Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year Wishes

We here in the Cheap Seats would like to wish everyone a happy, healthy and safe 2008.



Saturday, December 29, 2007

Wild Win for Caps

The old sports adage says that the best offense is a good defense...last night's game was more an exercise in the opposite, with fourteen goals between the two teams and the Caps having to "squeak out" an 8-goal win.

The Caps have been getting a lot of scoring support from secondary sources and defensemen, but every now and then it's nice to see the stars break out with an offensive juggernaut. It is, after all, why they are stars in the first place.

As everyone knows by now, Ovechkin had four goals - his first four-goal game of his career and, with an assist, his first five-point game as well. On top of that we got two goals from Nylander, a goal and two assists from both Backstrom and Semin, and two assists from Green.

It's easy to look at a game like this and say that the goaltenders shoulder most of the blame. Eight goals on thirty shots won't do much for Gerber's save percentage; neither will six on twenty-two for Kolzig's. But most of the goals came more as a result of defensive breakdowns, lucky bounces and power plays - in fact out of the fourteen goals there were probably only one or two total (including Gerber's behind-the-net gaffe that led to Semin's easy wraparound) that either goalie could be blamed for.

It's hard to go over every goal, every mistake, every penalty in a game like this. Fourteen goals, two hat tricks, twelve minor penalties, a fight, a penalty's exhausting just writing it. What we can take from a game like this are a few things.

One, the Caps have proven once again that they can hang with the elite teams in the league. Sure, they allowed Ottawa to almost climb back in after taking two three-goal leads and three two-goal leads. Sure, they gave up six goals. But they scored eight of their own and never looked outclassed doing it.

Two, this win moves the Caps into 14th place in the conference. That may not sound great, but it is the first time they haven't been dead last since November 8th. Almost two months. With just a two point lead over Tampa it's not a solid grip by any means; on the other hand, they're sitting five points out of the top 8 and only eight points out of the division lead.

So the Caps finish out 2007 on a high note and, more importantly, have completed their very difficult December schedule with a stunning 7-3-3 record. That's 17 points in 13 games, a sign that the Caps are very much on the right track. The next test of course will be making a real push to get back in the thick of the race, starting with a rematch against the Sens on New Year's Day. If they can use this game as a jumping off point and pick up some momentum, things are going to start to get interesting.

Photo courtesy of AP/Canadian Press


Friday, December 28, 2007

Same Old, Same Old

Reading the headlines the morning after, one would get the sense that Sidney Crosby outdueled Alex Ovechkin to lead his team to a win.

Anyone who watched that game, Caps fan or Pens fan, would have to respectfully disagree.

That's not to say that Ovie came out on top, either. He finished the night with a goal and a +2, Crosby had two assists and a +1. Both respectable stats for a game that saw each of them have a few chances and a few good shifts...but neither player dominated this game.

This game was in fact a workshop on how to shut down a superstar, a clinic on how to take away time and space. Neither one had much room to maneuver, although being the phenomenal talent that each of them is, they were able to create that room when it was needed the most. When your offense for the night consists of names like Taffe (who?) and Brashear and Pothier and Armstrong...this ain't a battle of the number one draft picks that the NHL seems to want so badly.

I'm not sure when, if ever, the NHL and the media will decide to stop making this into the Ovechkin vs. Crosby show. If anything the likelihood goes down with every meeting that games between these two teams will end up panning out that way. Sure, they have different styles, but you have to think that practicing with Sidney Crosby gives you a better idea of how to shut down Ovechkin - and vice versa. Learn how to take away time and space from someone and you're going to take the power away from any forward.

Yesterday in the gameday preview I mocked how much the commentators love to drool over Crosby, and the same can probably be said (to a lesser extent) for Ovechkin. It's understandable. Two amazing talents cannot be denied. But at what point do we start recognizing the real heroes of a game, even when they're not named Ovechkin or Crosby?

Last night the Penguins got an overtime winner from Gonchar, who had a horrible game otherwise but more than made up for it by...well, winning the game. Evgeni Malkin was everywhere and took more than a few bone-rattling checks from Ovechkin while still making plays and Taffe (WHO?) came out of nowhere to get the Pens on the board early.

For the Caps you had Brashear with an absolutely dominant first period that included a fight and a goal. Then there was Nicklas Backstrom, who continues to thrill and basically created two of the Caps three goals just by being his hard-working, talented self. And Boyd Gordon, returning from an injury that kept him out most of December, slipped right back into his old role of shutdown master, keeping Crosby virtually silent for a majority of the game.

Oddly enough not one of them, with the exception of Gonchar (OT goals are sexier than just being a talented hockey player, I guess) shows up in the headlines. Instead we get things like "Crosby Outduels Ovechkin" and "Crosby Leads Pens Over Ovechkin" and so on and so forth. It almost makes you think they've just got headlines already written regardless of how the game turns out.

Guess what, members of the mainstream media, AP headline writers, whoever you are - it's been three years now. Enough is enough.

All photos courtesy of AP


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Overtime Heartbreaker

Murphy's Law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the least opportune time.

Capitals' Law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the least opportune time...against the Penguins.

The Caps were absolutely dominant for good portions of tonight's game and seemed to have things well in hand. So naturally, the following series of events occur:

- After almost a whole game with only one Caps penalty (and after Joe B. and Locker have said over and over that special teams have not been a factor), Morrisonn takes a penalty in the waning minutes. The Penguins then score with 4 seconds left in the infraction.

- Sergei Gonchar plays his typical turnover-ridden game and is an accomplice to two of the Caps' three goals. He gets the overtime winner.

- Thanks to some hard work by Boyd Gordon in his return, Crosby is fairly toothless all night and picks up just a secondary assist on the phantom Armstrong goal. The one time Crosby gets loose? It's to dish the puck back to Gonchar for the aforementioned game-winner.

- Milan Jurcina has a great defensive game but is unlucky enough to be in the path of the puck not once but twice and deflects two Penguins goals right into the net.

- The Caps lose Johnson for 2-4 weeks with a sprained knee. They then lose Ovechkin to a leg laceration, an injury that keeps him out of the last fifteen minutes of the game because the doctor can't get to him fast enough. (Um, are you kidding me??)

Against any other team you have to kind of shrug and say yes, it was their game to lose but things happen and good players can pull a win out of a loss for their team. Against the Penguins...this is not the reaction most Caps fans will likely have.

Instead it's another loss to Pittsburgh, the ninth loss in ten games since the lockout. It's the second straight loss in which the Caps were the better team. And it's a game that has the potential to deflate any momentum the Caps had from last night's win and their play through the majority of tonight's game.

If you want to take some good things out of this one, there are a few. First of all, let's not kid ourselves - the Caps played a hell of a game and really took the hometown crowd out of it, even when Pittsburgh had the lead. Their puck possession was masterful for long stretches. Crosby was not a factor until the end of the game. They were disciplined and physical. Olie made some huge saves and looked sharp in relief of Johnny. Donald Brashear got a goal.

