Bruce Boudreau certainly won't forget last night, will he? First he gets the interim label removed from his title by the organization then his team goes out and puts together a gritty performance in securing two points in regulation and a 4 point swing in the Southeast Division by beating the Tampa Bay Lecavaliers 3 to 2.
Coach B saw his team survive a shaky start by Olie Kolzig and yet another amazing performance by Vinnie Lecavalier, who right now is delivering on the promise that lead most scouts to label him the heir apparent to Gretzky and Lemiux while Sid the Kid was still in grade school. And when Tampa's new goaltender Karri Ramo did his best Nikolai Khabibulin impersonation, robbing the Russian Machine and Tomas Fleischmann (twice) from point blank range, the Caps finally got the offense they were hoping to see out of their checking line.
Quinten Laing, David Steckel, and Matt Bradley were by far the Capitals best line on the night. Aside from scoring two of the Caps three goals, they logged major ice time against Tampa's top line, playing strong in the defensive end while holding the puck well and making a wonderful mess in front of Ramo's crease. It seems unfair that Laing will sit tonight against the Pens after such a strong performance (thanks to the return of Boyd Gordon), but if he can string together a couple more performances like last night's he'll get more of his fair share of games in before season's end.
One oddity from the organization... even though the "interim" label has been removed from Coach Boudreau's title, he's still up for review (and possible replacement) at season's end. I suppose the Caps just wanted to let him know he wouldn't be replaced this season. Whatever.
Tonight, the Caps look for another pair of points in Pennsylvania against the Flightless Devilbirds and Sid the Submarine (diving puns are harder to come by than you think after a couple seasons). Game time is 7:30.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Bruce Boudreau certainly won't forget last night, will he? First he gets the interim label removed from his title by the organization then his team goes out and puts together a gritty performance in securing two points in regulation and a 4 point swing in the Southeast Division by beating the Tampa Bay Lecavaliers 3 to 2.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Greetings everyone, and happy holidays from us here at the site. Things have been pretty busy around here, what with all of the eating, gift giving and such. We even missed the site's first birthday (Dec. 13) we were all so tied up. We promise we'll improve our upkeep on the site headed into the New Year. And speaking of new, it appears that Coach Boudreau and the Caps are treating tonight's game as the beginning of the second half of the season. Let's hope that they can start the second half the same way they started the first (with a win).
Per Tarik, the Caps will once again be without Captain Clark, whose groin injury has kept him out over a month. Not good. Not good at all. The captain's physical play and his scoring ability are sorely missed on the right side of the ice.
The Tampa Bay Lightning come to town playing the same brand of maddeningly inconsistent play that has marked their entire season. Unlike so many teams, the cause of Tampa's woes is easy to point out: their horrendous goaltending. With both Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis posting sub .900 save percentages (and looking awful while doing it) it's clear that Tampa will always be in a position where their offense will have to carry them to victory, because they're going to give up goals.
With Alexander Semin returning to form and the Russian Machine being, well, the Russian Machine, look for the Caps to post at least 4 goals tonight. Hopefully that will be enough to down the evil triplets from Tampa and move us within one point of the Lightning in the Southeast.
Monday, December 17, 2007
After getting a good look at Coach Boudreau's system over the past couple weeks, I can't say for sure what he's done with the offense, except giving them a longer leash to forcheck on. However, one can plainly see that his philosophy concerning defensemen is as different from the previously installed setup as night and day.
Under Glen Hanlon, the defense was set far back, not involved with the offensive rush except in the most obvious of circumstances. The main tenant on defense was to hold good defensive positioning, not extend yourself, and keep the opposition from getting behind you. While players were not routinely beaten by long passes up the middle, this had the effect of always having the defense on its heels, constantly absorbing attacks without countering. And with a set of rookies whose potential was just beginning to show itself, that seemed like the right approach at the time. You can almost hear Hanlon saying it: Sit back, let the game come to you, don't make any big mistakes.
At the time, you wouldn't have wanted the Caps crew of 20 year old defensemen running around like a bunch of mites on ice (not any more than they already were, at any rate). However, with a couple years for the young defensive corps to mature and with the acquisition of solid two way defenseman Tom Poti, newly installed Coach Bruce Boudreau clearly thought that it was time for a change.
The change was first evident in the Caps power play, where offensive wunderkid Mike Green scored twice from within 10 feet of net in the first couple games. How can a defenseman score goals from that close in while still protecting the blue line? He can't, but the risk involved was lessened by the extra attacker for the Caps.
That's all well and good, and pinching the defense on the power play certainly seemed like a good idea. But then it started happening with Green and Tom Poti at even strength. A few games later Shoanne Morrison made several offensive forays that started at his own goal line. And this Saturday, Brian Pothier scored the game winner from about five feet away from the net, taking a Matt Pettinger behind the goal line pass and depositing it in the upper shelf.
So it seems that Coach Boudreau's new attacking system is at least as much about aggressive play from the defensemen as it is about the forwards. With a couple years of development, the Caps blueliners are confident enough to pick their spots to attack, and their coach has presented them the opportunity to do so. In addition to adding to the offense, it keeps the other team focused on defending an extra man, which fundamentally changes their ability to strike back. And while they have been burned by giving up the big play on occasion, the team as a whole seems to function better when their blueliners are pushing forward. It seems like the right fit for this team right now. And it's certainly entertaining to watch.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:
Great game. Very entertaining. But the Caps should have won it in regulation. And if they are going to have ANY chance of making the playoffs, they can't give up a point to other Eastern Conference teams. They may end up battling for that eighth spot with the Rangers, and a point here and a point there add up.
Mike Green is playing unbelievable hockey right now. He was absolutely flying last night -- skating, making GREAT moves, scoring goal scorers goals. He played OVER THIRTY minutes in the game! Looks like he's found his confidence.
Donald Brashear was also a force last night. He beat the living tar out of Colton Orr. Again. Doesn't that guy ever get tired of being pounded by The Donald? Has he ever even come close to winning a fight between the two of them? Of course, the picture in the NY Post was of the beginning of the fight, before Brashear pounded Orr to the ice. And the caption, laughably, states "The Rangers' Colton Orr gets the upper hand on the Capitals' Donald Brashear during Washington's 5-4 overtime victory last night." Even my wife said, "Oh, my God. He really beat that poor guy up." Gotta love the New York media.
After getting out of the box, he made a nice hit followed instantly by a pretty centering feed which resulted in Motzko's first goal, and later made a beautiful pass to Motzko which resulted in the second goal. And of course, he hit everything that moved (and he could catch).
Probably most importantly, he took ZERO stupid penalties (I wish the same could be said for your favorite, Matt Bradley -- Hey Matt, when your team is up by a goal in the third period, and your job is to eat up the clock by cycling the puck in the offensive zone, don't take one hand off the stick (a sure signal to any referee that you're about to hold), wrap it around an opposing player's neck (another sure sign of a hold), and then pull on him, THEN raise your hand up like you didn't just hold (the final sign of an infraction just in case the ref was snoozing for the first three). ESPECIALLY NOT IN THE OFFENSIVE ZONE.
Of course, the Rangers scored to tie the game, even if it was one second after the penalty expired. You're killing me Matt.
Anyway, the best thing about last night is that the Caps fought back from a two-goal deficit, which I wouldn't have believed possible had I not seen it with my own eyes. So that was nice. That's about it. I won't be grumpy and mention that the Caps are now ice cold on the power play, even with an alleged PP Genius behind the bench. At least now they get the puck in the zone, set it up, control it, and actually get shots on net. So I think the PP goals will come.
By the way, I was THRILLED to see that Cap Killer Exraordiare Mark Recchi now gets to play the Caps like five more times this year, having been signed by Atlanta. Great. Put him down for a 20 goal year. We should have signed him just to bench him for the rest of the year.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Well, what a difference a day makes. After looking thoroughly average against the Devils in New Jersey, the Capitals came out and steamrolled Atlanta, scoring early and often en route to a convincing 6-3 victory. The Caps played well in all three zones despite missing their captain (Clark) their best setup man (Nylander) and their best penalty killer (Gordon). Indeed, the holes created by their absences forced Coach Boudreau to make some alterations in the lineup that paid dividends almost immediately.
Playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Matt Pettinger, Nicklas Backstrom looked every bit of the player the Caps were hoping for when they drafted him. He played with the poise and presence of a veteran, which lead directly to his goal. Backstrom positioned himself high in the zone just below the blueline in the center of the ice, where he was able to step up and intercept a weak pass attempt by the Thrasher defenseman. While most rookies would not have been in position to make the play, almost none would have been able to react instantly and fire the puck top corner without hesitation as Backstrom did. It was a play that showed all that Backstrom has to offer: great positional play, great read and reaction time, and a finisher's scoring touch. It's going to be a pleasure watching him in Washington in the years to come.
The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Pettinger line dominated play throughout the game, with each forward scoring once. Pettinger's rebound goal was just his second of the season, and hopefully will inspire the winger to continue to play with the reckless abandon he exhibited in getting to the loose puck for the rest of the season. Ovechkin's goal wasn't the prettiest he'll ever score, but tipping the puck out of midair to redirect it past Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonin was no small feat.
