The Deuce and Original 6 (my older brother and father) have been lighting up my email box today with reaction to the Zubrus trade, so I figured I'd share their wisdom with all 5 of my readers. Without further ado, it's Grumpy Caps Fans - Old Timers' Edition:
From: The Deuce
I like the deal. We get a 23 year old six foot two center/winger (right
handed) for a 32 year old six foot one center/winger. So the kid is not a "natural goal scorer." Neither was Zubrus. Plus a first round draft pick (even though it may be the last pick of the first round). We get younger, stockpile more picks, and, if we really, REALLY want to, we can resign Zubie in the offseason (no way Buffalo can do it -- they've got two centers named Drury and Danielle who'll want to get PAID)!
Response from Original 6:
Jiri Novotny. Another 1st rounder! The Caps keep praying that a few of their young 1st rounders will turn out to be decent NHLers! Can we wait that long?
Yes. Novotny is an NHL ready player now. He's played 50 games this year for buffalo, which means he could have played in every game for us.
Plus he's only 23. He'll be a decent third-line center (read: cheap replacement for Zubrus) next year. I am very confident the Caps will sign a big name center this summer. The way McPhee has been talking in his interviews, he'd better back it up, or else the fans will riot.
With Backstrom and Novotny (the jury is still out with him as far as I am concerned even though he played with Buffalo - only 6 goals and 7 assists this year) we will have 2nd and 3rd line centers. Backstrom will need a year or two to become a first line center. My concern is that we have traded 2 of our few veterans. In order to make it to the highest levels a team has to have a blend of young players and veterans.
Where are those veterans on the Caps now?
I'm glad that you are confident that they will sign a first line veteran center over the summer. They have only once made a big deal like that and you know how that worked out. Aren't we still paying some of Jagr's salary?
Yes. And Teddy will never, EVER make that mistake again. They will not look for pure talent. They will look for leadership and talent. See, Drury, Chris; Smyth, Ryan; Gomez, Scott just to name a few upcoming UFAs. Those guys are no Jaromir Jagrs. Plus, in todays NHL, Ovechkin and Semin are now cagey veteran graybeards!
So there you have it folks... feel free to share your opinions on the trade in the comments section.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The Deuce and Original 6 (my older brother and father) have been lighting up my email box today with reaction to the Zubrus trade, so I figured I'd share their wisdom with all 5 of my readers. Without further ado, it's Grumpy Caps Fans - Old Timers' Edition:
Dainus Zubrus came to the Capitals with big shoes to fill. Or rather, to me he did. I was a big fan of both Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis, both of whom went to Montreal. I remember one reporter's scout's take on Zednik as something to the effect of "had almost 20 goals last year playing with Bondra. Should have had double that with all the chances he had." And while it's true that Zednik's scoring touch was sometimes lacking, his speed and effort made sure that he got enough chances to score 19 goals in consecutive seasons. Nevertheless, Capitals brass deemed him expendable, and both he and Bulis were shipped to Montreal for Zubrus and Trevor Linden's corpse. In Montreal, Zednik erupted, scoring more than 20 goals every full season he played there, including 31 in 02-03. He also shined in his playoff series against Boston until a cheap Kyle McLaren elbow to the head put him out of commission. One might argue that he still hasn't fully recovered from the blow.
In that trade between the Capitals and Montreal Zubrus was the promise of a big return on investment. He was certainly talented enough, and had the size and speed to use those talents effectively at the NHL level. He was highly coveted, having been drafted 15th by the Flyers and traded along with a bag of pucks to Montreal for Mark Recchi, a legitimate star in the league at that time. It was clear that Zubrus had the talent, but something was missing in him that allowed not one, but two teams to deem him expendable.
In the time that Zubrus played for the Caps, he never set fire to the league offensively (his career high 23 goals came in his first season with Ovechkin), but he played well in the defensive zone, and we all know how much the Capitals covet two way players. And while he did display flashes of brilliance, he never lived up to his billing as a top line forward. He gave an honest effort most nights, especially later in his career here, but never developed the scoring touch one would hope for a player of his caliber. Only scoring 20 goals twice is fairly meager output for a player who played on teams with Ovechkin, Peter Bondra, Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Adam Oates, and Micheal Nylander. And while he didn't play on a line with Jagr often, his numbers should still have benefited from not playing the oppositions shut down line. But they never did.
This season, Zubrus came roaring out of the gate, and everyone thought that the enigmatic forward was finally delivering what he had only shown glimpses of before. Playing with Ovechkin clearly suited Zubrus, and he opened the season on a scoring tear. I even wrote a post apologizing to him for riding him so hard. Alas, midway through the season Zubrus went as cold as he had been hot, and the team's record suffered as a result.
So what was Zubrus missing? What kept him from fulfilling the promise he has shown for so many years?
Zubrus never showed the courage to rely on his skills to beat players one on one. He always took the puck wide rather than attempting to beat a defenseman one on one. He loved working in the corner, where he could out muscle the opposition without the fear of taking a big hit. The faith in those amazing skills to protect him was just never there. This flaw became abundantly clear when juxtaposed against his linemate Alex Ovechkin, who showed absolutely no fear, and in fact seemed to relish taking on opposing players one on one, one on two, even one on four at times. But instead of inspiring that same type of aggressive play by Zubrus it only served to highlight his inadequacies.
Worse, it became obvious later in the season that Zubrus was trying to force play carrying the puck instead of passing the puck off to his linemates. Whether he was pushing too hard trying to earn that big contract or whether he truly believed he was making the right play, he was hurting the team. He still refused to play in the middle of the ice, but he wouldn't give up the puck, either. He consistently drove at defensemen, but against the boards so he could be easily rubbed out or at least neutralized. If this was the way he was going to play, the Capitals needed to go another direction. So they did.
