As some of you may have noticed, the site has not been updated in a few days. I'm in the middle of moving right now, but hopefully I'll be back by the end of the week, and the Deuce may get a few words in before then.
In the news, Capitals legend Peter Bondra retired yesterday. We'll have a proper tribute to Bondra in the coming days, but for now, we'll just link to this profile hosted, fittingly enough, on the Hockey Hall of Fame website's legends section.
And 'till the website is updated again, we'll leave you with this:
Caps 7 - Leafs 1.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
As some of you may have noticed, the site has not been updated in a few days. I'm in the middle of moving right now, but hopefully I'll be back by the end of the week, and the Deuce may get a few words in before then.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It's a gloomy time in Capsland right now, both figuratively and literally. And what better team to come to town in the middle of a downpour than the Lightning (Bugs)?
At first glance, this looks to be a very difficult game for the Caps. They have always had trouble with Vinnie Lecavalier on home ice (10g, 8A in 22 games), they have no power play to speak of, and Olie Kolzig was shredded by Tampa to the tune of an .887 save percentage against the Bugs last season. All signs seem to point towards the highly potent Tampa offense dismantling the Caps.
Here's why it won't happen:
Olie Kolzig will be primed for tonight, having had a terrible outing his last start against the Islanders. Olie almost never plays back to back stinkers. Additionally, he's playing on almost a full week of rest, which should be extremely helpful to a guy who's a lot closer to 40 than 30. I expect a dominant performance from Kolzig tonight.
Alexander Semin returns to the lineup. While he may not play a ton of minutes, his presence immediately infuses much needed scoring into the Caps lineup. Expect Semin to take a little less than half his even strength shifts, with Flash taking the rest on the second line. Semin's presence should also bolster what has been an absolutely pathetic power play.
Mike Green starts on the first PP unit. This should have happened at the start of the season. Green may well be the third most talented scorer on the team right now behind Ovechkin and Semin. It's about time he gets a chance to prove it with the man advantage.
Tampa is prime for a letdown after their domination of the Thrashers. They're not as good as they looked in last game against the Thrashers (though Atlanta appears to be as bad as they looked). This looks like a classic letdown game for the Lightning Bugs.
Finally, the Caps seem to recognize that they need to start racking up points RIGHT NOW if they want to compete in a playoff race in the months down the line. In-division games are vital, and the team finally seems to understand that (although we won't know for sure until we see them not lay a stink bomb against that other team from Florida).
I see the Caps pulling this game out 4-3, with Kolzig being peppered for around 40 shots and being named the game's first star.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:
As I watched with helplessness the Caps embarrass themselves in front of a lukewarm home crowd filled (yet again) with Pittsburgh idiots, I got angrier and angrier. And Glen Hanlon is now the focus of my rage. I like Glen. I really do. I think he has shown a great ability (up until now) to get the most out of minimal talent, get his guys to play hard every game, and stay positive in the face of mounting losses. But now he has a real NHL team to work with, and the results are not good.
I know we're only 7 games into the season, but the Caps are going to need all the points they can now get to make the playoffs this year. So, I ask you, what are the signs of a good coach in the NHL? How about these, for starters: Good matchups, good special teams, good effort. Glen's one for three. Let's take those first two in turn, shall we? Matchups/Line combinations: First, let's look at the Caps lineup on Saturday:
Not exactly Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson, are they? Or Lecavalier-St. Louis-Prospal? Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom? Not even close. Now why is it that most of the guys on those lines are always near the top of the NHL in scoring? Maybe because they are playing with other WORLD CLASS players!
Now I like Joe Motzko, and it's nice that Kozlov and OV can talk Russian together on the bench -- but if I hear any more about their great "chemistry" I'm going to puke. Chemistry is important, but great talent often creates great chemistry. And Kozlov is not a great talent. He is a pretty good player, and, as tsn.ca stated in last year's scouting report: "does not look good playing the pivot." Does that sound like a center you want to pair with your franchise, all-world left wing? NO! In fact, it sounds a lot like Zubrus II.
