In the wake of the Capitals visit to the Pengrowth Saddledome, I have noticed more articles about the Caps coming out of Calgary than anyplace else on this road trip. It's always interesting to read about the team from the opposing point of view - to see if they portray the game the same way I saw it, watch for snarky comments or officiating complaints, check for compliments, hidden or otherwise. Canadian press is so in-depth after games, with editorials, profiles and recaps all over the place, that it makes this process that much easier. (Try to find the same attention in Tampa or even here in DC...)
The Calgary Press has been mostly very welcoming towards the Caps. They're disappointed in the Flames' play last night but recognize that the Caps still earned the win; they highlight Ovechkin but still provide some spotlights to returning hometown boys like Clark and Green. And best of all, they have managed to recognize what we already know - the Caps are not as bad as people think they are...
So for those of you who don't have the time, energy, or desire to search the web and locate these media outlets on your own, I have compiled a selection of articles chronicling the Caps' visit to Western Canada:
Chris Clark Returns to Alberta
Great No. 8 is Worth the Wait
Calgary Herald Recap
Hanlon in Belarus
Ovechkin Wants a Piece of Iginla
More on the Stick
Calgary Sun Recap
Globe and Mail Recap
NHL.com Names Zednik #1 Star
NHL.com Profiles Captain Clark
- In other news, Ovechkin will be responding to fan questions over a period of two weeks at the end of November - be sure to check out Kukla's blog on NHL.com for more information! Somebody please ask him about those lovely yellow rubber shoes he wears...
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
There were Z's a plenty on the ice tonight.
Not the kind that was emanating from the crowd for most of Saturday's matchup with Edmonton. Instead it was the combined forces of Zednik, Zubrus and KolZig (reaching a little there...go with it).
What can I say? Every Caps win this season has been a demonstration of pure team effort from goaltending to forwards and everyone in between, and tonight was no exception. Olie once again turned in a brilliant performance and as a result takes his rightful place in history alongside the great Ken Dryden. Ovechkin was throwing his body and the puck around the ice all night, landing 3 glass-rattling hits and firing numerous shots on Kiprusoff. The team as a whole played a very solid, disciplined yet aggressive road game and was rewarded with a win in Calgary. And Richard Zednik finally broke out of his slump to the tune of 2 goals and an assist while continuing his hard work and consistent play...I'm sure everyone saw the relief on his face after that first goal.
And so the Caps bid adieu to Western Canada for another year. The trip had its ups and downs, its media circus, its homecomings, and at the end of the rollercoaster ride the Caps collected a remarkable 5 out of 8 possible points.
They now return home with hopefully a little more confidence after pulling off a mostly successful road trip. A win at the conclusion of a long stretch on the road is always good, especially with three days off to mull over the last match - you don't want those thoughts to be focused on a disappointing loss. The guys have earned the right to relax and savor a hard-earned victory before getting those game faces back on for Friday's matchup against division rivals and perennial pains in the butt Atlanta.
Congrats to Olie on tying Ken Dryden's marker of 258 wins for 33rd all-time - next on the list is Felix Potvin with 266, with former Caps' great Don Beaupre slightly ahead with 268.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Please disregard anything in my previous post regarding tonight's projected lineups for the Caps; they were based on Vogel's gameday preview, which I'm guessing is written the night before. Nothing like a last minute scramble for a blogger...
Check out the updated lineups for tonight, straight from the horse's mouth. If this information is in fact true, I am a much happier little Caps fan.
- Eminger is taking a seat tonight and Heward is back in - thank god. Not that I don't love Emmy, because I do; he's going to be really good really soon, but so far he's been mediocre at best. A night off might kick his butt a little and get him to play like I know he can. Clymer will play with Heward - that's two very good shots from the point, for those of you keeping track at home...
- According to Hanlon, Muir had his best night on Saturday against Edmonton. Looking back, I guess that's true. Other than his penalty early in the first period, I didn't find myself muttering "&*%$# Muir!" throughout the game...always a good sign.
- Brooks Laich with Sutherby and Bradley looks like the second incarnation of the now defunct CBS line. Brooks plays a pretty similar style to Clymer with maybe a little more finesse. Should be a fun line to watch.
- The Zednik shuffle continues - he's now on the fourth line with Brashear and Gordon. This seems like a strange line, kind of a compilation of players that don't seem to have a defined place yet.
- Beech with Semin and Pettinger could be interesting - it has a nice balance of flash and grit that could create some offense and start another streak for Alex 2.0. I'd expect some good chances off the faceoff, with Beech winning over 50% of his draws, Pettinger mucking it up to get Sasha the puck, and Semin firing a seeing-eye shot from anywhere.
- Sad to see Rico in the stands tonight, and it's not just because of my undying love for him. He's actually played really well this season. I guess someone has to sit out when the team is healthy.
Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs. Calgary Flames
Where: Pengrowth Saddledome
555 Saddledome Rise SE
Calgary, AB, Canada T2G 2W1
When: Monday, October 30, 2006, 9:00 PM EST
Calgary Sun Gameday Preview
Broadcast Information: Comcast SportsNet, WTEM-980 AM; Sportsnet, The Fan 960
2005-2006 Series: N/A
Last Game: January 14, 2004 in Washington, 3-3 tie
- This crazy game featured no offense until the last 6 minutes of play, when both teams exploded for 3 goals apiece. The first three goals came within a minute and a half, and goals 4, 5, and 6 came in the last minute. The scoring was capped off with a goal from Jaromir Jagr with 0.8 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
- The offensive downpour at the end of the game ended Olie Kolzig’s shutout streak at 169 minutes, 20 seconds.
- Trent Whitfield scored his first goal of the season, then followed up with a fighting major in the extra frame.
- The Caps were outshot 44 to 25 in the game – they were outshot 17-6 in the first period and 7-2 in overtime.
- The low-scoring affair was accented by being a low penalty affair; the Caps were whistled for 5 infractions, the Flames for only 2. Neither team converted with the extra man.