So what is Zubrus' legacy here in DC? He was a fan favorite, and a decent forward on a team that lately has seen far too few of them. He took Ovechkin under his wing in his first year in the league, which should not be undervalued. Who knows if we would have seen the same exuberance from the Russian Machine had he been homesick and lonely? For that service, we'll call his time here in Washington a positive, even if he never did live up to the lofty expectations surrounding his arrival.
So farewell, Dainius. Thanks for the time you've put in. Hopefully the crowd will recognize you with an ovation in your first game back, and hopefully things will go well for you this postseason. Perhaps we'll meet again when the signing period for free agents starts. But I doubt we'll again see you in Caps colors, be they black and bronze or red, white and blue.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
From Tarik - The Capitals just traded Dainius Zubrus to Buffalo along with Timo Helbling for Buffalo's First rounder this year and 23-year-old center Jiri Novotny.
Tsn.ca's scouting report on Novotny : Owns a projectable frame for the pivot position. Sees the ice well and has sound playmaking instincts. Doesn't have top-end finishing skills. Must continue to improve his work ethic, since he tends to be lazy at times.
So he doesn't have finishing skills, but can pass. Seems like more of a pure center, not the hybrid that Zubrus was. It'll be interesting to see how he fits with the Caps. I can tell you right now laziness is not something the Caps tolerate. I see him paired with Semin on the second line once he arrives, but we'll have to wait and see.
We'll have a full postmortem on the Zubrus era here in DC later today.
I know it's wishful thinking, but at least we can hope that the Penguins will stop all their whining about how The Secondary One needs to be protected by the refs, the league, the FBI, the CIA, and Chuck Norris.
According to TSN.ca, the Penguins just signed Georges Laraque. This is the second Pens move after acquiring Gary Roberts from Florida. It's safe to say they're gearing up for a playoff run in Pittsburgh. I hate the Penguins. Hate hate HATE the Penguins.
The Caps traded Lawrence Nycholat to the Senators for career minor leaguer Andy Hedlund and a 6th round draft pick. I doubt either of these will amount to much, but the extra pick this year can't hurt.
Monday, February 26, 2007
According to TSN.ca:
"The New York Islanders have acquired winger Richard Zednik from the Washington Capitals in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2007."
Too bad... I'd have kept him over Zubrus every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Ah well. There's still plenty of time to move Zubie-doobie-doo before the deadline. Anyone looking for a utility 3rd liner who can play center and the wing? Anyone? Bueller?
The Capitals now have three picks in the first two rounds of the 2007 draft. Hopefully some of those picks will be packaged for an established player in the offseason.
It seems a good number of Caps fans are getting pretty fired up over the trade deadline. Although the main theme has been the will they stay, will they go storyline involving the twin Zs (Zubrus and Zednik), the status of Jamie Heward and Steve Eminger has also been cast into doubt. Caps fans all over are waiting with baited breath to see what compensation the team will get for any of the players listed.
Folks, it's time to cool your jets. At least until after the playoffs.
The Capitals are sellers at the deadline, which they admitted about three weeks after we all knew it. They're not going to make the playoffs, and therefore are highly unlikely to pick up any player of note at the deadline. No team that thinks it has a chance is going to ship a solid player in exchange for another, which means we're going to get... wait for it... wait for it...
DRAFT PICKS AND MINOR LEAGUE PROSPECTS!!!!! WOOOHOOO!!!
Seriously, we won't know much about the makeup of this team (aside from the absence of current players) until well after the season, when the team makes (or doesn't make) moves to sign or trade for players in the offseason. The trade deadline for the Caps will be like so much foreplay... a touch here, a touch there, but no major moving and shaking (at least not in terms of aqcuisitions). We may see some trade ties established between the Caps and a couple other teams, but not enough to read into any future deals. And while it's certainly smart for the Capitals to add to their already deep pool of young talent for call-ups and trade bait, it's not going to have much effect on the roster until well after the postseason ends.
The Capitals posted a very respectable split against the Devils this weekend. On the bright side, the Caps did put up a 4 spot on Martin Brodeur, and any time a team can say that they've done well offensively. They took advantage of multiple breakdowns in coverage by the Devils, which happens about as often as snowstorms in June.
They got goals from one of their stars (Semin), one from their role-players (Pettinger), one from the defense (Jurcina) and one from a new arrival (Fleischmann). Their balanced attack along with a splendid (if not spectacular) game from Johnson gave the Caps the victory. In addition, Alex Ovechkin seemed reinvigorated by the Jurcina goal, which he inially seemed to think deflected off him, and attacked the goal with much more vigor after the score. His strong play continued on to the second game, and while the Capitals were not able to take away a victory against Broduer's backup Scott Clemmensen, their overall play was miles above what we've seen from them recently.
The next couple days should be very interesting from a roster standpoint. I leave you with the words of George McPhee, when asked about movement on the roster at the deadline:
"Yes," McPhee said, nodding, "there will be something."
Whether it's something substantial or not remains to be seen. Will Zubrus and/or Zednik be moved? Will Eminger be a Cap after the deadline? Or will there be another, less expected move?
Friday, February 23, 2007
I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this. I mean, I'm all in favor of a 5 on 5 (or 6 on 6) brawl, but when a skater takes on a goalie you gotta draw the line. The Sabres suck.
