’s very likely that after Sunday they will be at have at least 25 points in 25 games – 0.500 overall.  Basically what I’m saying here is the Caps and the Jets are likely to wake up Monday morning in a footrace with each other that will continue the remainder of the season.  If that’s the case and everything else holds true with regard to my thoughts as how big an negative impact Cam Ward’s absence has on the Hurricanes, then the answer to the question of who wins the Southeast Division is who of the Jets and the Capitals has a record of over 0.650 and by how much the second half of the season.  Given the pace of the second half of the season a couple of interesting things to note here: 1) during the second half of the season the Capitals face the Jets three times – twice in Winnipeg (back to back on 3/21 & 22 – another oddity thanks to the quirks of post-lockout scheduling) and a final time on Tuesday April 23rd at Verizon center in what will be the Jet’s 47th and the Capitals 46th game of the season.  The Jets finish their season against the Canadiens at home on Thursday April 25th. 2) Because of the quirks of the shortened season the Jets finish their regular season a little earlier than most teams and they also still have 6 game home-stand between April 6th and April 20th.  That’s a long stretch of home cooking and it’s unlikely the Jets will continue their subpar (0.400) play at home at MTS Center the remainder of the season. 3) The Capitals longest home or away stretch the remainder of the season is a four (4) game road trip from March 19th through March 24th and includes those back to back games at “the Peg.”  The Capitals can do themselves a LOT of good if they have a good road trip, win the full 8 point differential available with Winnipeg in those games and improve their subpar (currently 0.350) road record significantly for the remainder of the season, especially on that four game road trip.   So look this the blog of a Capitals fan and the facts are right now the Caps are playing slightly better than the Jets, also I still think the Caps are the stronger team of the two; my forecast/prognostication is the Caps take the Southeast Division with between 54 and 60 points and the Jets make the playoffs in 7th or 8th place in the East with between 51 and 54 points.
So while the second half of the Capitals season technically starts on Monday, I feel like it really starts now and I’m bullish on the prospects.  One things for sure though we cannot be confident about making the playoffs this season for a long time from now.  Even if the Capitals continue to basically play 0.650 – 0.700+ hockey the rest of the way, it will be over a month plus – likely 6 weeks (if ever this season) until they and we fans have any “breathing room at all between making and not making the post season.  That’s because in the Eastern Conference at the halfway mark of this shortened season, 6th place Ottawa is 3-1/2 games/7 points ahead of the Capitals and the only team in the top 8 with a less than 0.500 record in their last ten games is New Jersey with a 2-6-2 record is New Jersey who can’t wait till Marty Brodeur’s back is better.  If that doesn’t happen soon New Jersey might fall off the “back of the bubble” but I’m not counting on it.
Okay next up the Islanders tomorrow at Nassau Coliseum followed by the Rangers on Sunday here at Verizon Center.  More on those games later – I personally can’t wait to see the Caps tussle with the Rangers on Sunday and I’m looking forward to a solid road win on Long Island tomorrow as well.