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.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Looking Ahead to Game 9: Detroit Red Wings at Washington Capitals

Well Caps fans tonight at Verizon Center our Washington Capitals cross over  the 10% mark through the young 2014-2015 NHL Regular Season. 

The Caps and the Red Wings enter tonight's contest with identical 4-2-2 records (10 standings points).  Both teams are coming off road losses but should be rested and ready to play.  The Red Wings lost their last outing 4-2 to the Broad Street Bullies (aka Philadelphia Flyers) at Philadelphia's Wachovia Center on Saturday evening.  The Caps lost their last outing to the Canucks in Vancouver on Sunday 4-2.  Tonight's game should once again be a good measuring stick.  Will our Capitals play
the opposing team that's on the ice or will they play the reputation that Detroit has built over the past 25 seasons?  If the Caps play the opposing team on the ice, this should be a good, solid, hard fought game that they win.  If they decide to play the reputation of past seasons then the may as well not show up - #justsaying.  Both teams could really, really use an ROW - especially the Capitals who only have three to date. 

The keys to tonight's game is for the Caps are IMO:

  1. Return to form and play the system - limit the Red Wings to less than 30 SOG;
  2. Shot the puck more - especially our top two lines;
  3. Get in the Red Wings paint" and their goaltenders "grill" more than they have the past two games;
  4. A Save Percentage of 0.920+ for Holtby; and,
  5. Come out faster and harder on the puck in the first period than they have yet to do this game.

The keys to tonight's game for the Red Wings to get the Verizon Crowd behind them are:

  1. Play like gentlemen, realize the are the visiting team, lay down and politely give the Caps the two points we want and need.
  2. Look it's a long season, Babcock should save his stars for when he really needs them and give Datsyuk and Zetterberg a night off so they rest, after all neither is getting any younger.
  3. Be careful, very careful there is NO need for any Detroit skater to risk injury by getting into any Caps shooting lanes or blocking any shots, that "puck" thing is made of really, really hard rubber and it could hurt somebody.
  4. Remember the importance of helping our Swedes look really good.  Washington is a growing hockey market ad the Red Wing's Swedes should go out of their way to help Backstrom and Johansson look really good tonight.
  5. Prior to the game eat a really heavy, unhealthy meal, it's a long flight after the game and they'll all likely want to immediately catch some "Z'ssss" right after the game or on the flight, nothing helps you sleet better than a really heavy dinner.
Hope you weren't looking for anything too serious there - bottom line for the Red Wings is th old adage for road hockey - "play your game" - the basic keys for Detroit will be to try and dictate the pace and tenor of play.  It will be very important that the Caps don't let them especially during the first 40:00 of the game.

I'm not Peerless but my "prognostication" assuming the Caps execute on their keys 1-5 is: 

Capitals 3 - Red Wings 1


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Almost Young Guns ... Those Who Owe Bruce Boudreau A Big Thank You At Least

The Capitals just finished a road trip to Western Canada and don't have another game until Wednesday night here at Verizon Center against the Detroit Red Wings. Anytime the Caps travel westward or have a break in the Regular Season that usually gets me musing 'bout "hockey" things.  This time I've been thinking about the first season I decided the Capitals "rebuild" was definitely over.  That was basically 2010 when the Caps won the Presidents trophy finishing the 2009-2010 regular season
with 121 points.

Both the 2009 - 2010 and 2010 - 2011 Capitals were very solid teams, but they had several players who owe then Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau and/or GM George McPhee a big thank you for providing a platform/stage that allowed them a chance to shine and ultimately reach for a "pay day" in free agency.  This week's road trip to the Canadian West and it's games against Edmonton - current "home" for Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon who are two such players has prompted me to "muse" about several of the similar players as well.  Where are they?  How is their season going so far?  Where/how would they fit on the 2014-15 Capitals in Barry Trotz's system etc.  So lets start in Edmonton with Hendricks and Gordon.

Boyd Gordon is currently 31 and has played in the NHL for 10 seasons, he has career earnings of $13.4M.  In the 2009-10 season his salary was $800K.  His salary has steadily increased with each new contract since then, but he wasn't a solid "full season" NHL'er until after his stint with the Capitals where his skills as a backchecking forward were clearly understood and well documented.  Of all the guys on this list though I'd say he owes McPhee and Boudreau the least since he was originally drafted in 2002 though he did play for Boudreau in both the AHL and the NHL with a few years in between here in Washington under Glen Hanlon.  Gordon's current contract in Edmonton is the richest of his career to date - 3 seasons $3M/year, and his stint here in DC certainly helped him earn som solid dollars and respect throughout the NHL.

Matt Hendricks is currently 33 and has played in the NHL for 6 seasons, he has career earnings according to CapGeek of $7.425M. In the 2009-10 season his NHL salary was $500K when at 26 he played his first full season (56 games) for the Avalanche, in 2010-11 he joined the Capitals and played 77 games followed by 78 games in 2011-12.  He then played all 48 games in the shortened 2012-13 season before "cashing in" and joining Barry Trotz's Nashville Predators as a UFA for the 2013-14 season. Hendricks quickly became a fan favorite here in DC after Boudreau added him to the 2010-2011 team following GMGM getting him in a trade with the Avalanche.  Hendricks toiled in the AHL the majority of his career after graduating from Saint Cloud State in 2004 until breaking through with the 2009-2010 Avs but it was his stint here in DC under Boudreau that opened the leagues eyes to his value.  Hendy's currently in the first season of a two year deal in Edmonton that pays him $1.85M/year; without the chance Boudreau gave him to be  solid role player on that 2010-11 Capitals team its unlikely he'd have had a solid chance to make an NHL roster at age 27.

Mathieu Perreault:  After a breakout year last season under Boudreau playing with a likely first ballot all star, the affable 26 year old "MattyP", cashed in with a 3 year, $3M/year deal, joining the Winnipeg Jets. owes Bruce Boudreau the least of the players on this list, it's likely the undersized Perreault owes him the most.  After the 5'10" 185# Center had a less than spectacular 2012-13 season here in Washington, Gabby brought Perreault out to Anaheim for the 2013-14 season where he played 69 regular season and 11 playoff games. In the regular season he saw occasional first line time and notched 18 Goals and 25 assists; in the 11 playoff games he had 2 goals and 3 assists.  Additionally throughout the season he played "bigger" than he had at any point of his career. It was exposure and utilization that it's likely no other NHL coach but Bruce Boudreau would have ever given him, and he rose to the occasion, now's he's in the enviable position to more than double his $7.625M career earnings to date over the next three season.

David Steckel, the 32 year old Ohio State grad is currently playing in the AHL for the Anaheim Ducks affiliate, Norfolk Admirals.  However thanks in some degree to the opportunities that Boudreau and the Capitals gave him he was able to cash in on his success as a faceoff specialist and now has career earnings of $5.6M.  So far this season in 7 GP with the Admirals though he is not putting up good statistics and his prior four NHL seasons (2011-13 with Toronto and 2013-14 with the Ducks), the former Verizon fan favorite has not had an "easy go of it" nor has he been exceptionally productive.

Jeff Schultz: The 28 year old defenseman from Calgary has $15.365M of career earnings to date, most of which he should credit a single great season playing alongside Mike Green and being the NHL's +/- leader.  To that he has to give second order credit to Boudreau for having teams in 09-10 and 10-11 that were offensive behemoths.  Then you have to directly credit what is the product of GMGM's propensity for "1 Year too long and $1M too much" - which resulted in him being a compliance buyout.  He is currently playing for the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings on their AHL affiliate Manchester Monarchs after getting into 7 playoff games last spring on the Kings Cup winning run.

