Thursday, December 4, 2008

Depleted D

If there was any question about how much the injuries on defense have affected the Capitals style of play, one need only look at the Caps game Tuesday night against the Panthers. Usually a team that plays a defense first, trapping style of play, the Panthers came out with an all out blitz of a forecheck, constantly pressuring the Caps defense for all three periods.

It paid off big time.

The Capitals simply don't have the bodies or talent to compete in the defensive end in their current form. The Caps defense without Tom Poti, Mike Green, Sergei Fedorov, and to a lesser extent Jeff Schultz and John Erskine is now a mirror of what it was during the Caps first post lockout season. Which is not good. At all.

The current defensive lineup doesn't feature a single defenseman that should be playing top 4 minutes in the NHL for any team. Uber prospect Karl Alzner is still adjusting to the NHL game, and needs more seasoning before he's ready to assume a role as a top tier defenseman. Milan Jurcina refuses to play the body unless it's away from the play for a penalty which renders him basically useless. Shoane Morrison gets outplayed and out muscled near the front of his own net on almost every play. And Lepisto, Helmer, and Sloan, with respect to the effort and determination they've shown, are third pairing defensemen at best.

For the Caps to be successful, they must keep the puck out of their own end as much as possible. And with Alexander Semin still injured, the burden for keeping puck possession falls to Michael Nylander and his line. The Caps first line has always been solid at controlling the play in their opponents' end as soon as they gain possession. For the Caps to take the burden off their crippled defense corps, the second line needs to be just as strong to give their defense the relief they so desperately need.

If the Caps top two lines can maintain possession and control the play and allow the defense to bend without breaking, they have a chance to beat the Islanders tonight. If not, it's going to be a long night.


Oh, and remember to skip lunch today so you can enjoy as many dollar dogs at the arena as possible. I'm thinking I can take down at least 5... blogger competitive eating contest, anyone?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I got yer closed hand right here.

Starting the third period last night the contest with the Minnesota Wild seemed all but over. The Caps had been decimated by injury, looked worn down by their West Coast swing, were down by two, and had no offensive rhythm. And yet there was still plenty of time left for the game to turn. And then the referees inserted themselves into the game by calling what might have been the most pathetic and laughable calls of the season.

When Tom Poti and Alex Ovechkin were whistled for closing their hands on the puck within seconds of one another, the duo of Rob Shick and Chris Ciamaga essentially said "this game is about us and not about the teams playing." They put an undermanned team down 2 players, and the Wild promptly scored to go up by 3. The Wild went on to score again and go up 4-0, and the game looked to be over. And if they had been playing most other teams, the offensively bad pair of calls by the officials wouldn't have mattered.

Most teams can't break through the Wild's suffocating trap and get pucks past rock solid goaltender Niklas Backstrom. But the Caps are not most teams. They roared back in the third and scored not once, not twice, but three times to bring the game to within one. That they could not find the net for a fourth time should not have mattered. They shouldn't have had to.

All human beings make mistakes. Referees are human beings. So it follows that referees can and will make mistakes. That's forgivable. What is not is involving yourself in a game simply for the purpose of involving yourself. Calling obscure delay of game penalties that are practically never enforced not once, not twice, but three times in a game AND TWICE ON THE SAME TEAM WITHIN A MINUTE is grandstanding, plain and simple. And it cost the Capitals a point tonight.

I don't pay for my season tickets to watch referees insert themselves into games. I pay to watch the players. Period. Other than the families of Rob Shick and Chris Ciamaga, I bet every hockey fan feels the same way. And last night's display was an absolute embarrassment.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Out of gas

The formula is simple:
The Caps flew cross country two days ago, played one day ago, and then faced a Kings team that was playing at home and had rested since Sunday.

The predictable result - the Kings thoroughly outplayed the Caps for all but a few minutes in the third period, handing the Capitals a 5-2 loss (that was really a 3-2 loss with a couple empty netters). The Caps needed a some lucky bounces and a poor goaltending effort from the Kings, and got neither.

Not having Mike Green clearly affected the team's ability to get the puck out of the zone quickly, as the Caps had a noticeable uptick in the number of failed breakout attempts. If Green doesn't mean go for Saturday's game against San Jose, the Caps will be at a significant disadvantage.

The Caps simply have to put this game behind them, get some rest, and gear up for tomorrow. You can't jump into a shark tank at less than full strength and expect to avoid getting bitten.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Of sticks and measurement

On the surface, tonight's West Coast opener looks like a pretty good matchup for the Caps. Anaheim has one less point in two more games than the Caps, and they're a bit long in the tooth. Both teams play some fairly weak competition in conference (Phoenix, LA, Dallas in the Pacific, and Tampa, Florida, and Atlanta in the Southeast). But here's the big difference:

Anaheim plays in the Western Conference.

Surprising? Not if you look at a map (or have a fourth grade grasp of US Geography). But it is important, because the Western Conference is, without a doubt, superior to the East. Pittsburgh fans will no doubt point to their miracle comeback against Detroit as evidence to the contrary, but that game was an abberation (for a number of reasons). Look at a list of Stanley Cup Winners from 95-96 to the present. The West owns 8 Cups to the East's 4 during that period, and if the league actually called penalties during the playoffs it wouldn't even be that close (we're looking at you, New Jersey).

The simple fact is this: San Jose and Detroit are BY FAR the best teams in hockey (and anyone who has read this blog before knows how much I despise Detroit). After that, the next group of teams (Minnesota, Anaheim, Calgary) would all be likely division leaders in the East.

That's why this road trip is so important to the Caps. If they want to call themselves an elite NHL team, they need results out west. A solid victory against a tough Anaheim team would go a long way towards establishing the Caps as a team to beat (alas, beating LA will not). A win against San Jose would... well, lets see how the Caps fare against Anaheim and LA first.

In short, if this team is for real, this road trip will show it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This is one of those nights

This is a night that Caps fans have always dreamed of. Your first line stats:
1, 2, 3, +4,
1, 3, 4, +4,
2, 3, 5, +4.

Now lets all hope Brent Johnson isn't for really real injured and that this is just a slick coaching move by Coach B to get J.T. (admit it, it sounds better that Joo-say Theey-oooo-dooore) some minutes without being under the gun.

Oh, yeah, and Carolina... you're old.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Clarification for tonight (with pictures!)

If you don't cheer him when he's introduced, you're a jerk.

If you cheer him after the game starts, you're a jerk.

Any other questions?

2 for 2

It's amazing what playing hard the full 60 minutes will do for a team. First, the Caps beat Carolina with their skills, scoring two pretty goals in the last 3 minutes of the game to shock the 'Canes 3-2. Two days later, they beat the Rangers with their will, grinding out a tough 3-1 win by creating havoc in front of Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist and crashing the net at every opportunity.

So what should be taken away from these two wins? First, that the Caps have the talent to compete with anyone in the East. The Carolina Hurricanes were first in the SouthEast, having won 4 of their last 6 games. The Rangers lead their division and were 5-2 in their last 7 games and had just dropped a five spot on Tampa.

The Capitals played like a team tired of being questioned about their effort, about their talent, and about their commitment to winning. They got contributions from just about everyone on the ice. Their skill players scored (Alex Semin, 3g in 2 games). Their heavyweights scored resounding victories to boost team momentum (Donald Brashear in a one sided whupping of Wade Brookbank). Their grinders went hard to the net (Boyd Gordon setting up Tom Poti's goal with a drive to the front of the net and Brooks Laich slapping a deflected puck out of midair past Lundqvist). And their goaltender performed like a number one is expected (even if it was technically their number 2), making an arrray of difficult saves and even stopping a penalty shot in a one goal game.

A split over the weekend would be a sign of a team still trying to catch its groove. A win against both teams is an announcement to the league: the Caps are here to win, no matter the opponent.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Вы говорите русского?

Can't understand the headline above? Then you can't play on the Caps top line tonight against Carolina. Brent Johnson gets his second start in a row as the Caps look to keep their streak of games with at least a point at home to, well, all 5 of them.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sometimes you have to hurt the ones you love

It finally happened. As often as we've called for wind sprints and punishing practices after subpar losses (and more than a couple subpar wins) over the years, Coach Boudreau kept a level head and allowed his players to work their way out of funks, sometimes even giving them days off to recouperate when it seemed they needed a good whupping. Well, Bruce finally cracked after Saturday's putrid showing against the Sabres. Instead of a day off, the Caps got 50 minutes of sprints. And it's about time.

Caps fans have seen a lot over the years. We've seen the worst team in NHL history (or at least Original 6 has. I wasn't born yet). But the city actually getting awarded an NHL franchise more than makes up for that. The team played hard, but the talent simply wasn't there to field a competetive team. We'll call that the Yvon Labre era.

We've seen year after year of teams just good enough to win in the regular season only to be bounced in the first or second round of the playoffs. Those were teams built with grit and integrity, symbolized by players like Dale Hunter and Rod Langway. There were some good to very good teams in those years, but they could never quite get over the hump, winning more than a playoff round only once (and then suffering the indignity of being swept by the Bruins).

