Saturday, March 31, 2007

Frustrated incorporated

Very tough loss last night to the Panthers. The game itself was not wildly entertaining, but did provide a microcosm of the Caps struggles this year. Both Good Brad Johnson (who made an amazing right-to-left toe kick save to force overtime) and Evil Brad Johnson (who allowed a fluttering pee wee level wrister over the shoulder to let the Panthers back into the game) made an appearance. Captain Clarke scored his 30th goal of the season, the last 3 of which came by way of pinball style bank shots of Sasha Semin shots on goal. But, as they say, they all count the same on the scoreboard, so congrats to the Capitals captain.

The game last night was as disjointed as one would expect of two of the lesser teams in the East, but the Caps opened up with a very pretty tic-tac-bounce-off-the-toe goal by Jakub Klepis. As Craig Laughlin put it, "That was a European style goal." Not surprising considering all 3 forwards on the ice (Novotny, Klepis and Flash Fleischmann) WERE European.

Matt Bradley appeared to score late in the 2st to solidify the Caps lead, but his goal was waved off by the referee and not overturned (which it appeared it should have been) on replay. And that is the difference between Matt Bradley and a player like Semin, Ovechkin, or even Clark. You can bet that if any of those three had scored the goal, the deliberation would have been much more thorough. But since Bradley is not a superstar but a hard-nosed, hard working grinder, the off-ice officials looked at exactly ONE angle (which was the inconclusive overhead shot) and declared that there was no definitive evidence that he had scored, even though the puck was shown to be clearly over the line in a camera shot taken from the right offensive board. Just another tough break in a season full of them for the Caps.

Tonight, the Caps take on a Tampa squad that sits 6th in the East, 3 points out of first in the division but also 3 points away from missing the playoffs entirely. Here's hoping the Caps play spoiler and put the Light Breeze closer to the outside than the top. Game time is 7:30.

Also, in case you missed it, big poppa Ted is offering up 2 for 1 tickets to Tuesday's game. Just don't take my seats in 411... waiting until payday is a pain!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Deuling previews

The Deuce shot me a game day preview because I didn't have one up just yet, so we're running both. So have it your way (I'll even give him top billing this time).

From the Deuce:
Well, since Grumpy One is obviously sleeping in today, and most blog readers have finished their morning coffee and may actually be doing some work, the Deuce thought he would chime in with his own take on todays matchup. Since the usual stuff has probably been said by now, the Deuce thought he would try a different take. So without further ado, here are my questions of the day:

Will Caps' management continue to pillage goals from Sascha Semin and gift-wrap them for Chris Clark in an effort to make him a 30-goal scorer. The Grumpy Fans love Clarkson's Captain Clark, but come on, he could've gotten 30 without getting credit for this and this . Either Semin has a big contract bonus for getting 40 that the Caps don't want to pay, or Clark gets no bonus whatsoever for getting 30. Maybe both. Even Benenati had to say, "I'll keep my mouth shut" when someone told him during the Habs game that they were reviewing Semin's goal to see if it touched Clark.

OV needs a major explosion to get 50 now. And as much as I hope it happens, I just don't see Novotny and whoever is playing on the right wing getting it done for him.But you never know.

Can the Donald bounce back from a subpar performance in Tuesday's bout with Laraque (it was subpar for both of them, but hey...)

Will we see the Olli Jokinen of the first two games of the season vs. the Caps (0 pts, -4 +/- rating) or of the last four (3G, 3A, 5pts, +4). Here's hoping it's the latter, although Olli the imposter (there can be only one) does have FOURTEEN POINTS in his last SIX GAMES.Yes, you read that correctly!His six point game against the Isles helped... (sidenote - for those who complain about bad Capitals personnel decisions, how does this trade stack up -- June 24, 2000 - New York Islanders trade Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo to the Florida Panthers for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. Ouch.)

Will Kris Frikkin' Beech blow two more goal mouth tap-ins this game (All signs point to -- YES.)

And finally, and most importantly, will the Capitals move up in the all important reverse standings and improve their draft position.If only the damned Blackhawks or Coyotes would win a game or two.Grrrr......

And now here's mine:
Tonight, the Caps take on the nearly out of contention Florida Panthers. Although mathematically still alive, the Kittycats have 4 teams to leapfrog for the 8th spot and no games in hand on any of them. So it's fairly safe to say they're probably making tee time reservations instead of flight reservations. Nevertheless, this looks to be a troublesome game for the Caps, if only because the Kittycats have had our number to the tune of 3-8-3 over the last two years.