While the second line of Semin, Brashear, and Kozlov did not directly produce a goal, it was the cause of Jeff Shultz's tally. Semin held the puck down low and drew multiple defenders before being buried from behind with a cross check from one of Atlanta's defenders. But the stage was set, as all the traffic in front screened Lehtonin and he never saw Shultz' shot as it drifted past him.
And what more can be said of Mike Green? He continues to be the Capitals best offensive defenseman, and his two tallies on the night bring his season total to 7, tied for second on the team and tied for first in the league among defensemen. His outstanding puck control and skating ability constantly keeps the opposing team on its heels, and his finishing on both goals was nothing short of superb.
Tonight, the Capitals look to produce a modest two game winning streak at home against New Jersey. Both teams will play their third game in four nights, but looks for the Caps to be the fresher team due to their five day layoff before that stretch. Look for the Caps to take control of the game early and put buckets of shots on the Devils goaltender. Whether or not the Devils can weather the storm in the first period and a half will dictate whether or not they have a chance in the game.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
While the Caps players are spending this week getting accustomed to Coach Boudreau's system, it's a good time to examine the state of the team and identify which areas have performed well and which, to put it politely, need improvement. While their record certainly indicated there will be more of the latter than the former, there are certainly bright spots to touch upon. After all, with the snow on the ground in the area and the holiday season approaching, we don't want to be called Grinches
On the positive side, the Caps have improved the overall skill level of their team, specifically with the additions of Nylander and Backstrom. While their impact has yet to show in the standings, you'd be hard pressed to find a more improved position for the Caps than at the center dot. Keep in mind, Kris Beech was playing top minutes for the team last year at the position. While Backstrom still has to improve his skating and physical play, he's shown that he can mentally keep up with the responsibilies of playing the pivot. And Nylander is miles ahead of any Caps center since Adam Oates wore the sweater.
Additionally, the Caps defense has developed more offensive swagger with the addition of Tom Poti and the emergence of Mike Green as a geniune offensive dynamo. While Poti has had to contend with injuries and increased responsibility in all zones, he has been effective as the Caps top defenseman. Mike Green, meanwhile, has been one of the team's top offensive threats for most of this season, redeeming himself after a lackluster second season (and making this post from last year relevant again).
Alex Ovechkin has 20 goals and is averaging over a point a game while playing the best two way hockey of his career. Nothing to scoff at.
Unfortunately, the list of problems is much more robust.
First, aside from Poti and Green, the defense for the Caps has looked positively amateurish so far. Jurcina is no longer hitting everything that moves, and Jeff Shultz must have pictures of Ted Leonsis naked in order to keep his spot on the roster. He's been overmatched in almost every game he's played. Why they haven't shuffled him out of the lineup and given Steve Eminger more looks confounds me. And while John Erskine has been effective at playing the body, he has had lapses of discipline that make his spot in the lineup tenuous at best. Another major issue for the Caps blueliners is their lack of footspeed. They simply cannot skate with the faster teams in the league, and they lack the toughness to pound away at quick players when they have opportunities. Looking for proof? Watch the replay of their performance against Buffalo.
In order for the defense to reach a respectable level, they need a banger, plain and simple. I hate to say it, but the Caps sure could use Brendan Witt right now. I think I just lost a year of my life typing that.
Injuries have also played a major part in the Caps horrendous start, but that does not excuse how they've been managed (and how they might have been prevented). First, let's go with prevention. Under Glen Hanlon, the power play lacked movement, which led to players having to flood the front of the net to create scoring chances (since the shot angles didn't change, they attempted to screen the goaltender and fight for rebounds). Unfortunately, their best shooter is at his best shooting for high corners. Close range shots aimed high tend to be VERY, VERY dangerous to anyone setting a screen. Just ask Chris Clark about it. The Caps could just as easily have created the same screen with Clark skating across the shooting lane, instead of standing in it, and Clarkie would still have both ears in one piece.
As far as Alex Semin's injury is concerned, we covered that weeks ago. Ankle injuries should be given ample time to recover, even if the player thinks they're ready to play. Instead of sitting him for a couple weeks, the Caps rushed Semin back into the lineup, after which he promptly reinjured himself and has yet to fully recover. Ugh.
In terms of forward contributions outside of the Russian Machine, there haven't been any. When your primary setup man is second on the team in goals and one of your defensemen is tied for third, you know there's a problem. Simply put, the Capitals second through fourth lines have not been getting it done. And while their old (trap) system is partially to blame, someone on the team has to step up and get the job done.
And speaking of stepping up, will someone let Viktor Kozlov know that the season has started? Kozlov has been by far the least impactful free agent signing, even though he's played on the top line almost exclusively. At this point, it's fair to say that Kozlov is stealing money every shift he's on the ice. At this point, I think every defenseman in the league knows that Kozlov needs time to make a play and presses him before he gets the opportunity.
It's true that despite his size, Kozlov will never be a banger. But would it be too much to ask for his to actually forecheck instead of weakly swiping his stick at opposing players as they skate past? And if he ever takes another shift at center it will be too soon. I'd rather see Backstrom losing draws but refining his technique than Kozlov losing draw after draw after draw after draw. He belongs on the wing (or more accurately right now, on the bench).
So what do the Caps need to do to address these issues? It's clear that not all of them can be taken care of with the team in its current makeup, so a trade is a possibility. It's much more likely that they'll wait until the offseason to make any moves (especially with the Russian Machine's contract coming due).
However, there are certain things that Coach Boudreau can do right now to improve the team (and some things he's already done).
1. Unleash Mike Green and allow him to play an attacking game (check).
2. Move Kozlov to the wing and off the first line (almost there).
3. LET SEMIN'S ANKLE HEAL. At this point, the Caps have played almost a third of the season without Semin. Sitting him a few extra games isn't going to make or break team chemistry.
4. Improve team discipline. The Caps have taken far too many penalties this year, from their Captain on down. It needs to stop if the Caps want to have any hope of a midseason run. You can win a game or two in a row without discipline, but not 5 or 6 in a row.
5. Wake up (or trade) Kozlov.
So, there you have it. Hopefully Coach B will bring the Caps out on Friday full of fire and wrath, and we'll look back at this as the point in the season where things turned around. Even if they don't recover and make the playoffs, at least we might get to watch some entertaining offensive hockey.
Friday, November 30, 2007
More specifically, the NHL schedule for next year will ditch the current format and return to its pre-lockout roots. The division games will be reduced from 8 per team to 6, which means every NHL team will play every other team at least once a year. Which is how it should be.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Deuce:
Well, that didn't take long, did it? After putting in two good efforts against two strong teams, New Caps bench boss Bruce Beaudreau gave the team the day off on Sunday. The result: The Caps apparently forgot how to try again.
Last night, the Caps put forth another stinker, a lackluster effort on national TV. Once again, The Russian Machine was the only one who appeared to care out there. Particularly stinky were Alex Semin, back from a 17-game absence (with a game or two in between), Michael Nylander, and Tomas Fleischman. Nylander and Fleischman should both be credited with assists on the Sabres second and third goals, since their horrible giveaways directly contributed to Buffalo scores. I like Nylander a lot, and he is a wizard in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick, but when he has an off game, he REALLY has an off game.
The rest of the Caps looked like they have all season, tentative, slow, and weak. The lack of a bruiser on defense who can actually move his feet (sorry, Erskine) is really starting to get old. In fact, I'm afraid our father, Original Six, is going to burst a blood vessel in his head if the D don't start hitting out there.
The Sabres forwards (and every other team's for that matter) fly around in the Caps' zone all game, trying spin-a-ramas and behind the back passes and all manner of things they would NEVER try against, say, the NJ defense. Somebody, at some point, has just got to tattoo someone out there. Also, could somebody tell Morrison and company that when somebody slashes Olie, you are allowed to shove them, push them, give them a face-wash, SOMETHING for crying out loud?! Anyway, on to the game analysis, depressing as that may be.
Going in to the game, I told Grumpy 3 that the speedy Sabres forwards would give our D fits, and that we would have a tough time beating Buffalo with all the speed they brought to bear. Well, they were faster, and we didn't hit them, but it was actually the Caps, not the Sabres, who killed the Caps last night. If not for the two egregious turnovers mentioned earlier, we might have been in this game until the end. Miller made a couple of great saves against the Russian Machine, and Nylander again missed a wide-open net. But what was most noteable last night was the lack of effort on the Capitals' part again.
I hope Bruce bag-skates them today until they puke. Somebody needs to motivate these guys. Before it kills our father.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Not a bad way to start an NHL coaching career, eh? First, Coach Boudreau leads the Caps to an overtime victory in Philly (snapping a 5 game losing streak), then another win over Carolina at home. Since it's nearly impossible for a coach to drastically change a team's philosophy in only a couple days, let's look at the simple changes he's made to the Capitals gameplan that seem to have reinvigorated the team.
First, Boudreau has abandoned the concept of having two balanced power play lines and has instead stacked his first line with the best available talent. Playing Backstrom, Nylander, and Ovechkin at forward and Tom Poti and Mike Green on defense, the Caps power play unit has managed to pot 4 power play goals in two games. Even better, they've actually been goals created by the entire power play unit, not just individual brilliance from the Russian Machine as had been the case for the past couple seasons.
