Sunday, September 27, 2015

Thirteen Days and Then It's Hockey Time Again - Lets Go Caps!!!!

Well fellow Caps fans, just two weeks until the Capitals open their 2015-2016 NHL season.  In the next day or two the staff will pare down the roster so it is substantially closer to the final slate of 23 players who will be on the roster for opening night's game.  By and large most of those spots are clear, in fact there's at least 15 players in my opinion who are a "lock" for that roster.  By "sweater number they are: 2) Matt Niskanen; 8) Alexander Ovechkin; 9) Dmitry Orlov; 14) Justin Williams; 25) Jason Chimera; 27) Karl Alzner; 43) Tom Wilson; 44) Brooks Orpik; 65) Andre Burakovsky; 70) Braden Holtby; 74) John Carlson; 77) T. J. Oshie; 88) Nate Schnmidt; 90) Marcus Johansson; and 92) Evgeny Kuznetsov. Add 19) Nicklas Backstrom if he's healthy enough and you have 16 spots spoken for/allocated but I suspect he will not be .  That leaves 7 spots to be assigned that are currently being "fought for," It remains unclear wether either Justin Peters or Philipp Grubaurr will be the backup for Holtby but that takes us down to 6 open spots on the roster.  Then one of the remaining guys, I'm guessing Taylor Chorney because of his size will be the seventh D-Man and also assuming that Brooks Orpik will be healthy on opening night and you are down to five (5) open spots on the roster.  Now,  if you assume that 21) Brooks Laich is currently un-tradeable and we are down to 4 open spots, unless he's traded to free up Cap space, etc.

So here's where we are so far on opening night:  Forward Lines:
Line 1:    8 -  92 - 77
Line 2:  65 -  ?? - 14
Line 3:  90 -  21/83 - 43
Line 4:  25 -  83/21 - ??
13th Forward:  ???
14th Forward:  19 (Scratched on Opening Night)

Defense Pairings:
First Pairing:      74 - 44
Second Pairing:    2 - 27
Third Pairing:       9 - 88
7th Defenseman:  4

Goaltenders:  70 & 31 or 35.

I believe the last roster spots on opening night will be: 1 - 10) Center Derek Roy who I think will be signed to a single year contract by the Capitals later this week. 2 - 49) W Stanislav Galiev and 3 - 46)  Center Michael Latta. I project the opening night 2nd line center will be Roy  and Galiev and Latta will round out the final two roster slots on opening night and Backstrom will be a scratch or on IR.

What do you think?  Are you looking forward to this season as much as I am?


Monday, August 31, 2015

Still Quite Happy to Be A Caps Fan!!!

Well fellow Caps fans it's a little more than four months and then some since my last blog post.  The Caps exited the playoffs in mid-May, before they, you and  I 'd have liked, but once again I find myself optimistic about the upcoming season thanks to the moves the Caps have made since mid-June.  Once again Capitals GM Brian McClellan (GMBM) has seemingly filled the upcoming season with promise.  The Caps Free Agent signings, especially Justin Williams, as well as what I think will be a great "hockey" trade the Capitals:  TJ Oshie from Saint Louis for Troy Brouwer, Phoenix Copley and a third round draft pick.  Overall while I am very sad to see the departure of Mike Green from the Capitals I understand it and I like the way the 2015-2016 Washington Capitals team roster is looking as far as which UFAs they are signing and which UFAs they opted not to resign. The Capital's roster as it's shaped up is pretty interesting.

The resigning of both RFA's Braden Holtby and Marcus Johannson are things I like as well, I think having both those talented guys back and in the fold are solid things. 

Then we have the UFA departures/not resigning of Mike Green, Joel Ward, John Erskine, Tim Gleason or Curtis Glencross and Eric Fehr. I'll miss Mike Green and I think the Capitals will as well however, for the role that Barry Trotz and GMBM envisioned for Green, in the salary cap era and with the cap not going up much this season, the Capitals just couldn't afford to keep him at $6+M per season.  Notice I'm not commenting on other aspects of this, as one of my biggest fears for the next couple of seasons is meeting the Red Wings in the playoffs and having Mike Green, in Norris Trophy finalist form, scoring game 7 game winners against us.  So yes, I'm a Mike Green fan and will remain so and I really wish him well.  All I will say is to make sure that doesn't happen a guy who now wears the number 2 on a Capitals sweater needs to step up his game, despite have a pretty solid season in his first year as a Washington Capital last year.

I'll also miss Joel Ward and I think if Ward had indicated a clear willingness to sign a 3 year deal in the neighborhood he ended up with in San Jose, he would likely still be a Washington Capital. Alas, I think the Capitals were smart to say a clear no to a four year term deal for the 33 year old Ward, and I think the change out of Wardo and Troy Brouwer for TJ Oshie and Justin Williams is overall a step forward and might be a big part of what the Capitals need to make further into the playoffs in 2016.

Another lesser discussed signing I like is Dan Ellis, to say that last season Justin Peters underwhelmed is understatement, now how the three/four goalie situation gets handled remains to be seen but I'm betting Peters is on waivers on his way to Hersehey at the end of training camp assuming Ellis is healthy and ready to go as Holtby's primary backup.  In fact I'm betting that Peters is Grubauer's backup in Central PA when the season starts and asking for a trade, any trade to any NHL team that will give him a shot. 

These signings and the Oshie trade all mean to me that the team that takes the ice for the season opener will be different, in a positive sense, then the one that left the ice on May 15th.  The add of Oshie and  Williams mean the Right Wing side of the Caps Forward Lines are looking  much, much different than when the Caps left the ice this spring; and that young Andre Burakovsky as well as young Tom Wilson and Marcus Johanson can all be rotated through the second and third lines so they are fresh, healthy and productive well they continue to develop their offensive and two way games, all season long.  Then on lines one and two, the Caps go from having really no clear 1RW to having ... well no clear 1RW but for an entirely different reason then this spring - because they have two guys who could/will compliment 19 and 8 on the first line.

