Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lord Stanley's Cup

Until last night, most of the talk about the Stanley Cup finals centered on how small market the teams were, and how much the NHL needed larger market teams to be in the finals to draw an audience.

To that, I say this: If your thoughts while watching last night's opening game between Ottawa and Anaheim centered on how large or small the media markets were, or you didn't watch the game because of the teams involved, you're not a hockey fan. Then again, if you're reading this blog long after your home team has been eliminated, I don't think I have to worry about that.

Last night, two immensely talented teams put it all on the line in a display of pride, passion and will that simply isn't found it most sports. For casual and hardcore fans alike, the game was a reminder of what hockey could be, of how beautiful and powerful it is to see the game played at the highest possible level. Both teams played up tempo, attacking hockey, with smooth transitions from defense to offense and back again. Players teams played the body clean, hard, and often, with hits coming at a pace that can only be found in a finals matchup, when both teams can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and are willing to sacrifice themselves wholly and completely to reach that light. Terms like reckless abandon and discipline generally are not used together, but the players on the ice seemingly embodied both terms at once.

If last night's game was any indication, we're in for an amazing series. There is no better way for the game to be showcased than for these two teams to continue to trade haymakers with one another, to put it all on the line until only one remains.

Gimmicks and advertising can do only so much to create interest in an event. At the end of the day, true, die hard fans are not made by the advertising, or by the location of the teams, or by the size of the media markets involved. Fans are made by the events themselves, by the emotion and excitement generated by the players and coaches literally tearing themselves apart to have their names engraved in that most hallowed silver cup. So invite a non-believer over to your place for game 2 of the finals. Hand them a beer and some pretzels. If the Senators and Ducks can continue to play in this series with the same vigor that they started it with, I guarantee you they'll be stopping by for a lot more games over the years.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Two Swedes for the price of... well.. two?

This from Big Bad Buccigross...

"The Rangers are always a favorite because New York likes stars and playing with Jaromir Jagr would be very satisfying. Plus, Forsberg could get big money from New York. Washington's cap room, Alexander Ovechkin and incoming Swede Nicklas Backstrom make the Capitals attractive. The Bruins have tried to sign Jeremy Roenick and Mike Modano in recent offseasons, so I guess you can never count them out. Would he return to Philadelphia? The Flyers offered him a very nice contract before they traded him, so I don't think much has changed there; but the Flyers are probably better off going in another direction."

I think it's safe to say we'd take Forsberg for the right price, both for his on ice play and to tutor young Nicklas Backstrom on and off the ice. Such a move would be risky, as Forsberg has been injury prone in the latter part of his career, and he will likely command a VERY high salary. I also doubt that Forsberg fits the Caps long-term roster plans, as he is 34 years old. That said, it would be silly if the Caps didn't at least check and see what he's asking (as I'm sure they will).

Monday, May 21, 2007

The funny thing is

Teemu Selanne is only one player on the Ducks that can referred to as an offensive powerhouse, or even an offensive threat. And halfway through the first overtime period, he found himself alone in front of the net with the puck at his stick and only Hasek to beat.

Game over.

Now, this may not be the Ducks year because of their lack of big game forwards. But if the Ducks add one or two offensive players next year (assuming they re-sign Selanne) and maintain their so-good-it's-not-even-close-to-fair pair of 30 minute D-men (Pronger and Neidermayer), who in the NHL can stop them?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Backstrom on board

The Caps and uber-prospect Nicklas Backstrom have agreed on the terms of his 3 year entry-level deal.

Even though Backstrom has yet to play a game for the Capitals, his addition marks a tremendous upgrade at the center position for the team. By adding him, the Caps are free to cut any one (Kris Beech) of their less talented (Kris Beech) players (have I mentioned Kris Fricking Beech yet?).

On a nearly unrelated note, the Tre Kronor jerseys are pretty sweet, especially with the Viking patch on the left shoulder.

Anyone know where one might be able to find a Team Sweden jersey for sale? I can't seem to find a listing on any of the usual websites. And kudos to the Swedes for not changing their awesome traditional jerseys for the more modern design adopted by most countries.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Just one more...

Like many Caps fans, watching the Stanley cup playoffs without our team in the mix has been an exercise in both frustration and enthusiasm. Avoiding sports bigamy when your team isn't involved in the playoffs is tough. Still, you want to have a vested interest in rooting for more than just a good game.