Well now it's time to go back to musing about the current Caps team and thinking about the upcoming game against the Red Wings...


Game 8: Quick Recap - Caps vs. Canucks In Vancouver, A "No" Point Night


The Capitals started play of the second of  back to back games in Vancouver less than 20 hours after they walked out of the visitor's dressing room in Calgary's Saddledome.  The Caps haven't had many easy games in Western Canada over the past couple seasons nor in the second games of back to backs so they needed us all rooting for them this past evening in Vancouver.  But without anyone rocking the red at Rogers Arena, the Caps started the game flat, that is all except for Goalie Justin Peters (thankfully.)

1st period: Caps came out slow, Canucks fast, lots of pucks to the net; Justin Peters up to the task; Caps first line flat. Canucks dominated first period out-shooting Caps 14 - 6 and owning the puck for stretches of 60+ seconds regularly. Only thing that kept Caps in the game in first was Justin Peters, he had several highlight reel saves including one at ~11:30 - where he robed Vey after Kuzya had a turnover in the high slot.  First period ended scoreless for either team though.

After luckily escaping the first period the Caps came out firing, Eric Fehr took the breakout pass from Carlson after the faceoff win by Backstrom buck was robbed by Ryan Miller.  The Caps then played the next 5+ minutes with a lot more energy and enthusiasm.  The Caps were working hard and outshot the Canucks 5-1 for the first 5:28 of the period until Marcus Johannson scored to put the Caps up 1-0 with assists from Bruakovsky and Green. Lots of ebb and flow till the 12:47 mark left when Peters robbed the Canucks again thankfully with another highlight reel save on a Canucks odd man rush.  Then the  Canucks kept up the pressure, got a power play where Henrik Sedin scored to tie the game at 1-1 at the 14:00 mark of the second period.  The Caps started to get things going till Joel Ward made an ill advised drop pass, the "flow" changed and the Caps got caught flat footed on a line change at 15:22 and Nick Bonino scored on a snapshot 2-1, Vancouver.  Then Luca Sbisa got down low 25 seconds later, pounded it top corner and put the Canucks up 3-1.  Then the fourth/energy line came out and Liam O'Brien got a redirect and put it top shelf behind Ryan Miller to get the Caps within 1 goal at 17:18; Canucks 3 - Caps 2.  That was the score when the second period ended while the Caps and Canucks were playing 4 on 4 hockey after Burkovsky got a holding penalty at 18:24 and then just about a minute later the Canucks got a bench minor for too many men on the ice.  The Caps were outshot in the second period 10-9 though they out hit the Canucks 9-5 and looked much better in the second period than the first but they needed to come out firing in the tird to make a game of it.

Caps came out strong in the third period but couldn't score, Miller robbed Brouwer at the 5:30 mark. Both teams played well and pretty evenly throughout the final stanza.  The Caps had a power play at the 9:05 mark of the period when Burrows was whistled off for interference but failed to score when Miller robbed Ovechkin and Carlson late in the man advantage. The game ended on a sour note for me as I thought the Canucks should have been called for holding against when he was pulled down on a breakaway but weren't and then Carlson got rightly called for delay of game with 1:38 left to play and Radim Vrbata scored an empty net goal to put the Canucks up 4-2 which is how the game ended.

Next up the Detroit Red Wings at Verizon Center on Wednesday.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Game 7: Caps At Flames, A Two Point Night; and a Few Other Blog/Hockey Musings

Well I've been back blogging pretty regularly and I guess thanks to a few links over at Japer's Rink I'm getting a fair amount of traffic, not bad for a fanboy blog, IMO.  In any case sorry for the last post/rant but as those who are Caps fans know, I wasn't the only person who avails themselves of these outlets to feel Glen Healy's comments were way over the top.

Before going over the recap of tonight's #CapsFlames and my thoughts on it a few other random
musings on the topic of hockey blogging.  When I started doing this blog in November 2007 there were a fair number of pretty good blogs out there and many like mine were independent.  Since that time a lot have been assembled into various outlets such as Japer's Rink and their affiliation with SB Nation, while other really, really awesome blogs like The Peerless Prognosticator have stayed "independent."  A few of the bloggers whose contribution to the hockey blogsphere inspired me regularly to add to the content out here on the interwebs in a manner I still aspire to have opted to "hang up their keyboards" and revert to their day jobs.  I myself certainly took a pretty solid hiatus from pretty much April 2012 until again in September, feeling I really had nothing to add to the conversation, and blogging had stopped being a place to release some of my creativity in a manner I enjoyed.  In any case it was with some trepidation that I decided to start doing so again a little over a month ago, so its really pleasurable to note that since I started blogging again I've had a fair amount of traffic and folks reading my blog and musings.  Hopefully it's as entertaining for people to read as it is for me to write again, and that remains the same for both you the reader and myself the writer.

Now to musings about this evening/morning's game in Calgary.  As most Caps fans know from various CSN comments, as well as a quick run through the Caps roster, any trip to and through Western Canada means more than a few Caps are likely to spend a chunk of change for friends and family coming to see them play nearer to their "ancestral homes" than at Verizon Center. In Edmonton, Jason Chimera and Braden Holtby were the ones, Chimera playing in his hometown and Holtby playing but a couple of hours from his in Lloydminster, SK; in Calgary, Mike Green and Jay Beagle are "home"; and when the team gets to Vancouver tomorrow, Troy Brouwer, and Karl Alzner will be playing in front of a number of family, and close friends form their youths.  Additionally, as I noted before this three game road trip though Western Canada is likely as good an early measuring stick as any for the Caps progress in adapting to the team's new system and their discipline in playing that system.  The game in Edmonton on Wednesday Evening was executed almost perfectly by the Caps in every way but one - the scoreboard. 

Last evening in Calgary, the Caps played a very good game both on the ice and on the scoreboard.

They came out strong in Calgary and though it took 11:17 for Joel Ward to score the Caps first goal on a powerplay that really wasn't looking very "awesome" to that point, the Caps did control the game through the entire first period.  Unfortunately the as the first period came to a close Dennis Wideman of the Flames tied the game with a PPG for the Flames at the 19:50 mark of the first stanza. The first period ended with the game tied 1-1 but with the momentum still really tilted the Capitals direction, IMO.

In the second period the Caps did cede some of the game's control to the Flames, however thanks once again to a goal by Joel Ward, this time a 5 on 5 goal at 5:41 of the period assisted by Michael Latta and Brooks Orpik.  Despite being pretty stymied by the Flames from mounting much other offense during the middle period, the Caps did not commit any glaring mistakes of their own and went into the final intermission leading the game 2-1 and playing smart, disciplined hockey.

The third period started just the way you wanted it to if you are a Caps fan.  The Capitals came out of the dressing room ready to play.  In fact just 41 seconds into the period, Nicklas Backstrom scored an even strength goal after a really crisp stretch pass from Karl Alzner sprung him on a 1-0 breakaway. Tonight Karl Alzner was clearly one of the best players on the ice as was Brooks Orpik who showed why he was sought after by the Capitals this off season. Another thing to note is while Ovechkin wasn't on the score sheet with any points, he was a force on the ice throughout the game.  His play when he doesn't have the puck just keeps getting better and better in this system, though he does need to go back to shooting the puck some more as he hasn't been as effective these past three games as he was during the first several of this young season.  Also in addition to Ward's scoring which merits mention in any recap of this game, rookies Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov also looked extremely solid tonight as did Nate Schmidt and Mike Green.  Finally, despite only facing 21 SOG, anytime Braden Holtby posts a 0.952 SV% the Capitals are going to be a very hard team to beat.

