Thursday, January 31, 2008

Get over it

A lot has been said by Caps players and coaches about Montreal's pinching and aggressive play with a minute to go in Tuesday's 4-0 loss. Which is ridiculous. Don't like being embarassed in the final minutes of play? Don't like having the other team attack when the result is no longer in question?


Quite simply, the Caps were handed their butts by Montreal two days ago. They need to focus on that, not the fact that the mean old Canadiens didn't let up on them at the end.

Don't want to get kicked while you're down? Great. There's a simple way to avoid it. DON'T GET KNOCKED DOWN IN THE FIRST PLACE. If the Caps hadn't played an absolutely horrendous first period, they wouldn't have had to worry about Montreal piling on at the end because they'd still be in the game.

Tonight brings the second leg of the home and home series. How much the Caps players believe they were being disrespected last game is totally irrelevant. How they come out and play tonight is all that matters. If they can back up their talk with hard nosed play and a win, then they'll be forgiven. If not, they'll look like a bunch of whining losers.

So which is it going to be?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The battle of the red, white and blue

Tonight, the Caps travel north of the border to take on the Montreal Canadiens. The teams have split the season series so far, with Mike Green tallying the winner in a 5-4 win and Guillaume "Mr. 3 syllable" Latendresse netting the winner for Montreal in the second. Both teams come into the game scorching hot, winning 7 of their last 10.

To win this game, the Caps need to play to the Canadiens weaknesses, the most glaring of which is lack of physical players. Aside from Mike "I eat people for fun" Komisarek, there is not a Canadiens defenseman who Caps players need to fear in the offensive zone. Likewise, only 2 of Montreal's forwards are listed at 6'2" or taller. More importantly, none of them play like they're even that big. In order to keep the Canadiens 3 Ks (Koivu, Kovalev, and Kostitsyn) off the boards, the Caps need to play a rough and tumble physical game to keep them off balance.

For a blueprint, they should look to Pittsburgh's 2-0 victory over the Habs before the all-star break. Without Secondary Sid (and playing with a shortened bench), the Pens played a puck possesion game in the offensive zone, using their size advantage to keep the smaller Canadiens players at bay. The Habs skill could not get into a rythm on offense because they could not disposess Pittsburgh's forwards, and the end result was a win for the Penguins. In particular, enforcer Georges Laroque could have held the puck all night, and he's got about half the skillset of Caps tough guy Donald Brashear.

If the Caps can reproduce that kind of physical effort, they should be able to rely on their snipers to get at least a couple pucks past the rejuvinated Cristobel "I'm French, not French Canadien" Huet and escape with a win. If not, viewers may be in for a more enjoyable run and gun game, but the prospects of a Caps win drop to about 50-50.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Capitals Eke Out Win, Continue Roll; Caps 2; Leafs 1

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Deuce:

After my long-winded post yesterday, I'll keep it short and to the point today. The Caps put together their most boring performance since Boudreau took over (with possibly the exception of that 0-2 Bruins loss a few games ago), but still managed to walk away with a much-needed win over the Leafs. This, of course, continues the Caps' streak of not losing back-to-back games since BB took over behind the bench. This resiliance, more than anything else, is the reason the Caps have skyrocketed in the standings since BB took over. It's hard to be under .500 when you don't lose back-to-back games! Anyway, on to the game points:

Erskine was a monster again last night, and I swear it's wearing off on the other defensemen. Eminger and Jurcina are throwing their bodies around out there with wild abandon. Of course, there were a couple of times when poor Johnny couldn't catch Blake behind the net, and looked a bit silly, but that's what you get with him. We'll take the physicality and give up the speed. Erskine's last shift (the last of the game) was priceless. He absolutely destroyed Blake behind the net, Blake gets up and goes to the front of the net. Erskine blasts him with a cross-check in the back that actually sent Blake flying out of the TV picture. Blake gets up, comes back towards the front, Erskine spears him in the nuts. Game over. See, Johnny understands something the younger defensemen don't -- with 10 seconds left, it's better to take a delayed penalty than to let a guy stand in front of your net and screen your goalie. Good job, Jonnny.

I guess it's safe to say Kozlov is a streaky scorer. His shooting percentage was approximately .03% going into the Florida game. Since then, it's about 30%. And twice, we actually saw him almost hit someone out there. Amazing. Dainius who?

Um, should I mention the elephant in the room? Brent Johnson was really, really sharp. If Kolzig is in that game, do we win 2-1? Not the way he's been playing lately.