Also, it's good to see one of the Murray brothers has a pulse. I swear I thought they were catatonic half the time they coached here in DC.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Even though the Caps couldn't grab the full 2 points against San Jose, they showed improvement in almost every area. Brad Johnson played a solid all around game, the defense did a good job of keeping San Jose's forwards in check, and the offense finally showed signs of life. And while the result may have been somewhat of a disappointment considering the Caps had a 2-0 lead halfway through the first, the overall play of the team was not.
The sole area where the Caps still can't get anything going is the power play. They just can't seem to get anything going with the man advantage, which has absolutely killed them over the past few games. I'm confident that if they continue to move away from the trap (and the players get more chances to work in the offensive zone) that their skilled players will find their touch again. It's just a shame that it took this long.
It's not hard to see why Alex Ovechkin's slump hasn't ended. The Sharks often played a four man box which surrounded the Russian Machine, practically daring anyone else on the team to make a play. There was even a point in overtime when the Sharks played a four man box on Ovechkin when he entered the zone. Think about it. There are only four men on the ice in overtime! San Jose committed their ENTIRE TEAM to marking one player. Unfortunately, Zubrus and Clark just haven't been able to make anyone pay, so the double and triple teaming of Ovie will continue.
What the Caps are sorely missing was on display last night in a San Jose uniform. Joe Thornton is the straw that stirs San Jose's drink. The guy is an unbelievable passer, as evidenced by San Jose's second goal on the power play. From the right board, he drew in his forechecker, faked to one side, then put a pass between the legs of the defender diagonally across two thirds of the offensive zone perfectly onto the tape of a waiting teammate, who fired a point blank shot then was able to bang home the rebound. Dainus, THAT is what a number one center does. Take notes.
Up next for the Caps is a home and home set against the Devils. Not the best news for a team looking to find its offense. And while I'm not quite ready to start posting about the Caps draft position and the players available, the time is getting nearer.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Pardon me while I wax existential... There was much good to come out of last night's loss to the Canadiens. Falling behind 3-0 in the first period may just have saved fans from a snore inducing home stretch, and the team may just have found their game again.
Since the Capitals were forced to abandon the neutral zone trap after an atrocious first period, they actually showed some signs of life in the offensive zone. They put strong pressure on the Habs defense, no small task considering the Canadiens have one of the better core defensive groups in the league. They played the body with aplomb, absolutely blowing Montreal's players off the puck. They actually looked competitive in the game. Two quick (and I mean blink and you missed 'em quick) goals by Jamie Heward brought the Caps within one, before their special teams play yet again let them down. True, one might argue that two goals from a defenseman and only one from a forward does not constitute turning a corner on their offensive woes, but the play of the team looked much stronger overall once they changed their style and forechecked hard.
I don't know know that there are words strong enough to describe how bad the power play is right now, so I'm going to the thesaurus. Here we go: putrid, bad, contaminated, corrupt, decayed, decomposed, fetid, foul, high, malodorous, moldered, nidorous, noisome, off, putrefied, rancid, rank, reeking, rotting, smelly, spoiled, stinking, strong, tainted, whiffy. Actually, those are pretty accurate descriptions (I especially like whiffy for some reason). And don't go talking about Semin scoring on the second half of the four minute minor at the end of the period. He would have scored the same goal five on five. It was pure individual brilliance, and had NOTHING to do with setting up a power play and working the puck to create a scoring chance. The Capitals need to hire an assistant to work with them on their power play, as it's become abundantly clear that the coaching staff as-is simply can't get the job done.
It was good to see Richard Zednik play yet another strong game. Hopefully the Caps will re-sign him in the coming days, or be able to do so in the offseason. The same cannot be said for Dainus Zubrus, whose play over the past month and a half has absolutely destroyed his trade value. He hasn't been able to score or set up his linemates, and he's missed several golden opportunities for cheap tap ins. Some of the blame certainly lies in the system the Caps played during that stretch, but if Zubrus were the number one center he fancies himself to be, he would have found a way to create offense regardless.
I can't see any team paying him number one center dollars this offseason (and the Caps would be insane to do so) or even looking at him as a rental at this point. Any second line center worth his salt could put up numbers similar to Zubrus' (20G, 32A, 52Pts, -15) playing with Alexander Ovechkin. Even his agent seems to recognize this, as he recently said "He has a lot more value than just what he does on the ice." Not exactly a ringing endorsement of his play on it. The fact is, the "value" his agent talks about is to the Capitals and the Capitals alone. Other teams either have veteran leadership or could get it with a cheaper pickup than Dainus. If the Caps pay him anything near market value for a number one center, they'll be doing the team a disservice.
Update: Holy cow. Zubrus wants between three and a half to four mil a year for four years (scroll down to Tarik's comment). I've got two words for you. Dead. Meat.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
In Sunday's game against the Penguins, the Caps yet again played the neutral zone trap, putting no pressure on the Penguins defense and allowing them to carry the puck out of their own zone unhindered. And once again, the Capitals lost. They also had another game with almost no production in the offensive end. Anyone noticing a trend here?
I'm all in favor of playing defensive minded hockey when the circumstances demand it. And if the Capitals still had half their defensive lineup out with injury, I'd see some sense in playing the trap. But that's not the case. If anything, the Caps defensive roster is in the best shape it's been in since before the lockout.
Milan Jurcina has been nothing short of a revelation, proving that 1) you should ALWAYS trade with the Bruins (see Thorton, Joe and Iafrate-Juneau for further evidence) and 2) I'm a moron. The knock on the guy with the B's was that he wasn't as physical as a man with his physical attributes should be. Well, we've seen NO evidence of that here in DC, as he's been a force to be reckoned with on the blueline, consistently knocking players off the puck and playing the body like only he and Big John Erskine seem capable of doing.
