Sunday, December 28, 2014

Caps Now 8-2-2 For December and 0.600 On 2014-15 Season; SWEET

Last night in Pittsburgh it was a two point night for our Washington Capitals, it's been a pretty long time since the Capitals had a two point game that they came out on top of in Pittsburgh.  Last night's win in Pittsburgh gave the Capitals an 18-11-6 record and 17 Regulation/Overtime Wins (ROW) in 35 games played.  That's a solid 0.600 on the season to date.

Back on December 6th just three weeks ago I mused about the likely difference between ending up on "the right side" versus the "wrong side" of the bubble both in terms of record and pace/quality of play by the Capitals.  Granted none of the thoughts expressed in my December 6th blog are "rocket science."  However, up to that point in time the 2014-15 edition of the Washington Capitals had not played consistently in a manner that exhibited the play I mused about.  However, now 22 days later I can safely point to the past ten (10) games as an extended stretch where the Caps entire roster has pretty much all elevated their compete level and been rewarded with 16 standings points and increased confidence in both their own individual skills and abilities as well as the system they are now playing.

Last night's game was from my perspective the best game of hockey I've seen the Capitals play in over at least 15 months.  The Caps played a team game, with skill, and beat a very good team, whose goaltender was on his game.  Think about it, when was the last time the Caps really did that and you weren't surprised if not shocked?  For me it's pretty much been since the end of the 2011-12 season that I've felt this solidly confident in the Capital's abilities to play through adversity, play hard on the puck and 110%, 200 foot hockey and not get frustrated by an NHL goalie on his game or otherwise do something that gave the opposing team a real opening to beat them with.  I've got to say, it's a really good feeling for a fanboy like me.  Also looking back at my December 6th musing, I also want to say that every player on the list I did, save one are all more valuable to the team and contributory to it's ability to win then I felt they were three weeks ago.  The one player whose gone "down" in the rating system I used back on December 6th being Jason Chimera, but I'm guessing if you read this blog you probably already knew that.

The last game of December for the Capitals is tomorrow in Uniondale against the New York Islanders, the Isles are in second place in the Metropolitan Division and Third in the Eastern Conference with 47 points in 35 games.  Tomorrow's game on the Island will likely be very similar to last night's game in Pittsburgh, the Caps will face a good team anchored by a couple very fast skilled forwards and a very solid goaltender.  To win against the Islanders they'll have to play a similar "heavy" game.  That is apparently the new vernacular for a physical, tightly contested game of hockey as per yesterday's NBCsn  team that called the Caps/Pens game.

I'm now quite "bullish" on the Caps, and assuming they play tomorrow's game the same way they did yesterday's contest, I'm looking for a 4 - 2 Caps victory, the four players to ponder in my view are:  Holtby and Halak in goal and Backstrom and Tavares up front.  In the meantime


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Caps Defeat Senators at Home 2-1 Look to Extend Streak at MSG Tonight

Well Caps fans as Barry Trotz noted last evening after the Capitals had a two point night at Verizon Center sometimes you win a game you might not really have deserved to and sometimes you loose a game you clearly did everything to earn two points from and come away empty - that's hockey.  Last night the Caps got two points, primarily on the back of their goaltender Braden Holtby against the Ottawa Senators, tonight they face the Rangers up in Manhattan, to extend their streak I think the recipe will need to continue to include a 0.920+ save percentage from #Holtbeast but it will also likely need to include some additional shooting and scoring across a broader spectrum of the lineup. But let's give credit where credit is due for last night's two point victory - THANK YOU and MERRY CHRISTMAS to BRADEN HOLTBY and FAMILY!

Tonight is the first meeting of this season for the Caps and Rangers - Metropolitan Division foes currently fighting for third place in the tightly contested awkwardly named "Metro."  The Rangers come into the game  looking to extend their current winning streak to seven (7) games and 8-2-0  (0.800) in their last 10 games, to say they are "hot" right now would be understatement at it's finest.  The Caps come in looking to extend their current winning streak to four (4) and are 7-1-2 (0.800) in their last 10 and also playing very solid hockey.  Both team's current good fortune is a function of solid goaltending, 200 foot hockey, and a balanced offense led by dynamic left wings and solid centermen. The Rangers have given up just 17 goals against whilst scoring 33 goals for in their last ten outings, while the Capitals have given up 27 goals while scoring 34 goals.  During their last ten games Rangers Goalie Cam Talbot has two (2) shutouts and Henrik Lundquist has one "perfect game." While over here in "Capitals Land" Braden Holtby has had one shutout and three games where he allowed just a single opponents goal.  Goal scoring for the Rangers is led by dynamic wing Rick Nash with 20 goals and 13 assists in 31 games played, seven other Rangers have 5 or more tallies so far this season as well.  Our Capitals have goal scoring led as usual by Alex Ovechkin with  15 goals and 12 assists though the points leader on the team is his line-mate Nicklas Backstrom with 11 goals and 25 assists; also with 10 goals are Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer.  Additionally the Caps have three other players with 5 or more goals and three others with four goals so far this season. 

Whats that all mean?  I think it means tonight's first game of the season between these two division rivals is going to be a knock down, drag out battle royale and a heckuva game to watch.  I'm not making any sort of scientific analysis based prognostication, as I've said occasionally in the past I'm a Capitals fan through and through so I'm calling this one for the Caps and looking for a breakout night for Capital's stars and grinders alike.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Last Night - The Perfect Illustration of Why I Think They Should ALL Be Three Point Games....

If you understand the title of this blog, and if you are here reading my musings you probably do, you know exactly what the title referees to.  If you don't well here it is, in the NHL during the regular season some games count for two points and some games count for three points in the standings, and well that just , well ... makes no sense at all.  Until a couple of years ago every game counted for two points in the standings, win get two points, tie each team gets one point.  But hey someone decided , we hockey fans hated ties and in every game there had to be a winner and a loser, so the solution was ... now get this, if a game ends in regulation in a tie, each team still splits the two original points, but then gets to play first a 5:00 overtime at 4 on 4 and if that doesn't result in a winner they do a shootout - basically the NHL's version of a layup completion for an extra point and the one who wins that is the "winner" of that game, with the one who loses it getting the consolation prize - keeping the "looser" point they already won. And just to make sure they make it clear how dumb they know we fans think this skills competition to decide the winner of a team sport game is, if at the end of a season two teams are tied in the standings the first "tiebreaker" is the total number of Regulation and 4 on 4 overtime wins in the season.

However this past week in the NHL, especially if you are a Capitals fan, the ludicrousity of the current way things are done couldn't be driven home to you more with an 8# sledgehammer. First our Capitals take part in and loose a 20 round shootout in Florida, now remember one of the so called excuses for the shootout vice a longer 4 on 4 OT or following the 4 on 4 with a 3 on 3 is well it takes too long.  So that really short 20 round shootout, that was the way to go right? And now we had last night, the Caps are "on the bubble" battling the NY Rangers for third in the Division, they basically owned their opponent last night, the New Jersey Devils, especially for the last 40:00 of the game beating them in a 4-0 shutout.  For their efforts they were awarded two standings points and New Jersey got no points.  That makes sense right?  Sure until you look at the game that was played between the Rangers and the Hurricanes last night in Raleigh, NC.  There while the Rangers certainly did enough to earn a win, it too them a 3 round shoot out to get is so they too got two points last night just like the Capitals.  My point is had all games been worth the same weight in the standings the Capitals would have edged one point further in front of the Rangers last night.  In fact if a Regulation win was worth three points while the Metropolitan Division Standings would be the same then the Capitals would have 50 standings points to the Rangers 47  and we wouldn't need to keep track of "ROW" at all. 

I could talk about last night's game in Newark more but it's been all over the web and NHLN all day so far.  Here's five quick hit take away points from the game and the coverage: 

1) Braden Holtby played very well and earned his shutout - 21 saves were required of him and several were very difficult to make.

2) Ovechkin's goal was one of those highlight reel Ovi goals we will see many times more and one of his best moves ever.

3) Nicklas Backstrom is an awesome hockey player too and it takes Ovi doing something like 2) above to cast even a small amount of shade on that fact from time to time.

4) This Mike Green guy ... really good at hockey as well, probably time for the Caps to figure out how to extend/resign him.

5)  The entire Capitals team is now wholly invested in the new system under Barry Trotz and basically getting better every game they play at executing it.

But in the end this is just hockey not world peace we are talking about here so moving on to my next hockey musing, "How 'Bout dem Caps! anyways?" Playing 0.700 hockey in their last ten games and looking more and more like a very solid team every game they play.  Next up are the Ottawa Senators, who are solidly on the bubble right now so that won't be an easy game, tomorrow night at DC's Verizon Center.  Then on Tuesday night it's a trip up to Madison Square Garden to face those very same NY Rangers on Manhattan.  Then after Christmas they face the Penguins in Pittsburgh on the 27th and the Islanders in Uniondale on the 29th before coming home for the Winter Classic on New Year's day here in DC.  And I thought I had a busy holiday season planned, wheh!


Friday, December 19, 2014

Is the Trend Really Our Friend? Are the 2014-15 Capitals Really Harder to Play Against Than the 2013-14 model was?

Good Evening Capitals fans and a fine late, late fall evening it is since this evening the Capitals find themselves playing 0.581 hockey for the NHL Regular season to date and once again "on the right side of the bubble.:  Additionally as one of my mentors used to say, "the trend is our friend," and with a record of 6-2-2 (0.700) in their last 10 games and 5-0-2 in their last 7 games the trend is indeed our friend. 

That said, not to be a buzzkill, it is worth noting that so far this season through 31 games the Caps have 36 points and a record of 15-10-6 with 14 ROW while last year at this point (31 games played) they had 36 points and were 17-12-2 with just 10 ROW.  You'll remember last year  when the end of the regular season came along the Capitals all took off their skates and immediately put on their golf shoes.  That's why it is important that two things we all seem to feel right now are true: 1) the trend is indeed our friend and the Capitals can sustain that trend for the remaining 3 1/2 months in this regular season; and 2) the Capitals of 2014-15 are a harder team to play against than the Capitals of 2013 - 14.  So let's take a look and see if the data and facts support those two anecdotal "feelings."