Most importantly, if we look at the big picture, the Caps get a point. They move one point closer to 8th place, one point closer to the Islanders, Leafs and Thrashers (who all lost tonight). And with Tampa falling to the Habs, the Caps are no longer the sole residents of last place in the conference.

...that's something, I guess.


Gameday Preview: Caps vs Penguins

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: Mellon Arena
When: Thursday, December 27, 7:30 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; FSN Pittsburgh, 105.9 FM

Media Notes:
Washington Post
Washington Times
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In lieu of our regularly scheduled preview, please enjoy this dramatic reading featuring everyone's favorite puffy-lipped superstar...

A Day in the Life of Sidney Crosby

[Interior - Mario Lemieux's house, the Crosby wing.]

[Sunlight is streaming through the window onto the lacy pillow of one Sidney Crosby, who is snoring softly beneath a pink canopy. The alarm clock buzzes, rousing young Sid from his hockey-filled dreams. He grumbles something groggily that sounds like "Ovechkin!!" then swings out an arm to stop the incessant buzzing with one smack, the room sinking back into silence.]

[A strange voice breaks through...]

Errey: Wow! Did you see that, Steigy?

Steigerwald: I did indeed, Bob. Very impressive.

[Sid opens his eyes slowly and frowns. The room is silent once more and, confident that it was just a dream, Sid's eyes slowly close again. A few minutes pass and the snooze alarm kicks in; a hand reaches out to silence it and uses such force that the clock flies across the nightstand and onto the floor.]

S.: You just don't see strength like that in someone his age very often.

[Sid's eyes now fly open and he bolts straight up in bed, glancing around the room warily.]

SC: ...i-is someone there?

[Silence. Sid frowns, scratches his head in confusion and shrugs.]

SC: Weird dream. Guess I might as well get up...

[Sid climbs out of bed and pads to the bathroom, the rubber souls of his footie pajamas making satisfying scuffling noises on the carpet as he goes. He slips a little on the tile floor but catches himself on the door handle.]

E.: Holy mother of...that was close! Good thing he had the presence of mind to grab that handle.

SC [angrily]: Okay, seriously - who's there? Army? Whoever it is, it's not funny!

[Silence. With one more wary look around he reaches for his Mickey Mouse toothbrush and squeezes some bubblegum-flavored gel onto it.]

SC: Mmm...yummy. [Starts to brush]

S: Notice that technique, Bob. Sidney Crosby really looks at home with a toothbrush in his hand, doesn't he?

E: He sure does, Steigy. He sure does.

[Sid drops his toothbrush into the sink and whips around, searching the room for the voices. He rips open the shower curtain but finds no one there. As he pulls it closed again he stops to have a giggle at the funny pictures of fish all over the curtain but remembers that he's scared and quickly wipes the smile from his face.]

SC [nervously]: S-steigy? Bob? Is that you guys?

E: This kid's just super intelligent, Steigy.

SC: Where the heck are you? Come on, you can knock it off now.


SC [sighing]: Okay. Fine. Just...don't watch me change, okay?

[He wanders back into his room and closes the door, emerging a few minutes later fully dressed and fuming.]

SC: Well, they didn't have to laugh that hard...

[Stomping down the stairs he hops on the trolley that takes him to the main Lemieux living quarters, finding an empty kitchen and a note on the fridge.]

Sid -

Please pick up some milk and don't forget it's your day to unload the dishwasher. No friends over until it's done - and no food in the living room...

- Mario

S: Look at the concentration on his face. You just know he's about to do something great.

SC: Yeah, yeah.

[Pocketing the note, he heads back out to the front hall where he picks up his keys and the $20 bill that is now sitting there under a Post-It that says "for milk".]

E: And he did! Look at the way he swept those keys into his palm - like he was born to do it, Steigy.

S: I think he was, Bob.

[Sid walks outside and climbs into Mario's station wagon, pulling slowly out of the driveway and into the streets of Pittsburgh.]

S: I just never get tired of watching this kid execute a car in reverse.

E: You know he's making his hometown proud with that one.

SC [visibly annoyed]: Yeah, because they never see anyone drive in Canada.

E: And so modest too! I tell you what, he's really something special.

SC: Maybe we can play the silent game until we get to the store, okay, guys? First one to talk loses.

[The car is silent until Sid turns into the parking lot of the grocery store, when-]

E: That parking job was AMAZING!!

S: Right between the lines, Bob - that's some serious talent.

E: And look how good he was at being silent, too! Amazing.

[Sid heads toward the row of shopping carts and selects one; it has a wobbly wheel, though, so he puts it back and grabs another. After a few test rolls he's satisfied and he makes his way into the store.]

S: Now, see what he did there? The technique was just great. He knew that a wobbly wheel would not only slow him down but also cause excessive noise that would annoy his fellow shoppers.

E: That's right, Steigy. The selection of that non-wobbly wheeled cart was simply genius. Like poetry.

SC: Poetry. Uh-huh. You might also say incredible...or amazing...[rolling his eyes] At least you guys are easily impressed.

[He makes his way through the aisles, stopping to sign autographs and take pictures and kiss babies along the way until he reaches the dairy case. Pulling the note out of his pocket he glances at it and frowns.]

SC: Didn't say what kind...I guess we'll go with 1%. Or maybe 2%?, better make it the 1%.

E: Smart selection, Steigy. Very smart. Captains have to be good decision-makers and he showed how much he deserves that 'C' by picking the 1%.

S: Mario will be very pleased.

[Sid pays for the milk and, after hungrily eying the candy shelf next to the checkout, adds a chocolate bar and some gum to his purchases before heading out to the car.]

SC [muttering under his breath and glancing up at the ceiling]: Don't tell, okay, guys?

S: Ooh, he'll want to be careful there, Bob. You can bet that Mario will be checking the receipt.

[Sid looks nervous but then smiles, crumples up the receipt in his hand and triumphantly tosses it in the trash.]

E: Brilliant! He knew exactly how to handle that situation. He's got the sensibilities of someone twice his age - maybe even three times!

S: It's pretty special, Bob. Sidney Crosby is just a master of all -

SC: Okay, that's enough!! I can't...take it...anymore! You have to stop, you can't comment on ANYTHING I do anymore or I'll...I'll...I'll pinch you!

S: Whoa, look how angry he is! Sid's quite the competitor, Bob. He really knows when to let his temper show and he's showing it right now.

E: Almost makes you want to see what he can do in a fight, doesn't it?

S: Almost, Bob. Almost. I tell you, it's truly a joy to watch this kid every day.

E: I hear he's not a bad hockey player, either, Steigy. We should check that out sometime.

[Sid sighs.]

SC: I need a drink...


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Bumpy Win

In a game where neither team looked particularly impressive, all you can ask is that your team is the better team. The Caps were just that for most of the game tonight and picked up not only an important two points but an important win as well. Tonight was just not pretty to watch. That's often the case when either Florida team pays us a visit, and I'm not sure what it is, but I think when we call this a division "rivalry" we're playing fast and loose with the meaning. But you know the saying - it wasn't pretty but it didn't have to be.