Indeed, the Caps depth on defense has improved to the point that they've been able to send one of their brightest defensive prospects (Mike Green) back to Hershey to regain his confidence and offensive flair. This team is still a bit thin on D, but nowhere near as much as they have been for most of the season. With Pothier and Erskine back in the lineup, they look as good as they have in years. And while nobody is claiming the Caps still don't have a hole (or 2) to fill on the back line, they aren't in a position where they need to trap. But they do.
Because of that, their offense has absolutely no flow. For most of the season, the Capitals were able to create offense because they forechecked hard in the offensive zone, putting pressure on opposing defenses and capitalizing on their mistakes. Right now, they are sending exactly ZERO forecheckers, which has stunted their offense to the tune of 2 goals or less in 8 of their last 9 games, the only exception being their game against the putrid LA Kings. That is PATHETIC offensive production. There's a reason Ovechkin and Semin can't find their scoring grooves. It's because they're not spending enough time in the offensive zone to do so. And until the Caps stop playing the trap, it's only going to get worse.
At this point, the playoffs are out of the picture for the Capitals. A loss is a loss, whether it's 3-2 or 7-5. It makes no sense to continue to bore the fans to sleep and continuously lose games at the same time. If they're going to go down, the Caps need to go down swinging. And that means leaving the trap where it belongs: in the garbage heap.
Friday, February 16, 2007
The deuce pointed to this post by Ted discussing the difficulty of playing in and selling tickets for games against Southeast Division opponents.
Um, Ted, where were you a month ago? The bid to change to a more balanced schedule, which would have us play less against the Southeast and more against better drawing teams was voted down by NHL's board of governors by a single vote. And as I understand it, our representative voted against it.
So yes, teams in the Southeast will continue to draw lower gate receipts than more storied teams like the Rangers, Pens, Flyers and the rest of our former Patrick Divison opponents. And yes, our team will continue to have a tough time making the playoffs while we play Tampa, Atlanta, and Carolina every other night.
The Caps had a chance to change that, and did nothing. There's no need to throw it in fans' faces. We didn't have a vote at the meeting. You did.
We like you Glen. Really, we do. But if you don't stop playing the trap, we're going to riot.
You have possibly the most gifted offensive player in the league, and one of the best dangler/snipers to boot. If you insist on hammering them into a system that 1) completely denigrates their talent and 2) makes the best offensive players in franchise history boring as hell to watch, we're going to have a problem. A big problem.
Now, if you don't mind, we have a few words for your boss, too.
We LOVE you. Really, we do. But if you support a coach, ANY coach who consistently plays the trap, you might as well lose our (credit card) numbers right now. You want to see what the trap does to to ticket sales? Take a look at the empty cavern they have over in New Jersey. And don't talk about the Cups the Devils have won. Look at the fans they've lost, and way their style of play has forced multiple "rule enforcement" changes to keep the league afloat and exciting.
See, Ted, we're hard core hockey fans here, born and raised. And even we won't come see a team that consistently plays the trap.
We're also hockey players here at Grumpy Caps Fans, Ted. We've played the trap. It stinks. We've played against the trap. It stinks. If you think you're going to attract top quality offensive free agents to a team playing the trap, you're sorely mistaken. NOBODY likes playing the trap. And given two contracts of equal value, only an idiot is going to choose to go to a team that plays it. The Capitals have historically had trouble signing marquee players. Do you really want to make it even harder for the team?
Yes, it can be necessary to fall into a shell to win a game when you have the lead late in the third period. But playing it for 3 periods will alienate players and, more important for an owner, new and old fans alike.
Thanks for your time.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Mike Green just booked a bus ride to Hershey. I don't even know what to say. The deuce rubs salt in the wound:
"Your boy Mike Green just got sent down to Hershey.
I don't think that happened to Scott Neidermeyer, did it?
Of course, we all know its just because Nycholat could get snatched up on waivers. "
Good point. But all the same, this is just strange. Maybe the organization is sending Greener a message about his sloppy puck possession in the defensive end. Maybe they want him to get some confidence back. Maybe he was in need of an attitude adjustment.
I don't know about this one, folks.
I just don't know.
Late Update: Hanlon wants Green to work more on his offense, which is odd, since I think that's the best part of his game. I can see how he'd be able to push forward more in Hershey, since he'll have capable minor-league defensemen that can cover for him. (I've already written about how we're missing that at the NHL level.) So the move does make some sense in that it gets Greener back into attack mode.
I still don't like it. If Hanlon wanted to do this, he could have sent Green down for a reconditioning stint after his ankle injury. Doing it now shows that we're waving the white flag on this season by putting Nycholat's contract ahead of having the best players available with the big club. Not exactly the message you want to send a young team.
Actually, the problem right now is that Tampa isn't sucking right now at all. Vinnie Lecavalier has lifted his game to another plane entirely, and the Lightning are 8-2 in their last 10 games as a result. Vinne's recent scoring outburst is not good news for a Caps team that's still struggling to find itself in the defensive end.
To the Caps credit, they have been playing better defensively as of late, and the addition of Milan "Jerky" Jurcina has added far more physical backline presence than anticipated. The defense should also benefit from the return of Brian Pothier and John Erskine, both of whom look ready to go for tonight's contest. Will the reinforced blueline be able to keep Tampa's offensive juggernaut contained? Possibly. Will they keep them off the scoreboard entirely? Extremely unlikely.
To win this game, the Capitals need Alex Ovechkin to find his scoring touch in a big way. The Russian Machine always seems to raise his level of play to meet the competition, so hopefully staring across the ice at two of the players (Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis) who are fighting him for the Rocket Richard trophy (given to the league's top goal scorer) will get the competitive juices flowing. If Ovechkin can gear up his game, it should allow other players more space and time, and the Caps will be competitive in the game. If not, they're in serious trouble.