It's amazing to see how much more puck and player movement the Caps have had on the power play. With two outstanding setup men and the league's premier finisher down low, defenses have been forced to collapse on the forwards, and with Mike Green given the, ahem, green light to attack the weak side the Caps have looked actually looked like the talented offensive team they are. Two outstanding passes from our Swedish centers resulted in two goals by Green, and the Caps power play is back from the dead.
Second, Coach Boudreau has focused on maintaining an aggressive forecheck system instead of sitting back and allowing opposing teams to build up steam headed into the neutral zone. Not only has this made it more difficult for teams to start their attack, it's also resulted in many more opposition turnovers in the neutral zone and the Caps offensive zone, which has lead to the Caps having to cover much less ice in order to generate an attack.
While it's tough to say whether the Caps can sieze on this newfound momentum and claw their way back into the playoff picture, one thing is for sure. The Caps have become a much more fun team to watch, and a much less fun team to play against.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Per the Caps, Glen Hanlon has been relieved of his coaching duties and replaced on an interim basis by former Hershey Bears head coach Bruce Boudreau. The move was not unexpected considering the Capitals are off to their worst start in over 25 years. However, Hanlon's tenure in Washington should not be judged based solely on this year's merits.
Glen Hanlon lead a team with a pittance of NHL caliber talent for two seasons, and for the entirety of those two seasons we almost never saw a team that gave less than everything it had. I don't think it's overreaching to say that the Capitals overachieved for those two seasons, and their coach's optimism, patience and understanding were all major reasons for that.
Unfortunately, most coaches in the NHL are not measured on what they do for young teams or how they teach young players to grow into NHL regulars, but on their records. As the team matured and new talent was added, Coach Hanlon eventually had to be measured by the standards of other coaches: wins and losses. But let us not forget that Glen Hanlon was the right coach for the Washington Capitals for two seasons. He should be commended for the job he did with the organization during that time.
Now it's time to move in another direction. So thank you Coach Hanlon for the job that you did in the previous two years. Caps fans will not forget you for it.
Now a new era begins. While it's far too early to say whether the Boudreau experiment will last past this season, it's clear that it was time for a change. Welcome Coach Boudreau.
And lets go Caps.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Unfortunately, the offense isn't as bad as it looks on paper. It's worse. Lets break down the list of goaltenders the Caps have faced this year and the result:
Opponent - Result - Goals sc0red - goals against - goaltender - (b) = backup
atl - w 3-1 goaltender: Lehtonen
car - w 2-0 Grahame (b)
nyi - w 2-1 Dipietro
nyr - l 1-8 Lundqvist
buf - l 3-7 Miller
nyi - l 2-5 DiPietro
pit - l 1-2 Fleury
tam - w 5-3 Denis (b)
van - l 2-3 Luongo
stl - l 3-4 Legace
tor - w 7-1 Toskala/Raycroft
nyr - l 0-2 Lundqvist (SO)
phi - l 2-3 Nittymaki (b)
car - l 0-5 Ward (SO)
atl - otl 1-2 Pavelec (b)
ott - w 4-1 Emery (b)
tam - l 2-5 Holmqvist
fla - l 1-2 Vokoun
tam - l 2-5 Holmqvist
fla - l 3-4 Vokoun
Of the Caps 6 wins, a full half have come against goaltenders that are not currently considered starters for their respective teams. At this point, the "we ran into a hot goaltender" excuse is getting as played out as it was in the mid 80s. The Caps barely hold a winning percentage against the league's second tier goaltenders (3-2). It has to be said... it's not the goaltenders, it's the offensive system (or lack thereof).
Tonight, the Caps have a chance to start turning things around against the Thrashers. If the team can't claw out a win on home ice tonight, there may be some folks who get much longer than expected stays at home after the holiday.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:
Early this morning, J.P. of Japers had his post-game offering. Just one mistake, he had the score 3-2. Wishful thinking, J.P. You're giving the Caps' offense WAY more credit than they deserve. TWO whole goals in one game?! Come on, that's expecting an awful lot. Last night, like this whole season, was atrocious. I wanted to throw up, in part because I knew I'd be reading the same ridiculous, "we're getting our chances, the puck's just not bouncing our way" quotes again today. Good teams make their own bounces. Of course, we are nowhere NEAR a good team right now. In fact, we're bad. Really bad. Has the Peerless Prognosticator upped the Playoff Threat Advisory to RED yet? If not, he should.
There are so many bad qualities about this team right now that it would take me all morning to focus on all of them. Bad line combinations, bad matchups, bad in-game adjustments, poor effort, bad giveaways, atrocious power play, bad penalty killing, bad offense -- just BAD. And of course, the most frustrating part of it all is that we as Caps fans just KNOW this team is better than this, much better (of course, we're the only ones who think this right now). Anyway, before I go through the litany of woes, I'll just look at one of the worst aspects of the Caps offense this year (there will be time to go through another after tonight's thrashing at the hands of the white-hot Lightning): The "Power" Play:
First, let's look at the personnel we could throw out there together (and no Glen Hanlon, I will not include Donald Brashear or Joe Motzko as possibilities):
Ovechkin, Clark, Nylander, Backstrom, Poti, Green. There are six guys to choose from who could legitimately play on the first power play for most teams. I won't include fringe PP-types like Pettinger and/or Flash, because they haven't proven themselves yet in that capacity. Now with those six players to choose from (and you can take out Clark if you want because of all the games he missed with injuries), shouldn't the Caps really be better on the PP than 15.0%? I think so. The Caps have scored 12 PPGs in 18 games so far -- pretty bad. It's even worse when you consider that five of those tallies have come from Ovechkin -- and at least 3 of them were individual efforts that in no way reflected a nicely set up passing play resulting in a PPG (if I remember correctly, two have come on rapid fire wristers off the faceoff, and one came where he dangled his way down the left side, cut into the middle around the defenseman, and scored on the rush). So that reduces the true PPGs from 12 to 9. So basically, without OV's great individual efforts, our PP would be second worst in the league, second only to the woeful Edmonton Oilers power play which has tallied only SEVEN times this season. But I can undertstand EDM's woes: Souray is injured, and the rest of their PP consists of Shawn Horcoff, Rafi Torres, Dustin Penner, Joni Pitkanen, and Dick Tarnstrom. Yikes. So as you can see, there is absolutely NO excuse for the Caps' players listed above to be producing at the level of EDM's PP, which is essentially what they are doing.
So what's the problem? Well, as I've detailed before, the first problem is that Hanlon got way too cute at the beginning of the season, and tried to have TWO good PP units when he really should have been focusing on just one. The exact same mistake he made last year. The result -- you had the evil Victor Kozlov playing with OV and Clark, and Poti and heaven-only-knows who else manning the point. The problem -- those guys couldn't maintain possession of the puck down low. The second unit was Backstrom, Nylander, and Pettinger playing with, gasp, Pothier and Green up top. Not surprisingly, Nylander, a puck possession and passing specialist, leads the team with 8 power play points (3 PPGs, 5 PPAs). In other words, if Nylander and OV ain't on the ice, don't even bother watching! After a few games of this two-headed monster, I was begging Hanlon to put OV and Nylander together. But he steadfastly refused until just three games ago -- against Carolina. Just before that game, I asked Mike Vogel why Hanlon wouldn't put OV and Nyls together. Here was his response:
Well, they tried it last night. I am one who believes if it’s going to work and work well in the long run that 8 and 92 are going to need some practice time together. Anyone who has watched Nylander play has to know that he is not the easiest guy in the world to play with. As to why they hadn’t tried it before, two reasons. One, they truly believe that the best chemistry combos are with 8 and 25 and 92 and 28. And second, I think they believe the resulting line combos make the team a bit weaker defensively."
Fair enough. But when Semin went down, it should have been obvious to Hanlon that he needed to play his best players together. That has only just started to happen. And I, for one, don't think Nylander would be that hard to play with. Just go to the net and put your stick on the ice -- he'll get the puck to you in great scoring position.
Back to the PP. So the two PP idea didn't work out. The first line didn't work the puck well down low -- in part because of the Caps' D-men's total inability to put a puck anywhere in the vicinity of the net (Pothier). Because nobody feared a big blast nice and low and on net from the point, they cheated down on Ovechkin, knowing he was the only real threat on the "first" power play (I know, you're saying "What? They weren't afraid of Kozlov?) So, about eight games too late, Hanlon adjusted by putting OV on the point. Not a terrible decision -- now teams have to cheat out high, opening space for the other guys to work down low. He also moved Nylander to the first PP. The only problem -- now there's no finisher to bury Nylander's nice thread-the-needle passes.
The Deuces's solution -- Nylander, Clark, and Ovechkin down low -- this allows Clark and OV to win loose pucks, and Nylander to control the play and look for any opening to split the box and hit OV for a one-timer. Poti and Green up high. And Tom, for crying-out-loud, shoot the frikkin' puck every once in a while. Don't get cute -- just crush it. You're supposed to have a bomb from up there, make teams fear it. If not, we'll just call up Godfrey. At least three times last night I watched Poti pass up a good shot opportunity from the point because it wasn't perfect. Who cares? Put it on net, and Clark and OV will do the rest.
So there you have it, the solution to all our power play woes, and the ticket out of Lottery City. Maybe.