Come to think of it, that should be the Caps' team motto...ah, well. Maybe next year. On with the show!

- Kolzig, Kolzig, Kolzig...when you are quoted in the papers as saying you let in one a night that you should stop, are you viewing that as a challenge? Is this some kind of weird streak you're aiming for? I assure you, it's not one that will show up in the record books. Legs. Together. Just for giggles. Vinny doesn't need any help scoring on us - he does just fine on his own.

- Speaking of Lecavalier, that was a pretty shot that rifled past Olie to pull the Bolts in front 2-1. The turnover that led to it was not. And again, it's not like he has ever needed assistance or incentive to get points against the Caps.

- The Caps were dominant in the faceoff circle, winning 30 of 49 - and none were more so than Brooks Laich, who was 9 for 11. That's 82% for those math-challenged people (or people unable to read a scoresheet). Vinny the Great? 7 for 18. And that's not counting the 32943 times he got tossed from the faceoff circle...I might be rounding up there, but it was a lot.

- When is the last time you saw the Caps take only one penalty in a game? Even the one they took, an Ovechkin minor that prevented St. Louis from having a breakaway, wasn't a full penalty because it came while on the power play. Discipline, thy name is Boudreau.

- Lightning goaltending is usually kind of a joke, but let's not kid ourselves - Ramo can play. That being said, he was giving up a ton of rebounds and give credit to the Caps for picking up on that fact. They were very good at crashing the net and causing chances, which led directly to two of the three goals.

- Semin, Ovechkin, Steckel. Ladies and gentlemen...your Lightning-killers.

- The fourth line looked really impressive tonight. Laing, Steckel and Bradley combined for a +7 on the night and created some of the best chances, dominating the play almost every time they were on the ice. I've been asked a few times whether I would prefer Laing over Bradley, and the answer is still no - but what do you do when they play really well together? Gordon is probably in tomorrow night, so it looks like we'll have an answer to that question soon enough.

- Kozlov, Pettinger and Fleischmann need to pool their salaries - they can't buy a goal between them, and say what you will about any of them but it's not for lack of trying.

- Boy, was Ovie having a rough night or what? That was one of his worse games of the year.

Next up...Pittsburgh. Here we go again.


Interim No More

Per the Caps website, Bruce Boudreau has officially been named the head coach.

McPhee has said that there was no timeline for them to find an official coach, but I think we every game we could see that Boudreau was "interim" in name only. This is a fantastic move by the organization and anyone who questions making an AHL coach into an NHL coach only has to look at the long list of distinguished NHL coaches, current and past, who got their start in the minors.

Congrats to Bruce - now let's see the Caps give him his first OFFICIAL win!


Gameday Preview: Caps vs Lightning

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas or, like me, some good Chinese food and a movie or two. It's time to get back into the swing of things - and what better way to do that than with a home game against the lovely Lightning of Tampa Bay? Can't think of a one.

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Where: Verizon Center
When: Wednesday, December 26, 7 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; SunSports

Media Notes:
Caps' Site
Washington Post
Washington Times
St. Petersburg Times

As the Caps near the halfway mark of the season it's not an exaggeration to say that just about every game becomes do or die, and with six games in the next eleven nights, they need to get things going now. The word "momentum" seems to be missing from their vocabulary for whatever reason, be it in between goals or in between games, and the last thing you want to see as the second half of the season looms is a lack of momentum. You want to be picking up speed, picking up points, and picking up intensity.

The Caps can start tonight as they host division rivals Tampa Bay. The gruesome threesome - Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards - just love feasting on the Caps. On the flip side, our own Russian duo seems to like scoring on the Bolts (as does Dave Steckel), and games between these teams tend to be on the high-scoring side.

Right now the Lightning sit three points ahead of the Caps, further representing the wonder that is the Southeast Division in the basement of the East and struggling with inconsistency of their own. The Bolts have a tendency to extend their streaks a bit longer, dropping five or six in a row before storming back with a handful of wins, while the Caps have been employing the win three lose three strategy thus far.

Both teams entered the holiday break having lost four of their last five. Neither is particularly adept at achieving balanced scoring. Goaltenders for each team have struggled off and on at various points in the season. In other words, we're gearing up for yet another thrilling Southeast Showdown sure to keep you on the edge of your seats.

Recently we here in the Cheap Seats had a somewhat bizarre epiphany that Vincent Lecavalier and Beauty and the Beast's Gaston bear a striking resemblance to one another. No comment on whether this epiphany grew out of temporary sleep deprivation or not...but what follows is the musical result.

Vinny and Ovie
(to the tune of "Gaston"...with apologies to Disney)

Vinny's slicker than most
Even quicker than most
And a neck so incredibly thick Vinny boasts

For there's few men on ice half as manly
Perfect, a pure paragon!
Just a few years since hoisting Lord Stanley
Every man in the league knows to watch when he's on

He can deke to the right
Give the d-men a fright
And then pass the puck off to the midget in flight
As a twosome, yes, they're quite intimidating
Vinny's a true superstar!

He'll drop the gloves
Or dent the twine
In Tampa he's god and the rest are all swine...

But there's one player here
Who can give Vinny fear
Just a certain young Russian who grins ear to ear

He plows through guys with no second glancing
You can see he's got power to spare
Nothing stops him when he starts advancing
The puck's in the net and his fist's in the air!

Vinny ought to beware
Ovie's setting his glare
As he scores goals at will and he does it with flair
He's especially good at the celebrating
Millions of points for Ovie!

Vinny may have been the king of the South
Long before Ovie stepped on our shore
But now that he's here number 8's here to stay
And you know that he's going to score!

No one shoots like Ovie
Makes those beauts like Ovie
Then goes tearing around on a segway like he
Ovie's giving Lecavalier cause to fear him
My what a guy...Ovie!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Gameday Preview: Caps vs Islanders

We've been slacking off here in the Cheap Seats...many apologies and promises to resume the usual rigorous commentary and deep, well thought out analysis that has become our signature after the holiday season has concluded.

For now here is a somewhat abbreviated gameday preview...

Who: Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders
Where: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
When: Saturday, December 22, 7 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN+, 3WT; FSN-NY, WBBR

Media Notes:
Caps' Site (Hey, remember the days when previews were done with a balanced look at both teams?)
Washington Post
Washington Times

The first game of the year between these two teams resulted in a win for the Caps that they probably didn't deserve. The second game gave the Caps a loss they definitely deserved. The common thread? For whatever reason the effort hasn't been there against the mighty Islanders, and they'll need to pick it up in order to grab another very important two points.

The Islanders are one night removed from a come from behind victory over Pittsburgh yesterday. As is always the rule with opponents in back to back games, the Caps need to jump on them early and take them out of the game. Considering the fact that last night was also the first time in over a month the Islanders have scored at least four goals, the Caps need to rediscover their scoring touch and put a big number up early. Taking a lead and holding a lead will be the tests for this Caps team.