You read that correctly. Only 3 wins against the perennial cellar dwellers in two seasons.

The kitties have been riding the play of 100 year old goaltender Ed "I'll give you a million dollars to forget about my speeding ticket and drunk driving" Belfour, who, despite all claims to the contrary, is NOT a mummy. They have also gotten great play from Olli "Yes, I am exactly the type of center the Caps desperately need" Jokinen. The Caps should definitely try to trade for Jokinen, if only because they're dealing with a franchise insane enough to deal the heir apparent to Brodeur's throne as king of all goaltenders for a no-character power forward with a bad back (who they gave up on not even a full season later). I'm just saying, it might be worth making a call or two, just to see.

The Caps come into the game 4th from last in the league, only two points out of the 2nd overall draft pick (unless the league cheats and gives it to the Penguins again for no apparent reason). Nevertheless, our boys will come to play tonight, looking to avenge the ugly series of losses the Caps endured at the hands of Florida this year. Captain Clark sits one goal off from his first ever 30 goal campaign, Alexander Semin is 2 off from 40, and The Russian Machine still has a (very) outside chance at 50 goals. I fully expect Semin to continue his domination of Southeast Division opponents (21G, 16A) and grab at least a goal and a helper. Hopefully we'll see Hanlon open up the, defensive system a bit more in order to get the boys to their milestones. But I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A pick me up

Since things have been pretty glum around here lately, we figured everyone could use a little pick me up.

Here's Sasha Semin with the hat trick against the Canes:

Now here's Donnie pummeling Colton Orr:

Here's one of our next young star Niklas Backstrom:

And finally, here's the Russian Machine doing his thing (well, his OTHER thing).

If one of these doesn't bring a smile to your face, well, you're probably Colton Orr.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It wasn't meant to be (this year)

There were two distinct points last night when the Capitals had opportunities to cement their lead on the Penguins and take control of the game. The first was Alexander Semin's fake and pass on the power play from the right corner of the net, which he put directly on the tape of Kris Beech. Since Semin had slipped towards the front and taken on the defenseman in front, Beech had an empty net with nobody even close to him. And what did he do with it?

He flubbed it. I'm still not even sure how it's possible, but if anyone can flub a shot from two inches away (besides Zubrus), Kris Beech is the man for the job. He somehow managed to have a perfectly settled puck flip up and over his stick as he tried to redirect it into the net. So instead of a 3-0 lead, the Caps were stuck at two, and Pittsburgh dodged a game-breaking bullet.

The second point came on the first Penguins power play after a soft Bryan Muir hooking call. During the course of the penalty kill, Shaone Morrisonn had not one but two clearing opportunities with nobody on him. Both times, his weak clearing efforts were held in by the defense. Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh capitalized, and made what should have been a 3-0 game into a tenuous 2-1 score instead.

As has become habit lately, the Caps were unable to hold on.

There was some good to come of last night's game. Alex Ovechkin absolutely DESTROYED Jordan Staal with a huge shoulder check, and looked dangerous all night. Olie Kolzig was strong if not stellar throughout the game. Alexander Semin also played extremely well, although the Beech flub seemed to affect his overall game. He was considerably less likely to give up the puck to anyone that didn't speak Russian after that point. And who can blame him?

Unfortunately, we didn't get much out of the first bout between Big Donnie and Gentleman Georges Laraque. Lots of posturing, a quick tie up and a spill. Not exactly the all out throwdown we expected of two of the league's finest enforcers. Kudos to Don for keeping his head in the game and continuing to play a hard, clean physical game even after the fighting major.

I know it's a moot point, but I'm going to bring it up anyway. The referees last night might as well have been wearing yellow instead of white so their jerseys could match the team they were playing for. The tripping call against Semin was maybe the worst piece of refereeing I've seen all season. Semin had control of the puck, was being pressed by another player, made a move with the puck, and his checker tripped over Semin's stick during the stickhandling maneuver. Because of that SEMIN gets the gate? Utterly ridiculous. The non-calls on Pittsburgh all night were equally egregious. The only call the refs made against the Pens was a double minor for high sticking, and only because the play needed to be stopped because the possibility of injury existed. The only other call the refs made was in garbage time in an attempt to make the scoresheet look more balanced.