And, oh yeah, here are Original Six's words of wisdom on last night's game: "The season is not over however I think that it may be time to look at hiring a new coach that will light a fire under some player’s butts. I love Glen Hanlon but it is now obvious that he cannot motivate these players. Is Mike Keenan still alive?"
Friday, November 9, 2007
Now allow me to call all of you with your hands raised liars. What an impressive 4-1 victory over the artists formerly known as the hottest team in the league. The Caps put together one of their better overall games of the year and, thanks to the brilliant goaltending of Olie Kolzig, dominated the Senators for all three periods. The Senators faithful sounded much more like a crowd of 8,000 than a packed house of over 18,000.
It looked to be all doom and gloom for the Caps in the second with the score knotted at 0 when Jeff Shultz and Tom Poti were whistled for minor infractions within a minute of one another. On the ensuing penalty kill, Dave Steckel broke his stick, and Caps fans everywhere waited for the hammer to fall... and waited... and waited... and nothing happened. Olie Kolzig played like a man possessed, the defense held, and the Caps were able to get a stoppage of play. Glen Hanlon wisely spent a timeout to rest his weary penalty killers, who responded by snuffing out the rest of the Ottawa penalty. If the Caps are able to reel off a few wins and get themselves out of the cellar, that penalty kill will be pointed to as the turning point in this young season.
A little more than halfway through the second, someone finally let Viktor Kozlov know the season had started, and he responded with an impressive effort, scoring once on a great individual effort and setting up two more Caps tallies on his way to being named the number one star of the night. Also notable was Nicklas Backstrom potting is first NHL goal, and the Russian Machine sealing the victory with a pretty delayed snapper late in the third.
The Caps need to carry all the momentum they can muster into Saturday's tilt against Tampa, where the Caps look to break out from the bottom of the standings and start the rise to the middle of the pack. Tampa has yet to win on the road, and the Caps will have had a couple days to soak in the glory of this victory and rest up for the game. All signs point towards a hard fought Caps victory, as long as someone can keep Kozlov awake during the game.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
While we'd love to be optomistic about tonight's faceoff with the Senators, it's very, very difficult to see anything but another Carolina-style whuppin coming. The Caps are sliding dangerously close to irrelevance, having won only 2 of their last 10 games. The Senators, meanwhile, have won 9 of their last 10 and are 13-1 overall. They've mowed down the opposition, racking up goals to the tune of 3 1/2 a game.
The one place to find solace? The Caps beat Toronto by a larger margin (6 goals) than Ottawa (4) in their last meeting. Hey, you gotta find SOMETHING positive in there.
The Caps clearly need a win, but just as important, they need a breakthrough game on the scoresheet. While I'm no fan of moral victories, a 5-4 loss to the league's best team would be something to build on going into this weekend's matchup with Tampa. But in order for that to happen, the Caps need to do the little things that they have been missing.
On the power play, the Caps need to abandon the whole "Holmstrom-like" concept of planting someone in front of the net at all times. A strategically timed skater moving across the goaltender's field of view is just as valuable as a flat footed player in front, and said player is much less likely to be killed by an Ovechkin one timer. So Glen, please stop trying to murder your players by setting stationary screens in front of the net when you KNOW your snipers pick top corners, and do it at high velocity. At this rate, if a change isn't made every player on the roster will be knocked out by an OV slapper by the end of the season.
At even strength, the Capitals absolutely must play physical hockey in all three ends. To paraphrase the great Herb Brooks, the Caps are not talented enough to win on talent alone. The Caps need to grind against skill teams (Ottawa, Carolina, Tampa), play with skill against grind teams (New Jersey, Vancouver), and they've done precious little of either as of late.
Third, to make this even a remotely close game, Olie Kolzig needs to channel a performance from the 1998 playoff run and frustrate the Senators snipers early. If he can hold the score to 1 or 2 goals in the first two periods, the Caps have a chance. If not....
Despite how dire the situation looks, the Caps don't need a win tonight to keep their hopes alive. What they need is a strong performance heading into Saturday's Southeast Division showdown with Tampa, which IS a make or break game for them. I expect a gritty performance, and maybe an OT point tonight.
Caps 4, Sens 5 (OT).
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
The Deuce is ticked. The Deuce was looking forward to watching The Russian Machine dominate Kovalchuk tonight, and in the process forgetting about that-which-need-not-ever-be-mentioned-again that-happened-last-night. But then, thanks to J.P., the Deuce discovered the following:
"Because the NHL has decided to give the Versus Network exclusive rights to some Monday and Tuesday night telecasts, Tuesday’s game from Atlanta will not be telecast in the Washington or Atlanta areas. Instead, viewers can watch the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Versus."
Now the Deuce is pissed. I have to watch two teams I can't stand rather than watching the Caps try to finally break out of this horrible slump. And you just KNOW now that I can't watch, OV will have four goals, three set up on beautiful passes by Nylander. Damn you Versus. Damn you to hell. Why couldn't you black out LAST night's game? Now there's one I wouldn't have minded. Anyway, The Deuce encourages everyone to join him in a boycott of tonights NYC Suckfest. We may not be able to watch the Caps, but the least we can do is refuse to watch Jagr and Witt.
Update: Looks like we're going to miss Chris Bourque's NHL thanks to the "exclusivity agreement." This sucks.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:
Well, that was fun, wasn't it. Last night a desperate Glen Hanlon finally did what Caps fans have been begging for for weeks now and the result was -- a total domination at the hands of the Hurricanes. Make no mistake about it, the Caps got absolutely destroyed last night. Anyone who watched saw a thorough domination by what, at this point at least, appears to be one of the best teams in the league this year. Right now, the Canes are playing like the team that won the Cup two years ago. And the hapless Caps simply could not compete. So enough of that. Let's try and analyze what we can from last night's debacle.
1) Glen Hanlon finally gave in and played OV with Nylander and Backstrom. And while no result from last night can be characterized as "good," there are two positive takeaways here: the first is that for most of the time they were together, they controlled the play and got good scoring chances -- it's just that nothing was going to get by Ward last night. The second is that we now know that Hanlon is desperate enough to try this, so we should be able to see more if it. I honestly think if this line plays together against most teams in the league, they're good for at least 2 goals a game.
2) Where is the fire? Why aren't Sutherby, Bradley, and Laich playing like their jobs depend on every shift (because they do). We're down four and five zip, and these guys aren't hitting out there. (Although in their defense, it may be that they simply couldn't catch the blazing fast Canes).
3) What happened to the tightened standards and the "New NHL" last night. Every time the Caps would try to skate the puck up ice last night, they got whacked, not just hooked, but whacked repeatedly on the stick and forearm by the Canes. The Russian Machine especially is going to have to spend all day with his arms in a tub full of ice water. Not saying it would have made a difference last night, because nothing would have, but come on ref, throw us a freakin bone here, will ya? In one eggregious example Staal just about took Oveckin's arm of with two two-handers in a row, causing OV to lose control of the puck and resulting in an offside call. And no penalty. Oh well.
4) Is it just me, or was that a reputation call on Brashear last night? Yes, he hit the guy into the boards. This is hockey, isn't it? And that defenseman already had his face next to the glass, since he was turning away from another Cap (Laich?) who tried to hit him. Five and a game? Only if your name is Brashear (or Pronger)? It seems like Brash gets more than his share of these types of calls. Let's just say I think the refs tend to focus on him when he's out there. And we can't afford any "extra" scrutiny from the officials.
5) The best part of last night's game? That the Caps play again today, so we can forget about it fast. I expect a much better game against Atlanta, since the Russian Machine always gets up to play against another Russian superstar, and Atlanta is not nearly the team Carolina has been in its last 8 games. Too bad Thrasher Killer Semin won't be in the lineup, since he's always good for two or three against ATL.
BOLD PREDICTION: Caps Right the Ship. Caps 5, Thrash 3. Nylander and Ovechkin combine for 3 goals and 6 points. Kovalchuk only nets 2.*
* - all of this goes out the window if Hanlon abandons the Nylchkinstrom Line. Or at least the Nyl-chkin part of it.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Since shutting out the Hurricanes in their first meeting of the season, Carolina and Washington have been teams headed in opposite directions. Carolina has been inconsistent, but still able to post a respectable 6-2-2 record in their last 10 games, while the Caps have gone a pathetic 2-8-0. Carolina is scoring at a league leading pace (3.79 goals per game) while the Caps have scored a paltry 2.53 goals per game. Carolina sits first in the Southeast division with 19 points, while the Caps sit tied for last with 10.
The Caps have already been bitten hard by the injury bug, with Tom Poti, Alexander Semin, and Chris Clark all missing chunks of the schedule. While Poti may play tonight, neither Semin nor Clark will be available.
So how do the Caps right the ship against Carolina, and gain some momentum going into a stretch of 11 in-division games out of 14? While there are many areas that need improvement, there are three that come to mind:
1. More physical play from the top 2 lines. The Caps may not be the group of rough and tumble grinders from last season, but they need to play more like they are. While nobody expects Nylander or Backstrom to level anyone, every player on the Caps roster needs to rededicate themselves to playing the body. I'm not asking for devastating open ice hits like the one Ovechkin laid on Staal last time the two teams met, but is it too much to ask for Viktor Kozlov to actually lay his gigantic frame into an opposing player rather than meekly swiping a poke check attempt at them?