This game, like the Habs game a few days ago, is one they have the ability to win and in fact should win. And you always want to go into a break on a high note, and the Caps don't play again until Wednesday. Nothing like a two-point night to add some spice to your egg nog (or for us non-Christmas carolers, a little kick to your Chinese food).

Let's face it, we're coming up on the halfway mark of the season and from this point on we have to look at the majority of games as must-wins. Points may count the same in November as they do in April, but they sure as hell are harder to get once the spring thaw hits. Kicking off a significant winning streak now will spare the Caps from having a nailbiter of a finish - or worse, a premature start to the golf season.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gameday Preview: Caps vs Canadiens

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens
Where: Verizon Center
When: Thursday, December 20, 7 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; RDS, CJAD

Media Notes:
Caps Site
Habs Site
Washington Post
Washington Times
Montreal Gazette

The NHL's idea of a funny, funny joke is to schedule all four Caps-Habs games over the course of about a month. Thanks, guys. So the next thirty-odd days shall be known as "the time when CC went crazy", although my loyalty will always lie first and foremost with the Caps.

After kicking off the season red-hot, the Habs have cooled off significantly and have fallen to 6th in the conference. Meanwhile the Caps have turned things around and are 7-4-1 in the last 12 games since replacing Hanlon and will look to continue their resurgence on home ice.

Special teams always seem to be a factor in the new NHL, and tonight will be no different. The Habs come in with the number one power play in the league - the Caps, fueled by the efforts of Dave Steckel, Brooks Laich, Quintin Laing and others, have kicked their penalty kill up to 16th best. Still, the Habs' ranking is not just a fluke and they are extremely potent with the extra man. The Caps will need to be very disciplined and take advantage of 5 on 5 play as much as possible.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go hide under the covers until it's over.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gabby Gets Noticed

Here in DC we're used to everyone being ignored by the general media - local and otherwise. The number of times the Caps have shown up on anyplace other than the Southeast Notebook could probably be counted on one hand. The amount of articles written about this team in the Canadian Press or the Associated Press that aren't related to the outcome of a game, just as infrequent.

Enter Bruce Boudreau.

He's the NHL's latest media darling, a good guy done good who has arguably become the biggest interview in Washington hockey. The focus has suddenly shifted from a superstar Russian phenom to a slightly chubby, talkative, middle-aged man with horrible taste in clothing and a refreshing outlook. He even got DC Sports Bog to write about hockey for a day...

It's not hard to see why exactly Boudreau is now the subject of so much interest. Besides having a quick wit and a conversational style that screams sound byte, the results on the ice simply can't be denied. The Caps have rebounded from a horrific start to the season, a stretch that saw losing streak after losing streak, crippling one goal losses and sub-par effort on a nightly basis, and are now chugging their way back into the thick of the race. Although still in last place, the gap between the Capitals and the coveted eighth spot has shrunk and teams ahead of them are starting to look over their shoulder.

The wins have been hard-fought; the losses often have been as well. Overtime wins against the Flyers and the Rangers, a one-goal thriller over the Devils, a blowout against the Thrashers - and most recently, an effort that saw the Caps go punch for punch with the league's best team, the Red Wings.

When asked about his success Boudreau's first response always seems to be that he just does what he's always done - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it's clear that his dedication to three key concepts has gotten the team this far.

He preaches discipline. He preaches confidence. He preaches winning.

And after a less than stellar effort, Boudreau is the first one to name names, to single out players who should be playing better. And that means any player. Everyone from Kolzig to Pothier to Fleischmann to Semin has been called on the mat, but it's not in a Tortorella-esque way, where you picture the player in question cowering in a corner being admonished like a child. Instead he's matter-of-fact, respectful in his criticism and always grounding it in the belief that the singled out player can do better.

Therein lies the difference between a good coach and a blowhard...but that's an issue for another day.

Since taking over, Boudreau has managed to get good performances out of most of the team on a consistent basis. More notably, though, he's gotten great performances out of his young players who spent time with him in Hershey. Mike Green obviously stands out as someone who has blossomed this year, his confidence and his ice time increasing with every game.

But what about Jeff Schultz, who suddenly has five goals of his own? Or Brooks Laich, who has stepped up his game despite occasionally being on the fourth line and has developed into a consistently smart player? And let's not forget Quintin Laing, who has stepped in and put together an impressive stretch since being called up, doing all the little things that don't show up on the scoreboard and adding a few points as well.

This team is clicking on almost all cylinders right now. It's important not to get ahead of ourselves, and consistency will be the big test down the line. At the moment, though, this team is doing what they should have been doing all year long - proving people wrong.


Monday, December 17, 2007

So Close...

This game was supposed to be a layup for the Wings. A slam dunk. An easy two points. Well, no one told the Caps that.

There was a general sense among Caps fans that if the boys could just avoid being completely embarrassed, it would be okay. Not only did they not get embarrassed, they were right in there all night - trading goals and matching saves until all that remained was the shootout, the Caps' nemesis.

The Caps had plenty of opportunities to pack it in, and the team we watched during the dark days earlier this season would definitely have done just that. They didn't. The Wings took an early lead...the Caps tied it up with a huge Ovechkin tally. They then jumped into the lead themselves off a fluky Schultz goal...and then saw Detroit tie it up.

The one that could have been the backbreaker, though, came in the third period. Holmstrom tipped a Datsyuk shot into the net with just over five minutes left in the game to take a 3-2 lead, and it looked like the Caps were done.

Enter Alexander Semin, who took advantage of a delay of game penalty to rifle one past Hasek and bring the game even at three. Overtime reared its ugly head and the Caps got a few lucky bounces (Olie has got to close those legs faster) and a few unlucky ones (Ovechkin in close on Hasek...oy).

And then we get my very favorite way to decide a game: the shootout. You know, it's almost not fair to have to face Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Hudler one-on-one; Detroit has an embarrassment of young talent on their team and that was that, game over, despite Semin's goal which was gorgeous and Kozlov's shot off the crossbar which was...painful.

Olie really had a good night, especially in regulation, and faced down 27 of 30 shots including 9 from Zetterberg. Alexander Semin continues to look like he's almost 100% and showed it with not only a game-tying goal to force overtime but a simply beautiful shootout goal - he also had no turnovers, no penalties, and 5 shots (7 attempted). And the whole team really hung together in another solid effort on the road.

Favorite stat of the night: Four turnovers for the Caps. In the entire game.

Weird stat of the night: Only one non-goalie Cap failed to register at least a shot on goal - Viktor Kozlov.

Major credit goes to the Caps for not listening to the naysayers and really making it a contest worth watching. I think we all know that while they are better than their record shows, they're also not quite at Detroit's level - and that's okay.

For now a point feels like two.


The Cheap Seats Award for Dumbest Idea Goes to...