- Defensemen Joel Kwiatkowski and Jason Doig led all players in ice time, with each player logging over 27 minutes for the Caps. Go figure.
- Glen Hanlon on the game: “It felt like a Pee-Wee game at the end -- in all due respect to Pee-Wee’s...[i]t was happening so quick. It was really quite confusing.''
- Jarome Iginla, resident psychic: “We need a shootout now...[w]e needed a shootout to get the result at the end there.''
Things to Watch For:
- In the last three games the Caps have been outshot 44-11 and outscored 4-1 in the first period alone. With a record of 0-3-2 when trailing after 1, this should probably change...soon.
- The Caps are finishing up their longest road trip of the season, inching closer to their own time zone. The extra hour of sleep on Saturday and the day off yesterday were hopefully enough to give them back their legs in time to meet a slumping but still dangerous Flames team.
- Calgary hasn’t beaten the Caps since 1999 (which is only 6 games total, so take that with a grain of salt). - Flames’ Captain Jarome Iginla once again leads his team in points (9), goals (5) and shots (37).
- The Flames are ranked 26th in the league in goals scored, producing only 23 in their first 9 games. They were also ranked 24th in the league on the power play, connecting for 12.3%; however, in their last four games they have gone 6 for 24 for a 25% effectiveness rate.
- Calgary features two defensemen on their roster with the last name of Regehr, no relation. Nothing to watch for there, I just thought it was interesting. :)
28-Alex “2.0” Semin, 16-Brian “K.O.” Sutherby, 10-Matt “Empty Netter” Bradley
Projected Lineups for the Flames
Sunday, October 29, 2006
I’ve decided that I’m not going to focus too much on last night’s game.
It’s not because they lost. Trust me, I’ve been watching this team for all 24 years of my life and I’m used to them losing, so it’s not that. It was just not an exciting game to watch, and there’s not much I could say that couldn’t be better summarized by Vogel or the Post. Johnson was good, again. The Caps were outshot (although not as badly), again. Overall the team didn’t play badly but they didn’t play well either. They were able to shut down the Oilers offense for the majority of the game, but they were never able to generate anything really threatening in front of Roloson. The fans weren’t into it, the teams weren’t into it, and I wasn’t into it. It was a solid road game but a loss and a boring one at that. Let’s move on.
The Caps’ foray into Western Canada has reminded me of how central hockey is to Canadian culture. Just look at the reception Ovechkin has gotten in places that usually couldn’t care less about a little team in Washington, DC. Sure, not all Canadians love hockey but for those who do, it is part of their life, a part of their identity. All you have to do is watch TV in Canada to see just how much - the commercials alone feature more hockey than most US television stations do in a week:
(Check out YouTube for more Molson commercials - they're really funny!)
Our boys had the chance to be on Hockey Night in Canada last night, a weekly Canadian program on the CBC that spotlights one game in the East and one in the West, usually featuring a Canadian team. Sure, ratings have slipped in the past few years and some of the segments may be getting outdated (except Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry – always funny). But the program still averages about a million viewers every week, roughly 3.3% of the entire Canadian population. To put that into perspective, the Cardinals’ win over the Tigers on Friday night drew about the same percentage here in the States - and that was the World Series.
I was lucky enough to be in Montreal for 4 years and was able to tune in for many HNIC broadcasts over the years. My favorite Saturday night matchups, though, were of course the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs. It is a rivalry that is, in my mind, unmatched in any other sport. Sure, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is a pretty good one. Redskins-Cowboys isn’t bad either, and I guess you could throw the Celtics-Lakers in there, too. But when the Habs and the Leafs meet up, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. I got to watch the latest round in the longstanding rivalry last night before the Caps game, and it was entertaining from start to finish despite the fact that Montreal lost. If you tuned in not knowing better, you would have thought it was a playoff game – the crowd was that loud and the play was that intense.
It’s what I loved about being in Canada – finally, a nation of people as insane as I am.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Who: Your Nation’s Capitals vs. Edmonton Oilers
Where: Rexall Place
7424 118 Ave. N.W.
Northlands Park, Edmonton, AB T5B 4M9
When: Saturday, October 28, 2006, 10:00 EDT
Broadcast Information: Comcast Sportsnet, WTEM-980 AM; CBC, CHED 630
Game Notes in PDF
CBC Gameday Preview
2005-2006 Season Series: N/A
Last Game: Jan 11, 2004 in Washington, Caps won 1-0
- Despite multiple penalties against the Caps, including a double minor in the second to Brendan Witt and a 2 minute 5-on-3 thanks to Jagr’s illegal stick, Edmonton was unable to beat Olie Kolzig.
- The only offense in the game came from three players no longer on the Caps roster – Robert Lang scored his 22nd goal of the season, assisted by Jeff Halpern and Jaromir Jagr.
- Only 4 players from that game are still with the Caps – Eminger, Pettinger, Semin and Olie.
- The match featured the first appearance by former captain Adam Oates since being traded to Philly in 2002. Fans reportedly hooted whenever he touched the puck.
- 6 other games were taking place January 11, and all 6 of them went to overtime. A sign of the past – 5 of the 6 games ended in a tie.
Things to Watch For:
- The Caps are coming off a very intense game in Vancouver and flew into Edmonton early this morning, where the puck will drop in less than 10 hours. The Oilers have not played since Thursday. I’d expect the energy level to be a factor tonight.
- Edmonton is 6-4-0 this season but has dropped 2 straight, including one to the lowly Phoenix Coyotes. Their frustration level is high and apparently McTavish is shuffling his lines to stop the slide.
- With Olie facing 90+ shots in his last two starts and playing a particularly rough game last night, Johnson will get the start tonight. It will be his third start in the young season and he is looking for his first win – if the guys play better in front of him tonight and he continues to perform the way he has in recent games, we may have a shot.
