Sunday, December 31, 2006

Goodbye, 2006!

As the final hours of 2006 tick away it seems appropriate to take a look at the past year. It was an exciting one for the Washington Capitals - a year that saw spectacular goals, breakout performances, surprising successes, and new faces. Even though this year ends with the Caps mired in a bit of bad luck, one only has to look at the events of 2006 to get excited about the year to come:

January - The Caps snap a 6-game losing streak, the longest of the season to that point, with a win over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Ovechkin puts on a show, scoring all three goals including the overtime winner to earn his first career hat trick. 3 days later, Ovechkin caps off a dominant Caps performance in Phoenix with what has become known merely as "The Goal" - replays of the goal are shown all over the place and Ovechkin-fever officially takes hold of the NHL.

February - Goaltender Olie Kolzig signs a two-year contract extension to stay with the team that drafted him, expressing his wish to finish his career in DC - hopefully with a Stanley Cup.

March - Olie records his 250th career win against the New York Islanders, becoming only the 36th goaltender to reach that plateau. At the trade deadline a few days later, the Capitals send defenseman Brendan Witt to Nashville in exchange for center Kris Beech and a draft pick; they also claim Rico Fata off waivers and send Jeff Friesen to Anaheim for a 2nd round draft pick.

April - The Caps finish off their season on a high note, winning four of their last five and eliminating rivals Atlanta from the playoffs in their home finale. Ovechkin notches his 100th point in a win against Boston, becoming the first rookie to score 100 points since the 1992-93 season. He would earn his 50th goal in the very next game to make him only the second rookie to reach the 50 goal/100 point plateau in NHL history. AHL affiliates the Hershey Bears kick off their Calder Cup playoff run after finishing the season with 44 wins and 103 points.

May - The Hershey Bears complete a series sweep of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the second round of the playoffs, bringing their postseason record to a perfect 8-0.

June - The Bears defeat the Milwaukee Admirals in 6 games to win the Calder Cup for the first time since the 1996-97 season. Swedish phenom Niklas Backstrom is drafted by the Caps at the 2006 NHL draft; they also add some defensive and goaltending depth and earn high marks for their picks from the media and fans. Alex Ovechkin wins the Calder Trophy for the NHL's rookie of the year, beating out Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf with 124 of 129 possible first place votes. Olie Kolzig is also honored at the NHL awards ceremony with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his leadership and humanitarian contributions to his community.

July - The Caps sign Ottawa defenseman Brian Pothier, Montreal winger and former Cap Richard Zednik, and Philadelphia winger Donald Brashear. Many of the young corps of Caps are resigned to new deals: Johnson, Laich, Beech, Eminger, Morrisonn, Gordon, Sutherby, Clymer, Bradley and Pettinger. They also bid farewell to captain Jeff Halpern, who signs as a free agent with the Dallas Stars after 6 years with his hometown team.

August - Video of "The Goal" is added to a sports feature at the National Portrait Gallery in downtown DC. (August was a slow month...)

September - Chris Clark is named the team's new captain, becoming the 13th player to wear the "C" for Washington. Defenseman John Erskine is added to the roster, signing as a free agent after splitting the previous season between Dallas and the Islanders. Ovechkin, joined by teammates Sutherby, Eminger, Pothier, Beech, Clark, Bradley and Heward, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at a Washington Nationals baseball game.

October - Controversial forward Alexander Semin makes his return to DC and has an immediate impact, scoring 4 goals in his first two games including his first career hat trick against defending champ Carolina in the home opener. The Caps kick off the season with only 3 regulation losses, picking up 12 points in their first 15 games. Their only Western road trip of the season, a four game swing against the Northwest Division, finishes as a success with a record of 2-1-1.

November - The Caps snap out of a season high 6-game losing streak with a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, going on to win 4 straight against some of the best teams in the league before finally falling to the best team in the league, the Anaheim Ducks.

December - Media hype takes over as the Caps play in a series of games spotlighted by both the press and the fans - the first meeting of sophomores Ovechkin and Crosby; the rematch between the Caps and Thrashers after a brawl-filled November game; and a rematch in Buffalo three weeks after Ovechkin's controversial hit on Briere that is filled with booing Sabres fans and a spear to Ovie's groin by little Danny. The month ends with the Caps literally limping through a four game losing streak as the lineup is decimated first by injury, than by the stomach flu that ate Washington.

So we look ahead to 2007 with anticipation and of course, many questions. Will it be as exciting and event-filled as 2006? Will Ovechkin surpass his sensational rookie performance of the previous season? With a healthy lineup, can the Caps defy odds and critics by challenging for and possibly earning a playoff berth? Only time will tell!

Here's wishing everyone out there a safe, happy and healthy New Year :)


Saturday, December 30, 2006


I don't really have much to say about this loss (I know...shocking!) - not a great effort from either team, both of whom showed why they're slumping right now. At the end of the night, someone had to win this one and snap out of the funk, if only temporarily, and tonight the Rags got the 2 points for showing up. The Caps do have a knack for helping teams out of losing streaks, so it wasn't even completely unexpected.

Only a few things stood out as positives tonight - Brash again showed why he is the most feared enforcer in the game, but he also played very well and had some good forechecking moments. Major kudos to Morrisonn for trying to stand up for a teammate as the game drew to a close; feeling like he has been, it showed a lot of character to even try and fight. Ovechkin was flying all over the place, as was Semin - it almost makes you forget the myriad of turnovers they both had. Then again, who didn't turn over the puck?

Other than that, this was just a rough game. No offensive threats to make Lundqvist look even a little bit scared for most of the night, save for a few scoring chances by Ovechkin/Semin and the one pretty goal by Clymer after some sloppy Rangers defense. Bad officiating through and through, with some blatant calls being missed on both teams including the vicious cross-check to the face of Ovechkin. Overall not even a very exciting game, with lots of offsides, dumping and chasing, neutral zone traps...zzzzzz.

It's just a horrible way to end the year, limping out on a four game losing streak with half the team either injured or attached to a toilet in some form or another.

(There's an image for you, right? Special thanks to Tarik for the description of what specifically was ailing the boys...)

At least the crazy portion of the Caps schedule is now complete. It didn't go quite the way any of us would have wanted it to, but they hung in there in most of the games and at least made a good show of it. There's no way to be entirely optimistic, of course - with each loss the Caps fall further in the standings and are now exactly at .500 for the season.

But being the silver-lining gal that I am, look at it this way - we're still not yet halfway through the season and we've seen how quickly things can flip in this conference. You string a couple of wins together and you're sitting in 5th place, you drop a few and you're in 13th. The bottom line is that the teams in the conference, top to bottom with few exceptions, are so evenly matched that this is going to go right down to the wire.


Mini Gameday Preview

Just a few quick notes on tonight's game:

- The Capitals' battle with the stomach flu continues, as it now looks like the three guys who played through their illness last night are paying for it now - Clark, Pothier and Green all played against the Devils despite showing symptoms before and during the game (ew) and are probably out. The one that really concerns me is Clark...not that I don't care about the health of the other two, but Clark is the captain and has consistently been one of the best players on the Caps every night.

Even if he is throwing up in between periods.

Hopefully Sutherby, Eminger and Pettinger got some rest in Manhattan and will be ready to go tonight, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Which begs the question - at what point do we just chuck it all and bring up the entire Hershey squad?

- I'm getting a little tired of people writing gleeful tales about upcoming matches with the Caps as though the win has already occurred. AP has done it twice before the Caps played the Devils, and the Rangers' website has practically given the Rangers a win before the puck is even dropped: "Every once in awhile, the NHL schedule comes through for a team, serving up the right game at the right time."

Their evidence for this? 4 straight home wins against the Caps: "These four gems from the past suggest that fans at tonight's game are in for a treat. What better opponent could be here for the final home game of the 2006 calendar year?"

Wow, 4 games. Quick, alert the NHL hall of fame - there's a record that will never be beaten.

