Saturday, December 30, 2006

That's the last time

I ever write something nice about a free-agent-to-be that I think the Caps should sign. Scott Gomez, you owe me for this one. So just make it easy on all of us and sign here in the offseason.

The Caps played fairly well considering the plague is sweeping through their ranks, but lost again to the Devils last night, 4-3. A late rally including a last minute goal by Alexander Semin couldn't quite pull the Caps even. As I've said before, with a young (and getting younger by the minute) team you want to see the kind of effort and determination the Caps showed regardless of whether they could cap off the comeback.

Kudos to Lawrence Nycholat for scoring his first NHL goal. People who never play sports at a highly competitive level tend to overlook moments like his last night, but if you realize just how incredibly difficult it is to reach the top professional league in the world, and how rare it is for a player to realize that dream, you get an inkling of what last night must have felt like for him.

The Capitals are 0-4 in their murderous 5 day, four game trip. Hopefully they (and half the Hershey Bears roster) can steal 2 points tonight against the Rangers.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Caps recall 3 from Hershey, one steals Green's haircut

See the evidence below:

Note: This pic really doesn't do Greenie's Faux-Hawk justice. If you haven't seen it, you really need to catch a Caps practice. It's worth the (free) price of admission to see his hair alone. I didn't know there was enough gel in the city to hold that hair up. The inside of his helmet must look gross. See, that's why you read this blog. Right? Anyone? Bueller?

Tonight's game is in hell against the Devils at 7:30. Hopefully yesterday's mini-break will give our boys some much needed pep.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Gas Tank Reads E... Is That Bad?

Thank goodness the Caps have today off. You could plainly see last night the effects of so many games in such a short stretch. Generally simple tasks such as taking a line change on time or moving the center in position to deflect 2 line pass attempts looked achingly difficult, and often resulted in strong scoring chances for the Habs. The defense looked spread too wide, another result of the legs not keeping up with the mind. And you know Ovechkin is exhausted when he only manages one shot through two periods of play. The result: a 4-1 loss to Montreal.

The Caps get a well-deserved day off before the bus ride up to hell, er... New Jersey to face the Devils, then board the bus for a quick 15 minute hop to MSG against the Rangers. We're all clear on what not to do tomorrow, right? Good.

And Glen, if you can hear me out there, take it easy on the boys today. Maybe even a voluntary practice? Before someone's legs fall off?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Daniel Briere shows his true colors

and apparently they're yellow (and I don't mean Buffaslug yellow). Instead of trying to exact retribution through physical play or trying to pile on the offense, Briere showed what a classless piece of trash he is by attempting to spear Alex Ovechkin in the, ahem, lower region. Ovechkin showed his strength of character by not killing Briere on the spot. At the whistle, Ovechkin challenged the coward to a fight, which, of course Briere chickened out of. AO later scored on a wicked shot from just inside the blueline to an ovation of boos from the crowd.

Yet again, the gutless NHL referees "didn't see the play," which makes you wonder why, besides slowing the game to a crawl, they actually show up. First and foremost, it is the responsibility of the referees to make sure that they keep the game under control and prevent cheap shots that endanger the health of the players on the ice. And they failed. Spectacularly. Again. I doubt the league will do anything to discipline Briere, since the Sabres resurgence has been too cute a story to ruin by suspending one of their star players for being a cheapshot piece of trash.

Oh, and the Caps lost the game, undone by allowing the Sabres six goals on their first nine shots. Brent Johnson got the early hook, and the Caps pressed to make the game competitive, scoring a goal late in the first and two more down the stretch.

Next game is tonight at the V against les Canadiens de Montréal.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Caps sap Maple Leafs 3-2

The Capitals scored 3 goals on three stellar offensive plays, two set up by Alexander Semin (1, 2) and one from Dainus Zubrus. Two goals from Mats Sundin, one on a debatable penalty shot call, kept the Maple Saps in the game until the very end.