2. More movement on the power play. Since Hanlon has finally decided to throw all his best offensive players on the ice at once, it would be nice to see them create some confusion among the defenders by having the players shift their positions on the ice, rather than simply passing around the defensive box for a minute looking for a clean shot. The way to create shooting lanes is to draw defenders away from their assigned areas, which can only be done by moving forwards across shooting lanes while the puck is being moved. Doing so has several positive effects. First, it creates a momentary screen, so the goaltender temporarily loses sight of the puck. Second, it either forces a defender out of position if one wing is overloaded or leaves an open man in the position the moving player occupies. The point man on that side then has an option to either skate the puck at goal (if the defender follows the moving forward), shooting through the screen, or passing to the open man at the back post (if the defender does not break formation and follow his man). Any way you slice it, the offense has many more options than just passing around the defensive box. Movement on the power play creates offense. Right now the Caps are standing still.
3. Move Kolzov to the wing and move Nylander to the first line. At this point there is absolutely no excuse not to play your best set up man with your best shooter. Furthermore, chemistry with Ovechkin or no, Kozlov has looked absolutely atrocious his last few outings, and something needs to change. If lining Nylander up with the Russian Machine seemed like a no-brainer at the start of the season, it is even more so now with the Caps struggling to find their way on offense. And the Caps have enough natural centers on the roster to allow Nick Backstrom to continue to play the wing without disrupting the entire lineup if they still feel he's not ready to take on the position. (Never thought I'd be typing that sentence a year ago)
4. Get Mike Green shifts with the first line. Right now Greener is the 4th best offensive player in the lineup (behind OV, Nylander and Backstrom). While he still holds the puck too long and is a genuine heart attack waiting to happen in his own zone, he has the talent to draw defending players to him on a rush, freeing up Ovechkin from the constant double teaming he receives and allowing him to take on defenders one on one after a pass. And any time the Russian Machine is one on one with anybody in the league, it's a good thing for the Caps.
So there we have it. Four ways to improve the Caps chances as they head into a stretch of hockey that may well define their season. Lets hope that Hanlon makes at least some of those adjustments and the Caps right the ship. I don't even want to think about what might happen to the Caps season if he doesn't.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:
Anyone who watched the game last night should have known we were in trouble halfway through the first period when we were outshooting the Rangers 8-0, and had 0 goals. You could see Lundqvist starting to find that "zone" that means nothing short of a screened shot or a rebound was getting by him. And you could also see it on the Caps' faces (see, Kozlov, Victor; Nylander, Michael). Of course, there is one thing that can put a puck past even the hottest of goalies: A great first line.
Now I know, I know, the Caps were severly depleted yesterday, missing Chris Clark and Ankle Semin and Groin Poti and blah blah blah and The Donald was double shifting last night and so on. You know when is a good time to just say, "screw it," and throw out your best players together? Um, when there are no other options.
I've said it before and I'll say it until Hanlon or somebody out there listens. A great 1st line in the NHL can get you 3 goals a night. At least. And last night, Ovechkin-Nylander-Kozlov/Backstrom would have been nearly unstoppable. It bears repeating: Nobody in the NHL can take the puck off Nylander's stick. They know it, and just back off him, giving him even more room to operate and look for a sweet pass. Now imagine that the other team has to worry about Ovechkin as well as Nylander (we don't know what this would look like because Hanlon hasn't put them on the ice together for a single even-strength shift this season). It would be awesome.
It's almost as if Hanlon knows this is what everyone wants to see, and is just resisting to be stubborn. Glen, we won't think any less of you as a coach if you recognize that Ovechkin-Kozlov was a mistake. In fact, it will mean you know how to make adjustments, which, I hear, is kind of important in an NHL coach. Let's look at the other teams that played last night:
OTT 6, ATL 4: Alfredsson had 2 G and 2 A, Heatley had 2 A, and Randy Robitaille, filling in for Spezza, had 2 G. On the other side, Kovalchuk had the hat trick and Hossa an assist.
DET 2, CGY 1: Shockingly, the Zetterberg/Datsyuk line combined for 4 points (2G, 2A) - on the other side, Tanguay had a goal, assist to Iginla.
STL 3, MIN 2: The big line of Tkachuk/Kariya/Boyes that killed the Caps came through with a goal for Tkachuk, assists to Kariya and Boyes, and on the other side, the big Gaborik/Demitra line got all the scoring for Min, with a goal and and assist each.
In Colorado, the big Crosby/Malkin line ended up with BOTH Pens goals, both by Crosby, assist to Malkin (now there's a coach who isn't afraid to put his best players together, EVEN THOUGH BOTH ARE CENTERS! Who cares??!! Put your superstars together, and nobody can stop them!). For COL, the Sakic/Smyth line (who by the way have been tearing up the league), finished with assists from both Sakic and Smyth.
In the Columbus/Anaheim game, everyone fell asleep. Columbus, which has no stars, finished with 20 shots and no goals in the shootout. Rob Neidermeyer scored with an assist from Pahlsson for ANA.
Nashville got two power play goals and points on all three goals came from four players: J.P. Dumont, Jason Arnott, David Legwand, and Martin Erat. Vancouver's big Sedin line was shut out.
MON: 5, PHI: 2: Koivu, Higgins, Kovalev, Latendresse get four of the five goals. For Philly, Upshall and Richards get the goals, with assists from Carter and Danielle Briere.
I think that's enough. As you can see, for almost all of these games, the star players scored most of the goals (no surprise there), but the great majority of those goals came from superstars playing TOGETHER - Heatley/Alfredsson/Robitaille; Zetterberg/Datsyuk/Holmstrom; Tkatchuk/Kariya/Boyes; Crosby/Malkin/Whoever, Sakic/Smyth/Whoever (ah, to be Whoever). So you're telling me that Ovechkin/Nylander/Whoever couldn't come up with two measley goals last night?! REALLY? Well, how about we test the hypothesis before we dismiss it Glen! I'm tired of this impotent offense. I'm tired of "spreading the (lack of) scoring around." I'm tired of "just wait until Semin gets back." I'm tired of playing Russians with Russians and Swedes with Swedes. STACK A FRIKKIN' LINE HANLON -- SEE WHAT HAPPENS. You just might like what you get. Especially when Semin and Clark are out, and you're playing Nylander with Brooks Frikkin Laich and/or The Donald. We are wasting Nylander's all-world talents. You don't think the Rangers would kill to have him back right now? Let's do something with him!
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
As some of you may have noticed, the site has not been updated in a few days. I'm in the middle of moving right now, but hopefully I'll be back by the end of the week, and the Deuce may get a few words in before then.
In the news, Capitals legend Peter Bondra retired yesterday. We'll have a proper tribute to Bondra in the coming days, but for now, we'll just link to this profile hosted, fittingly enough, on the Hockey Hall of Fame website's legends section.
And 'till the website is updated again, we'll leave you with this:
Caps 7 - Leafs 1.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It's a gloomy time in Capsland right now, both figuratively and literally. And what better team to come to town in the middle of a downpour than the Lightning (Bugs)?
At first glance, this looks to be a very difficult game for the Caps. They have always had trouble with Vinnie Lecavalier on home ice (10g, 8A in 22 games), they have no power play to speak of, and Olie Kolzig was shredded by Tampa to the tune of an .887 save percentage against the Bugs last season. All signs seem to point towards the highly potent Tampa offense dismantling the Caps.
Here's why it won't happen:
Olie Kolzig will be primed for tonight, having had a terrible outing his last start against the Islanders. Olie almost never plays back to back stinkers. Additionally, he's playing on almost a full week of rest, which should be extremely helpful to a guy who's a lot closer to 40 than 30. I expect a dominant performance from Kolzig tonight.
Alexander Semin returns to the lineup. While he may not play a ton of minutes, his presence immediately infuses much needed scoring into the Caps lineup. Expect Semin to take a little less than half his even strength shifts, with Flash taking the rest on the second line. Semin's presence should also bolster what has been an absolutely pathetic power play.
Mike Green starts on the first PP unit. This should have happened at the start of the season. Green may well be the third most talented scorer on the team right now behind Ovechkin and Semin. It's about time he gets a chance to prove it with the man advantage.
Tampa is prime for a letdown after their domination of the Thrashers. They're not as good as they looked in last game against the Thrashers (though Atlanta appears to be as bad as they looked). This looks like a classic letdown game for the Lightning Bugs.
Finally, the Caps seem to recognize that they need to start racking up points RIGHT NOW if they want to compete in a playoff race in the months down the line. In-division games are vital, and the team finally seems to understand that (although we won't know for sure until we see them not lay a stink bomb against that other team from Florida).
I see the Caps pulling this game out 4-3, with Kolzig being peppered for around 40 shots and being named the game's first star.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:
As I watched with helplessness the Caps embarrass themselves in front of a lukewarm home crowd filled (yet again) with Pittsburgh idiots, I got angrier and angrier. And Glen Hanlon is now the focus of my rage. I like Glen. I really do. I think he has shown a great ability (up until now) to get the most out of minimal talent, get his guys to play hard every game, and stay positive in the face of mounting losses. But now he has a real NHL team to work with, and the results are not good.