And I love that they comment on Jagr's lack of production lately and how he is always cured by playing his old team. They must not have been watching the last Caps-Rags game, because last time I checked he had no goals and no assists in that one...

Blah. I'm cranky and bitter.

Have a nice day!


Friday, December 29, 2006

Devils Swamp Caps

It's hard to be disappointed with tonight's game.

Sure, it was a loss, and it was 2 points that the Caps needed.

But with 7 guys out of the lineup and a very inexperienced defense corps, I was expecting an absolute blowout - or at least a sloppy game by a patchwork lineup.

But the Caps have this tendency to rise above extreme hardship that you have to love, and that came through tonight. They put up a good fight and had a fairly solid game despite playing on the road in one of the hardest buildings to win in...and against one of the greatest goaltenders to ever play the game.

It's hard to really analyze this game using the usual criteria because of the unusual circumstances. Injury and illness like this are so rare that tonight's match can really only be judged as a learning experience, both for the team and the guys called up from Hershey. The Caps were never really out of this one, fighting until the last second to get the equalizer but just not getting the bounces tonight.

Nycholat continued his fine work, notching his first NHL goal and adding an assist to make tonight his first multi-point game. He wasn't bad defensively, either - a few minor missteps, but that's to be expected and he recovered well.

I thought Dave Steckel had a very solid game as well, showing why he is one of the top penalty killers for the Bears and sliding right into the lineup as if he'd been there all along.

I didn't really get a read on Jamie Hunt - I don't think he had too many shifts. But congrats to Jamie for appearing in his first NHL game. He's still very young and I'm sure he'll back up with the big boys soon enough.

Not much else to say about tonight other than the fact that I'm proud of the way they stayed in the game and really played well all night long. There weren't too many times where I felt like throwing something at the TV, which is in itself a pretty big accomplishment.

It was good to see Mo back in the lineup, although it definitely looks like he's nowhere near 100% yet. Talk about taking one for the team...Morrisonn certainly makes me look like a wimp for turning into a baby when I get the slightest touch of the sniffles.

And on that note, I'm bypassing the gameday preview for tomorrow night's game at the Garden so I can rest up a bit. I'll just say that it's a game between two slumping teams coming off of tight road losses, so who the heck knows how it will turn out. The Caps need a solid goaltending performance and strong team defense to shut down Jagr & Co., hopefully with the help of some returning sickies...

(Damn you, Clymer.)



According to Vogel, we now have a flu bug flying around the Caps' locker room. Half a dozen Caps are now nursing assorted flu symptoms, prompting a handful of Hershey callups - Timo Helbling had already been recalled to replace Jeff Schultz, and he will be joined by Dave Steckel and Jamie Hunt. (So basically you can disregard the entire possible lineup listed below in today's preview...who the hell knows what is going to take the ice tonight.)

Okay, don't panic. Let's just take a deep breath and look at the situation calmly and rationally, shall we?

- The Caps have lost four of their last five, and have allowed at least 4 goals in each of the losses.
- 4 lineup regulars have already been sidelined with serious injuries and are not expected to return soon.
- One of our more consistent defenseman has been out for four games and will make his return tonight, but is recovering from mononucleosis and will probably not be in top condition right away.
- With the latest round of callups, the Caps blue line now combines for 546 games of NHL experience. Remove Pothier, Morrisonn and Eminger? We're talking double digits.
- Since Brent Johnson is among the ill, Olie will be playing in back to back games for the second time in 5 days.

Hmmm. But don't panic, right?

*Sigh*. Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Devils

Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils
Where: Continental Airlines Arena
50 Route 120
East Rutherford, NJ 07073
When: Friday, December 29, 7:30 pm

Broadcast Info: NC8, WTNT 570 AM; FSN NY, WFAN 660

Media Notes:
Washington Post
Newark Star-Ledger

2006-07 Season Series: Caps 0-1-0, Devils 1-0-0

2006-07 Standings: Caps 16-14-7, 39 points - 3rd in division, 9th in conference; Devils 20-13-3, 43 points - 1st in division, 3rd in conference

Last Game: December 22 in Washington, Caps lost 4-1
- 'Fear the Visor' was a rousing success, but that would be the last joy for Caps fans for the rest of the night as the Devils continued their domination over the Caps.
- It actually was a pretty good game by the Caps despite the fact that only 5 defenseman were playing. But Marty made his requisite big saves and kept his satanic minions in the game long enough to create some offense.
- The Caps outshot the Devils, proving once again that only bad things happen when they follow conventional wisdom. Let's allow 45 shots on net and only take 20, who's with me?
- Not much else to say about this game except they ruined my sister's birthday. Okay, maybe they didn't ruin it, but it certainly didn't put us in a good mood.

Things to Look for:
- It doesn't seem to matter who is behind the bench or on it - the Devils always seem to play that same boring neutral trap in hopes that the other team (and their fans) will simply fall asleep. Last game the Caps did a good job of shutting that down, forcing the Devils to actually skate a bit. I'm hoping a night off after two rough losses will get them ready to do that again.
- The Devils average fewer fans per game than the Caps. I didn't think that was physically possible, but there you go. Anyways, that's good - no loud noises to startle the boys, just the peaceful silence of 10,000 people simultaneously not cheering. Ah, the comforts of home.
- Morrisonn will likely return tonight from what turned out to be, poor Mo. It's good to have him back, but I hope they don't push him too hard in his first game.
- These days the Caps are a bit schizophrenic (but what else is new), so it's hard to predict what to look for. I'll give it a shot, though -

  • Signs we're in for a rough night: Hanlon insists on piling Ovie, Zubie and Semin on the same line; Pothier turns over the puck in the first five minutes; Green takes a penalty in the first five minutes; Sutherby again finds himself with a great scoring chance...that goes right into the goalie's chest; the puck bounces over the Caps' goalie and into the net.
  • Signs of a possible two points: Brooks Laich is rewarded for his hard work with a goal; Olie or Johnny makes a great save in the first two minutes; the Caps win the opening faceoff; Caps pass to other Caps and not someone in a bright red jersey; Brodeur gets frightened by Ovie's tinted visor and hides behind the net, allowing him to score easily.

One of those is obviously slightly less likely than the others...

...the Caps never win the opening faceoff.

Possible Lineup for the Caps
[Pretty please, Hanlon?]

Update: According to
Vogel, these lines are not accurate. However, I choose to protest in hopes that Hanlon will see the light and go with our old standard...

8-Alex "Castrati" Ovechkin, 9-Dainius "Tossed" Zubrus, 17-Chris "the Shield" Clark
28-Alexander "Hold the Line" Semin, 24-Kris "Kringle" Beech, 18-Matt "Princess" Pettinger
87-Donald "Downey Dumper" Brashear, 16-Brian "Sahara Desert" Sutherby, 27-Ben "Point Shot" Clymer
21-Brooks "the Man" Laich, 15-Boyd "Killer" Gordon, 38-Jakub "Turnover" Klepis

2-Brian "Slumpy" Pothier, 26-Shaone "Petri Dish" Morrisonn
??-Timo Helbling, 52-Mike "Penalty" Green
3-Lawrence "Erskine Lite" Nycholat, 44-Steve "Surprise!" Eminger

1-Brent "Olie" Johnson, 37-Olie "Bouncing Back" Kolzig

Possible Lineup for the Devils
23-Scott Gomez "Addams", 26-Patrick Elias "Kosh B'Gosh", 14-Brian "Golly" Gionta
9-Zach "Morris" Parise, 19-Travis "Pat" Zajac, 15-Jamie Langenbrunner
20-Jay Pandolfo, 11-John "NFL" Madden, 18-Sergei Brylin
17-Michael Rupp, 12-Jim Dowd, 25-Cam "the Enforcer" Janssen

21-Brad "Salem" Lukowich, 28-Brian Rafalski
7-Paul Martin, 25-John "How" Oduya "Do"
2-"The Life and Times of" David Hale, 8-Alexander "Copycat" Brooks

30-Martin "Fear the Visor" Brodeur, 40-Scott "Ride the Bench" Clemmensen


Caps Nation is Alive and Well

Um, has anyone noticed that the Caps blogger part of my links section is almost as long as the General NHL blogroll? We're starting to create a bit of an army that's growing every frickin' cool.