Also, the Caps have a chance to make a statement tonight in front of their new number one, Brent Johnson. Will they stand strong and rally behind Johnson, or will they fold if he gives up a softie or two, which he is more likely to do early in this three week plus stretch before he finds a rhythm?
We'll find out a lot about this team tonight. Game time is 7:30.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
With all the teams in the NHL these days and players constantly being shuttled back and forth between each other and their minor league affiliates, it's easy to get the idea that getting a call-up to the NHL isn't that big a deal.
It is, and it's time we recognized Frederic Cassivi for his achievement.
Cassivi has played professional hockey for over 10 years, but has been in only 9 games at the highest professional level. He figures to improve on that total while he backs up Brent Johnson over the next few weeks while Olie is out with a tear of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee. And while Cassivi's exploits at the NHL level are nothing to write home about, his minor league play is. During the regular season last year, he won an AHL best 34 victories. He also backstopped an inexperienced Hershey team to the Calder Cup Championship (the minor league equivalent to winning Lord Stanley's Cup), and was a rock for the team in the playoffs.
Having a goaltender with as much experience as Cassivi in Hershey is one of the major reasons the team has been on a tear again this season. And while some might argue that his call-up damages the Bears' chances of taking over first place in the AHL, Cassivi has earned his time with the big club.
We here at 3 Grumpy Caps fans couldn't be happier for him. And even if he's not rushing to get his mask redone in anticipation of being with the team long term, he deserves this moment in the spotlight. He's earned it with his dedication and perseverance. Best of luck with the big club, Fred.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Since things have been pretty glum here in Capsland, I figured I'd give everyone a ray of sunshine, courtesy of newly re-signed Big Donnie Brashear:
For this, and his general bad-assedness, Big Donnie is our BHM honoree of the day.
Monday, February 12, 2007
When Tarik ran a story a few weeks back on the team's desire to get Alex Ovechkin to play more (and better) in his defensive end, I warned that it was too soon. And I was right. Since that time, the Russian Machine has improved his two way play, working harder in the defensive end and not trying (as much) to get a jump out of the zone in order to beat the opposing defense. The result? Since January 23rd (the day of the article), the Caps record is 3-6, and their offensive output has fallen off sharply. They've looked listless and, as in the case of the loss to the Rangers, completely impotent in the offensive zone.
How bad has the Caps offense been? So bad that their only goals against New York were caused more by a bad section of boards (video 1, 2) than their offensive play.
The Capitals simply don't have enough depth to have Ovechkin subverting his offensive skills in order to play a better all-around game. The team's offense revolves around him and, to a lesser extent, Sasha Semin creating opportunities with their all-world offensive abilities. The rest of the team is expected to chip in when possible and bang home rebound opportunities created by their young left wingers' shots. As much as I like Captain Clark, it's safe to say he wouldn't have nearly the point total he has without Ovechkin creating for him (and drawing coverage off of him). Ditto for Zubrus, but without the whole me liking him part.
We all know that superstars from all sports sometimes need to conform to a scheme or philosophy that may not put their skills to best use in order to win a championship. But right now, the Capitals are not a championship caliber team (and unfortunately they're not even that close). Asking one of the very few players on the roster capable of lighting the lamp to shackle part of his game was a bad move. The Caps need to remedy the issue by relieving AO of some of his defensive responsibilities, or else the rest of this season is destined to play out just as badly as Saturday's game against New York.
"Goaltender Olie Kolzig went down with what appeared to be a groin injury during today's practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. The extent of the injury was not immediately known. But I can safely say that it didn't look good.
The veteran screamed as he slid from side to side while trying to stop a 2 on 1 early in the session. He stayed down for about a minute as teammates and training staff came to his side. He eventually skated off on his own, but was clearly hurt.
Kolzig left the facility walking with an obvious limp and without commenting to reporters, saying he was headed to the doctor."
This is bad, folks. Real bad. Kolzig has been a rock for the Caps this season, keeping them competitive in games they had no business staying close in. Losing Kolzig for any extended period of time would absolutely kill this team. Let's just hope this isn't a tear, as Kolzig isn't a spring chicken anymore and groin injuries tend to stick with goaltenders long after they are initially felt. A long term injury (any more than just the end of this season) at Kolzig's age (37) is potentially a career ender, and would scuttle any chance the Caps have at making a serious playoff run in the next couple of years.
Keep your fingers crossed, Caps fans.
Friday, February 9, 2007
Just like there are no moral victories, there are no moral losses either. The Caps and Kings played one of the most disjointed, ugliest games of the year last night. There was no real flow of play, and no skilled player was able to impose his will on the contest. Nevertheless, the Capitals needed a win and they got one, with Dainus Zubrus chipping home a loose puck in OT to give the Caps a 4-3 win.
The level of play last night befitted two teams at the lower end of the standing. Mathieu Garon was atrocious for the Kings, surrendering a long range slapper to Boyd Gordon and generally looking beatable all night. The Capitals, for their part, looked like a bunch of mites on ice, playing poor positional hockey, not playing the body well, and looking completely disorganized. Richard Zednik appears to have finally hit a bit of a wall, as he was invisible in terms of impact for the first time since his return from injury.
The Capitals did have one bright spot midway through the second period, scoring on what looked to be a set play as Ovechkin looped back from the opposing blueline to take a pass sent from behind the goal line, drawing a defender with him. He then laid the puck off to Zubrus, who was streaking down the right wing. Zubrus fed the puck to Ben Clymer, who faked the quick shot and was able to wrap the puck around and in before Garon was able to close off the far post. I'd put odds at even money that Hanlon had the boys working a version of this play in practice.