First are they harder to play against?  and Is the trend indeed our friend? Facts/data - through 31 games the Caps this season have earned a standings point in 21 games (67.7%) while last season they had done so in only (61.3%).  This season they have ROW in 45.2 % of their games while last season at this point it was an abysmal ~30%.  By the ~tens last season games 20 - 31 the Capitals went 6-4-1 with 4 ROW (0.650) ; this season's games 20 - 31 the Caps are 6-2-3 (0.750) with 6 ROW.  Seems like the trend is more our friend right now than last season and the difference in ROW is some indication of the results of being harder to play against - the real driver of that is their overall improvement in Corsi For and Corsi Against, IMO as well.  Team Goal Differential to date is +6, at the end of 8 games last season the Caps team goal differential was -5, that's a huge difference that says the Caps are tougher "on the puck" now then last season, IMO.  So when you look at both the basic as well as the "fancy stats" and then also consider the roster's individual stats  so the Caps have balanced scoring more than they've had in a long time, and it's obvious the offense is starting in the defensive zone with the scoring being well supported by the entire Blue Line Corps, the answers are indeed.  Yes the Caps are a much harder team to play against this season than last, and Yes, the trend is our friend. 

BUT fellow Caps fans don't celebrate quite yet, from what I can tell, the Capitals aren't even close to getting off the bubble and being solidly a playoff team quite yet and they have to keep up their current play of 0.700 for another months to be so, They are solidly in the middle of the "bubble pack" right now and we are only 37.8% through the regular season right now. If you look at the league standings the  Caps are in 8th place in the Eastern Conference: 1/2 game behind the Panthers who are in 7th; 2 games behind the 6th place Maple Leafs, 2 games behind the 5th place Canadians, 2 1/2 games behind the fourth place Red Wings, and three games behind the third place Islanders.  The , Habs, Wings  and Islanders all have 6 more points that the Capitals but really all nine teams from the third place Islanders through the 11th place Senators are within a 10 point spread with 60+% of the regular season still to play.  Even the Second place Lighting and First Place Penguins are theoretically within striking distance for the Caps, Panthers, Bruins and Rangers (10th place). However the reality is Pittsburgh has played awesomely though all sorts of adversity this season and (goal differential +28, overall 0.742 on the season through 31 games played) and the Lightning have been pretty solid across the board as well (goal differential +23, 0.652 on the season through 33 games played).  However if the Capitals can finish out December (13 games total) with at least 19 of the 26 available points, 0.731, which is possible given they have 12 of those 19 points so far and have the opportunity to capture as many as 10 more, so "all" they need to do is "just" keep playing 0.725+ hockey.  Then for the Caps to likely get off the bubble "on the right side" as quickly as possible, they continue playing that style, effort and getting those results through, at least their game on January 16th against the Predators in Smashville, (another 8 games) so they have at least another 11 points and that would give them a total of 54+ points through 44 games and give them a 0.614 record overall on the season.  Then if the Caps can keep that up they would end the season with what I consider a magic number ... 100 points and be solidly on the right side of the bubble and very, very likely NOT need to play the "Wildcard Sweepstakes" to get into the playoffs.

But the quest for all those things starts tomorrow evening in Newark, NJ against those pesky Devils who are always tough for us to play against even though they are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games.  The Devils have a -22 goal differential in 33 games played primarily because they don't score enough goals, they only have 74 goals for (2.24 GFG) so far, as compared to the Capitals' 2.94 GFG so far this season which coincidently is only slightly more than the Devils' GA/G of  2.91.  So, as long as the Caps drive the net as hard tomorrow evening as they did last evening against the Blue Jackets they should come away from Newark with "a two point night."  However, as I said we are talking about the always pesky Devils and that's why they play the games on the ice.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Midwinter's Night's Dream

This evening I was musing (that's sorta like dreaming right? - well to me it is anyway) musing about the Capitals and the month of December, you know the run-up to the Winter Classic.  Right now the Caps sit in fourth place in the Metropolitan division with 34 points in 30 Games played with 13 ROW. Just on the wrong side "of the bubble" behind the Panthers for a Wild Card (Florida has 34 points in 29 games played) and the Rangers for Third Place in the Division (also 34 points in 29 games played.)

So far during the month of December, the Caps have played seven (7) games and are 4-1-2, (4 ROW) that's 0.714 hockey getting standings points in 6 of those 7 games.  In their last ten games, the Caps are 5-2-3 (0.650).  So right now the Capitals are playing pretty well, and that's a good thing as the Caps have six more games to play this month, five of which are on the road against Division rivals. So my midwinter's night dream is that the Caps keep playing like they have been and play at least 0.700 hockey the rest of this month which would mean they'd end the month with 43 points (18-11-7, 17 ROW) and 0.597 on the season on the eve of the Winter Classic.  That would likely put them "on the right side" of the bubble again.  It would also mean the Capitals had played 0.731 hockey through a 13 game month where 9 of the 13 games were on the road.  Basically the month of December is looking more and more like a very critical month in the Cap's quest to ensure they make the playoffs when the regular season comes to an end on April 11, 2015.

My other hockey musing of late, I don't know why, is how much I hate "the shootout."  What a horrible way to determine the winner of a sport that is so much a team game.  Also why do teams that can't win in regulation get to split more points than teams that can?  I mean if a game is worth three points, why isn't every game worth three points?  If you want to give a team that takes the winner past regulation play one point fine do that, but if a team wins in regulation why don't they get all three points?  Look in reality I'm fine with every game being two points and if at the end of 60:00, during the regular season, end it a tie and each team gets 1 point; if a team wins in regulation give them two.  But if you are for three point games I'm definitely for playing 10 minutes of 4 on 4, then 5 minutes of 3 on 3, or 5 minutes of 5 on 5 and 10 minutes of 3 on 3 before going to some potentially ridiculous (20 rounds for example of ridiculous) shootout/skills competition.  But hey, I'm just saying....

In the meantime, tomorrow night the Caps take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus.  The Jackets are on a 7 game winning streak and 7-3-0 in their last ten, the key to beating them is "beating Bob" - Sergei  Boborvski has a GAA of just 1.71 in those 7 games including a 3-2 OT win over the Capitals just six nights ago here in Verizon Center.  Also don't count on a 60:00 game, only 2 of the Blue Jackets last 7 games have been settled in regulation, one of those extended time games was a 1-0 shootout win against the Red Wings last night while the Caps were going through their 20 round shootout in Sunrise.  Anyhow I think the Caps have shown they can score pretty well against the Blue Jackets and the way they played last night was pretty solid against a pretty solid goalie so I'm looking for the game to end:

Capitals  2 - Blue Jackets 1.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Up or Down? Heads or Tails?

Two weeks ago I mused that the Caps had a busy time ahead and how their play to that point exemplified "life on the bubble".  At that point their 2014-15 season was 23.7% complete and they were playing slightly over 0.550 hockey, well this morning their season is 30.5% complete and they are now playing 0.520 hockey to date.  So they are still exemplifying life on the bubble - it's just that this morning they are on the wrong (as opposed to the right) side of the bubble. why that is the case simply remains a mystery to this fan boy but it is the case.  Why they are 4-5-1 as opposed to something considerably better is a mystery to me as well.  I mean I know its because they can't or won't finish off an opponent, you know get and keep that two goal lead next goal as opposed to letting their one goal down opponent tie the game in the third period, I just can't figure out why that keeps happening.  If I could figure it out, I could probably make a good living as one of Barry Trotz's assistants right now though so I'm not alone in my quandary.

The Caps awaken this morning with 26 standings points in 25 games played, ten (10) of their 11 wins on the season are ROW so that's on a better pace than they had last season (a good thing since last season they didn't make the post season).  Of the four "loser" points they've captured, two (2) are from shootout losses and two are from OT losses.  That's balanced play, unfortunately as I've mentioned before balance that equals 0.500 hockey is for all intents and purposes "mediocrity" at the NHL level.  I'm not ranting, you really cannot disparage being in the middle of the pack when you are talking about playing any professional sport's highest level.  I certainly couldn't do it, and I've seen some good hockey so far this season played by the Capitals.  However let's be clear when a professional athlete is paid to play at a sport's highest level whether it's under an NHL CBA league minimum deal or a deal closer to the  maximum under the salary cap - you know one of those say 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10M/year deal, a team's ownership, management, coaching staff and fan base are all asking when will we see this team raise Lord Stanley's Cup in June of what year? What will it take to make this team better and able to do that? Meanwhile, you can bet if they are playing regularly in the NHL every one of those athletes is saying how can I help my team go deep in the playoffs and ultimately win a Cup?

That's why in many ways "Life On The Bubble" is probably more frustrating than "Life in the Conner McDavid Sweepstakes" for both we fans and for the professionals.  Right now there are 13 of the 30 NHL teams , I'd characterize as "living on the bubble", number 11 in the league overall standings Winnipeg Jets have 32 points (in 27 games played) (0.592) while number 24 Arizona has 23 points in 27 games, though having lost their last two games and with a 3-5-2 record in their last 10 the Coyotes like the Flyers seem to be looking to solidly enter those McDavid Sweepstakes.  In any case the difference between number 11 and number 24 is just 9 standings points that's a pretty tight grouping around the midpoint of the current "bubble" upon which sit the Capitals and the New York Rangers each with 26 points in league overall standings positions 19 and 20 respectively.  Since neither the Capitals nor the Rangers look like teams destined to enter and win the McDavid Sweepstakes, it's likely going to be a year where we Caps fans will continue to frequently be on the edge of our seats and frustrated between now and April and we may not know if we'll need to buy playoff tickets until the last day of the season.  As such I for one wish to implore "my team" to please, please, please STOP playing down to the levels of your opponents on any given night .... PLEASE.  I know a lot of folks seemed to be pleased with Thursday's evening's game in Carolina, I was not.  I thought the Capitals could have easily played a better second period and put the Hurricane's away, I thought they should have never allowed the Cane's to tie the game and after that with just a little more grit and a bounce here or there that they could have/would have manufactured had the first and second lines worked just maybe 1.5% harder would have come, they could have had two more goals so the last 3:00 wouldn't have been a time where the Hurricanes even had a chance of tying the game.  That's what needs to happen - EVERY NIGHT - for this team to be playing 0.600 hockey instead of the 0.450 hockey they've played through their last 10 games.