- I felt that Eminger and Morrisonn both had pretty bad games last night; they need to pick it up tonight if the Caps have any chance of another point on the road.
- Transition games are killing the Caps – both Colorado and Vancouver displayed amazing quickness in getting the puck up and out of their own zone, often leaving the Caps behind to create odd-man breaks. They got away with it in Denver by playing a more solid game, but last night was a different story.
- Despite the loss last night, the Caps have picked up 10 points in their first 9 games and are off to their best start since the 1997-98 campaign.
- Both Oiler goaltenders have been under fire for their performances in Edmonton’s last two games, dropping consecutive games with a score of 6-2. The Caps offense has been pretty sharp lately and could test either goaltender if they come out firing.
The Caps earned a point on the road tonight and it was one more point than they deserved.
Olie Kolzig was once again a hero, following up his 45 save performance on Wednesday with 42 saves tonight to try to keep the Caps in a game they were well out of from the start. While Olie’s performance two nights ago was backed up by solid play all around, tonight looked like an AHL team against an all-star team.
The Caps looked lost from the first faceoff, running around in a futile attempt to head off the rapid fire passing of the Canucks and taking penalties out of sheer inability to stop the onslaught. They were unable to maintain any sort of offensive zone presence in the first period, mustering only one shot on net in the entire frame. Their only offense came in a quick burst over less than 3 minutes in the middle period, once on the 5-on-3 and once courtesy of Ovie off a pretty pass from Sutherby.
The play improved slightly from that point on, but the Caps were never able to create much of a threat. This is not to take away from the Canucks performance – Vancouver was quick and aggressive, shutting down any passing plays that developed and taking the body. However, I’m used to seeing the Caps rise to the level of the team they play and that simply did not happen tonight.
- Olie Olie Olie.
- Goals with the 2-man advantage are always good in my book, since this was an area in which the Caps were downright anemic last year.
- Clarkie getting into a fight at just the right time helped to jumpstart his club enough to pull even with the Canucks – he played very well all night and continues to show why he is such a great captain.
- Sutherby was one of the few Caps who played a fairly strong game, capped off with a beautiful pass through the crease to a waiting Ovechkin to tie the score at 2. He was one of only 2 players with a +1 on the night.
- Hanlon and Ovechkin laughing on the bench during the shootout – Ovie is admittedly in a shootout slump, but Hanlon is smart to not let him take it too seriously. I would have loved to hear that conversation. Pretty funny to see Ovie grinning as he threw his helmet at the coach following his missed shot…
- 8 penalties is still too many, and starting a game with 4 in the first period alone is a good way to wear yourself out quickly.
- Semin’s scoring streak ends at 8 games, as he finishes tonight’s game without a goal or an assist. Still, not bad for Alex 2.0.
- Tonight’s game was a very hard fought, aggressive game with lots of hitting and physical play along the boards. That’s usually not a bad thing…unless you have to fly to Edmonton and play another game the next night.
- The Caps are now 0-4 in overtime and shootouts. Those extra points will start to add up come playoff time – they have to learn how to win in the extra periods.
- 1-16-2-2 - that’s the shot total by period including overtime. With the exception of the second frame, just abysmal. There is no excuse for getting only 5 shots on net over a 45 minute period – unacceptable.
- Both Alexes had diving penalties - no need to start getting a bad reputation so early in the season.
- Tori Spelling was in attendance for tonight’s game. That should have been taken as a bad omen right there.
Friday, October 27, 2006
- As the Caps continue their 4-game road trip with a foray into Western Canada, the media coverage continues to ramp up. Our neighbors to the north and west have grasped onto our rare visit, issuing an outpouring of love for our young superstar and an outpouring of hatred for the new "rivalry-centric" NHL schedule.
Those media outlets that get one or two chances in a three-year period to cover one of the great talents of the sport are taking full advantage of the opportunity with a recent string of profiles and articles. The latest - another love letter from the Globe and Mail, but this time it's focused on both of our young Russian superstars.
It's nice to see Semin getting a little attention for his accomplishments so far, and I also appreciate the fact that one of the major Canadian newspapers referred to us as a "rising" young team with a much improved power play. They seem to be the first ones not to take the easy way out by calling the Caps a lowly team or without really saying anything negative about the team at all.
- The love continued south of the border last night as I watched the Flyers skate to victory over the Thrashers. The Capitals somehow got pulled into a conversation about Atlanta's success, and I was surprised and pleased to hear Keith Jones (gotta love Jonesy, right?) refer to the Caps as a much improved team that has looked good so far this season.
A little positive reassurance is nice sometimes, isn't it?
Where: GM Place
800 Griffiths Way
Vancouver, BC V6B 6G1 Canada
When: Friday, October 27th, 2006, 10:00 pm PDT
Ovie Love 3
2005-2006 Series: N/A
Last Game: January 31, 2004 in Washington, Caps lose 6-1
- Vancouver scored 4 power play goals on their way to a 6-1 rout the last time these two teams tangled. The special teams’ shootout was a repeat performance of their last meeting the year before, when the Canucks went 5-for-10 with the extra man in a 6-0 win.
- The Caps mustered a measly 16 shots on goal compared to the 40 shots that peppered Kolzig...okay, so nothing new there.
- Eminger was recalled from Portland to replace Jason Doig, who was serving a 2-game suspension for kneeing Carolina's Kevyn Adams. On the other side of the glass, Caps' owner Ted Leonsis was serving a suspension of his own after a brief tussle with a fan. What can I say? We're a feisty team from top to bottom!
Things to Watch For:
- Try to ignore the almost gleeful article on Canucks.com about Luongo's record against the Caps - let's just say it ain't pretty. In fact, it's downright ugly. Anyone at the 5-0 shellacking back in February knows exactly how ugly, especially considering the Caps had 44 shots on goal in that game. Water under the bridge, though...right? Right???