Yes, we know the Penguins are going to the playoffs. And yes, we also know the Caps aren't. But that's no excuse for the NHL (by way of its officials) to hand the game to the Pens on a silver platter. The Pens first three goals were on the power play, two of them because of questionable calls. The ice would have been slanted Pittsburgh's way last night because of the differential in talent. There is no reason, and more importantly no excuse, for the NHL to tilt it further just to keep the Pittsburgh story going. And if you think the Pens treatment last night was anything but the norm, you're a fool.

If the Pens and Crosby are as good as advertised, they should have no trouble winning games without the help of the refs. But it's clear the league isn't willing to take any chances with it's posterboy or Pittsburgh's feel good storyline.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Just win this one

It's been quite a year for Caps fans, from the peaks of the opening third of the season to the valley of the post-all star losing streaks and the abominable road performances. But as a Caps fan who believes in the rebuiling process, and sees light on the horizon, I only want one more thing this year.

If the Capitals go out and beat the Penguins tomorrow night, I'll be perfectly happy with the season.

So go out there and do it for all the fans that have had to endure the busloads of bandwagon-hopping Penguins fans that were dumped in front of the Capital Center for all those years. Do it for the great Capitals teams of the early 90s that were stopped in the playoffs by Crybaby Lemiux and his gambling degenerate sidekick Jaromir. Do it for the Caps fans that have had to endure year after year after year of hearing Penguins chants and cheers for opposing team goals. Do it to erase the memory of that ugly third period collapse earlier in the season (the Deuce is still convinced Bettman made a call from the league office and told the officials to make the game more... even for TV purposes.)

But most importantly, do it for yourselves. This is a young Pittsburgh team. They're going to be competitive in this conference for the next few years. The Capitals need to get it in their heads that they can beat this team. Because we're going to be seeing a lot of them in the playoffs in the years to come.

So come on, Capitals. Get it done. For the fans, for the team, for yourselves. Beat the @#$*! Penguins!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Maybe I shouldn't have asked

I missed last night's game, so I asked the Deuce for his thoughts.

"What is there to say? They had ONE shot on goal in the first period (a goal by the Russian Machine, off of a sweet move and slick pass by One Shot, One Kill Semin). Other than that, they were pretty thoroughly outplayed. Once again, Semin and Ovechkin seemed to be the only players who could keep up with the pace.

Here's a perfect example of what's wrong with this team:
Brooks Frikkin' Laich (who I like, and is a hard worker, etc. etc.), steals the puck at center ice. He turns around and starts pumping his legs but going nowhere. In the top corner of the screen, I see Chris Clark blazing (okay, maybe blazing is an exaggeration, but anyway..) down the right wing. He's already past both Carolina D, who were caught in transition. Brooks himself even had a step on one of them. So what does Brooks do? Does he hit Clark with a pass my 16 month old could have made easily? No. Does he even SEE Clark on the wing? No. He DUMPS THE PUCK into the corner and goes off for a line change. And that, my friends, is the problem. Nice guy. Great team player. Okay skill. No vision. No anticipation. No "hockey sense." And he's our second line center right now (either him or Kris Beech, who has no speed, no skating ability, no anticipation, no desire to play physical hockey, and decent vision).

SO our wingers are forced to create their own opportunities, i.e., Semin to Ovechkin, or, in the second period, Giroux to Ovechkin with a sweet behind the net backhand pass which OV prompty deposits under the water bottle from about a foot away from the goalie.

And then of course there's Semin blasting a shot off a stick on the ice and in that Clark somehow gets credit for. And THAT'S it, ladies and gentlemen. That is the sum of the Caps' offense for the game. Here is a list of players who added absolutely nothing to the offense yesterday:
Beech, Laich, Gordon, Brashear, Fleischman, Novotny, anybody playing D. In fact, I started not only fast forwarding through our power plays, I fast forwarded through any shift where Semin or Ovechkin wasn't on the ice. And you know what? I didn't miss A THING. And that's all I have to say about that."

Well then... there it is.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Contractual obligations dictate

Since Original 6 is a Clarkson alum (yes, that's him at the games with the Golden Knights Chris Clark jersey) we're contractually obligated to link to any and all references to Golden Knights hockey. So here ya go (scroll about 1/3 of the way down. Enjoy, and Go Tech!

And please, don't get him started on going to school there... he'll tell you stories about how he had to trek 40 miles butt naked in the snow in sub-zero temperatures to get to class every day (why they didn't wear clothes in the old days I'll never know).