Know who IS a world-class talent at center? Michael Nylander. I don't know how many times during Saturday's game I turned to Grumpy One and Original Six and said, "Look at Nylander. He's UNBELIEVABLE with the puck on his stick. He's playing keep away with NHL defensemen, and they can't get the puck away from him." And I actually had time to say all that while he was still holding the biscuit. Then he made two beautiful passes to a breaking Backstrom (whom I like), who promptly flubbed both of them. Think OV's going to miss those? Neither do I. If OV and Kozlov have such great chemistry, let them play together: How about OV-Nylander-Kozlov. Then Kozlov can take advantage of that huge frame to park it in front of the net or dig pucks out of the corners while Nyls and OV play keep away together.
I don't know why Caps coaches always insist on having two average lines instead of one great one. Anyone remember when Oates came to DC, and everyone said, "watch out. Bondra's going to score 60 goals now!" Well, guess what? Oates and Bondra played on separate lines, so we could have a "deeper" lineup. Great.
As for the second line, I'd be perfectly happy with Backstrom centering Semin and Clark. Or Flash, if you still want to give him a chance to show what he can do. In fact, while Semin is out Flash could have the perfect opportunity, playing with Backstrom and Clark! Now, I know, Glen doesn't want to "rush" Backstrom to center. I can only assume that's because of either 1) faceoffs and/or 2) defensive responsibilities. OK Glen, that's fine. Put Steckel or Gordon up with those guys until he's ready. They'll still be potent, but more importantly, WE'LL STILL BE STACKED ON THE FIRST LINE! I'll take the above stated first line against any checking line in the league. Let it ride! And we still have a shut down line of Pettinger-Gordon/Steckel-Laich. So there it is. Stop converting wingers to center to play with OV, and give him the setup man he deserves. Did we really pay all these millions to Nylander to play him with two rookies?!
Next - special teams:
Well, really this is just a repetition of the previous rant. Last year (to start off the year), Glen tried to have two good power plays by breaking up Semin and Ovechkin, his only all-star caliber players. The results were so atrocious that (thankfully) he scrapped the idea three games in and just "stacked" the first PP. What's the quote about those who forget history are doomed to repeat it? Well, see all Glen's quotes this year about all the best teams having two great PP units. Um, Glen, at this point, I'd settle for one average PP unit!
Once again, we're throwing out JOE MOTZKO, Kozlov, OV, Poti, and Clark. Please see previous paragraph about Michael Nylander. If you're not going to match him with OV on a line, at least, for the love of GOD do it on the PP Glen! The only goal Saturday night was set up by a nice patented Nylander curl around, followed by a pass to the point, a shot on net (no, really!), and a real honest to goodness screen! So please, move Nyls up where he belongs. How about putting Ovechkin on the point, where penalty killers would be forced to respect his cannon and stay up high, thus opening up space down low for Nylander to operate (not that he needs that much space). It has to be better then putting a career minor leaguer out there, doesn't it?
So, there you have it. My expert analysis from the cheap seats (actually, they're not so cheap this year!) The effort is still there, now we need the smarts to go with them. And that starts with the coaching staff. The players are saying all the right things. They buy into Hanlon's systems and strategy. But they'll also buy into any changes he makes right now. Four losses in a row will do that to you. Please Glen. Do the right thing. Save The Russian Machine. And my two-year old from another thirty-three years of suffering and losing to those G-D Penguins.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Talk about a bitter taste in the mouth. The Caps played a fairly good game last night, but were undone by stupid penalties and even worse special teams play. The Caps power play is, in a word, awful. In the words of Rick Pitino, "it sucks, and it stinks, and it sucks." Wasted opportunities like this at the beginning of the season are going to haunt this team when the playoff chase comes around.
While plenty of blame goes to the Caps putrid power play, there were other issues that certainly didn't help the Caps cause. A rare poor outing by Kolzig allowed the roughly 340 year old Bill Guerin to record his first hat trick since the league expanded from 6 teams in 1967. Kolzig did a particularly poor job of sealing off the 5 hole, allowing goals that literally slid underneath his pads.
The bright spots for the Caps occured within 5 minutes of one another. After apparently not realizing he was playing with the most dangerous winger in the league for most of the game, Joe "don't call me dead meat" Motzko finally fed a pass across the slot to Alex Ovechkin two minutes into the third period. Ovechkin did what he does best, one timing the puck into the twine before Rick DiPietro had a chance to react.
