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.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Stepping up

During the Caps recent road swing through most of the Southeast Division, it became painfully clear that teams are throwing everything up to and including the kitchen sink at Alex Ovechkin in an attempt to slow the Russian Machine's insane scoring pace. Common sense dictates that to beat the Caps, other teams need to drape Ovechkin in third line players, hoping that enough will stick on him to keep him contained and off the scoresheet.

Certainly, if the Caps are to make the playoffs, Ovechkin will have to continue with his awe-inspiring play. But what of the rest of the team? Who is capable of stepping up and delivering star-level performances on a nightly basis from now until the end of the season? We may have seen the answer in the Caps performance on Sunday in Tampa.

If the Caps are going to win the Southeast, they'll need consistently excellent performances from Olie Kolzig and Alexander Semin. This should surprise no one, as secondary scoring and goaltending are keys to every team's success. The pressure on Semin and Kolzig will be far beyond that of most goaltenders and scoring wingers down the stretch, for many reasons.

Alexander Semin has always been an enigma. A supremely talented dangler with a deadly wrist shot, he racked up 38 goals and 35 assists in his first full season of NHL play. He could easily have doubled his assist numbers had he not been playing with AHL level talent for most of the year.

Expectations for the uber-talented wing were sky high coming into his second season, even with his position switch from left to right wing. And then, before the season even began, it happened. Semin went behind the net on a routine play against the Flyers, made contact with an opposing defenseman, and went down in a heap. He stayed down for several minutes before being helped to the bench. Although he did test the ankle on a shift later in that same game, it was clear that something was wrong. How wrong, none of us knew at the time.

We kept waiting for Semin's ankle to get better. And waiting. And waiting. Almost 20 games we waited. Meanwhile, the team was in a downward spiral that would result in the release of Coach Glen Hanlon. Semin returned to the lineup, but was clearly not comfortable or fully fit. Paired with Michael Nylander and the left wing of the day, Semin produced lackluster (minus) game after lackluster (minus) game. Which is not to say that there weren't valid reasons for his lack of production. After all, Semin was still recovering from an injury which severely hampered his mobility, perhaps his second most important hockey attribute (after that amazing wrister). And most outside the organization didn't know it at the time, but Nylander was playing on half a shoulder, and eventually opted for season ending surgery. The second line on the Caps was outplayed and outclassed most nights and both Semin and the team were clearly frustrated.

However, as of late we've seen Semin's star beginning to rise again. As his mobility and touch improved with each passing day after the all-star break, we began to see some of the jaw-dropping, game-breaking moves that made him such fun to watch in the first place. His cuts and quick stop-and-starts improved to the point that he became a legitimate scoring threat from anywhere in the offensive zone, whether he was facing the net or not.

And Sunday, he put together his best overall performance, starting by feeding Tomas Fleishmann with a fantastic curl and pass that Flash deposited into the back of the net. He also scored off a rebound late in the third period to rebuke a Tampa comeback attempt and seal a two point night for the Caps. More important than the goal itself was the way Semin scored it. He showed the speed he lacked most of the season beating both defenders and to the puck and sliding it past Holmqvist for the win. Semin was also aggressive, attacking the net the way pure goal scorers must.

If the Caps are going to make the playoffs, they're going to need to see a lot more of that from him. Likewise, they're going to need a lot more performances like they saw that night from Olie Kolzig.

Kolzig was solid for most of the night, but more importantly, he was SPECTACULAR when he needed to be, stopping 24 shots in the second period when his team clung to a one nothing lead. In the third, Kolzig was again amazing, beaten only by two deflections in tight.

To friends, I've often described Caps games post-Hanlon era as a race to 4. Whoever scored four goals first was going to win the game. This exciting (and often hair raising) style of play led to more than a few top quality scoring chances by the opposition, and for most of the year Olie was not up to the challenge. He looked, for lack of a better description, his age. His lateral movement and positioning seemed off, and because of it he was kicking out too many hard rebounds and giving up too many scoring chances. He looks to have righted the ship for the playoff push after some much needed (though grudgingly taken) rest.

If Kolzig can keep opposing teams to 3 or less for the majority of their remaining games and Alex Semin can once again become a dominant scorer, the Caps should lock up at least an 8 seed, if not the Southeast Division title. If not, they'll be golfing early again this year.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Auction/ Fundraiser to benefit Wilson High School's Hockey program

Where: Clydes of Gallery Place
When : Friday, February 29th at 7 PM.
How much: $10
Why: To support the Wilson Tigers, the DC Public School system's first hockey program.

For more info on the event, click here. For more on the Wilson Tigers hockey program, click here.

Hope to see you all there.