We've seen our one shining run to the Stanley Cup Finals, marked by six overtimer winners, the single most productive run in Chris Simon's career (before a shoulder injury and what appears to be insanity ruined him), and Joe Juneau's overtime game winner in Buffalo. The only blemish that year was the fact that the best offensive player ever to wear a Capitals uniform (Peter Bondra, for you newbies) just wasn't able to put it together during the playoffs that year.

And we've known the embarassment of watching an All-World talent who simply didn't care enough to try hard. 2001-04 was like a gonzo nightmare for Caps fans, rooting for a player they didn't believe in, who repaid them in kind by not bothering to try hard. Most Caps fans still can't discuss this period without attempting to claw their eyes out.

The point in all this reminiscing is simple: we've seen a lot over the years as Caps fans. And, more than most fans, we know when our team isn't putting forth its' finest effort (for an example see Jagr, Jaromir). As a Caps fan, I can tell you that there has only been one game this year where the Caps have put forth an honest effort for 60 minutes, and even that comes with a qualification. When the Caps throttled Vancouver in the home opener the game was so far gone by the third period that they didn't need to bother showing up. There isn't a single game where the team has played to their potential for the full 60 minutes.

And after the embarrassment at Buffalo, something had to be done. The coach knew it. The players knew it. Hell, even the owner knew it.

So Coach Boudreau put away his "player's coach" hat and got down to the business of breaking down a team long on talent but short on effort. He rode his players until he knew they couldn't be ridden any further. The team's owner, instead of trying to sell fans a bill of goods like so many others might, publicly stated his embarassment with the level of effort being shown by the players and made clear that he would not stand for it.

Now all that's left is for the players to take the ice tomorrow in Ottawa and show the fans that they belong with the rest of the generations of hard working Capitals players who bled not just red, but Capitals red, white and blue.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

9 Minutes

The Washington Capitals lost a game they should have won last night to the Calgary Flames, 2-1. The Caps were up 1-0 on Sergei Fedorov's beautiful redirection of an Alex Ovechkin pass. They were in control of the game in terms of both puck possession and physicality. Their freshly called up rookie defenseman Tyler Sloan had just laid out Daymond Langkow with a vicious but clean open ice hit. Calgary's Rene Bourque completely lost his cool and charged Sloan in an attempt at retribution. The result: 19 minutes in penalties and a 9 minute power play for the Capitals.

Calgary was about to implode. Again. Surely, the Caps would pot at least one goal during that stretch, and the Flames were not a team that played well from behind.

9 minutes later, the game was over and the Flames had won. The scoreboard just didn't show it yet. The Caps failed to score a single goal over the course of those nine minutes. Their momentum was totally stopped, and would not be regained. Teams simply do not rebound from that kind of atrocious effort.

Sure enough, after the penalty had expired and the Flames got a power play chance of their own Jerome Iginla potted a power play goal. The Caps and Flames were in a low scoring, plodding defensive game with absolutely no flow. It was the type of game Mike Keenan loves, and his teams win. And win they did.

Certainly, the officials deserve criticism for turning the game into a such a plodding, penalty filled affair as they piled make up call after make up call onto the scoresheet. But they cannot be faulted for what happened in that nine minute nightmare. Only the Caps players and their coach can bear that blame.

What went wrong? The Caps played too fancy, looking for a slam dunk at the far post instead of getting shots on net and applying pressure. They avoided high traffic areas like they were quarantined off. They managed ONLY 3 SHOTS. That's not anemic. It's full on flatlined. And that's exactly what the power play ineffectiveness did to the Caps last night. It killed them.

Part of the blame must also be laid at the feet of Coach Boudreau. He saw the same thing everyone else in the arena saw, namely that the Caps power play stunk. He could have made a drastic change to the power play linep. He could have simply rolled his top 3 lines as is without adjustments for the power play in order to keep the team playing its normal style. Instead, he let the putridity continue for all 9 minutes.

And the Caps paid the price.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

And then there were two

Two top tier defensemen, that is. Tom Poti's groin injury had better not be serious, because the Caps don't have the depth on the backline to have him miss more than a couple games.

If there's any good news regarding the injury, it's that the Caps did not choose to call up a defenseman from Hershey, which they would have done if they believed Poti was going to be out more than a few days. The decision to put Poti on the shelf is much more likely a preventative measure, as it doesn't take much to turn a groin pull into a serious injury (just ask Chris Clark).

In other defensive news, it looks like one of the Caps has finally decided to step up and become a physical force in the defensive end. Mike Green has clearly decided that it's not enough to be one of the league's top offensive threats. He has his sights set on being the league's top defenseman, period.

If you need any proof, ask Evgeni Malkin how his gut is feeling following Greener's classic hip check in the third period. Although he didn't land the shot flush (Malkin wouldn't have finished the game if he had), it's clear that Green has made the decision to be a physically intimidating force in his own end. As Green's timing improves, expect to see more than a few devastating hits this season from the lightning quick defenseman.

Also, Kudos to Matt Bradley for taking one for the team. Sometimes it's not about winning or losing the fight, but sticking up for your teammates, taking your lumps and then going right back to playing hockey. Way to gut it out through that gashed up mouth, Matt.

The Caps look to carry over the momentum from their third period surge against the Penguins to the start of tonight's game against the Devils, who once again bored a crowd (and the opposition) to sleep with a 1-0 victory. Expect Sergei Fedorov to once again distribute from the backline as the Caps look to break the god-awful neutral zone trap. Game time is 7 PM. Unless you're one of the folks who bought the all you can eat and booze Dewars club tickets, in which case you'll probably want to get there earlier.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What we know so far

We're three games into the season, and four things already stand out.

- Bruce Boudreau is a smart hockey coach. Knowing that he was playing a team that was not strong offensively and played the trap, Boudreau removed John Erskine from the lineup and moved Sergei Fedorov to the back line. Breaking the neutral zone trap depends on quick and accurate outlet passes, and Fedorov provided them in droves last night. Because of this, the Canucks were unable to slow the pace of the game and were completely outmatched by the speed and talent of the Caps forwards.

By specifically targeting the opposing gameplan and adjusting his lineup accordingly, Boudreau was able to completely nullify the strongest weapon in the Canucks arsenal (their boring as all get out system). The Caps have had fits dealing with trapping teams in the past, but it looks like they've found a viable solution for the future.

- Alexander Semin is good. Really good. Not that this is news to anyone who was watching the last 20 or so games last year, but Semin has arrived as an elite level talent. He's much stronger on the puck than in previous years, quicker, andis an absolutely lethal finisher around the net. If he stays healthy, fifty goals should be a cinch. On every team in the East except Pittsburgh or Atlanta he'd be the team's number one scoring option. And yes, I'm including the Canadiens in that list. Who would you rather have on your team, Alex Semin or Alex Kovalev? Thought so.

- Goaltending is going to be an adventure. Goals on the first shot in back to back games? Not good. Inconsistent stickhandling and poor decision making? Also not good. The Caps need to calm their goaltenders down in a hurry. Great puck possesion performances (such as the one the team put together against the Canucks) should go a long way towards settling Theodore and Johnson down and getting them focused.

- Defense is going to be even MORE of an adventure. The Caps right now have three viable NHL calibur defensemen, and one of them is a forward. Everyone not named Poti, Green, or Fedorov has so far looked like they're in a competition to see who can play themselves out of a job first.

So, to sum things up, our coach is showing that last year was no fluke, our defense is showing that the team needs Alzner sooner than later, our goalies haven't shown us much yet, and Alexander Semin is proving that he's got what it takes to be a superstar in the league.

Oh, and as the Deuce said, Viktor Kozlov has a boo-boo.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Breaking down the roster

And a hearty welcome back! To get fired up for the start of the season, we're breaking down the Caps skaters from potential call ups to 20 year veterans. Instead of by position, they're broken down by expectation.

The Outside looking in- You’re on the short list for call ups.

Quintin Laing:
Unfortunately, Quintin is in the worst possible position, having to clear waivers both down from the big club and up from Hershey. While Laing’s heart, determination, and willingness to put his health on the line to keep the puck out of the net are never in question he doesn’t have the physical aggressiveness to make him a 4th liner or offensive upside to push him into a third line slot. Unless one of the more defensive minded forwards sustains a multi-game injury, it’s likely Laing will spend most of his time in Hershey unless a trade is worked out.

Chris Bourque:
While his size will always be a detriment, Chris showed himself to be a more than capable offensive talent during the preseason. His two way contract made sending him to Hershey the right decision, but his offensive prowess, determination, and exceptional skating ability kept it from being an easy one.

Bourque has a nose for the net and is willing to pay the price to make a play, which is a must for a player of his stature. His natural fit on most teams would be on a second line, and the thought of him lined up with Nylander and Semin is quite appealing… until one thinks that they’ll actually have to play some of the game in the defensive end.

Expect Bourque to be the first offensive call up (especially if Tomas Fleischmann sputters early on) unless one of the Caps fourth liners goes down with an injury (in which case they’d need a more physical presence than young Chris can provide). My money is on Bourque supplanting Flash by midseason, as Chris has already shown more scoring ability at the NHL level and more willingness to get physical with opposing players.

