Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mid-Week Hockey Musings Including "In Defense of Alexander Semin"....

Wow - well hope and good thoughts continue to emanate from Verizon Center and KCI after a 3-0 shutout of Southeast Division leading Carolina last night and that's a good thing in my Capitals Fan Centric world or maybe more properly in my world which this time of year is usually Capitals Fan Centric. My musings today on hockey are realism and fact versus perception though so I must remember that the Capitals still need to basically play 0.600 hockey the rest of the way this season to be reasonably sure they make the playoffs come April 27th and even with this second in a row regulation win over a Division leading team they are still 5-5-0 (0.500) in their last 10 games. That of course means tonight's game in Philadelphia against our traditional rival Flyers is as important as ever and could be looked back on come April 28th as a turning point one way or another either way.

I try not to be overly dramatic on these things, I'm just a simple hockey fan, blogging my own personal thoughts and opinions here after all. I'm a middle aged guy who loves his regular day job and has other avocations and interests in addition to following the Capitals, NHL and pro sports in general. I don't want to grow up to be a journalist or statistician or anything like that but I do really, really enjoy seeing the best in the world perform and compete against each other game in game out; I've blogged before about this and the reason I'm so passionate about following the NHL is from what I can tell pro hockey players are the athletes who keep it most real, and are most approachable and the nicest of them all. In addition to playing a sport that for me is absolutely the most fun to watch either in HD on TV or in person. Why this attestation you ask? Well because of the stuff I'm going to write about that will follow today. Approachability, etc. aside though, I firmly believe that professional athletes at the highest levels are special talents and not like most of us. They can't be and achieve the level of capability in their games without a higher compete level, etc. than we generally approach, anything we do in life, regardless of their physical gifts or talent levels. Both of which also have to be there in that top 1/10th of 1% level to eve make it as "a grinder" etc. To me the prior statement isn't opinion, it's fact. One only has to look at a guy who "almost made it" and see his or her talent levels, etc. and compare them to we typical beer leaguers, etc. Do we know a lot about a particular sport, etc. compared to someone who hasn't or didn't play "the game" sure, probably. Do we know and understand "the game" to the level it takes someone to inherently understand and live the game eve to make it in the AHL - I don't think so. And what's that mean to make it in the NHL - well it simply means you have to have all that and more and to do that it means whether you're a fourth line grinder or a first line talent you are special - talent and physical ability level; work ethic level; and knowledge and understanding "vision, etc." - really in every way. Put it simply there are over 7,000,000,000 (billion) people on this planet today; ~1,500 own NHL contracts and roster spots today - that's 0.00002%. No matter how you look at that - that's special. It's also something I think we fans overlook and forget when we hear comments by them about their peers. They aren't talking about whether or not compared with mere mortals or even top tier players in the lesser leagues such as the AHL, KHL, etc. are like this or that. They are talking about their perceptions, etc. of a peer who is playing and being paid to compete against them at the top 0.00002% level of a sport is like. My point is that in the past I've commented that one of the things I don't like about Sidney Crosby is how plain vanilla and non-controversial 99.9999% of what comes out of his mouth is - after this past week's furor over Troy Brouwer's comments about Alexander Semin and all the reaction to it - I will probably never feel or think such thoughts again - even about Sidney Crosby.

Before I go on let me say this - Troy Brouwer and every other current NHL player, former teammate or otherwise is truly entitled to and likely has an opinion about the other 1499 players around with NHL contracts. No argument there. Also I love that Brouwer is having a great season and playing well - I want him to continue to do so and I think he will do so. As you will see from the notes that follow, I am and always have been a fan of Alexander Semin and I will continue to be so. I also think it was time for him to move on for both himself and the Capitals last summer. I think his play, etc. this season will prove that I am right and he'll do better than ever in Carolina. As a Caps fan, I wish he'd do that on a team outside the SE Division but hey, the Caps could have had him if we wanted him and this (letting him go) was probably the right move.