Let's be clear and put this into perspective the 2014-15 Washington Capitals have the second highest salary payroll against the salary cap of the 30 teams in the NHL for this season as projected by - this team has been assembled and is being paid to win now.  The highest paid team - the Pittsburgh Penguins are doing what they are being paid to do - they are playing 0.720 hockey on the season to date; the top two three teams in the league standings to date, 1)the Tampa Bay Lightning have 39 points in 27 GP (0.722), 2) the Anaheim Ducks have 39 points in 28 GP (0.697)  and 3) New York Islanders have 38 points in 26 GP (0.731) all have payrolls that are $4, 5, and 6 million less than the Capitals so they are definitely doing what they're being paid to do and earning their money. The Caps need to play in a manner and achieve results that make an irrefutable case that they have earned their money for each of the remaining 57 games this season in order to ensure they make the playoffs, it's that straightforward.

My points and thoughts today are simple:

A) Caps Team please play YOUR game, play it "RIGHT" and play it with 110%+ effort from the initial faceoff for ALL 60:00 tonight.  Do NOT, please, play down to the level of your opponent the New Jersey Devils. Do that and you should get a 2+ goal led by the middle of the second period lead and keep it through the end of the game.  Please don't play like you pretty much have most of the other 25 games to date this season and keep us on the edge of our seats to the bitter end of the game - the Devils really aren't good enough this season that this game should be in doubt with less than 10:00 left in regulation. Oh and to make sure that doesn't happen by Corey Schneider stealing a game or a point - crash the net.

B) Once you do that all tonight imprint it in your minds and please repeat it every game for the rest of them until the regular season ends in April and then just turn it all up a couple of notches for the post season.

C) Caps management - the time to start fixing this team or finish doing so, depending on your viewpoint is now.  Step (1) is getting yourself some Salary Cap space now so you can get what you need. I've said it before and I'll say it now - if the Capitals are ever going to win a Stanley Cup there can be nothing off the table.  To me I look at the roster in two directions 1) From the highest paid guys to the lowest and 2) from the goal line out. From either direction the first question I ask is: "Can I see this guy skating around Verizon Center with a Stanley Cup raised above his head blood seeping from a re-opened cut on his head from "doing whatever it took to win" and an ear to ear grin on his face in a Capital's Sweater and here's my answers:

TOP PAID DOWN                                 GOAL LINE OUT
Ovechkin    - YES                                    Holtby - Maybe
Backstrom  - YES                                    Peters - NO
Green          - Probably                            Green -  Probably
Niskanen    - Probably                             Niskanen - Probably
Orpik          - YES                                    Orpik - YES
Laich          - No                                       Carlson - YES
Carlson       - YES                                    Alzner - Probably
Brouwer     - Yes                                      Schmidt - Maybe
Ward          - Yes                                      Orlov - No
Alzner        - Probably                              Erskine - No
Chimera      - Probably                             Hillen - NO
Johannsson - Yes                                      Backstrom - YES
Orlov           - No                                      Johannson - Yes
Erskine        - No                                      Burakovsky - Maybe
Holtby         - Maybe                                Kuznetsov - Maybe
Fehr             - Probably                             Beagle - Probably
Peters          - NO                                       Latta - Maybe
Beagle         - Probably                              Ovechkin - YES
Kuznetsov - Maybe                                    Laich - No                                          
Burakovsky - Maybe                                 Chimera - Probably
Wilson         - Yes                                      O'Brien - Probably
Hillen           - NO                                      Wilson - Yes
Schmidt        - Maybe                                Brouwer - Yes
Volpatti        - NO                                      Fehr - Probably
O'Brien         - Probably                             Ward - Yes
Latta             - Maybe                                 Volpatti - NO

So musing on this list forced me to think about the following in order -

i) If this guy is on the roster and playing in a Stanley Cup Finals do I see the Caps having the requisite talent and drive as a team to be able to win?

ii) If this guy is on the roster and playing in a Stanley Cup Finals do I see him as an individual player as having the requisite talent to be able to be in a position at this time in his career to help win games in a Stanley Cup Finals series?

iii) If this guy finds himself playing in the Stanley Cup Finals in May 2015, hurting or hurt, sucking for air at the end of a shift late in the third period or in the second overtime, do I see him doing whatever it takes to win even if he knows he's going to loose two teeth stopping a shot (in other words at that moment would he play like Bobby Clarke of the Flyers in the 1974 Finals) etc?

iv) Do I think this guy currently durable enough to make it through playing the majority of the season and several seven game playoff series in a way that he can stay healthy enough to be able to play well enough and hard enough to make a difference in a final game of a series if it were to need to go to multiple overtimes to be decided.

Rankings from best to worst are: YES, Yes, Probably, Maybe, No, and NO.

- At this point therefore what I'm saying is that if approached with a reasonable offer Brian MacLellan should consider offers for anyone whose name isn't spelled Ovechkin, Carlson, or Backstrom. Of course if they are a "Yes" need make sure that without a doubt unless you are crazy you'd agree the move makes the Capitals a better team - so it's a fair trade that would make both teams better by a trade of likely equally good players but puts them into positions on teams where they are better fits.

- I'm also saying that all NO, No and most if not all "Maybe" players should be shopped to either provide Cap space for "deadline deals" or to try and ensure this team can and does play 0.600 or better hockey during the rest of this season. So what I'm saying is NOW is the time to move Dmitry Orlov to another team and get something we need, maybe a solid backup goalie who we all would say is a "probably" NOW instead of a No or NO ....

- Probably guys should be closely examined and it needs to be determined how they can be either better utilized on the roster to make the team a more consistent 0.600+ team or moved for value that does. So for example, NOW is the time to make a decision on Mike Green, resign/extend him or trade him.

If management and the coaching staff doesn't do this now, it's likely that at the end of the season this team will still be drowning in a sea of "up or down" and "heads or tails" mediocre play and results.  Also at that time we Caps fans will again likely again in a situation where we can use the money we have in our pockets for a really good vacation at the beach instead of spending it on playoff tickets.

In the meantime a start in the right direction would be kicking the Devil's butts in Newark tonight.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

November 22nd - The Start of a Busy Schedule Week for the NHL as We Prepare for Turkey Day ...

Well Caps fans here in bucolic Bristow, fall is in the air, the leaves are quite well into "falling", in fact most have already "fallen."  As I noted yesterday this last week of November is a busy week for the NHL's Metropolitan Division.  Tonight we Caps fans, in addition to rooting for our Caps to dull the Sabres at Verizon Center, we're rooting for a 2 and only 2 point night in Uniondale, the Flames to scorch the Devils in Calgary, and the Blue Jackets to beat the Flyers in regulation in Philadelphia.  So say this three times fast: Lets Go Caps! Flames! and Blue Jackets, and three cheers for "meh" hockey on Long Island!

In any case that's probably too much to ask for everything so let's focus on Caps vs. Sabres at Verizon Center. The Sabres started the season off slowly but have won their last two games including beating the San Jose Sharks at home in Buffalo on Tuesday by a score of 4-1 after beating their rival  Maple Leafs 6-2 at home last Saturday. So the Sabres come into this game playing as hot as they've been in quite some time.  The Capitals also come into the game on a two game winning streak having won their last two in tight checking 1 goal road games. For the Caps to win here's the recipe as I see it - limit the Sabres to 30 or fewer shots on goal, a team SV% of 0.92+, and play an aggressive two man in forecheck.  In other words the Caps need to PLAY THEIR GAME and NOT let Buffalo set the pace of play or get them off their game plan. For Buffalo to win they have to come out flying and catch the Capitals back on their heels - of course the Capitals have to stop that from happening, if they manage to control the Sabres the first ten minutes of th game and score first the Capitals should finish the night with two goals and win by a score of  4 - 2 or 3 - 1 or better.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Capitals Hockey 23.2% Into the 2014 -15 NHL Season: Life On The Bubble Exemplified

Well Caps fans our Washington Capitals completed their 19th game of the 2014-15 Season in Denver, CO last evening and achieved a two (2) point regulation win over the Colorado Avalanche.  It was their eighth (8) ROW (Regulation/Overtime Win) of the season.  they are now on pace for a total of  90+ points and notable 34+ ROW.  If this were last season that would place them again "just" on the wrong side of the bubble as they finished last season with 90 points as well but only 28 ROW due to having earned 14 "looser" points which so far this season they've only gotten 3 and are on track for just 12 loser points.  That's the bad news, the good news is "the trend is our friend" and while living life on the bubble trends are everything When last season ended the two "wild Card" teams aka "Winning Bubble Teams" were Columbus with 93 points of which 38 of their 43 wins were "ROW" and they had only 7 "loser points" and Detroit who also had 93 points of which they had 34 ROW and 15 loser points.  That means that in Columbus' case 92+% of their 93 points were "2 point games" while in Detroit's case ~84% of their points were "2 point games."

 For the Capitals thus far this season , 85.7 of the 21 points they've accrued to date are a result of "two point nights."  Additionally, they find themselves in third place in the Division and "on the right side" of the bubble right now because with the exception of the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators they've played no more games than the other Eastern Conference "bubble teams".  Additionally 0.550 (4-3-3) at home and 0.5556 (5-4-0) on the road thus far this season.  The Caps, surprisingly find themselves in need of making Verizon Center a harder place for opposing team's to play when for the majority of the past 5 seasons Verizon has earned a reputation of being a hard place to play and beat them and last season the Caps had a 0.598 record.  if the Caps stay on track for a 0.550 road record and raise their game at Verizon back to 0.598, they will end the season with 94 points and at least 35 ROW which should put them "on the right side of the bubble."  Given the trends and what we've been seeing from the Capitals the 5-4-1 record they have thus far in November, should they string a couple more wins together before the end of November, of the remaining four (4) games this month, clearly the "home and home" against the New York Islanders are most important.  However as long as the Capitals win three of the next four games (6 of 8 available standings points) they should close the gap with either the NY Islanders or Pittsburgh Penguins by at least two points before the month of  December starts.  That will give the Capitals 27 points in 23 games - on a 0.587 pace for the season, on pace for a 96 point season and securely in third place in the Metropolitan Division - avoiding the "Wild Card Sweepstakes" altogether.