Then we have the 180 degree change for the Caps at the 2C positing, 2C IMO has been pretty much a no mans land since the Caps opted not to resign Mike Ribero and he went to Nashville.  But now?   Well, to me the 2015 playoffs confirmed Evgeny Kuznetsov in the number 92 car as the Capitals 2C and  McClellan has now signed  him to an entirely reasonable 2 year $6M extension.  Also, I'll go out on a limb here and assume that Marcus Johansson will play 3C and that line will be faster and more skillful and productive than it has been since the 2009-2010 season. So, I believe that will leave the Capitals with a top six of: Ovechkin - Backstrom - Williams  and Burakovsky or Johannson - Kuznetsov - Oshie; then for the third and fourth lines I see Laich -Joahnsson- Wilson and Chimera - Beagle - Latta.   This team has forward depth, size, talent and grit top to bottom in my view.

At the end of the day the guy who really doesn't fit in terms of productivity and salary cap hit vs. role though now is Brooks Laich.  A guy struggling to fit into the lineup on the third or fourth line and whose main talent, right now is on the PK,  should not be a guy with a salary cap hit forward of  $4.5M.  Look around the league and what do you see for that kind of money?  I'll tell you 20 foot, two way players who are clearly on the top 6 forward, a clear cut second liners who put pucks in the net as well as they keep other teams from scoring.  Brooks Laich used to be one of those but that day passed when he missed most of two seasons with injury.  As yourself for his current $4.5M Brooks Laich or Brad Marchand?  Brooks Laich or Matt Belesky?  Brooks Laich or Louie Erikson?  Brooks Laich or Scott Hartnell?  Brooks Laich or Matt Stajan?  Brooks Laich or Bryan Bickell?  Brooks Laich or Johan Franzen?  Brooks Laich or Milan Lucic?  Brooks Laich or Marian Gaboriak?  Brooks Laich or Max Pacioretty?  Brooks Laich or David Desharnais?  Brooks Laich of Lars Eller?  Brooks Laich or Mike Fisher? Brooks Laich or Kyle Okposo? Oh and if you said Kyle put  $1M in your pocket?  Brooks Laich or Mats Zucarello? Brooks Laich or Wayne Simmonds?  Oh and if you said Simmonds put $500K in your pocket.  Brooks Laich or Patric Hornquist?  How about this one - Brooks Laich or Joel Ward and if you said Wardo put $1.25M in your pocket.   Brooks Laich or David Backes?  Brooks Laich or James Van Riemsdyk?  Brooks Laich or Tyler Bozak?  Brooks Laich or Bryan Little?  Brooks Laich or Andrew Ladd?  I think the above illustrates my point going through the contracts and Cap hits of comparably compensated players I just named 20+ players I consider better values for ~$4.5M of salary cap hit (or less) than the player Brooks Laich is today.  Geroge McPhee made some good deals and signings, in retrospect and with another season (the 2016-17 season) to go on it, the contract Laich was signed to in 2011 was not one of them.  Hopefully he can get to be 80+% of the player/contributor that deserved that contract in the 2010-11 season.  Unless he does though he will be significantly overpaid versus his "comps" around the NHL.  I'll work hard this season not to bring this item up again and hopefully Brooks returns to the form that earned him his current contract so I won't be tempted to mention it ever again.

Now on to other items of interest - only forty days  till the 2015-16 season opens ... though before that we'll have training camp and get to once again watch heart and soul guys like Liam O'Brien, Sean Collins, and Nate Schmidt fight for a roster spot.  All while we get a chance to see how talented youngsters like Stan Galiev, Madison Bowey, Nathan Walker, Jakab Vrana, and Conner Carrick are developing and getting ready to challenge for a spot here in the NHL ... will it be now?  From what I see the Caps cupboards are stocked, the system in place and the time may even be now.  What time you ask?  The time we've all been waiting for....


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Has Sprung and You Know What That Means...

Sorry for the now almost six weeks since my last blogpost fellow musers.  I had some work related travel and a few other distractions with life in the meantime and lets face it, this blog isn't really a priority with me like it was several years ago.  Also I really didn't have all that much to write about
.  At the time of my last blogpost on February 12th, our Washington Capitals were pretty much in the same place, standings-wise as they are now, well on their way to a playoff spot but not a shoe-in by any means.  In the ensuing almost six weeks and 22 games the Capitals have gathered 8 more ROW than they had on 2/12 and an 11-7-0 record (22 more standings points).  That's not as good by any means as the Ottawa Senators who now basically trail the Caps by just 1 game in the Eastern Conference standings (since 2/12 the Senators have been the hottest team in hockey with a blistering 16-2-1 record).  I mention the Senators just to illustrate why I believe the Capitals while on the right track are not shoe-ins for the playoffs.  Six weeks ago did anyone in the Hockey world think the then 10th place (in the Conference) Senators would be in control of their own destiny right now as far as making the playoffs.  I doubt it - at least other than the Senators themselves maybe.