In the latest chapter of insane analysts we get today's entry by THN columnist Mike Brophy. His premise? The Caps should trade Ovechkin.

Before I get into this - show of hands, how many people would cancel their season tickets right then and there should GMGM pull off such a trade?

Brophy is saying that basically the Caps are floundering. They aren't drawing crowds. They're not a contender nor is there any proof they will be in the near future. So clearly the thing to do is trade the superstar Russian for some obscene package of players, the way Quebec did back in the days of Eric Lindros.

That's his theory, based on one phenomenally lopsided trade in the annals of NHL history.

But actually it's not.

Pay close attention to the following line: "What if the young superstar tells the Caps he’d prefer to play someplace a little more cosmopolitan than Washington?"

This isn't an op-ed piece on making the Caps a better team, although it is certainly doing a great job masquerading as such. It's a deeply veiled attempt to say that Ovechkin would be better served playing in a more cosmopolitan city, a city that clearly will treat him better than DC ever could.

First of all, I've lived in and around DC all my life - it's a pretty cosmopolitan city in it's own right. So is Brophy suggesting a move to Toronto or Montreal on the basis that hockey love makes a city cosmopolitan?

No, I'm thinking he's referring to a different city, a city that they say never sleeps - a city like New York. Shocking that someone would again suggest that one of the best players in the league should go to what everyone has decided is hockey heaven. Never mind that New York is notorious for being unable to grow their own young talent, or that they are captained by someone who despite being among the greatest hockey players in the league has managed to do little more than lead them to stunning mediocrity.

But okay, we'll pretend for a minute that Brophy actually does care about the state of the Caps (and ignore the fact that in the last month the Caps have played like more of a playoff contender than a number of teams already in the top 8). We'll grant him the notion that this is actually a piece about the future of the Caps, the darlings of the NHL and all media types as we well know.

"Because it worked for Quebec/Colorado" means nothing to me. Eric Lindros in his prime was no Alex Ovechkin - character-wise, talent-wise and personality-wise. Their impact on their respective teams could not be more different. And I'm thinking the knowledge that Lindros did little to increase the number of Cups in Philadelphia probably would give some GMs pause about pulling the trigger on a lopsided trade like that anyways.

And his argument that Ovechkin being a Cap is no guarantee of success also holds little water because...well, what is the guarantee? Signing Scott Gomez to an obscene amount of money? Hiring Wayne Gretzky to coach your team? There's no such thing as a guarantee in sports and I'm betting our chances are slightly better with a talent that only comes along so often among our ranks.

But more importantly, trading Ovie would be disastrous to this team right now because the team has been built around him. Players have been drafted to complement his skills, players have been signed to create plays just for him. Trade Ovechkin now and you've got a shell of a team but no core - and in a town that has merely a passing interest in hockey as it is, trading the flamboyant superstar player would be far more catastrophic for DC hockey than even I can imagine.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Gameday Preview: Caps vs Wings

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings
Where: Joe Louis Arena
When: Monday, December 17, 7 pm

Broadcast Info: Versus, RDS, NHL Network (Canada); 3WT Radio; AM 1270

Media Notes:
Caps' Site
Washington Times
Detroit Free Press

Taking on the top team in the league is a daunting task for any club - when you're still struggling to climb into the pack and you still suffer from occasional lapses, it's even moreso.

One thing the Caps have proven this year, though, is that they have the ability to hang in there with the league's elite teams despite being so-called "lowly". When you're in last place in the conference obviously you are considered the underdog in every game, but so many times this season the Caps have come out and dispelled the myth that the record defines the team.

Their work is cut out for them this time - sure, they've gone into Scotiabank Place and shocked the previously white hot Senators. They've traveled to Philly and taken one away from the Flyers in overtime. But there are few arenas tougher than the Joe to play in and the Caps need to come out with the work ethic and solid play they've suddenly adopted.

The Wings aren't an invincible team...they just play one on TV.

2 Minutes with...Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek

CC: First of all, thanks for meeting with me today, guys.
ChCh: Such a late hour, though?
CC:'s 3:30.
ChCh: It's already 3:30?? Hurry up, young lady, we're late for dinner! Right, Dom?
DH: Eh?
ChCh: [shouting] I said we're late for dinner!
ChCh: Never mind.
CC: Right...right, um, so Chris, how has the NHL changed since you first started?
ChCh: These kids nowadays, they don't know what hockey is anymore.
CC: I'm sorry?
ChCh: Damn spoiled kids. Back when I was a kid we had to use stale pieces of bread for padding and we had to run from city to city with our equipment on our back. Through the snow, too, with only used tissues on our feet to protect against the cold.
CC: That doesn't sound quite...
ChCh: Back then we were paid in pieces of string - and we were thankful, too.
CC: Um...okay. Dominik?
DH: Eh?
CC: Well put, sir. Chris, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing-
CC: What??
ChCh: I remember one game where I scored 363 goals in one period. 'Course, the number three had been outlawed in an attempt to ration electricity, but the president gave me a pardon because -
CC: Wow. Uh, hey, do I hear a bingo game going on next door?
ChCh: Bingo?? WHERE? Come on, Dom!
[Chelios leaps to his feet, grabs Hasek's wheelchair and rushes out of the room...a process that takes him about an hour.]


Pothier Pots Winner

Another day, another one goal win - and boy, does it feel good to say that.

So what have we learned?

We learned that the Caps continue to prefer allowing the first goal of the game - although we don't know why. We learned that Vinny Lecavalier really, really likes to score on the Caps. We learned that Dave Steckel really, really likes to score on the Lightning. And we learned that our goalies are trying to give us a collective ulcer.

You never go into a road game expecting it to be pretty - in fact, being a fan of the road team means you don't want it to be pretty. An ugly game means our team is shutting down the home team, mucking up the neutral zone and basically taking the home team out of it. This was not a pretty game. And so we get another two points in a hard-fought battle.

Some thoughts:

- Eight turnovers by the Caps tonight - that's a dramatic improvement over the last few games and back down to where it should be. However...Mike Green had two of them. Growing pains associated with learning the ropes as a full-fledged NHL defenseman, sure, but it will be better for all of us if he can hold on to the puck a bit more.

- Michael Nylander was a +1. When was the last time you saw Nylander not in the minus column, regardless of the outcome?

- Brian Pothier had the game-winning goal, an assist and three shots in just over sixteen minutes of ice time. Now that's what I call bouncing back. He also played a pretty decent game in his own end, which is just as important and yet so often overlooked.

- The first goal of the game was a very soft goal for Johnny to let in. Please oh please do not start up this racket that the Caps need new goalies to win games, though. Are they playing like Vezina candidates right now? Maybe not. But if the Caps can put up enough goals and Olie and Johnny make enough big saves the trophies matter very little. And let's not forget that the Vezina candidates from last season aren't exactly playing that way right now, either.

- If Alex Ovechkin takes one more stick to the face he will no longer resemble his roster picture.