All that said when twitter and other media blew up last week after Brouwer's comments once again, IMO, we saw emotions run high ad statements based on emotion and perception vice fact, statistics and data running amok, in my opinion. So here goes - here's my factual statements and data "in defense of Alexander Semin" as opposed or in some case, in direct response to many of the most common thoughts tweeted that I think are just not based in reality and let me say this, if you doubt whether perception is or can become reality when it's all said and done  - ask yourself how Zach Parise exited this summer with a long term $12M/year deal while Semin who has better numbers - all around - is playing on a one year $7M/deal (again) this season? I'm not saying that Parise isn't worth his $12M - you know how I know he is? Because that's what he's getting paid - that's a fact - and it' simple, someone whose job is to decide whether or not Zach Parise is worth $12M decided he was and is writing those checks today. In the world we live in something is worth what someone will actually pay for it - not what the current owner might think its worth before he/she tries to "sell it" etc. That's how our world works, so in answer to the question that many Caps fans last week made comments on - Alexander Semin is for sure worth $7M/season. The factual data proves he is - for the last three seasons he's been making that and he's been doing so on one year deals; so at any point in time if he wasn't worth $7M, he wouldn't have been paid it the following season. Now let's look at the market comparables and Semin's numbers to understand why and how Semin has been able to command $7M/season "on the open market" each of the last three seasons.

In Defense of Alexander Semin:

Here's the data I collected that I thought was/is interesting looking at a pretty broad array of top NHL forward contracts as comparables to Alexander Semin.

Semin (L/RW)     $7M     G         A                        G/G     P/G

2011-12                           21         33        54             0.273   0.701
2010-11                           28         26        54             0.431   0.831
2009-10                           40         44        84             0.548   1.151
2008-09                           34         45        79             0.548   1.274
2007-08                           24         16        42             0.413   0.667
2006-07                          38         35        73              0.494   0.948
2003-04                          10           12        22            0.192   0.423
Career              486GP                                             0.414   0.868

 Other Top NHL Forwards Making Similar Salaries (career numbers/game) to Semin:

  1) S. Crosby (C)            $7.5M            453GP          0.512   1.406
  2) E. Malkin (C)            $9M               445GP          0.476   1.231
  3) A. Ovechkin (L/RW) $9M               570GP           0.609   1.216
  4) J. Thorton (C)            $7.0M          1092GP           0.300   1.001
  5) I. Kovalchuk (R/LW)$11M             798GP           0.518   1.005
  6) S. Stamkos (C/W)      $8.0M            343GP          0.560   1.044
  7) Z. Parise (LW)           $12M             519GP           0.387   0.813
  8) E. Staal (C/LW)         $8.4M**        659GP           0.393   0.900
  9) V. Lecavalier (C)       $10M            1016GP          0.373   0.845
10) M. Richards (C)         $8.4M             543GP          0.285   0.744
11) R. Nash (R/LW)         $7.6M             688GP           0.424   0.813
12) M. Gaborik (L/RW)   $7.5M             739GP          0.448   0.890
13) M. Cammallieri (W/C) $7.0M          576GP          0.351   0.759
14) J. Spezza (C)              $8.0M             611GP           0.373   1.016
15) J. Iginla (RW)            $7.0M**       1205GP           0.431   0.901
16) T. Vanak (L/RW)      $6.4M            566GP            0.428   0.837
17) M. StLouis (R/LW)   $5.5M**         950GP            0.344   0.922
18) M. Hossa (RW)         $7.9M             997GP           0.427   0.923
19) P. Kane (RW/C)        $6.0M             418GP           0.325   0.615
20) H. Zetterberg (C/LW)$7.75M**     687GP            0.376   0.945

 Additional Semin statistics: 0.959 PIM/Game; Career +/- = +74 (+0.154/game)

 And just for grins (again Career Numbers and current salaries):
T. Brouwer (RW)                    $2.35M        337GP    0.223   0.439 (-14) Also:  (0.724PIM/Game)
M. Bradley (RW)                    UFA            675GP     0.087   0.221
D. Steckel (C)                         $1.10M        394GP     0.081   0.183.

 Additional information about the data: Source - TSN.COM and All numbers except career +/- is limited to NHL regular season data on TSN.COM through 2/26/2013.  In order to look at the whole what about "Semin is a washout/no show in the playoffs" assertion I did also look at EVERY one of Semin and the 20 comparables above and compare their G/G and Pts/Gm in playoffs games versus their reular season career numbers.  That data shows two things 1) the playoffs are indeed different and lower scoring/tighter played and 2) only four players on the list have significantly better numbers in either G/G or Pts/Gm in their career in the playoffs vs. regular season numbers.  The four "big game/playoff" guys are highlighted by a double asterik ** next to their annual salary numbers:  Eric Staal; Jerome Iginla; Marty StLouis; and Henrik Zetterberg.  Everyone else is closeto but slightly under their career norms for their playoff appearances but some like Rick Nash clearly do not have a stastically significant data set to mke any sort of judgemetn on and that's the biggest reason I didn't include it in the numbers for comparable comparisons.