Less than five minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom showed the world why he is considered one of the top prospects in the game. Backstrom charged up the left wing boards, fought off two defenders, then made an amazing feed from behind the net to Tomas Fleischmann, who banged the puck home to knot the game at two.
Now I'm not one to say I told you so, but Flash looked a whole heck of a lot better playing with Backstrom and Nylander than he did on the top line. Flash and Backstrom looked like they had been playing together for years, and for stretches of the third period looked like the most dangerous line in the arena. Their uptempo style and aggressive play in the offensive zone had the Isles on their heels, and it looked like only a matter of time before the Caps would take the lead...
... and then, faster than you can say "they just need to avoid taking a stupid penalty here" Captain Clark upended an Islanders defenseman in the offensive zone, giving the Isles the man advantage. Clark has not looked like himself since the beginning of the season. While some of that can be attributed to his move off Ovechkin's line, he just looks like he's forcing the issue right now instead of allowing the game to come to him. Clark's intensity and his willingness to put everything he has into every shift he takes is what makes him Captain material, but he needs to dial it down a notch and just play his game right now.
Bryan "Just because I wear an eye patch it doesn't make me a pirate" Berard promptly beat Olie Kolzig on the ensuing power play, and the momentum pendulum swung fully the other directions. The Caps continued to take bad penalties, and Guerin put the game out of reach with two late goals to complete the hat trick.
So what can we take away from this game? Well, I certainly wouldn't bet on Olie Kolzig having another bad game any time soon, so that's not an issue. The power play continues to let the Caps down, primarily because they continue to go against conventional wisdom and spread the puck around instead of force feeding it to Ovechkin at every available opportunity. If Joe Motzko has the puck on his stick for more of the power play than the Russian Machine, there's a fundamental problem with the power play strategy. We said it last year, but it bears repeating; It's time for the Caps to go find a power play coach/consultant. There has been no improvement on the power play in the time Hanlon has coached here, and while he's done a good job overall, it's clear that nobody's buying what he's selling with the man advantage.
The Caps also need to cut down on the penalties in the attacking zone. There's no excuse for that. Ever. And without Boyd Gordon in the lineup, the penalty kill looks average instead of unbeatable. Hopefully Boyd's back spasms will settle down and he'll return to the lineup sooner rather than later.
And finally, everyone's burial of Flash might have been a bit premature.
Next game is this Saturday against the Flightless Devilbirds. If you are in the area and consider yourself even a passing fan of the Caps, there's no excuse for not buying a ticket to this game. Seriously. Go do it. Right now. We'll still be here when you get back. Remember, if you're sick and tired of other fans coming in and taking over our building, you can absolutely do something about it. Buy a ticket. Get your friends to buy tickets (as long as they're not from Pittsburgh). Don't let some idiot Pens fan in your section even start that pansy little "let's go pens" chant in your section. Drown their voice out with your own. Do not, however, attempt to drown them in the literal sense. I know they're annoying, but attempted murder is not the answer. Yet.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Yesterday, JP posted a note on Flash Fleischmann's less than stellar output to open the year. While his assesment that Tomas has been "virtually invisible" is right on the mark, let's explore why that has been the case.
First, lets examine Flash's strengths and weaknesses. From TSN.ca's scouting report, Fleischmann "has outstanding setup ability and an understanding of what to do with the puck on his stick... Still needs to add significant strength before becoming a regular in the NHL. Must continue to improve his play without the puck at the highest level."
Having strong skills with the puck is all well and good, but skating on a line with the Russian Machine, Flash is not going to have the puck on his stick very often. Throw in the chemistry between Oveckin and Kozlov and the way they give and go with one another, and the chances for Flash to play to his strengths decreases significantly. Instead, he's being asked to do two things he doesn't do well - play in space without the puck and play strong in his own end.