The Islanders have six more games to play the remaining 10 days this month - including back to back home and home against Pittsburgh this weekend and a home and home against the Capitals bracketing Thanksgiving Day.  In addition to those four games against Division Rivals, the Islanders face the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday (11/24) and the Devils on Saturday the 29th. Truly this last week of November is a key time for the Islanders fortunes and a groups of tough games stacked together, the only break in it is that four of those six games will be home games for them.

The Penguins have also have six games over the last 10 days of November, the back to back home and home against the Islanders this weekend, followed by the Bruins in Boston on Monday and hosting the Maple Leafs on Wednesday before having another back to back home and home against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Pens last six games of November are evenly split between 3 home games and 3 away games though four of the six are played on back to back evenings.

Those are the guys in the Division ahead of the Capitals, but the Devils, Rangers Bruins, Senators, Maple Leafs, Panthers and even the Flyers are all likely to end the season on the bubble with the Capitals.  Looking at the rest of the Metropolitan Division Teams who are on or around the bubble and their schedule the rest of November here's how thing look.  The Rangers have 20 points in 19 games played as of tonight.  They have four more games in November: Montreal at MSG on Sunday, the Lightning on Wed. the 26th in Tampa, the Flyers in Philadelphia on the Friday 28th and then the Flyers again 24 hours later at MSG on Saturday the 29th.  So that's not going to be an easy road for the Blue Shirts.

The Devils start  three game road trip through Western Canada tonight in Edmonton, followed by a back to back tomorrow night in Calgary against the Flames before facing off against the Canucks in Vancouver on Tuesday on the 25th.  They then come back to Newark and play the Detroit Red Wings on Friday the 28th and then finish the month playing the Islanders in Uniondale on Saturday the 29th.  Another bubble team with five tough games to finish the second month of the 2014-15 season.

The Flyers have five more games to play in the month of November starting tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets at home in Philly.  They then travel to Long Island to face the Islanders on Monday evening, then host the Red Wings at Wachovia Center on Wednesday the 26th before finish the month with a back to back/home and home against the Rangers on the 28th and 29th.

Columbus has been struggling recently but as they get healthier they too could threaten other bubble teams.  They have four more games in November, only one of which tomorrow against the Flyers is against a Metropolitan Division opponent. Their other games in November are against Winnipeg, Vancouver and Nashville.

So as you can see the final week of November features a lot of Metropolitan Division games for every team in the  division with the exception of Columbus plays at least as many games against Division rivals as they do against teams in other divisions during the rest of this month.  That might put a little separation between teams in the division (given either Pittsburgh or the Islanders could finish the month with 35+ points and on track for 110+ point seasons) but it could also bunch things up even more.  For the Capitals the key will be winning at least three out of four and not giving any "loser points" to the Islanders in those two games, assuming they can win them.  If the Caps continue to find their grove and capture all eight points available to them in November they'll also be on track for a 100+ point season, that would be a significant step off the "right side" of the bubble compared to where they were just two weeks ago.

All that said you have to play the games on the ice, one game at a time.  The only thing certain about all this is it's going to be an exciting final week of November for fans of NHL Teams in the Metropolitan Division.

For the Caps, next up are the Sabres tomorrow night at Verizon Center.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

11/15 A No Point Night In Saint Louis - Not The Start To A Three Game Road Trip Anyone Rocking the Red Was Hoping For ...

Another Caps Hockey Game, another disappointing slow start that ended in more disappointment.  The Caps rolled in to Saint Louis off a 1 - 0 loss the prior evening at Verizon Center.  They apparently decided that since New Jersey successfully beat them by slowing the pace of the game, they'd try and do the same thing against Saint Louis.  One could talk fancy stats or simple stats or "olde tyme hockey" or whatever you want and by every normal measure, especially the scoreboard, the bottom line is it didn't work. As the final seconds of the game wound down last night the scoreboard showed Blues 4 - Capitals 1.  

Blues goalie Brian Elliott wasn't all that great, and that makes the final score even tougher to take - the goalie wasn't unbeatable, but he didn't have to be.  Add to the fact the Capitals forwards didn't make it hard for Elliott to turn in a 0.960 SV% on the night the fact that in addition to having brain freeze similar to Holtby's faux paux on Friday night that Justin Peters turned in a SV% of just 0.882 last night and the final score of 4-1 can only be attributed to the Caps limiting the Blues to just 34 SOG.
  The Caps are now 0.500 on the season with 17 games (21%) of the 82 game season played so far.  That's not good enough, by any measure to be confident in this team's chances of returning to the playoffs.  They need to settle down, play the system much harder for 60:00 of every game and move things forward.  On the GM side of things, some things need to happen, and one of them is resign/extend Mike Green now not later.  A second is clear Cap space of guys who will never again be even close to what George McPhee signed them for - for example one should not be paying $4.5M of cap space for a guy who if/when he gets healthy is a third line center for your team or $2M for a guy who might sometime later this season be your #7 D-man... . A third thing is that between the GM and the coaches they need to facilitate some stability in the top three lines and let the players work out their issues as long as they play hard for 60:00 of every game.  The musical chairs on the lines isn't helping provide any of the needed spark IMO.  

I know last night was game 2 of a back to back but you know what, just like the Saint Louis Blues, I don't care, nor can the Capitals afford to care or think about that either.  Basically what this Capitals team needs to do is play the entire first 50:00 of every game with the same drive, speed and urgency like they seem to be playing the last 10:00. Last night they didn't do that and it cost them another two points.  Will they look inward and decide enough is enough during these next two days before facing the Phoenix oops Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday in Phoenix oops Glendale?  We can only hope and cheer for them to do so, at least we Caps fans can only do so.  In that vein I shout out:

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

November 14th Devils 1 - Capitals 0 at Verizon Center, Look Ahead to Tonight's Game in Saint Louis

As has been well chronicled over at Japer's Rink and The Peerless Prognosticator, last night at Verizon Center we watched a game that ended, unfortunately in a "No Point" night for the Capitals.  That of course meant that this morning if you checked the NHL standings the Capitals are once again "on the wrong side of the bubble" with a mere 17 points in 16 games, fourth in the Metropolitan Division and a 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games.  So that's something I'd sum up as "unfortunate" .. unfortunate indeed as the Caps didn't play poorly last night, loosing 1-0 in regulation on a poorly considered chance taken by Braden Holtby on a night when otherwise he did more than what should have been required by him to secure two points for his team - notch a 0.964 SV%.

 It was a night when I hated being right.  Yesterday musing about the game, I figured that it might take something like  this, in fact I wrote:
"... or fail to play their game well a full sixty minutes, or Corey Schneider has a totally "lights out" night the Devils could win this game so the Caps cannot fail to play hard and smart for all sixty minutes."
In fact that's what happened last night, the Caps slowed their game to New Jersey's 33 1/3 RPM speed and the New jersey team defense and Corey Schneider had a "lights out night" as a result.  It really did only take one mistake and that was because the Caps let NJ dictate the pace of play and didn't score, not even on four power plays.  It hurts more because had the Caps won they'd be 5-4-1 in their last 10 and still on the "right side" of the bubble.  There's really  not much more to be said.  The team knows they needed to want it more and to have worked both smarter and harder against New Jersey.  The good news is the Caps don't have a lot of time to dwell on last night's game as they take on the Saint Louis in the first of a three game road trip tonight under the arch just across the Mississippi River.  The Blues are a red hot 9-1-0 in their last ten games and sit atop the Central Division with 23 points and 9 ROW.

The Peerless is calling for a 3-2 Caps victory.  Me I'm just hoping, hoping for a Caps 2 point night of any kind.  I do think the Caps could win but the Blues are rested after beating Nashville, 4-3 on Thursday.   I just don't see this being a low scoring affair though there's too much offensive talent on both sides of the ice.  The Caps need it more, I hope they want it more and continue to play well.


Friday, November 14, 2014

What A Difference A Week Can Make and Game 16: Caps vs. Devils Tonight at Verizon Lookahead

Well fellow Caps fans it's been a week since my last post and for the Caps and we fans it's been a good week.  Our boys in Red have gone from dropping four in a Row to having won three in a row with a reasonable chance of getting that fourth two point night in a row tonight.  They've gone from having a below 0.500 record on the season to date and being on the outside looking in, to having an overall 0.566 record, 17 points and being on the right side of the bubble.  Granted not where they started the first 6 games of the season but right now the trend is our friend as can bee seen if one wants to look at the various "fancy stats" over at War On Ice

Tonight the Caps have a chance to once again make the vast majority of us back into hopeful believers as opposed to cautious skeptics.  Tonight they take on the New Jersey Devils for the second time this season, this is New Jersey's second visit to Verizon Center this season and last time the Capitals were rather rude hosts, handily beating the Devils 6 - 2 in Regulation on October 16th.  Tonight the Devils come into DC rested and confident having beaten the Minnesota Wild in their last game by a score of 3-1 on Tuesday Night at "The Rock" in Newark on the back of some excellent goaltending by Corey Schneider.  Both Washington and New Jersey are 5-5-1 in their last 10 games but the Caps are slightly hotter and are one standings point ahead of their Metropolitan Division Rival Devils with one game in hand having 17 points in 15 games played so far this season.  As a team the Capitals also have a positive goal differential of five goals versus the Devils who are -7 in that department.  Both teams play a puck possession game but at this point you have to give the talent differential to the Capitals and the Devils have a much older team in terms of average age.  Overall this is a game the Capitals should win, assuming they play a full sixty minutes and they play their system very well and very, very hard.  Additionally they should always keep their feet moving and stay out of the penalty box, if they do that they should draw a few penalties as they play the game at a much faster pace than the Devils usually do and if they execute in such a manner it will mean they are forcing the Devils to play the game at their pace and in their style instead of slowing their own game down to "Devil Speed."  For tonight's songs to sound like they have a "Capitals Beat" this game needs to be played at 45 - 78 RPM for all 60 minutes.  The Devils want to sing/play it at no greater than  33 1/3 speed.  Further the Caps should expect the Devils to come into the game hungry, and push very hard in the first period to make sure they don't get embossed like they did in the October 16th game and to take the Verizon Crowd out of the game early.