Next up the Caps take a quick hop over to Vancouver to take on the Canucks (4-3-0; 7 points, 0.572)at 6:30 PM PDT and 9:30PM EDT tonight. They will likely be facing a well rested Ryan Miller along with the rest of a hungry Vancouver lineup coming off a 7-3 loss in Denver on Friday evening.


Friday, October 24, 2014

If You Ever Wondered ...

Fall is in the air here in "Bucoulic Bristow" the leaves on the hardwoods are turning, sunny Saturday traffic on Westbound route 66 will be packed with cars heading to Skyline Drive to see the fall splendor tomorrow.

Oh and  wow, it only took six games for Hockey's "mainstream (lower case because of the following lower class examples) media" (MSM) to decide they want to continue to pummel on their made up idea that "Alexander Ovechkin is a stupid, coach killer."  See here.  Such tripe only continues to fuel my belief that since Hockey's MSM is filled with Canadians, who still apparently can't stomach the fact that Europeans and Russians can play their National Game too, 98+% of what they write (or is that "wright" or "rite" who knows, or they say on TV) is fueled by Hockey Xenophobia.  But hey why listen to his current coach, who has not been fired and has an Ovechkin led team playing 0.667 hockey, on pace for a 109 point season ( See Here)?  I mean wouldn't you rather listen to some guy who still craves the spotlight even though his on ice career is over or even worse is a "Never Was" let alone a "Used to Be".  I don't know why Healy, Krypos, or anyone else's comments get me "going" but they sure do so here's a couple of points to muse - backed by facts and real data instead of sensationalistic, bigoted adjectives and "bloviation":

A) Ovi's average shift time, as with the rest of the Capitals is shorter than ever - and it's a product as I see it of the new system that EVERYONE on the Capitals including the Captain, Alexander Ovechkin buys into.  Until I listened to Healy, I always thought "buying in" was a trait associated with being "coachable" though I admit and point out that is a "second order" relationship.  I offer the "Event Summary" from the Edmonton game and suggest if you or even better Glenn Healy before he spouts off inaccurate "stuff" again examine ANY of the other 5 games statistics of real data available for 2014-15 Season. If you don't want to go read it, in Edmonton Ovi played 22 shifts in the game with an average shift length including the 2:11 TOI he had on the PP of 53. 73 seconds.  Ovechkin's average shift length in every game so far this season has been tracking, similar and shorter than the other two forwards on his line (Backstrom and either Fehr or Brouwer) throughout the season. Further reinforcing evidence to me that he is indeed playing the system as desired by his coaches.  The only difference on this last game is Ovi only had 2 SOG and 5 attempts vice more in earlier games.  Of course a guy who's shooting percentage so far this season is markedly higher than it has been over his earlier career, might be also changing where he shoots from.  Also, how many SOG he takes when he isn't in those higher percentage areas might also be lower, of course that's just speculation on my part, and probably NOT something a "dumb" player with awards like a Hart Trophy would think to do.....

B) As far as loosing the room and/or other reasons why either Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, or Adam Oates were replaced as Caps coach, sure the easy thing to do is point to Ovi's big contract and role as Captain and say he's the reason.  However, as a guy who's been focused on the Capitals through Ovechkin's entire career to date I feel otherwise and point to the following:
  1. Glen Hanlon:  Hanlon was replaced in November 2007,  Ovehkin's current contract was signed in January 2008.  While some could say perhaps Ovi was the reason Hanlon was fired and the driver is/was Ovi's current contract, to me at best that's a third order relationship.  Perhaps Ovi then playing under his entry level contract, and his team of advisors that does include his Mother (a two time Gold Medalist and former Commissioner of a women's pro basketball league, who probably knows something about winning formulae,  was saying that among other things he did not think Hanlon didn't seem to be the coach to reach that level, but clearly there were other things they wanted before hitching Alex's star to the Capitals for what was likely his entire career. Further there were a lot of other current and former players who had issues with Hanlon's playing not to loose system.
  2. Bruce Boudreau:  Come on?  All on Ovi?  Really if you feel that you really didn't follow the Capitals.  I agree that letting Boudreau go wasn't a smart move or answer to the Caps woes when it happened, but he had lost over "half" the room if I can read between the line.  I'll also agree that Ovi was indeed one of the guys Boudreau lost.  I don't know why but I'll guess that Boudreau wanted to change up his system slightly - a system that in the regular season had frankly served Boudreau, Ovechkin and the entire team well, and Ovechkin was saying Hey, Coach Why Mess With Success? Instead of okay lets tweak things.  That said I'll bet just as Trotz's "leadership group" is a way for him to manage things and different, and Ovi is clearly responding differently to things like this now, Boudreau handled things like this differently since he arrived in Anaheim. So I guess I am saying I agree if you want to say Alexander Ovechkin is one of the reasons Boudreau was fired but he wasn't the only reason.
  3. Dale Hunter: Again come on.  Hunter wasn't the right guy.  He is like a King and Dictator in London and he likes it that way.  He was never going to be happy in the NHL as a coach.  As soon as he realized it was going to take a couple of years to get the Stanley Cup as a Coach he was going to insist whoever was GM do things his way as much as he was going to tell his star player, especially a non-North American player to shut up, sit down, and block shots first and foremost.  I'm betting the entire room, except for a few of the guys who played for him in London, grimaced every time he talked to them in front of his "Fathead" at KCI.  Total transparency here - I am not a lifelong Capitals fan and based on what he did in 1993 and I could never fault any hockey player for having trouble respecting the guy who did this. No to me Ovechkin wasn't the reason Hunter isn't the coach today - I'm betting he asked for some aspect of control, driven by his ego, that neither Leonsis or McPhee wanted to give a guy capable of being that out of control.
  4. Adam Oates:  Look Oates is a Hall of Famer and in his first half of season as Caps coach I think him moving Ovi to right wing worked for both of them and made Ovi a better player so how does that make Ovechkin "uncoachable"? Bottom line is the way last season ended lost Oates and McPhee their jobs and put this entire team, including Ovechkin, "on probation." Anyone who thinks, says, or writes otherwise is NOT looking at the big picture.  Clearly from the off-season moves the Capitals ORGANIZATION realized the blueline needed more focus, both in the system being played AND the personnel playing it.  Further a decision seems to have also been made, rightly so, IMO, that a winning team in the post season needed to play more of a "Western Conference" type game and say what you will but to me, Oates' system was more an Eastern Conference, tweaked New Jersey Devils approach to hockey than Trotz brings from his long tenure in "Smashville."  Finally post season comments by guys that include very stoic, clearly team players like Karl Alzner make me believe a LOT of post season discussions between ownership and players would have only further solidified a belief it was time for a change in both the GM AND the coaches offices here in DC.
C) Dumb? Not the sharpest knife in the drawer"?  "his mommy negotiated his contract and that's dumb" or any similar backhanded implication of such - come on.  Okay, Ovi never "gradiated" from a prestigious North American University like Western Michigan University like Healy did. Nor did he create any sort of on air in depth analysis segment, like Healy that highlights good players having bad games. I mean coming up with something like that requires deep thinking, after all it is the hockey media's equivalent of a movie like "Jacka$$", and no doubt requires a really smart creative guy to come up with something as intellectually stimulating as his TSN segments were/are. But Ovi did avoid paying 10% to someone outside his true inner circle to negotiate a contract, that at the time was the richest ever negotiated in NHL history.  He does have numerous endorsement deals worldwide that help he and others in the hockey world raise awareness for what is, world-wide, a niche sport.  He is bilingual, though it did take several years for him to be so and he still talks with pretty deep Russian accent. How well do you think Healy, Krypos, or any of these other MSM geniuses speak a second language? I know Ovi's English is a lot, lot better than my Russian, or my German, or my Spanish....