- Tomas Fleischmann's goal was a gritty, picking up the trash kind of goal - the second time in the last handful of games that he has parked himself in front of the net and refused to be moved until the puck crossed the line. I think we all can agree that's progress for Flash.

- Pettinger's pass from behind the net was a thing of beauty, as was Pothier's finish. It's so nice to see that play working for us and not against us lately...

- I never get tired of watching Ovechkin, Semin, Nylander, Kozlov, or Green stickhandle around the opposition. I do get tired of seeing them stickhandle around the opposition only to turn over the puck immediately after.

- Ovechkin had kind of a rough night - and by rough night I mean he was a -2 and took a stick across the face. And yet he fired 13 shots towards Holmqvist, 7 of which got through. If he can have that kind of night and the team can still win? I like where we're going.

- Every game Semin looks a little closer to 100%...and we can tell because he not only registered four shots on goal and picked up an assist, but he also took a hooking minor. That's our little Alex 2.0.

- Minnesota held on to defeat the LA Kings last night. Why should we care? Because for the first time since November 9, the Caps are not dead last in the NHL. They're still 29th, let's not get ahead of ourselves, steps.

All photos courtesy of AP


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Back in the Swing

Photo courtesy of AP


Friday, December 14, 2007

The Magic Number Is...


That's how many turnovers the Caps had tonight. That makes 50 in the last two games...and that's too many.


Slimy Loss

Well...that was just ugly.

Photo courtesy of AP
The Caps dominated most of this game, especially the second period, but only one of their goals was pretty (Backstrom scoring off a beautiful Kozlov feed is something I could get used to seeing) and none of the Sabres' goals were pretty.

There may have been a bit of sitting back in the last 10 minutes, though - it was like the Caps got a little too confident in their ability to win in overtime that they forgot they had to at least maintain a tie in order to get there. The game-winning goal was simply a product of puck possession and hard work by the Sabres, enabled by a Caps team that was running around. You can't blame Olie on that one...he takes enough of the blame on one or two of the other goals.

And of course once again the ice picked up a few assists, aiding Olie's already renowned stickhandling skills in Buffalo's first goal and evening things out with the fluky bounce that led to Laich's tying goal.

But it was just ugly. Too many men on the ice calls going both ways, bad bounces, incomplete passes - ugly ugly ugly. If the Caps were the better team as I believe they were, it's certainly a relative term.

So what was good?

The Caps did do a good job of staying in the game after Buffalo scored, whether it was a tying goal or a go-ahead goal. And give Ryan Miller a lot of credit for making some huge saves in the first two periods to even give his team a chance to score the tying or go-ahead goal. And the crowd seemed loud and energized (although I know for a fact there were too many Sabres fans there). And...

Hmm. I'm out of good things. It was a rough game.

Big picture - every streak comes to an end, and while we would have preferred a longer one, the Caps are still very much in the game. Just look at the standings and the point difference between 15th and 5th (it's 9 points, by the way). Look at the fact that the Caps continue to spread the scoring around (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich, Nylander, Kozlov, Jurcina and Poti all picked up points tonight). Look at the way this team continues to play, even with the loss - and look at how well they've bounced back from losses in the last few weeks.

Watch out, Tampa.


Slugs Beware

Bring it on, Buffalo.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where We've Been, Where We're Going

Today is the three week mark of Bruce Boudreau's tenure behind the bench here in DC - so there is no better time than to look at what has happened to this club since his arrival. (Warning, incoming stats alert...)

- First and most importantly, the Caps are 6-3-1 since Gabby took over - that's 13 out of a possible 20 points, a .650 percentage. If the Caps continue at their current pace over the remaining games they'll have about 92 points...which if you recall was the exact number the Islanders had when they squeaked into the playoffs last year. (By the way, if you stretch that out over a whole 82 game season it would give the Caps 106.6 points.) Thanks to Biff for doing the legwork, aka the math, and for the heads up.

- Before Boudreau the Caps had only managed 3 or more goals seven times; only three of those times did the Caps score at least 4. Since then the Caps have scored 3 or more goals in six of their ten games; four of those games have seen the Caps score at least 4.

- Opponents lit up the Caps for at least 5 goals on six separate occasions to start the season. Since the coaching change it hasn't happened once.

- In the first 21 games of the season the Caps were taking an average of 4.5 penalties per game (which is still an improvement over last year), an average that has dropped in the last 10 games to 3.9 per game.

- The penalty killers have given up only four power play goals in the last ten games and have yet to allow more than one per night, which had happened eight times in their first 21. In addition, the Caps have won twice when allowing a power play goal - something they hadn't been able to do before.

- Just before Hanlon was relieved of his duties the Caps lost five straight, all to divisional opponents. They have played the Southeast five times since then and are 3-1-1 in those games.

- The Caps continue to struggle with injuries, but while before it almost seemed like they were willing to hide behind the excuse of missing their captain or missing someone as key as Boyd Gordon, they're not anymore. They've won four of five despite missing both of those players and a pretty important guy in Nylander as well.

- Balanced scoring is the name of the game for any successful team - we all know it, we see it every day in our opponents, and finally the Caps seem to have found it. It's coming from some unlikely places, too. In the last five games your goal scorers are as follows: Ovechkin (2), Pothier, Semin, Laich, Backstrom (2), Schultz (3), Pettinger, Green (3), Laing and Motzko (2).

- Two key guys over the last ten games have been Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green. Ovechkin has contributed 25% of the team's offense since Boudreau came on - that's actually down from the close to 30% he has over the entire season...and it's down further in the last five games, to about 10%. Meanwhile Mike Green has gone on a tear, scoring 3 goals including the game-winner in overtime last night, and now leads the league in goals by a defenseman. He's also even in +/-...

There is certainly some work left to do. The Caps are still committing far too many turnovers (they had 25 last night, including 3 apiece for Ovechkin and Backstrom...and 5 for Mike Green). There are still times where you sense they're not communicating with one another, and Ovechkin still has an urgency to his game where he seems to be trying to do too much. But there are many positives to draw from and the change in the team is really quite incredible.

As of this morning the Caps sat two points back from Florida, three points back from Atlanta and Buffalo...and six points out of eighth place (aka the Penguins). Anyone ready to throw in the towel just yet?

Gabby says no.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fear the Mullet

A Caps overtime win...isn't it a lovely thing? Almost as lovely as Donald's new 'do.

Happy '80s night!


Extinguishing the Firepower

One of the so-called hot button topics we're supposed to care about this season is the lack of scoring going on in the NHL. The average goals per game is down, we're told. Goals equal exciting games, they say. It needs to be fixed - so sayeth the league.

All due respect to the NHL, who always seem to make the right decisions based on what they think the fans want...but that's crap.

Yes, the odd 7-0 game is fun. The occasional 6-5 game can be thrilling.