So where should we begin looking at the data/statistics and numbers – which is what agents and GM’s do when they negotiate and make the decisions of what to pay for a player to decide “Is Alexander Semin worth $7M?”. Sure, intangible stuff like the perception material is used I’m sure to try and bolster a case one way or another and for sure we know from Jim Rutherford’s comments about the deal he negotiated that brought Semin to Raleigh it had something to do with why Semin is currently on a one year deal in Carolina vice a 3 year or so deal he was apparently seeking from teams.  Further I’ve kept this mainly to the basic data and numbers since in order to better understand so called “fancy statistics” you really have to look very closely at them and explore them and I think this defense is getting long winded enough as it is.  That said in pure pay for performance terms looking at the pay for productivity information of Semin vs. 20 other elite forwards in the NHL – and to get more than $5M/season you need to be “elite” Semin seems to be on par with his statistical peers.  Certainly his salary is not outside the statistical norms when looking at $/ goals or points per game. For a wing to be looked at as a goal scorer and a reliable offensive producer that justifies $5+M/season I believe this data points to two things/thresholds that need to be met or exceeded – a likelihood of achieving or exceeding 0.400 goals/game and/or a likelihood of achieving or exceeding 0.750 points per game.  Semin easily meets both of those thresholds.  Now why $7M instead of a number closer to $5M?  Well that’s where two things I think come into and came into play – 1) Semin’s preference for a shorter deal vice a lower salary and longer term – he’s consistently shown a willingness to trade term for money now.  (Perhaps that’s the hockey playing son reflecting something he learned growing up the son of a successful CFO (e.g time/value of money and that at the end of a day, especially when as a professional athlete the length of time you can achieve maximum earnings can be fleeting – “a bird in the hand is probably worth two in the bush+…2)  The second factor is Semin’s career numbers show when looking at his best season: 2008-09 and 2009-2010, he can significantly outperform his statistical means in both G/G and Pts/G and when he does he begins to approach numbers that are indeed league leading.  It’s simply the price a team has to pay for the difference of having someone who can reliably score 30G and 60Pts in a season and one who in addition to that productivity has the upside of and clear potential of scoring 40G and 80 points.  It’s really no different than the premium the Rangers had to pay to sign either Gaborik or Nash or the Blackhawks pay Hossa.   Now about “intangibles” and such things where fact needs to be separated from fiction, there’s really only one negative frequently mentioned when talking about Semin that the data/statistics bear out and that’s the number of minor penalties he takes vs. the ones he draws.   As an elite, scoring player Semin’s 0.959 Minor Penalty Minutes/Game is significantly higher than many of the other players on this list and because f that no matter how many penalties he draws the delta will pale in comparison to pretty much every other  players on this list.  Now what about the impression he gets lazy or is a little soft relative to playing through injuries in the middle of the season – well the average number of games played and appeared in per season just doesn’t bear that assertion out.

 Why this defense of Alexander Semin?  Well I continually defend against any of this “enigma stuff” when it’s hurled at European and especially Russian players.  I do so because I simply think about what it must be like to be a 20 something person living and working in a foreign land under a microscope.  Further, Russians like Americans and Canadians grow up in a land where they can literally drive for hours and even days and not have to speak a foreign tongue.  Coming to the US or Canada to live and work is very intimidating and has to wreak havoc on these young men emotionally, especially while they are trying to break into and maintain careers as professional athletes.  I think the whole “enigma” hullabaloo is exactly that and it’s exacerbated by the fans and media to have something to write about.  No more – no less.  Further, in most cases the data bears things out.  Forget Semin, the fact that from time to time the press says similar types of things about Malkin – a two time Hart Trophy winner with all universe statistics is probably a better thing to point to about the horse hockey aspects of it.  I started this by saying that I agree that peers like Brouwer, Bradley, and Steckel are all clearly entitled to their opinions and to voice them if they so desire re: Semin as a teammate.  That said when Brouwer arrived, the Capitals were in transition and his time as a teammate of Semin was brief – 22 games vs the 18 games Semin’s current Carolina teammates have with him.  Here’s what two of Semin’s current teammates are saying about the intangibles per a recent article in the less than Semin loving Washington Times:

“Behind the back, through the legs,” Corvo said. “That’s why he makes the big bucks. He makes the plays that other guys just don’t think of.”