I would complain about the way officials always seem to come up with some suspect calls in Toronto, but seeing as the Caps were given ample power play opportunities and scored all three goals with the man advantage, we'll let this one slide.

The Capitals were able to grind through the third period and get 2 points on the road, and are now 1-1-0 in their murderous 7 game stretch. It's going to be important for the Alexes to continue their strong individual offense play as they work through the next five games, as even young legs will be leaden by the 7th game, and will likely need more of the kind of creativity exhibited tonight to win. One matter of concern was the Capitals inability to finish on their extended 5 on 3 late in the game, which could have put the game out of reach.

Kudos for the night go to Brian Sutherby, who took an absolute BOMB in a fight with Darcy Tucker but stayed on his feet and managed to land a few strong shots of his own. If Sudsy were to have gone down after the haymaker, the momentum would have swung completely in the Leafs favor. Instead, he muffled a potential rally with his granite chin.

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. And thanks to the Caps for the early gift.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

500 and counting

Peter Bondra scored his 500th career goal last night, snapping a 1-1 tie and leading the Blackhawks to a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Congratulations Peter! Caps fans everywhere still support (and miss) you. Keep those goals coming!

Devils put Caps to sleep

Is it just me, or should the Devils be sponsored by ambien?

Led by a rock solid defense and the standard brilliant game by Marty Brodeur, the Devils sat on a 2-1 lead and cruised to a 4-1 victory. The league's attempts to limit goaltender's stick use certainly hasn't slowed Brodeur, who effectively used the poke check from his crease last night more often than the rest of the goaltenders in the league combined this year. That gave his defense the ability to play tighter coverage on their men in front, knowing that Brodeur would slap away any quick passes or wraparound attempts.

The Capitals offense looked frustrated from the get go, with their only tally coming from Captain Clark in a scrum around the net. Their early inability to put pressure on seemed to frustrate the team, resulting in some ticky tack penalties, which they could ill afford. The team simply didn't put enough pressure on in either end to come away with the victory. Also, the line shakeup that put Ovechkin on the second line while teaming Semin with Zubrus and Clark didn't exactly spark great play out of any of those players. Don't expect to see too much of it in the future.

Notes on tonight's game:

1) NEVER taunt Marty Brodeur. He plays big in big games, and I can't imagine the whole mirrored glasses taunts didn't get him just a little geared up to play. So lets add him to the short list of players not to piss off before gametime.

2) There is a substantial difference in the way referees are calling penalties on the Super Sophomore class. If Crosby caught a high stick like Ovie did in the first, the offending player would have been taken out back and shot by league officials. As it was, no penalty was called against the offending Devils player. The referees in this league have always had this problem. The more physical the player (and I don't think anyone would dispute that The Russian Machine plays with more of a physical edge than Diver Down Crosby) the more liberties the refs allow opposing players to take with them. I've never understood this. A high stick is an easy call to make, and should be made uniformly by every referee, regardless of the players involved.

3) If you ever have trouble sleeping, I recommend getting the NHL Center Ice package and watching every Devils game. Insomnia cured.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Tonight: Caps v. Devils

Tonight at the V, the Caps take on the New Jersey Devils. Random note: Shouldn't the Devils be forced to wear their Christmas tree jerseys for the holidays?

The Caps are still pretty banged up (man, that welcome back Matt Bradley segment is looking more foolish by the day). Both teams enter the game playing better than .500 hockey in their last ten games, which should make for a good scrap tonight. With Erskine out and Big Daddy Donnie Brashear a game time decision, the Caps will have to depend on their offense to express their anger over last game, rather than pummeling the opposition physically.

On a related note, tonight should be a good opportunity for our brass to get a close look at free-agent-to-be Scott Gomez. The Devils won't have the cap space to re-sign him, and we all know the Caps have the room to make a legitimate offer. He makes a perfect fit for the Caps lineup, and would represent a huge upgrade at the pivot. Gomez' skill and willingness to play a physical game would match the team's style of play well. He is also a proven winner, with two Stanley Cup rings. That would give the Caps 3 quality centers (assuming Backstrom is even half as good as advertised), as opposed to the one we have now.