Right now to me it looks like to be sure your team makes the playoffs in the East, they're going to need 98+ points and at least 39 ROW.  Are the Caps on track for that - simply put if they keep playing just under 0.600 hockey between now and tax day, yes; if they backslide to 0.500 they will find themselves in the dogfight for the top spot on the bubble with Boston, Ottawa (can any team keep up the pace they are on - that remains to be seen), and to a lesser degree, Florida if the Panthers stay on their current 0.650 pace or pick it up a little. So here's how I see the Eastern Conference regular season ending.  The current top three teams: Rangers, Canadians, and Lightning will be the top three teams; in the Metropolitan Division I just don't see anyone who is within striking distance (Islanders, Penguins, or our Capitals) playing that much better than 0.600 the rest of the way - the schedules are too tough for all three teams and right now the Islanders are 0.400 in their last 10 games while the Penguins are 0.450.  Additionally all three of the teams chasing the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division are 4.5 - 6 games behind the Rangers and have less than 10 games left in their seasons and even if the Senators basically "win out" they end up with 105 points,  so assuming the Rangers who've been 8-1-1 in their last 10 games regress to 0.500 hockey in their last 11 games of the season and finish with 110 points they still likely win the Division and are one of the top 3 seeds in the Conference. Nope the scoreboard watcher's excitement here in the East is the battles for seeding between the Red Wings, Islanders, Penguins and Capitals; and the battle between Ottawa, Boston and at least for a few more games, Florida for the final available playoff spot in the Conference. 

As far as the battle between the Red Wings, Islanders, Penguins and Capitals for seeding, I'll note that while all three of their rivals have games in hand on the Caps, only the Capitals have a better than 0.500 in their last 10 games.  Additionally in my view while Detroit and the Islanders may have a slightly easier schedule but I subjectively feel the Caps remaining schedule is the toughest of those four while the Penguins is the weakest/easiest.  All that said I don't think it matters that much.  The Conference beyond 1, 2, and 3 is wide open and once the second season starts any of the eight teams that get in after the next three weeks could win the Conference and make it deep to the Stanley Cup finals as far as I can tell.

Out West while Dallas is trying to make it interesting playing to an 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games they basically have to win out in their last 9 games and finish with 98 points to be sure of making the playoffs, maybe they could loose one and finish with 96 if  both Minnesota and Winnipeg somehow choke/tank but given both of those teams are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games the odds of that happening are miniscule, IMO.  It's even doubtful to me that the LA Kings who are now 1 1/2 games behind the Jets and 1 game behind Calgary with 10 games to play get in though it will be a few more games before on can "call that ball." Otherwise it's all just a battle for seeding for 1-3 between Anaheim, Nashville, and Saint Louis and for 4-8 between Chicago, Vancouver, Calgary, Minnesota, Winnipeg *and/or, if they somehow make it, LA.  The only team in that mix NOT playing 0.600+ hockey in their last ten games are the Predators though and they already have 96 points and 36 ROW so they'd finish with 100+ and ~40 ROW even on their current (last 10 games) 0.350 pace.

So Caps fans next up those pesky Devils from Newark on Thursday evening here at Verizon Center and I say....


Thursday, February 12, 2015

How Much Tougher To Play Against Are the '14-'15 Caps than the '13-'14 Version?

Well if you're wondering just how much tougher a team to play against this season's version of the Washington Capitals are than last seasons, I say look no further than one particular column in the NHL Standings.  I'm not a total "fancy stats" guy, in the end I'm really a bottom line kind of guy.  To me to answer the question: "are this season's Washington Capitals Much Tougher a team to beat than last season's model?"  I say the answer is a resounding "YES!" and point to the NHL Standings column "ROW" - Regulation & overtime Wins - last season through all 82 games the Caps tallied a total of twenty eight (28).  This season through fifty five (55) games the Caps now have twenty seven (27), that's why this season the Caps are on pace to total 100+ points and last season they totaled 90 when the season was over.  So if you're "STH" - Season Ticket Holder start saving your sheckels to pay for your playoff tickets and keep rooting for the Caps to keep playing like they've been playing since the start of December.

The Caps are not playing tonight and to be honest I dozed off at the backend of the second period during last evening "tilt" in San Jose, so if you're looking for a good recap/summer go on over to Peerless's Blog

In the meantime if you are going to watch tonight's games I put this little guide so if you like me are a Capitals fan you can easily identify who you should be rooting for this evening.

In the meantime, I'm already thinking about the Caps next game in LA at Staples Center and hoping "our boys" are charged up to put on a good show and snatch another two points in front of their Dads as it's the start of the annual Fathers Trip.



Friday, February 6, 2015

It's All Good As Far As I can Tell In "CapsLand" Today....

Well fellow Caps fans in the week that has occurred since my last public musings/blog post as far as I can tell it's pretty much all good here in "Capsland." 

From a "big picture perspective" the Caps remain on track for a 100 point/40+ ROW season even though currently they are in the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as the third place NY Rangers have 3 games in hand on the Caps.  However the overall metropolitan Division race has tightened as only three points separate the Caps from the First Place Islanders.  Additionally the top of the Eastern Conference Standings have also tightened, even though 7 points separate the seventh place Caps from the first place Tampa Bay Lightning, only three points separate them from the Third Place Montreal Canadiens. Additionally there are now 8 points between the Caps and the currently "wrong side of the bubble" ninth 9th place Florida Panthers.  All things to ponder, muse/consider with just three weeks left before the 2014-2015 NHL Season trade deadline.

The Caps have played four games this past week racking up a 2-1-1 record, that 0.625 hockey, more importantly they had a GAA of slightly under 1.50 in those four games including a less than stellar defensive performance against the Saint Louis Blues where they allowed a high of 40 SOG by the Blues and lost 4-3.   Backup Goalie Justin Peters posted a SV% of 0.900 in the Saint Louis game but the Caps were basically just slightly outplayed by the Blues in every facet of the game and neither team played even close to their best hockey in front of wither Peters or Blues goaltender Brian Elliott who posted a 0.917 SV% against 36 Capitals SOG.  To me the second two periods of the game were the best goaltending we've seen from Peters since the start of the season and give me cause for hope.  I feel much of the fan calls for Peter's head are as much a result of just how well Braden Holtby is playing as they are caused by the fact that to date Peters has played just that much under where the Caps need him to play.  I've said it before, in the Caps are on their game and our net-minder posts a 0.915+ SV% two regulation goals should get the team at least one standings point and three goals all but guarantees a two point ROW night.  Hopefully in his next outing Peters gets more team defense in front of him and he notches his gam up from a 0.900 SV% to a 0.915+ SV%.  The other three games the Caps played this week were well played, if not excellent+ efforts all, even the 1-0 OT loss to Montreal at Belle Centre.  My view of the Montreal Game is the loss was due to two words - Carey Price, the Caps were very good up in Montreal but it was a night where Carey Price basically stole two points from Washington. 