Okay, maybe cool is too strong a word - after all, we're talking computer stuff here.

What's funny is bloggers from other teams are starting to comment on it to me, saying things like "holy crap you guys have a lot of bloggers!"

(I didn't say the comments were Shakespearean, just that they were made.)

Of course we all know why the number keeps growing - if the local media isn't going to cover our boys, we'll just have to do it for them (and we have the freedom of avoiding that whole pesky "journalistic integrity" thing). Don't believe me? Check out how many blogs there are for Montreal...Toronto...Buffalo...3, maybe 4, good, quality blogs dedicated to these teams. And it's because those teams get regular local print and TV coverage. There's no void to fill.

So with 20+ in the Caps blogger ranks, let's just say the bar has been raised for the next blogger viewing party - I expect to see all of you there!


Head of the Class


It’s a tough thing to define and an even tougher thing to find, particularly in professional sports. But we know it when we see it, and part of the reason I am a hockey fan is that the players as a group tend to exhibit more of the stuff than any other athletes. There are, of course, some who have more than others...and some who have none at all.

In the wake of recent events, both over the last few weeks and since the start of the season, I thought it would be fun to list those active players/coaches who I thought exemplified Class.

It’s even more fun to list those who don’t, but I’ll save that for a follow-up after the New Year.

So here’s what I've got so far, in no particular order (except that the Caps are on top – just a little bias from a hometown girl):

- Glen Hanlon – Hugs is just one of those guys that everyone loves. He has a way of being so diplomatic in everything he says and does, and he has an empathy that makes him so completely likable. When Glen talks about the Caps he does so as a proud or disappointed father, not calling people out by name but making sure to praise them individually and as a group when they’ve done him proud. Don’t think for a second that his actions towards Bob Hartley during the Atlanta game lower his classy quotient – if anything, he earned the respect of every Caps fan and all of his players...not that he didn’t have that already.

- Chris Clark – ah, Clarkie Clarkie Clarkie. How do you not love this guy? He’s feisty and gritty on the ice, getting under the other team’s skin and setting an example for his younger teammates with every shift. Yet off the ice he comes across as the complete opposite, quiet and reserved but still a true leader through and through. Clark is always willing to talk to the media and seems glad to do it, no matter how tired he may be after a hard game or how upset he may be after a rough loss. He’s genial and soft-spoken, one of those guys who you know probably doesn’t say a lot but when he does guys take notice. We all know Olie is the true captain, but since goalies can’t wear the C, I can think of no one better to take the reins of this young team than Chris Clark.

- Joe Sakic – He’s one of my favorite players and has been for years – and at 37 years old, still one of the best players in the league. Sakic is a true captain, another soft-spoken guy who is always polite and diplomatic with the media and fans. He could have left Colorado for more money but instead chose to stay with the franchise that drafted him and would clearly like to finish his career with the Avs. He is a big reason that Colorado won 2 Stanley Cups and a big reason that Canada won the Olympic gold in 2002.

- Chris Drury – It’s no surprise that Drury turned out the way he did, because he had the benefit of playing with Sakic during his formative years as an NHLer. He has continuously and quietly put up great numbers every year, playing a clean but aggressive style of hockey that makes him hard to stop. Another one who is quiet when he needs to be (anyone else sensing a trend here?), he still works with the media well and is turning into a great leader in his own right. There’s a reason he was named co-captain in Buffalo, that’s for sure.

- Ron Wilson – Ron is anything but quiet; in fact, those of you who remember him as a coach here in DC probably know that once he starts talking it’s hard to shut him up. You can’t deny, though, that most of what he says is true. He’ll tell it like it is no matter what but never to the point of being mean or spiteful – he’s just honest, and you have to respect that. And he’ll do it all with a smile on his face or a twinkle of mischief in his eye. He has never been afraid to speak up for guys who may be underrated or undervalued, making sure that they always get their due respect. Just absolutely one of my favorite coaches...

There are many others who fit the descriptions I’ve given for players above: Hedican, Alfredsson, Conroy, Iginla, Gagne, Lidstrom, etc. The sideshow players who spend a lot of time talking yet seem to never have anything to say are few and far between in the NHL.

That being said, they do exist. I’ll unveil my choices for “The Loud and the Classless” after the holiday.

To be continued...


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Olé, Olé Olé Oh Crap...

You know, if the Habs were playing any other team tonight the outcome would make me dance around like a moron.

But they weren't and I'm not - instead I was forced to watch the Habs fans rejoice from every corner of the Phone Booth while my boys dropped the ball.

What's frustrating is that they weren't even completely abysmal tonight. Don't get me wrong, they didn't play well, either. It just felt like everything was a little off - every pass was in the skates or just out of reach of the stick (or if it connected, it was with a Montreal stick); every hit took out the Hab but left the puck trickling to another white jersey; every shot seemed to go just wide or right smack into Huet's crest. And don't even get me started on the faceoffs tonight - I think by the end people were cheering sarcastically whenever they managed to win one.

I don't know, maybe they caught some weird virus in Buffalo...wouldn't completely surprise me.

Whatever the reason, it seemed like everyone was skating a tad slower or hitting with less energy, and that's never a good way to come out against a well-rested team. Montreal was ready to go when the game started, and the Caps were clearly not. The bigger problem is that they failed to come out with any jump in the second period, either. Apparently they need to be down by 6 to attempt a rally of any kind.

That's not to put down the play of the Habs, who are a pretty good team in their own right, or Huet, who did make some great saves on the few scoring chances the Caps mustered. The Caps just didn't bring it tonight.

Despite the overall sluggishness of the team, however, there were some good individual performances that made the game worth watching...if only momentarily.

Brooks Laich - every shift he was hitting, boxing the Habs into their own zone, intercepting passes, drawing penalties and getting scoring chances. Another great all-around game for Brooksie, who is again becoming one of the more consistent players on the roster.

Boyd Gordon - very similar game to Laich; he was the Caps best penalty killer as always and just made some great plays.

Chris Clark - Clarkie almost always brings it, and tonight was no exception. The puck may not always have bounced his way, but he was certainly scrappy in trying to get control of it. Extra points for drawing a penalty on Rivet after he threw a punch at Craig (although if one more person grabs the faceshield I'm going to lose it...)

Donald Brashear - he had some jump tonight and got a couple of good shots on goal. Oh, yeah, and he had that little scuffle at center ice. I don't think Downey thought that one through completely until they started circling one another. Brash just wiped the floor with the poor guy.

Steve Eminger - not a bad night for Steve tonight, with some decent defensive plays and even a scoring chance. I know, I'm as surprised as you are.

The Cheap Seats Doghouse:
1) Brian Pothier - a slightly better game tonight for Potsie (that's setting the bar low), but he is having quite a rough stretch.
2) Mike Green - Green is showing his youth lately, taking dumb penalties and jumping up into the play when he really needs to stay back and play defense...what a concept.
3) Dainius Zubrus - I don't know if it's just me, but over the past few games Zubie seems to be trying to do too much by himself. And his aim could use a little work, too.

Honorable Mention - Shaone Morrisonn, for clearly giving his flu to the entire team and forcing them to drop four of five.

Yeah, the flu. That's the problem. *Sigh*

Friday night, kids - matchup with the Devils in Hell, er, New Jersey.


A Fan Divided

These games against Montreal are always a little rough for me, because they feature my two favorite teams going up against each other. And while my loyalty will always fall in the Caps' favor in these matchups, it's still hard to root against my adopted team.