By the way, did you know that 40 below is the same in both Celsius and Fahrenheit? I do, solely because dad went to school in Potsdam.

Don't say we didn't warn you

From the Deuce:
"Looks like some people in Buffalo have the same opinion of Zubrus as us.

By the way, of Zubrus's two "assists" last night, one was a second assist passed in the neutral zone, and one was him pushing the puck to Eminger, who was tripped by Briere behind the net. The little cheater then walked out in front all alone and scored."

Someone shoot me...

Would it be too much to ask for the Donald to pummel Briere to "congratulate" him on his 30th goal of the season?

God I hate the Sabres.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

låta gå Caps!

Looks like we'll have at least one top quality center next season. Contract negotiations shouldn't take long, since entry level contracts are pretty much locked in stone by the NHL. Now get to work on your Swedish, fans!

låta gå Caps!
låta gå Caps!
låta gå Caps!

Buffalo sucks

but you knew that already. The big story tonight will be Dainius Zubrus' first game against his former team since being traded away at the deadline. Zubrus will probably be bumped to the right wing (his natural position) in the game, where his primary responsibility will be shutting down The Russian Machine and Alexander "One shot, one kill" Semin. It should be interesting to see how he matches up, considering his defense is one of the main reasons Buffalo traded for him in the first place.

Per Tarik, Ovechkin had this to say about lining up against Zubrus:

"Sometimes I don't know where I go. So he will never know where I'm going. It will be a fun game if he plays against me because I know his moves, his strong side. It will be good -- for me."

The funny thing is, I don't really think he's kidding. Great offensive players generally don't so much think the game as they feel it. They make snap decisions in the flow of the game, which is what makes them so dangerous. And while I don't doubt Zubrus has an ever-so-slight advantage over much of the league in terms of knowing Ovie's tendencies, I don't think that will be enough to keep Ovechkin off the scoresheet tonight. Even if he does play with a bird cage on.

The other big question of the night centers on whether Sasha Semin can continue his scoring tear. With much of the BuffaSlugs attention focused on Ovechkin this season, Semin comes into this game a bit under the radar (which is insane for a player that's had 6 points in his last two games). If the Slugs cover Semin the way the media has leading up to this game (which is to say, not much at all) I wouldn't be surprised if he potted another pair.

Game time is 7 o'clock. Don't forget to watch along with your Danielle Briere voodoo doll (don't be afraid to twist it like a Stretch Armstrong). If that jerk gets his 30th against us, my head might explode.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tootoo is a bad midget

From the Deuce:
Have you seen Jordin Tootoo's punch on Robedas yet? Look it up. I told you that midget was a bad, bad man. Ouch.

For the record, Tootoo is listed at 5'9". That would be accurate, but only if they measured him with his skates on. For his transgression, Tootoo was suspended for 5 games and expelled from the Lollipop Guild.

Monday, March 19, 2007

What a difference a weekend makes.

Wow, that sure felt good, didn't it?

The Caps finally broke out of their slump this weekend, lighting up both Toronto and Tampa by a combined score of 12-2. The Caps rode strong goaltending by Olie Kolzig and two superhuman games by Alexander Semin. The scoring line on Semin for the two games? 4 goals, 2 assists. That's six points in two games. And it's not like he was tapping in easy scores and racking up second assists. His incredible display of stickhandling drew coverage away from Boyd Gordon, which gave Gordo a shot roughly as difficult as hitting the ocean from the beach. And as for his goals? They were really, really, really, REALLY great individual efforts.

Just as impressive was his puck possession game, which has reached a ridiculously high level. At one point, Semin stickhandled around two pressing forwards and shed a solid body check from a defender, all the while keeping the puck within two inches of his stick. At times he looked like a coach playing a game of keep away with mites on ice, such was his dominance.

Not entirely unrelated to his play, he also broke his own unofficial record for most smiles in a game. Quite a change from a guy we weren't sure had teeth for most of the season because of his stoic demeanor.

Semin's outstanding performance overshadowed strong play by rookies Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Giroux. Giroux scored his first two goals as a Cap, and Fleischmann made several top quality plays including a great behind the net feed that netted Boyd Gordon his second gimme of the weekend. If Flash's strong play continues, and there's no reason why it can't, he looks like a viable long term second liner on the right side.

All in all, it was a good weekend to be a Caps fan.