Okay, enough of touting one of the opposition's players.

My pick: Capitals 4, New Jersey Lesser Daemons 2.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

From Original 6: The Schedule of DEATH

Direct from the mind of the now-even-more-Ancient One:

"Have you guys seen the Caps schedule for next week? Talk about the group of death!

4 games in 5 days! What sadist put together this schedule including @ Buffalo, Montreal, @ New Jersey and @ the Rangers!!!!!!!!! And then they get a whole day to rest before playing the Coyotes at 1 PM on the 1st!!!!!!!!!

That makes 5 games in 7 days folks! I don’t think that I have ever heard of such a brutal schedule for a team!

We will see what this team is made of by the evening of January 1st."

I couldn't agree more. I'm hoping for 3-2 over that stretch, but even 2-3 would be acceptable. Anything better would be icing on the proverbial cake.

Rage, rage against the dying of the... Scott Burnside?

This just in from my brother, Grumpy Caps fan #2

"We must rage on Suck Burnside. I hate him. He must die." Concise, eloquent, to the point. I like it. See Burnside's idiotic comment below.

"Washington Capitals: Let's review. Fans in the nation's capital wouldn't come out when the Capitals boasted Jaromir Jagr, the game's most exciting player. Now, they won't come out when the Caps boast one of the hardest-working teams in the NHL and one of the game's most exciting figures in Alexander Ovechkin. Maybe that's a sign. We're just guessing, but we bet fans in Houston or Kansas City, or even Waterloo, Ontario, would appreciate Glen Hanlon's squad a whole lot more."

Let's see... fans here wouldn't come out to support a team of overpaid underachievers with Jaromir, "Mr. Regular Season" Jagr, only the least likeable, most aloof superstar this side of Terrell Owens. The team played its home playoff games that season at the worst possible time, right smack dab in the middle of the Easter holiday, a fact that had Ted boiling about his scheduling arrangement with Abe Pollin, the owner of the arena (and the Wizards). The team lost games because the glaring weakness at defense was never addressed, which made it less fun to see the team because you knew they 1) had a bunch of hired guns that didn't care all that much (two from the dreaded Pittsburgh Flighless Devilbirds, nonetheless!) and 2) were just as likely to lose a game 7-1 as they were to win one. It's hard to get excited about a team like that.

Sideburns is right about one thing. The Caps do have the league's hardest working teams and the best hockey player in the world today. But he also has to look at this from a potential fan's perspective. Last year, the Capitals were not a good team. They were a young team that made a lot of mistakes, had a few players that were not NHL calibur, and got outskilled (not outworked) by many of the teams in the NHL. It's very difficult to attract new fans (and to regain fans still raging over the moronic labor dispute) when your team loses the majority of its games, and loses big to the better teams in the league.

I admit the attendance numbers this year have not been stellar, but to say that the Capitals are a lost cause in DC as Burnside LOVES to do is moronic. We're on 5 year plan V2.0, and I think Ted has done a great job of working to get fans to the game, with the 4 for $20 Eagles Nest tickets during last year, our worst rebuilding year. He continues to make the team accessible to the fans by doing things like moving the practice facility to Ballston, (light years closer than Piney Orchard or Ashburn) and making all practices free and open to the public. The Caps players are some of the finest ambassadors the league could ask for. They consistently stay late after practice to chat with fans, sign autographs, and generally carry themselves as well as could possibly be expected of professional athletes. Their work and generosity with their time and energy WILL pay off. The team WILL get better. And the fans WILL come. Then maybe we can tell Suck Burnside where he can stick it. Right in
Houston or Kansas City, or even Waterloo, Ontario.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Caps blown away in first two periods against Light Breeze

The Caps came out flat against a hungry Tampa team and dug themselves a hole they were unable to get out of last night. The Light Breeze capitalized on the Capitals overall slugishness, drawing several power plays and capitalizing on three of them. Much had been written on Tampa's inability to score on the power play, but with the talent of Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis their slumping PP numbers couldn't last forever.