When I was choosing universities during my senior year, I opted to leave the potentially exciting world of Virginia state schools for the far away city of Montreal. Of course, part of the draw of Montreal and Canada in general was their love of hockey, but I also fell in love with the city itself. Montreal has a European charm mixed with Canadian hospitality - the city is clean, the people are friendly, and it's still one of my favorite places.

But back to hockey...

I think if the Canadiens had been a different kind of team, I would have found it difficult to root for them - had I moved to New York or Philly, for example, I don't think I could have in good conscience been a fan of the local team. But the Habs were at the time very similar to the Caps in that they were somewhat underrated and maybe not loaded with star power but had a determination and a hard working attitude that made them fun to watch.

Two games stick out in my mind from that first year in Montreal. One would have to be the first and only time I was able to get tickets to a Montreal-Toronto game. It was the last meeting of the season between the two teams and the Maple Leafs had already beaten Montreal twice at the Bell Centre. The energy was amazing - people were cheering and screaming from the moment the puck dropped, and the noise level only escalated as the game went on. Montreal ended up with the win, and the noise was so deafening it was as if they had won the Stanley Cup.

The second was a game that featured an appearance in the crowd by Saku Koivu, who was completing chemotherapy at the time. When his face was shown on the screen, the ovation was enormous and lasted almost 10 minutes. After the game, my sister and I were at a bar when who should walk in but Koivu himself. I must have stalked him for about 2 hours before I was prodded into finally going up to him. I don't remember what I said and I never got an autograph, but I remember that he couldn't have been nicer to me...despite the fact that I probably sounded like a babbling moron.

My last year in Montreal was when the Canadiens met the Bruins in the first round of the 2004 playoffs. Down 3-1 in the series, the Habs rallied back to win two games in Boston and complete a dramatic comeback. I remember the entire city emptied into the streets as soon as the game ended, kicking off an impromptu parade of cars and people down the main streets of Montreal. It was so exciting to be a part of it and really cemented the team as part of my hockey life.

And so I find myself a fan of two teams - I have a signed Caps jersey but I also have a Canadiens t-shirt. I hate the Penguins and the Maple Leafs with almost the same passion. I'll attend a Caps game yet watch the scoreboard anxiously to monitor the Habs' progress.

Tonight I'll be in attendance, as I will be next week as well. I'll watch warm-ups, excitedly searching out my favorites on both sides of the ice - Ovie, Clark, Clymer; Koivu, Rivet, Ryder. But rest assured, once that game is underway the Habs become just another team the Caps need to beat, another team I hate...if only momentarily.

God help me if they ever meet in the playoffs.


Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Canadiens

Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens
Where: Verizon Center
601 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
When: Wednesday, December 27, 2006, 7:30 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, WTNT 570 AM; TSN/RDS, CJAD 800

Media Notes:
Washington Post
Montreal Gazette - for those of you who speak French...

2005-06 Season Series: Caps 2-1-1, Canadiens 2-2-0

2006-07 Standings: Caps 16-13-7, 39 points - 3rd in division, 9th in conference; Canadiens 21-9-5, 47 points - 2nd in division, 4th in conference

Last Game: March 30 in Montreal, Caps lost 3-2 in OT
- After a scoreless first period, the Habs and Caps alternated goals through the final two frames to force overtime. Montreal rookie Christopher Higgins had both goals in regulation for Montreal, earning his 18th and 19th goals after a slow start to the season.
- Ovechkin had 2 assists in the game to bring his points total to 93 but remained 2 goals shy of the 50-goal mark.
- The first Caps goal, scored by Clymer, tied the game up with less than two minutes remaining in the second period. Jeff Halpern would score the equalizer on the power play with just 2.5 seconds remaining in regulation.
- Koivu's overtime winner was his first goal since January 28th, when he scored twice in a 4-3 victory over Toronto. It came with 57.4 seconds remaining in overtime.
- The Caps were shorthanded for a good portion of the game, taking 10 penalties, but managed to kill off all but 1. They also converted once with the extra man.
- 6 of the players on Washington's roster for this game are no longer with the Caps, while the Habs have kept all but two including Richard Zednik.
- After being outshot 17-7 in the first period, the Caps bounced back to outshoot Montreal 10-7 in the second and 12-5 in the third. However, they failed to register a single shot in overtime.

Things to Look for:
- Montreal has been off since the 23rd while the Caps had to first travel up to Buffalo early yesterday morning before flying home after the game. That may actually work in the Caps' favor, though, if they can carry the momentum from two solid periods against the Sabres into the first period tonight and catch the Habs napping a bit.
- The Habs recently had their 5-game winning streak snapped by Boston and are 6-1-2 in their last nine games. They have yet to lose two straight games in regulation.
- Going into yesterday's game against Buffalo, the Caps power play had improved to 14th overall on the backs of an impressive 3 for 6 in Toronto. Their penalty killing has slipped lately, though, and is ranked only 20th in the league.
- Montreal's special teams have been very hot this season - they currently hold the best power play in the league and their penalty killing is ranked second.
- Both teams are notorious for allowing a lot of shots per game, with the Habs leading only the Caps in that category.
- Montreal goaltender Cristobal Huet has put up some sparkling numbers so far this season, posting a 2.36 GAA (8th best), .931 save percentage, and 2 shutouts.
- Hanlon did a little bit of shuffling with his lineup last night, both before the game and during in an attempt to increase offense, so it's hard to say whether the Caps will return to the normal forward line combos or continue to tinker. Morrisonn remains day-to-day with the flu.

Possible Lineup for the Caps
8-Alex "Lemme Hear It!" Ovechkin, 9-Dainius "Tossed Again" Zubrus, 17-Chris "Shortie" Clark
28-Alex "Laser" Semin, 24-Kris "the Scorer" Beech, 18-Matt "the Non-Scorer" Pettinger
87-Donald "Bodyguard" Brashear, 16-Brian "Can't Buy a Goal" Sutherby, 27-Ben "Sicky" Clymer
21-Brooks "Gordie Howe" Laich, 15-Boyd "Killer" Gordon, 38-Jakub "Gettin' Physical" Klepis

2-Brian "Turnover" Pothier, 55-Jeff "Wait Up!" Schultz
6-Jamie "Scarface" Heward, 52-Mike "PIM King" Green
3-Lawrence "Ovie's Assistant" Nycholat, 44-Steve "the Statue" Eminger

1-Brent "Olie" Johnson, 37-Olie "the Anchor" Kolzig

Possible Lineup for the Canadiens
11-Saku "Kaptain K" Koivu, 21-Chris "the New Golden Boy" Higgins, 73-Michael "Newfie" Ryder
15-Sergei "Monkey Boy" Samsonov, 35-Tomas "the Tank Engine" Plekanec, 27-Alexei "the Pilot" Kovalev
42-Alexander Perezhogin, 14-Radek "Sound Effect" Bonk, 20-Mike "Thank God I'm Out of Phoenix" Johnson
57-"Wayne and" Garth Murray, 84-Guillaume "Patrick Roy's a Chump" Latendresse

25-Mathieu "The More You" Dandenault, 44-Sheldon "the Sniper" Souray
51-Francois "Boo-yah!" Bouillon, 52-Craig Rivet
8-Michael "Komisaurus" Komisarek, 79-Andrei "Ovie's Greatest Fear" Markov
32-Mark "Swiss Army Knife" Streit

30-David "Abby" Aebischer, 39-Cristobal "Hip Hip" Huet

I do love my Habs, but have no fear - as soon as that puck drops, all loyalty to Le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge goes right out the window... least for 60 minutes.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Too Little, Too Late

Okay - can we all agree that we're even now (and then some)?

The Sabres came into our building 3 weeks ago and fell behind early in the first period. Their starting goaltender was yanked before the first period was 10 minutes old. They got beat 7-4. Ovie had a "cheap shot" on their star.