If the Capitals weren't in such dire need of a win, this game would have been completely forgettable. But two points are two points and at this point, we'll take em and run.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
Time to kill a king or two.... or a whole slew of 'em
The Caps need this game in a bad way. Their confidence looks low right now, despite the Russian Machine's comments to the contrary (scroll to the bottom of the article). Their first line was a non-factor in their previous couple of outings, and they've been dressed down by low level teams in Florida and Boston. In most cases I would say the Queens offer just what the doctor ordered, but the Caps disturbing tendency to play down to the level of their opposition is a serious concern. Anything less than 2 points tonight is unacceptable, and the team should act (and play) that way.
The Kings come in having just lost in overtime, 3-2 . Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In their previous game, they destroyed Florida 7-0. That's not so familiar sounding, unless you invert the score. The game before that, they lost to the lowly Blackhawks, 3-2. The Queens sit sit last in the Western Conference, with only 18 wins to their credit. They are, however, 4-2-2 against Eastern Conference teams, so they should not be taken lightly.
Game time is 7 at the V. Let every man be master of his time, Till seven at night.
The Wizznutzz will not be happy about this selection, but today's BHM spotlight is on Director Spike Lee, whose always gritty and almost always controversial movies have been some of the best of the last two decades. Lee directed the amazing Do The Right Thing, the incredibly visceral 25th Hour (one of my all-time favorites), and the controversial biopic Malcolm X, along with a host of other must see films for anyone who claims to love the medium. In my opinion Lee's account of the disasters both natural and man created in New Orleans, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, is one of the best pieces of investigative journalism and filmmaking in US history.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
The Caps roared out of the gate last night, pouncing on the Bruins and outshooting them to the tune of 10 to 2. Unfortunately, they couldn't slip and of their early shots past Tim Thomas, and ended the frame tied at zero. Not a good sign. The one thing this young team needed was to be rewarded for its hard work.
Instead the Bruins, who were still sitting on a tie game despite being thoroughly outplayed in the first, came out firing in the second and took the lead. Some schlub named Bochenski corralled a Bruins faceoff win in the offensive zone and rifled the puck past Kolzig to put the B's ahead.
After the Bochenski goal, the momentum of the game continued to ebb and flow between teams until Semin caught Phil "It's still to soon to make jokes about you-know-what" Kessel high with his stick, cutting Kessel in the lip and sending Semin to the box for 4 minutes. During the ensuing penalty kill, the Caps bent but didn't break, with Kolzig making a couple strong saves and the post making one for him on Kessel's shot in tight. Alex Ovechkin made a strong sliding block on a shot from Zdeno Chara, giving every fan in the greater Washington area a heart attack as he laid prone on the ice for ten seconds or so before popping up and skating to the bench. He was not injured because, as everyone knows, the Russian Machine doesn't break. While the Bruins seemed to be taking control of the action, the Capitals stood strong, weathered the storm, and continued applying forechecking pressure in the Bruins end.
Immediately in the third, that pressure payed dividends as a strong Caps forecheck forced a turnover inside the blueline, with the puck landing on the stick of Brooks Laich. Usually, this is where folks would start muttering "why couldn't it fall to Ovechkin or Semin right there? Why did it have to fall onto the stick of Brooks frickin Laich!" Well, Laich pulled out his best Semin impression, absolutely ripping a shot high to the glove side past Thomas, knotting the game at one.
After the Laich goal, the teams continued their back and forth play until the Bruins' Andrew Alberts threw a vicious knee to the groin/elbow to the head combo on Zednik, and was punished for his actions by a two minute sitdown. Although the Capitals ONCE AGAIN failed to connect on the power play, Eric "I told you I just scored big goals" Fehr put home the rebound of a Zednik slapper immediately after the penalty expired to put the Caps up 2-1.
The prospect of a two point night was, however, short-lived. With Ovechkin in the box for errantly flipping the puck out of the rink in his own end, the Bruins took advantage. Marc Savard fed Patrice Bergeron, who slammed a one timer past Kolzig to tie the game at two.
Neither team was able to generate much offense for the rest of the third or overtime frames, which led to a shootout tiebreaker. Sasha Semin scored on a move that was for all intensive purposes the exact same one he pulled against the Isles a couple days before. Unfortunately, neither Ovechkin or Fehr were able to follow up, and the Caps fell in the shootout 2-1, with Phil "It's STILL too early" Kessel burying his attempt to seal the loss for the Caps.
Observations from the game:
It's official. Chara is inside Ovie's head. Ovechkin couldn't get anything going offensively, and seemed frustrated throughout the game. Switching up the line combinations did little to help him.
The Laich-Zednik-Fehr line looked dangerous all night, and scored both Caps goals. Didn't see that coming AT ALL.
Tim Thomas looked shaky at best, even though the score doesn't indicate it. He was often out of position and moved too much, never looking settled in the crease. Not exactly a goaltender that inspires confidence.
Unfortunatlely, the Caps are in such a deep hole that one point games like these are worth about the same as regulation losses. Yet another team leapfrogs the Caps in the standings, where they now sit 13th in the conference. Not good.
All in all, not a great game, and not a great result. Next game is Thursday night against the LA Queens. Game time is 7:00 at the V. The snow will all be plowed by then, so getting to the arena for the game should be a cinch.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Tonight, the Capitals take on the Bruins at the V, and once again, big daddy Ted is offering up 2 for 1 tickets for interested fans. Wait, you're a fan, and you look interested. Go get yourself some cheap tickets! And watch the left side of the ice when the Caps have the puck. I get the feeling we're in for something special tonight.