Tampa also looked to have discovered a weakness in the Capitals defensive alignment, frequently pushing all three forwards in a lateral line at the blue line, feeding the center, then passing off to whichever wing was left open by the defenseman when he shifted over to cover the center. Vinny "don't call me Testaverde" Lecavalier had no trouble finding the open man, which created several easy scoring chances in the first period.

Also, it's worth noting that Olie looked to be fighting the puck in the first couple of periods. He just didn't look very sharp. He should have swallowed up the rebound on the odd angle shot on the first goal (or at minimum directed it away from the front of the net). At the same time, Tampa is not like a lot of teams in the NHL in their shot selection. You simply do not see them take many shots on the ice hunting for rebounds. Their players shoot for the corners EVERY shot. And a couple shots whizzing by the ears can take any goaltender off his game.

Negativity aside (I know, it's rare here) it's important to note the progress that this young team is making. Last year, down by three this team would have been broken, and certainly would not have rallied with the passion and intensity they did in the third period. You can see that this team is maturing, and that they not only believe they can beat anyone in the league, but also that they are never truly out of a game, no matter the score. That's an incredible leap from last year, and it shows that win, lose or draw, er... overtime loss, the team is headed in the right direction.

Also, Alexander Ovechkin created another goal by knocking an opponent off the puck, muscling past another player and passing the puck off to Muir for the shot from the point. He has generated a number of scoring chances by being so physical on the forecheck. After all, it's hard to defend well when you're sitting on your butt checking to make sure you still have all your teeth (or at least the same number you started your shift with).

On a personal note, I'd like to say Happy Birthday to my father, who, in my brother's terms, "is officially older than dirt." Here's are two items that should put his age in perspective.

1. When my father was first a hockey fan, he wasn't a Caps fan, but it wasn't his fault. There were only 6 teams in the NHL at the time. The Original 6.
2. When my father was first a fan, Goalies didn't wear masks. And I don't mean they wore Kelly Hrudey style helmets. I mean they wore no head protection at all.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Light breeze blows into Washington

Tonight at Verizon Center, the Caps take on the stumbling Tampa Light Breeze. Although the weather here the last few days has made it feel a bit like Florida, let's do everything we can to make the indoors less then hospitable to our guests. Ted has even made it easier on the wallet to get tickets to tonights' game (2 for 1 tickets to select upper bowl seats). So go get 'em already. And Go Caps.

Late update: I know I jumped the gun last week welcoming Matt Bradley back in the lineup. Let's just chalk it up to my being a moron. At least I'll already have the segment written when he does return. Let's all hope it's soon.

A quick note on Rory Fitzpatrick

Since everyone and their grandmother has weighed in on the whole Vote for Rory thing, I figure I might as well do the same. After all, it's fun to be a lemming.

If voting ended today, Rory Fitzpatrick would be an All-Star. Some "purists" seem to think that it's an abomination that a hard working defenseman that has busted his proverbial butt to stay in the league, often shuttling back and forth to the minors, should be given such an honor. To those purists, I say this, "Lighten up frowny pants."

Seriously. And I thought I was grumpy.

If the fans choose to honor someone who embodies persistence, dedication, and hard work then let them. Hell, the commish made Dale Hunter an all star a few years back for those very same qualities.

The league needs to embrace this campaign. The NHL needs publicity. It needs people talking about it. This is the perfect vehicle. After all, it's one thing to write "thank you fans" on the ice in huge, annoyingly distracting letters at every arena. It's entirely another to actually listen to the fans, and to thank them the right way. Which is by doing what the fans want. And the Fans want Rory to be an All-Star.