Tonight the Caps went to Buffalo and fell behind early in the first period. Johnson was pulled before the end of the first period. The Caps lost 6-3. Ovie got a very cheap shot from their star.

Are we done now? Can we all start acting like grownups and move on?

(Probably not, but let's get to tonight's game anyways.)

There is nothing uglier than what crawled out onto the ice in that first period. To give up 6 goals in less than 10 minutes is unacceptable, and there is not one person out there in a Caps sweater who can't take some responsibility for what happened in the opening frame. Johnson had a right to be every bit as pissed off as he was - the Caps D, or lack thereof, absolutely hung Johnny out to dry. Good for him for the little stick-breaking temper tantrum a la Olie; I can think of no better time to break that one out.

This game had the potential of getting even uglier, but thankfully the Caps decided to show up for the final forty minutes and make a game of it. I was very proud of the way they came out for the second and third period to at least make the Sabres earn those two points.

- The first period. Good God. 6 goals on 9 shots is ridiculous, I don't care how many funny bounces the puck takes.
- Pothier - honestly, I have been one of Brian's biggest fans since he arrived here, but he has really been putting up some stinkers over the last week, and tonight was no exception. Every player is allowed to have a rough patch; let's just hope Potsie gets through this one quickly.
- Mike Green may have to be thrown into that one as well - too many penalties and turnovers for the young'un.
- Too many penalties in general, marginal calls or not, really put a damper on the Caps rally attempt in the final forty minutes. Every time they would get some momentum going, someone was on the way to the sin bin.

- Briere's little spear on Ovechkin was ridiculous and I'm amazed it wasn't called. I understand wanting a little payback, but this was intentional and malicious. It's interesting, because he seemed to use a teammate as a screen so it wouldn't be called - almost like it was rehearsed...but I'm not into conspiracies. We'll call it an accident. Little Danny's stick blade just slipped, right into Ovechkin's crotch.

I may have to backtrack on some of that stuff I've said about Briere being a classy player.

- Ovechkin - the boos really didn't seem to phase him at all. In fact, they almost seemed to spur him on and fire him up; it looked like he picked up speed whenever they started. He had an all-around great game tonight. And good for him for not only scoring a goal but doing the little hand-to-ear move in celebration - Ovie's not one for showboating like that and I usually don't encourage that sort of behavior, but I loved every second of it tonight.
- The Caps didn't need rally helmets to get back into this one, scoring two pretty goals followed by a momentum-busting shortie, also a nice shot, by our captain. Major kudos to Hanlon for keeping the boys' heads up after that first period and for saying whatever it was he said that made them play like they've been playing.
- Lawrence Nycholat earned his first NHL point with his assist on Ovie's goal in what I thought was another very good game for him.
- Olie bounced back after those two quick goals, neither of which he had any chance on, and ended up with 33 saves on the night to keep the Caps within striking distance.

So an ugly night turns into a somewhat salvageable night, but a loss nonetheless. Unfortunately the Caps got little help from other teams tonight and slide down to ninth place with a Boston overtime loss.

Next up - my Habs are in DC tomorrow night for a midweek tilt and another crucial two points.

Gameday preview to come...


Lunchtime Troll

Unlike the last overhyped game versus the Thrashers, where the media was fueling the fire, tonight's rematch with Buffalo seems to be drawing much of its furor from the fans. So what better way for me to spend my lunch hour than trolling the Buffalo blogs, message boards and website, taking the temperature of these passionate fans on what to expect tonight.

(Listen, I do this kind of stuff so you don't have to - I'm protecting you from the whole new breed of crazy that has been spawned in Sabre-land...)

So far everything seems eerily quiet among the more respectable Buffalo bloggers - the only thing I have seen to this point was the one I mentioned in my gameday preview update. I don't know if they're just worn out from the holidays or they're truly out of vitriol for one Alex Ovechkin.

I'll go with the latter.

Next stop, the Buffalo website, where a tiny poll at the bottom of their home page caught my eye, and I quote: "SHOULD HAVE ALEX OVECHKIN BEEN SUSPENDED FOR HIS HIT ON DANIEL BRIERE LAST TIME THE TWO TEAMS MET? Yes; No; Yes if Briere had been injured". Well, I'm trolling so I figured I might as well vote, and of course I was in the minority.

The results at last check - [Update] 1275 votes tallied, with 79% (1013 votes) saying Ovie should have been suspended. Shocker. Did they really think this poll was going to yield any surprises?

Bad grammar aside, the Buffalo website was pretty benign, with no mention of the hit on Ovie in their game night story. So I headed over to the message boards - the last bastion of free speech for nut jobs scattered among the normal fans, no matter what the city or sport.

First of all, it's interesting to see the change in opinion after that sucker punch by Nichol on Spacek the other night. I saw a lot of comments from people saying it put the Ovie hit into perspective, that it was still stupid but clearly not in the same league. Then there were the obligatory morons saying the 9-game suspension only proves the NHL only punishes you if you're not a superstar. All in all, though, people seemed to agree that what Nichol did was far worse.

Other than that, opinion has pretty much shifted away from the "Kill Ovechkin" mindset to a milder "Hit Ovechkin and score lots of goals" mindset, which is much healthier. I think the recent losses to St. Louis and Florida have humbled them a bit and they see this as a must-win game. They're finally healthy again and people don't want their guys getting hurt or suspended trying to enact revenge when two points are at stake.

That being said, you've still got the people who want there to be bloodshed and one fan who even suggested that Ovechkin get drilled into the boards headfirst a few times. Another equally enlightened fan started a thread entitled "Will Ovechkin cease to exist 12 hours from now...", with the summary "In layman's terms, will he be dead?" [Glad they cleared that up - ceasing to exist can mean so many things...]

The fan who started the thread incidentally had other similarly classy things to say within the thread, including "I think we should give Peters a 1 year extension today, with a $500,000 dollar signing bonus. Thus he could turn him into a quadriplegic and he won't lose any money when he's suspended. (I'm a genius)" and my favorite, "One dead AO or 5 good checks, I'll take either...". The signature of this particular fan also includes this catchy little rhyme: "Make the world a better place, punch Ovechkin in the FACE!"

Ah, message boards. You never let me down.

Crazy people aside, one thing is for sure - Ovechkin is going to be booed tonight for the first time in his career. The players may have moved on to some extent and the fans may not want blood anymore, but they still don't like him and they'll let him know it all night long. It will be interesting to see how he handles it. I personally think he can take it, and he can take the extra hitting too...we all know how many times a big guy from the opposition has lined Ovie up for a big check and ended up on his rear end instead.

I just hope it's an entertaining, hard-fought game by both sides. If the Caps win, great - icing on the cake. But I don't think anyone will be particularly upset or surprised if the Caps lose. As long as they play like we know they can, I'll be satisfied.

Kind of.

But I'd still like a win.


Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Sabres

Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres
Where: HSBC Arena
One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza
Buffalo, New York 14203-3096
When: Tuesday, December 26, 2006, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, WTNT 570 AM; MSG, WGR AM 550

Media Notes: (I don't know if we're just spoiled with the Caps website or what, but the Sabres' site is really awful...)
Washington Post
Washington Times
Buffalo News
Buffalo News (give me a break...)

I was going to highlight some Buffalo blogger previews of tomorrow night's game, but it looks like they're all taking an extended break for the holiday. I do love to fuel that hype, so check back for updates as the day continues...

If I in any way implied anyone was a bad parent, I apologize...everyone unclench and enjoy the game!