Defensive play will never be the strongest part of Flash's game. He doesn't yet have the strength to move players off the puck, and his positional play in his own zone has been spotty at best. His physical game has about as much edge to it as a spoon. Indeed, Flash has found himself firmly planted to the bench in late game situations where the Caps are protecting a lead. This makes sense from a coaching standpoint, but it gives Flash even less time to create a rapport on-ice with his linemates.
It appears clear that if Fleischmann is to stay a part of the Caps everyday lineup, some changes have to be made. First, he is not the type of winger that should be paired with Ovechkin and Kozlov. As long as Nick Backstrom isn't ready to center that line and move Kozlov to the wing, the right wing on the first line needs to be responsible defensively and capable of wreaking havok without the puck, but with strong enough skills to contribute in the offensive zone when needed. And if you think I'm talking about anyone other than Chris Clark, you're way off the mark.
So, moving Clark up to the first line, the lineup looks something like this:
Ovechkin - Kozlov - Clark
Backstrom - Nylander - Semin
Pettinger - Gordon - Sutherby/Laich/Motzko
Brashear - Steckel - Bradley
Flash is still the odd man out.
It's too early to declare Fleischmann's tenure here in DC as a failure, but unless he's put in a position to play to his strengths, I don't see him sticking around past this season. But considering Semin's current injury, why wouldn't the Caps at least take a couple games to see if Flash can make an impact on the second line with Nylander and Backstrom? Paired with a couple defensively responsible linemates who both think pass first, wouldn't Flash be in a better position to play to his strengths?
Monday, October 15, 2007
Ladies and gentlemen, the Deuce:
See, this is what happens when you start to believe your own hype. The Caps get featured in an article by espn.com's Suck Burnside, get picked by the so-called "experts" as the division winner and playoff contender, play two great games and get one lucky win they don't deserve, and suddenly the Caps think they're so good they don't even have to shoot to score anymore! Apparently, puck possession and pretty passing are supposed to make the other team's goalie simply move aside and let us skate the puck into the net.
The Caps put on what will hopefully be their worst showings of the season this weekend, getting outshot a combined 152-12. Brent Johnson and Olie have to look like Dennis Lemieux from Slap Shot right now, nervously twitching and trying to save phantom pucks they probably still see flying at them from all directions.
And don't try to tell me that Semin and Gordon would have made the difference in these games, because those guys aren't worth an additional 40 shots, which is how many more shots the Caps needed in those two games to make a difference.
The Caps played dumb hockey against the Rangers, led off by The Russian Machine's tripping penalty 5 seconds into the game. And it was all downhill from there.
Against the Sabres, the Caps were playing a dangerous game of trying to match skill against skill. The shot total through 3/4 of the 1st period should have been their clue that it wasn't working. Eventually, the floodgates opened and Buffalo was off to the races.
I'm too depressed by actually having watched these disasters to say much more. Thankfully, my soon-to-be two year old missed both games and didn't cry all night long as a result!
The (very few) positives from this weekend's games:
Glen Hanlon's calm demeanor after the horrendous efforts.
The fact that this will serve as a wakeup call to the team and they'll be forced to put the hard-hats back on.
Eventually, Alexander Semin's ankle will heal. He's good for 10 shots a game!
The resulting articles and polls in the media dropping the Caps back down to near last in the league will piss the team off and result in a great effort this week (I hope).
At least it didn't happen against Pittsburgh.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Per Tarik, Boyd Gordon is out for tonight's contest (and probably until next Thursday's game). Gordon sustained an undisclosed injury in practice earlier this week.
With Gordon out, Granite Chin Sutherby will see his first action of the season tonight.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Just ask Sasha Semin. What initially was thought to be a relatively minor injury (even though it did NOT look minor at the time, with Semin staying down on the ice for several minutes) has turned out to be more substantial. Per Tarik, Semin has not skated since playing half of the game against Carolina.
As a person that has suffered multiple ankle injuries over the years (including a couple surgeries), I can tell you there is good news and bad news here. The bad news in that injuries to joints that control balance tend not to heal quickly, and to be somewhat less stable once they do heal (then again, I went to the doctor a total of three times after my injury, where I imagine Semin is seeing trainers and doctors every day and getting the best care possible). The good news is that the boot of a hockey skate comes up high enough to offer a great deal of ankle support, so it's not necessary to have the joint at 100% before skating. The issue is how much the injury will disrupt Semin's ability to make quick cuts and push with power off that foot.