Jeff Schultz is still too weak to take on most NHL forwards. We watched him line a Leaf up last night, step up, throw all of his 6'6" frame into the guy, and . . . the Leaf kept skating as if he'd just encountered a slight breeze playing shinny. Not good.

All in all, a crappy game, but we escaped with two very important points leaving the Capitals just one point out of first in the Southeast, with two games at hand. How's that playoff meter look now, Peerless?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Erskine Decides to Do His Stevens Impersonation; Capitals 2, Leafs 3

When did Johnny Erskine discover the ability to throw open ice hits like Scott Stevens?! The man was an absolute beast last night, clobbering Leafs forwards and putting the fear of God into them. Is it that Johnny has discovered something, or do the Leafs skate like Mites with their heads down? Either way, he was sure fun to watch last night. That hit on Darcy Tucker was priceless, then the check where he sent another Leafs forward flying into the boards had me out of my seat.

The best part is, his angry play seems to have rubbed off on the younger Capitals defensemen, with Mike Green flooring Blake and Steve Eminger throwing his body around as if his career depended on it (which, of course, it does). I must say that at this point I much prefer Eminger's desperate play to Schultz's "simple" (read: weak) plays. Yes, Schultz is 6'6", and yes, he has a ten foot wingspan, but what good is size if you don't use it. I think some more seasoning in Hershey is just the ticket for young Jeff. Either that, or a few workouts with this guy:

Anyway, the Caps were lulled into playing the Leafs' style of boring, boring, boring, slow hockey last night, and payed the price. The Caps totally dominated the first seven and a half minutes of the first period, but Toskala and the Leafs survived the onslaught, and, of course, scored the game's first goal. Somehow, both Caps defensemen decided that after wrapping the puck around the boards, there was no need to go back in front of the net and cover an absolutely naked Chad Kilger. Oops. That one was a little embarassing, and seemed to deflate the Caps. The rest of the game, the old, slow Leafs defensemen did a decent job against The Russian Maching, keeping him to the outside and forcing shots from wide. Of course, OV still fired a bullet past Toskala.

The rest of the game was -- unremarkable (read: practically unwatchable), with the exception of another brilliant move by Semin. Give credit to Dave Steckel for recognizing the fact that he was breaking in on net with Semin. I can just imagine his thought process: I should shoot, wait, that's Semin, I'll just give him the puck and take the assist.

One sweet move by Semin later, and the Caps tied the game at 2. Unfortunately, in a move that could only have been brought on by his being starstruck coaching in Toronto, with less than a minute remaining Bruce Boudreau decided to go all in and put Alexander "Knucklehead" Semin out for the final shift of regulation. Out broke the Leafs 3-on-3. Unfortunately, the 3rd Leafs forward was Mats "I don't want to be traded" Sundin, and the 3rd Capitals forward, the guy responsible for picking up Sundin, the most dangerous Leaf player for the last 10 years, was Knucklehead, who promptly did what he always does and skated straight towards the puck -- like a moth drawn to a flame.

Of course, the puck went right to Sundin, who promptly deposited it under Kolzig (we really could've used that save Olie), who was in position to make a fantastic save, but somehow didn't (seriously Olie). The puck slowly, slowly, slowly crept UNDER Olie's stomach, and that was that. Dammit. Other items of note:
1) Did I mention Erskine was a BEAST. Never sit him again. Ever.
2) I'll take Eminger's boarding penalty any day. Good, aggressive, hard-nosed hockey. Just try not to do it from behind.
3) Typical night for The Russian Machine: 20 shifts, 8 shots, 1 goal, +1
4) Typical night for Knucklehead Semin: 3 shots, 1 beautiful goal, 1 boneheaded, lazy backcheck with the game on the line.
5) One all-too typical lately game for Kolzig: 21 saves on 24 shots: .875 save percentage. Does anyone remember the days in the last two years when his line looked like this: 42 saves on 45 shots .933 save percentage, 4 or 5 all-world saves? Me neither.

Let's see if the Caps can continue their trend of not losing consecutive games. They need to. At least, and I can't believe I'm saying this, we'll have Brent Johnson in net tonight.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Where have we been? Part 1

So nice of you to ask. Some of you may have noticed that this site wasn't updated much this past week or weekend. There's a good reason why. A few months ago, Original 6 and the Deuce came up with a plan for a hockey guys weekend out. And they were thinking big (or, more accurately, FAR). How far? NORTHERN QUEBEC far.

Now why would any right minded individual make such a trek IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WINTER? They wouldn't, of course. But if you read this blog, you know that you're not dealing with right minded individuals.