The other two games were just awesome clinics in one way or  another.  Tuesday evening the reigning Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings came into town and faced Braden Holtby and the Capitals and all the Caps did is have Holtby pitch a perfect game 4-0 shutout while Troy Brouwer-Power scored two goals in 16:10 TOI while playing in his 500th NHL game.  As others noted afterward it was as complete and perfect execution of the Caps game plan as we've seen thus far this season. Against Ottawa last evening in Ottawa the Caps put on a clinic in three things a) how to properly respond to an opposing team opening the scoring in a game; and b) how to kill off penalties when the calls are going against you (Senators had 4 PP, Caps 0); and finally c) how to play with and protect a one goal lead in the final period of a game, other than the penalties, that is.  Finally a simple observation, perhaps only in Ottawa does a one tem get basically outplayed in pretty much every aspect of the game, lose 2-1 and still somehow end up having two of the three named stars of the game. 

In any case now looking ahead to this coming weeks games, the Caps have two home games this weekend - the Ducks tonight and the Flyers on Sunday afternoon.  Then they leave for a West Coast/California road trip facing the Sharks in San Jose on Wednesday evening; the Kings at LA's Staples Center on Saturday Evening and then the Ducks on the other side of LA LA Land in Anaheim at Honda Center on Sunday Evening before jetting home. So over the next nine (9) days the Caps have five games - 2 at home and 3 on the other end of a pretty darn long road trip.

Before we look forward and muse about tonight's Duck-Caps tilt at Verizon Center a couple of season to date notable statistics and associated musings:

1)  Along with his score of his thirty second goal of the season last evening, Alex Ovechkin returned to his position atop the NHL goal scoring leaders in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. As noted elsewhere, Ovechkin is just the fifth player in the "modern era" to put up thirty or more goals in his first ten NHL seasons and as long as the stars stay aligned for him, he could possibly "notch" his sixth 50 goal season this year.  He also has 18 assists and is + 13 for people that care about those things as well.  Oh and over the past couple of weeks he gave a car away to a charity, you might have heard about it cause it means that unlike last season when he was a selfish, self-absorbed, person and not very good/incomplete hockey player, this season he's both great at hockey and a really, really excellent human being.  Don't you just love it when a young man turns his life around?  ... Just kidding but lets be clear Ovi is now a great person having a great season, and apparently Sidney Crosby is as close to an enigmatic professional hockey player as someone not born in Russia can get. Maybe this off-season Sid can retain whoever counseled Ovi last summer.

2) Braden Holtby is now in the top five NHL Goalies stats for GAA and Save Percentage with season to date numbers of GAA 2.14; SV% of 0.925.  Holtby is also number two in shutouts with six (6) and and sixth in wins with 25.  Solid numbers given his league leading forty - five (45) games played and 2,634:04 time on ice this season to date.

3) Nicklas Backstrom has slowly climbed his own way up the league leaders overall scoring leaders to fourth with 54 points; Nicklas is also second on the "assists" leaders board with 38 apples.  Also not too shabby.

4) The Capitals now have six players on the roster with 11 or more goals; eleven (11) players with 15 or more points; and eighteen different players have scored at least one goal. 

5) Among NHL Defensemen, John Carlson is 10th in scoring and Mike Green is 14th with 35 and 30 points respectively.  Overall as a team to date the Caps are 9th in the Goals Against Department with just 130 goals against allowed and sixth in differential with a +23.  No doubt this is a much tougher team to play against then the Capitals teams of the past two seasons.

Now about tonight - I'm rooting for another two point night for the Capitals and the way I see it they'll get the ROW.  I figure the Ducks should be tired from scoring 5 goals on the Predators and Pekke Renne last evening in Smashville and flying to DC last night - that flying stuff really makes those guys wings/arms tired as I hear it.  Seriously, another great test for the Capitals, if they can keep playing like they have for the last four games, smart, disciplined, structured hockey the Caps could win tonight against a team coached by their old coach. 

I'm calling it 4-2 final for the Caps with the fourth goal into the empty net with under 1:30 to play.


Friday, January 30, 2015

When .... It's ...

Helloooo out there fellow Caps fans!  Today we're going to play the "when ... it's ..." game in honor of the slight roller coaster we Caps fans have been on the past couple weeks.  From December 4th through January 7th the riding the "Caps Train" was all honey and butter, really great fun like listening to Aretha Franklin belt out her best tunes on Soul Train in the 70's.  But then starting with the Caps-Flyers game on January 8th, even though the "four game losing streak" didn't start till a week later on January 16th in Smashville, watching the Caps, while still mostly fun for us fans, starting to get to be a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  Games were tight and the play by the Caps was at times, tentative so we started to get a bit tense and at times "reactive" - perhaps we were really channeling the teams own feelings from closer to "real time" then they or we would have preferred.  But as the team heads into tomorrow's game in Montreal to take on the once again, very "hot" Montreal Canadiens, the Caps are seemingly back to riding a wave of confidence after empathically breaking their recent loosing streak and besting the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 4-0 on the friendly tide of solidly played home cooking at Verizon Center on Wednesday night.  Thankfully, they aren't going into Bell Center on the tail of Tuesday's game in Columbus and so the game of "When .... It's..."