I would expect the Caps to be extremely cautious with this injury, as players rushed back too quickly from injuries such as this one tend to perform below expectations and heighten the risk of aggravating the injury further. I don't see Semin playing in either game in New York this weekend, which would give him a further five days of rest before the Caps host the Islanders next Thursday.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Would you like a 3-0 start with your coffee this morning? We thought you might.
The Caps had quite a long weekend, winning 3 games in four days, dominating the Thrashers and Hurricanes and squeaking out a win over the Islanders. All three big free agent acquisitions made waves against the Isles, with Poti making a terrific poke check from behind on a potential breakaway, Kozlov scoring high glove on DiPietro, and Nylander setting up the game winning goal with one of his patented spin-and-dish moves that allowed the point man a clean shot on net, which let to a rebound that a wide open Brooks Laich calmly deposited into the back of the net.
The Islanders game was a completely disjointed affair, with the Caps almost never able to apply sustained pressure (as they had done so well in the previous two games) and the Isles only occasionally able to do so. And when the Isles did apply pressure in their offensive zone, Olie Kolzig was there to stop the rallies with a number of A-level saves. And finally Jon Sim was held off the scoresheet against the Caps, which hasn't happened since roughly the year before he was born (11 g, 8 a in 22 games). *Late edit - thanks to smitty for pointing out the reason Sim was pointless against the Caps - he was out with an injury.*
The Capitals biggest strength continues to be their penalty kill, which has yet to yield a goal. Their biggest weakness continues to be their power play, which has looked abysmal in several extended five on three opportunities and is 2-17 overall. With the addition of three highly skilled power play threats, there's no way the Caps should be as ineffective as they have been to start the season. It's still early to pass judgement, but unless they Caps improve dramatically within the next 10 games the team needs to bring in a consultant (or an exorcist) to help improve their fortunes with the man advantage.
After their initial flurry of games to open the season, the Caps are off until Friday when they hop the train to Madison Square Garden to take on the new look, we'll-spend-more-money-than-anyone-else-salary-cap-be-damned NY Rangers.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
The Caps opener last night revealed a good bit about the Capitals as they are currently composed.
First, Nicklas Backstrom looked, well, like a rookie, making several strong plays but also missing a couple chances that would have resulted in scoring opportunities. Now that's not to say his chances were easy, as one memorable situation in front of the Thrashers net would have required him to pivot 180 degrees in front of the net and tip the puck with his stick on the backhand side. That's certainly not something you would expect from any second or third line player, much less a 19 year old rookie. But young Backstrom showed just enough in reacting to the play and almost getting a stick to the puck that it looks likely he'll be the kind of special player that can actually make that play once he matures.
Second, Brent Johnson needs to settle down. A LOT. He had a solid game (although he did allow a soft floating backhand to deflect off of him and into the net) but the team needs him to be more confident in his motions in order to establish confidence in him. For a goalie who plays in a relatively orthodox style, he flops around entirely too much. Gaining the confidence of your teammates can be as important to a backup as stopping the puck, and until Johnson can stop making routine stops look difficult, he's not going to do that.
Third, the Deuce looked at me midway through the second period and said "I don't want to jinx it, but we've played almost the entire game in their end." I honestly cannot remember that sentiment expressed in the past 2 seasons. Whether the Caps can keep up this kind of game against more physical opposition remains to be seen, but last night truly looked like we were the better team that earned the two points.
It's also great to see two of our three summer signings pot goals (Kozlov on the deflection, Nylander on a quick wrister after a turnover) in their first game of the year. It certainly made George McPhee look like a genius.
Our shutdown line wasn't perfect, but they were solid throughout the game.
Alex Ovechkin looked primed and ready for a 50+ goal campaign. He shot at every opportunity, which is exactly what he needs to do.