It can also be boring and miserable and predictable, whereas a good old-fashioned 0-0 or 1-1 game can be an edge of your seat, nailbiting thriller. (Even moreso back in the days before the gimmicky shootout came along...but that's an argument for another day.)

It's also not as though goal scoring has disappeared completely, evidenced by the scores we've seen just in the last week. The Sabres have had three games in the last two weeks where the winning team has scored at least 7 goals. The Caps beat up on the Thrashers just a few days ago to the tune of 6-3. Colorado rolled over the Blues by plastering them for 9 goals - and by "rolled over" I mean still allowed 5 goals against. The Flyers demolished the Pens just last night, putting up eight goals in a game that included back to back hat tricks.

So it's not that goal scoring is down, per se. The difference is actually found not in the league but in teams - in other words, teams that scored a lot of goals last year are, well, not so much. Tonight's game is the perfect model for this.

At this time last year the New York Rangers had 99 goals, tied for sixth in the league. This year they have a total of 64 goals - that's a 35 goal differential over the course of a year. But those big buck contracts handed out to Gomez and Drury were totally worth it, right?

Then there's the Caps. A year ago they had begun their descent but were still 10th in the conference and had racked up 95 goals. That's 21 more than their total this year. A lot of that is coaching, chemistry and injuries - but it's enough to send the Caps to the basement.

And it's not just the Caps and Rangers, either. Last year the Islanders had 88 goals. This year they've scored 62. Buffalo went from 124 to 86; Nashville went from 99 to 70. Anaheim was the most dramatic dip, going from 121 goals a year ago to just 77.

On the other end of the spectrum, Carolina is just one goal off their pace from last season. Toronto, Montreal, and a few other teams are also hovering around the same mark. Ottawa continues to rack up points. Detroit has actually scored more goals than this time last year, and by a large margin.

So maybe it's not that goal scoring is down leaguewide but rather that some previously offensively powerful teams are simply not anymore. Maybe the issue is that with true parity comes the decline in offensively-loaded teams. Maybe it's because some teams are underachieving (i.e., the Caps). Maybe goal scoring isn't a trend that can be measured year to year but rather over a decade or a generation.

In the end does it really matter? Would you really stop going to games just because the final score was 2-1 rather than 3-2? Statistically speaking, goals are down. But on any given night any team can explode for 7+ goals and on any given night a goalie can shut down everything. It has nothing to do with how strictly the refs interpret the rules or how big the net is - all any fan wants to do is be entertained and, hopefully, see their team come out on top.

The rest is just numbers.


Gameday Preview: Caps vs Rangers

Who: Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers
Where: Verizon Center
When: Wednesday, December 12, 7 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN+, 3WT; FSN-NY, WABC 770 AM

Media Notes:
Washington Post
Washington Times
New York Times

For some reason games between the Caps and the Rangers always seem to catch these two teams going in opposite directions, and tonight's game is no exception. The Caps have won three of their last four; the Rangers have dropped three of four. The Rangers are flirting with first in the division; the Caps have long been mired in last place in the league. It always makes for an interesting matchup, one that the Caps appear more than ready for despite a few key injuries that continue to shorten the bench.

Recent changes by Boudreau seem to have reinvigorated the Caps, not the least of which is the newly minted top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Pettinger. The line has created some of the best chances in the last two games and Backstrom has suddenly found his scoring touch, potting goals in two straight and simply appearing more comfortable in every situation.

And then there's the play of Quintin Laing, Hershey Bear and journeyman AHLer, whose scrappy, hardworking play has been perfectly suited to the ailing Caps. His performances in every game have been commendable, and it was capped off with a well-deserved goal in Monday's win. Look for him to continue to make his mark in the lineup, blocking shots and providing the shot in the arm for this Caps team.

Meanwhile New York continues to struggle with consistency on so many levels. Before the season began, the Rangers were annointed as the new kings of the East and in some respects they have held true to that prediction. But they've done it in spite of an anemic offense, one that is in fact the worst in the league - "led", of course, by their mighty captain Jagr, whose 7 goals put him on pace for a measly 20 on the year. In that respect they are very much like the last-place Caps, and there but for the grace of Henrik Lundqvist go the Rags...

Hank is only one of the obstacles facing the Caps tonight, but he's also the biggest. It was not the Rangers who beat the Caps a month and a half was Lundqvist. He was the difference, keeping the Rangers in it and more importantly keeping the Caps out of it en route to a 2-0 victory and his third shutout of the year. He's added two more since, including one just a few days ago against the white hot Devils.

The Caps need to find a way to continue their recent scoring touch, hot goalie or not, if they want to make it three in a row.

Tonight's big promotion is "80s night", which I guess means '80s music will be played can dress up...and stuff. I don't know. What I do know is that the first 5,000 people in attendance will receive a lovely red mullet wig (as modeled by Craig Laughlin on Monday night's broadcast and by poor unfortunate random Caps employee in the picture above).

But these wigs are merely impostors, pretenders to the throne of the ultimate mullet. The king of mullets, if you will. Coincidence that the former owner of this shaggy delight makes his season debut in DC tonight?

You be the judge.

Short on top, nothin' but a party in the back! Evil returns...tonight.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Caps Get the Bounces...Finally

After Friday's loss to the Devils, Boudreau called out the entire team for playing uninspired, lazy hockey. They responded with a dominant win against Atlanta the following night - and the momentum continued tonight, as the Caps came out absolutely flying and proceeded to simply command the pace of most of the game.

There are a few things that are of concern about tonight. First of all, the turnovers in the first period were atrocious, with one of them resulting in a goal. They ended up with 20 turnovers total, way too many to have on a consistent basis. And the Devils second goal (that actually counted) was one of those leaky goals becoming all too common for Olie.

But with a win like this there is a lot to be positive about. For one thing, the bounces finally seemed to go the Caps' way, and that alone is a rarity. Backstrom's goal came off a Kozlov pass that bounced off the net, Schultz's goal deflected off a Devils defenseman and the Devils had what was probably a goal disallowed. We won't go into the fact that the Caps also had a goal disallowed (and in fact not even reviewed) that probably should have been a goal as well...

Backstrom continues to have the hot hands and every game his confidence seems to grow - his goal tonight was just really pretty and finished off a nice sequence of passing and power play pressure by the Caps.

The team recorded 31 hits, with Ovie picking up five and Jurcina leading the team with six. In fact only three players failed to register at least one hit - and I think we're all better off if Fleischmann, Motzko and Semin don't try to hit so much anyways.

Congratulations to Quintin Laing, who scored his first career NHL goal - a hardworking goal for a hardworking player, and the game-winner to boot. He's been a pleasant surprise so far and a big reason why the Caps are playing as well as they are without Clark, Gordon and Nylander. And if you didn't smile at his gap-toothed grin between periods...well, you're dead inside.

So the Caps get another modest winning streak going - Wednesday brings the Rangers into town, a team that recently brought the Devils' own winning streak to a crashing halt. The Caps have been fairly good against the Rangers away from MSG, however, and if nothing else it's always fun to welcome Jagr back to the District. Don't forget - the first 5,000 fans get a red mullet wig, so get there early.