Semin’s ability to make difficult plays look easy has never been questioned. But even the elements of Semin’s game that have come under fire aren’t ones the Hurricanes are concerned about. “I think he’s competed hard every practice and every game for us. He continues to prove people wrong,” Eric Staal said. “I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him.”

I don’t know why some of his former teammates feel the need to comment on Semin, I’ll conjecture they believe if they had his talent they’d make more of it, because they clearly seem to have said, they think they have a better work ethic, and they didn't appreiate the inconsistant work ethic they felt Semin approached the game with while they were teammates. My reaction is it’s life not grade school and frankly it’s professional sports – the whole “work ethic” thing and make sure you show up every night and are accountable thing is, in my view overhyped, overblown and misunderstood by we fans and lay people. I’m not saying it’s not important – it is. I AM saying there is NO WAY, no matter how talented you are that you get to and stay in the top 0.00002% of your profession without doing that exact thing – working hard and holding yourself accountable – pretty much every minute of the season How any individual player does that is going to be very personal and clearly different for someone from a different cultural background. So it’s really a comparison that one member of the top 0.00002% is making to another member of the top 0.00002%. I think if you/we are not part of that club, you'll (we’ll) probably misunderstand the context, motive and even the meaning of the statement. For that reason, I’m now admitting I understand why Sidney Crosby is probably smart to say nothing controversial in pretty much every interview he ever does. It doesn't make for interesting articles or stories but it's probably the smartest thing one player can do when especially when they are one of the leagues clear top ten and asked about another player. If for some reason Troy Brouwer, David Steckel or Matt Bradley ever asked me my advice on the topic, I’d suggest they just politely respond with non-controversial statements like I wish him well but when we play his team I’m certainly hoping we match up well against him and continue to keep him off the scoreboard. I mean if John Carlson can get the quote right, I’m sure everyone else on the team can as well.

I think I’ve rambled on enough on this topic and I doubt I’ll ever write another word on it unless somehow Carolina wins the Stanley Cup this year and Alexander Semin is a big reason they do so. I mean at that point it’ll be worth talking about what a great thing the move was for both Semin and the Hurricanes, until then Semin is really “just” another top NHL forward that plays against the Washington Capitals and whose style of play and talent level I respect and enjoy watching.

The one other reason I wrote this defense is that I truly don’t get why fans at Verizon Center would boo him. He’s said nothing negative about his time here and he clearly, from the data and statistics perspective earned the money he was paid while playing here. I mean it’s not like he’s Jagr who the Caps paid for multiple years to play for the New York Rangers for crying out loud. So for that reason I just think boo'ing Semin and reviling him in any way is silly.

Now about tonight’s game: I’m with Peerless – tight game; Caps Win 3-2…

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Small Reasons For Hope Continue After Caps Go 2-2-0 Over Last Ten Days But...

Okay Caps fans here's a dose of reality, the Caps are indeed playing better, at least in my view and I'm not just saying that because of yesterday's 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. I look back over the Caps last four games where they went 2-2-0 beating the SE Division leading Tampa Bay in Tampa; losing to the New York Rangers by one goal at MSG; and splitting two against a very solid and pretty hot New Jersey team at Verizon Center. Those three teams are all very solid teams and top teams so playing 0.500 hockey and playing them all very tight and tough, except for yesterday's 5-1 win by the Caps over the Devils has to be a reason for some hope.