Also, the attack ads on YouTube are hilarious. See them here and here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Thoughts on Caps domination of Flyers

It looked like the Caps would have their hands full, right up until Alex destroyed Peter Forsberg with a legal but devastating shoulder check. The loss of Forsberg in his first game back from nagging foot injuries completely deflated the entire Flyers team, and the Caps went on to win easily.

Observations on the game:

1) Alexander Semin may not be that fast (we tend to think of all Russian skaters as jet propelled, a la Pavel Bure) but he switches gears as well as anyone. Don't think so? Tell that to Antero Nittymaki and Randy Jones.

2) The Flyers are a very, very slow team.

3) Alex Ovechkin flying up the left side alone on a defenseman just isn't fair.

We'll see you all on Tuesday night.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

In the end, there can be only one.

Wow. I mean WOW. A dominating performance by Ovechkin. A goal to get the Caps out in front early, a goal to send the game into overtime with under a minute left, and a goal second into overtime to win it. You think maybe Ovie was a teency weency bit fired up for this game? Just an incredible performance. The kind that makes you think that as long as we have this kid playing for the Caps, a championship is more a matter of when than if.

We believe the reason for Ovechkin's domination of the game came from 2 sources. One, you already know about (and again, if you've been stationed in Antarctica for the last few months, click here). The other, surprisingly, was Ilya Kovalchuk. In the first, Kovalchuk seemed intent on making an impact in this game, and I do mean IMPACT. I don't ever think I've seen him throw so many big body checks in one period. It seemed Kovalchuk was trying to show Ovie that HE was the best Russian in the NHL.

Bad move.

Ovechkin thrives on competition. Feeds off of it the same way Popeye feeds off of spinach. It makes him skate faster, hit harder, and grow incredibly enlarged forearms. Okay, maybe not that last one. His drive to be the best has been documented all over the place, most noticeably in the post's recent feature article. And here was Kovalchuk, running around like he was the biggest, baddest guy around. Like he was the one deserving of all the fanfare. Like he was the best player on the ice. And he ended up stepping on The Russian Machine's toes.

Very bad move. Ovechkin made him pay for his transgression. He made them all pay.

Other observations on the game: Dainus Zubrus has officially come into his own. As a Caps fan over the years, I've always been critical of Zubrus. I didn't like the trade we made to get him (I was big on Zednik and Bulis' upside). I thought Zednik would be a star 2nd liner (and turned into one in Montreal, right up until he was nearly decapitated in the playoffs by a Kyle McLaren cheap shot in Montreal's series against Boston a few years back). I didn't think Zubrus would ever play with a physical edge or develop the intensity needed to be a star at the NHL level.

Well, Dainus, my apologies. I promise to limit my suggestion that you hit opposing players with your purse to twice a game.

This season, Zubrus has consistently won physical battles, made solid defensive plays, and is making stellar set up passes, like the 2 assists he had last night. His talent makes the first line a formidable presence. And his newfound willingness to bang around makes the first line not just a scoring line, but a line that beats other teams up. Clark, Ovechkin and Zubrus don't just want to score when they're out there. They want your lunch money too. And they're not going to stop pounding you until they get it.

Now you're going to have to forgive me for being grumpy here and pointing out that Zubrus is also in a contract year. Hey, it's in the name of the blog folks. Just can't help myself.

Let's turn focus now to the ridiculous nature of some of the penalties last night. The referees in Atlanta had NO SPINE. NONE. The ridiculous no call on the goaltender interference on Atlanta's washed out goal was just that. Ridiculous. Ditto the Semin diving minor. Forgive him for not being able to stay on his feet while being suplexed by Coburn. As my brother put it, "that was a reputation call, plain and simple." And reputation calls are made by referees that aren't good enough to keep up with the game. Kudos to Semin for not loosing his cool, or letting the rough stuff affect his game. Though he didn't score, he was a force on the ice, and Atlanta had to account for him.