Healy played 15 NHL seasons and 437 NHL games as a NHL goaltender and managed a career 0.888 SV% a 3.37 GAA and 166 wins.  Contrast that to Ovi's career to date 9 NHL seasons, 678 games played, 422 goals, 392 assists, 3 World Championships (+ a silver and 2 bronzes) and yes NO Stanley Cups or Olympic Gold Medals, yet. Also Six (6) time first team and three (3) time second team NHL All Star; Calder Trophy, Hart Trophy (MVP) - 3X;  Art Ross Trophy (2008) and Richard Trophy (four times). Why not buy into Healy's assessments, ignore Ovechkin's current coach's recent statements and the basic facts/contrast of between a long tenured, "average" former NHL player, and one of it's current superstars?  Could this just not be a guy like Healy frustrated that a Non-Canadian like Ovi has kids in Edmonton lining up for his autograph and wearing his Jersey and number while often the only guys from Healy's era they remember or have heard about are truly generational players like Gretzky, Messier, etc? Of course, me I disagree with Healy's assessment of Ovechkin and look at him, as I do Crosby, as one of those generational players and start, who I have the pleasure of watching play at least 82 games a season.

 Of course the most ridiculous thing to note is that in spite of all the trash the SI NHL beat writers spew about Ovechkin, he was selected by them as "NHL Player of the Year" in 2013, I'm pretty sure that's the season they now say he was a coach killer to Boudreau and Hunter, showing just what jokes they are as hockey writers, at least to me.  And who is the dumb one?  I mean isn't it "dumb" to contradict yourselves so loudly and vociferously as they seem to do? Wouldn't a "smart" person, say one with a degree from such a prestigious university as Western Michigan (which ranks academically as 181 per US News and World Report) at least know when to research things and use facts accurately in a debate?  I mean even I know there's these things called the Internet and fancy search engines like "Google" to find out actual facts and statistics to use to confirm or refute my suspicions.  Then in a debate in front of millions I might actually only use those arguments that are substantiated by facts, I'm pretty sure it was news to Barry Trotz that with a 2-1-2 record he'd been fired this week. Finally yes Ovi's Mother is his agent, per say.  Her qualifications - two gold medals in Olympic basketball, and she was the head of a  Professional Basketball League and his father was a professional soccer player. So I'm pretty sure when he and they decided they didn't need some former hockey player, likely Canadian, or otherwise or an American or Canadian Lawyer to negotiate his contract with Ted Leonsis, they knew what they were doing. In retrospect, it looks to me like they had about 12.5 Million reasons to go the way they did - and for my money only a stupid person would ignore that many reasons to do something.

Sure, when a team doesn't succeed and that gets a coach fired every player, particularly the leading players in the lineup bear some of the blame.  But when you read the SI article how can you ever wonder why Ovechkin, or any similar athlete say, when they are being honest, they really don't care and CANNOT care what media, has beens, used to bes or never could bes, say?  Also and this is me talking, how can you conclude anything other than these guys i) have some kind of ax to grind, ii) write/say things that are intentionally sensationalistic to garner attention, and iii) SI is the worst place to read anything about Hockey.

Next up for Trotz and his un-coachable Captain - the Flames tomorrow evening in Calgary.  I can't wait to hear the commentary from guys like Healy and Krypos after that game, regardless of the results or facts. Sorry for the rant I hope you at least found it entertaining, this fanboy, just had to get it off his chest.

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

When Will We Caps Fans Be Able To Decide This Is Going To Be A Good Season

So on Sunday Morning I started thinking about the answer to the question "when can I start to comfortably feel this Capitals team might be on track to have a good season and 'go deep" into the playoffs?"  I mean they are off to their best start to a season in several years and are playing harder on the puck than really the past four (4+) seasons, so that prompted me to think about this.

My first thought on the answer was ... well the season has to be at least 20% played out so that would be after game 17 - which occurs Saturday, November 15th in Saint Louis against the Blues.  So by that time the Caps will have played ten home games and seven road games; of the 17 games nine (9) will have been against 2014 playoff teams, and seven will have been against Western Conference teams.  That seems to be getting close to enough games to make a good estimation as to how the rest of the season will go for the Capitals, but just to be safe I'd say a few more games might be the conservative way to go before getting confident.  So since the remainder of the month of November's games after the game in Saint Louis on the 15th are six (6) more games that include two (2) games against Western Conference opponents (Arizona and Colorado) and a home and home against the Metropolitan Division Islanders who are playing exceptionally well so far this season, I've decided to wait until after game 23 on Saturday, November 29th in Toronto. 

In many ways that's being exceptionally conservative from a statistical significance perspective, but in a league at this level, where on any given evening any team can beat any other team; and injuries can drastically change how one lineup stacks up against any other team, I think that's the smart thing to do.  Also consider that right now nine (9) of the sixteen Eastern Conference teams are playing 0.600 or better hockey and IMO it's only a matter of time before the Bruins join that group and make it ten (10) before "regression to the norm" starts to pull some of those teams down to the 0.500 +/- level and "the bubble."  While I don't agree many pundits think the Caps will be one of those teams that regresses.  Certainly after the month of November, a 14 game month for the Caps, is behind them and they've played more than 25% of the season we can legitimately decide if the typical level of play of the 2014-15 Capitals can and will continue to be markedly better than the 2013-14 team.  That will especially be true with the understanding that by the end of November the Capitals will have played nine (9) of those games against six (6) different Western Conference teams, and right now there are six (6) teams who are playing 0.750 or better hockey. 

All that said with the Caps heading out west this week for three (3) games in four days against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, this road trip will be an important week in further solidifying the team's resurgence.  While every game can in some way be looked at as a measuring stick, three road games in four days are never an easy trip.  For my "money" success in these next three games is any combination of results that equals four (4) or more standings points.  While first up Edmonton is one of only two teams in the league without a two point win so far in this young season, they have some young, elite talent, and two former Caps with "grit" Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon who turned 31 years old on Sunday so I don't expect the Oilers to be an easy two points for the Capitals.  Then we have the Calgary Flames on Saturday evening in the Calgary.  The Flames are playing 0.500+ hockey, just finished up a six (6) game road trip with a solid game in Winnipeg and will, like Florida was on this past Saturday evening, be a team that comes at the Capitals with a gritty game, solid defense and  sound goaltending.  That said the Flames will likely have Jonas Hiller vice Kari Rammo in net if they look at past results as a predictor of future/present performance.  Still my point is Calgary will also not be an easy game for the Capitals.  Then Sunday it's the Canucks in Vancouver who are one of those Western Conference Tams playing better than 0.700 hockey - 'nuff said.

So looking forward to Wednesday's game at Edmonton one can probably see from above why getting the season off to a good start is important and much better than getting off to a sluggish, mediocre start that inevitably leads on to "life on the bubble" in January through April.  In the meantime I'll close this musing with my usual sentiment.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Game 5: A Two Point Night - Caps 2, Panthers 1 (SO)

Well after five games at the start of the season, the Capitals are 3-0-2.  My initial reaction remains, anytime during the regular season you can end the night with at least one point, that's a good thing. 

As has been said elsewhere, last evening's win was a bit of an ugly win.  As with the Canadiens game, while the Capitals were dominant throughout the first period, and in last night's case also pretty much all of the second, they were unable to get that second goal. Brooks Laich almost got it for them in what for my money was his best game of the young season, but he redirected it under the crossbar behind Al Montoya with a stick that when you see the replay was clearly above the top of the net. 