- All three Caps wins have come with them scoring at least 5 goals and the Caps are 2nd in the league in average goals per game, so offense doesn’t seem to be a problem. The addition of a second scoring line should help the odds against Luongo, as well. I’d like to see them fire everything at the net, with guys in front of Luongo to chip in the ugly goal here or there. I seem to recall the majority of the shots in those games last season were from the perimeter – we just made him look good.
- Special teams have been very good of late – it’s time to break the Canucks 9 for 17 power play streak over the last two seasons and get some of our own with the extra man.
- Pettinger played well Wednesday night despite being used sparingly as a precaution. I expect to see him log more minutes tonight and maybe get a goal...or two.
- Ovechkin should avoid blocking shots tonight, particularly those coming from his own teammates. I have a feeling Morrisonn had a bit of a scare Wednesday night...
- Semin’s point streak continues. Need I say more?
As It Stands:
- Alexander Semin is 4th in the league in goals with 8 and is in the top 20 in scoring with 12 points overall.
- The Caps are 14th in the league in power play, going 8 for 47 for 17% effectiveness overall (20% at home)
- When scoring first, the Caps are 3-0-2; they are tied for 3rd for the most first period goals with 12
- With a win tonight, Olie Kolzig would tie Hall of Famer Ken Dryden for 33rd overall with 258.
- The Caps rank 11th in the league in +/- with an overall team rating of +3
- Kris Beech is 6th in the league in faceoff percentage with 57.8%
- Brian Pothier is 4th among defensemen in assists and 11th in points with 8
- The Caps have played fewer games, 8, than 12 of the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference and are still only a point or two away from cracking the top 8. To put it into perspective: the Caps have played 8 games and earned 9 points; Florida has played 12 games, the most in the league, and has earned 11 points. In other words, it's early and no one knows anything.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Someone point me towards a cleansing bath.
I just feel so dirty.
I have just finished watching the Flyers-Thrashers game on Comcast and I fear I shall never be clean again...for I was rooting for the Flyers.
It often comes down to the lesser of two evils for me when two Eastern Conference teams meet in battle - for example, Devils over the Rangers, Rangers over anyone in the Southeast Division, anyone in the division over the Thrashers. It's not a science, but it works for me.
Except when I have to root for the Flyers. Actually, except when I have to root for the Flyers, the Rangers, the Penguins, etc. Okay, so it's definitely not a science and it usually doesn't work for me. I was actually kind of hoping they would both lose, but I guess that's wishful thinking.
The Flyers couldn't even win outright; they had to let Atlanta get a point before finally beating them in the shootout. C'est la vie, I guess. On the bright side the Thrash have lost twice in a row in the extra frame.
So thank you, Flyers.
Excuse me, I have to go disinfect my keyboard.
What a great way to start this road trip!
First of all, I was pleasantly surprised that I could watch the entire game without having to cover my eyes once. (Okay, maybe I had them covered a little during the 2-minute 5-on-3 in the first period. Seriously, can they stop doing that soon??) Last night’s game against the Avs was a great team performance that seemed to have everything.
A penalty shot (that was missed). A milestone point (unfortunately for the other team, but Sakic’s a good guy). Offensive production (yes! That one was in our favor.) And five goals from five different players is always a good thing.
Special teams continued to improve, as the Caps only took seven penalties in the game and allowed only one PPG – Andrew Brunette’s second of the night with less than 3 minutes remaining and the goalie pulled. They even capitalized on one of their three power play chances. Overall penalty killing was sharp and aggressive, with a few scary moments but nothing too out of control. I’d like to see more shots on goal during power plays, but at least they scored and there were only three chances. No need to be too picky, right?
I am loving the fact that I can barely single out individual performances to comment on – last night’s game was even more of a team game than the last win I witnessed over Carolina. If I was euphoric after that game, last night’s game would make me...well, whatever is better than euphoric. Elated. Overjoyed. Exhausted (I hate west coast games).
Olie Kolzig was by far the best player on the ice, making not only the standard saves but throwing in a few dazzling ones as well and turning away 45 of 48 shots. Mike Green’s goal was truly a beautiful sight. Richard Zednik had one of his best performances of the season, getting some odd-man breaks, making good passes, and (gasp!) forechecking. Kris Beech continued to impress, Donald Brashear had some very good shifts, Brian Sutherby played a strong game...can’t name them all, I’ll run out of room.
And let’s not forget our two Alexes – one with an assist to continue his point-scoring streak, the other with a goal and a broken pane of glass. All in a day’s work.
All in all, I can’t think of a better way to start this road swing. Next stop is Vancouver Friday night where we get reacquainted with our good friend Roberto Luongo, followed by a Hockey Night in Canada as the Caps take on the Edmonton Oilers.
Ah, HNIC, how I miss you - I can hear the theme music now...
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Who: Your Nation’s Capitals vs. Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
1000 Chopper Circle
Denver, CO 80204
When: Wednesday, October 25, 2006 9:00 pm EDT
PDF Media Notes
2005-2006 Season Series: N/A
Last Game: 12/8/03 at Colorado, Caps lost 4-1
- 2 familiar faces met their former team for the first time as Avalanche players that night – Steve Konowalchuk had been traded to the Avs just two months earlier and Andrei Nikolishin had arrived in Colorado after a year in Chicago. Niko would put the cap on the Avs win with a goal at 2:03 in the third period, which would be followed by an empty-netter with less than a minute remaining in the game.
- The Avs victory marked the first time they had beaten the Caps since October 17, 2000 and the first win at home against the Caps since March 26, 1999.
- The loss brought the Caps record to an abysmal 8-18-1-1 and marked their third straight loss.
Things to watch for:
- I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Semin will score or at least have an assist. With a point in tonight’s game he will tie Daniel Briere’s season-high 8 game point streak for tops in the league, as well as Ovechkin’s previously set franchise record for point streaks to start a season.
- Having said that, the Caps need to continue spreading the offense around. Semin and Ovechkin have combined for 50% of the offensive output so far (although that’s still better than last season).