Thanks to the folks at On Frozen Blog, Japers Rink, The Peerless Prognosticator, Capital Addiction, and Off Wing Opinion for making this happen.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Learning to win... ugly

The game against the Rangers on Sunday afternoon marked a turning point for this young Capitals team. It's one of the first times I can remember that the Caps have been thoroughly outplayed, outshot, taken too many penalties and still escaped with a victory. For a young team learning to win ugly, to get two points despite playing a less than stellar game, is one of the hardest things to do.

The Caps got off to a good start, with Alex Ovechkin pouncing on a loose rebound to put the Caps up 1-0 after a delay of game call on career minor league goaltender Steve Valiquette. But after that, the Caps would show only short spurts of offense, and spent most of the game mucking it up in the neutral zone or chasing the puck in their own.

Agitator and all around douchebag Steve Avery was able to take a freak bounce off the sideboard, cut inside Shoanne Morrison (who was unable to control the bouncing puck) and fire a quick wrist shot past Olie Kolzig to tie the game at one. The score seemed to lift the Rangers to life, as they spent the next period dominating puck possesion and the flow of play. They were rewarded with a Chris Drury putback of a Martin Straka shot from the hash marks that put the Rangers ahead.

That is where the Caps newfound confidence seemed to keep them in the game. Instead of panicking and having the players break out of the system and attempt to win the game singlehandedly, they stuck with their gameplan, kept firing pucks at the net, and caught a break when Alex Ovechkin fired an off balance one legged shot on goal, which Valiquette was unable to fully control. Boyd Gordon pounced on the rebound and slid it underneath the diving goaltender, and the Caps were back in business.

The Rangers still held control of the game for the rest of the game, but strong goaltending by Olie Kolzig combined with an effective penalty killing lead by Dave Steckel and Brooks Laich kept the Rangers off the board. And then, less than a minute before the third period was to expire, Ryan Hollwig blatantly tripped a Capitals player, setting up almost a minute and thirty seconds of 4 on 3 in overtime. It wouldn't take nearly that long, as Mike Green blasted a shot from the top of the circles past Marc Staal and a screened Valiquette for the win.

Other notes on the night:

It was good, no, it was GREAT to finally see the Caps win a game in front of a big home crowd against a team whose fans tend to be real jerks when the visit DC. Don't believe me? After a burrito giveaway between faceoffs, the Caps mascot pretended to dump an empty box of burritos on the head of a Rangers fan. The "fan" punched the box, and stood up as if he was going to strike the mascot (and generally for liability reasons the mascots are girls). Really classy. It's one thing to come support your team when they come to town. It's entirely another to be a drunk jackass when you do so.

Great job by the fans of stifling any attempts at a "let's go Rangers" chant in our building. Nice job, folks. Give yourselves a pat on the back. Especially Horn Guy. Way to cut 'em off at the knees.

Jaromir Jagr is past his prime. Waaaay past it.

Good to see Olie looking like the Olie of old (instead of old Olie), stopping 31 of 33 shots and being named the games first star.

Alex Ovechkin's goal was made possible by Eric Fehr's presence in front of the net. Fehr's got the tools, but it's still too early to pencil him in as a top line NHL power forward.

Jaw all you want, Colton Orr. It's become clear you're scared as hell of the Donald. And with good reason.

The Caps get a much needed rest until Wednesday, when they look to avenge one of their poorest performances of the year, a pathetic home loss to the Atlanta Thrashers in which the Caps allowed only 12 shots but lost 2-0.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

One to grow on

The Caps and Hurricanes had many things in common going into their game Saturday. Both teams had near identical statistics in goals for per game, goals against per game, and power play efficiency. The two teams had split the season series 2 apiece until last night. But the Hurricanes came away with two points, and the Caps with none. The reason? Because the Canes showed something the Capitals, for all their potential, are still looking for: maturity.

The Caps played an emotional and physical first period. Too emotional, and too physical. Players took too many runs at opponents trying to make big hits and too little time attending to the business of playing offensive hockey (and yes, Alex, we're talking about you). While they were busy trying to deposit Hurricanes into the stands, the Canes were busy trying to find ways to put the puck in the net.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tom Poti is my hero

There is no doubt who the Caps top acquisition was in free agency this past summer, and it's not who most people expected. Michael Nylander's signing may have made the biggest splash (thanks in no small part to his spurning of Edmonton and the coverage that followed), but Tom Poti has been the single most important signing of the season.

Take last night, for example. Poti played an absolute monster of a game, playing almost 22 minutes, blocking a sure goal by dropping into a semi-butterfly on the goal line behind a fallen Brent Johnson, scoring a goal by rushing the puck into the offensive zone and firing a shot high and tight into the net past the blocker of Norrena to knot the game at 3, and making a pretty cross ice pass to Ovechkin on overtime to produce the game winning goal. That's a lot of work for one guy (and a lot of words for one sentence).