I belive the Caps are as hungry if not hungrier for a two point night than New Jersey.  So barring a lights out night by Corey Schneider or the Caps failing to play hard for some reason, I see this game being a 4 - 2 regulation win, with a final minute empty net goal by the Capitals.  If somehow New Jersey plays very poorly and gives the Caps more than 4 power plays then it could be a win by the Caps by greater than a two goal margin.

If however the Caps are looking past New Jersey or fail to play their game well a full sixty minutes, or Corey Schneider has a totally "lights out" night the Devils could win this game so the Caps cannot fail to play hard and smart for all sixty minutes.

Assuming I am correct and the Caps finish the night with 19 points and 7 ROW in 16 games the Caps will be on a solid 0.594 pace ~20% into the season and on pace for 35 ROW this season which last season was on the right side of the bubble but still on the bubble last April, so the Caps still need every point and likely will continue to do so for the remainder of the season.

Four key players and key points for New Jersey tonight: Jaromir Jagr, Corey Schneider; Mike Cammalleri, and Marek Zidlicky.  Also not to be overlooked is Patrik Elias.  You might notice of these five payers only the goaltender Schneider is under 30 and the second youngest Cammalleri is a recent off season pick up at 32 and until recent injuries has not been skating more than 15 minutes a game.  Schneider had a relatively inauspicious start to the season but in his last several games has put himself on track.  For the season to date he has a SV% of 0.904 and a GAA of 2.87. At 42, Jagr still seems ageless and leads the Devils in scoring and has really been their on ice leader in may other ways so far this season.  In this his 20th NHL season the future hall of famer has 3 goals and 9 assists so far this season and for some strange reason, pundits like Gord S don't seem to dwell on his current =/- (-2) like they do Ovechkin's nor have they harped on him as any sort of one dimensional player, etc even though he hasn't been nearly as productive or important to his teams since he departed Washington for the New York Rangers in the 2003 - 2004 season, go figure?  In any case he is a key guy for the Caps to make sure they shut down and while he may have slowed a quarter to a half stride over his 20 NHL seasons fastest, his hockey sense is second to none and his on ice presence is still incredibly noteworthy and effective.  Camalleri is currently in his 12th NHL season and is basically the Devils' "sniper"/finisher with 6 goals and 4 assists so far this season.  Some of the other Devils' usual offensive threats like Adam Henrique are out with injuries so the lion's share of offensive load goes to Cammallleri and Jagr right now, aided by 38 year old defenseman Zidlicky who has 3 goals and 6 assists for the Devils and is fourth leading scorer right behind the injured Henrique.  Centers Elias and Travis Zajac are important more from a faceoff, puck possession and distribution perspective in the Devils' current system.

Four key players and key points for your Washington Capitals tonight: Braden Holtby, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Fehr, and Jay Beagle. Starting from the goal line out the key for Braden Holtby and the Caps in this game as all games this season is a system that limits the opposition to 30 or less SOG and a team defense anchored by a SV% of 0.92+ and that stat/final line of defense is Holtby or Peters.  Holtby needs to get more comfortable with staying patiently in net and not doing things like happy feet, high risk move to keep his head in the game.  Last game the Caps got away with a couple of "loose" moves and defensive plays by both Holtby and the blueline corps.  In tonight's game they cannot do that against the "experienced" (long in the tooth) New Jersey squad.  Any game involving the Capitals top four guys to watch means that either Alexander Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom will be on these lists.  For a game against a team like the Devils, leadership on both the offensive forecheck and keeping pressure on the Devils with O-Zone presence and Corsi For to me means of the Backstrom/Ovechkin pair I'm thinking a flying, fast power forward/wing is slightly more key than a solid game by our first line center, only slightly though.  I put Eric Fehr on this list as I still have concerns that Troy Brouwer will be somewhat hampered by the thumb injury he suffered last game so I'm looking for secondary scoring and a spark from a third line of Chimera-Fehr-Ward.  Fehr has been buzzing more and as long as he plays a hard on the puck game, I believe he'll be rewarded against the slower pace the Devils will want to play.  Of the second and third lines I look to Fehr to drive the pace and speed of the third line and I also think that as long as Burakovsky plays smart hockey like he did the last game against the Devils, he and Marcus Johannson should be able to execute smartly on the second line against the Devils.  Final key I have listed is Jay Beagle, it looks like Tom Wilson will still be out of the lineup tonight and Beagle will get another chance to play on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom.  He did well and was rewarded last game in this role, tonight the key is for him to again play within himself, make smart decisions and again play his assigned role playing alongside two of the League's elite forwards.  All of the above though ties to the Caps out playing and out "Fenwicking" the Devils so they score three or more goals and the team defense resulting in less than 30 SOG and a team SV% of 0.926+ - that is the top level recipe for success tonight, IMO.


Friday, November 7, 2014

High Ho High Ho It's Off To Chicago We Go ... Hi Ho Hi Ho....

Well fellow Caps fans, tonight I'll be well ensconced on the La-Z-Boy Love Seat/Recliner watching our Capitals take their show on the road and taking on the dull (e.g. without Sharp) Blackhawks in Chicago.  Rumor has it that Dan Snyder will be there, in person, along with progeny of the late "Chief  J Strongbow" and the Washington Redskins mascot(s) trying to show the world that he and the rest of the Redskins organization, while being generally loyal to other Washington teams have divided allegiances when it comes to other major league sports team's that "celebrate" the heritage of Native Americans, indeed as well apparently as with  Australian and New Zealand's aboriginal peoples - I hear Danny is a big fan of the "All Blacks" as well....  But I digress.
Around the interwebs lots of chatter about tonight's' game.

Peerless' prognostication:  A well played hard fought game with the Caps coming out victors in regulation by a score of 3-2.  Sure hope he's right.

Over at Japer's Rink, there is hope that Brooks Laich's return to the lineup and penalty killing prowess will be the spark the Caps need to break their current winless streak.  Also there's the usual Game Day piece there.

Okay here's some news apparently Evgeny Kuznetsov will be a healthy scratch so that Brooks Laich will be dressed.  This is the first time I know that we clearly see how Laich, a $4.5M/year third line center, is being played in a manner that takes ice time from either Kuznetsov or Burakovky.  I'm not in favor of that as you probably can infer from my earlier posts, but as a Caps fan I'm hoping Laich takes advantage of this opportunity and is a spark to get the Ward - Chimera pair going, a shorty or two out of Laich wouldn't stink either.

There's several articles on the web pointing how much imminent future success the Caps are likely to have assuming they stay disciplined, composed and true to their system.  I hope those articles are right and I agree the Caps turn up the energy level a little for all sixty minutes , stay true to the system, AND get a little better goaltending, this could still be a great season. 

In  the meantime I'm rooting for Peerless' Prognostication, a 3-2 regulation road win against a solid team like the Blackhawks would be a really excellent thing for the Capitals right about now.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

More On Playing 0.500 Hockey and What It Really Means In The Long Run ...

Back on November 2nd I mused on how important I think it is for a solid NHL team to be anchored by a goaltending duo capable of reliably, and regularly delivering a Save Percentage of 0.920 or better so there's not much sense on me thinking about it a bunch more.  Hoping it happens here in Washington, sure; thinking about it, not so much.  Every game the Capitals don't get that "magic number" has at least so far, reinforced that belief/statement.

So instead this morning, I'm going to look back and look ahead at the idea of playing 0.500 hockey and how that is also very likely to be a path to disappointment - keep in mind that as you wake this morning, the Capitals are 4-5-3 (11 points, so 0.453 on the year.)  Keep in mind the Capitals finishedThe team with the worst record to make the playoffs was the Dallas Stars with 91 points (0.559).  To have made the playoffs last season the Capitals would have needed 4 more points, as the wild card teams in the east had 93 points and more ROW than the Capitals.  The distance between the 17th place Capital at 90 points and the 25th place Vancouver Canucks with 83 points was a mere seven points.  The Canucks finished with a 0.506 record... so 0.500 hockey gets you a shot at the lottery, they aren't even "bubble teams" in this era of "three point games."  To be a bubble team you need 90 points - 0.549/0.550 hockey throughout the year.  To be a clear playoff team you needed at the end of last season you needed 96 points - a 0.585 record.
last season with 90 points (0.549).

How far were the Caps from that at the end of last season - 3 ROW, doesn't seem like a lot does it? Well it's 11% more ROW than the 28 they had.  Looking at the Caps today, they'd need to have 14 vice 11 points.  With 14 points they'd be tied for second place with the New Jersey Devils in the Metropolitan Division. To do that they'd likely need five (5) vice three (3) ROW.  That's the bad news, the glass half empty view.  The glass half full view would be - could they have done that?  Simple answer is yes to date they have three (3) OT or SO losses.  If they had managed to win two of the three OT/SO losses - Canadiens in the season opener, San Jose on October 14th or Tuesday night's game against Calgary, which was possible they'd be that team.  Instead they now have 8 more games until the quarter way mark of the season to prove they are better than the 25th place team in the league.

Next up Chicago on Friday in the Windy City...


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Like I Said, Really, Really, REALLY Hard - Game 12, A One (1) Point Night

Well last night at Verizon Center I, a Washington Capitals fan, watched a hockey game between the Capitals and the Flames from Calgary.  It was exciting, generally well played and exceptionally frustrating to watch, at least for me. I can only imagine how frustrating this must be for both the players on the team and even more-so the coaching staff.  To be fair unlike Sunday's game where by the end you could really say nothing positive about a regulation loss at the hands of what is, was and remains an inferior opposing team, last night's game had some positives, actually a lot of positives.  However, my theme today, even upon retrospective reflection is mediocrity is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted.  Last night what the Capitals organization both needed and wanted was a 2 point regulation win - what they got was one (1) point, a loser's point, at the end of overtime.  Say what you want, a one point night that puts your team as playing under 0.500 (11 points in 12 games) hockey is mediocrity.  Mediocrity is "life on the bubble."  Life on the bubble, now early in the season or in April is not what I imagine a team with the 4th highest payroll in the league the Ted Leonsis and the Monumental Group were going for this season.  I'm pretty sure, they like we - the Capitals fan base, did not think or want a team that has trouble finishing games, for whatever reason.