Let's start the game with the big picture ....

1)  "When after the All Star Break, your NHL hockey team of choice is on pace to finish the regular season with 100+ points and 40+ ROW, It's time to start saving your shekels to be able to afford to go watch some playoff hockey."

2) "When four of the seven Canadian NHL franchises are on track to make the playoffs at the All Star Break, It's pretty pointless to even worry for one second what the US-Canadian exchange rate might do to the salary cap since unless they are criminally mismanaged the Canadian franchises are likely to remain incredibly financially healthy."

3) "When immediately after the All Star Break, despite having one of his worst seasons ever, Sidney Crosby is still "just" fifth in the entire NHL in points/scoring and on track for his fifth straight 100+ point season, It's tragically ironic and funny to listen to media wonder aloud "What's wrong with Sid this year, etc." and as a Caps/Ovechkin fan very easy to imagine Ovi calling Sid and opening a conversation with: "Hey Sid, Ovi here, I don't know why they decided it was your turn for them to talk stupidly about, but you know what I'm not gonna say I'm sorry it's someone else in the League's turn, make sure when you pass it along it's to somebody like Sequin or Giroux, or better yet that cocky little "B" Kane,  and not back to me, okay?"

Now onto the more micro picture of the Caps to finish out today's game ....

1) "When the Caps play like they did on Tuesday evening against the Blue Jackets in Columbus; It's really, really easy to get down on them and be very, very concerned that once again you and they might be spending more time on the golf course than you'd prefer. After all "it" happened just last spring."

2) "When the Caps play like they did on Wednesday evening against Pittsburgh at Verizon Center; It's really, really, really easy to foolishly not worry about anything with this team or even how deep they might go into the playoffs and start having "champaign wishes and caviar dreams" that might even extend past say ... May 2015.  But that too would be really, really foolish, I mean remember the 2009 - 2010 team and how great they looked before the second season started?"

But fear not and hey enjoy the ride while we all can since ...

1) "When your concerns in life are centered on how "your" NHL team is really doing and is really positioned for the playoffs and run for "The CUP" are problems you have tome to consider/worry; Its really "all good" as those are truly "just and solely" what I call "first world problems."  As if to drive that point home we Caps fans can proudly point to our Team Captain for reflecting that, behaving in a manner that was pretty fun for all NHL fans to watch during the All Star Break and then have it turn around/out that he used the stage to do something good for some youngsters and families that have real, everyday challenges and generally approach them in a manner that is just a great example and model for us all.  I know to some talking about this is getting old and tired, however every time I think about it, I feel good about being an NHL fan instead of taking even a second to talk about the right amount of pressure an NFL football is supposed to be inflated to, etc. 

2) Finally, tomorrow... When we Caps fans pump out a tweet that bemoans the fact that only Ovechkin as opposed to say Ovechkin, Backstrom and Carlson were selected for the All Star Game: It's probably a good idea to look at the other team and think how ironic it is/was that the only Montreal player selected for the All Star Team was Carey Price instead of Price, P.K Subban (2012 Norris Trophy Winner), and the team's leading scorer Max Pacioretty.   I mean at the break the Canadiens only had 61 points in 45 games played and a top five record in the league while Columbus, with three all stars somehow was/is struggling out side of the playoffs and in appearing to be getting ready to make a run at the "McDavid" Sweepstakes.  My point is while I love the All Star Game, it's an NHL marketing event on par with the best, most well orchestrated sports marketing ever.  Thinking about it any other way and trying to fret about where somebody goes in the "mock draft" or something like that is pointless.  Every player selected, even some guy who got the most votes because he's the only guy in the league from Latvia  "really, really good at hockey."  Follow Ovechkin's example have fun with it, and hey wouldn't it be really, really great if the entire NHL turned at least some of the fun and benefits it generates into some good action and awareness raising for good causes.  I say let's make it one big "ice bucket challenge, car give away for great causes."  I'm even down with making sure the total goals increase - as long as we ditch that friggin' cannon.

In the meantime I'm hoping for a 4 - 1 win by the Caps tomorrow against the Habs.  I say LETS GO CAPS!!!! Wire to wire, never trail or be tied after the first goal and score the final fourth goal into an open net late in the third to ice it. Realistically do I think that will happen, probably not, but if the Caps play tomorrow at Bell Center like they did Wednesday evening at Verizon, I know it's possible, and hey if you're going to dream, why not dream big, "it don't cost any more."

So .... When this Blogger is wrapping up a post .... It's time to loudly proclaim:


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Way Forward To The Playoffs For The Caps - A Fan Boy's Opinion

Okay I admit it, I'm a fan boy - a very competitive fan boy - but a fan boy none the less.  Yes I've played hockey growing up, even a little semi-formal" club level/DIII hockey a long time ago in college.  I also admit I wasn't very good, nor were the teams I played on.   So while I have some knowledge of ice hockey I consider myself a fan boy.  I did other sports much more seriously though and I'm quite competitive.  As a Capitals fan, last season (2013-14) was frustrating for me - as I absolutely love spending money to go see NHL playoff games and "my" Washington Capitals did not make the playoffs.  So this season with the Capitals on track to make the playoffs if they keep up the pace they've been playing my fan boy cheers are there to exhort our Capitals on to a clear path to the playoffs.  To me that means 100 points and 40+ ROW (Regulation/Overtime Wins). 