However, the dose of reality is that 0.500 hockey - what the Caps have played over their past 10 games and over the past ten days is probably just not good enough. Looking at the last shortened season, a 48 game season without a third "loser’s point" available, it took 47 points to make the playoffs in the East (Rangers - 47) and 42 points to make the playoffs in the West (San Jose and Dallas). Because of the changes to the game and the implementation of the "looser" point or less pejoratively, the implementation of three point OT/SO games, I project it will take at least 48 points and possibly 50 points to make the playoffs in either conference this season. If you look at the standings right now the eight/ninth place team in either conference are basically at the 0.500 level - which will be a 48 point season and I think it bears out my projection. The season is now basically 35+% complete for every team in the league and that's certainly enough data to project the likely minimum point total likely required to make the playoffs. Another easy projection is how crowded and large "the bubble" will be at the end of the season - it's very unlikely the point spread between the 6th or 7th place team in each conference and the 13th or 14th team at the end of the season won't be more than six (6) points either. The Western Conference will likely be even tighter than the Eastern but if the Caps pick up their pace as we Caps fans hope and they need to do the spread between 7th and 12th almost can't be more than six points at the end of the season.

So as I say, that means you want to be on pace for 50 or more points at the end of this 48 game season come the last week of April. It's why last evening when Alexander Ovechkin was interviewed on the NHLN Arena Cam was dead nuts on when he said it's all about getting every possible point in every game for the Capitals now. The Caps have 13 points in 17 games and they'll likely need 50 in 48 come April 27th. To do that the Caps need to play 0.598 hockey or more accurately capture 59.8% of the points available to them in their remaining 31 games. Can the Caps do it, well if the play almost every game or every game like they played yesterday, there's clearly the possibility of the Caps doing it.

But let’s also be realistic as of this morning looking at every team in the league and their play in the last ten games and there are only six teams in the Eastern Conference who have played better than 0.600 hockey in their last 10 games and only six teams in the Western Conference who have played better than 0.600 hockey in their last 10 games.  My point is – it won’t be easy, the compressed schedule makes stringing winning streaks together harder than ever.  I like how the Caps are and have been playing these past two weeks and the issue they are dealing with is not the 5-5-0 mark they’ve attained so far in February.  The challenge the Caps have to deal with is recovering from the hole they found themselves in at the end of January after their 1-5-1 start.  With just 31 games left and at least three games to make up on the 7th and 8th place teams in the Conference or the SE Division leading Lightning and Hurricanes, it’s just not going to be an easy task.  However, at least if the Caps continue playing as they have been in their last four games they’ll have a chance at winning every game no matter who they play and watching them will continue to be awesome fun for we Caps fans.

 Next up is a “four point” game against division rival Carolina on Tuesday – this should be another good game.  The Hurricanes have lost their last three games and are four points ahead of the Capitals after dropping their third game in a row yesterday to Tampa Bay 5-3.  Carolina plays the Islanders in Uniondale, NY today before traveling to DC on Monday for Tuesday Night’s game.  The Caps truly need the points more and Tuesday’s game will be the first of five meetings between these two division rivals this season.  Truth be told as much as possible the Caps need all ten available points against Carolina and as always, Cam Ward and the hard working Hurricanes will work really hard to try and keep the Capitals from getting any of them.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Another Week Down and With It Came At Least Some Small Resons to Hope The Capitals Can Salvage A Season Yet...

Well Caps fans in the week since my last blog post "our" Washington Capitals have gone 2-1-0, giving us all at least some reason to hope this year's Capitals can salvage a reasonable season and maybe even make a playoff run.  Further last weekend we all got to see how "the system" when played well can beat anybody, in fact the New Jersey Devils played "the system" to perfection and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, including demi-god Sidney Crosby not once BUT twice this past week.  Further the Capitals used and played they system very well a systematically took apart the Florida Panthers - last years SE Division champions 5-0 on Saturday at Verizon Center.  Then they faced and beat a well coached and adjusted Panthers team last night in a comeback OT 6-5 win at Sunrise, FL.  So to me those are reasons to hope.

Of course hope is not a plan, nor is it any sort of "done deal."  Tomorrow the Caps take on the explosive Tampa By Lightning in Saint Petersburg, FL and they must "keep the pedal to the medal" if they are to really start dogging out of this early season hole they've put themselves in.  The good news if there is any on that front is there are no teams in the Eastern Conference who are as "on fire" or playing as strongly as either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks are in the Western Conference.  Chicago is red hot playing 0.888 hockey since the season started while Anaheim isn't far behind playing 0.792 hockey 25% of the way through the season.  By contrast Eastern Conference leader New Jersey is playing very well at 0.730 but nowhere near 0.800 hockey.  While we cannot yet talk about the Capitals in such terms looking at 50 or 52 points as a "magic number" to definitely make the playoffs this season in the Eastern Conference that means the Capitals now have to play a solid but achievable 0.614 the rest of this season.  They've doe it before, and with 14 of their remaining 35 games against SE Division rivals whom they've done very well against these past few seasons, they certainly have a chance to do so again.