- As I’ve mentioned before, special teams are all over the place. Despite the loss on Saturday, the Caps killed off 6 of 7 penalties and capitalized on 2 of only 3 power play chances. A similar record tonight, albeit with a win at the end, would be ideal.
- After giving up 8 goals against his former team on Saturday, Theodore was benched against the Kings and will likely be backing up Peter Budaj tonight as well. Since being traded to Colorado last season, Theo has posted a less than stellar record of 3-5.
- Anyone who gets excited about facing a back-up goalie only has to look at the Caps’ history in the last year or two against backups to know that it’s not an automatic win. Furthermore, anyone who thinks backup goalies aren’t talented in their own right hasn’t been watching our own Brent Johnson in his first two starts. Look for Budaj to put up a good fight tonight.
- Matt Pettinger makes his triumphant return to the Caps in his regular season debut. They’ve been careful in bringing Petty back, obviously not wanting to injure him further. Let’s hope all the cobwebs are shaken out and he’s back to his old form again.
- Tonight’s game will again feature two former Caps in the lineup for the Avalanche: Ken Klee and Andrew “Speedracer” Brunette.
8-Alex “Ovi-Wan” Ovechkin, 9-Dainius “Phone Buddy” Zubrus, 17-Chris “The Captain” Clark
Projected Lineup for the Avalanche
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
We find ourselves in the middle of yet another Caps dry spell, so I had a chance to tune into the Canadiens-Sabres game last night (Habs lost, gosh darn it). As I watched my other boys lose to the streaking Sabres, all I could focus on was how loud it was inside the Bell Centre. It didn't matter what the score was - the noise was deafening from the opening faceoff to the final seconds of the game, whether it was booing or cheering.
That's what I loved about Canadiens games during my time in Montreal; the energy of the crowd made the game exciting regardless of how well the teams were playing. Fans are knowledgeable about the game and are very vocal, willing to politely share their views with the refs, opposing fans, the hot dog vendor, etc. The Canadian Phone Booth was always a fun place to see a game against any team.
That excitement from the crowd is something I hope will return to DC once the Caps start their climb to the top of the standings. I have very vivid memories from my childhood of an arena full of white-clad people waving towels or shaking pom-poms during the playoffs. People even used to get excited about regular season games - there was a fan in my dad's section who rang a cowbell, one with an air horn, and another who played the trumpet. People wore costumes, made signs, and showed their pride in their team.
I see it starting to emerge again...the '8' heads are a particular favorite of mine, and who can forget the horn guy or the guy who yells really loudly. I understand that the excitement and attendance levels are usually directly related to how well the team performs - only diehards cheer loudly when the Caps are down by 5 or 6 goals. But this team is going to get more and more exciting to watch over the next few years, and I just hope that DC fans start to recognize what we have here. So in the profound words of J-Lo, "let's get loud!"
Monday, October 23, 2006
Wow - you miss one week of hockey life and so much happens!
In the week that I've been away, the Caps have produced one lopsided win, one slightly lopsided loss, and two overtime losses to the same team. And so I find myself asking the question - which team is going to show up for the long haul? Will it be the team that goes 2 for 3 on the power play and still loses? What about the one that scores 5 goals in the first period? The team taking 17 penalties a game and killing them all off or the team taking 4 penalties and killing off only half?
That darn hockey schizophrenia strikes again.
It's hard for me to make an assessment of the last four games, so I'm not going to really try. I was on the opposite side of the country and almost completely cut off from the Caps - any analysis I could offer would be based on highlight clips from the website, the occasional article, and box scores. All I can really do is recap some of the things that have popped out at me as I look over the results from the last four games:
- Alexander Semin is on fire - 8 goals and 11 points in 7 games...yeah, not bad. What I love is that he seems to score a different way each time, which will make it harder for opposing teams' defense to shut him down. He's like a smaller, sneakier Ovie with just a little less grit. I hope it continues - it looks like he's starting to really click with Zed and Beech. It even looked like Zed is starting to forecheck a little better. Who knew?
- Special Teams??? - I have no idea what's going on here. I can't even berate them for taking too many penalties or not scoring on the power play. There's no pattern to follow, no specific area at which to point my finger. All I can hope for is that the special teams issues will slowly work themselves out as the team chemistry improves...the good news is they are around the halfway point in the standings for power play and penalty killing, which is all I can really ask for.
- Win in regulation - the Caps are 0-3 when going into extra frames and we're only through 7 games total. They need to either figure out a way to maintain a lead or stage just a slightly stronger comeback when trailing. At least they manage to pick up a point with each overtime/shooutout appearance. The good news? They only play Atlanta 6 more times... :)
I'm still a little jet-lagged so I'm going to call it a night here. It looks like we've got another little break between contests again (groan) but no worries - I'll try to scrounge something up to post here between now and Wednesday. It's good to be back!
Friday, October 13, 2006
Hey, all - I'll be out of town on business for the next week, so I'll have limited access to the internet and will be cutting way back on the blogging. I'll try to check in with some sporadic posts for those of you who may care what I think (or just like to laugh at what I think), and I'll be back and better than ever next week...or I'll just be back. Hard to tell at this point. :)
Never fear, though - there is a whole team of fellow Caps crazies that will continue to provide high quality, in depth information over the next week. If you're craving opinions, just visit any one of the "Cap-Happy People" to the right for gameday previews, postgame analysis, and general Caps-related rants.
Because I'm short on time, here's my quick gameday preview for tomorrow: the Caps beat the Thrashers in their last meeting, dashing their playoff hopes and delighting the Caps' faithful. To win, the Caps need to stay out of the penalty box, play the whole game, and score more goals than the Thrashers.
Sometimes I amaze even myself. :)
To anyone who is going to the Thrashers game, please e-mail me and let me know how the tribute for Ovie was! I also want to know if those rockin' commemorative coins are as cool as they look (and don't judge me for wanting one of my very own...)