Sami Lepisto:
There hasn’t been enough time to fully evaluate Lepisto, but from his play last year he looks like a guy that won’t crack the Capitals lineup unless he either finds a 6th gear and works on his passing and playmaking skills or develops a much more physical edge to his game. While the former is much more likely than the latter, it’s unlikely we’ll see more than a couple injury call ups for the young Finn unless Erskine’s lack of speed becomes a major issue for the up-tempo style the Caps are trying to establish as their hallmark.

The Make or Breakers – We need to see something from you. This year.

Boyd Gordon:
The Good- Boyd Gordon is an exceptional player in terms of defensive positioning, commitment to defense and willingness to sacrifice the body to make a play. He has adequate speed to play the NHL game.

The Bad- Gordon lacks the temperament or strength to wear down opposing players. He’s ten times more likely to get put on his can while protecting the puck than to put the other player down. He lacks the offensive tools to move him any further up than the third line, and even that’s a stretch at this point.

While he’s a great team player and an asset on the penalty kill, at this point his role with the team rests with his commitment to defense and the lack of a stronger, more physical player with his skillset. Despite how the fans admire his courage and effort and statistical “above averageness” (yes, we’re looking at you, J.P.) Gordon’s days as anything but a grind liner with the team are all but over.

Tomas Fleischmann:
One of the two most interesting players in this grouping. Flash has nothing left to prove at the minor league level and absolutely everything to prove in the NHL. While he is gifted with a strong and accurate wrist shot and above average playmaking ability, Fleischmann has so far been unable to break through on the big stage.

Some attribute it to youth and a small, slow to fill out frame, it may well be that Flash’s quickness and offensive talents are enough to overwhelm minor league goaltenders and defensemen but not quite enough to beat the stronger, more positionally sound and fleet of foot players in the NHL. If Fleischmann can step up and deliver at least 10 goals in the first half of the season, it will be a sign that he simply needed time to adapt to the big leagues both physically and mentally. If he can’t, it’s likely that this will be his last year with the organization, and possibly his last in the NHL.

Eric Fehr:
Eric Fehr represents another conundrum. Having lost almost his entire professional career to injury, Eric Fehr enters a season healthy for the first time. The experience of playing with the big club for the latter half of last year is certainly a plus, but just hanging around as a standard third or fourth line talent would have to be considered a disappointment.

To blatantly rip off The Deuce, Fehr will have to put up some serious offensive numbers this year if he doesn’t want to be forever known as The Guy We Picked Instead of Ryan Getzlaf. It says here he gets the job done.

David Steckel:
David Steckel has the same defensive skills and forechecking tenacity as Boyd Gordon, but adds a stronger offensive skillset, longer reach, and a much more imposing frame. A reliable defensive asset, Steckel should be expected to post double digit goals without sacrificing in the defensive end this season.

John Erskine:
As long as the team lacks a top tier sledgehammer on defense, John Erskine should have the role of defensive enforcer tied up. By far the most physical Caps defenseman, Erskine can be intimidating in close to the crease but his lack of footspeed often leaves him at the mercy of the league’s elite forwards when defending against the rush. His offensive skills are negligible.

All offensive liabilities aside, Erskine can be depended on to do what is necessary to keep the opposition honest. He also has no issues playing rough down low, slashing opponents near the crease, and doing whatever it takes to defend his area. He understands that tripping or cross checking an opponent with a scoring chance with 5 or 10 seconds left in the game is better than holding up and allowing them to shoot. Until the Caps either trade for or develop a marquee hard edged defenseman, Erskine will be called upon to play solid minutes against the more physical teams in the league.

Milan Jurcina:
Will the real Milan Jurcina please stand up? In his best moments (like his first few games after being traded from Boston) Jurcina is an intimidating presence, a giant hard hitting ogre of a defenseman. Unfortunately, just as often (if not more so) he’s completely passive, allowing opposing skaters to skate by him with only a wave of the stick as they pass by. If Jurcina wants to stay on the Caps active roster, he has to commit to taking the body every minute of every game.

The Known Commodities: We know what we’re getting from you, more or less.

Brooks Laich:
Laich appears to have made the leap from a grinder who can chip in a few goals to a legitimate two way forward. His speed is often underestimated and he plays a tough physical game. His scoring touch has improved immensely over the past couple of years, and he should score around 25 goals while providing solid play in all three zones.

Matt Bradley:
Matt Bradley is good for solid all around effort, a few big hits (or at least big attempts) and more one liners than you can shake a stick at every game. Expect the “fan favorite” to chip in with a single digit goal total and 25 or so points along with a few fights smattered in.

Donald Brashear:
Nearing the end of his career, The Donald is still one of the most feared enforcers in the game. The only question with Brashear is whether his already less than stellar footspeed will hold up for another season, and how comfortable he is with what should be a significant reduction in ice time.

Michael Nylander:
If he is truly recovered from shoulder surgery, Nylander should be a big time contributor to the Capitals offense. His puck control skills and ability to find the open man are still in the top 20 in the league. Forget that he will is penciled in as a third liner. He will see significant time on the power play where the extra time and space make him a lethal setup man, and while a return to 80 point form seems unlikely sixty five or so points seems about right.

Chris Clark:
This season a fully fit Chris Clark should return to his post as a upper tier power forward and, just as important, the emotional leader of the team. While another 30 goal season would be icing on the cake, it’s more likely that Clark will chip in somewhere in the range of 25. Clark’s leadership and intangibles will more than make up for the mild production drop.

Sergei Fedorov:
The most versatile player on the roster, Fedorov will be asked to play in just about every situation and position except in goal. As always, he’ll perform admirably, and while his best days are certainly behind him expect Sergei to perform a higher level than he has in years. Great players always seem to have great farewell tours, and even if he’s lost a couple steps Fedorov still has the skill and veteran guile to make his memorable.

Viktor Kozlov:
Viktor Kozlov is by far the most maddening player on the team. Gifted with tremendous hands and size, Kozlov should be a force on the ice each and every night. Unfortunately, his refusal play anything resembling a physical game and his overall lack of interest in the game keep him from being an elite forward.

If Kozlov is given time and space, he is an extremely adept passer and has a shot that is hard and accurate enough to beat most NHL goaltenders. If pressured, Kozlov tends to give up on a play far too easily. Unfortunately, opposing defensemen know this and rarely allow the big fellow to skate free. Just the same as every year in his career, expect above average regular season numbers and yet another disappearing act in the playoffs when it requires heart as well as skill to get the job done. The good news? He’s off the books after this season, so the 2.5 million he earns can be paid to players who actually care.

Tom Poti:
Poti figures to be the team’s number one all around defenseman again this year. While a shoulder injury limited him at both ends of the ice last year, a fully healthy Tom Poti should produce above average offensive numbers and his trademark solid defensive play. While his power play minutes will be reduced because of Fedorov’s ability to play the point and the emergence of Mike Green as one of the league’s premier offensive defensemen, Poti still figures to log a lot of minutes, especially late in tight contests.

Shaone Morrison:
If playing defense was based on slick skating, smooth transition, and positioning, Morrison would be a top tier player. Unfortunately, defense in the NHL also requires a physical element and a willingness to play to the very limits of the rules, which Big Mo has never developed. He’s a solid second or third pairing defenseman, but unless he develops much more upper body strength and a real nasty attitude to match that’s about as far as he’s going to go.

The Potential Breakouts – This is your year kid. Let’s see you go out there and grab it!

Alexander Semin:
Injuries kept the “other” Alex from reaching his potential last season, but he came on strong late. His first playoff experience started slow, but once he adjusted to the physical, tight checking atmosphere he truly came alive. He exhibited desire many though he lacked, and added a physical edge that he’d never before even shown glimpses of.

A healthy Alexander Semin should thrive with the skilled players he’s been surrounded with. A career year is, if not expected, certainly hoped for.

Nicklas Backstrom:
In his rookie year, Nicklas Backstrom adapted quickly to the North American ice surface, showing constant growth. By the end of the season he was a lock not only for the first line and the coveted slot lining up next to Alex Ovechkin, but for the first power play unit as well. If Backstrom continues to develop and improves his skating (probably his weakest area) the sky is the limit. With the depth the Capitals have at center this season, awarding the number one slot to a second year pro speak volumes about how highly the organization regards him.

Jeff Schultz:
In his first season with the Capitals, there were nights when Schultz looked completely outmatched and, quite honestly, not ready for the NHL. In by the end of his second season, he appeared to have shored up his positional issues and had adapted sufficiently to the speed of the game. Will Schultz’ third season be the one in which he finally is willing and able to use his tremendous size to impose his will on opposing forwards? Probably not, but remember how awkward Zdeno Chara looked his first couple of seasons?

Karl Alzner:
Alzner is this far down the list for one simple reason: he may start the season in Hershey, but there’s no way he finishes it there. Alzner has the tools to be a top pairing defenseman, and although that probably won’t happen this year it’s not too much to expect him to break into the second pair. The kid is, quite simply, the real deal.

Mike Green:
I know, I know, Greener’s breakout season was technically last season. The simple (and scary) fact remains that the kid hasn’t neared his potential. If he is able to shore up his positioning issues in his own zone and continues to be willing to play the body as often as he rushes he’s all but assured to be the league’s best offensive defenseman for the second year in a row. And if the Caps can win a playoff round, his mohawk should be something to behold.