Original 6 had gotten it into his head that he wanted to see explosive Caps prospect Francois Bouchard of the Drakkar du Baie-Comeau in person. He floated the idea to the Deuce and I, who were all for it.

Until we looked at a map.

View Larger Map

How far is it from DC to Baie-Comeau? Really, really far. Almost 1000 miles into the great white north. Despite our desire, it was clear that young Francois would have to make due playing out his QMJHL career without us to cheer him on.

Undeterred by our initial roadblock, the Deuce and Original 6 continued to plan for a hockey centered getaway. While their plan to visit one of the one of the most remote outposts in Quebec was thwarted, they instead turned their attention to one of the closest (and certainly the most cosmopolitan). Instead of Baie-Comeau, we would journey to the province's cultural and economic center: Montreal. After scanning the schedules of both le Canadien and our own work and personal plans, a weekend was chosen, and the plan began to take shape.

Since Albany was only a few hours drive from Montreal, we would fly into Albany on Friday the 18th of January to see the Albany River Rats take on the Capitals own Hershey Bears. From there we would drive to Montreal, where we could heartily boo the Pittsburgh Penguins and Secondary Sid as they took on the hometown Habs the very next night.

Our plan in place, Original 6 generously slapped down his credit card for plane tickets, hotel reservations, car rental and ridiculously marked up tickets to the game at the Centre Bell. One would think such kindness would have kept us from busting his chops nearly the entire trip. Alas, it was not to be.

coming soon... Part 2 - The trip begins.

What a Game, What a Game, What a Glorious Game!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Deuce:

1st Period, 17 seconds remaining.

Evgeni Malkin, who had already scored one goal by lowering his shoulder (and head) and barreling over Jeff Schultz, was skating behind the net with the puck. Using his tremendous size and reach, he once again lowered his head and was determined to skate the puck right into the Caps' net. I thought to myself, "here we go again."

Nobody could seem to contain Malkin physically. Suddenly, out of the corner of my TV screen, I saw a white streak. I think it was wearing number 8. This was going to be ugly. At the last second, Malkin appeared to see The Russing Maching and just pulled up. The Machine struck a glancing blow at full speed, causing him to lose his balance and go flying into the boards. Ouch.

I smiled . . . once I saw The Maching get up ("Russian Machine doesn't break.") Those of us that know The Machine know that there are three things that fire him up like nothing else: 1) A duel with a fellow Russian Superstar for supremacy and the title "Best Russian Player;" 2) A big hit, regardless of whether he's giving or getting; and 3) getting booed. Now all three were in place.

Sure enough, the Russian Machine smiled with his bloody lip, and set about putting forth one of his best efforts of the year. He was everywhere, shooting, hitting, talking. He could not be denied. Especially not with your 2008 Calder Trophy winner Nicklas Backstrom sending RE-DI-CU-LOUS passes his way every shift. Young Backstrom is a joy to behold ever since BB took over behind the bench, much like Mike Green, who shockingly failed to tally in the contest.

But this night was all Ovechkin's, as he simply refused to be bested by Geno "Elbows" McMalkin. What a fun game to watch. Offense, hitting, beautiful passes, back-and-forth scoring. Both teams wanted this one bad. But for once, the Caps came out on top. The Caps are now 3 points out of the SE lead,with three games in hand. They are playing with flair and confidence, and not even the Evil Penguins could stop them this time. This season just got a whole lot more exciting. Thanks, Evgeni.

Other Notes: Olie looked bad -- again. He's got to pull his head out of you-know-where, or he's going to find himself sitting on the bench more and more often as the race gets tighter. I love Olie, but that first goal simply cannot go in. And it set the tone for the game. 10 saves and a .667 save percentage -- come on Olie.

Who lit the fire under Kozlov's ass? Finally, some scoring (and emotion) out of him. Let's hope he's heating up just at the right time...(one can dream).

Jeff Schultz looked like a 21 year-old kid out there. Again. Especially when he was outmuscled repeatedly by Malkin.

8 assists in 2 games. Backstrom is simply magical out there. Michael Who?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

No more Nyls

Hope you're sitting down, folks. This is a bad one. Per Tarik, Michael Nylander's season is over. Nylander, who has been gutting it out with a torn rotator cuff the past few weeks, has finally decided to shut it down and have surgery. His recovery time is expected to be 3-6 months, but with a player his age expect it to be more towards the latter than the former.

Nylander, who was the Caps second leading scorer with 37 points, has been visibly hampered by the injury to the point where his effectiveness on the ice was nearly nonexistant at even strength (as evidenced by his team worst minus-19). One wonders if he was playing with the pain partially in an effort to hit the 200 goal mark for his career, which he did this past Sunday against Philly.