Friday, March 16, 2007

If there was any doubt

that our defense still needs an upgrade, there should be none after last night. Morrison and Eminger took two bad penalties late in the second, which gave Boston the 5 on 3 advantage that allowed them to tie the game up. This despite the overall solid play of the Caps, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a natural hat trick from Captain Clark. The Capitals played a solid overall game, and had a chance to win in overtime, but Alexander Semin's backhand over a sprawling Tim Thomas rang off the far post. In the end, the Caps were again undone by the shootout, and fell to the Bruins 4-3.

Speaking of sprawling, Tim Thomas must be the most frustrating goaltender in the world to play in front of. He looks absolutely terrible in the crease, frequently relying on sheer athletecism to make up for awful positioning and technique. If you're looking for a reason the Bruins have been unable to find consistency this season, look no further than Thomas.

Olie Kolzig looked stellar is his return. Kolzig had no chance to stop either power play tallies and came up big in overtime, stopping a series of close range lasers from Zdeno Chara. He also gave every Caps player and fan a heart attack when he wend down in pain after taking a shot off the knee with less than three seconds to go in overtime.

Once again, the Capitals came up small in the shootout, despite one of the sickest one on one moves the Russian Machine has put on a goaltender in some time. For the life of me, I can't understand why Captain Clark didn't take one of the three shots for the Caps. The guy clearly had the hot hand, what with the natural hat trick and all.

Overall, a solid effort soiled by the Caps inability to hold a lead.

The Capitals currently sit in 27th place, but are only 2 points up of 29th place Phoenix. They face a well rested Toronto team that sits just outside the 8th spot in the East. Game time is 7 PM at the V.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Call me crazy...

but am I the only one that think starting Olie tomorrow is not in the best interests of the Caps? He's been out much longer than was initially expected, which leads me to believe that the injury was worse than reported. The Capitals are out of the playoff race, so the team doesn't need Olie to try to secure a couple extra points.

I understand Kolzig's desire to get back on the ice. And while I don't think Brent Johnson played especially poorly during his stretch as a starter, nobody would debate that Olie is a major upgrade between the pipes. I also understand that he's a leader on the team, one of the few remaining veterans who leads by example. He wants to show his teammates he's committed to playing for them even though the playoffs are well out of reach.

Therein lies the crux of the problem. We know Olie is willing and capable of playing. But will he be at 100%? Will the damage to his knee have healed completely? I doubt that it has. And if he suffers another, perhaps more serious injury while rushing back to play, will anyone think that a couple points in the standing this year were worth it?

Notice I'm NOT making the argument that Kolzig should sit so the Capitals can secure a better draft position. While it might be better in the long run, it would be a disservice to the fans and the team not to play a fully healthy Kolzig. I just don't think you can pronounce the man fully healed after a couple shooting sessions and a single practice.


Update: Japer's Rink has a counterpoint up. Check it out. And I am NOT Bill Frist, dagnabbit!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

5 back of the lead

In a bit of positive news, Alex Ovechkin has rediscovered his scoring touch, and now sits tied for 3rd overall in the league in goals scored. Second place is well within reach, but it might be too much to ask Alex to make up a 5 goal differential with Vinnie Lecavalier with so few games remaining. Then again, if he keeps getting time on both special teams units, you never know...

After their loss to the Thrashers, the Caps sit fourth from the bottom of the league. They may move to third before their next game if Phoenix wins their game in hand. An unfortunate as it may be, this season is now all about draft position.

On the bright side, there have been many public assurances by big poppa Ted and George McPhee that this offseason will bring an influx of talent. The Caps need a true number one defenseman, which I touched on in this post a while back. Since then, the center position has (rightfully) overtaken defense in terms of talent needed due to the departure of Zubrus. And while Tarik is convinced the Caps crosshairs are squarely targeted on Pavel Datsyuk, I'm hoping for Gomez or Drury. Both would significantly improve the first line, both are effective passers, and both are capable of assuming a position of leadership in the locker room. Stanley Cup rings tend to keep other players' attention. Both also have a history of coming up big in the playoffs, while Datsyuk hasn't.

If the team wants to make any kind of serious postseason run next year, they still have to have a star defenseman. Period. Their young defensive corps still lacks a clear cut leader, a guy capable of being accountable for the defense as a whole. Lets hope they go out and get one.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's called a REBUILD, people

The Deuce is fed up with all the negativity and idiots calling for McPhee and Hanlon's heads on the message boards, especially on Capitals Insider. Now the Deuce is grumpy, but he's not going to refuse to renew his tickets for next year or give up on the Caps because of three down years. As such, he is providing some food for thought for these enraged impatient "fans."