I'm not burying my head in the sand - the Capitals have a long road in front of them now. That said I
have no reason to or intention of jumping on the bandwagon of naysayers, ever.  It's not my thing, I've said for a while now, I'm not a "journalist" nor do I want to pretend to be, this is a fan's blog, and I'm the fan.  In addition to their two recent wins here's a few other reasons I now have hope:

1) Alexander Ovechkin seems more and more comfortable on the Right Wing and his productivity is rising.  In addition to having the same "sick" skilz he always had on LW, his play now is a) much more defensively responsible, b) much more creative - he's making the others on the ice with him better and at the same time notching his own scoring points; and c) he's clearly matured and is the team's Captain as well as it's star.  I congratulate both Ovechkin for taking the risk and allowing himself to be coached even though he already was a league superstar and new coach Adam Oates for not giving up and proving all the naysayers around the league wrong - Ovechkin is proving to be very coachable by a coach who is as intense, dedicated, and imaginative to excellence as he is.

2) Mike Ribero is the player we all hoped we were picking up when the Caps retooled and let Semin go to Carolina to create the Cap Space necessary to once again have two top six Centerman.  I could fill the rest of this blog post with superlatives for "Ribz" but his play has been speaking for itself for some considerable time.

3) The second AND third lines have been key to the Caps solid play, and Nicklas Backstrom seemed to be determined to let everyone know he's still around and as awesome a playmaker and passer as ever whether passing to Troy Brouwer; Joel Ward or Ovechkin.

4) At he beginning of the season I wondered who of Mathieu Perrault and Marcus Johanasson would become the "Brian Gionta" of the 2013 Capitals.  Based on the last two games, it appears that MP85 is determined it be him, it'll be interesting to see what happens the next time MJ90 gets a crack at the lineup.

5) The top four defenseman: Green, Alzner; Carlson; and Erskine have all, in my view, fully embraced and become comfortable with the new system and are making very few mental mistakes at all.  Tomas Kundratek is making a believer of me as well, and begrudgingly I have to say Jeff Schultz is the right guy o be in the lineup right now, though I would like to see "Mr. Nasty" play with more physicality and I believe when he's back to being healthy Jack Hillen should get another shot in the lineup as well.  So where does that leave Poti and Hamrlik - I'd say at this point the Caps should look to trade one or the other for something they might want, especially with Orlov in the wings as well.  When was the last time the Caps had that sort of luxury - an extra D-Man to shop?

6) Goaltending hasn't been on fire but it's not a big issue right now - witness last evening's 6-5 SO win over the Panthers.  If the Caps hadn't gotten into playing fire wagon hockey in the second period with the Panthers, particularly the Weiss-Hubredeau line, there's no way the panthers are even in the game... SV% aside.

So that's why I have some hope today for a decent season by the Capitals, I'm still concerned and the Caps need to keep their focus and drive going for all 35 remaining games, but if they want to, "they got this."


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Caps Season So Far - Time To Panic? No, But Definately Time For Concern

Well Capitals fans here we are nine (9) games into the season and our Washington Capitals are continuing to "struggle" and are continuing their "slow start".  That is apparently the politically correct terms to describe what is going on when your team is in last place in their Conference and 29th out of 30 in the league; when your team has the worst goal differential in the league (-12) and as far as anyone knows or professes, your team is not "rebuilding." 