The final image we'll take of Nylander this season is of him sending rookie phenom and fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom over the the referee to collect the puck from his landmark goal. While it may not have been meant as a passing of the torch at the time, it certainly feels like one now.

On the lighter side, the YoungStars game (in which Backstrom will participate) is officially a 3-on-3 farce. Next year I hear everyone is going to have to wear two left skates for the entire "game".

The Reason Green Got Screwed

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Deuce:
There have been a lot of articles, posts, etc. lately about the NHL's snub of Mike Green for the All-Star game, including this gem of a quote from Bruce Boudreau: "Shame on them." J.P. of must be shocked at the inclusion of Tomas Kaberle after writing "sorry, Tomas - Mats Sundin is the only worthy Leaf." The problem with that type of (rational) thinking is that it ignores the simple arithmetic involved in selecting the all star team. Let me explain, then, why Mike Green will be watching the game with the rest of us, rather than rushing end to end through the Western All-Stars. it's simple, really. There are so many teams in the league right now that they can only select one skater per team, plus three additional skaters. When you factor in the starting lineup, that's selected by fans, that may leave only one or two additional slots. That's why Malkin and Green are not in the game (especially with Crosby and Gonchar already in for Pittsburg), and why Kovalchuk didn't make it last year! Toronto, Boston, Montreal, and Buffalo had NO forwards or goalies selected, so you KNEW they were getting defensemen on the All-Star team (not that Chara and Markov don't deserve it, but Kaberle? He's got 28 pts and he's a -2 on the season. I guess when you make over 4.2 million a year you can buy a spot!). As long as there are 15 teams per conference, and only 18 skaters per team, snubs like this will continue to happen. Just imagine in a few years when the NHL expands again -- there will only be ONE skater per team on the All-Star Team! So I say, don't worry about it Mikey, rest up, have some fun over the break, and score 25 goals this year. That will put some well-deserved egg on the NHL's face! And just for good measure, pull a little dipsey-do on Kabarle on January 23 (

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ovechkin an All-Star, Green is not

The Eastern Conference All-Star list has been released. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Alex Ovechkin is on it. Mildly surprising is the omission of Mike Green from the list, considering his goal scoring tear this year and the league's preference for offense in their talent showcase.

Then again, Green is still eligible for the young stars game (since he's in the last year of his entry level deal). So chances are Greener will probably still get an invite to Atlanta in some capacity. Maybe he and Nicklas Backstrom can get Ovechkin to spring for their bus fare. Something tells me he's got the cash for it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The deal is done

Maybe now we can stop all the ridiculous rumors. Per Tarik, the Russian Machine and the Caps have come to an agreement on a long term contract.

Learning to win

It's all well and good when your team can come out, score five or six goals, and come out with a victory. But in the NHL that is far more often the exception than the rule. Most nights games are decided in the trenches, with the team that makes the fewest mistakes coming away with the victory.

Yesterday, the Caps showed that they can play a solid defensive game without two of their best defensemen, and two men known far more for their physical play than their scoring touch tallied goals that will never be seen on anyone's top 10 goals of the week. And while the Avalanche were able to hold the Caps top two lines scoreless, they still left the Verizon Center without a point.

In the past couple weeks, the Caps have shown us that they can win pretty. Last night, they showed us they can win ugly, too. And though it may not have been the most beautiful game to watch, coming away with two points in the standings certainly makes it feel a little more pretty.

The Caps defensive corps was solid but unspectacular, which is all they needed to be against Colorado's depleted lineup. Short of one poor decision by Shoanne Morrison (which allowed Marek Svatos to skate in alone and beat Olie Kolzig with a tremendous wrister) the defense played a strong positional game, and got some serious physical play from an unexpected source. Oft scratched defender Steve Eminger was a sight to behold last night, throwing his body around with vigor and purpose.

It's safe to say that Eminger would not have been scratched for almost the entire first half of the season if he had shown that hard edge last year. If he keeps playing the body like he did last night, at very least he should be rotated into the active roster on a regular basis. I'd go so far as to say that he should be starting in place of Jeff Shultz at this point, who has been overpowered by opposing forwards in front of the net for most of this season.

Brooks Laich's breakaway was certainly no thing of beauty, but his one timer off a great pass by Matt Bradley sure was. Despite the fact that the goal was eventually credited to Donald Brashear, Brooks should be commended for his strong effort on the night.

