Friday, January 25, 2013

Hey Caps Fans - I'm Excited How About You!

Okay so I was being sarcastic there with my headlines Caps fans - I mean right now unless the Capitals pick it up about three or four notches the only thing we'll have to be excited about is the draft lottery.  The list of things wrong with the Washington Capitals right now is just too long to cover it all.  As James Mirtle tweeted during the middle of last night's 4-1 no point, third straight loss: "The Capitals are a mess."  While there is the total economy of words in Mirtle's tweet that only a 140 character limit can compel, not much else needs can really be said.  Of course I will try, why because I'm sitting here "musing" like I do in the early morning as I start to shake the cobwebs from my mind and get rolling in a productive manner, so there's just not much else I usually do at 04:48 in the AM... So how about our Washington Capital's?

As of this AM it's official and undeniable, the Capitals are and will be the last team in the NHL to earn a standings point, they still haven't done that.  Nobody likes to get off to a slow start to a pro sports season, but when each game is twice as important as they usually are because the season is shortened, it's even more painful.  As one tweet I saw last night after the Capitals game said this year a three game losing streak is like loosing six games in a row, that's basically an accurate statement.  That's why we can't take any solace or comfort in the fact that the Capitals are in pretty good company as far as getting off to a slow start, other teams picked to do well this year that are also off to slow starts are the: LA Kings 0-2-1, Calgary Flames 0-2-1, New York Rangers 1-3-0, Florida Panthers 1-3-0, Philadelphia Flyers 1-3-0, Detroit Red Wings 1-2-0, and the Carolina Hurricanes 1-2-0, yep these seven teams and the Capitals are all off to a less than 0.500 start to a shortened season.  Feel any better? Nope?  I know I don't and I sure hope the Capitals team doesn't either, there's absolutely no time or place for any sort of failure to make changes and take action to improve their game in this 48 game season.  I think my "favorite" post game quote last night came from Coach Oates: "I would say some of our mistakes are pure effort. It’s very upsetting. Not pushing the panic button but obviously it’s upsetting."  Last night on twitter I indicated I wished that Troy Brouwer would have just been quit and think about what he was saying, and just play harder.  I stand by those tweets in these morning hours.  Brouwer is one of the Caps NHLPA representatives.  As such over the past couple of months he's been involved in the "Lockout" and had a few things to say about what other players said, etc. during the said Lockout.  That was all fair and in keeping with that role.  Now the lockout's over and we have a season again, and Brouwer is the only guy in the Caps locker room with a Stanley Cup ring.  To me that means leading - leading by example - not by calling out everyone, including himself - but Hendricks, Perrault, and Crabb, it's just my opinion and I acknowledge that Brouwer is the only player in the room with a ring right now. I just think tat it's time for everyone on the team to take responsibility for the horrible start, pointing fingers, even if you have at least one pointed to yourself doesn't really help or do anything. Sure its pro sports so there's always media looking for post-game quotes, and yes we all hate the Sidney Crosby-esque "white toast quotes" like the ones that Backstrom voiced last evening:

Backstrom: "I think it’s embarrassing the way we played, we’ve really got to regroup."

Last night and this AM my reaction to all the numerous quotes I keep seeing in blog posts and MSM articles from Brouwer is pretty basic.  I know he's a great player - really I do and I root for him every minute he's out on the ice, but this morning reading those quotes all I hear is the sound effect they make when the teacher is talking on a "Charlie Brown TV Special" on the Hallmark channel and the only visual I see is of him making a mental mistake and getting that delay of game penalty to put the Caps two men down at 2:16 into the second period with the game still tied 0-0.  All those juicy quotes and not one, not one taking personal responsibility for an action that seems to me was the catalyst for what changed the game.  Sure it was something that should not have changed the game, sure the Caps killed off the first full minute of the 5-3 and seemed like they might just use that adversity as something that could be chewed on as fuel to drive them to maintain an acceptable or better energy level the rest of the game.  But alas it wasn't to be.  Look a minute and half plus is a LONG 5 on 3, no question about that; and the defensive paring that was out there for the first Canadians goal - Carlson and Alzner - appear to honestly be more than willing to take full responsibility for their failings in these first three games.  However, I just felt it strange to be the guy giving so many "juicy" quotes about how "pathetic" and "emabarrassing" everyone but three players were last night to the press without making a point that Brouwer himself was the guy who put a team that seems like it doesn't yet have a single defenseman in "game shape" two men down for over a minute.  Enough about that...