I know we're only 7 games into the season, but the Caps are going to need all the points they can now get to make the playoffs this year. So, I ask you, what are the signs of a good coach in the NHL? How about these, for starters: Good matchups, good special teams, good effort. Glen's one for three. Let's take those first two in turn, shall we? Matchups/Line combinations: First, let's look at the Caps lineup on Saturday:
Not exactly Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson, are they? Or Lecavalier-St. Louis-Prospal? Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom? Not even close. Now why is it that most of the guys on those lines are always near the top of the NHL in scoring? Maybe because they are playing with other WORLD CLASS players!
Now I like Joe Motzko, and it's nice that Kozlov and OV can talk Russian together on the bench -- but if I hear any more about their great "chemistry" I'm going to puke. Chemistry is important, but great talent often creates great chemistry. And Kozlov is not a great talent. He is a pretty good player, and, as tsn.ca stated in last year's scouting report: "does not look good playing the pivot." Does that sound like a center you want to pair with your franchise, all-world left wing? NO! In fact, it sounds a lot like Zubrus II.
Know who IS a world-class talent at center? Michael Nylander. I don't know how many times during Saturday's game I turned to Grumpy One and Original Six and said, "Look at Nylander. He's UNBELIEVABLE with the puck on his stick. He's playing keep away with NHL defensemen, and they can't get the puck away from him." And I actually had time to say all that while he was still holding the biscuit. Then he made two beautiful passes to a breaking Backstrom (whom I like), who promptly flubbed both of them. Think OV's going to miss those? Neither do I. If OV and Kozlov have such great chemistry, let them play together: How about OV-Nylander-Kozlov. Then Kozlov can take advantage of that huge frame to park it in front of the net or dig pucks out of the corners while Nyls and OV play keep away together.
I don't know why Caps coaches always insist on having two average lines instead of one great one. Anyone remember when Oates came to DC, and everyone said, "watch out. Bondra's going to score 60 goals now!" Well, guess what? Oates and Bondra played on separate lines, so we could have a "deeper" lineup. Great.
As for the second line, I'd be perfectly happy with Backstrom centering Semin and Clark. Or Flash, if you still want to give him a chance to show what he can do. In fact, while Semin is out Flash could have the perfect opportunity, playing with Backstrom and Clark! Now, I know, Glen doesn't want to "rush" Backstrom to center. I can only assume that's because of either 1) faceoffs and/or 2) defensive responsibilities. OK Glen, that's fine. Put Steckel or Gordon up with those guys until he's ready. They'll still be potent, but more importantly, WE'LL STILL BE STACKED ON THE FIRST LINE! I'll take the above stated first line against any checking line in the league. Let it ride! And we still have a shut down line of Pettinger-Gordon/Steckel-Laich. So there it is. Stop converting wingers to center to play with OV, and give him the setup man he deserves. Did we really pay all these millions to Nylander to play him with two rookies?!
Next - special teams:
Well, really this is just a repetition of the previous rant. Last year (to start off the year), Glen tried to have two good power plays by breaking up Semin and Ovechkin, his only all-star caliber players. The results were so atrocious that (thankfully) he scrapped the idea three games in and just "stacked" the first PP. What's the quote about those who forget history are doomed to repeat it? Well, see all Glen's quotes this year about all the best teams having two great PP units. Um, Glen, at this point, I'd settle for one average PP unit!
Once again, we're throwing out JOE MOTZKO, Kozlov, OV, Poti, and Clark. Please see previous paragraph about Michael Nylander. If you're not going to match him with OV on a line, at least, for the love of GOD do it on the PP Glen! The only goal Saturday night was set up by a nice patented Nylander curl around, followed by a pass to the point, a shot on net (no, really!), and a real honest to goodness screen! So please, move Nyls up where he belongs. How about putting Ovechkin on the point, where penalty killers would be forced to respect his cannon and stay up high, thus opening up space down low for Nylander to operate (not that he needs that much space). It has to be better then putting a career minor leaguer out there, doesn't it?
So, there you have it. My expert analysis from the cheap seats (actually, they're not so cheap this year!) The effort is still there, now we need the smarts to go with them. And that starts with the coaching staff. The players are saying all the right things. They buy into Hanlon's systems and strategy. But they'll also buy into any changes he makes right now. Four losses in a row will do that to you. Please Glen. Do the right thing. Save The Russian Machine. And my two-year old from another thirty-three years of suffering and losing to those G-D Penguins.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Talk about a bitter taste in the mouth. The Caps played a fairly good game last night, but were undone by stupid penalties and even worse special teams play. The Caps power play is, in a word, awful. In the words of Rick Pitino, "it sucks, and it stinks, and it sucks." Wasted opportunities like this at the beginning of the season are going to haunt this team when the playoff chase comes around.
While plenty of blame goes to the Caps putrid power play, there were other issues that certainly didn't help the Caps cause. A rare poor outing by Kolzig allowed the roughly 340 year old Bill Guerin to record his first hat trick since the league expanded from 6 teams in 1967. Kolzig did a particularly poor job of sealing off the 5 hole, allowing goals that literally slid underneath his pads.
The bright spots for the Caps occured within 5 minutes of one another. After apparently not realizing he was playing with the most dangerous winger in the league for most of the game, Joe "don't call me dead meat" Motzko finally fed a pass across the slot to Alex Ovechkin two minutes into the third period. Ovechkin did what he does best, one timing the puck into the twine before Rick DiPietro had a chance to react.
Less than five minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom showed the world why he is considered one of the top prospects in the game. Backstrom charged up the left wing boards, fought off two defenders, then made an amazing feed from behind the net to Tomas Fleischmann, who banged the puck home to knot the game at two.
Now I'm not one to say I told you so, but Flash looked a whole heck of a lot better playing with Backstrom and Nylander than he did on the top line. Flash and Backstrom looked like they had been playing together for years, and for stretches of the third period looked like the most dangerous line in the arena. Their uptempo style and aggressive play in the offensive zone had the Isles on their heels, and it looked like only a matter of time before the Caps would take the lead...
... and then, faster than you can say "they just need to avoid taking a stupid penalty here" Captain Clark upended an Islanders defenseman in the offensive zone, giving the Isles the man advantage. Clark has not looked like himself since the beginning of the season. While some of that can be attributed to his move off Ovechkin's line, he just looks like he's forcing the issue right now instead of allowing the game to come to him. Clark's intensity and his willingness to put everything he has into every shift he takes is what makes him Captain material, but he needs to dial it down a notch and just play his game right now.
Bryan "Just because I wear an eye patch it doesn't make me a pirate" Berard promptly beat Olie Kolzig on the ensuing power play, and the momentum pendulum swung fully the other directions. The Caps continued to take bad penalties, and Guerin put the game out of reach with two late goals to complete the hat trick.
So what can we take away from this game? Well, I certainly wouldn't bet on Olie Kolzig having another bad game any time soon, so that's not an issue. The power play continues to let the Caps down, primarily because they continue to go against conventional wisdom and spread the puck around instead of force feeding it to Ovechkin at every available opportunity. If Joe Motzko has the puck on his stick for more of the power play than the Russian Machine, there's a fundamental problem with the power play strategy. We said it last year, but it bears repeating; It's time for the Caps to go find a power play coach/consultant. There has been no improvement on the power play in the time Hanlon has coached here, and while he's done a good job overall, it's clear that nobody's buying what he's selling with the man advantage.
The Caps also need to cut down on the penalties in the attacking zone. There's no excuse for that. Ever. And without Boyd Gordon in the lineup, the penalty kill looks average instead of unbeatable. Hopefully Boyd's back spasms will settle down and he'll return to the lineup sooner rather than later.
And finally, everyone's burial of Flash might have been a bit premature.
Next game is this Saturday against the Flightless Devilbirds. If you are in the area and consider yourself even a passing fan of the Caps, there's no excuse for not buying a ticket to this game. Seriously. Go do it. Right now. We'll still be here when you get back. Remember, if you're sick and tired of other fans coming in and taking over our building, you can absolutely do something about it. Buy a ticket. Get your friends to buy tickets (as long as they're not from Pittsburgh). Don't let some idiot Pens fan in your section even start that pansy little "let's go pens" chant in your section. Drown their voice out with your own. Do not, however, attempt to drown them in the literal sense. I know they're annoying, but attempted murder is not the answer. Yet.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Yesterday, JP posted a note on Flash Fleischmann's less than stellar output to open the year. While his assesment that Tomas has been "virtually invisible" is right on the mark, let's explore why that has been the case.
First, lets examine Flash's strengths and weaknesses. From TSN.ca's scouting report, Fleischmann "has outstanding setup ability and an understanding of what to do with the puck on his stick... Still needs to add significant strength before becoming a regular in the NHL. Must continue to improve his play without the puck at the highest level."
Having strong skills with the puck is all well and good, but skating on a line with the Russian Machine, Flash is not going to have the puck on his stick very often. Throw in the chemistry between Oveckin and Kozlov and the way they give and go with one another, and the chances for Flash to play to his strengths decreases significantly. Instead, he's being asked to do two things he doesn't do well - play in space without the puck and play strong in his own end.