Last night was an emotional rollercoaster ride for me. I went from cheering to slapping my hand on my forehead in disgust to covering my eyes in fear. It's a very confusing feeling to sit there after a game is done and not be able to pinpoint my exact thoughts about how the game went. I guess it depends on which period you were watching...
So today I'm going to break down the good news/bad news just that way, by period:
Period #1 (aka pleasantly surprised):
Good News - Caps got on the board first with a nice little shot by Zubrus that caught Fernandez out of position and everyone seemed to have a little jump. I loved seeing Ovie come flying in to Zubie at top speed - Zubrus actually seemed to brace himself for impact. It made me laugh...
Bad News - Minnesota got on the board with a power play goal by Kim Johnsson
Good News (again) - recovery time was much better, as the Caps bounced back to regain the lead with a power play of their own
Good News - Johnson stood on his head, turning away 12 of the 13 shots faced in the opening frame
Bad News - No bad news here; Johnny was fantastic, definitely the best player on the ice
Period #2 (cue ominous music):
Good News - Only 3 penalties in this period (does that count as good news?)
Bad News - More dumb penalties led to a second PP strike by Johnsson with only 3 seconds remaining in the 5 on 4
Period #3 (Zzzzzzzz):
Good News - No power play goals allowed
Bad News - No one was awake to see the penalty killing at work
Good News - We got a point on the road, which is better than nothing
Bad News - No goals in the shootout at all...oh, yeah, and they lost
Okay, so in all seriousness I didn't really think they played that badly last night. Johnson continued his shining performance from the end of last season and made some truly great saves, and there was nothing he could do about either goal. I also loved his long pass up the ice on a bad line change by Minnesota resulting in a 3 on 0 for the Caps...that was then fired over the net. Yay.
The power play looked pretty sharp at times despite registering only one goal (a gorgeous shot by Alex 2.0 - seriously, watch the replay from different angles to get the full magnitude of how good it was). They were able to position themselves well and avoid the breakout passes and odd-man rushes that make fast teams like Minnesota so dangerous. They actually did a decent job penalty killing, too - you just can't take 11 penalties against a good power play team like the Wild and expect to get out of it unscathed.
My biggest issues would be the penalties (no surprise there) and the overall energy level. Once again they failed to keep up the drive through the full 60 minutes; in fact, by the third period both teams were lulling me to sleep. I think I went a good 10 minutes without yelling at the screen.
Next up - division rivals and all-around bad guys the Atlanta Thrashers come to town. Atlanta is currently leading the division, losing only once in the shootout opening night and outscoring their opponents 13-3 in their first four games. Another performance like last night won't cut it against those guys if they come out firing...
Here's a slightly bizarre Southeast Division preview on NHL.com featuring the Caps and focusing on Muir and Gordon...go figure. At least it wasn't a doom and gloom article this time.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Caps' rookie defensemen Mike Green celebrates his 21st birthday today! *Sigh* - they grow up so fast, don't they?
Where: Xcel Energy Center
175 Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55101
When: Thursday, October 12, 2006 8:00 pm
PDF Game Notes
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Minneapolis/St. Paul Star-Tribune
Profile-o-rama: Mike Green, Donald Brashear, Ovechkin
Broadcast Information: Comcast Sportsnet, WTNT-570 AM; KSTC Channel 45, WCCO-AM 830
2005-2006 Season Series: N/A
Overall Series: Washington 2-4-0-0, Minnesota 4-2-0-0
Last Game: Nov. 1, 2003 in Minnesota, Caps lost 2-1
- That's right, it's been almost 3 years since the Caps last played the Wild. In that time, both teams have undergone major transformations: 13 of the players dressed for the Caps that night, as well as the head coach, are no longer with the organization (anyone remember John Gruden?). For Minnesota, only 4 players from that game remain. In addition, both had drafted serious firepower up front, with the Caps obviously getting Ovie and the Wild obtaining sharpshooter Marian Gaborik.
- The loss to Minnesota continued the Caps winless streak on the road to start the season, bringing them to a miserable 0-6-1 away from MCI Center.
- Coach Cassidy called out his workhorses after the game, saying "[w]e're right back to where we refuse to shoot the puck...I'm talking about guys with no goals, I'm not talking about Jaromir Jagr. He's been in this league for 10 years and he knows what he's doing with the puck. You know, the Sutherbys, the Halpys, the Battaglias -- who refuse to shoot the puck and they have no goals.'' Butch was such a nice guy, wasn't he? It's too bad he was incompetent and had to leave.
- If Jaromir Jagr did know what to do with the puck, it didn't show in this game - at the time, Minnesota remained the only team he had never scored against.
Things to Watch For:
- Special Teams - always, always, always. Power play was starting to click at the end of the last game and penalty killing has been effective to this point. They just need to start getting a little consistency and momentum going at both ends. No one's asking for 100% on the pk or on the power play; I'd settle for mid-league numbers, enough to keep them in every game.
- Traffic - my one big issue with the last game and basically with every game since last season has been traffic in front of the net. The Caps consistently have opposition players in front of their own net yet are unable to reciprocate. Johnny is starting in net tonight and he had a great outing in the preseason against the Flyers, so here's hoping they give him a fair shot by clearing out the ice in front of him.
- Games are 60 Minutes - no one is questioning their work ethic and I know our boys go out there and play hard almost every night, but it needs to be maintained all the way through. A strong start or a strong finish will only get you through the beginning or end of a game; it is rarely enough to undo whatever damage is done if the other team comes out flying. I'd like to see a strong game all the way through and better recovery after a goal (meaning no more allowing two goals in less than a 5 minute span...)
- Crash and Dash - Minnesota's lineup is very flashy and can put up big numbers...we'll need some serious muscle to keep them in check. Luckily with the return of Matt Bradley, every forward line now appears to have a gritty, in your face type of player to balance out the finesse of the other two. Brashear, Sutherby and Laich earned praises from the media and the coach after their performance last game, so I'd expect another strong showing from that threesome.