While Montoya did give up some rebounds, he and the Panthers were able to recover and keep the puck out of the Panthers net.  This gave the Panthers a chance to revert to the dreaded trap, play "not to lose" in the third period, and hope the Caps made a mistake to let them back in the game to steal a point or even better yet two for the night.  That seemed like it might happen when they got a power play goal from Brad Boyes early in the third period.  Fortunately this team, this coaching staff, this system, and the confidence they have in both each other's abilities and the system's inherent strengths make that a lot less likely this team will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory than it has been  for a couple of seasons.  Other than one pretty weak call on a retaliation that was pretty weak, and as they all are - foolish, by Jason Chimera, the Caps did little wrong to make sure they didn't beat themselves.  Also Chimera redeemed himself, knowing his new coach wasn't going to be pleased with the penalty he took, came out of the box skating fast and smart and drew a penalty of his own that gave the Caps their only full 2:00 powerplay of the game.  Unfortunately the Caps did not convert that opportunity to a 2-1 lead but at least it seemed to get them back on track and playing smart for the last ~5:00 of the third period. 

I'll only make this comment about the officiating last night - I thought the officiating was pretty bad, and the game was not consistently called through the full 60:00 or did the rules seem to be the same for both teams - 'nuff said on that point.  The good news is this Capitals team doesn't seem to care about or get distracted by things like that much at all.

Some comments on individual performances last night:

Justin Peters - AWESOME game;

Al Montoya (Panthers) - Very good game;

Alexander Ovechkin - Good game - also nice to see him out there occasionally on the penalty kill and one of those PK shifts was probably his best of the evening;

Evgeny Kuznetsov - Very good game, nice to see you getting more ice time, though not really happy about the reason since....

Brooks Laich - Best game of this young season for Laich so fair, hope the injury is minor, he recovers soon, and keeps up the confidence to go to the harder areas on the ice like he did last evening - the Caps need him to do that (play more like he did last night and less like he did the first four games of the season, a manner I'd characterize as "tentatively.")

Andre Burakovsky - Good game, he keeps getting better every game and over the next two years he'll only grow and get stronger which is really something to look forward to.

Jason Chimera - good game, netting his first goal of the season and looking better and better as a line with 16 and 42.  Fehr's setup of Chimmer for the goal was masterful and gave Chimmer pretty much all day to convert his primary assist.  Ward was solid the entire game and in addition to good five on five play with 16 and 25, had a couple of pretty neat shifts on the PK.

The entire Capitals group of Blue Liners had a good game - at both ends of the ice. I can and would only say good things about all six of them.  I am really, really loving the fact the team now has the ability to put any one of three defense pairing out on the ice with confidence they can and will deliver.

Marcus Johansson - another really good game he and Burakovsky are really "gelling" well as a line pair regardless of who the third that is paired with them.  Marcus is skating more confidently, shooting more and playing harder on the puck than he has ever before (IMO.)  That combined with his natural speed, playmaking ability, and creativity - along with being in a role where he is counted on to bring that to a forward line without Backstrom or Ovechkin, seemingly has been a good stimuli to push the young Swede's game up half a level or so.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Fleischmann - if the Panthers are to finish this season with more than 78 points, these two guys need to be more visible and more noticeable on the ice and one the post game "event summary." On a whole, despite shuffling their lineup and adding some solid veterans like Shawn Thorton, Brad Boyes, and Willie Mitchell, the truth is this game shouldn't have even been close.  Through the first 30:00+ minutes of regulations, there were lots of times the Capitals looked like they were the only NHL level team on the ice, dominating play for literally multiple consecutive shifts. That failure to get the "second goal" in a game like this (or against the Canadiens) is still something the Capitals need to work on.  However, two ugly points in October is still two points in April so I'm glad the Caps were able to gut it out and win the gimmick round, also even though I hate the "sudden victory shootout" I will comment that Ovechkin's shootout goal was "sick" though not unbelievable.

Next up a swing through Western Canada and games in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver starting Wednesday against the Oilers.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Caps Are 2-0-2; Playing 0.750 Hockey; and On Pace For a 100+ Point Season

The Capitals have started the season right, playing four games against 3 playoff teams and getting at least a point a game.  That's a good thing, as is the fact that four Caps skaters - Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, and Mike Green are on pace for 100+ point seasons just like the team on which they are members. So lets take a look at a brief recap of the Capitals first four games along with how the team and their "simple" vice "fancy" statistics are looking so far.

Game 1: Canadiens 2 - Capitals 1 (SO), a 1 point night.

Opening night at Verizon Center and while a good game, Caps fans left 7th and F Streets dissapointed. Unfortunately the Caps did not get a win in their 40th NHL home opener. Rather the stories of the night were solid performances by two rookies.  Canadiens rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski made 29 saves on 30 shots against through 65:00 of play and 'one more' save than Caps goalie Braden Holtby in the "gimmick" to get his team two points.  Caps rookie Andre Burakovsky got his first NHL regular season goal in his first NHL game and while failing to score in the shootout, the 19 year old had a great first game in what I believe will be a long and productive, likley notable NHL career. 

The story to me really was Tokarski, the Caps came out and dominated Montreal through the entire first period outshooting the Habs 15-2 and Tokarski stopped a several great scoring chances by the Capitals to keep it a one goal game until Montreal finally got one by Barden Holtby at 10:31 of the third period. Also as is often said a teams best penalty killer has to be it's goalie and - "That's where we lost the game is in the first," Trotz said. "We scored the first goal and then we had to back-to-back-to-back power plays and we had a chance to really take the game over. They were sort of hanging on and we really needed that second goal. We couldn't get it." Enough on the slightly disappointing home opener.

Game 2: Capitals 4 - Bruins 0, a 2 point night.

The first road game of the season led to a first road win, these two points were driven and delivered to the Caps by the goalie - Braden Holtby was spectacular at times, while he made all the saves you'd expect him to, he made several that were "highlight reel worthy. The team Captain, led by example - the Great8 Alexander Ovechkin was great with a 2 goal night, not an unusual feat for him, but even more notably and important, to me he played a 200 foot game for 60:00 with more enthusiasm and joy then I think I've seen him play in a while.  He wouldn't take "no" for an answer from anybody and he was both playing with intensity, and responsibly as a team Captain should buth seemed to be having fun doing it.

Who doesn't love it when "your team" gets a shutout of a division opponent in their barn, it's hard to be anything but effusive or say anything too reflective after a result like that, but hey why not try.  As I mentioned above to me the great story here was Ovechkin being the Ovechkin we've come to know and love through his early career - two goals, one on the powerplay and one 5 on 5 to start his season's scoring.  Another good story (if not great) is it was Mike Green's first game in the lineup and he scored a PPG and 19 year old Andre Burakovsky had another excellent game with two assists, as did Nicklas Backstrom.  Green's return also was the fuel the Caps second powerplay unit needed to enable the Capitals to put out two different PP units that had ten skaters, any one of which, could be the one to find the back of the net.  Something that should make nights like the home opener loss against the Canadiens where the Caps power play didn't produce when given the chance(s) few and far between.

As far as the team developing and "everyone" buying in to Trotz's system, I really liked this Trotz quote after the game on Ovechkin: “He’s playing good offensively, as you saw tonight,” Trotz said. “He’s shooting pucks, he’s scoring goals, but I’m really happy with him. The other part of his game is really good. He’s committed on the walls, he’s committed defensively, he’s just skating. He’s actually really fun to watch now again which is exciting for me, but it’s really got to be exciting for him because he’s one of the best players on the planet.”

Game 3: Sharks 6 - Capitals 5 (SO), a 1 point night.