The Chosen One
Alex Ovechkin
‘nuff said.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ankle injury redux: Backstrom

Unfortunately, it looks like the Caps will once again have to deal with a marquee player injured before the start of the season. Tarik has reported that, like Alex Semin last year, Nicklas Backstrom has sprained his ankle. The injury may cause Backstrom to miss the beginning of training camp.

Unlike Semin, Backstrom was injured before the start of the season so it's likely they'll keep him out of workouts until the injury has more time to heal. Missing a couple weeks of camp and possibly a couple preseason games certainly won't help Backstrom get his fitness level up for the season, but after last year we all know it's better safe than sorry with ankle problems.

Expect the team to ease Backstrom along slowly, and for him to be ready for the start of the season. If he's limited in workouts, it may be a few games into the season before he hits his stride, but given the Caps depth at center they have the ability to keep his minutes in check until he is fully recovered and fit.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

New news is good news.

Yes, it's a bit of a wasteland for hockey news these days... which makes Tarik's piece on Captain Clark a bit of a golden nugget in a river full of rocks. Word is that CCC should be ready for the start of training camp, which was until recently still very uncertain. Good news indeed.

That leaves Brian Pothier as the only injured player that's still a question mark for next season. Given that he has been unable to participate in even light physical activity since his most recent concussion, it's highly unlikely he'll be a go to start the season (at this point it's questionable whether he'll be able to lace up his skates again at all).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fedorov, Laich back in the fold

The Caps have signed forwards Brooks Laich and some guy named Sergei Fedorov to contracts today. Per Tarik, Brooks' deal averages a little over 2 mil a year for three years, while The Hockey News reports Fedorov will make 4 million for his one year of service.

With that done there's precious little left in the coffers for any other moves (barring a trade). The Caps roster once again looks loaded on offense, but the team has done precious little in free agency to bolster their defense.

Even if this year's uber-rookie Karl Alzner is next in the line of great Capitals defensemen, his first year will still be a learning experience (with all the mistakes and adjustments that come with being an NHL rookie). Get ready for a bunch more 4-3 and 5-4 games this year.

I, for one, can't wait.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Theodore a Cap, Huet to Chicago

The Caps have certainly made an interesting move here. Figuring one French-Canadian is as good as another Frenchman, the Caps passed over signing Cristobal Huet to a three year deal and instead inked Jose Theodore to a two year, 9.5 million dollar deal.

Apparently, the Caps were willing to meet Huet's asking price of 3 years and $15 million. But when Huet announced his intention to test the free agent market (and this year's market for goaltenders is pretty thin) for a potentially more lucrative offer, the Caps signed Theodore in order to secure a number one goaltender instead of possibly being left out in the cold (no offense to Brent Johnson).

The move certainly makes sense from a financial standpoint (less money per year) and is a shorter term deal, but one has to wonder which Jose Theodore the Caps will be getting. Will he be the confident goaltender who won the Vezina and Hart trophies in 2001-02, or will he be the suspect goalie who couldn't lock down a starting job in Colorado in 2006-07? The hopes for a long Capitals playoff run this season rest on it being the former.

Caps Re-Sign Green!

TSN and The Hockey News are reporting that the Caps have agreed to terms with restricted free agent defenceman Mike Greeen. It is rumored to be a four year deal with an average annual salary of $5.25 million. So what do you think? A fair deal? Too short a term?

The Deuce: I think it's a fair deal for both teams. Green gets paid as an elite player -- though not quite as elite as Phaneof, which, in my opinion, he's not. The Caps get a few years to see what they really have, but then they'll really have to pay up. At the end of this contract, Green will be 26 (just about to turn 27). Now unless my research is mistaken (which it very well may be), Green is eligible for UFA status at age 27 OR at 7 years NHL service. I don't THINK he reaches either by the end of that deal, as he'll be 26 until October 2012, and he doesn't qualify for 7 years by then either (I don't think he's played what qualifies as 3 NHL seasons, but again, I'm no NHL lawyer or agent). So hopefully the Caps get another crack at Green as an RFA before he hits the UFA market. But either way, if he keeps playing the way he did at the end of the year, and improves defensively, it'll be time to back the trucks up in 2012.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Caps qualify five

Per Tarik, the Caps have tendered qualifying offers to Mike Green, Eric Fehr, Shaone Morrisonn Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon, thus maintining the rights to those players heading into the upcoming free agency period.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Metal gear? Solid.

The take:

1 Art Ross trophy
1 Hart Memorial trophy
1 Jack Adams award
1 Lester Pearson award
and lest we forget,
1 key to the city.

Not bad at all. Now lets get to work on winning the only piece of hardware left to elude us.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fight fans rejoice!

Fans of fistacuffs (and players short on skill but long on toughness, grit and determination) will be pleased to hear that Matt Bradley has been signed to a 3 year contract extension. He'll make a million bucks a year, and earn every penny of it the hard way.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Alzner on board

Per the team, the Capitals have signed Team Canada (jr) Captain and WHL player of the year Karl Alzner to a (standard) 3 year rookie contract. Alzner was the Caps first round pick (5th overall) in the 2007 entry draft.

I expect Alzner to split time between Hershey and Washington next year, unless he shows something truly remarkable in development and training camp. The Deuce, however, has him pegged as a full time Cap in his rookie season. I'll gladly pay up the 20 bucks I bet him if that's the case, since he's been pegged as the rock solid physical defenseman the Caps so desperately need. For more on Alzner, click here to read Vogs' feature.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

9 out of 10 NHL players agree

Well, technically it's 8.7 out of 10 NHL players, but we'll round up. Alex Ovechkin is The Sporting News' NHL player of the year, receiving 250 of a possible 287 votes from his peers. Evgeni Malkin finished second (just like the Penguins are about to do) with 18 votes.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lepisto scores! Lepisto scores! Wait... that's not a good thing?

Normally, watching Sami Lepisto score in overtime would be good times for Caps (and Bears) fans, but if you're a fan of USA hockey it's the last thing you wanted to see this morning. Caps farmhand Sami Lepisto ended team USA's run 3 minutes and 59 seconds into overtime, sending Team USA packing and moving Finland into the semifinals of the tournament for the third straight year.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

IIHF Brawl for it all, part II

Fate clearly has a sense of humor. After crushing Norway 9-1, the US will play their first elimination of the IIHF world championships tomorrow... against Finland.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The whole US-Finland "brawl" thing

Earlier today while I was at work, my girlfriend sent me the following email:

"Subject: US vs. Finland hockey tournament debacle

Did you hear about this? Talk about poor sportsmanship--- bad call or not, how embarassing..."

When I saw her later, she asked why I hadn't emailed her back on the subject. It turns out she'd read this AP article on a link from AOL, which detailed the US team's 3-2 loss to Finland and a supposed cheap shot by Dustin Brown on Jussi Jokinen with time running out. I explained to her that I wanted to see the play before I commented on it.

After seeing the play and ensuing altercation (video below), I can say while the hit by Brown was illegal (shots to the head are automatic penalties in international play) he had every right to make a physical play on Jokinen. Brown was covering back defensively to keep Jokinen from potting an empty net goal, which is type of play the US expects from its youngsters. He lined up Jokinen for a big hit, which should not be unexpected as the game was not over yet and separating his opponent from the puck was the best way to prevent him from scoring. There would be nothing at all for the Finns to complain about had Jokinen's momentum not been slowed by the US defensemen's initial check, as Brown would have leveled the Finn with a perfectly clean check.

And as for the ensuing "brawl" (IIHF term for shoving match), the Finns have nobody to blame but themselves. They grabbed and pulled on the US players, as players in the European game like to do. But this time, Anssi Salmela took it a step too far and starting throwing punches, which he would immediately regret. He probably expected David Backes to throw a couple punches with his gloves on and back away. How very wrong he was.

Backes kept from throwing any big bombs and kept his gloves on until the moment Salmela dropped his gloves. Salmela didn't know it, but he was now in very big, very real trouble. Three Backes punches and a bloodied nose later, Salmela was holding on for dear life.

So just to clear it up, it was the Finns that turned a two minute minor into a rinkwide shoving match, and Anssi Salmela has no one to blame for the black and blue marks surrounding his eyesocket but himself.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Huet's agent to the Caps: "We're interested."
Caps to Huet "We're interested too."

Of course I totally made the second quote up, but I imagine it's pretty accurate.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Russian Machine... two sport star?

Evidently it's not just hockey coaches who recognize Alex Ovechkin's physical play! Fresh off being named a finalist for the Lester Pearson award (given to best player in the NHL as judged by the players), it looks like other professional leagues are taking notice!

Sadly, this isn't far off from how most mainstream media outlets cover hockey.

NHL Star Called Up To Big Leagues To Play For NFL Team

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Your Hart Trophy winner, er, finalist

Per the NHL, the Russian Machine has been named a finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy (along with also rans Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla), which is awarded annualy to "the player judged to be most valuable to his team" by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

If (when) Alex wins the award, he would be the first player in the Capitals history to be named regular season MVP. He would also be the second Russian (after Sergei Fedorov) and 6th European born player (Stan Mikita, Fedorov, Hasek twice, Jagr, Forsberg) to receive the award.