Sure as some have pointed out 95 points will probably be good enough in the East to make the post season, but I say - why chance it.  Go for 100+ and be safe.  The Capitals are currently on track - if they keep playing  to their 2014-15 "norm" the rest of the season.  This season over the first 46 games our Washington Capitals have played 0.619+ hockey and are on track for 101 points.  So I say stay the course Caps, don't let up, don't look back or down the standings at teams like Florida, or even Boston; look up at Pittsburgh, and even the New York Islanders, that way you'll be striving for excellence, rather than working to prevent any sort of collapse/slide.  Working to avoid something rather than achieve something just doesn't seem to me to be a "winning posture/mentality," nor does trying to be "just good enough" to get to the next step up from where you finished the prior season.  That's why I say reach for the stars, if you fall a little short, what's the worst thing that could happen - you get to Mars?  Think about it.  Strive for 100+ points and only get 98, you're probably still good to go for "the second season" - strive to squeak into the playoffs and miss, what happens - get the golf shoes out, ... AGAIN.  So I say skate fast, play hard (all 60+ minutes, have fun and win.

That's should be tonight's theme in Columbus - let's all push for the Caps to play so well tonight Holtby gets shutout number five, we don't hear that obnoxious cannon and Ovi gets the hat-trick just like Tavares did in the ASG out there.

Keys tonight for the Caps: a) hit on all eight cylinders all night long; b) backcheck, backcheck, backcheck; c) play the Blue Jackets key weapons tight to stifle there game and take it to them all night;  d) win the faceoff and therefore the puck possession battle; and finally e) keep it simple and shoot the puck on net, a lot.

Okay, forget about the last three games before the all star break and



Sunday, January 25, 2015

Looking Ahead - Caps Games 47 - 50 (Week of 1/25 - 31/2015)

Well Caps fans the All Star Game is over. Now, the week ahead means the Caps are in search of six more regular season standings points.  This week the Caps face the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Tuesday, on Wednesday they "host" the Penguins here in DC at Verizon Center and then they finish the week on Saturday in Montreal.  All in all it should be a tough week and an interesting week - a week of good hockey.  For the Caps what they need to do is simple, they need to break a three game losing streak. Lets face it the Caps weren't looking real good the last three games before the break so hopefully the week off has been a time for them to clear their minds, heal, make whatever adjustments they needed to make and be ready to resume the rest of the regular season in a manner that keeps them on track for a 100+ point/40+ROW season.

  The Caps can start the rest of the season off right with a win on Tuesday in Columbus, it won't be an easy two points though as Columbus hasn't been a easy game for the Caps this season two of the first three games have gone to OT sow while the Caps are 2-0-1 in those games each of the games have required the Caps to play a full 60:00+ at 100+% to get the five points they've captured.  The good news for the Caps on Tuesday is that the man who forced those last two games to OT - Sergei Bobrovsky will likely still be out and not in net for the Blue Jackets, the bad news - all the rest of the Columbus team will be eager to show the hockey world they can still win and compete for a playoff spot.

Then on Wednesday evening the Caps host the Penguins and a presumably well rested Sidney Crosby at Verizon Center.  The Penguins will be looking to "repay" the Caps for the 3-0 loss the Caps handed them a couple of weeks ago on December 27th at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. While it would be nice if Braden Holtby could come up with another shutout, it would be even nicer if the Caps played so well it was easier for he and they to come up with another wire to wire three goal victory.  But again it won't be an easy two points - to win the Caps entire team will have to play a 60:00, 200 foot, 110% game.

Then on Saturday afternoon, the Caps play a matinee in Montreal where they get to play Carey Price and surging Canadiens team.  The Habs are on pace for a 111 point/44 ROW Season and were 7-2-1 in their last 10 games before the ASG break.  Additionally the Caps fell to the Canadiens 2-1 in their one other meeting this regular season way back on October 9th when the Haps came to Verizon Center.  So again this game will require the Caps to play solid, "heavy" hockey through all 60:00 if they are to come away from Bell Center with any points.

If the Caps can turn the three game pre-ASG losing streak around and come away from these last three games of the month of January with at least three of the six available points, with a 7-4-2 record and 16 of the available 26 points (0.615) for the month.  They will also finish the month with a total of 60 points and 24 ROW in 49 GP - on track for a 100 point/40ROW season.  I believe it may actually take that be sure to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this season the way things are going as right now 7 of the 8 teams in playoff positions are on track for 100 point seasons and number 8 - the Bruins are close behind on pace for a 97+ point season.  Additionally of the 8 Eastern Conference teams in playoff spots today 7 of the 8 have player 0.700+ hockey in their last 10 games before the ASG break; only the Penguins are under 0.700 and it doesn't seem likely they'll stay on their current 4-3-3 (0.550) - last 10 games - pace for long.

Well that's the week ahead for us Caps fans ... all I can say is ...


Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 Week 2 - Capitals Games 38, 39, and 40 Are In The Books ...

Well fellow Caps Fans here we are basically at the mid-point of the 2014 - 15 NHL regular season and the Barry Trotz era Capitals appear to have jelled into their new system rather nicely and with a new culture as well.  No "Winter Classic Hangover here (nor in Chicago for that matter.)  The Caps are now 3-0-1 so far in the New Year after going 8-2-3 for the month of December, all of which means that at this season's midpoint the Capitals find themselves 21-11-8 with 50 points & 20 ROW on track for 100+ points and 40 ROW.  That's a pretty big change from last season when they finished the regular season with 90 points and a paltry 28 ROW which meant golf lessons.  The biggest difference, the one that validates how much harder a team, the Caps are to play against is the ROW number.  That and the overall goal differential the Caps finished last season with a goal differential of -5, this season through 40 games, the Caps are +16.  Those two things are really huge, IMO. 