To me this was the game the Caps needed, even though they only got one point out of it.  The first period ended with the Sharks up 3 - 0, so perhaps you might be tempted to say the Caps "stole" a point in this game.  To any statement like that I'd had to respectfully disagree, because the Caps got back in this game by sticking with their system and playing hard the rest of the game; in other words, this was to use a cliche' - a "charachter game." A BIG TIME "charachter game."  Another two goal night (one 5 on 5 and one PPG) for Ovechkin; a PPG to start Marcus Johansson's season scoring; a 5 on 5 goal by Mike Green to get his second of the season; a great 5 on 5 effort and goal by Troy Brouwer at 15:25 of the third period to tie the game completed the comeback and pushed the game into OT.  Unfortunately the Caps couldn't "finish it" off and get the second point in either the five minute OT or the shootout.  However there was a lot the Caps could be proud of in the second and third period and take forward with them for the rest of this season though it's early.  I like the Marcus Johansson quote after the game:

"We knew they were going to do it and I just think we let them," Johansson said of the Sharks' first-period dominance. "They came out hard and we didn't push back and I think that's what got them those early goals. It's tough to come back from three goals behind, but I think we did a great job of doing that. That start cost us the two points. In the long run, that can cost us a lot, but I think we've got to bring the last two periods of the game with us and keep working off that because we played great and worked really hard and that's what we need."

Game 4: Devils 2 - Capitals 6, a 2 point night.
In a game the Caps never trailed (Ovechkin scored his fifth goal of the season, 5 on 5, just 34 seconds into the game) with the first period ending in a 2-2 tie, the Caps showed they understood what its going to take to put opposing teams who play hard on the puck away.  That's being harder on the puck, playing a 200 foot game, and playing with intensity for all 60:00.

Post game notables, in my view:

A)Five (5) of the Capitals 6 goals were five on five and the fact they came out in the second period and "got better" than they played in the first are key things.  That along with the fact the powerplay was 20% (1 for 5) while the PK "batted 1.000" making it hard for the Devils, despite having three chances, to generate any momemntum while playing on the road.
B) A great "bounce back" game by Braden Holtby in goal after a "rocky" first period against the Sharks, in game three was also excellent to see. As Trotz said after the game: "Braden Holtby was really good in the first," Trotz said. "They could've put a couple of goals on us and he made some big saves at key times when the game was 2-2. Up 3-2, he made a big save. That's what good goaltenders do. They give you the timely saves."

C)Once again the Caps played a 60:00 - 200 foot game; oh, and who said Barry Trotz was a "defensive coach"?  I think we are seeing a more aggressive style of play and game than we've seen since Bruce Boudreau left town - yes the Caps are a defense first team when you look at the "little things" now (the "devil" is in those details) but they are virtually always pressing forward during a game as soon, as often, and as much as they can.  The result? An average of of 4.0 goals for per game (GFG) versus 2.5 goals against and scoring up and down the lineup - so far everyone on the roster with the exception of Jason Chimera, Nate Schmidt, Jack Hillen and Michael Latta have a point or more, and Hillen and Latta have not played in all four games.  I am surprised Chimmer is still looking for his first goal or assist as he has been flying and playing well in all four games I've watched, his points will no doubt come - perhaps when he and Ward get the center between them who adds to their chemistry? Schmidt is playing his role on the team and with three (3) SOG with an ATOI of 14:38 per game Schmidt's points will come - he has a very heavy shot from the point and with the traffic the forwards are generating even though he doesn''t take many SOG, I think he will get at least a couple points and get off the scheid soon.  Latta has nly played in two games for a total of 14:02 TOI, and his major role and value right now seem to be his 75% face off win percentage.  However he drive the net hard and when the time comes that he is needed and given the opportunities I'm thinking he'll respond - I love his game.  Jack Hillen has only played one game and when Orlov returns from IR he's either number eight (8) or nine (9) on the depth chart so I'm not sure he'll get too many more games in a Caps sweater.

All in all to me Matt Niskanen's post game quote below sums up how the season is shaping up so far for our Washington Capitals and I remain very optimistic about what this team can and WILL do this season.

"It's early in the year. A lot can change, but two points is two points. They're in the bank now," Niskanen said. "Things that felt good for us [are] the process of how we want to play and who we're going to be. You saw at times even tonight, where we weren't that detailed and we weren't that good and they had some good looks and Holtby had to bail us out, keep it tight, then we got to what our game should look like and we had good success. That's encouraging. Hopefully guys can believe in it now."

A couple of "notes" and thoughts on the team so far this season worth looking at and thinking "on" IMO:

1) Time On Ice:  The team's average TOI (Time On Ice) leader so far is, perhaps surprisingly to many, Matt Niskanen with an average of 23:42 per game played (and an average of ~0:51 secs & 28.3 shifts/game); thats pretty low especially since its despite the fact he's played in all four games so far including two that were 65:00 (vice 60:00).  Think about it, the league leader is Duncan Kieth with a total of 28:18 per game (and 00:51.46 per shift). The Capitals forwards average TOI/game leader is Nicklas Backstrom at 20:57/game (followed closely by Alexander Ovechkin at 20:33/game (24.8 shifts/game, 49.72 seconds/shift). Compare that to the league leader Steven Stamkos with 21:31 and 23 shifts/game. Before the season started I indicated I thought one of the hallmarks to watch and a key to what I thought the system changes Barry Trotz and staff would put in place would involve had to do with ice time and shift length. I truly believe that to play the game/system Trotz preaches and teaches requires a lot more energy than the system either Oates or Hunter wanted to play.  I think to do that well you need more, shorter shifts up and down the line up.  These stats seem to confirm that, as well as the buy in, and the intensity the team plays the system both comes from and is fueled by (both mentally and physically) the shorter shifts and more logically distributed TOI up and down the lineup.   length.  So far it seems to be playing out that way.  Shorter, more intensly played shifts and more "logical" distribution of ice time, particularly 5 on 5 ice time are evident in the statistical recaps from each of the first four games of the season.  By "more logical" I mean you can see/coorelate ice time to depth chart location for each of the forward lines and defensive pairings.  Also the ice time spread is not in anyway glarringly diproportinate for any individual on the Capitals - they are playing a "team game" in that regard, rolling four lines and all three parings whenever possible. (No Dan Girardis or Duncan Kieths on this team/in this system - at least so far.)

2) 20.8% - that's Alexander Ovechkin's shooting percentage so far this season.  That more than anything tells me he's bought in to Barry Trotz's system and is both playing that system harder on the puck than he has in a couple of seasons, and he's skating to and shooting from the higher percentage areas that system intends for him to get to and shoot from.  I mentioned earlier that the changes Trotz's system has over the last aggressive system the Caps played under Bruce Boudreau are subtle and sublime and to me they are. Whether it's noticing that at the end of a powerplay, the second unit is on the ice and Matt Niskanen drops 10 feet back from the offensive blue line so making a quick breakout pass to an opponent exiting the sin bin is more than "a little hard"; or it's noticing that in five on five play the forecheck is different than under Oates - it's a two man forecheck and it's in many ways a simpler system where if you have any room to drive towards the low slot every forward regardless of who they are does, these sublime details are how you know this entire team has bought in.  Ovechkin's shooting percentage while still averaging 6 SOG/game are the result of him "buying in" and playing this system - it's a statistic that you can watch to validate any belief you ight have in the star's positive statements on his new coach and the system as it's in many ways directly tied to where he will be when he is playing without the puck in the offensive zone. The fact it lets him play the game to his strengths and have fun being Ovechkin is the gravy, the results, including being the Captain of a winning team is the steak that will continually reinforce his buy in to this system; of course, I don't expect many, if any of the NHL main stream media journalists to notice or change their mantras on our team's Captain any time soon. In fact look at the "ice tracker" on NHL game center and where the Caps are shooting from this season and you're likely to see what I'm talking about pretty easily from the display of where the Caps' SOG are being taken from.