Here is a listing of point totals and draft picks for the last 10 years for the last two Stanley Cup Champions, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Everyone is enraged that we may ONLY get 70 points this year. How would you like to see FOUR sub-60 point seasons in a row, then a sub-70, like Tampa Bay? How about a season of excitement and a trip to the finals, followed by two awful seasons - like Carolina (sound familiar)? Now try Pittsburgh on for size -- everyone complains that they are so good and the Caps so bad -- well, you need to be prepared to endure 3 straight years of finishing near dead-last in the league.

Also, if you want to complain about the Caps' horrible drafting, take a look at Tampa! Sheesh.

Tampa Bay
1997 - Paul Mara (44pts)
1998 - Lacavalier, Richards (47pts)
1999 - traded away, signed St. Louis as FA (infamous Kris Beech draft year)
(54 pts)
2000 - bust (59pts)
2001 - bust (69 pts)
2002 - traded away (Eminger, Semin, Gordon Draft 93 pts)
2003 - traded away (106 pts)
2004 won Cup

1997 - Bust (74pts)
1998 - Bust (86 pts) (Erik Cole 3rd Round)
1999 - Dave Tanabe (84pts)
2000 - no 1st rounder (88pts)
2001 - Bust (91 pts)
2002 - Cam Ward (61 pts)
2003 - Eric Staal (76 pts)
2004 - Andrew Laad
No season
Cheater Draft - Jack Johnson 112pts
2006 Won Cup

2000 - 96 pts
2001 - Colby Armstrong (69 pts)
2002 - Ryan Whitney (65 pts)
2003 - Marc-Andre Fleury (58 pts)
2004 - Evgeny Malkin (no season)
2005 - Secondary Sid (58 pts)
2006 playoffs

Washington last 3 seasons - 70 pts, 59 pts, this year, ??? So, as Original Six would say, "Wait 'till next year."

Friday, March 9, 2007

Oh Captain my Captain!

Once again, the Caps have a tough game against an opponent fighting for their playoff lives. Unlike the last few games, they will have some semblance of a healthy lineup, with Captain Clark and Gordo set to return from injury. And although Coach Hanlon seems intent to play Clark on the checking line, I doubt we'll see that setup once Clark regains game shape. I don't think he can keep Ovechkin and Semin on the same line for long, for a variety of reasons.

First, both Semin and Ovechkin like to have the puck on their sticks. Their styles of play are not particularly complimentary. Unless they start playing the game with two pucks, neither player will get as much time holding the puck as he wants (and deserves). Clark's physicality and willingness to give the puck to the Russian Machine whenever possible, then attack the net looking for a rebound or deflection makes for a much better fit than Semin's slick stickhandling and shooting.

Second, the first line needs a banger. While Ovechkin certainly hits with aplomb, he needs someone to get in front of the net and do the dirty work. Semin is not that kind of player, nor should he be asked to be. Clark is the very definition of a power forward. He forces teams to account for his presence down low, which frees up space for Ovie to maneuver into a prime scoring area. While teams certainly can't forget about Semin, he doesn't make forays into high traffic areas enough to be useful in that regard.

Finally, the Caps need some semblance of balance in their lineup. In order to have two threatening lines, Semin and Ovechkin need to split up. Having one on each line limits the ability of an opposing coach to match both players with their best defensive players.

That said, Semin and Ovie will probably combine for 8 points tonight, making me look like an absolute idiot.

Game time is 7 o'clock at the V.

Chris Simon is a moron

I don't even know where to begin with this one, folks. Chris Simon takes a big hit, which clearly rattled him, and responds by slashing his opponent across the face, knocking him out. Simon has done some idiotic things before, but he could have killed Hollweg last night.

I'm thinking he gets the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. When McSorley slashed the Donald in the head in a similar incident, he was effectively blackballed from the league from that point on. Simon deserves nothing less. Playing tough is one thing. This was sheer idiocy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Rough night in Toronto

Unfortunately, the Capitals weren't able to overcome their continuing roster issues, losing to the Maple Leafs 3-0. Yet again they failed to produce on the power play, going 0-5 with the man advantage. I understand that we're using smoke and mirrors to just field a team at this point, but something has got to be done to address the Caps problems with special teams before the start of the year.