Then we have the basic way the Caps play now which in games like the Winter Classic or any of games 38, 39 and 40 you can see, this is a much different team then we've seen in a pretty long time.  The 2014-15 version of the Washington Capitals are constructed fundamentally different then the Caps have been built in some time.  Over the past summer when the Caps decided that GMBM, former Deputy GM Brian , would succeed GMGM his former boss George Mc Phee, I feared the Caps would not change enough.  Then when  free agency opened and the Caps went out and spent big money to bring in not one but two high priced UFA Defensemen, one of whom is 34 years old, I still wondered how this season would play out.  I was encouraged but apprehensive.  The first two full months of the season, and to some degree even now, the jury remains "out." But for me December gave me enough encouragement that I've transitioned from "cautious" through "cautiously optimistic" to just plain "optimistic."   One of the reasons for my shift is that same 34 year old UFA defensemen that GMBM signed over the summer - Brooks Orpik, let's face it the Caps haven't had such a physical "stopper" defensemen on the blueline since trading Brendan Witt to the Nashville Predators during the 2005-2006 season.  And when was the last time the Caps had five bonafide NHL top four caliber defensemen in their lineup?  Clearly the team has and retains a scary good group of forwards who now have scored a total of 120 goals and average of 3.0 goals per game so far this season, buts its the fact that despite having a group of forwards lead by a generational talent who has averaged 0.615 goals/game over his career so far (678 NHL regular season and 58 NHL playoff games) is now clearly built from the goal line out.  A team built so that the offense starts and is rooted in solid defense.  Still not convinced look at the scoring stats of the Capital's blueline corps led by John Carlson who is having a career year: 4 G and 26 A, 30 Points through 40 games played; followed by a resurgent Mike Green: 4 G, 19 A, 23 Points in 32 games played; Karl Alzner with a career high 3 G (and 6 A), even though the season is only half way over.  Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen who also have 9 and 13 points respectively.  Clearly the blue liners are stepping up and participating in the offense as well as blocking shots and making sure the overall team defense numbers are looking good including resulting in a average goals against per game of 2.6 goals/game (10th best in the NHL so far this season.)

Then look at the difference in the forwards and the offense - clearly Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are at the core of the Capitals "offensive game" but with four other forwards (Fehr, Ward, Brouwer, and Johansson) besides Ovechkin and Backstrom on track for 20+ goal seasons and another six players (Laich, Beagle, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, Carlson, and Green) likely to end the season with 10+ goals this is clearly a much more balanced group of scoring forwards as well.   And I'm not the only one starting to notice some of the other Washington forwards "gifts" and impact.  If that isn't enough to convince you please also note that 10 different Capitals have scored the game winning goal in the Caps 21 wins so far this season. 

Now back to a quick set of thoughts on the three games this past week. 

Game 38 was a  solidly played, 2 point afternoon home win on Sunday January 4th over the never say die Florida Panthers.  While there were a few flitches and lapses, to my thinking the Caps played a well structured game that they pretty much controlled the full 60:00 IMO. 

Game 39 was a good road game on Wednesday evening in Toronto that ultimately the Caps won in regulation by a score of 6 - 2.  Despite the final score, for the first ~27:00 the game was closer than the final score indicates but from that point on the Caps clearly controlled the game and the Maple Leafs. 

Game 40 was the second game of back to back road games that the Caps stole a point from the Flyers on the back of Braden Holtby's performance in goal last night in Philadelphia.  That said the Caps never quit and it was the second game of  two back to back road games in a hard building to play in and three points out of a possible four in two nights are three points I'd gladly take without complaint.  If you're counting that's five out of a possible six points this past week or 0.833 hockey if you're counting.

Next up the Red Wings at Verizon Center tomorrow evening....


Friday, January 2, 2015

Caps End 2014 In Fine Form But Start 2015 Off Even Better - Next Up the Streaking Florida Cats At Verizon Center On Sunday

Okay so I figured I'd just muse in my own head while all the Winter Classic "hubbub" swirled and then settled. Don't get me wrong the game was an awesome experience and once again despite the high cost of the tickets and the fact my sightlines were often obscured during the play during the first and second periods by people who didn't or don't know the basic courtesy of when to get in and out of your seats at a hockey game or ushers who don't know them as well (I was in Section 109 about 30 rows up (HH)) so if you're reading this and sat lower than me or above me you know what I'm talking about...) just like the Pittsburgh Winter Classic it was an experience I highly recommend for NHL fans anywhere.  But with so much focus and blogging about the Classic and every aspect of it, I don't feel I have much to add to the specific points or discussions other than in the context of where it leaves the Caps as far as looking forward towards the rest of the regular season.

As you likely know the Caps had a pretty awesome month of December going 8-2-3 (0.731), capturing at least a point in 11 of 13 games, only four (4) of which were at home.  It's even more impressive to me that during the month the Caps played ten of those thirteen games against teams with better than 0.500 records who are also having solid seasons so far and/or competing directly with the Caps for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.  While there really are no easy games in the NHL the results the Caps had against solid, "top 10 power rankings teams" last month were also encouraging:

- they faced and beat Tampa Bay in regulation twice;
- they fought hard but lost the record longest shoot out getting a point off a hot Florida Panther team on their Sunrise Florida Ice;
- they split two hard fought OT games against Columbus and a hot Sergei Bobrovski;
- they beat the Ottawa Senators in a 2-1 goalie dual here at Verizon Center in regulation;
- they shutout the Penguins in Pittsburgh (when was the last time that happened?) .

They also won three games they were supposed to win in regulation (the Devils twice, and Carolina).  The only two teams they really couldn't solve during December were their first game of the month against Vancouver at Verizon Center and their first meeting of the season against the Rangers at MSG on the even of the Christmas break, December 23rd in NY, where they lost 4-2 in regulation.  They finished the year with a comeback against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on December 29th to force overtime, and basically steal a point before a double minor high sticking call on Evgeny Kuznetsov, the second 2:00 of which were questionable, IMO, gave the Islanders the chance they needed to halt the comeback by the Caps and get the second point they really did deserve anyway for playing a full 60:00 game against the good guys from 7th and F.