If you need a reminder of why Ovechkin deserves the award (yeah, right) the NHL's summary on the Machine is below:

"Ovechkin, a first-time Hart nominee, tallied 112 points (65 goals, 47 assists) in 82 games, capturing the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring leader and Maurice Richard Trophy as the League’s top goal scorer. He also led all players in power-play goals (22) and game-winning goals (11). Ovechkin set the single-season NHL record for goals by a left wing, surpassing Luc Robitaille's 63 with Los Angeles in 1992-93, and his 65 goals were the most by NHL player since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. Ovechkin scored 51 of his goals in the 61 games after Bruce Boudreau was named head coach Nov. 22, pacing the 37-17-7 run that carried the Capitals into the playoffs."

Finalists for the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year will be announced tomorrow. Don't be surprised if, despite the amazing season he had, Coach Boudreau is left off the list. It seems asinine, but there are already some sportswriters who have already let slip that they refuse to vote for a coach in his first year with a team. Whatever. I think Coach B is probably too busy househunting for a long term living space in DC to be concerned about it.

Monday, April 28, 2008

That's enough of that

Onward to the consolation bracket IIHF World Championships, where just about a third of the Caps roster is expected to play.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There's always next year

Yes, the Caps are out of the playoffs. Yes, they're a young team and this experience will no doubt make them better in the long run (as you can read about in articles by just about everyone that can type). And yes, I'm hungover.

No more Caps games until October.

This sucks.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Adjustments, or, why the Caps are losing this series 2-1

Well, Caps fans, it hasn't been a pretty series so far, has it? The Caps are getting outworked, outplayed, and outmuscled. They've had decent stretches of play, but nothing approaching a 60 minute strong effort. So what's going wrong with the team right now? Glad you asked.

First, the Caps defensive corps has been totally unwilling to engage the Flyers physically before, during, or after the whistle. Don't get me wrong, the defense has been great at skating up to Flyers players and giving them a good talking to after they run our goaltender on every shift. Unfortunately, the Flyers don't seem to be listening to our polite requests that they stop doing so. In particular, Milan Jurcina (who is capable of playing a nasty physical game) Shoane Morrison (who needs to learn how to do so in a hurry) and Tom Poti (who can play rough but doesn't want to take a penalty because he's counted on to play so many tough minutes) seem just fine with watching their goaltender get run over and then slowly skating over to the Flyers player performing the deed and giving him a little love tap. That just won't get it done.

In order to make them listen, the defensive corps needs to make a statement by burying the next forward who makes even glancing contact with Huet, no matter whether they get penalized for it or not. I'm not talking about a little slash across the leg. I'm talking a full force cross check in the small of the back in the gap between the shoulder pads and the pants. The Flyers have no problem stretching the rules regarding contact with the goaltenders to their absolute limits (and it appears the referees have no interest in enforcing them) so someone on the Caps needs to make it known that there will be a steep price to pay for such borderline dirty play. If they can't step up and defend their crease they might as well walk out during introductions wearing golfing outfits and carrying a set of clubs, because their season is over.

The Caps other main problem has been their top line, which had been their saving grace during the regular season. The fix for the top line is simple: move Kozlov off it. While rookie Nicklas Backstrom has bounced back from a rough first set of games to perform at a playoff level in game three, Viktor Kozlov has shrunk from just about every challenge in front of him. He doesn't play physical, he's easily intimidated, his puck possesion game has gone to hell, and if you watch him he's not even skating hard (well, in fairness to Viktor, he's never done that).

If the Caps want to get going, they need someone on the right side that's not going to cough up the puck every time an opposing player gets near them. Maybe Kozlov hasn't gotten the memo that there are no shootouts in the playoffs so he figures he's saving up for that. Whatever the reason, he's absolutely KILLING the flow of the first line. If Chris Clark isn't ready to go for game four, the Caps need to think about promoting Matt Cooke to the first line.

In short, the Caps defense needs to start playing like it's the playoffs and repaying the mugging our forwards are receiving in kind, and the Caps first line needs to cut its dead weight and get a player out on the right wing that wants to win more than they want to get through a game without getting touched.

Update: Of course. Per Tarik, Bruce Boudreau has made a change to the first line, but not the one suggested above. Sergei Fedorov moves up to center the first line between The Russian Machine and The Russian Disappearing Act.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Why the Flyers are Doomed to Fail for the Next Decade

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Deuce breaks out his hatchet and murders the Flyers:

Since everyone is wrapped up in predictions and series breakdowns, I thought I would look at the futures of the two franchises facing off tonight at the Verizon Center. As others have noted, these two teams have taken two radically different views on rebuilding. The Flyers’ approach can best be described as “the quick fix,” sort of like that commercial where the engineers stick a piece of bubble gum over that crack in the Hoover Dam. The Caps, on the other hand, were patient, tearing down the team prior to the lockout/work stoppage, and rebuilding through draft picks and deadline acquisitions that do not bring contract obligations past this year.

After one bad year, in which they missed the playoffs, Philly went out like a drunken sailor in the Hotel California and brought in everyone’s favorite punk, Danielle Briere, and traded for and signed Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timmonen, Marty Biron. They then totally lost their minds and signed Mike Richards, everyone’s favorite 20-goal scorer, to an 11-year, $5.75 million a year contract. Good move. For this lunacy, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was almost universally praised.

The Caps, on the other hand, took the hard road. They traded away Gonchar, Bondra, Nylander, Jagr, and the rest, and got back a bunch of young kids nobody had ever heard of and some draft picks in return. They stank the year before, and two years after the lockout. But they drafted intelligently, refused to panic and trade their prospects and draft picks, and played the kids, both in DC and Hershey. They made smart, reasonable free agent signings (Pothier, Nylander, Poti, Kozlov). For this approach, Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee were almost universally panned. So let’s take a look at the rosters and salary cap numbers, shall we?

Forwards of Note
Danielle Briere: $6.5 million/yr through 2014-15
Simon Gagne: $5.25 through 2010/11
Scott Hartnell: $4.1 through 2012/13
Mike Knuble $2.8 through end of next year
Jeoffrey Lupul: $2.8 through end of next year
Sami Kappanen & Scottie Upshall: $1.25 through end of next year
MIKE RICHARDS: $5.75 through 2019/20
RJ Umberger and Jeff Carter are RFAs this summer

Defensemen of Note
Kimmo Timmonen: $6.33 through 2012/13
Derian Hatcher: (wait for it --- wait for it ---) $3.5 million through end of next year
Mike Rathje: $3.5 million through 2010/11
Jason Smith: $1.975 through end of next year (UFA)
Braydon Coburn: $1.3 million starting next year for 2 years

Goaltenders: Wait for it, wait for it:
Marty Biron: $3.5 through 2009/10
Antero Nittymaki: $1.225 through 2009/10

Cap hit this year $55 million
Cap hit next year $49.5 million - and they still need to resign Umberger and Carter, who will be RFAs this summer.
Cap hit in 3 years: $33 million

Compare that with the Capitals:
Capitals Cap Hit this year: $39.021
Cap Hit next year: $34.8 million (but we still need to sign Green (RFA), Morrison (RFA), and Huet/Kolzig (UFAs))
Cap hit in 3 years: $28.4

So which roster would you rather have in 2009/10 for essentially the same salary cap hit?
Philly - with Briere (31 years old with 5 years left on his contract), Gagne (30 years old); Hartnell ((27 with 3 years left), Richards (24 years old with 9 years remaining); and VanRiemsdyck (on an entry level contract) up front, and
Timmonen (34 with 3 years remaining); Rathje (35); and Coburn (24) on the back line (and Biron and Nittymaki in net)


Ovechkin (23 years old with 11 years remaining), Semin (25 years old coming up RFA the next summer), Clark (33 years old with a year remaining), Nylander (36 with a year remaining), Backstrom (21 and and RFA the next summer), Fleishmann (25 and RFA the next summer) up front; Poti (32 with 2 yrs left), Pothier (???) (32 with 1 year left), Green (who we know we’ll resign), Alzner on the back line (on an entry-level contract with 1 year remaining), Huet or Kolzig in net.

I think if we polled NHL GMs, even Holmgren would take that second lineup. In a second. And remember, that’s when you factor in 5 million a year or so for Green!

Even worse, the Flyers have killed themselves in the long term, as Briere will be a 6.5 million dollar cap hit when he’s 35 and 36 with a no-trade clause!
Timmonen will be a $6.3 hit when he’s 37!
MIKE FREAKING RICHARDS will be a $5.75 hit when he’s 34 years old.
AND, they’re just above-average enough to be a fringe playoff team for the next 6-7 years, meaning no high draft picks, no blue-chip sure fire young superstars in the near future. Oops.

The only deal the Caps have past 2010/11 is Ovechkin: at 9.5 a year. I’ll take that one. So the Flyers have taken the quick fix route back to the playoffs, where they are doomed to be a team that will be average to pretty good for the next, oh, six years or so. They’ll play a hard nosed, hard working style, have mediocre goaltending, and are doomed to eventually bow out to teams with more talented superstars. Sound familiar Caps Fans?

Boy, am I glad those days are over. On the other hand, the Caps still have some work to do…they have to resign their restricted free agents (Green, Morrison, Laich, Gordon, Fehr, probably in that order of importance), and lock up a solid netminder until we find out if Varlamov or Neuvirth are any good (Huet, anyone?), but even then, the Caps will have the salary cap room to make moves and add to an already potent lineup.