2006-07 Standings: Caps 16-12-7, 39 points - 3rd in division, 8th in conference; Sabres 25-7-3, 53 points - 1st in division, 1st in conference

2006-07 Season Series: Caps 1-0-0, Sabres 0-1-0

Last Game: December 2, 2006 in Washington, Caps won 7-4
- I'm not sure what was the most surprising thing about this game. That Ovechkin got ejected? That the Caps held a lead and beat the best team in the East? That Steve Eminger got a fighting major? That the Caps extended their winning streak to 3?
- The Caps jumped out to a quick lead, going into the locker room after the first period with a 4-1 advantage after goals from Zednik, Muir, Ovechkin and Clymer. The first three strikes came early, chasing Ryan Miller before the period was ten minutes old in favor of Martin Biron.
- There was a little incident involving Ovechkin and Briere early in the second period. No big deal, you may have read something about it.
- Even when you set aside the crazy penalty minutes doled out for assorted goodies, the Caps still racked up 7 opportunities with the extra man and connected on exactly none of them. Buffalo was given 6 power plays and scored one goal.
- In a night where penalties and goals were flying all over the place, it's odd to think that Ovechkin was given two major penalties, including one for fighting, and a game misconduct...and John Erskine scored a goal. Huh.

Things to Look for:
- Despite being banged up in their last game before the holiday break, the Caps managed to pull off a pretty convincing win against Toronto. Still, they beat a banged up Leafs team that has been streaky at best; It's two days later and the Caps are no healthier and now will face a healthy Buffalo team in it's home arena that will be looking for revenge in some form or another. So...yeah. I have no idea what to expect.
- Buffalo has recently shown signs of being mortal, dropping three of their last four games including a 3-2 loss on Saturday to St. Louis - incidentally, that was just the ninth win for the Blues on the season.
- The Caps may not be completely healthy, but youngsters Schultz and Nycholat put together solid games Saturday against the Leafs and may be able to put some pressure on the Sabres' multiple lines of attack.
- The last Caps win over Buffalo was accomplished with several key offensive players out of the lineup, so the Caps should go into tonight's game with the confidence that they have beaten the Sabres before and can do it again. The good news is, no one expects them to take two from Buffalo - the pressure is all on the hometown team for this one.
- I was impressed with what Beech had been doing early on in the season and I still love him with Semin and Pettinger, but I've been frustrated at his apparent lack of grit along the boards - he's not as talented offensively as Zednik, so he needs to stop playing like him and start taking the body more.
- Semin was one of the best players on the ice Saturday night and his all-around game has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season - look for him to continue a great run.
- On the other end of things, Sutherby continues to be dry as a bone. Apparently the dry spell is contagious, as it has most recently claimed a previously hot Matt Pettinger. I'd like to see Petty at least pick his game back up to where it was the last time these two teams tangled.
- We all know that the overhyped rematch with Atlanta fell well short of the bloodbath people predicted, so I think it would be silly to think that tonight's game with Buffalo will be any different. Having said that, this is a different situation and I would expect the Sabres to at least add a little mustard to hits on Ovechkin and anyone in a Caps jersey. There may not be any fights, but I'd look for a very physical game.

Possible Lineup for the Caps
8-Alex "the Target" Ovechkin, 9-Dainius "Esa" Zubrus, 17-Chris "Captain Courageous" Clark
28-Alex "Laser" Semin, 24-Kris "Zednik" Beech, 18-Matt "Sutherby" Pettinger
15-Boyd "Killer" Gordon, 16-Brian "Any Freakin' Day Now" Sutherby, 27-Ben "Slimer" Clymer
87-Donald "Bodyguard" Brashear, 21-Brooks "Gordie Howe" Laich, 38-Jakub "Bench Warmer" Klepis

2-Brian "Point Shot" Pothier, 26-Shaone "Sicky" Morrisonn (per Vogel) or 55-Jeff "Ice is Slippery" Schultz
6-Jamie "Scarface" Heward, 52-Mike "Down Goes Tucker" Green
3-Lawrence "Newbie" Nycholat, 44-Steve "Quicksand" Eminger

1-Brent "Heeere's Johnny!" Johnson, 37-Olie "the Return of Godzilla" Kolzig

Possible Lineup for the Sabres
55-Jochen "Macys, Nordstroms and" Hecht, 48-Daniel "I'm Sorry, So Sorry" Briere, 29-Jason "Tartes de" Pominville
28-Paul "the Defender" Gaustad, 23-Chris "the Terrier" Drury, 12-Ales "Warm Winter" Kotalik
26-Tomas "Mom's Mini" Vanek, 9-Derek Roy, 61-Maxim "FHM" Afinogenov
76-Andrew "Peeeete" Peters, 13-Jiri Novotny, 22-Adam "Phantom Kicker" Mair

6-Jaroslav "Time for a Random" Spacek, 51-Brian "Glen" Campbell
27-Teppo "Ware Party" Numminen, 45-Dmitri "the Maid" Kalinin
5-Toni "Tony Tone" Lydman, 10-Henrik "Big &" Tallinder

30-Ryan "Run Away!!" Miller, 43-Martin "the Flying Goalie" Biron


Monday, December 25, 2006

Back to Reality

A very Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends out there, and a belated Happy Chanukah to my fellow members of the tribe. I hope this holiday season finds everyone in a festive mood, because we're heading into that wonderful 4 games in 5 days patch of the schedule all the sportswriters have us so freaked out about.

Just a few thoughts and musings as we shake off the holiday rust:

- Here's hoping the Caps took it easy on the turkey and egg nog this year - we'll need them alert and ready to go as they take on some tough customers over the next week. Tomorrow night kicks it all off with the rematch in Buffalo (gameday preview to come later), followed by a home meeting with Les Habitants, Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge, the Canadiens de Montreal. Then a much needed day off precedes a two day, two game trip up to the Garden State and the Big Apple Friday and Saturday night. Whew. I'm tired just writing about it!

- What was with all the goyim at the movies today? Seriously, folks, do what you're supposed to do on your holy day - attend church, watch It's a Wonderful Life, eat Christmas goose and go a wassailing...okay, maybe I don't actually know what you all do on Christmas (or what wassailing is). Just leave the movies and Chinese food to the rest of us.

But peace, love and joy to you all :)

- As has been discussed at length and ad nauseum among other Caps fans over the last week, the Penguins remain without an owner, without a new arena and possibly without an East Coast mailing address for much longer. Gee, maybe there is a Santa Claus...

- Dave Fay is either a jinx or a psychic. Every time he prints something about the Caps being healthy or getting players back from injury, three more guys drop out of the linuep. Lucky for us, the callups so far have done what was asked of them - don't get hurt, don't get into any trouble, and don't fall down when Mats Sundin is breaking into the Caps zone.

Oh, wait...

- See, guys? There are women at hockey games who don't wear midriff-bearing shirts (*cough* Ice Girls *cough*), who know what offside is...who know how to spell offside...

Thanks to Jordi at the HLOG
(via Kukla's Korner) for finding the article.

That's all the rants and ramblings I have in me for now.

Coming soon: Gameday Preview. Caps. Sabres. Throwdown in downtown Buffalo.

Can you feel the excitement?


Saturday, December 23, 2006

That's Two Points, Eh?

I'll admit it - ever since I lived in Canada, that 'eh' at the end of a sentence has just sounded right. I can't explain it.

But enough about me...that's another big road win for the good guys!

I have to say, the first half of the game looked a lot like I thought it would - both teams being very tentative, playing the trap, not taking a lot of chances... Zzzzzzz. These are two banged up teams coming off a two game losing streak with young players on the roster. I figured the whole 60 minutes would be a snoozefest, first team to squeak one by wins.

Enter the Alexes.

After a virtual goaltenders' duel and a solid but boring start to the game, the whole thing was blown wide open halfway through the second as the Caps made the Leafs pay for their parade to the box, netting three goals on three consecutive power plays during the middle frame.

Even better was the fact that all three were truly great plays. Ovechkin's goal, a pretty rebound over Raycroft, was nice in it's own right but nothing compared to the initial work by Semin to get the puck up ice and through all four Leaf defenders. Then came Semin's goal, his blistering shot that we've come to know and love that absolutely froze everything in a blue jersey en route to the top corner of the net. Then, of course, the game-winning goal by Zubrus on a jaw-dropping, backwards skating goal.

