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.