So, like many other fans, I picked a horse and follow it with a bit more interest than the rest. Not the passion I follow the Caps with, mind you. Just a little something extra to keep me interested, to make sure I tune in on the nights when I otherwise just might have said "screw it, I'm going out for a beer."

I picked San Jose. And they lost in the second round. Eh, no big deal.

But there was always something else. Something that gnawed at my gut. Something less than noble. I wanted something positively evil.

I wanted the Buffalo Sabres to get CRUSHED this year. Not just beaten, sent packing in a hard fought seven game series. I wanted them broken, their hopes dashed so brutally that the effect would linger like a black cloud over the franchise.

Why do I want this, you ask? Why would I want to wish more misery on a city that has had more than its share of heartbreak?

Is it the Briere-Ovechkin thing? Somewhat. As a hockey player, it's easy to despise someone who 1) takes a dive to get a player ejected, then whines about the event for weeks and 2) is too terrified to get payback by playing physically and instead resorts to one of the dirtiest, least respectful methods a player could use (jabbing a stick into another player's nether region).

Is it the Buffalo "fans" that showed up at the V this year, booing our team in its home finale? That's certainly a small part of it. I have no problem with fans showing up to cheer their team. Okay, that's a lie. But booing a team in its final performance in front of a home crowd AFTER the game is over? Pretty bush league. And the fact that nearly every "hard core" fan had a jersey or T-shirt that was bought this year while the owner claimed to have owned them since childhood is just stupid. We see the Vintage NHL tag on that supposed family heirloom, dummy.

The real problem I have with the Sabres and their fans is this:

They think their suffering somehow outweighs every other fans simply because they're from Buffalo. And that's absolute crap.

The Washington Capitals have been in exactly 1 Stanley Cup finals. They've won exactly 0 games in Stanley Cup finals play. And yet you don't hear Caps fans whining about how they're cursed, or how the league is out to get us, or how a goal shouldn't have counted because an inch of a skate blade was in a crease. Buffalo fans believe that just because they've suffered some gut-wrenching defeats that they're somehow more worthy of greatness, that they're OWED something because their teams haven't won any championships. It's senseless self-entitlement that has absolutely no basis in reality. And it drives me nuts.

All teams with any kind of history have suffered losses that eat at their core. The Caps have been eliminated in 2 of the 10 longest playoff games in NHL history, once to the despised Penguins and once to the Islanders. We've had tremendously talented teams that never got within a sniff of Lord Stanley's cup. We've been in the league only 4 less years than Buffalo. Yet every Sabres fan would have you believe that they've been in misery as long as Chicago Cubs fans. It's absolutely, patently ridiculous.

I can't wait for Ottawa to send the Sabres and their fans packing yet again. And secretly, they can't either... so they'll have even more to whine about next season.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Getting ready for the Red, White and Blue

For those interested in attending the draft day/new uni unveiling festivities on June 22, here's the skinny on how to get passes to the event:

Ticket plan-holders will have the opportunity to reserve and print passes online in an exclusive window from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, May 14. All plan-holders will receive emails on Friday and again on Monday with instructions how to obtain tickets through their online account manager, with a limit of two tickets per account.

The general public will have the opportunity to reserve and print passes beginning at 2 p.m. Monday, pending availability, also with a limit of two passes per person.

Two types of passes – Red Rink and Blue Rink – will be issued for the event, with Red Rink passes issued on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning with plan-holders. Fans with Red Rink passes will receive priority access to the Capitals practice rink for the uniform unveiling. After Red Rink passes are sold out, Blue Rink passes will be issued that will provide access to the rest of Kettler Capitals Iceplex. All fans in attendance, including those with Blue Rink passes, will have the opportunity to watch the unveiling on closed-circuit television via a 19-by-26-foot video screen, see the jersey in person after the unveiling and participate in all of the Draft Day Party activities.

Doors will open for the event at 5:30 p.m. Fans are asked to be seated by 6:30 p.m. with the uniform unveiling beginning at approximately 6:40 p.m.
The first round of the NHL Entry Draft will begin at 7 p.m., and fans at Kettler Capitals Iceplex will have the opportunity to follow the live coverage on Versus on large screens on both rinks and television sets throughout the Iceplex. The event will also include free skating, Caps player and alumni autographs, interactive games and more.

No word yet on whether the new Unis will be available for purchase in the pro shop at the event. Now everyone keep your fingers crossed and hope they don't end up looking anything like this:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

USA ousted by Finland at World Championships

Team USA was defeated by Finland in a shootout after the two teams skated to a 4-4 draw during regulation and overtime.

