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.