Sorry Philly. It looks like the Championship drought is going to last at least a decade or so longer. But you can always reminisce about the old days of the Broad Street Bullies, and talk about how tough your team is. And hey, how about them Eagles?

Oh, and one more thing: Jim Butler --- you’re an idiot. Only someone as dumb as you could insult an entire fan base in the NY Times, then act surprised when they (rightfully) hammer you for it.

Monday, April 7, 2008

An addendum

Last year, I wrote this post on why the Caps would make the playoffs this year (and win a playoff series). There were a couple misfires (Dainius Zubrus isn't going anywhere? Really?) but for the most part it was pretty much on target. And although the focus lately has been on the Caps trade deadline acquisitions, this team would never have made the playoffs without one major addition made during the offseason:

That's right, folks. Tom Poti is the unsung hero of this Capitals team.

Now I know Poti's offensive numbers this season are nothing to write home about. In fact, his two goals this season tied his career low set in 2001-2002. But make no mistake, Tom Poti is the reason this team has a chance to compete for the Cup this year.

Without Poti, the Caps would have had no veteran leadership after Brian Pothier went down with a cuncussion. Without Poti (second overall in ice time per game, first among defensemen in time on the penalty kill) this defense would have lacked an anchor to hold the D together in tough spots. Poti has been by far the slickest defensive player on the ice, always making the right decision and making it quickly.

I can't say how many times I've turned to the Deuce during a game and said "You know who's a smart hockey player? Tom Poti." He could always be trusted to make the best play available without forcing the issue.

With a player with such a high hockey IQ on the backline, the Capitals knew that one side of the ice would always be taken care of as long as Poti was on the ice. That's exactly the kind of confidence that was missing from the team's defense last year.

So while we rightly celebrate the incredible ability of the Russian Machine, or the lightning-quick maturation of uber-rookie Nicklas Backstrom, or the great crunch time acquisitions of Huet, Fedorov, and Cooke, remember first that one summer day where the Caps signed the rock on which their young defense would be built. Remember July 1st as the day this playoff team was born.

Keep Philly fans out

Don't sell them tickets.
Don't give them tickets.
Steal their tickets and give them to Caps fans.

You get the idea.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Big ratings and a programming surprise

Per the Capitals, yesterday's critical win against the Lightning drew the largest rating for a hockey game in Comcast Sportsnet history (a 2.7 rating). While this is great news, scoreboard watchers will be just as interested in this note buried in the last couple of lines of the release:

"The network will also carry the Philadelphia Flyers regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday at 3 p.m., as the game most likely will have an effect on Washington’s playoff hopes."

Kudos to CSN for giving Caps fans a way to follow their team's fortunes by airing this out-of-market matchup.

And for those of you that get NHL Center Ice you might want to tune into tonight's game between the Bruins and Senators, which also has major implications for the Caps. How big, you ask? If the game ends in regulation (meaning no points for the loser), the Caps are guaranteed a playoff spot if they beat Florida Saturday. That, as they say, is frikkin HUGE.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Alex Ovechkin is a big star

Per, The Russian Machine is this month's #1 star. I guess 26 points (14 goals) in 14 games will do that for you.

Monday, March 31, 2008

How the Caps will win the Southeast Divison

Okay, here we go.

The Caps have three games remaining.
The Hurricanes have three games remaining.

The Caps have 88 points.
The Hurricanes have 90.

Both teams have played 79 of 82 games.
Both teams will face off tomorrow at the Verizon Center.

Beating the Hurricanes on the scoreboard Tuesday will not wrap up the division title. The Caps need to do more. In the words of Coach Boudreau, they need to "touch somebody." Hard.

After Tuesday, the Capitals have a day off to recouperate. The Hurricanes do not. They hop on a bus home to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning the very next night. If the Caps play a pressing, physical, mean style of hockey and take some of the wind out of Carolina's sails, they may not have the gas left in the tank to ground the Lightning's speedy and talented top forward line.

Best case scenario: The Caps beat the 'Canes up Tuesday night, and the Lightning hold off a furious rally to beat Carolina. At that point, the Caps will have the chance to take the division lead the very next night... against a Tampa team playing the second half of back to back road games against playoff calibur opponents.

In other words, if the Caps can bust up Carolina enough, and the beat up Canes throw everything they have against Tampa and can't secure two points, they may inadvertently seal their own demise by tiring out the Lightning before they play a well rested Caps team on Thursday.

But wait, it gets better. After a single day of rest after their game against the lightning, the Canes take on the Florida Panthers on April 4th. With their backs against the wall, the Canes will most certainly throw everything they've got at Flordia. And guess who gets to play the Panthers the very next day with a day's rest? You guessed it. Your Washington Capitals.

So, ironically, the Canes may do the most of any team to help vault Washington into the playoffs, while forcing themselves out.

Of course, all this depends on the Caps winning Tuesday. So grab your red gear (and red facepaint) and get a good night's sleep tonight. After all, the Caps season hangs in the balance. You want to be good and ready to give your team the home team advantage they deserve, right? Then have a cup of tea tonight, rest your vocal chords, and get ready to scream your brains out tomorrow.

If you don't have tickets, then shame on you. Click here to get em. And bring your "A" game tomorrow night. The Caps have been doing it for the stretch run. It's time to return the favor.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Of faith lost... and faith restored

After the first period of last Wednesday's debacle with Chicago, I have to admit I turned off the television and headed out of the house. The Caps looked like a team whose time had finally run out. The Caps were playing a tired, sloppy game and it looked as if the pressure that had been bearing down on them all season long had finally taken its toll. When I came back later that night and checked the highlights (I couldn't bear to watch the entire game on my DVR), it didn't get any better. A 5-0 loss to a Chicago team not known for its defensive prowess? Surely this was the end for the Caps.

Friday night, I set my DVR to record the game against the Thrashers, more as a postmortem than anything else. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I did know that if I didn't take my girlfriend out for dinner that night instead of watching the game live that the Caps season wouldn't be the only thing in danger.

So I left, hoping against hope Alex Ovechkin would at least tally a goal and bring him closer to the magic number: 60 goals. I thought that the team was too young and too exhausted to produce a win on the road. And when I called the Deuce from my house after returning from dinner, he quickly reinforced my beliefs. I asked him if I could come over to his house and watch the end of the game, since he had recorded it and was at the end of the second period.

"I don't think you want to" was his reply. I asked the score, and he told me. 3-1 Thrashers. Not good. Not good at all. The Caps have had all sorts of trouble with the Thrashers this season, exemplified by a 2-0 loss in which the Caps were essentially trapped to death by a team that at the time lacked its only reliable goal scorer in Ilya Kovalchuk.

I asked who scored, and the Deuce provided what I expected to be the only good news of the night. Ovechkin had tallied number 59 in the first period. "Oh well," I thought to myself. "I might as well head over there just in case he pots sixty." A Capitals win was not even a blip on the radar at this point.

Just a few minutes later, I was in front of the television and watching as the Thrashers looked to snuff the Caps playoff hopes for the year by suffocating them with the oh-so-boring trap. And for the first five minutes or so of the third, that looked like exactly what was going to happen.

And then it happened. It didn't start with a goal, but rather a bone-jarring, damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead monster of a hit by Ovechkin on the forecheck. It exeplified everything about Ovechkin that has made him the talk of hockey fans around the world. It showed passion, speed, power, and above all else the burning fire to win. We will not go quietly into the night, his beautiful and brutal check seemed to ring out in the arena.

It stood as a statement for the players on both teams to see. You could see the look on the Russian Machine's face as he skated back into the play immediately afterwards. It needed no translation, no interpretation.


And thus the onslaught began. Bruce Boudreau knew his season depended on getting his best players on the ice at all times, so he shortened the bench and rotated two lines: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov and a hodgepodge of the rest of the team as the second line. The move paid off beautifully. Had the Caps rotated three lines, they would never have been able to keep the constant pressure on Kari Lehtonin and the Thrashers. But with Ovechkin and Backstrom on the ice every other shift, the constant crashing of their offensive forays against the Thrashers overmatched defenders was simply too much to bear.

Yet again it was Ovechkin leading the way, working down in the trenches setting a screen for a Mike Green slapshot and deftly depositing the rebound over the shoulder of a helpless Lehtonin. The joy on Ovechkin's face after 60 was as vibrant as the sun on a clear summer day, but behind it there was the menace, the ruthless, awe-inspiring drive that would not be denied.

Great players feed off each other, and Ovechkin's passion energized the entire team, but most importantly it inspired Nicklas Backstrom to play the best period of his life. Four minutes of intense Capitals pressure after Ovechkin's 60th, Backstrom took a pass in deep from a pinching Mike Green and fired an absolute rocket past Lehtonin, who was beginning to wilt under the Capitals constant barrage. The shot was something you'd expect from Ovechkin or Semin, but from a setup man like Backstrom? Clearly, something special was in the works for the Caps.