Defensive play will never be the strongest part of Flash's game. He doesn't yet have the strength to move players off the puck, and his positional play in his own zone has been spotty at best. His physical game has about as much edge to it as a spoon. Indeed, Flash has found himself firmly planted to the bench in late game situations where the Caps are protecting a lead. This makes sense from a coaching standpoint, but it gives Flash even less time to create a rapport on-ice with his linemates.
It appears clear that if Fleischmann is to stay a part of the Caps everyday lineup, some changes have to be made. First, he is not the type of winger that should be paired with Ovechkin and Kozlov. As long as Nick Backstrom isn't ready to center that line and move Kozlov to the wing, the right wing on the first line needs to be responsible defensively and capable of wreaking havok without the puck, but with strong enough skills to contribute in the offensive zone when needed. And if you think I'm talking about anyone other than Chris Clark, you're way off the mark.
So, moving Clark up to the first line, the lineup looks something like this:
Ovechkin - Kozlov - Clark
Backstrom - Nylander - Semin
Pettinger - Gordon - Sutherby/Laich/Motzko
Brashear - Steckel - Bradley
Flash is still the odd man out.
It's too early to declare Fleischmann's tenure here in DC as a failure, but unless he's put in a position to play to his strengths, I don't see him sticking around past this season. But considering Semin's current injury, why wouldn't the Caps at least take a couple games to see if Flash can make an impact on the second line with Nylander and Backstrom? Paired with a couple defensively responsible linemates who both think pass first, wouldn't Flash be in a better position to play to his strengths?
Monday, October 15, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:
See, this is what happens when you start to believe your own hype. The Caps get featured in an article by espn.com's Suck Burnside, get picked by the so-called "experts" as the division winner and playoff contender, play two great games and get one lucky win they don't deserve, and suddenly the Caps think they're so good they don't even have to shoot to score anymore! Apparently, puck possession and pretty passing are supposed to make the other team's goalie simply move aside and let us skate the puck into the net.
The Caps put on what will hopefully be their worst showings of the season this weekend, getting outshot a combined 152-12. Brent Johnson and Olie have to look like Dennis Lemieux from Slap Shot right now, nervously twitching and trying to save phantom pucks they probably still see flying at them from all directions.
And don't try to tell me that Semin and Gordon would have made the difference in these games, because those guys aren't worth an additional 40 shots, which is how many more shots the Caps needed in those two games to make a difference.
The Caps played dumb hockey against the Rangers, led off by The Russian Machine's tripping penalty 5 seconds into the game. And it was all downhill from there.
Against the Sabres, the Caps were playing a dangerous game of trying to match skill against skill. The shot total through 3/4 of the 1st period should have been their clue that it wasn't working. Eventually, the floodgates opened and Buffalo was off to the races.
I'm too depressed by actually having watched these disasters to say much more. Thankfully, my soon-to-be two year old missed both games and didn't cry all night long as a result!
The (very few) positives from this weekend's games:
Glen Hanlon's calm demeanor after the horrendous efforts.
The fact that this will serve as a wakeup call to the team and they'll be forced to put the hard-hats back on.
Eventually, Alexander Semin's ankle will heal. He's good for 10 shots a game!
The resulting articles and polls in the media dropping the Caps back down to near last in the league will piss the team off and result in a great effort this week (I hope).
At least it didn't happen against Pittsburgh.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Per Tarik, Boyd Gordon is out for tonight's contest (and probably until next Thursday's game). Gordon sustained an undisclosed injury in practice earlier this week.
With Gordon out, Granite Chin Sutherby will see his first action of the season tonight.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Just ask Sasha Semin. What initially was thought to be a relatively minor injury (even though it did NOT look minor at the time, with Semin staying down on the ice for several minutes) has turned out to be more substantial. Per Tarik, Semin has not skated since playing half of the game against Carolina.
As a person that has suffered multiple ankle injuries over the years (including a couple surgeries), I can tell you there is good news and bad news here. The bad news in that injuries to joints that control balance tend not to heal quickly, and to be somewhat less stable once they do heal (then again, I went to the doctor a total of three times after my injury, where I imagine Semin is seeing trainers and doctors every day and getting the best care possible). The good news is that the boot of a hockey skate comes up high enough to offer a great deal of ankle support, so it's not necessary to have the joint at 100% before skating. The issue is how much the injury will disrupt Semin's ability to make quick cuts and push with power off that foot.
I would expect the Caps to be extremely cautious with this injury, as players rushed back too quickly from injuries such as this one tend to perform below expectations and heighten the risk of aggravating the injury further. I don't see Semin playing in either game in New York this weekend, which would give him a further five days of rest before the Caps host the Islanders next Thursday.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Would you like a 3-0 start with your coffee this morning? We thought you might.
The Caps had quite a long weekend, winning 3 games in four days, dominating the Thrashers and Hurricanes and squeaking out a win over the Islanders. All three big free agent acquisitions made waves against the Isles, with Poti making a terrific poke check from behind on a potential breakaway, Kozlov scoring high glove on DiPietro, and Nylander setting up the game winning goal with one of his patented spin-and-dish moves that allowed the point man a clean shot on net, which let to a rebound that a wide open Brooks Laich calmly deposited into the back of the net.
The Islanders game was a completely disjointed affair, with the Caps almost never able to apply sustained pressure (as they had done so well in the previous two games) and the Isles only occasionally able to do so. And when the Isles did apply pressure in their offensive zone, Olie Kolzig was there to stop the rallies with a number of A-level saves. And finally Jon Sim was held off the scoresheet against the Caps, which hasn't happened since roughly the year before he was born (11 g, 8 a in 22 games). *Late edit - thanks to smitty for pointing out the reason Sim was pointless against the Caps - he was out with an injury.*
The Capitals biggest strength continues to be their penalty kill, which has yet to yield a goal. Their biggest weakness continues to be their power play, which has looked abysmal in several extended five on three opportunities and is 2-17 overall. With the addition of three highly skilled power play threats, there's no way the Caps should be as ineffective as they have been to start the season. It's still early to pass judgement, but unless they Caps improve dramatically within the next 10 games the team needs to bring in a consultant (or an exorcist) to help improve their fortunes with the man advantage.
After their initial flurry of games to open the season, the Caps are off until Friday when they hop the train to Madison Square Garden to take on the new look, we'll-spend-more-money-than-anyone-else-salary-cap-be-damned NY Rangers.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
The Caps opener last night revealed a good bit about the Capitals as they are currently composed.
First, Nicklas Backstrom looked, well, like a rookie, making several strong plays but also missing a couple chances that would have resulted in scoring opportunities. Now that's not to say his chances were easy, as one memorable situation in front of the Thrashers net would have required him to pivot 180 degrees in front of the net and tip the puck with his stick on the backhand side. That's certainly not something you would expect from any second or third line player, much less a 19 year old rookie. But young Backstrom showed just enough in reacting to the play and almost getting a stick to the puck that it looks likely he'll be the kind of special player that can actually make that play once he matures.
Second, Brent Johnson needs to settle down. A LOT. He had a solid game (although he did allow a soft floating backhand to deflect off of him and into the net) but the team needs him to be more confident in his motions in order to establish confidence in him. For a goalie who plays in a relatively orthodox style, he flops around entirely too much. Gaining the confidence of your teammates can be as important to a backup as stopping the puck, and until Johnson can stop making routine stops look difficult, he's not going to do that.
Third, the Deuce looked at me midway through the second period and said "I don't want to jinx it, but we've played almost the entire game in their end." I honestly cannot remember that sentiment expressed in the past 2 seasons. Whether the Caps can keep up this kind of game against more physical opposition remains to be seen, but last night truly looked like we were the better team that earned the two points.
It's also great to see two of our three summer signings pot goals (Kozlov on the deflection, Nylander on a quick wrister after a turnover) in their first game of the year. It certainly made George McPhee look like a genius.
Our shutdown line wasn't perfect, but they were solid throughout the game.
Alex Ovechkin looked primed and ready for a 50+ goal campaign. He shot at every opportunity, which is exactly what he needs to do.
There was, however, one glaring issue. The power play stunk. They had two extended 5 on 3 chances and looked terrible in both. They simply did not adjust when Atlanta pulled all three players to the goal mouth. A more comfortable unit would have spread out and passed around the outside of the defenders until one of them had a scoring chance (which they did) and ACTUALLY SHOT THE PUCK, which they did not. And why is the powerplay not pushing the puck more to the left side? From what I hear the Caps have a pretty good player on that wing. They should be forcing plays to that side, because that's where the goals are going to come from.
All in all, a very good start to the season. Home opener is tonight at 7 against Carolina. Tickets here. See you there.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Just for kicks, today I'm going to do a rundown of the Caps current offensive line combos, which promises to be woefully out of date by 3 o'clock. I've had some troubling thoughts about the lines as they are currently constructed, so let's get right to it.
Line 1 - Ovechkin - Kozlov - Fleishmann
Line 2 - Semin - Nylander - Backstrom
Line 3 - Pettinger - Gordon - Clark
Line 4 - Brashear - Steckel/Sutherby - Bradley/Laich
At first glance, the first two lines look like offensive dynamos, and are certainly a marked improvement from last year. There are, however, some issues that may force these combinations to be shuffled sooner rather than later.