 Here's some interesting thoughts as the Capitals prepare to faceoff tonight at Verizon Center against the Toronto Maple Leafs for their tenth game of the season - a shortened season as we all know.  During a regular 82 game season each game is 1.23% of the season; during this 48 game season, each game is 2.08% of the season - or looked at another way 69% more of the season that a game in the 82 game season.  The last time the NHL played a 48 game season, 1994-95, the magic numbers to be in the top eight (8) teams in each conference were: 42 points in the Western Conference and 47 points in the Eastern Conference.  For a team like the Capitals, who so far, are playing 0.278 hockey the fact that in the last 48 game season to get to the playoffs did not require and over 0.500 record is encouraging.  The fact the NJ Devils "got off to a slow start" and won the Stanley Cup in 94-95 being taken as some solace as well.  It's been a quirky season, I know, an the Capitals have a new coach, again, I know.  However, that doesn't change the fact with so many three point games, I believe strongly, it's unlikely that a team gets into the playoffs this season with less than 48 points (0.500 hockey).  In fact right now in the Eastern Conference Carolina is in 8th place and the Rangers are in 9th place each with 8 points in eight games; while out West, the beleaguered Red Wings are in eighth place with 9 points in 8 games while the ninth (9th) place Predators also have 9 points in 8 games and the tenth place Wild have 9 points in nine games.

So what does the above mean for the Capitals.  Well if I'm right and it'll take 48 or 49 points to make the playoffs this year it means the Capitals have to really "step it up" and pretty much do so now.  After tonight's game in DC, the Capitals will have played 20% of their season - in a regular season that would mean they would have played 16 or 17 games; this year it means 10 games - no issues there.  But looking at where they are 5 points with 9 games played and where they'd like to make sure they are 49 or 50 points that means they need to garner 44 points in their remaining 39 games or an average of  1.13 points per game.  To make that all work the recent trend of "no point" games has to again become a thing of the past.  In perspective in 2009 - 2010 when the Capitals amassed 121 points and won the President's trophy, they averaged 1.47 points per game for the season.  In 2010 - 2011 when the Capitals won the Eastern Conference, they did so with 107 points and averaged 1.30 points per game across the entire season.  An average of 1.13 points per game is basically playing 0.565 hockey.  It may be cliche' but the Caps are either at or very close to the point where, every game truly matters, already in this shortened season.  So it's not time to panic - the fact the Capitals have 4 one gaol games in the 9 they've played means they are indeed getting close and hopefully the system will work.  The fact two out of those four one goal games are regulation losses is of course cause for concern.  The fact the Capitals have not generally played 60 continuous minutes of high tempo, solid hockey in many, if any of their games so far, is also cause for concern, as well. 

My concerns right now though center on special teams, and in particular the power play.  The penalty kill is seemingly coming around, but the power play not so much.  At the Penguins game it seemed to me the 1-3-1 was well played by the Capitals but easily defended by the Penguins, the amount of SOG generated by the Capitals during power plays so far this season seems woeful.  In recent years the Capitals had an excellent power play - just look at them from the 09-10 and 10-11 seasons.  The alignment was simpler and the execution much crisper. It seems of all the aspects of the game the Caps need to look closest at their powerplay.  Goaltending was a concern of mine until recently, when in my view Michal Neuvirth has emerged as a steadying influence and has been playing very well.  While the 24 year old "Nuevy" first outing of the year could have been better, his performance has gotten better every game since and his SV% is climbing up to where it needs to be.  The blue line hasn't been bad at all with a couple of pleasant surprises - not the least o which is that 32 year old John Erskine is more than capable of playing 20 good minutes every game and still bring all the grit and drive we as Capitals fans have come to expect and love.  John Carlson actually seemed to look a little more at ease with the new system during the Penguins game and his almost sheepish, embarrassed grin after his quirky goal was from my vantage point a good sign.  Mike Green is doing very well in the new system, and Karl Alzner seems to also be getting smoother with it.  I still worry about the load and expectations that seem to be getting place on Tomas Kundratek but expect that when Orlov and Hillen get healed and Erskine's suspension is over we'll see that lessened at least slightly.

Up front, the issue is obvious but again their seem to be signs of the positive there.  We seem to have, thankfully, left behind the idea of Ovechkin skating with 3rd and 4th liners as a "good idea" and I say - none to soon.  Brooks Laich was spotted skating at KCI recently.  Mike Ribero has been very good.  During the Penguins game, while Nicklas Backstrom did not score, he got a couple of good looks and an assist and seems to be picking up his production.  But for the Caps to do what they need to do the rest of this season the top six forwards need to start routinely putting up top six numbers.  It's really that simple, we know the talent level is there, I always assume with pro athletes the compete level is there.  So now it's up to the players and the coaching staff to home in on and focus on minor adjustments, or maybe simplify a few things until the others start to "click". 

Well that's enough of a rambling muse for the day.