It almost makes up for the 17 shots he whiffed on during this game. (Aw, Zubie, you know I love ya...but you'll never win an accurate shot contest.)

- Alex, Alex, Dainius. Three highlight goals in the books for those guys. Need I say more?
- Power play, 3-6...again, need I say more?
- Solid performance tonight from Olie, who was beaten only twice - once on a penalty shot, a call that I can only guess was bribe-induced, and once 14 seconds later on a power move to the net. And let's face it, both were courtesy of Sundin; the guy's got a future in hockey.
- Schultz had a really good game (falling down on a Sundin breakaway aside) and made some nice defensive plays along the boards, and Nycholat didn't have any glaring mistakes either - as a young d-man callup, that's all you can ask for. The icing on the cake for me, though, was Green's hit on Darcy Tucker towards the end of the game. There is no more beautiful sight than that man flying through the air and landing on his rump.
- The Caps took only 3 minor penaltiesand killed all of them off like pros, including a Zubrus hooking minor late in the third.

- The game got a little too interesting down the line there, as the Caps blew a 3 goal lead to let the Leafs back in the game in just a 14 second span.
- Oddly enough with all the young'uns on the blue line, the defenseman who struggled the most in my mind was Pothier. He seemed to be having kind of a rough game, uncharacteristically turning the puck over a few times in his own zone. He did recover well, though, and usually made a good defensive play to redeem himself shortly after.
- Eminger wasn't bad, per se - at least not as bad as he was in the last two games - but he wasn't great, either. I think we can all agree that Erskine needs to heal very quickly.

So a good all-around effort by the Caps gives them two points on the road and a little air between themselves and the Leafs, although they hold steady at 8th in the conference and 3rd in the division. Boston's win tonight leapfrogs them over Toronto (although it comes at a high price, with the B's ending Montreal's 5-game win streak) and things continue to get interesting as we head towards the halfway mark.

The entire NHL is off for Christmas, so the Caps return to action Tuesday night for the much ballyhooed rematch with Buffalo.

Boxing Day may take on a whole new meaning.


Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Leafs

Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Where: Air Canada Centre
40 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M5J 2X2 Canada
When: Saturday, December 23, 2006, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, SportsTalk 980; CBC Hockey Night in Canada, 640 AM

Media Notes:
Washington Post
Washington Times
Toronto Star
Toronto Sun
Globe and Mail

2006-07 Standings: Caps 15-12-7, 37 points - 3rd in division, 8th in conference; Maple Leafs 16-15-5, 37 points - 3rd in division, 9th in conference

2006-07 Season Series: Caps 0-1-0, Maple Leafs 1-0-0

Last Game: November 24 in Washington, Caps lost 7-1
- The petulant two year old inside of me is speaking up: I'm not recapping this game and you can't make me. I was there, I saw it live, and it was far too painful the first time around...

Things to Look for:
- Both Toronto and Washington come into tonight's game with injury-depleted lineups. The Caps are without forwards Matt Bradley and Richard Zednik, both recovering from surgery, and defensemen Bryan Muir and John Erskine, both out with foot fractures. Morrisonn will not make the trip to Toronto with the team, so another Hershey callup is pending. The Leafs are missing Michael Peca, who injured his knee in last night's loss to the Blackhawks. Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov continue to be sidelined by shoulder and ankle injuries respectively, and Kyle Wellwood is day-to-day with an injured hip flexor.
- And the similarities continue - both teams are coming off of two straight losses, one on Tuesday (although the Leafs got beat 7-3 by the Panthers...that's gotta hurt) and one last night. Both are mired in the traffic jam that is the Eastern Conference, holding steady at 37 points and battling it out for that coveted 8th spot.
- The Caps and the Leafs both played their backups last night, so tonight's match should feature starters Olie Kolzig and Andrew Raycroft. Neither goalie has been particularly solid lately - Kolzig surrendered 5 goals in Tuesday's loss to the Lightning, while Raycroft was yanked after allowing 6 goals on 26 shots against the Panthers.
- Are you seeing where I'm going with all of this? Injuries, losing streaks, inconsistent goaltending, rosters full of AHLers - this should be a real barn burner...

With the injuries to both teams, call-ups and line reconfigurations aren't out of the question, so take these with a grain of salt...

Possible Lineup for the Caps
8-Alex "Heads Up" Ovechkin, 9-Dainius "Swing and a Miss" Zubrus, 17-Chris "I'm Your Captain, Yeah Yeah Yeah" Clark
28-Alex "2.0" Semin, 24-Kris "Life's a" Beech, 18-Matt "Princess" Pettinger
87-Donald "the Instigator" Brashear, 16-Brian "Any Day Now" Sutherby, 27-Ben "Please Don't Put Me on D" Clymer
15-Boyd "Killer" Gordon, 21-Brooks "Fast and Feisty" Laich, 38-Jakub "Back in the Saddle" Klepis

2-Brian "Point Shot" Pothier, 44-Steve "I Miss Erskine" Eminger
6-Jamie "Scarface" Heward, 52-Mike "Babyface" Green
??-Lawrence "the Callup" Nycholat, 55-Jeff "the Tower" Schultz

1-Brent "Johnny on the Spot" Johnson, 37-Olie "Saving the Good Game for TO" Kolzig

Possible Lineup for the Leafs
33-Bates "Motel" Battaglia, 13-Mats "Caps Killer" Sundin, 92-Jeff O'Neill "Before Zod"
21-John "Fireman" Pohl, 14-Matt "Center" Stajan, 10-Alex "Clean and Pri" Steen
18-Chad "Buzz" Kilger, Insert AHLer here, 16-Darcy "Mother" Tucker
9-Alexander "the New Ponikarovsky" Suglobov, 46-Ben "the New Wellwood" Ondrus

15-Tomas "the Push-Up King" Kaberle, 24-Bryan "Overrated" McCabe
7-Ian White "with Fear", 25-Hal "on Wheels" Gill
8-Carlo Colaiacovo, 31-Pavel "Rubiks" Kubina
3-Wade "the Amazing Tattooed Man" Belak

1-Andrew "Lara" Raycroft, 30-Jean-Sebastian "Penguins Reject" Aubin


Friday, December 22, 2006

Way to Go, Bonzai!!

I know, I know, he doesn't play for us anymore...but wholehearted congratulations go out to Peter Bondra, who scored his 500th goal tonight against the Leafs.

I grew up watching Peter play and he'll always have a place in my heart as one of the most exciting players to ever wear the Caps jersey. I wish him nothing but the best in Chicago or wherever he may finish out his career.

500 goals is truly an accomplishment (and against Toronto - that's my boy!).

Congrats, Bonzai!


Marty Doesn't Fear the Visor Enough

So let's start with the good stuff first.

Excellent turnout for the first ever "Mirrored Shades for Marty" night! It was a great job by everyone who organized this and who showed up for a little pregame taunting. I especially liked the signs, and the chants were great, something you rarely hear during warm-ups. "Fear the Visor" and "Maaaarty" - awesome! And was it just me or were some of the Devils, including the man himself, stifling some giggles?

(Oh, and shooting pucks directly at us, by the way...okay, maybe they were just missing the net, but it certainly seemed like more pucks than usual were hitting the glass in front of me...)

Other good stuff - honestly, I thought the Caps looked pretty darn good tonight. There were some pretty passing plays and the power play, although failing to connect, looked very sharp. I thought Clark and Brashear had great games, especially considering the fact that they are banged up, and I loved the play of the Brashear-Sutherby-Clymer line tonight - they had some good jump and had some decent scoring chances. The Caps even outshot the Devils (what?!?) and seemed to be controlling the play for most of the game. It wasn't coma-inducing hockey by a long shot.

But this was a Caps team with only 5 defensemen dressed and two Bears having to fill the void on the blue line and up front. So as expected there were those moments, the plays that made me slap my hand to my forehead in disbelief - the turnovers, the odd-man seemed like all four Devils goals were a combination of defensive lapses and subpar goaltending.