In any case the Caps came out of December and into 2015 skating confidently and playing far more consistently than they started the month and that bodes well for them for the rest of the season as the rest of the 2014-15 season looks to be a tightening battle for the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference as the Capitals aren't the only teams competing for the playoffs that are looking good through their last ten games but more on that after a quick comment on the last Capitals game - the Winter Classic.

As pretty much anyone who watches any NHL hockey knows yesterday the Caps become only the third "home team" to win the Winter Classic.  That's the part of a very well played game against a really, really good opponent that I'd like to point to as the best thing as a Caps fan to takeaway from yesterday's Winter Classic.  A lot of commentary has gone in to wondering why the Home Teams very often loose the Winter Classic.  To me after hearing all the discussion I drill in to one thing - focus/distraction.  For the away team like the Caps were against Pittsburgh, even with all the hype and the likely fact a visiting team's players have a few friends and family at the game, the distractions are far less than for the home team.  It's much more similar to a "big" road game for them and little more than it is likely for the home team, especially now with the three day mandatory Christmas break.  For the Caps and the Winter Classic, many of them had ten or more friends and family with them through the holidays as well as at the game.  Think about how much having a big family gathering at your home for the Holidays creates pressures etc. on you and then add  this Winter Classic thing/hype to it, it can't be at all easy to stay focused on just going and doing your job even or maybe especially if your job is being a professional athlete in the middle of your sports season.  I think two things really helped the Caps stay focused on what they needed to do yesterday: 1) they had two road games between the Christmas break and the Winter Classic - so it's likely we should all thank the Caps wives, girlfriends and families for dealing with a lot of their own "logistics" between December 26th and yesterday morning; 2) that "culture change thing" we all heard about during the Epix series leading up to the Winter Classic where the Caps now focus more on playing a simpler game geared towards team success, getting two points, and doing so one game at a time, for that I think we should thank the coaching staff for putting it out there, and the team (all of them) for buying into it and taking forward.  As a whole the other thing to really be happy about if you're a Caps fan is it was a well played, 200' game against a very, very solid opponent for the full 60:00.  The only thing not to like about this game for the Caps, IMO, is/was the fact they are still taking too many penalties but (7 minor penalties for the game vs. 5 for the Blackhawks) however I really grow more and more disappointed with the "activist referees" in the NHL this season and will likely blog more on that another time, when I can distill my thoughts and give a bunch of great examples though it's likely that both the call against Matt Niskanen at 16:46 of and Jonathan Toews at 18:47 of yesterday's third period will be examples of my issues on that list. 

In any case I like Mr. Leonsis am very grateful for having had the opportunity to attend yesterday's game and for all who helped make it happen, first let me say thanks to everyone who helped put me in a position to shell out a pretty penny for both my Season Tickets and my extra tickets to the WC that were pricey.  This is not a backhanded statement, it's a pricey addiction I've developed but as I've mentioned before going to games like this with my only child like yesterday are truly a joy and I don't ever want to forget that while I am splurging on things like this, others who are less fortunate are struggling, especially as the holiday season winds down.  My son and I now have two sets of Winter Classic memories both of which are really special to me. Thanks to all the other hockey fans here in DC - like the NHL commercial used to say, Hockey Fans are generally special people and I really enjoy being part of that community here in the DC metro.  Thanks to the players in the NHL - you guys all of whom seem to "keep it real" make it far, far easier for me to stay very supportive of pro hockey in a way that frankly I find much, much harder to do for any other professional sport. 

So now what about January?  Well our Washington Capitals are already 1-0-0 on January and have another busy month like December ahead of them.  Including yesterdays Winter Classic the Caps have thirteen (13) games on the schedule for January.   Of the 13 games the Caps had the Winter Classic now in their rear view mirror an a nice two point "home" win.  The rest of twelve (12) games in January consist of six (6) home games and six (6) away.  Of the thirteen (13) games, only the two games against the division rival Flyers who have only 35 points in 37 games played, as well as the games against the Avalanche (36 points in 37 games played), and  Oilers (24 points in 38 games played) are against teams with less than 0.500 records.  The Caps have a total of five (5) against Western Conference Teams and eight (8) are against Eastern Conference Teams this month. Their lonest home stretch is three games (January 10th to 14th - Red Wings, Avalanche, Flyers - three (3) games in four (4) days/nights.  They also have two sets of "back to back" road games - 1/7 and 1/8 Maple Leafs then Flyers, and 1/16 and 1/17 Nashville and Dallas .  So as you can see this month won't be an easy one for the Capitals.  Add to that that their Metropolitan Conference rivals are all also playing pretty well: Division Leading Pittsburgh 5-3-2; the second place Islanders 6-3-1; the fourth place Rangers an awesomely hot 9-1-0 and fifth place Columbus 8-1-1 all in their last 10 games and you can see why the Caps need to keep playing with the same focus and intensity - one game at a time - like they did yesterday to keep up and/or beyond the pace of the guys they are both chasing and being chased by this month.

Starting on Sunday they host the Florida Panthers who have not been an easy opponent for the Caps so far this season.  They've played the Panthers twice this season first on October 18th at Verizon Center a game the Caps won in a 2-1 shootout victory and then on December 18th at Sunrise Florida where the Panthers won the game in the NHL record 20th round of the shootout.  To say I think the Caps might be able to "get up" to play a hard 60:00 200' foot game against the Panthers is probably understatement but the Panthers are also playing well of late 5-3-2 (0.600 hockey) in their last 10 games and have 41 points in 35 games so far this season so are not to be taken lightly in any case.

So with those thoughts in mind I just want to once again say ...