3) Pleasant surprises - i.e. "the new guys" Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, O'Brien, Orpik and Niskanen.

While Evgeny Kuznetsov might not be a surprise, his transition onto the team in this regular season has seemed to go smoothly and with each game he seems to get more and more "comfortable" with the NHL/North American Game. With each game his number of shifts/game and his TOI rightfully is increased.  With each shift on the powerplay in game situations he gets more dangerous as the playmaker/quarterback of the Caps' second powerplay unit.  All good things since at least so far this season Brooks Laich hasn't found his stride in 5 on 5 play and seems tentative regardless whether he is on the wing or playing pivot on the second and third lines.  Kuznetsov's versatility and quiet, solid work ethic playing 200 foot hockey as the fourth line center is somewhat a pleasant surprise to me.

Andre Burakovsky is a great story and of course a pleasant surprise, at least to me.  Anytime a ninteen (19) year old can come onto any NHL team and clearly deserve a roster spot in every game he plays, that's a pleasant surprise, at least to me.  "Bura" is a surprise, especially playing ceneter for the first time in his career.  He, along with Kuznetsov, hold the answer to the Capitals' second line center questions.  The 19 year old is averaging 20 shifts and 13:59 TOI per game; and with 5 points (2 G, 3A) is currently the Caps third leading scorer.  Hopefully he won't wake up and realize playing in the NHL is "really hard" until sometime in late June 2015.

Liam O'Brien - everyone's pleasant surprise, undrafted, came to camp unsigned. Yet here after four regular season games played has earned his sweater and shown he's deserved it every second of the 26:04 he's been on the ice so far this season. O'Brien is still in quest of his first NHL regular season point but he's +2 and he's played well, IMO.  To me his best game so far was the Boston game.  I'm really rooting for this kid - how can anyone not?

Matt Niskanen - the pleasant surprise is so far to me, he's even better than I thought he was/would be in a Capitals' sweater. Look we all knew he was good, but nobody on this team's blueline puts the puck on net faster from the offensive blueline from what I've seen.  That's another pleasant surprise because it seems to be helping the team's five on five play improve in ways I didn't anticipate.  Niskanen is currently the team's ice time leader and that is deservedly so. 

Brooks Orpik - my pleasant surprise(s) with Orpik are several.  i) I'm pleasantly surprised how much I enjoy watching him play and how he plays in this system.  ii) I am surprised, pleasantly, just how much Orpik helps the Caps penalty kill effectively, and how good he is at playing the PK. iii) I am pleasantly surprised at how fast, when he needs to do so, Orpik can and does get back in proper position. and iv) I am surprised at how good his hockey sense and IQ is - how else do you explain a guy with 0 SOG having 2 assists in 4 games played.  Right now he's on pace for a 40+ point season - last season only eight (8) defensemen had 40 or more assists. Think about that the next time someone tells you they are "positive" the Caps overpaid for him.

In the meantime, next up are the  Florida Panthers at Verizon Center at 7:00 PM tonight.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Game 2: Caps Blank Bruins 4-0 In Boston

Well last evening's time watching the Capitals was much more what I was hoping for than the twitter feed vigil I spent on Thursday evening while out of town on business.  Lots of what I was hoping the Caps would be and do under the Barry Trotz coaching regime was in evidence.  The end result was better than I was hoping for as well and that was because Braden Holtby was spectacular last evening else this would have been a different game, one that would have seen the second period start with the Caps up 2-1 at best.  But there is no reason to even go there as Holtby blanked the Bruins even if it did require not one but two highlight reel saves to do it.  So lets get to the things I saw that I really liked.

1) A balanced defense 5 on 5.  As Peerless said over at Japer's Rink and I can say no better:

"Even-strength ice time was parceled out relatively evenly among the top five defensemen, ranging from 15:30 (Green) to 17:19 (Brooks Orpik). Spreading ice time among the three pairs like that (Nate Schmidt was sixth in this group with 13:55) was not something the Caps could do to good effect last season."

In earlier posts this season I highlighted how great a thing this would be - having three pairs of defensemen that the Caps could put on the ice any time in a game without worrying much about matchups to either their own lines or the opponents on the ice with them.  Last night I saw that for the first time in a regular season game.  Unfortunately what we saw doesn't bode well Jack Hillen or John Erskine as far as for either seeing much ice time this season.  What we saw that worked was a FAST and PHYSICAL body of work by all three pairs of Capital Defensemen.  My view is what we've seen in the last two seasons from Erskine likely isn't fast enough and so far Hillen hasn't been either physical or durable enough to  stay in a lineup that plays this game.  However we are seeing that Brooks Orpik is still fast enough to play this game and what he's brought to the Capitals Penalty Kill unit is, IMO, at least enough a part of its success so far this season to be worthy of mention.  Matt Niskanen's play is sublime and clearly the addition of both 2 and 44 are providing the relief that 27, 52, and 74 needed to enable them to play the game better than ever.  And while were on that point, the return of Mike Green to the lineup added significant Octane to the second power play unit but more on that later.

2) Rolling  4 lines.  Look at the TOI numbers on the Event Summary and what do you see.  Forwards even strength ice time ranges from a high of 15:13 (The Gr8: Alex Ovechkin) to a low of 06:12 (23 YO Michael Latta in his first game back from IR).  Take Latta and Liam O'Brian out of the mix and only two other forwards had less than 10:00 of even strength ice time:  NHL Rookies Andre Burakovsky (08:44) and Evgeni Kuznetsov (9:25) but both also had 1:44 of power play time and points on the scorecard.  Burakovsky had two assists on the night and Kuznetsov had one assist on the night.  These number are much different than game one's TOI distribution both up front with the forwards and back on the blue line.  In my view this bodes very well for the Capitals through the season, 82 games is a long haul and this kind of more even TOI distribution should help everyone on the team have a better, longer, healthier season.  That's more important than ever given the tempo of play this system demands through the entire 60 minutes of play.

3) Two for Four on the Power Play; four for four on the Penalty Kill.  Last season the Caps had a great power play but "not so much" on the penalty kill.  I was worried about the power play after the last 2 preseason games and the first game of the season.  Last night BOTH power play units scored.   So Barry Trotz, I think I see what you did there.  The second power play unit - moving Mike Green to basically the same spot Ovi plays on the first unit clearly works.  Green's "half wrister" isn't ass spectacular as Ovi's one timer but it was clearly effective last evening and a shooting Mike Green is a dangerous Mike Green.  With Burakovsky and Kuznetsov on that unit as well, Green isn't the only scoring threat on that unit - not even close to the only one.  As I see it now (hopefully clearly and not through rose tinted shades) Last evening I saw two Power Play units take the ice for the Capitals and on those two units any one of ten (10) skaters could find the back of the net.  Given that and the improvements we've been seeing regularly over last season by the penalty kill units, the Capitals' special teams should finish the season with a pretty solid positive goal differential.  That's something that despite having a lethal power play last season was sadly lacking.