I just touched on what I think is the biggest problem the Capitals have right now.  It hasn't looked like any of the Capitals efensemen are even close to game shape yet; and at least one has openly admitted he doesn't yet feel comfortable with the changes to the system - while there hasn't been a game where every one of the Caps defensemen have been caught out of position at least once.  Last night's game, for all the embarrassment of the four goal second period, was, from a goals against perspective, the Capitals best defensive effort yet.  You read that correctly - game 1: 6 goals against, Caps never led despite having the first three power play man advantages and they fell behind in the first 10:00 of the game; game 2: 4 goals against, Caps scored first at 10:02 of the first period and held the lead for just 2:32 before the Jets evened the score and then went ahead never looking back; game 3: scoreless first period, followed by giving up two power play goals early in the second period to the Canadians who then never looked back.  Well if I was being a total optimist, like I prefer to be I'd say from a defensive perspective, the "trend is our friend."  Unfortunately, in a lockout shortened season the slope of the curve isn't nearly steep enough and as Nick Backstrom said, the Caps need to regroup - and regroup fast. 

Tonight they are in New Jersey to face the Devils who are 2-0-0 so far this season.  Seems that Brodeur guy might b as ageless as that Selanne guy is out in SoCal.  Fourty year old  "Marty" is now 2-0 in his first two starts and snatched the 120th shutout of his 20 year career in the Devils home opener on Tuesday night.  His SV% so far this season 0.977 and his GAA is 0.50 - that puts him number one in those NHL statistics this AM.  So the key to tonight's game for the Capitals will be two things, IMO, and those are two things they haven't done for a full sixty minutes yet this season:  1) a relentless forecheck to keep pressure on Brodeur - not easily done with the latest apparent crackdown on goalie interference as we saw last evening against Carey Price ... weakest goalie interference call yet against Matt Hendricks, IMO .... and 2) high energy backcheck and quick transitions out of their defensive zone with crisper passing. 

My views on the following:

A) Oates' system:  It's the right one for the Capitals and any other team with the number of players on their team with these high skill levels.  That said it's much more unforgiving wen a team doesn't have their timing down, or doesn't execute it well, or as we've seen doesn't work very hard for a full sixty minutes.  Right now the system isn't the problem or issue, conditioning and time playing it together are.

B) Ovi on right wing: Is it the answer?  I don't know.  I do know that both Ovechkin and Oates seem to agree for Ovechkin to get back to a 40+ goal pace AND be the more defensively responsible player a team Captain of an elite level team needs to be, Ovechkin's game needs to continue to evolve, become more creative and be less predictable.  So for now, I think its a great idea, it forces Ovie out of his comfort zone, when he flies down the left side, "muscle memory" seems to kick in and even guys like Joe Corvo can anticipate what he's going to do.  Right now though as part of the transition, I think Ovie's challenge is that in order to "get it (these changes) down" he needs to be able to practice against a big, fast skilled defenseman and as I said neither Hamrlik or Alzner seem to be in game shape.

C) Caps Goalie - Who Should It Be Now?:  Look I don't think the issue in any of the three losses were either Holtby or Neuvirth.  That said, last night I thought Neuvirth played better than Holtby did in either of the first two games.  I'd be giving both guys their starts, but tonight in New Jersey and come back with Holtby on Sunday, I'd go with Neuvy, unless he said he's rather face the Sabres on Sunday..  The schedule is just to fast paced to not have two "goto's" in goal fr a team this season.

Everything else is just noise right now.  The Caps are at the bottom, literally of the NHL standings, they are better than that.  They know it, we know it, they just have to go do it now.


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