-Offensive Prowess - Alex and Alex 2.0 put on quite a show last game and I'd love to see them continue to do so, but the Caps need to find offense from other sources as well. As we all know, putting the offensive eggs in one basket won't get you to the playoffs. They'll need some of the assist-getters of late to chip in a few goals, as well.
(No nicknames this week...I'm being lazy)
8-Ovechkin, 9-Zubrus, 17-Clark
28-Semin, 24-Beech, 20-Zednik
87-Brashear, 16-Sutherby, 21-Laich
22-Fata, 38-Klepis, 10-Bradley
10-Gaborik, 38-Demitra, 21-Parrish
12-Rolston, 28-White, 96-Bouchard
19-Vellieux, 9-Koivu, 92-Radivojevic
24-Boogard, 37-Walz, 11-Dupuis
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
This long hiatus between games (which thankfully will be ending tomorrow night) has given me time to reflect a little more on my love of the game. I know what you're thinking - excellent, because we didn't get enough sappy crap last time around.
Actually, my reflections this time are focused more on the players themselves and grew out of a brief stop on ESPN while channel-surfing a few days ago. The ticker at the bottom of the screen was on NBA, and here’s what it said: “According to police, Pacers G/F Stephen Jackson fired 5 shots after someone punched him and tried to run him over with a car early Friday morning outside an Indianapolis strip club.”
What surprised me about this was that I wasn’t surprised. Try replacing “Pacers G/F Stephen Jackson” with “Cardinals QB Matt Leinart” or “Cowboys WR Terrell Owens”. Still sounds somewhat normal, right? Now change that name to “Capitals D Ben Clymer” or “Flames RW Jarome Iginla” and it becomes jarring.
The NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball are always fighting off scandals involving drugs, alcohol, weapons, violence, etc. That’s not to say that hockey players are perfect – we all remember Theo Fleury’s drug problems, Eddie Belfour beating his wife, the unfortunately nicknamed “Operation Slapshot” from this past summer, and everything that has come out of Sean Avery’s mouth. The difference is that it’s much rarer. The entire NHL gets a jolt when scandal erupts, and it is still usually “scandal-lite” compared to anything the NFL or NBA has dealt with in the past - still delicious, but half the calories and jail time...
I’m no expert, but I see the main difference between the NHL and other leagues as something that is among the NHL’s biggest issues lately – money. There’s no epiphany there; everyone knows that the NHL is a small-market league, banking on revenue largely from ticket sales alone. As a result, players’ salaries are routinely lower than the astronomical figures paid out to football, baseball, and basketball players.
Basically, it’s not that I think all football players, basketball players and baseball players are evil or driven to be troublemakers, at least not at the start. I actually enjoy baseball (love my Nats and Bo Sox!) and contrary to my frequent tirades against the NFL, I don’t hate football – I’ve even been known to watch a game or two. Money and fame really do change people, and hockey is just a sport where players are more anonymous and lower paid as a whole.
The reason I love NHL players the most, though, is that because they are so often regarded as the poor little stepsister in professional sports, they maintain that humility and accessibility that sets them apart from other athletes. They make less money, yet most of them just seem to be grateful they get paid at all for doing something they love to do – a sentiment I find to be lacking in all other sports.
Essentially everything I love about hockey players can be boiled down to what I love about the Caps - the character and down to earth quality that makes them that much easier to root for. Of course, I consider the Caps to be more entertaining and nicer than the rest of the league, but that's just me and my biased ways. For proof, check out these three articles from the last day or two as the local media's infrequent but ongoing love affair with our boys continues: Dan Steinberg’s recounting of a chance encounter at a Wizards game...Capitals Insider w/ Ben Clymer...and Dave Fay’s profile of Olie Kolzig. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
I've been on such a high since Saturday night's game...it was so good that it carried me right through the weekend and past a "case of the Mondays".
I'm not crazy - I know that the game against the Hurricanes was not perfect and that things will need to improve. But I'm excited by the prospect of watching Ovie and Semin provide that much needed offensive one-two punch all season long. I'm pumped at the fact that over 16,000 people were in attendance to watch the season opener (although a sellout would have been better...we'll work on it). I love that they beat the defending champions.
Why do people feel the need to bring me down to reality? We've got a five day break between Caps games and I need something to carry me through. False hope always seems to do the trick. I'm not alone either - just look at Mike Vogel's ever-optimistic entry on the Capitals' website. Even eternal pessimist and all-around downer Dave Fay was looking bright-eyed this morning, featuring a nice little piece on Jakub Klepis. All seemed sunny and right with the world.
And then the rain came.
The Washington Post and the new Post blog, Capitals Insider, are both reporting tales of impending doom due to the I-word...injuries. Seriously, it's so early to be losing man-games to injury - I'm going to start wrapping up the entire team in bubble wrap if that's what it takes. You can now add Clymer to the list of players with nagging boo-boos, although he is scheduled to play Thursday night. El-Bashir was particularly pessimistic when it came to the prognosis on Matt Pettinger, who is apparently not quite ready to resume his gritty style of play.
The good news? A well-spaced schedule, while bad for diehard Caps fans needing a hockey fix, is excellent for a banged-up team like ours. Thursday's matchup with the Wild should feature a return to play for Matt Bradley, who has yet to appear in a regular season game. I also have to point out that while I share Tarik's concern with Zubrus's knee, I saw him play on Saturday - if that's not Zubie at 100%, things look good for the rest of the season.
Ah, senseless optimism...I feel better now!
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Wow. Talk about your 180 degree turnaround.
Last night's home opener featured a team that we all hoped existed but had yet to see in the regular season. They seemed confident, made few mistakes, and actually seemed to connect as a team. No more dress rehearsal, this was the real thing.