However, I will not discriminate, you can't fault only the players here.  Everyone in this organization seems bent on celebrating mediocrity.  Last night the Capitals organization went out of it's way to do so.  Making sure we as fans saw the passing of the torch from Peter Bondra to Alex Ovechkin.  Celebrating Ovechkin overtaking Bondra as the leading scorer in Capitals history.  That's a meaningless record, by the way and one anyone capable of simple extrapolation knew would fall, and fall hard early in Ovechkin's career, barring significant injuries just three years into Ovechkin's career.  "Smokin' Al Koken's" Intermission Interview with Nicklas Backtrom was the height of celebrating mediocrity, however of the participants, the only one who seemed to understand just how stupid it was - Backstrom - who pointed out what one would expect both he and Ovechkin no doubt feel - "really right now it's all about getting a W."  Maybe if the organization didn't take so much away from focusing on it last night, having Ovie come out and wave to the crowd after a jumbotron homage, etc. everyone would realize what they needed to do and make sure a W for the Capitals was what happened.  Maybe if the MSM who voted the games top three stars realized that another example of the definition celebrating mediocrity is having the home team for two of the three stars of the game while not giving one of them to the guy who sealed the deal for his tam - opposition goalie - Jonas Hiller with his 0.912 SV% and robbing the Capitals in the final seconds of regulation, as well as several times in OT who "stole two points" last night for Calgary.  Fine give Ovie the third star if you want, I'm not saying his achievement isn't worth mentioning, but in the middle of a losing streak it's not worth celebrating the way this organization did last night.  Look let's face it, if this team never ever looks inside and fixes itself so it can win these games, let alone a Stanley Cup, ten years from now Ovechkin will take Marcel Dionne's place on the NHLN special on the "greatest players to have never won the Stanley Cup."  I don't think that's what the son of a two time gold medalist is shooting for, do you? But hey let's further celebrate the mediocrity of this meaningless record with a splash screen rather that focusing on fixing the team...if you've gone to the Caps website today you know what I'm talking about: "Congrats Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals Franchise Points Leader 827 points #AllTimeGr8"  Dissect that for a minute folks - All time franchise points leader of a team that in forty years has been to the Stanley Cup finals once and has never won.  Why not start a "40th Anniversary Celebration that celebrates what the Caps are really about - frustration and futility? That's what we'll keep being as a fan base unless this entire organization stops celebrating and taking joy in mediocrity.

Enough of the rant.  As I said last night's game had a lot to like, it had two short periods, maybe 4:00 of play where the Caps throttled back just a little and on both occasions, the Flames sensed it and took advantage of it that resulted in two goals for them.  If that was will that happened they'd have won.  Then we have the Flame's third goal - watch the replay - tough luck for the Caps, yet again if that was all that happened the Caps would have still won.  Then we had the save with seconds left where young Tom Wilson failed to raise the puck over Hiller's outstretched pad, again tough luck but again, if that was all that happened they could have won.  No this game was lost by the Capitals with you pick it, either the first goal of the game or the overtime goal - on both those occasions the Capitals "team" defense failed to properly challenge the Flames on the blueline and that set up the Flames ability to score a goal rather than getting a Caps "takeaway."  Other than that hey it was great, well played game by the Caps  - see how easy it is to accept and even celebrate mediocrity, maybe that's why so many do it, so often.  Look bottom lines -

  • Caps forwards - all of them - need to forecheck and backcheck more aggressively and more effectively for every second of every game whether it's a 60:00 or 65:00 game.
  • Caps defense  - all of them need to be better, both defensively and offensively.  Niskanen in particular needs to get his game and numbers closer to what the Caps paid for - his last season numbers.  Green needed to challenge and end up with the puck last night at the 4:10 mark of OT - watch that play, it was an inauspicious end to an otherwise good game for him.  The rest of the defense needs to be better at both ends of the ice, and get pucks through and on net in the offensive zone and be more constantly effective physically in the defensive zone.  Simply put at the end of a game against the Capitals, the entire opposing team's forward lines, every one of the twelve of them should be very, very tired and sore.
  • Caps Goaltenders need to frankly not stink, mediocrity for an NHL goaltender is a less than 0.900 SV%, that's what this teams goaltenders are.  They need to do better, period.  The rest of this season and through the playoffs, they need to make all the saves they should and 70% of the rest required to win.  If they can't then management needs to move the players they need to move to get someone in here who can.  This isn't a personal assault on the goaltenders, they have in many, many cases the hardest job on the team and they have nowhere to hide.  That's the life they chose though.  They need to fix this and themselves so this happens pretty much now so in another eight games, when the season reaches the 25% mark (20.5 games played) the Caps are in a much better place as a team and with a much better record than they are now.  Make no mistake both #1 and #2 above need to happen for that to occur but number 3) is just as important as items 1) and 2) combined after watching last night's game.

Next up the Blackhawks in Chicago on Friday evening.  Look I'm still a loyal fan and I know this post will irritate some but Step One of any 12 Step program is admitting you have a problem, to me as I've ranted above right now the Caps real problem is accepting and indeed celebrating anything less than excellence.  However, anything can change and I hope for the Caps 2014-15 season that changes now - they played the game right last night and basically dominated the Flames they just did not however, "get it done" and celebrating anything about what leads to the results of "not getting it done" so far this season makes no sense to me.  So again I shout:


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sometimes It's Really, Really, REALLY Hard ...

Sometimes, it's really difficult to be a tried and true fan.  That's something we Capitals fans know well and if we didn't we are definitely learning this season.  Look it's easy to be a fan when "your team" is doing well.  It's even pretty easy to be a fan when your team is struggling, "rebuilding" , etc. when they are playing up to their potential.  It's gets more and more difficult as "your team" does not deliver on reasonable expectations when they are not delivering results.  However, it gets "REALLY" hard when they aren't delivering on expectations AND you see things that make you question the team's commitment to each other let alone you, the fan base.

It's not rocket science - realizing and understanding professional sports is a business, that is.  It's also not rocket science that it's easier to "sell" and get behind either "a winner" or "an underdog" story than it is to sell the entertainment value of watching "your team" just outright blow a game they seemed to have in hand.  Yes, of course I'm talking about Sunday's game versus the "Arizona" Coyotes.  As was noted in Peerless's postgamer - for all of 16 minutes - the Capitals looked like the team we the fan base, and no doubt they and management, want them to be.  Sure they let up an early goal, BUT, they then took control and the first period ended with them up 3-1 and looking pretty much in control of things.  Of course that was before, "Arizona", a team not known for offensive firepower, came out and scored five (5) - yes you read that correctly - five (5) - unanswered goals before the Capitals responded.  The Caps finally woke up in the middle of this nightmare of a game with less than five minutes to play in regulation and managed to score two (2) late goals with the game ending 6-5 and not looking as badly played by them as it actually was.  They then retired to the dressing room where I'm sure they got an earful from the coaching staff, and then held a lengthy players only meeting. 

To a fair degree, the entire season so far can pretty much be summed up by Brooks Orpik's post-game quote:
“I don’t think there’s one guy in the room who’s happy with the way he played the past four, five games, I don’t think it’s one or two guys who’s responsible. Everybody’s had their moments.”

However, I'm sure at this point I am not the only Capitals fan whose reaction is that while I'm glad nobody seems to be taking things lightly and the words sound right, I don't really care about the words right now.  What I care about is I expect more out of "my team" right now, and I think that's fair since we are talking about a team that has basically been pretty well assembled and is being paid up to the salary cap maximum.  After all this team, like every NHL team, is composed of professional athletes, a rare breed.  I know they can't be happy, at all, with things, you don't get to their level by being mellow and less than 1,000% competitive, they all have to have that.  But to win consistently at their level, they all need to execute, every minute of every game, and NOT get rattled or slowed by the inevitable mistakes in a game - they like us are human and mistakes will happen.  When that occurs the other team usually capitalizes unless someone on "your" team comes up big.  You know that save by a goalie that leaves you wondering - something we've really not seen in a while.  Or that herculean effort to get back, make a seemingly miraculous back-check and turn things around and into a scoring chance for your team, etc.  Most important, when those bad things happen, is to "step back" gather yourself and your teammates and start anew - avoiding the "quicksand", you know what I'm talking about.  Stepping into the quicksand and what happens - well Sunday night for example- five unanswered goals by a team that averages less than 2.5 goals/game.

Look the Capitals showed many things on Sunday - none of them good.  They need to go back to the basics, not the fundamentals of the game basics, but the determination that keeps you from loosing.  Funneling the fear of loosing into the focus that lets a team reach it's potential and win.  They can do it, but it has to come from within the guys on the bench, not behind it.  They have a good system and they need to keep believing in it and executing.  That's what the team they're facing tonight - the Calgary Flames have been doing. To begin to turn things around they once again need to play a 60:00 game and execute well like they did before these less than stellar last four games intervened between their win at the Saddledome against these same Flames. 

So, Caps, let's ignore our fears of insects, stay out of the quicksand, and execute.  Oh and to the Capitals management - I think it would be in poor taste, and frankly disrespectful of the fans and the game, if when Alex Ovechkin breaks an otherwise meaningless "team scoring record" any sort of big deal were to be made of the fact.  Regardless of how many goals or assists, Ovechkin, who will no doubt join Bondra in the HHOF, notches tonight or in the next several games, what needs to be the focus is winning games and that's a TEAM, not individual item to be celebrated.  In the meantime, next up Calgary's Flames at Verizon Center, tonight.



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Game 10: A No Point Night In Tampa; Can The Caps Begin to Turn It Around Today In Game 11?