Less than a minute later, with score tied and the Thrashers reeling, Ovechkin and Backstrom combined one more time to seal the victory. Ovechkin fired himself from the faceoff dot as if he was shot out of a cannon, beating both Thrashers to a loose puck behind the net in the process. He deftly passed it to Backstrom, who was camped on the short side of the crease. Backstrom made no mistake as he calmly slotted the puck into the net, and the Capitals rejoiced, their season saved for at least another game.

Whether or not the Capitals are able to secure a playoff spot this season, the last 10 minutes of the game against Atlanta showed what this young team and, in particular, its two young stars have brought to Washington. This team may not win out this year, but their time is coming. Any fan that saw Ovechkin and Backstrom on that amazing Friday night knows it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Something's missing here

So far, I've checked both Washington papers in order to get some perspective on yesterday's game, and they both fail to address a major issue: the horrendous officiating. It's one thing if the refs missed a call or two, but to miss a blatant trip that immediately resulted in a goal and call a non-existant dive in order to even things up late in a tight game? Just terrible.

For visual evidence of the first blown call, see below:

Now, at the top of the frame you'll see the referee responsible for handling calls in the defensive and neutral zone skating away from the play to pick up the pieces of a broken stick, which meant he was out of position and unable to view the play. Fortunately, the NHL has a two referee system in which the far side official (whose primary zone is the offensive zone) has the right to make a call if his partner misses it. The offensive zone official swallowed his whistle for no apparent reason, and because Brooks Laich was taken down on the play he was unable to cover the third man into the zone (Kobesaw), who was wide open for the only goal the Bruins would score in the game.

The Ovechkin diving call was as ridiculous a call as the trip on Laich was a non-call. Ovechkin had charged into the offensive zone at full speed and was attempting to split the defense when not one but BOTH defensemen lodged their sticks between the Russian Machine's legs. Ovechkin went down (not surprising, since you can't really skate on wood or fiberglass or whatever sticks are made of nowadays) and the referee made a call that was more out of the dead puck era than today's NHL. Instead of simply making the right call, the official "evened up" the penalty by calling Ovechkin for the (non-existant) dive. The result? Instead of a 5 on 4 power play, the teams would skate 4 on 4 and the Caps would be without one of their best players for the entirety of the penalties. It was a chickensh-t call by a chickensh-t ref.

It's not neccesarily an indicator officials are having an off night when there are as many "ref you suck" chants as "Lets go Caps" ones. What IS indicative of a terrible showing is veteran defenseman Tom Poti making comments to a locker room reporter about the slanted officiating while the game was still in progress, which will undoubtedly lead to a large fine. Players in the league know that the calls aren't always going to go their way, and are accepting of that. When they're willing to voice their displeasure in a public forum and take the financial hit that come with it (and they're not crybabies like Jagr or Lemeuix), you know they've got a legitimate beef.

The officiating debacle very nearly overshadowed the game, which the Caps were able to pull out in the shootout with a great delay shot by Alex Semin and a typically nonchalant (read: slooooooooooooooow) move to spread Alex Auld's legs and put the puck between them by Viktor Kozlov. If the NHL expects to have paying customers in the stands, they best be sure that they improve the level of officiating in their games, ESPECIALLY games involving one team in a "traditional" hokey market (like Boston or Toronto) and one that is not. Otherwise the impression will continue to exist among fans that the league has a vested interest in who makes the playoffs (the "traditional markets" and who doesn't (everyone else). And that is as damaging an impression as any other to the league's integrity and a threat to the expansion of the game into non-traditional markets.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A tough draw

Tonight, the Caps look to rage against the dying of their playoff light against the Calgary Flames. And with Calgary coming in (wait for it, wait for it) on fire, taking points in 9 of their last 10 and winning 7 of those games outright, the Caps had better bring their "A" game.

For Calgary, the formula for victory is simple. Trap the hell out of the Caps and fire everything at the net in the offensive zone. Calgary is one of the better teams in the league at clogging the neutral zone, and the post-lockout Capitals have been frustrated by the trap time and time again. And while it seems counterintuitive for the Flames to play a plodding, counterstrike oriented, utterly boring style of play with lightning quick forwards Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay up front and Dion "I kill people for fun, man" Phaneuf patrolling the back line, one certainly can't argue with the results it has produced.

Throw in the fact that Mikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla (fresh off his milestone goal earlier this week) are both stepping up their game as the playoffs draw near, and the Caps hopes for a win tonight seem slim.

Which is exactly what this team needs. Like most young teams, the Caps play their best hockey when they are considered the underdogs. While there is certainly still pressure to produce points and eke into the final playoff spot, most now view the Caps as a team that will be on the outside looking in come the end of the season. Much like a boxer who gets knocked down early in a fight, the Caps are now free to swing for the fences and play with reckless abandon, knowing that they have to score a knockout (or in this case a series of knockouts) to win.

The Caps know that they've been bloodied by the losses this past weekend. They've been knocked down, hurt, and their pride bruised. Now, as the toughest opponent left on their schedule looms in front of them, the question is this: Will they reach deep within themselves and find the strength to rise up and continue the fight?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Two quotes say it all

"Well, there go the playoffs."
- the Deuce after watching the Penguins defeat the Caps at home yet again to effectively end the Caps playoff chances.

"(Expletive) the Penguins and (expletive) you."
- Original 6 to a group of obnoxious Penguins supporters outside the Verizon Center after the game.

Hey, we're not called 3 Grumpy Caps fans for nothing.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Three points and a world of difference

Tonight, when the puck drops in Buffalo and the Sabres take on the Washington Capitals, the teams will be separated by only three points in the standings. Both teams will have played 67 games at that point, and both teams are currently on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Aside from those points, the two franchises couldn't be headed in more opposite directions.

The Capitals are clearly on the upswing. Their rebuild may have cost the team in the short term, but the organization's pre-lockout fire sale set the team up to be successful in the long term. Along with winning the lottery and grabbing all-universe talent Alex Ovechkin, the team has steadily stockpiled draft picks and prospects, including (but not limited to) NHL regulars Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Shoanne Morrison. The Caps also have highly touted defensive prospects "Giant" Joe Finley and Karl "the human quote machine" Alzner in the pipeline, as well as more draft picks than you can shake a stick at. Once the organization sensed the time was right, it was able to use a 2nd round draft pick and a mid-level prospect to bolster the team's playoff hopes. And the Caps have one of the better (and wealthier) ownership groups in the game, which made their superduperultramega deal to keep Ovechkin in DC for 13 years possible.

Meanwhile, the Sabres have been on a downswing ever since their run in the Stanley Cup playoffs was so rudely snuffed out by Ottawa last season. The Sabres have since lost their top two centers (Drury and Briere) to free agency, and were forced to part with their top defenseman at the trade deadline. And before Sabres fans start moaning about the financial issues that prevented them from keeping their players, remember that the Sabres had the opportunity to sign Briere to a long term deal the season before last, and decided to take their chances with a one year deal with the young center. The decision cost them one of their best players and what could have been a cornerstone of a young team. Instead, they got nothing for Briere when he bolted for Flyers and a boatload of cash. Now, certainly financial issues motivated the moves (or lack thereof) that the Sabres have made the past few seasons, but the fact is they've also made some poor personnel decisions to compound their plight.

As these two teams scrap for a playoff spot, one thing is certain. The future looks a whole lot brighter for the Caps than it does for the Sabres.

But tonight is not about the future. Tonight is about the present. Can the Caps come up large against a depleted but passionate Sabres squad and pull within one of Carolina for the division lead (and within 2 points of the Rangers and the #8 seed)?

And by the way, today is one of the few days in the season where it's permissible to root for the Thrashers.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Credit where credit is due

With the offensive explosion last night, most of the credit is (justifiably) being heaped upon Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. That's all well and good, but Ovechkin's magical first period performance was made possible by a much less glamorous player: Donald Brashear. Though his first period efforts only produced PIMs on the scoresheet, Brashear's tussle with Zdeno Chara set the stage for the Caps offensive eruption.

Why, you ask? It's simple. For years now Zdeno Chara has been one of the few players in the NHL capable of shutting down Alex Ovechkin. And when Chara dropped the gloves with the Donald, it guaranteed that he would be off the ice for five full minutes (as would Brashear). That's a tradeoff Coach Boudreau would take every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

When Chara heard the penalty box doors slam shut, the score was 2-0. By the time it opened again, the score was 4-0 and the Caps were off and running. Indeed, Big Zeke was so frustrated that he promptly took a minor penalty trying to goad Matt Bradley into fistacuffs moments later. Way to pick on someone your own size, big man. Bradley did the smart thing (in more ways than one) by keeping his gloves on and his nose clean, and the Caps promptly scored again on the ensuing power play. None of this would have occurred without Brashear's fearlessness and, just as importantly, the intelligence to see that Chara was agitated and would drop the gloves if goaded.

Naturally, Brash's smart play was rewarded with more ice time (the fact that the Caps were up by a handful of goals probably didn't hurt, either) and a goal late in the second. A job well done by a man whose hockey intelligence is often underrated.

Game highlights (sans fistacuffs) can be found below for your viewing pleasure:

Monday, March 3, 2008

Maddening inconsistency

First off, we'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who dropped by Clydes of Gallery Place and supported Wilson High School's hockey team. The event raised over $2000 for the team, which is a testament to the generosity of the hockey loving public here in DC. And thanks to the folks over at OFB for putting on the event. We now return you to your regularly scheduled grousing.