If there's one thing the NHL does right, it's making sure Stanley Cup playoff games don't end this way. Using the shootout to decide a regular season or preliminary round game is fine. Using it to send a team packing from a knockout round? Not so much.

Then again, we beat the Finns when it mattered most.

It's hard to judge Team USA's performance (what with not getting to see the games and all), but I am a firm believer in their decision to use a youth filled roster at the World Championships. While we'll never forget the players that won the World Cup of Hockey (nee Canada Cup) in 1996, it was clear that those players' time had passed.

And if you think this whole post is just a reason for us to get in references to two of the top moments in USA Hockey history, you know us all too well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Backstrom tallies assist, Sweden beats Slovakia

Nicklas Backstrom had another assist from behind the goal line as Sweden's offense proved too much for Slovakia, with the Swedes winning 7-4.

Backstrom seems extremely comfortable in Gretzky's workshop back behind the net. Hopefully transitioning from international ice to the NHL surface (where there are two less feet between the goal line and the boards) won't hamper his game.

Caps sharpshooters Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin must be positively drooling over the thought of hammering home one timers in front set up by the young Swede. I know Capitals fans are chomping at the bit to see it.

Ovechkin on playing both ways

This just in... The Russian Machine likes to win. And he's willing to play in both ends to make it happen. From IWHC.net, Ovechkin's quote after Russia's 4-0 quarterfinal win over the Czechs:

"It doesn't matter if I don't score as long as I play well defensively," said Ovechkin, who's been limited to one goal so far. "We support each other all the other time. It doesn't matter who scores goals. We're just happy for everybody."

Of course, it's easier to say that and mean it when your team wins every one of its games.

Now if only we can get Ovechkin some of the same kind of top flight talent the Russian National Team has here in DC to take some of the offensive load off him...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Russian Machine's creator weighs in on AO's hit

You gotta love the Ovechkin family. Here is AO quoting his father in Russian Hockey digest:

Where did you watch the remainder of the game?
-In the stands with my father. He smiled and said: “Don’t worry, hockey – it’s a physical sport.”

Amen to that, Mikhail. If only we could get Alex's dad on the phone with Gary Bettman to tell the commish that.

Monday, May 7, 2007

US loses to Canada, will play Finns in Quarters

Team USA got torched early and often against Canada, going down 1-0 only 8 seconds into the contest and never leading. Canada steamrolled the US in the first period, scoring 4 first period goals on their way to winning 6-3. Team USA backup goaltender Jason Bacashihua saw his first action of the World Championships in the third period.

Team USA now looks to regroup before taking on Finland in the knockout round on Thursday. Despite having the same qualifying record as Slovakia, Team USA takes second in group F by virtue of their +5 goal differential, 2 better than the Slovaks. By finishing 2nd, the US avoids a quarterfinal matchup with perennial international powerhouse Sweden.

Matchups for the quarterfinals are as follows:

Russia (1E) v. Czech Republic (4F)
Sweden (2E) v. Slovakia (3F)
Canada (1F) v. Switzerland (4E)
Team USA (2F) v. Finland (3E)

Russian Machine powered off

Per just about everybody, Alex Ovechkin was suspended for one game for his hit on Swiss forward Valentin Wirz.

I didn't see the hit, but it wouldn't surprise me if this was a situation like Ilya Kovalchuk's ejection from the Olympics a couple years ago. For whatever reason, physical play is frowned upon in international competition, and the Russian Machine is nothing if not physical. At least it's not the Olympics where any ejection gets a player removed from the entire competition.


Late edit- here's a youtube clip of the hit. Notice Ovechkin keeps his shoulder tight and doesn't extend the elbow. A clean, solid hit. It wouldn't even get 2 minutes in the NHL.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The NHL is trying to kill me

Another night, another double overtime west coast game. At this point, I'm surviving on Red Bull, coffee, and the occasional scrap of food. I might have a heart attack before lunch.

And you know what? I wish the whole year could be like this.

In light of what's happened in the past week, I'm going out on a limb and making what some folks might call a ludicrous assessment (especially after the series ending goal last night in Anaheim).

The sun has set on the Martin Brodeur era. Roberto Luongo is now the best goaltender in the NHL.

Assessing goaltenders is a difficult thing in the regular season. There are a plethora of talented players at the position, many of whom could stake a claim to the Vezina trophy as the league's best goaltender in the regular season at their position. That's what makes the playoffs so great. The playoffs reveal truth, plain and simple.