Why, you ask? Because the Russian Machine has no points in his last two games, and I don't think he's real pleased about it.
The only thing preventing an eruption tonight? Zdeno Chara. And while Chara definitely can't shop for suits off the rack at 6'9", there's no way he can stop Ovie now that he's 80 feet tall.
Also, we find out what flaws the B's saw in Juju Jurcina's game that made him trade bait. Should be interesting. If anyone knows how to best attack his side of the ice, it's going to be the Bruins. This will give us a better chance to evaluate his strengths and weaknesses more clearly.
Game time is 7 o'clock at the V. And please, no excuses about it being too cold outside to travel to the rink. It's hockey, for god's sake. The game is played ON ICE.
The subject of today's Black History Month spotlight is the late, great Ralph Wiley. Wiley was a sports journalist for Sports Illustrated, the Oakland Tribune, ESPN.com, as well as having works published in National Geographic, GQ and other magazines. If you have never read Wiley's work, I highly recommend both Serenity: a Boxing Memoir and Classic Wiley: A Lifetime of Punchers, Players, Punks & Prophets. His was a voice both prescient and learned, and he was one of the few authors whose writing evoked an emotional, visceral response.
Wiley died tragically of a heart attack in June of 2004. He is, and always will be, greatly missed.
Monday, February 5, 2007
Despite all the negativity about the Caps recent tailspin and the bleakness of the prospect of playoff hockey in DC this season, I'm going to go out on a limb and make a bold and, for me, amazingly upbeat prediction. You sitting down? Good.
The Capitals will win a playoff series next season. Notice, I didn't say the Caps were going to make the playoffs. I said they were going to win their first round matchup. Beyond that is anyone's guess, but that's a drastic improvement over what we're looking at as this season comes to a close.
There's only one thing the Caps need to do to make it happen. They need to sign a top tier defenseman this offseason.
I know the Caps have a lot of holes in the roster at the moment, but on closer examination, most will be plugged without any major acquisitions before the start of next year. So let's take a closer look at what the Caps are, and what they should look like to start next season.
Line 1 - Ovechkin, Zubrus, Clark - unchanged (unless Zubrus drastically overestimates his value, he'll be here next year.)
Line 2 - Semin, Beech (blech), Clymer/Fehr to Semin, Backstrom, Fehr. Needless to say, unless Backstrom laughs to death watching Beech "highlights," this will be a HUGE improvement. This takes the second line from decent to hell-on-wheels. Backstrom belongs on a line where he can feed a finisher so he'd fit on either line, but I think Semin could benefit from his passing more than Ovechkin, who creates his own space better.
Line 3 - Pettinger, Gordon, Zednik/Clymer to Pettinger/Fleischmann, Sutherby, Zednik/Bradley. This line should boast improved offensive potential with Fleischmann getting some time on the left side. Sutherby still has trouble with the draws but is a hard nosed player who should fit well covering some of Fleischmann's defensive responsibilites should he have trouble covering in his first full season. If Zed stays put, this line has serious sleeper potential.
Line What are You Lookin' At, Tough Guy? - Brashear, Sutherby, Bradley to Brashear, Gordon, Bradley. Size, defensive ability, and the ability to beat down even the toughest stains. Gordo could also get the call to center the third line when they need someone who doesn't get owned in the faceoff dot.
Okay, so the offense looks better next year, both by addition and subtraction. Keep in mind, that's without bringing in anyone not currently signed with the team. Good times.
Now here's where my call for the Caps to sign a top-tier blueliner comes in. The Capitals have a young defense. For the most part it's a quick skating lineup, with a lot of potential. But right now, that's all they are. Young players with potential. They need a hard-nosed, experienced defenseman to help them mature.
I've made comparisons with Green and Scott Neidermayer (some agree, others not so much) but Neidermayer was able to find his game and become an amazing offensive defenseman quickly BECAUSE HE WAS PAIRED WITH SCOTT STEVENS at the start of his career. He could watch, listen to and learn from one of the best ever to play the position. Pairing that kind of tutelage with a naturally gifted player gets results. Now Neidermayer may be punching his ticket to the Hall of Fame. Who knows if his all around game would have developed without Stevens to learn from.
The Capitals have four talented young defensemen in Schultz, Green, Morrison, and Jurcina all in need of that kind of instruction. And with all due respect to Pothier, he's no Scott Stevens (nobody else is either). So, with that in mind, lets project next year's D setup with a generic UFA tag for whoever the Caps go after. The pairings are gonna look a bit screwy because of injuries and such, but for the sake of comparison, we'll give it a shot
Line 1 - Pothier, Morrison to UFA, Green
Line 2 - Eminger/Erskine, Green to Pothier, Eminger
Line 3 - Jurcina, Schultz to Jurcina/Erskine, Morrison
* Schultz should take a year to develop (read: EAT SOMETHING) and he'll be ready to play with the big boys.
With only one signing, the lineup starts to look a lot stronger, no? Let's hope management feels the same way.
Today's Black History Month spotlight shines on William (Willie) O'Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL. Although he only played in parts of two NHL seasons, he played 21 seasons at the professional level. He currently serves as director of youth development for the NHL's diversity program.
Saturday, February 3, 2007
Friday, February 2, 2007
So I've been tagged by DC Sports Chick for a meme, whatever that is. Here we go... more than you ever wanted to know about Grumpy Caps Fan #1
Team: The Washington Capitals (with the old school red jerseys)
Uniform Number: I wouldn't dare steal Banzai's or Hunter's, so I'll go with 22.
Nickname: The Rock, but mostly for my skating ability (or lack thereof).