4) Physicality - the Caps had 23 hits (led by Troy Bouwer, Michael Latta, and Alex Ovechkin with 3 a piece), 14 Blocked Shots, and 7 Takeaways.  They did that against a team known for it's physical play and all three of those things.  They clearly were not outmuscled by the Bruins and that's a real start at getting to be the gritty tough team nobody likes to play against that Barry Trotz wants them to be - nice to see things like Ovechkin playing fast, smart and physical; Brouwer being the leader in all facets, we need him to be on the second line and Latta being well Latta - I really have loved his game since that Flyers game last season where he was such a sparkplug.  Smart play NOT taking the bait from Robinson and getting the instigator minor but still going to bat for your teammate, Michael. Also it was nice to see Mike Green and Matt Niskanen giving it to, vice taking it from Milan Lucic.

There's still plenty to worry and work on for sure. 

A) The Caps really haven't controlled the puck as much as anyone would like.  Faceoffs ... a "focus area" for Trotz and staff - last night the Caps were only 36% in the faceoff circle. They need to watch lots of film of how Boston consistently win so many faceoffs, and keep working on this aspect of the game.

B) In shooting attempts (SOG, B/S and MS) the Caps were out attempted by the Bruins 58 - 38, as solid and as hard on the puck as the Caps were last evening, they need to be even more solid and harder. 

C) While the Caps scored 4 on Tukka Rask, a seldom achieved number, and are definitely shooting from closer in and higher percentage areas, they still could and need to generate more traffic in front of the net 5 on 5.  That should come as they also increase and improve their puck possession and attendant offensive zone time but it is still something that needs to be considered by the forwards along with the changes in their approach to a more intense and sustained forecheck.

All in all though the Caps are 1-0-1 after facing two tough opponents and this is a much better start than last season, IMO.  Also three points in October are also three points in April as we all learned the hard way last season.  Next up an opponent the Caps haven't had much luck with the past 20 seasons - San Jose at Verizon Center on Tuesday evening.  Be there or be square...


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Caps Travel to Boston With 0-0-1 Record Under Their Belt After Disappointing Opener

Well I was traveling for business this past week and missed the Caps opener at home on Thursday.  Now I'll be in my trusty recliner tonight here in formerly bucolic Bristow watching the Caps almost live as they take on the Big Bad Bruins in Boston's TDGarden tonight.  I followed the opening night loss to the comeback Canadiens and like Caps fans everywhere was delighted as I caught stats throughout the first period, growing concerned as the tide turned in the second and third and then disappointed with the results of the shootout.

My biggest concern though was/is the fact the Capitals went 0 for 5 on powerplays to the Canadiens during the home opener.  Even though I didn't watch and I figure that even though Habs goalie Dustin Tokarski played great and in the end was the reason the Habs won the game, the Caps powerplay and lack of production with five chances and no goals  is the reason the Caps lost. Given Alex Ovechkin's stats the last five home openers, it's disappointing that with 4:40 of powerplay TOI, I am concerned that minor changes to the Caps powerplay by the new coaching regime may not have been well advised.  We saw a slightly less aggressive power play the last preseason game and I wonder if we didn't feel it's real effects at Thursday's home opener.  I hope that the powerplay is more productive tonight.  I think it needs to be if the Caps are to come away from Boston with even a single point.

My next concern is how much 5 on 5 ice time Brooks Laich got and how little 5 on 5 ice time Evgeny Kuznetsov did get.  If as we've been hearing faceoffs are important in this address of where the Caps Centers play this year one has to wonder why Kuznetsov who was 4 - 4 (50%) in his eight faceoffs, while Laich was 5-8 (38%) in his thirteen faceoffs got so much.  This seems especially odd to me when looking at the third period when, at least statically, Kuznetsov played as well as Laich.  I've hinted at this before but now I'll just come out and say it directly, at some point if the Caps are really going to propel forward Laich's ice time has to be tied to his ability to help put goals on the scoreboard and not his salary cap hit or "intangibles", etc.  This is especially true with both Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky playing well 5 on 5; and Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Brooks Orpik, and John Carlson are playing on the PK.  Simply put with the new system and the stronger blue line corps its easier for other forwards in the lineup like Nicklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Burakovsky or Marcus Johansson could likely play Laich's minutes on the Penalty Kill units without a measurable weakening of the team's performance in that area this season.  This is the season that the Caps need Brooks Laich to earn his salary ON THE ICE as well or better than he does being a great teammate in the locker room and a great asset to the community off the ice.  His $4.5M cap hit is far too much for the Caps to stunt the professional development of players like Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, or even Tom Wilson but favoring giving Laich ice time over them if he doesn't PRODUCE like a top six forward is expected to.

The final thing I think that bears watching is a carryover from last season.  On Thursday night did the Caps finally learn that - regardless of the system or how effective it can be - a hockey game is sixty (60) regulation minutes or not?  In other words you have to play "your" system with discipline and intensity the entire game to be routinely successful?  Thursday evening the Caps dominated the first 20 minutes of play but that really wasn't true the rest of the game. 

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing this season's first game against the "Big Bad Bruins" with the feisty, higher energy 2014-15 Washington Capitals. Here's to hoping Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, and Matts Niskanen have as good a game tonight as it seems they did on Thursday.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Is It Time Yet? - Yep, It's Time ...

   Well tonight in Buffalo, there was sort of a preseason hockey game. I say sort of because by my reckoning, the result was inevitable.  Inevitable because the Capitals showed up with three NHL defensemen to the Sabres five and eight NHL forwards to the Sabres ten. So basically the Capitals had just ~56% of their skaters as guys likely to be wearing Capitals sweaters on while the Sabres had ~72% of what will likely be there opening night team on the ice.  Add to that fact, the Sabres came out with jump in their steps and they were allowed to pepper Braden Holtby pretty much at will during the first period and as I say, the result was pretty much inevitable.

Finish the First Period of play with the Capitals down 3 - 0, the second period with the Sabres up 5 - 0 and a Capitals Team without most of their best offensive weapons dressed to play and well lets be honest, this game was basically over after 20:00.  The score sheet on this game was pretty much plain ugly, if you're a Caps fan.  Everyone on the roster except 58 Conner Carrick, 48 Casey Wellman, and 24 Kris Newbury was a minus player.  John Carlson finished the night - 3; Marcus Johansson, Evgeni Kuznetsov, and Karl Alzner finished the night at -2.  The only bright spot was except for Burakovsky all the Capital's Centers had good nights in the faceoff circle.  Other than that there's really nothing I saw tonight that you'd want to build on in a positive fashion going forward.  The Caps did not play as a solid team; with the talent deficit they had tonight  they needed to be making better, smarter hockey decisions on the ice and bluntly that didn't really happen on most shifts.

What did we learn tonight? Let's see ... I learned or reinforced my feelings that:

1) Matt Moulson is a really good hockey player, who goes to the dirty areas on ice and fights for those needed ugly goals.  You remember, the way Brooks Laich used to but certainly didn't tonight on several occasions when he should have.  So that means the 30 year old Moulson will likely be well worth his $5M Salary Cap hit for 3 and probably at least 4 of his current 5 year deal ... while the 31 year old Laich, likely needs a change of scenery in order for him to be worth his $4.5 million Cap Hit during the final three seasons of his current deal.

2) Jason "Ice Cheetah" Chimera, the oldest guy on the Capitals roster, as they say in Bahston, skates wicked fast, and is the fastest skater on the Caps Team.

3) The Capitals without Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Niskanen in the lineup really aren't a team that one can see coming back from 2 let alone 3 goals down.

4) It's unlikely that at the end of this season many people, even in Buffalo, will feel that Ryan Miller is worth $4.5 Million more than Jhonas Enroth.

5) It's time.  ...  ITS TIME for the Caps to pare down the roster and play their last two preseason games with a roster that is 75+% consisting of guys who will be here after opening day.

Next up, a preseason game against the Flyers at Verizon Center tomorrow night.