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 ...