Despite playing hurt for most of the year, Poti has been the anchor that has kept this defense in place. He plays extremely well positionally, but has been unafraid to play the body at every opportunity, even when it was clear that his shoulder was suffering as a result.

While his plus-minus rating is not stellar (even), he leads all Caps defensemen in minutes played and blocked shots, and his ability to make quick effective passes have kept the Caps from being pinned deep in their own zone, which they too often were last season. And while last night marked his first goal of the season, his offensive zone presence and passing ability have been invaluable. If the Caps are able to claw their way into a playoff spot, he'll be the first person not named Ovechkin whose play will be a deciding factor.

Other notes from last night:

Bill McCreary won't be getting any flowers from Caps defensemen for Valentine's Day. First he runs a pick on Shoanne Morrison, then he misses a clear goal by Tom Poti that had to be sent for review to be corrected. Everyone makes mistakes, but if the Caps D didn't feel persecuted after last night's "performance", they never will.

The Russian Machine - he must score. And he does, at a ridiculous pace. I don't think there was a person watching OT that didn't know the game was over as soon as they saw Poti pass the puck into space for Ovechkin. And the Machine didn't disappoint.

Rick Nash is fast. REAL fast. And unlike most speedsters, he has no problem controlling the puck at full speed. When he feels like playing hard, he's among the game's best.

Eric Fehr looked like a guy who hadn't played in the NHL in months, but he did show glimpses of what he's capable of as a player. He was a load to move in front of the opposing net, and created some dangerous scoring opportunities. And in the third, skating agains the boards and about to be ridden into the boards by the Columbus defensemen, he used what can only be referred to as a swim move, flipping the puck by the defenseman before angling his upper body past the D and using his arm to literally shove himself past. Now THAT's a power move, and it's something that's been sorely missed since the absence of Captain Clark.

Overall, an exciting game with a solid 2 point result. Hopefully the Caps will be able to take the momentum from this victory and break out to a quick lead against Philly tonight before the adrenaline wears off.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I don't get it (or "why I'll never be an NHL coach")

With Eric Fehr recalled to Washington's lineup and apparently recovered from injury, the Caps have a chance to inject some size and toughness into their linuep. Which is a good thing. Except they're injecting it into a line that doesn't need it.

Tarik reports that Fehr is going to skate on the first line, opposite Alex Ovechkin. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it the SECOND line that needs size and toughness? Let's take a look at the lines as they are reported:


Doesn't it make much more sense to move Fehr to the second line? Yes, Alex Semin plays right wing as well, but he played almost his entire career at left wing, so moving him isn't an issue. I understand the need to have a better playmaker at center, so lets assume we leave Kozlov as is. That leaves Semin-Kozlov-Fehr as a solid and balanced second line.

If Fleischmann can't play the right side, move one of the Caps defensive centers to the right wing on the first line. Seems to make sense. But chemistry is an odd thing, and clearly Boudreau thinks an all skill second line has a shot at putting up some numbers. Lets just hope they don't give up a lot more than they score.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Trouble here

Wow, that was an interesting couple of games there, wasn't it? First, Alex Ovechkin singlehandedly defeats the Habs with the best individual performance of the last 10 years, then the Caps lay an absolute stinkbomb a couple days later, shut out by an Atlanta team devoid their only real scoring threat and playing the second end of back to back days. Both games did serve to highlight an important issue: nobody on the Caps not named or playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin is creating any offense.

The Caps second line has looked lost on offense after losing Michael Nylander for the year. Alexander Semin still doesn't look like he's 100 percent after his set of injuries. Tomas Fleishmann's overall game has improved immensely this season, but he still can't buy a goal. And Boyd Gordon is, well, Boyd Gordon. Defensively responsible, hard working, but completely average in the offensive zone.

And it doesn't get any better after that second line. Poor Matt Pettinger can't even receive a pass out there anymore. This from a guy who scored 20 goals two seasons ago and 16 in 64 games last season. Either he's playing with an undisclosed injury or his confidence is totally shot. Either way, he looks completely lost on the ice right now.

Hopefully, today's recall of Eric Fehr from Hershey will inject some much needed physical play up front. A load at 6'4" and 212 pounds, Fehr will hopefully produce what the current crop of Caps lack: grit. The Caps need a guy who is both willing to work in high traffic areas (much like Brooks Laich does) and can bury the puck in tight when given the opportunity (the opposite of what Brooks Laich does).

If Fehr is truly healthy and can help the Caps salvage a playoff spot, he may well redeem GM George McPhee, who reached for Fehr at number 18 over the consensus best player available (some schlub named Ryan Getzlaf).