Hire a consultant, hire an assistant that specializes in teaching the power play, but do something. The team has looked terrible all year when they go a man up. Most of the power play goals they score are a result of individual plays by the Alexes. If you can't knock in a couple cheapies, you won't win many games (especially not in the "new" NHL where you're guaranteed 4-5 opportunities a game).

On the bright side, it was good to see Fred Cassivi look solid in an uber-rare start. He didn't get the win, but did impress with his shot stopping ability and his collected demeanor in net. Not to knock Johnson, but I'd like to see Freddie get a couple more starts before the close of the season. The guy has worked his butt off to get to the NHL level, and it's nice to see him get some playing time. Maybe we can spring to get him some properly colored pads, too.

From a drafting perspective, tonight's loss brought the Caps within 1 point of the 4th overall pick, and within 3 of the third pick. Despite the relatively low depth of talent in the draft, a 3 or 4 pick overall should be good trade fodder after the season for a team looking to pick up some young talent.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Steckel gets the call

Dave Steckel has been called up to the big club. Steckel has been excellent at the dot, winning almost 3/4 of the draws he has taken in Hershey. He's also a fairly big boy at 6'5". HockeysFuture pegs him as a 3rd or 4th liner, but he should see significant minutes given the dearth of healthy centers on the team right now. Hopefully we'll be pleasantly surprised with his offensive abilities, but he looks a bit like Gordon-lite.

Welcome to the big dance, Dave.

A quick hop across the border

The Caps take a quick jaunt up to Toronto tonight to face the 11th place Maple Leafs, who are only 2 points out of the last playoff spot.

Let's see...

Caps taking on a team desperate to secure a playoff spot? Check.

Caps still decimated by injuries to key players (Clark, Gord-o (I will NOT call him muffins), Pettinger, Kolzig)? Check.

Caps still fielding a peculiar lineup of 11 forwards and 7 defensemen? Check.

Novotny still working to establish offensive rhythm with new teammates? Check.

Normally, one would think that under these circumstances, I'd be waxing negative about our prospects tonight. I was going to, until I learned that yes, KRIS BEECH WILL BE BACK IN THE LINEUP TONIGHT. WE'RE SAVED!

Sorry. Couldn't help it.

On the bright side, Mike Green will be up for the game after his (mental) reconditioning stint in Hershey. Looks like Greener's going to be with the big club until it's time for the Bears' playoff run down in the AHL. Good for him.

Monday, March 5, 2007

How did it come to this?

Did you ever think, EVER, that the Caps would be at a point where we'd really miss losing Kris Beech to injury?

Me neither.

With the Caps selling at the deadline and with the playoffs now well out of hand, it's time to start looking at the Caps draft position. Assuming the ping pong balls don't alter the draft order to give Pittsburgh the number one pick even though they're going to make the playoffs, the Caps currently hold the 6th position in the draft. That said, they're only 3 points out of the 3rd position.

It's unlikely they'll "catch" LA and Philly for the number one pick overall, but a top 3 pick is certainly not out of the question given the rash of injuries to an already depleted lineup. And while it's certainly not a given that the Caps will hold the pick instead of packaging it in a trade, it's time to start checking out prospects.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line...

but if the Caps ever want a shootout win, they're going to have to start moving in curved lines. I tried this morning to find an old Mike Modano playoff penalty shot goal to illustrate, but alas it was on TV before youtube existed. Scoring on a goaltender one on one is all about movement and perceived movement. You have to get the goalie moving one way or another. That's why the Caps drive me crazy in the shootout. They always come straight at goal and make a lateral move a couple feet before they're basically in the crease. That's a terrible way to attack a goaltender.

Here's the thing about goaltending: it's all about angles. A goaltender relies on playing the best angle to cut off most of the net from the shooter. Simple, right? The problem for goalies is that hockey is a dynamic sport. Players are never in the same place all the time, and they rarely attack goal from straight lines. Because of that, goaltenders are constantly moving around in the crease to keep the best angle on the puck. And that movement creates opportunity. While a goaltender is repositioning, he's not fully ready to stop a shot. He needs just a couple of milliseconds to reset, to stop his motion before dropping into the butterfly or waving the blocker or glove into position. Taking advantage of that moment is what shooters do.