First, is Flash Fleishmann ready to take control of the right wing on the first line? Is he ready to play first line NHL minutes, and be marked by every team's top checking line night in and night out? I'm a bit more wary than optimistic on him right now. Flash certainly has the offensive skillset, but with a line that will undoubtedly run from the left side, can he be effective without the puck? Personally, I think the line would be better off with a more physical wing, and can very easily see Chris Clark moving back to the first line within the Caps first 10 games. Unless Flash can prove me wrong and play as physically imposing, rough and tumble game, I don't see him sticking with the top unit. And yes, I know Kozlov is 800 feet tall and weighs roughly two tons, but at center he won't see as much time down low in the trenches as his wings will. As for the Russian Machine... well... he'll be fine no matter what.
The second line is more of the same. Incredible talent, to be certain, but who is going to win the loose pucks in the corner? Young Backstrom still has some growing to do (both physically and in adjusting to the North American game). He's also not naturally a wing, which means he has little experience fighting for loose pucks along the boards. We all know grinding it out is not Semin's specialty, either. It looks like this line will use offense as their best defense. All three are adept at holding the puck, and they'll need to be, because they aren't going to win a whole lot of physical battles. Additionally, look for opposing players to play a tough (if not dirty) physical game against three players not known for their power game.
As strange as it seems to say, the line with the strongest overall game may well be the Caps checking line. While there isn't an Ovechkin, Semin, or Nylander in the bunch, what Clark, Pettinger and Gordon do have is airtight defensive play with a nasty physical edge coupled with strong offensive ability. While their first responsibility will always be shutting down the opposition's top lines, don't expect them to play the entire night chasing the puck around their own end. Instead, look for them to counterattack what will almost always be defensively weak sets of forwards.
The Caps fourth line should be as intimidating an energy line as any in the NHL as long as Big Donnie Brashear stays healthy and motivated (which has never been a problem for him).
Now, what is the key to allowing the Caps to move to a more balanced lineup that could address some of these weaknesses? To no surprise, it's the development of young Nicklas Backstrom. If the youngster can hone his craft to the point where Coach Hanlon is comfortable with him at the center position, a whole host of options open up. For example:
Line 1 - Ovechkin - Backstrom - Kozlov
That solves the whole "who's doing the digging in the corner" issue right there. It's the behemoth at right wing.
Line 2 - Semin - Nylander - Clark
Instead of finesse, finesse, finesse, you've got finesse, awareness and grit. Much harder to defend against this line with a little toughness added.
Line 3 - Pettinger - Gordon - Steckel/Sutherby
Two natural centers to deal with defensive draws should one be kicked out of the dot. Still a whole lot of defense, but with slightly less offensive upside.
Line 4 - Brashear - Sutherby/Laich/Steckel /Bradley
Still not a line you'd want to meet in a dark alley.
Unfortunately, that leaves Fleischmann as the odd man out, since his skillset doesn't translate well to the third or fourth line right now. In a perfect world, his his defensive game improves to the point where you're comfortable with him on the third line, but I don't see that happening this season.
So there you have it. A look at what is, and what might be. Now if we can only get the season started already...
Thursday, September 27, 2007
JP and the Hockey News both have the Caps finishing first in the Southeast, while Suck Burnside hedges with a kinda-sorta playoff pick, and EJ Hradek flushes the Caps all the way down to the bottom of the Southeast standings.
What does all this say about the Caps chances this season in the Southeast? That nobody has a clue about this team (or most of the teams in the Southeast, for that matter).
Tarik has a full article up on Mike Green's trials during his first season as well as his improved strength and conditioning this year. It's a good read, but it omits one possible reason for Green's uneven play in his rookie year: the ankle injury he suffered at midseason which seemed to limit his mobility and effectiveness. It's hard to skate (and even harder to initiate contact) on a bum wheel.
Also, Matt Bradley's nickname may be changed to "smooches" after last night's preseason tilt against the Flyers. For an explanation, check this link to Tarik's blog (5th paragraph).
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Apparently, Roberto Luongo is so opposed to bigger nets that he claims he'll retire if they're implemented, according to this espn.com article.
I bet 4 GMs in the Northwest division just felt their opinions slide a bit more towards enlarging the nets, if for nothing else but to get the league's best goaltender out of their way.
This little nugget from Tarik's article on Steve Eminger put a smile on our faces:
"The acquisitions of Poti and Boumedienne, and the emergence of Green, in particular, has put the squeeze on Eminger."
It's the emergence of Mike Green, not the squeeze put on Eminger that most interests us.
With his impressive offensive performance so far this preseason (2g, 4a), it looks like Mike Green is finally ready to make the leap from talented enigmatic youngster to stalwart NHL offensive defenseman. After two years of ups and downs (and an injury setback), it looks like Green has finally found his game.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Apparently former cap Lawrence Nycholat and "Granite Chin" Brian Sutherby had it out last night in Ottawa's 5-4 preseason win over the Caps. C'mon, boys, how about a little fellowship among former Caps prospects? Then again, with Nycho fighting for a roster spot and Sudsy being, well, Sudsy, I guess this kind of thing is to be expected.
If you're looking for positive signs coming out of yesterday's game, look no further than the scoresheet, where you'll see Tom Poti twice (goal and assist, 3rd star), Flash Fleischmann twice (goal and assist), Mike Green twice (one assist at even strength, one on the PP) and, of course, Alex Ovechkin bagging his first goal of the preseason.
If you're looking for the bad, all 5 goals were scored against Olie Kolzig (who was scheduled to watch Michael Neuverith, who went down with an injury before gametime), while Ottawa spread theirs between Martin Gerber and Brian Elliot.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Per the hockey news, it looks like the NHL has finally come to its senses and will scrap the unbalanced schedule after this year.
Seeing as the Caps are in the Southeast and play a ridiculous number of games against Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa, and Florida, this can't happen fast enough. Despite having won 2 of the last 4 cups, it's plain to see that these teams don't attract the same number of fans to the arena, nor do they inspire the same passions in local fans as games against teams from the old Patrick Division (that's the Islanders, Penguins, Rangers, Flyers, Devils and Caps, for those of you coming late to the game).
It was fun seeing the Caps beat up on the worst teams in hockey for a couple years after realignment, but we'll be much happier for the chance to measure the team against some of the stronger Western Conference teams more than once a year.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Per Tarik, the Caps have sent first round draft pick Karl Alzner back to his junior team. Despite his potential, Alzner still needs time to mature physically before he's ready for the rigors of an NHL schedule.
Francois Bouchard and Josh Godfrey were also sent back to their respective junior teams.
In his first NHL preseason game, Nicklas Backstrom tallied a goal as the Caps fell to the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-3. And while the loss will soon be forgotten (given that the Caps rested many regulars and used 19 year old prospect Michael Neuvirth in net for the last 2 frames), the start of the Backstrom era in DC looks bright.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Unfortunately, so do our day jobs. For coverage of rookies doing Herbies (sprint goal line to blue line, then back, red line, back, far blue line, back) as well as a plethora of drills, check the links to a few of the other fine Caps blogs on the right.
We'll try to sneak in some full training camp coverage next week.
Friday, September 7, 2007
If you look to the bottom right of this story on Jarome Iginla on Slam.ca, you'll find a poll asking who will take this year's Rocket Richard trophy as the league's top goal scorer. The Russian Machine is listed as an option. You know what to do.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
The Caps secured a bit more toughness for the blueline today, re-signing veteran defenseman and general badass John Erskine to a two year deal. While most defensemen on the Caps roster fit well into the mold of the "new NHL," Erskine is a tough, strong, physical defenseman more reminiscent of the prototypical mid 90s banger. And that's a good thing.
As we've stated time and again, the Capitals need a physical presence to keep opposing offenses honest. Erskine handled that role well until injuries derailed his season. We expect bigger and better things from Big John Studd this coming year.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Per Tarik's blog, this great quote from Brian Pothier,
"It's really going to be good for Mike Green to watch Tom [Poti] because they have the same skill set. Long, rangy and really efficient skaters. Green can learn a lot from Poti. He's a good player and he's going to make us a lot better."
We've said all along that a veteran defenseman would help the young Caps defensive corps (and Green in particular). It's good to see we're not the only ones that think so.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Per just about everyone, Capitals first round draft pick Bobby Carpenter will be inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame this year. Carpenter was the Caps third overall pick in 1981, and spent parts of 5 seasons with the organization. While he never fulfilled the stratospheric expectations that accompanied his selection, Carpenter did post a very respectable 320 goals and 408 assists in his 19 year career.
Congrats on your selection, Bobby.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Per Tarik, Alexander Semin's reported knee "injury" is nothing to worry about (contrary to this report. If you want to make any sense of it, I hope your Russian is better than mine, or BabelFish's, for that matter).
Good to hear that Sasha isn't hurt. With the upgrades the Capitals have made, this will be a telling season for Semin.
When surrounded by a decent supporting cast, will he sublimate his own individual talents for the greater good of the team? We're betting that he will... as long as he's not paired up with Brooks Laich (since Kris Frikkin Beech is no longer with the team).
Remember, Semin always gave his linemates a chance to make a play last year. It was only when they blew easy tap ins and shanked good scoring opportunities that he would attempt to take the other team on singlehandedly. If Semin believes in his teammates ability to finish what he starts, he may well finish as the Caps leading scorer.