Ok, as of this moment we're no longer using the term must win in accordance with any Capitals game because at this point every game is a must win game. More of this win one, lose one crap just won't cut it. So lets take a moment to examine this weekend's games, then we'll move on to tonight's tilt against the red, er, yellow-hot Bruins.

This weekend had the potential to catapult the Caps back into contention for the Southeast Division title. And after the game against New Jersey on Friday night, it looked like that might just happen. The Caps played a very solid all around game against New Jersey, limiting the Devils to only 18 shots and thoroughly dominating the action. New aqcuisitions Sergei Fedorov and Cristobel Huet both made an impact, with Fedorov notching a pretty second assist on the power play and Huet stoning Zach Parise one on one to keep the Caps lead intact. The Caps also finally showed a killer instinct, piling on a couple late goals to preserve a well earned win.

Unfortunately, all that good was undone by a less than stellar effort against Toronto the next day. Olie Kolzig was solid in goal, but was beaten high to the short side by Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who snuck the shot in from near the upper part of the faceoff circle. It was a good goal, to be sure, but one can't help but wonder if Huet wouldn't have snagged it. The rest of the Capitals also looked lethargic and generally disorganized after dominating the first period. Alex Ovechkin broke out of his scoring slump, rifling a shot low to the left side past the helpless Leafs goaltender. Unfortunately, that was about all the offense the Caps produced, despite several power play opportunites.

In regards to the power play, I think it's time the Caps abandoned the whole Ovechkin at the point idea. It was cute when the Caps didn't have enough puck moving defensemen, but that's no longer the place with Green and Poti (and even new arrival Fedorov) more than capable of handling power play time at the point. And Ovechkin's one timer from the high slot is as unstoppable a shot as there is in the game, so it makes no sense to remove that weapon from the Caps arsenal. The Caps have suffered from overthinking and overpassing lately, and if there's one thing we know about the Russian Machine, it's that he's more than willing to take it upon himself to shoot the puck. Which is exactly what the power play needs right now.

The Caps badly need to win tonight's game (and the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that) if they are going to make the playoffs. In order to do that, they're going to have to do a couple things they aren't very good at. First, they're going to have to get past Zdeno Chara, who has been one of the few defensemen in the NHL capable of shutting down the Russian Machine. Second, they're going to have to get pucks past Tim Thomas, who has been a wall (albeit an unorthodox mess of a wall) against the Caps, posting a 8-0-1 record all time while recording a .940 save percentage. Luckily, the Caps have Chris Huet to throw at the Bs. His stats are equally impressive, with a 8-2-0 record and a .940 save percentage against Boston.

With all that said, I don't see a 1-0 game happening tonight. If the Caps have taught us anything this year, it's to expect the unexpected. I see the Caps pulling tonight's game out 4-2 (with an empty netter) if only to actually kill Original 6 by causing a heart attack at the game.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Come on down

Just a friendly reminder for all our readers to come on down to Clydes of Gallery Place tonight at 7 to support a great cause and catch the Capitals debut of Cristobel "I guess you can call me Chris since I'm in English speaking territory now" Huet and Sergei "I'm thinking of retiring, but once I play a few games with Ovechkin and Semin and rack up a few easy points I'll stick it out for another year" Fedorov as they take on the Devils.

It's $10 to get in the door, but bring more as there will be lots of great items up for auction (most hockey related, some not). So come on down, catch the game with a bunch of Caps fans, and support DC's first and, so far only, public school hockey program.

If you can't make it, but want to support Wilson's Hockey program, click here to donate via paypal.

Hope to see you all tonight!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Big offense from an unexpected source

If you heard nothing about last night's game, and someone told you that one of the Caps had two goals and two assists on the night and the Caps won 4-1, who would you bet had the 4 point night?
Lets see:
The Russian Machine? Nope.
Alexander Semin? Nope.
Nick Backstrom? Nope.
Kozlov? Didn't even dress.
Mike Green? Sorry.

How long would it take to come up with Brooks Laich?

That's the great thing about Brooks' performance last night. The team has placed a lot of faith in Brooks, for the last several games he's been rewarding that faith with a level of play that, quite honestly, I don't think many folks (including us) had in him. But up until the last 5 games or so, he just hadn't been able to break through on the scoresheet.

But man, has he ever this past two weeks. In his last 5 games, Brooks has tallied better than a point a game (4 goals, 2 A) and has been playing rough and tumble hockey in every zone. Last night he scored two goal scorer's goals in tight against a legitimate number one goaltender in Niklas Backstrom. If there's been one complaint we've had against Brooks, it was that he just couldn't finish off plays. With the Caps season on the line, he's stepped it up and is starting to find the twine. That's especially important given the "attention" opposing teams continue to give the first line. Secondary scoring will likely determine whether the Caps make the playoffs or not. If Brooks and Co (and new addition Sergei Fedorov) can keep potting a couple goals a game, the wins will come.

Other notes on the game last night-

Great attendance for a Tuesday night (even if there were all kinds of promotions for the evening). It's been a while since that many folks have taken in a Tuesday night game at the V.

Chris Bourque looked very solid in limited action. Solid talent, good work ethic on the ice. Even if he doesn't secure a spot on the playoff roster, you can bet we'll be seeing a lot more of him next season in a Caps jersey.

Mike Green may have been caught out of position on the Wild goal, but it was Ovechkin's failure to clear the puck out of the zone which cost the Caps.

The defense performed extremely well, even if they did run around a bit too much in their own zone. Ditto the penalty killers, who kept Peter Bondra lookalike Marian Gaborik off the scoresheet completely.

Poor Steve Eminger. He's clearly frustrated right now, as his penalty for elbowing early in the game indicated. He's trying to play the body hard, to do everything he can to secure playing time, and two minutes in the box is what he gets. You gotta feel for the guy.

The Caps next must win game (and they all are from this point on) is this Friday against the Devils. Hopefully Kozlov sneezed on Brodeur last game and he'll have to take a seat.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Make that TWO moves we did NOT see coming

The Caps traded a second round pick in 2009 for Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cristobel Huet today. Even though it's technically a rental, you can bet George McPhee made this trade to evaluate how Huet would fit with this young team long-term. Huet has a solid 21-12-6 record with a 2.56 GAA this season.

Huet could be the bridge the team is looking for between veteran (soon to be UFA) goaltender Olie Kolzig and the prospects currently too green for regular NHL service (Varlamov and Neuverth). Of course, all that depends on how he performs in spot duty this year and whether the team secures his rights this offseason.

It also shows that while the Caps have said all the right things about him, they don't have the confidence in Brent Johnson to hand over the reigns to him without another capable puckstopper waiting in the wings.

It's surprising that the Caps could secure Huet as a rental for such a low asking price. A proven NHL starter is only worth a second round pick? This is where the Caps hoarding of picks comes in handy. If they lose one second rounder if Huet walks, they have plenty more picks (which other teams don't, making the pick much more difficult to part with). Good organizational planning.

The Habs had to make the move for the opposite reason : poor organizational planning. They are up against the Cap and probably wouldn't have been able to sign Huet this offseason, so they had to unload him even though they probably would have liked to have kept him in case Price flops like the rookie he is this postseason.

According to Tarik, the Caps have just acquired Sergei Fedorov for draft pick Theo Ruth.

This certainly addresses their need for a second line center. Even Fedorov in the twilight of his career is an upgrade from Kozlov at center.

All the comments above on renting Huet apply to Fedorov, except the salary cap issues for the other team. It's safe to say Columbus will be well below the cap next year.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's all fine.

That's okay, boys. No need to worry. It's fine to take a night off now and again. It's not like you're in the middle of a race for a playoff spot, or that the Islanders are one of the teams you're likely to be competing with for the 8th seed. No need to show any urgency.

Wait, you mean we are, and they are? Then why on earth did it look like a peewee preseason game out there last night? No hitting, no intensity, no hard skating, and most importantly, NO WIN.

This team has had a terrible habit of playing down to the level of their opposition. They can't beat a lousy Florida team (and haven't been able to do so for years). They give away points against teams they should blow out of the building, like last night's Islander team that was missing pretty much everyone of note to injury. The Caps should have beaten that team 6-0 last night. Instead, they lost 3-2 in a shootout.

And it wasn't as if Rick DiPietro stole a win for his team. He was solid, but unspectacular. The Caps simply didn't pressure him.Young team or not, this can't be allowed.

If Coach Boudreau was as insulted by the effort last night as I was, I wouldn't want to be a Cap at practice today.

No need for pucks out there today, boys. Just skate until you're exhausted, then skate some more. Blue line, then back, then red line, then back, then far blue line and back, then goal line and back. Don't have enough jump in your step to skate past an old, slow, and depleted corps of Islander blueliners? Then I guess we need to work on those legs. Keep skating. No, I don't care if you're tired, or if your leg hurts, or if you need a breather. Keep skating. Feel like you're going to vomit? Believe me, you're not the only one that feels that way after last night's "performance." Just keep skating.

After all, the Caps next game isn't until Saturday. Plenty of time for the players to recover from a good hard skate before then.
*Update: Of course, Coach B has decided to cancel today's practice to give the guys some rest.