Even though Colorado's power play has been awful without Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth, the Caps penalty killers cannot be praised enough for their tremendous effort and willingness to give up the body to block several Colorado shots from the point. Quinten Laing in particular deserves kudos for keeping the Avs from getting the puck deep by sacrificing his body.

And even though he faced only 19 shots, Olie Kolzig came up big when it mattered most, making two strong saves in the last minute to preserve the Caps victory.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's hard to have an Avalanche when it's 70 degrees outside

Despite the spring-like heat and the total lack of snow on the ground, an Avalanche will be found in DC as Colorado visits the Caps for the first time in almost five years (thanks to the idiotic and soon to be scrapped unbalanced schedule). Perhaps its fitting that under such poor snow conditions the Avs come in hobbled.

With all-universe talent and surefire hall-of-famer Joe Sakic and garbage goal scorer extraordinaire Ryan Smyth both out with injuries, the Avs scoring burden will fall to sophomore sensation Paul Stastny (he of the ridiculously talent-laden Stastny family) and Milan "it's pronounced hey-dook, idiot" Hedjuk. Both players will look to feast upon a Caps defense that again will be missing two of its top four defensemen in Tom Poti and Brian Pothier. Coming off a 1-0 loss against their archrivals in Detroit, expect the Avs to ratchet up the forecheck in order to press the Caps remaining d-men and try to force turnovers in the offensive zone.

For the Caps, the key to the game will be to jump on Colorado early and wear the Avs down with a physical forecheck, and to play the puck quickly out of their own end. With the exception of wunderkid Mike Green, the Caps current defensive corps is not strong at playing the puck, so moving the puck out of danger quickly (without chucking it into the stands for a delay of game call) will be a tall order for them.

In the offensive zone, it's a night to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Neither Peter Budaj nor Jose Theodore is reminding anyone in Colorado of Patrick Roy these days, so expect at least a 7 shot night from the Russian Machine (and hopefully at least 5 from the once-again-returning-from-injury Alex Semin). If the Caps resist getting too cute with posession of the puck and simply pour on the pressure, they should be able to down the Avs to the tune of 5-3. If not, expect a low scoring affair that goes to a shootout.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

This just in... but you've known it for a while

The NHL says Nicklas Backstrom is good. We agree.

He're evidence from the last game. First, tricky Nick fights off a check to keep possesion, then he takes a pass and makes a ridiculous 180 degree spin and pass to Viktor "Don't call me dead meat" Kozlov:

Note to the wonder twins in Chicago: You may not want to dust off the trophy case for the Calder just yet...

Starting the year off right

Wow. I mean WOW. Two games against the Senators (one to send off the old year, and one to ring in the new) with an amazing 23 goals between the teams and, most importantly, two wins and four points for the Caps.

For anyone that calls themselves a fan of hockey, these last two games have been absolute heaven. A four goal outburst from the slightly knicked up Russian Machine in the first game followed by two tallies by Mike Green in the second, and all the sudden the Caps are only five points out of a eight place and a playoff spot. And while 37 points might not seem like much to brag about, their record since Coach Boudreau took over the team (10-5-4) sure is.

The Caps have also found their personality under their new coach. Where before the emphasis was on defensive positioning and keeping the other team from scoring, Coach B has turned the team's old system on its ear, and instead is emphasizing quick strikes from every skater on the ice. Now instead of having wave after wave of opposing players crash against the Caps until they break, the Caps are now quick to strike at even a hint of weakness from the opposition.

In short, where the Caps system used to resemble a turtle (hard shell, slow, methodical) the Caps style now more resembles a rattlesnake, still appearing defensive in posture but much more threatening and aggresive when approached. Before, there was no reason for teams to keep their players from pinching deep, since the Caps were sure to play low in their own zone and keep a defensive shell. Now, any forward looking to attack had better be sure he doesn't put himself out of position, because if he does it's almost guaranteed that the Caps will send a defenseman to gain a numbers advantage in their counterattack. With the way Tom Poti and Mike Green have been attacking the net, that's something the opposition's defense has got to be nervous about.

Tonight, the Caps look to take two standing points from a stumbling (3-6-1) Bruins team and the goaltending style (or lack thereof) of Tim Thomas. Though he has put up solid numbers this year, I can't think of a goaltender north of Tampa whose style of play inspires less confidence than Timmy T. Look up shaky in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of Thomas sprawling awkwardly to make a play while his defensemen look on terrified.

Game time is 7PM at the Gahden, and despite previous reports, neither Alex Semin (bruised buttbone) or Tom Poti (the dreaded it-could-be-just-about-anything upper body injury) will be in uniform.