Next game is tonight, 7PM against the Flyers. Regrettably, I won't be able to attend, but I'll have the TiVo spun up (and my brother will be watching with his one year old from the comfort of his couch) so I should have something on the game posted Sunday.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fight night in Atlanta

If you were under a rock somewhere and missed round 1 at Verizon Center, check the video here.

Post has a good story on why we probably won't see such a ruckus again tonight. Surprisingly, they don't mention the threat of league fines and suspensions, which I would expect to be a fairly potent deterrent. That said, I hope to see Donnie Brashear doing what he does best (and no, I don't mean playing the piano).

I have a suspicion that Atlanta, coming off three straight losses, is going to come out guns blazing trying to build an early lead. If they put more than 2 up in the first period, it's going to be a long night. If they don't, I think the Caps can get in their heads by being the more physical team. As long as they can play with a hard, physical edge and have the discipline to stay out of the box (obvious I know, but important just the same). If they can't manage that, they won't snap their 0-fer against Atlanta for the season.

The checking line should get a boost from the return of Matt Bradley, who had been sidelined with a hand injury. I happen to think Bradley is one of the most underrated forwards on the team. Although not particularly big or fast, he plays great positional hockey and his all around game is strong. Not having him for the game against the flightless devil fowl hurt the team badly.

My prediction: Caps 5, Atlanta Flames 3. (Brashear goes 1-0 in the only fight of the game).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Crosby has G, 2A

So Bing Crosby had a goal and 5 assists, only three of which were secondary.

I think it's time the league reviewed the whole secondary assist thing. It's getting to be like Gretzky's farewell tour
, when the guy would get an assist any time he was on the ice and a goal was scored. I know the player's union would never go for it, but this is getting ridiculous.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

499 down, one to go

Caps fan favorite Peter Bondra scored on a 5 on 3 in his season debut with the Blackhawks, putting him at 499 for his career. One more and he can consider his ticket to the hall of fame punched. After all, they already have his profile ready.

We have always been great fans of Bondra here at 3GC, and hope that his good fortune this season continues. Peter, you'll always be a Cap to us.

Thoughts on Caps - Pens collapse

Lets see.. everyone has already covered the "Caps let lead slip away against Penguins... again" angle and the "Caps need to start burying Pittsburgh or else they're going to develop a complex" angle, so I'm going to take a different route (admittedly stolen from my older brother, Grumpy Caps Fan #2, who will be posting from time to time).

Glen Hanlon lost this game for the Caps. I say this not to call for his head (I happen to think he's just the coach the Caps need in this early phase of their development), but simply to point out the obvious fact everyone seems to be missing. The Capitals top checking line simply could not keep up with the Pens' top line, but Hanlon refused to fight fire with fire by playing Ovechkin and Co. against them, forcing the Pens into a more defensive posture. So when the flightless devilbirds top line was being double shifted, it had the effect of 1) keeping our best players on the bench and 2) forcing our "shutdown" line to bear the responsibility of handling 2 of the fastest and most talented young players in the league to secure the victory.

I like the chemistry of our defensive line, but, as my brother put it best, "There are no Selke winners on this roster." Every shift Secondary Sid and Watch-for-the-Elbow Malkin took looked the same. Evil flightless birds control puck, make effective passes, get solid scoring chance. Wash, rinse, repeat. It was just too much to ask of the checking line that lacked the speed to put any real pressure on elite level forwards.

Also, it seemed that Ovechkin was played sparingly until the last few minutes of the game and overtime. I don't have TOI stats from the game handy, but it sure seemed like it to me.

Giving away this game made for a -3 point swing for the Caps against a team we're likely to be fighting for a playoff spot in a couple months. Here's to hoping we don't make the same mistake again.

Ah, well. Time to get the knuckles taped up for Fight Night in Atlanta Friday.