It's really hard to do good news/bad news today, because there was really very little wrong with how they played. It wasn't a perfect game, but it was as close as I think they can get at this point in the season, and I would expect them to only improve as the lines start to gel and people get more comfortable together. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's going to be a very fun season to watch if Alex and Alex 2.0 can continue to light the lamp. They rarely have a boring or ugly goal between the two of them...and congrats to Semin on his first NHL hat trick!
Defensive coverage all around was highly improved from Thursday night and even from the preseason. The defensemen played very well overall, but I was impressed by how the whole team responded - odd-man rushes were generally shut down as the Caps gave the opposition very little room to maneuver, forechecking was strong and effective, and the penalty kill continued to be impressive despite allowing one goal. Carolina is a fast, puck-moving team and they were never really able to get their game going thanks to the positioning and awareness of the home team.
Things I Watched For:
- Discipline - The Caps followed up their 3-penalty night on Thursday with only 5 last night. They did allow one goal while shorthanded, but that's going to happen sometimes and it was a pretty good shot from the point that beat a screened Olie Kolzig. The Caps responded with 2 power play goals of their own and got a third on a delayed penalty call, so all is forgiven.
- Carolina Goaltending - Cam Ward started in net for the 'Canes, which came as a complete surprise to me and the 50 media outlets predicting that Grahame would be the starter. Despite the chants of "Ward you suck!" from the 16,622 fans in attendance, I thought he played very well last night. I have kind of an inappropriate crush on Ward and would love it if he went to a less evil team...
- Energy - The Caps did come out strong, evidently pumped by the home crowd and were able to pretty much carry that energy through the entire game, with the exception of the first half of the second period. They were hitting, shooting, and forechecking with a vigor that was definitely missing in the season opener.
- Lines - I loved the lines Hanlon threw out there. The reunion of Clark with Ovie and Zubie was a welcome move by the coach that seemed to ignite the other two, but the other three lines were also very effective. Semin, Klepis and Fata added a second offensive punch, while Brashear, Sutherby and Laich proved to be a firestarter line with their grit and several scoring chances in their own right. The fourth line of Zednik, Beech and Fleischmann also had some good opportunities and featured some pretty passing plays that given time may eventually connect. Having said that, the return of our injured threesome (Pettinger, Bradley, and Gordon) is hopefully not too far off, so we'll have to wait and see.
Now, not everything was perfect - the 'Canes came out firing in the second period, scoring two goals in a span of less than four minutes and generally wreaking havoc in front of Olie. In the future the Caps have to get better at clearing out the front of the net. During the first ten minutes of the middle frame, 'Canes were planting their bodies in front of or around Olie for the screen or the chip in shot. That's something the Caps need to learn to do themselves and I started to see it in the third period, with players getting rebounds and those important second and third shots.
I would also love to see the quick back-to-back goals stop - that's two games in a row that the Caps have fallen behind after a brief flurry of offense from the other team, and it shows how important the shift immediately following a goal is.
Everyone knows about the dynamic Russian duo and their amazing 5-goal performance last night, so I'd like to present my three stars of the night not named Alexander:
1) Chris Clark - he was the third star at Verizon Center, the third star on Caps Postgame Live, and there's a reason. He played well on Thursday, too, but he was instrumental in creating plays and moving the puck while clearing the ice for the Alex's and was rewarded with three points on the night. He also was the first one in to defend Ovie after he was kneed by Tim Gleason - Ovie went down and Clark literally came flying into the corner and jumped on Gleason's back. Luckily Ovie walked away with little more than a boo-boo on his pinky finger and Clark continued to earn the respect of his team and the fans.
2) Brian Sutherby - I'm really enjoying watching Sutherby develop as a Capital. It was only the beginning of last year when he was taking stupid penalties and making costly mistakes on the ice, but as the season went on he started to mature right before our eyes and has improved his game immensely. That continued last night, as he and his linemates created energy and scoring chances with their gritty play, particularly in the second and third periods.
3) Dainius Zubrus - Zubie was all over the ice last night, hitting people, shooting the puck and generally creating mayhem for the visiting 'Canes. He opened up the ice even more and was a physical presence all night long - guess he's feeling better.
Honorable Mention - Kris Beech, Brian Pothier, Olie Kolzig and Rico Fata for their individual performances, and the whole damn team for just a great all-around effort in their defeat of the Stanley Cup Champs (who are now 0-3 on the season...)
And now for the Jackass award, it's a tie:
1) Tim Gleason - I saw the replay, and that knee-on-knee hit was definitely intentional. Hopefully he'll have a bullseye on his back the rest of the season. Actually, let's throw the whole Carolina team in here; the end of the third period featured them at their gooniest, with cheap shots coming rapid-fire against our boys. That's just so Atlanta...
2) Whatever Hurricane joker snuck into the Caps dressing room and greased Clymer's skates - the guy couldn't stay on his feet all night long (although he still played pretty well).
Alexander Semin on a 3-goal night: "I scored three goals tonight, but I could have scored more."
Alex Ovechkin after 2 goals and 15 shots: "First period, I played awful. Terrible. Second period, I told myself: Shoot everything."
Alex Ovechkin about the kneeing incident: "I don't know what happened, but he play not fair. I just have move and he hits me."
'Canes coach Laviollete lays down the law: "We're kidding ourselves. We're taking bad penalties instead of doing the work. We're mouthing off instead of doing the work. And selfish acts are costing us games...[i]t needs to be corrected, and it will be."
Quote of the Night:
Hanlon on his Russian Superstars: "I don't rate them one and two...[a]fter I thank God at night for having a great wife, I say a quiet prayer for having those two guys on my team. Olie usually gets in on that one, as well."
For more in-depth, learned (and slightly less biased) coverage, check out the big boys:
Washington Times 2
Semin #1 Star on NHL.com
That's it for now...the Caps are off until Thursday, so I may not be posting as much this week, but I'll try to check in if there's any news to report or if I come up with something else to rant about.