A great example of how to take advantage of goaltender movement from last night's game was Fedotenko's second period goal on Johnson. Because Fedotenko made a quick right to left move (which also had the effect of TOASTING Erskine), Johnson began to move to his right. Fedotenko fired what can only be described as a pee-wee level wrister, but because Johnson was sliding the opposite direction (because, well, you play hockey on ice, and it's slippery) he was unable to recover in time and stop the shot.

My point in all this is simple. To give yourself the best chance in the shootout, you need to approach goal coming from an angle, not straight ahead. That way, the goaltender cannot simply play the straight angle and wait for the shot. He has to move laterally in order to stay in good position. That opens up a host of dekes and stickhandling moves which are unavailable from directly in front, such as a delayed draw to the backhand after the goaltender has moved and a speed move that gets across to the free side of the net before the goaltender can get there.

So, to sum things up... in the shootout this:
is better than this:

This concludes my honors thesis on why the Caps are 1-10 in the shootout. Any questions?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Big George has a letter up to fans

Nice to see that the organization is willing to open up and reveal some of the motivation for making the moves they did, and pointing out the direction the team will be taking in the offseason.

For those that haven't yet read the letter, check it out.

Late edit: The Deuce's comment was too good not to post on the front page. Here it is:

My letter to GMGM

George, Thanks very much for taking the time to write this letter. I appreciate your effort and insight. I think you are doing a great job as GM. I try to take an unemotional approach to the trades and look to the general consensus by those who have worked a lifetime in hockey to see their take. Most seem to think you made an excellent deal for Zubrus. An impending UFA for a 23 year old PLAYMAKING center and a first-rounder. If we truly go out this summer and sign Gomez, Drury, or someone comparable, this is a great deal.

I know its just one game, and Novotny didn't even play with OV, but the setup on his wrist shot showed excellent vision and playmaking ability, something I personally feel Dianius lacked. With Backstrom and one of the above named centers next year, we could really do some damage on offense (One of them with OV, the other with Semin).

From your comments, I'm also confident you know we need more depth and experience on the backline (preferably a bruiser), so I am confident that will be addressed as well. It seems obvious from the comments here that a lot of fans do not have the patience for even a two year rebuild. I'm glad you and Ted do have that patience, and I think next year it will pay off. Thanks again, and good luck! Let's Go Caps!

PS - for those that feel GMGM has done a poor job evaluating young talent -- go to a hockey prospects webpage or look at the Hershey Bears -- Fleischman, Klepis, Fehr, Green, Morrison, Eminger, Semin, Varlamov, Schultz, Gordon, and the list just goes on and on....

Time to ride the lightning

The Caps have got to be excited February is over. The Caps posted a positively ugly 3-10 mark during the shortest month of the year. They also lost the twin Zs at the trading deadline, along with veteran defenseman Jamie Heward.

Tonight when the Caps take on the Tampa Light Breeze, we'll get our first look at part of the return on the Zubrus trade, 23 year old center Jiri Novotny. While Novo played only sparingly this season in Buffalo, it's not hard to see why when you look at their depth chart (Drury and Briere center the first two lines). It will be interesting to see how the youngster adjusts to the additional minutes and responsibilities he's going to have here in Washington. I don't expect to see fireworks from the kid right away since he'll have to adjust to new teammates and a new system, but at least we'll get an idea about his overall skillset. Expect more than a few errant passes and turnovers from him tonight (and for the next couple of games). Novotny is a playmaker first, so it'll take more adjustment for him than it would for a pure scorer, who doesn't need to feel out his teammates to the same extent.

It'll also be interesting to see if the Caps go with Cassivi tonight given his strong play last game. Although I'd like to see Fred get another shot at a win I don't think it's likely, considering the Caps just love riding their starting goalies into the ground.

Meanwhile, the Lightning are trying to hold onto first in the Southeast, having gone on a tear after the all-star break, and are 6-2-2 in their last 10. They currently lead the Southeast, 2 points ahead of Atlanta. They'll be looking to rebound after their last game, a 2-1 loss to Dallas.

Game time is 7 o'clock at the V. Because of family medical issues, none of the grumpy caps fans (at least none of the ones that write for this blog) will be in attendance. Luckily, they do get Caps games at Georgetown hospital (a tip for any Caps fans that might need surgery during the season). We'll need the other fans in 413 and the rest of the arena to pick up the slack for us. Give 'em a "Hit 'em with your purse, Lecavalier!" for all of us.