There was, however, one glaring issue. The power play stunk. They had two extended 5 on 3 chances and looked terrible in both. They simply did not adjust when Atlanta pulled all three players to the goal mouth. A more comfortable unit would have spread out and passed around the outside of the defenders until one of them had a scoring chance (which they did) and ACTUALLY SHOT THE PUCK, which they did not. And why is the powerplay not pushing the puck more to the left side? From what I hear the Caps have a pretty good player on that wing. They should be forcing plays to that side, because that's where the goals are going to come from.
All in all, a very good start to the season. Home opener is tonight at 7 against Carolina. Tickets here. See you there.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Just for kicks, today I'm going to do a rundown of the Caps current offensive line combos, which promises to be woefully out of date by 3 o'clock. I've had some troubling thoughts about the lines as they are currently constructed, so let's get right to it.
Line 1 - Ovechkin - Kozlov - Fleishmann
Line 2 - Semin - Nylander - Backstrom
Line 3 - Pettinger - Gordon - Clark
Line 4 - Brashear - Steckel/Sutherby - Bradley/Laich
At first glance, the first two lines look like offensive dynamos, and are certainly a marked improvement from last year. There are, however, some issues that may force these combinations to be shuffled sooner rather than later.
First, is Flash Fleishmann ready to take control of the right wing on the first line? Is he ready to play first line NHL minutes, and be marked by every team's top checking line night in and night out? I'm a bit more wary than optimistic on him right now. Flash certainly has the offensive skillset, but with a line that will undoubtedly run from the left side, can he be effective without the puck? Personally, I think the line would be better off with a more physical wing, and can very easily see Chris Clark moving back to the first line within the Caps first 10 games. Unless Flash can prove me wrong and play as physically imposing, rough and tumble game, I don't see him sticking with the top unit. And yes, I know Kozlov is 800 feet tall and weighs roughly two tons, but at center he won't see as much time down low in the trenches as his wings will. As for the Russian Machine... well... he'll be fine no matter what.
The second line is more of the same. Incredible talent, to be certain, but who is going to win the loose pucks in the corner? Young Backstrom still has some growing to do (both physically and in adjusting to the North American game). He's also not naturally a wing, which means he has little experience fighting for loose pucks along the boards. We all know grinding it out is not Semin's specialty, either. It looks like this line will use offense as their best defense. All three are adept at holding the puck, and they'll need to be, because they aren't going to win a whole lot of physical battles. Additionally, look for opposing players to play a tough (if not dirty) physical game against three players not known for their power game.
As strange as it seems to say, the line with the strongest overall game may well be the Caps checking line. While there isn't an Ovechkin, Semin, or Nylander in the bunch, what Clark, Pettinger and Gordon do have is airtight defensive play with a nasty physical edge coupled with strong offensive ability. While their first responsibility will always be shutting down the opposition's top lines, don't expect them to play the entire night chasing the puck around their own end. Instead, look for them to counterattack what will almost always be defensively weak sets of forwards.
The Caps fourth line should be as intimidating an energy line as any in the NHL as long as Big Donnie Brashear stays healthy and motivated (which has never been a problem for him).
Now, what is the key to allowing the Caps to move to a more balanced lineup that could address some of these weaknesses? To no surprise, it's the development of young Nicklas Backstrom. If the youngster can hone his craft to the point where Coach Hanlon is comfortable with him at the center position, a whole host of options open up. For example:
Line 1 - Ovechkin - Backstrom - Kozlov
That solves the whole "who's doing the digging in the corner" issue right there. It's the behemoth at right wing.
Line 2 - Semin - Nylander - Clark
Instead of finesse, finesse, finesse, you've got finesse, awareness and grit. Much harder to defend against this line with a little toughness added.
Line 3 - Pettinger - Gordon - Steckel/Sutherby
Two natural centers to deal with defensive draws should one be kicked out of the dot. Still a whole lot of defense, but with slightly less offensive upside.
Line 4 - Brashear - Sutherby/Laich/Steckel /Bradley
Still not a line you'd want to meet in a dark alley.
Unfortunately, that leaves Fleischmann as the odd man out, since his skillset doesn't translate well to the third or fourth line right now. In a perfect world, his his defensive game improves to the point where you're comfortable with him on the third line, but I don't see that happening this season.
So there you have it. A look at what is, and what might be. Now if we can only get the season started already...