Dream Linemates: Bondra, Ovechkin
Rounding out the PP: Bobby Orr, Sylvain Cote
Job: Pass the puck, collect points
Signature Move: Feed Ovie and Banzai from my zone, try to get to center ice before they score in the other end.
Strengths: Size, ability to bang down low, ability to win big faceoffs
Weaknessess: skating, inability to speak Russian
Injury Problems? strained knee, ankle issues
Equipment: yes please. I'm not standing in front of the net when Banzai or Ovie shoot without full body armor.
Nemeses: Flightless Devilbirds, Marty Brodeur, Daniel Briere.
Scandal Involvement: Perpetually late for practice.
Who I’d face in the Stanley Cup Finals: The @#$@#$ Detroit Red Wings. REVENGE WILL BE MINE.
What I’d do with the Stanley Cup after our victory: Drink from it, try to fit brother's son in it (not while drinking, mind you).
Would the media love me or hate me? Hate. I'm too damn Grumpy to be loved.
Capital Fanatic, you're it.
In response to Tarik's post on the Caps today (as well as some of the over 60 comments) the Deuce weighs in:
I too am very disappointed following last night's loss to the lowly Panthers. And I agree that it would have been very difficult to make the playoffs with the current defensive corps (although I tried to convince myself otherwise at the beginning of the season). Green, Morrison, and Eminger are talented YOUNG defensemen (well, at least I know Green and Morrison are. Eminger I'm not so sure of). Schultz is still growing into his body and should not be in the NHL this year (probably not next year, either). But I'm still having more fun watching this Caps team than ever. Ovechkin and Semin alone are worth the price of admission. EVERY GAME.
I respectfully disagree with the post by Dossier claimin Olie "lets in too many softies and is overpaid." Without Olie, we would be losing games 10 or 11 to 3 instead of 4-3 or 5-3. He's worth every penny. And some. And I disagree that GMGM and Hanlon need to be fired. The Caps have drafted some excellent young prospects in the last few years: Backstrom (an easy choice), Green, Schultz, Fehr, Eminger, Varlamov . They've also picked up some nice young talent in trades: Fleischman, Klepis, Morrison, Giroux, etc. The main problem with this team is youth and inexperience. The ups and downs we're witnessing are exactly what you expect from a young team.
Next year, with Backstrom, Fehr, and maybe Fleischman in the lineup, a lot of the "placeholders" will be relegated to relief duty (BEECH, Clymer, Sutherby, Bradley, Laich, maybe Gordon). With one or two veteran defensemen, and possibly a solid free agent center (see Gomez, Scott, or Drury, Chris), this team could be dangerous as early as next year. I truly believe that. But who knows. Maybe I'm dreaming and we should just fire everyone, trade everyone, bench everyone and sign every old, slow, big free agent available this summer.
In the last 3 games against the Panthers, the Capitals have surrendered 17 goals.
Let that sink in for a bit.
17 Goals. 3 Games.
The Panthers have 5 wins in the Southeast Division, 3 of which have come against the Caps. For the mathematically impaired, that's OVER HALF of their wins in the division.
The Caps have lost 14 of their last 20 games, and 9 of 10 on the road. Those are NOT good numbers, folks.
Let's just say I won't be grabbing for my playoff ticket deposit any time soon.
The Caps are winless on a road trip once again, with the Flightless Devilbirds up this Saturday. Right now, these two young teams are headed in opposite directions. Pittsburgh is right in the thick of the playoff race. The Caps are also knee deep in something, but it sure isn't the playoff race.
Today's BHM spotlight is on Daniel Hale Williams, a surgeon who founded the first black hospital in the United States, Provident Hospital. The school served to train Black nurses and utilized doctors of all races. In 1893, Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery. More info on Williams can be found here.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
The Caps have acquired yet another young defenseman. I recognize that we're thin on bodies on the blueline, but more inexperience cannot be the answer. And if Jurcina can't crack the lowly Bruins lineup, he's not going to be much help to us this year. So I guess we're still building towards the future here, even though the trade sounds designed to plug a hole in the present. I'm not sold on this AT ALL, but hey, a 4th rounder isn't exactly a big price to pay for the guy.
If the Caps want to make any kind of serious run at the playoffs, tonight is the night it starts. The Southeast cellar dwelling Florida Kittycats are 1 point behind the Caps in the standings, and have the same number of wins (4) and losses (6) in their last 10 games.
The Capitals MUST win tonight, plain and simple. Another two points lost to one of the worst teams in the league who also happens to be a division rival and the hole will be too deep to get out of. With the unbalanced schedule performance against teams in the Southeast is paramount, and so far the Caps have a less than stellar 8-10-2 record. They need to start stockpiling in-division points NOW, before the season is lost.
And just as a friendly reminder, in the last 2 games against Florida, the Caps put together two of their worst efforts of the season, one of which ruined the weekend of any fans unfortunate enough to attend the Saturday matinée. The combined goals scored by Florida in those two games? 11. So it's safe to say the defense needs to actually come to play tonight.
If the Capitals lose this game, Florida vaults ahead of them in the standings. Read that again. THE FLORIDA #@!$!@# PANTHERS will be AHEAD of the Capitals in the Southeast Division if the Caps lose tonight. If you're wondering if the Caps are going to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, this game should give you a very strong indication.
It's go time, boys. Show us what you've got.
On another note, I'll be trying to post a link every day of Black History Month on a black person of historical significance. I'll try to keep up the archive of links on the right. Today's link is to the Wikipedia entry for DC's own master composer Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington. I'm also linking to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, one of the few public high schools in the nation with an emphasis on arts education (of which I happen to be a graduate).