In the playoffs, the measure of a goaltender is simple. Can you put your team on your back and carry them in games they have no business competing in. And this year, in his first Stanley Cup playoffs, Roberto Luongo may as well have been Atlas, carrying the weight of the entire world on his shoulders and not just that of a mid-sized west coast Canadian city.

Vancouver should have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Heck, without Luongo they may not have even been there to begin with. They had neither the talent nor the temperament to compete with Dallas or Anaheim. And yet every game Luongo gave them a puncher's chance. All they had to do was play the game as best they could and the man between the pipes gave them a shot at glory. And the load that he carried was absolutely unbelievable.

In 2 rounds of playoff action totalling 12 games, Luongo played a total of 847 minutes. That's more than 2 FULL GAMES of extra time. And he was stellar throughout. He sits 3rd in save percentage, with only JS Giguere (who no one can dispute has the best defensive corps in the game in front of him) and Marty Turco, the man Luongo outduelled to knock out of the playoffs above him.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end for one of the best goaltenders of all time. It's something that had to happen sooner or later, but has been shocking to witness nonetheless. Martin Broduer has gone to the well so many times, carried so many teams to the promised land, and broken so many opposing players' hearts that we expect nothing short of greatness from him every game. Until this playoff year, he's never come up empty. And yet it's happening.

This year, Brodeur sits 11th in playoff goals against average and save percentage.

Let that sink it for a little while.

And it's not just the numbers that tell the story. Brodeur has been beaten by several average shots in both of the Devils series, and even a couple of even lower quality. He has been stellar at times, but has lacked the consistency that has been a hallmark of his hall of fame career. It seems that the heavy workload and father time may finally be catching up to Brodeur. He may yet have a stellar performance or two left in him, but the days of Brodeur as a dominant force in the NHL playoffs look to be over.

I always expected Roberto Luongo to be the heir to the throne once occupied by Martin Brodeur, and Patrick Roy before him. I just didn't expect it to happen so soon.

Thursday, May 3, 2007


So the OFB crew is headed to Moscow to cover the World Championships on Poppa Ted's dime. No, we're not jealous. Not at all. Not even an itty bitty bit. Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to go cry by ourselves in the corner.

I'm sure everyone would totally rather read our fantastically awesome Caps stats culled from postgame scoresheets than measly firsthand accounts of the games and yawn inducing exclusive interviews with Caps players.

And yes, we've gotten into the cough syrup again.

More from the Worlds

Milan Jurcina set up Marian Gaborik for his second point of the World Championships in Slovakia's 4-2 loss to the USA. Neither Chris Clark nor Brian Pothier recorded a point in the US win.

Capitals points in the WCs so far:

Brian Pothier (USA) - 4 Games, 0 Goals, 1 Assist, -1
Chris Clark (C - USA) 4 Games, 2 Goals, 1 Assist, even
Alexander Ovechkin (RUS) 3 Games, 1 Goal, 2 Assists, +2, 1 Player of the Game award
Milan Jurcina (SVK) 4 Games, 1 Goal, 1 Assist, +4 (team +/- leader)
Nicklas Backstrom (SWE) 3 Games, 1 Goal, 2 Assists, +3

Not too shabby.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

US loses heartbreaker at Worlds

Team USA rallied from a two goal deficit to tie their game with the Czech National Team (well, in honesty, 2/3 of the Czechs. The rest are playing for the Rangers) with only 5 minutes to go yesterday, only to lose the game in heartbreaking fashion. With just over a minute remaining, John Grahame was beaten by Jaroslav Bednart to secure the Czech Republic's victory and first overall in their group.

Both teams now advance to the knockout round by virtue of their 1-2 finish in group B.

Team Russia won their third game in a row to secure their position atop group D, defeating Finland, who also advanced.

No current Caps scored in either affair.

Also, I'm bitter that Vancouver wasn't able to hold on to a 2-0 lead and dropped game 4 to Anaheim last night. The Canucks didn't just take their foot off the gas in the third period, they slammed the car into reverse and backed over All-Universe Roberto Luongo, who was once again spectacular in a loss.

Although he lacks the polish that Patrick Roy had, Luongo's technique is the most accurate approximation of Roy's modified butterfly in the league. I don't expect him to dominate the way Roy did, but he's certainly adding an exclamation point to an already fantastic season in the playoffs. The chants of MVP heard throughout Vancouver's arena last night are not without merit. I can't say I'm unhappy that he's no longer in our conference. Nice trade, Keenan.