Johnny just really didn't look solid tonight, and when you're going up against Martin Brodeur you have to be solid if not spectacular. Run support just isn't going to happen against him - you need to make it a goaltenders' duel, and it simply was no contest tonight. That's not to say he played badly, either, but he didn't look too comfortable in net and maybe let in a few he should have had.

The Caps may have outshot the Devils, but it seemed like the majority were coming from the perimeter. A good goalie, as I've said before, will stop those shots 95% of the time. A goalie like Brodeur? Forget about it, none of those are going in. There was very little traffic in front of the net and no screens, no sticks in the way to catch deflections, until late in the game when Marty did have to make an amazing save or two.

So we go from Tuesday night's game, in which the Caps barely mustered an effort yet lost by just one goal, to tonight, when the Caps played a good game but lost by three. Strange world. Still at the end of the day, both equal two points down the drain, two points against teams battling it out in a very tight conference race.

And it doesn't get any easier for the Caps (hey, I think I've said that before!) - they travel to Toronto tonight and will now have to try and get two points on the road. They'll need a win to avoid a very dangerous and costly slide that could send them packing to the Eastern Conference cellar once more. I know, the playoffs are a long way off - but the Caps need to stay with the pack all season if they want to have a shot at a postseason.

Hopefully they'll start to get some of the walking wounded back over the next few days, although this rough schedule is not going to help the ones who are playing hurt. There was a lot of good stuff tonight - the Caps just need to carry that energy and that work ethic over into tomorrow night's game, and Olie needs to shake whatever has thrown him off these past few games.

More to come on the game in big TO...


Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Devils

Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils
Where: Verizon Center
601 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
When: Friday, December 22, 2006, 7:00 pm (Happy Birthday, Sarah Bear!)

Broadcast Info: CSN, WTNT 570 AM; FSN NY2, WFAN 660 AM

Media Notes:
Washington Post
Washington Times
Newark Star-Ledger

Check out a rough cut of Ovie's commercial on Ted's Blog - pretty funny!

2006-07 Standings: Caps 15-11-7, 37 points - 3rd in division, 8th in conference; Devils 18-12-3, 39 points - 2nd in division, 5th in conference

2005-06 Season Series: Caps 1-2-1, Devils 4-0-0

Last Game: March 10 in Washington, Caps lost 4-3 in SO
- The Caps jumped out to an early 2-goal lead in the first period before giving up 2 goals of their own to end a crazy opening frame.
- After a scoreless second period, the Devils took the lead when Scott Gomez scored less than 3 minutes into the third. The Caps would mount a thrilling last minute comeback, though, tying the game in the last minute. The goal would come on the power play after Jay Pandolfo took a delay of game penalty at 18:48.
- Jeff Halpern had 2 assists on the night, including his 200th NHL point.
- The shootout went five rounds, with Willsie and Laich earning the shootout goals for the Caps and Sergei Brylin scoring the game-winning "goal".
- This was a relatively low-penalty game, with the Caps taking only 4 penalties and the Devils going shorthanded 5 times. Pandolfo's Delay of Game penalty was the third such penalty taken by the Devils in the game, with Colin White taking 2 in the second period alone.
- 2 penalties were called in the overtime period - one on Eminger about halfway through and one on Brylin in the last minute of overtime. Obviously, neither of the teams were able to capitalize.

Things to Look for:
- The Devils come into tonight's game having lost 4 of 5, including a shootout loss to the Thrashers Tuesday night. In the loss, Marian Hossa scored 2 shorthanded goals including the game-tying goal to force the extra frame. New Jersey has now allowed 8 shorthanded goals, which is tied with Ottawa and Philly for the most in the league.
- The Caps are experiencing another rash of minor injuries among their key players - John Erskine is still bruised from blocking a shot with his foot, and Matt Bradley and Richard Zednik are recovering from surgery. Clark, Brashear and Muir are also banged up, although at least Clark and Brashear are likely to play against the Devils. Giroux will likely get a second call-up, while Schultz is expected to make his NHL debut on the Caps blueline.
- Martin Brodeur has 6 career shutouts against the Caps and has recorded 4 this season, tied for second best in the league.
- The power play for the Caps and the Devils has been successful of late, as the Caps scored 2 with the extra man Tuesday night and the Devils have scored on 5 of their last 10 power play opportunities.
- The Caps will probably not be able to rely on special teams scoring against this Devils squad - New Jersey is ranked 7th on the power play and 4th on the penalty kill.
- This game features another historical disadvantage for the Caps, as they have only beaten Brodeur and the Devils once in 11 tries; their last win came almost 4 years ago. However, this has been a season of history-changing games - long standing records have fallen by the wayside for this Caps team, so we shouldn't read too much into history.
- The Devils play a neutral zone trap with emphasis on their defense shutting down the other team. Translation? Snooze-fest. The Caps need to jump out early on the Devils and force New Jersey to play the Caps' style of game if they don't want to be lulled into a coma...
- Tonight is "Mirrored Shades for Marty" night! If you're coming to the game, be sure to bring your mirrored or dark sunglasses and hang out behind the Devils' side during warmups. The first 150 or so fans who go to section 104/105 will get a free pair of sunglasses courtesy of Goat/FlyersSuck (and other contributors)! (See message boards or BettmanHatesHockey for more details)

It's round 2 of my steel cage deathmatch with a vicious head cold and I continue to ply myself with cold medicines so I can breathe and stuff. As a result, I have no brain with which to decipher shift charts let alone formulate clever and witty nicknames for the handful of you that read this.

But fear not - the Caps travel to Toronto to face the loathsome Maple Leafs Saturday night. Neither sleet nor snow nor stuffy head can keep me from creating nicknames for that happy bunch (lest we forget my personal favorite, Darcy "Mother" Tucker...).

And since this is quickly disintegrating into nonsense babbling, I'll sign off for now.

Let's Go Caps!


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lightning Strikes Again...and Again...and Again

This recap is a little late, and I promise it's not because the Caps lost in such a horrible fashion.

Well, not entirely because of that.

Last night's game (and I use that word loosely) was a mess. Sloppy passes, bad penalties, horrible penalty killing, mediocre goaltending...this was the Mr. Hyde portion of our team. Nothing seemed to go right. In fact, the Caps almost seemed to be mocking all 2,000 of us lucky people who showed up to watch the catastrophe live.

They needed to jump on the Bolts early and take the lead going into the first intermission.

They didn't.

Then after falling behind, they needed to bounce back in the second and put up a good twenty minutes to stay in the game.

They didn't.

They needed to play with more intensity, more desperation in the final frame.

They kind of did, but by then it was too little, too late.

It wasn't even an interesting game - I think they were trying to lull everyone to sleep so we wouldn't notice how badly they were sucking out there. It certainly felt like I was being induced into a coma...a feeling that wasn't helped by the fact that you could hear conversations being held on the other side of the arena...

It was funny, because the Bolts didn't even seem to be playing particularly well, either - they just didn't have to. The Caps were more than willing to lose this one on their own, and were nice enough to spare the Tampa goalie the embarassment of blowing a 3 goal lead, something that looked possible in the waning minutes of the game.

There's a part of me that is glad the Caps mini-rally wasn't successful. If you come out and play like that for 50-55 minutes, you certainly don't deserve 2 points.

Of course, the other part of me was hoping for at least one point, maybe just a loss in overtime or a shootout. That's the same part that saw the standings today and realized that one point would have kept the Caps in 2nd in the division and 5th in the conference.

But it's probably too early to think that way - we're not even halfway through the season. Those standings are going to flip-flop so many times we're going to get motion sickness. Bottom line: the Caps played a horrible game last night, and I'm sure every single one of them knows it. Chalk this one up to a bad game, pick up the pieces, and look ahead to Friday's game against the Devils.