Well Caps fans, last night was discouraging to me.  The Caps had the taken the lead of a seesaw game in the second period in Tampa and then allowed the Lightning to score two goals in a row and then finish them off with the only goal in the third period to take a 4 - 3 regulation win from them.  Sure Tampa has averaged 4 goals per game and has made their barn a hard place to come away from with two points, BUT the Capitals needed those two points to ensure they don't continue their "romance with the bubble."  They had a 2-1 lead in the second after Eric Fehr scored a power forward's goal just 2:11 in the second period, but then the Bolts showed just how awesome quick they can score with two goals in under three minutes when Ondrej Palat's goal at the 9:29 mark was quickly followed by Nikita Kruchev's at the 12:12 mark of the second stanza to put Tampa Bay up by a score of 3 - 2.  To be sure those two back to back goals were why and how the Bolts got into a position to win the game, but the Caps did not give up and Troy Brouwer tied the game at 3-3 with a great finish to a powerplay setup from Marcus Johannson and Nicklas Backstrom.  A goal that in addition to having been assisted directly by Backy and MoJo was also indirectly assisted by the space Brouwer was given by the Tampa defense attempting to cheat over and make sure Alex Ovechkin wasn't given his deadly one timer.  So after two periods the game was tied and we had ourselves a 20:00 hockey game on the road.  Overall the Caps weren't looking bad, they had held the Lightning to just 21 SOG through the first 40:00 and they hadn't let Tampa skate freely at any point in the game except maybe for the minute or so before Ryan Callahan scored the first goal of the game at 6:06 of the first period.  I was excited and optimistic going into the third period, despite being concerned that Braden Holtby had only managed a 0.857 SV% through the first two periods while Ben Bishop had stymied the Caps more than once and maintained a 0.923 SV% through the first 40:00 of play.  Unfortunately my optimism was misguided, the Bolts came out  the third and took advantage of some room the Caps gave them for Jason Garrison to throw the puck at the net, likely looking for a rebound, and a shot that I'm sure for numerous reasons, Braden Holtby wants back, to go ahead 4 -3 at the 2:27 mark of the third period.  Following that go ahead goal, the Bolts worked their defense hard clogging up the neutral zone the rest of the game, so despite a pretty solid third period by the Caps they did not allow many clean scoring chances, Bishop did his best to keep the Caps 12 SOG in the third period to "one and done" as well.

So despite having a game that looks well played by the Capitals on the score sheet, the Caps came away with a disappointing "goose-egg" for the third game in a row.  If you want to ponder why, I don't think you need to look far, compare these two numbers:  0.857 and 0.921 - that's Holtby's SV% vs. Bishop's SV% in this game.  Bottom line is the Caps need their goaltenders to put up at least a 0.900 and preferably a 0.920+ SV% to make the current system they are playing a consistently successful recipe.  Also I'm not saying "Save Percentage" is an individual statistic - it's no more an individual statistic than face off% is and lots of people have been writing about that for years.  It is however a statistic that starts and ends with the goaltenders, to achieve a 0.920+ SV% in the NHL a goalie has to stop 98.5+% of the shots "he's supposed to stop" and at least 65% of the shots that leave you wondering "how did he stop that one."  Last night the guy who did that for his team was named Ben Bishop - that's why he was deservedly the third star of the game.  Just go back and look at the Capitals four "no point" and two "one point" games and examine the Caps team SV% in those games - how many are 0.900 or better - the answer is three:

  1. October 9:  Montreal 2 - Capitals 1 (SO)  - Dustin Tokarski outdueled Braden Holtby 0.967 to 0.958.
  2. October 18: Capitals 2 - Florida 1 (SO) - Justin Peters posted a 0.952 SV% in a game at Verizon Center that opposing goalie Al Montoya almost stole for the Panthers with a 0.963 SV%.
  3. October 26: Canucks 4 - Capitals 2 - Justin Peters posted an identical SV% to Ryan Miller 0.909; unfortunately the Canucks outplayed the Capitals coming in this second game of a back to back in Western Canada and outshot the Caps in the second period during which five of the games six goals were scored.

The others:

October 14:  San Jose 6 - Capitals 5 (SO) -Sharks scored 3 goals on first seven SOG, Holtby was pulled, Caps team SV% for the game 0.782 (vs 0.879 for Niemi and the Sharks.)

October 22: Edmonton 3 - Capitals 2 - Holtby stopped 17 of 20 for a 0.850 SV% while Ben Scrivens posted a SV% 0.941 stopping 32 of 34 SOG.

October 29: Detroit 4 - Capitals 2:  Holtby stopped 18 of 22 SOG for a SV% of 0.818; Jimmy Howard stopped 25 of 27 for a 0.926 SV.

Last Night:  Holtby's SV% 0.857; Ben Bishop's SV% 0.921.

So that's why I've concluded the Caps need to have their goaltender have a SV% of at least 0.900 and preferably 0.920.  Think about it - combine that with the way the Caps are generally limiting opposing teams to less than 30 Shots On Goal and that means the Team's GAA would be less than 2.50 GPG while with the offensive firepower and talent they have it's difficult for most teams in the League to hold them to less than 3 goals, unless their goaltender has an exceptional game.

In any case for at least the next month or so when I close a blog post with "Lets Go Caps" it will mean I'm really hoping for the Caps netminders to post a 0.920 SV% or better in the upcoming game, as well as for their forwards to tear up the back of the opposition's net with those awesome, sick, unbelievable shots and plays we've all come to get really excited about.

This evening, the Caps return home to take on the Arizona Coyotes, it will be a tough game but it's another one the Caps need to win.  Right now they are 0.500, 4-4-2 on the season, and yes that is as mediocre as it sounds and looks, this team, IMO, is "better than that."  I think they all feel that way too, you could go look at all the fancy stats, etc and confirm the team has a LOT more potential than the current overall record and especially the last three games seem to evidence, but at the end of the day, the record is what it is and the players all need to, as dumb as it sounds, just do better. The team they are facing is also looking at having lost their last three outings and they are below 0.500 with a 3-6-1 record.  They won't be an easy two points for the Capitals and to win this game, the Caps need to play the game hard - not like a team that lost a disappointing game last night. As you can see from the the Look Ahead  and Prognostication over at Peerless - the Caps should win this game.  Now they just have to play the game on the ice, the way the current statistics portend.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

I'd Have Rather ... But, Alas ... ; Game 9 Recap and Thoughts

I'd have rather been writing about a Caps 2-1 regulation win when recapping tonight's Caps - Red Wings game, but alas it was not to be.  Instead I am forced to write a less fun but much more accurate recap about a 4 - 2 regulation loss.  Yes, it was a no point night - the Caps despite starting the third period leading the Red Wings 2 -1 gave up three (3) unanswered goals to drop the game at the end of the third period 4 -2 to the Detroit Red Wings. Simply put it was a total bummer.  Another "Goose Egg" night,  last two games, two regulation losses, last four games, 3 losses out of four opportunities.  So instead of ending October on a high note, we Caps fans are less than subdued, but not in a good way.  The Capitals finish the first month of the 2014 - 15 NHL regular season with a 4-3-2 record while the Red Wings finish it with a 5 - 2 - 2 record.  Both Detroit and Washington came into last night's contest with identical records, they finished it in markedly different style and moods.  Washington now has more questions than answers as to the path forward, and those outstanding questions need at least some of the necessary answers, fast.  Detroit, exits October with confidence and poise, at least until teams like our Washington Capitals mature and get more patient and confident in their system, as well I suspect, better conditioned.

The headline over at on this game reads " Red Wings Score Three In Third; Rally To Defeat Caps."  The headline after you "click through" says: "Red Wings Top Caps; Ovechkin Drought Hits 5."  Only in reference to Alex Ovechkin, and only on a "slow" sports news night is a guy with five (5) goals in the first 9 games of the season (on track for 40+ goals in the regular season" in a drought.  But the article captures the essence of the game in a very (seemingly) post game quote from Caps coach, Barry Trotz:
"Every turnover that we did have, it seemed to end up in the back of the net; those are the things that are killers, big-time killers."

Unlike other early season losses, the Caps did not have a bad or slow start to the game.  At least they played the first period with the same energy and intensity level, actually more so, than the Red Wings.  While the first period ended in a 0 - 0 tie, the Caps outshot the Wings 8 - 3, and generally outplayed the them in every facet of the game, and at both ends of the ice during the first period.  The only thing really lacking in the first period was much grit, and nobody really got in Rad Wings goalie Jimmy Howard's "grill" to push any of the 8 shots on goal the Caps had past Howard.  Additionally,
Washington held Detroit to three shots on goal in the first period.  Red Wings coach Mike Babcock apparently agrees with my assessment of the first period as seen in his post game quote:
"I didn't think we were very good early, they skated way better than us. We weren't good enough. We had no tempo to us."

That said even though the Caps outshot and outplayed the Wings, last evening's first period was one of the less interesting 20:00 of Hockey I've seen/watched in a while.

On the other hand, last night's second period was perhaps the most entertaining and well played 20:00 of hockey I've watched so far this season.  It was fast, exciting and a really fun game to see.  Lots and lots of speed, and back and forth, and best of all the Capitals, despite a few miscues, managed to stay within the structure of their new system and kept up with the Wings, in fact the period ended with the Capitals ahead of the Red Wings 2 -1. were it not for the third period, but alas I get ahead of myself.  In the second period the Wings came out skating fast and the Capitals responded.  Red Wings youngster, Gustav Nyquist got the Wings on the board first with an even strength tally, assisted by Justin Abdelkader at 8:53 of the period, for the Capitals the "first" "Frankenline" of 90-19-43 along with the Mike Green and Nate Schmidt, both of whom otherwise had a very good night, were on victimized.  The Caps did not breakdown or abandon their system after that goal though, and at 11:26, Nicklas Kronwall was sent to the sin bin for interference which afforded Caps youngster Evgeny Kuznetsov the opportunity to get his first goal of the season on the ensuing powerplay, victimizing Detroit's league leading penalty killing unit.  Game tied  1 - 1.  Then Justin Abdelkader was whistled off to the box for high-sticking at 17:01 of the second stanza, and just as the penalty ended, Troy Brouwer put a wickedly placed wrister past Jimmy Howard at the 19:02 mark of the period.  The Caps went into the final intermission with a 2 - 1 lead and the games momentum in hand. 

The Caps should have come out in the third period and played it with the same stifling efficiency they had played the first period.  Unfortunately, the Red Wings were determined to not allow that to happen.  Their veteran first line of Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Abdelkader just kept coming ... and coming and coming.  Like Barry Trotz's quote above indicates, it's not that the Capitals gave the Wings a lot, it's that they gave them anything at all and what the Caps did not give, if the Red Wings needed it, they took it anyway.  the game's overall statistics show the Caps with 10 giveaways and the Wings with 6 takeaways.  Unfortunately for the Caps to have won this game the Caps needed to have 5 less giveaways and have played harder on the puck so the Wings would have ended with no more than 2 takeaways.  The Red Wings started their "comeback" by Justin Abdelkader scoring what is shown on the scoresheet as an "unassisted" goal at the 4:04 mark of the final period.  Not shown on the scoresheet is the giveaway Brooks Orpik made that landed on Paval Datsyuk's stick, literally right next to the right side post that Braden Hotlby kept out of the net at about the 3:50 mark or the Henrik Zetterberg  "almost takeaway" from Andre Burakovsky at ~4:02 breaking the puck loose in the lowere lefthand slot that Abdelkader pounced on and put past Holtby two seconds later. Well my mother always used to tell me bad things happen in threes - guess she was right.  Had the Capitals managed to rebound from that goal, things would have likely been different.  That was probably on at least several Caps minds then, since that's about the time they started to not play their system dogmatically and trying to make more herculean individual efforts. Victimized at the time was the "Frakenline" of 8 (Ovi) - 65 (Burakovsky) - 42 (Ward) and defensive pair 44 (Orpik) - 74 (Carlson).

 Looking back now - I imagine at about the 5:00 mark realizing this Datsyuk and Zetterberg must have gotten wry grins they worked to disguise and suppress. In any case the Red Wings second goal of the evening seems to have convinced the Caps coaching staff to reunite 8 and 19 on the first line, which in itself is/was, at least in my opinion, a smart move/good thing.  Unfortunately, it didn't really do the trick as the veteran Red Wing team now had life and relentlessly pressed the issues, whenever they were given the slightest bit of "daylight."  Had the Caps stayed disciplined, exceptionally disciplined, and committed  no further errors from the 4:04 mark of the third period, I'll speculate they could have turned the tide and gotten one if not two points and maybe even a needed "ROW" - Regulation/Overtime Win.  Alas that was not to be, at the 10:34 mark of the period with the first line of each team, or at least for the Caps 8 (Ovi) - 19 (Backy) and 42 (Ward) on the ice, playing "mano a' mano" once again Abdelkader, Zetterberg, and "the magician" Datsyuk combined to put the Red Wings ahead to stay 3 -2.  Was it a goal Braden Holtby would like back, yes - he likely wants every goal ever scored on him back, I think that's just the way he is.  Was the goal Holtby's "fault" no.  Was the score one of those times this season when we saw/will see the quarter step that Brooks Orpik no longer has and why the Penguins let him go this past summer, yes.  Was it the reason the Caps lost last night - no, that reason is/was they moved, all be it, slightly off of their system and that allowed the Red Wings to "play their game." From this point on, even though Datsyuk scored a final goal for the Red Wings, little matters worth discussing.  Yes the tripping call on Joel Ward was absurd, as was the blatant too many men (7) the Red Wings had that wasn't called; as was the high sticking call on Backstrom.  Also missed were several cross checks Orpik laid on Abdelkader and at least one corss check Abdelkader laid on Orpik; as were ... oh forget it, my point is yes the zebras were really bad, but they weren't biased, just bad.  In any case let's look for the good things, ..., ..., ..., okay other than yeah they played better last night than they played in Vancouver, I got nothin'.

Other notes I think are worth musing upon and mentioning:

Alexander Ovechkin - last evening,  Ovi had seven shots on goal, matching his total of the past four games, but did not have a point for a fifth straight game. Yes, it's the longest drought, in terms of points, of his NHL career to date, and yes he was "-2" on the night, as for that matter so was Backstrom.  Am I worried about Ovi's "production" - simply put, no, not at all.  What Ovi needs to get going again, is in my view simple, I'd put/keep 8 - 19 together, but if Trotz doesn't want to do that then at least pair him with a natural, fast skating, center - that would either Kuznetsov or Johannson.  I'm not sure what Trotz sees/fears that makes it so he's not paired Kuznetsov as a center with Ovechkin on any of the "Frakenlines" to date but pairing him with Burakovsky did not work last evening and I think that was for two reasons - a) Burakovsky, like Ovechkin is a natural wing, at least right now he is; and b) the third forward on the line needs to be faster than Ward if they are going to play the system the way it's meant to be played - all three guys coming into the zone pretty much "abreast" and sustaining a five man forecheck. My vote is a little more patience - across the board by Trotz and staff  (see: "Frankenlines" below) keeping 8 (Ovechkin) - 19 (Backstrom) as the core of the first line, and using either 16 (Fehr), 20 (Brouwer), or 43 (see: "Tom Wilson" below) at Right Wing on that line.

"Frankenlines":  I think I get why Trotz is so quick to shake up the forward lines - it's about developing a more complete confidence in the system so every one of the forwards on the team can and does really rely on and plays the system - every second of the entire game.  However, chemistry and even more-so timing are also important.  It seems to me, the system was meant to be played at as fast a tempo as the personnel on the ice at any given time can play it.  For that reason putting a noticeably slower cog onto a wheel with two other faster line-mates, does nothing from what I see than force all three of the forwards to slow their game.  Last night, particularly in the first 10:00 of the third period, that meant that instead of the Red Wings having to match speed with speed on the top two lines, they had more time to push and force the Caps play.  It was only about ~5:00 of the first 10:34 of the period that the Red Wings did that successfully but they were a disastrous 5 minutes of hockey for the Capitals.  I am ALL for accountability and I'm not suggesting we stick to line combinations through thick and thin, not at all.  I am suggesting there is a limit to the everybody in the lineup of forwards can play on any line and well with any other forward on the team; and that limit has been reached and exceeded.  The coaching staff needs to step back and look at footspeed in addition to a few other things and adjust their thinking about the line combinations.  The only "uneven" footspeed combinations that should even be considered the rest of this first half of the season, IMO, is 25 (Chimera) and 42 (Ward).

Tom Wilson - hopefully, last evening, Tom Wilson realized he got a chance to look across the ice and see the player Barry Trotz aspires for him to be.  That player wears number 8 for the Red Wings - Justin Abdelkader, who was the first star of the game when the final horn sounded.  Simply put, the Caps video team needs to take last night's game, especially the third period, and compile as much isolation video of Abdelkader's 17:44 TOI and just have Wilson watch it over, and over, ... and over - maybe even while he sleeps.  It's important for young players to have guys with similar skill levels/sets to look at and aspire to reach or exceed their accomplishments.  I think for Wilson, Abdelkader would be that role model.

Joel Ward - Ward has raised his game, a lot these past two outings and should be re"ward"ed - some PP time, yes; some more 5 on 5 minutes, yes; playing this system 5 on 5 with Ovi as his opposite wing, no.  Playing with Ovi at 5 on 5, Ward has the same issues as Brooks Laich (when healthy and confident), he just doesn't have the high gear footspeed to match Ovi when "the Gr8" puts it into overdrive.  On the powerplay this is not a factor as once the Caps are setup in the offensive zone, Ward hockey IQ, and grit mean he's anchored in/around the net and the Caps are already in the zone together.  In this system at five on five it means Ovi and the Caps faster centers need to slow their pace back to Ward's and that gives the opposing team the time they need to set up across the width of the blue line.  It just did not work last night nor will I think it work much against any other fairly good team.

Nate Schmidt: played very well last evening from what I could see despite finishing the night at - 1; he's had a pretty good season so far , though last night he played a little cautiously - no hits, no blocked shots.

Mike Green:  the games third star deservedly so had another monster evening.  Not on the scoresheet is the awesome backcheck he made to break up what would have been a 1 on 0 breakaway in the third period....

Braden Holtby: sure the assist on the Kuznetsov power play goal was cool, but for my druthers he had happy feet last night, a 0.818 SV% isn't going to win many games in this league, and which of the two - offensive points or SV% is he being paid for?  Bottom line he didn't make the saves he needed to make in the third period and that's as much a reason as any the Caps lost last evening, however it wasn't the only reason and it wasn't as bad a night for him as the just looking at the SV% numbers might lead you to believe.

Burakovsky & Kuznetsov:  Well Burakovsky did cough up the puck leading to Abdelkader's game tying goal but overall he continues to develop and look better and better every game.  If it wasn't Zetterberg, and it wasn't the third period with the Wings down by one goal, he might have gotten away with slightly over-handling the puck where he was.  For all that he had 13:35 of even strength TOI and was 83% in the faceoff circle and "even" on the night with an assist on Troy Brouwer's goal. Kuznetsov had 13:52 of even strength TOI; was 50% in the faceoff circle and scored his first goal of the season, he had an exceptionally solid night - the only time he was on the ice that the Captials were "victimized" was the final Datsyuk powerplay goal at 19:06 of the third period while he was on the PK unit.  Overall both players continue to develop exceptionally well and despite my earlier statements about Burakovsky not being the right venter to pair with Ovechin, that thought should ent with the word "yet" - he's not the right center to pair with Ovi "yet" because he needs more time paired with Wings who stay in their "lanes" more until he gets more comfortable in the Center position. 

O' Brien & Latta: Latta was 0 for 4 in the faceoff circle, uncharacteristic and something he needs to work on.  Other than that a solid evening for both these youngsters.  Clearly they wanted to make sure Coach Trotz's belief in keeping them here while sending Chris Brown to Hershey was the right  move, which I too agree with.  While they each had less than 8:00 TOI, they made their presence known and felt when they were put out onto the ice.

Brooks Orpik & Matt Niskanen:  Last evening was neither of these two off season pickups "best outing."  As I described in my recap, the Red Wings victimized Orpik just a little too easily.  Orpik and Abdelkader had a war on ice going all night and for the entire first two periods it was a stalemate and like watching two heavyweights go toe to toe.  In the third period, Abdelkader with the help of Zetterberg and Datsyuk used their speed to clearly win the bout in the late rounds.  You just know that Orpik is going to go watch the film of last night's third period and make whatever adjustments he can to try and make sure that never happens again.  I only hope he's only lost a quarter step over his career to date and can do so.  Niskanen's performance, like his entire game, was more sublime than Orpik's.  It's still unclear to me how they did it, but somehow the Red Wings managed to make it so, even though Niskanen had his usual 20:00 TOI he was ineffective.  Good teams do that and you can't have a monster game every night but last night Niskanen di not look like he was a force to be reckoned with, as he had in big games for Pittsburgh last season. 

Well next up Steven Stamkos and the Lightning in Tampa on Saturday.