You know, because it's '80s night. Sure.

All photos courtesy of AP


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Smackdown in Hershey

Apologies for the lack of recaps and previews this weekend - I've fled the confines of DC for the chocolatey hills of Hershey, Pennsylvania, where I'm immersing myself in all things Bears for a few days. Hopefully the Caps can pull out a win tonight to restore my faith but I'd be lying if I said I didn't need a little mental break.

So I headed off to Hershey yesterday where I met up with fellow hockey lunatics Teka (a Bears/Penguins fan) and Nadine (a Flyers fan). Needless to say, much hilarity ensued as we tried to convince one another that our respective teams were not, in fact, evil. You can guess how successful that was...

This morning we trekked over to Giant Center and caught the Bears' morning skate, which although optional was fairly well attended. The boys were in high spirits, having dispensed with the Baby Pens last night, and it was nice as always to see the familiar face of Ben Clymer among the smiles.

The Hersheyness continued with a sightseeing tour of the town. Local landmarks visited: the one Starbucks in town, Chocolate World (where we were accosted by a Hummer driver from New York...a rude New Yorker, go figure), and the local strip mall (including a happenstance sighting of the Bourquemobile).

And then tonight. The main event. Bears. Phantoms. A Caps fan, a Bears/Pens fan, and TWO Flyers fans. Who will win? Who will lose? Who will come out alive? Tune in tomorrow...hopefully...


Friday, December 07, 2007

Eight is Enough

Tonight's first game of the season between the Caps and Devils seems to be an appropriate time for a much-needed shot of optimism.

Exactly a month ago the Devils found themselves off to a rather unimpressive start - in fact, they sat merely one point ahead of the Caps, with only five wins on their record.

Then a funny thing happened. They started winning.

First a 6-2 victory against the Flyers; then a 2-1 win over the Penguins. A 3-0 victory (Brodeur's first shutout of the season) and suddenly the Devils have their first three-game winning streak of the year. That streak has since turned to eight straight, and while Caps fans hope that streak ends in Newark tonight, it has propelled the Devils into a first place tie with the Flyers in the Atlantic.

Think it can't happen here? Atlanta dropped it's first six games of the year...they then fired Hartley and went on to lose only three of their next fifteen. On the reverse side, the Senators started the season with only two losses in their first seventeen games (including one to the mighty Capitals). They've just recently snapped a seven game skid, squeaking out a win over the equally mighty Panthers.

The Devils may seem intimidating right now. Eight straight wins is good - obviously something is going right for them. The Caps will need to be on their game for sure.

But eight straight is also the streak the Senators were on before the Caps came into their building, an underdog of the highest degree, and pulled out a stunning 4-1 victory.

My point is this - things change. The season is long. On any given night any team can beat any other team. And a streak can start when you least expect it. Just something to think about...


The World's Longest Gameday Preview

Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
When: Friday, December 7, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; FSN New York,

Media Notes:
Caps' Website
Devil Website
Washington Post
Washington Times
Newark Star-Ledger

We're trying something new today, kids.

In gameday previews past you've met some of your favorite (and least favorite) players and learned the deepest, darkest secrets of the teams you love to hate - but if you truly want to know your enemy, you need look no further than the fans. To get a better understanding of those strange creatures known as Devils fans, I asked some of my good friends to help me out by answering a few burning questions. By sheer coincidence, their answers make my workload considerably lighter this week...

Meet Schnookie and Pookie, sisters who share a brain, a love of all things Paulie Martin, and the most wonderfully insane sense of humor I've ever seen. Together they make up the dynamic duo between the hilarious Devils-centric blog, Interchangeable Parts. I know what you're thinking - dynamic and Devils are two words never before used in the same sentence. Shocked the hell out of me, too.

This is probably the longest post I'll ever do, but believe me - you won't want to skip over a single word, comma, or apostrophe.

Favorite Devil:
Schnookie - Jay Pandolfo
Pookie - This is a matter of much, much consternation for me, but Zach Parise has stolen my heart in a way no other Devil player has. My problem with this is that he's the classic "Trapper Keeper Cutie" player, in that he's totally the guy the teeny-bops would have plastered all over their lockers. The teeny-bops know it, the fans know it, the media knows it, and worst of all, he knows it. But he's also so much more talented than Devils skaters are supposed to be. (Also, whenever I'm feeling too ashamed of the fact that the best-looking best player on the team has -- though I've resisted for over a season -- become my favorite, I can fall back on my second favorite, Paulie Martin.) [Golden Gopher love is the best.]

Least favorite Devil:
Schnookie - Johnny Oduya.
Pookie - Cam Janssen. No question. He might go down in history as my least favorite Devil of all time.

Favorite Cap:
Schnookie - I'm cheap and easy -- Ovechkin.
Pookie - Alex Ovechkin, of course! He has 3 beers before every game!

Least favorite Cap
Schnookie - Out of loyalty to Marty, I gotta say Kolzig. (But despite my merciless taunting about him, I don't hate him or anything. Really. Entirely.)
Pookie - Olie. Sorry. I just find it so unseemly how easily he loses it during games. (Oh, and that whole Caps-goalies-winning-Marty's-awards thing is also a problem.) [I personally love how Olie loses it - it's totally part of his charm! Calm, cool, collected goalies are boring *cough*Marty*cough*]

Dainius Zubrus is...:
Schnookie - ...a 6'4" Sergei Brylin, and therefore, a perfect fit for the Devils. He's like the biggest "eff you, Gomez" signing Lou could possibly have found in this past summer's UFA crop. He could never score another goal and I would still love, love, love that we picked him up. [That's probably a good mindset to have...]
Pookie - ...a very good hockey player.
(psst Is anyone buying that? No? Okay then.) HOT! Dainius Zubrus is hot! Seriously though, he's a big-name free agent who signed for less money to play long-term with the Devils. How can I not love that? I had zero expectations for him to do anything but open up some space on the ice, so I'm thrilled with his play so far. Is he maddeningly more likely to miss an open net than score? Sure! But since we've had a player like that for years (Patty Elias, I'm looking at you) it's not a problem to have Zubie doing it too. (At least he doesn't do the epic whole-head eye roll that Patty's perfected.)

More tragic figure - Sid or Zach?
Schnookie - Sid is like the loneliest little wooden robot boy in the world, but at least he's every bit as talented as he thinks he is. So I have to give this one to Zach, but it's very nearly a dead heat.
Pookie - On the surface Sid seems much more tragic. Friendless, alone, nothing but a piece of meat. But if you look a little deeper, you'll find that Zach is actually far worse off. You see, Sid knows there is more to life than hockey; sure that "other than hockey" stuff is all based on being a good little piece of meat and making the most out of endorsement deals and shilling for the League powers that be. But Zach has never in his life been given any reason to believe that there is anything in life outside hockey. Rather, that there is anything in life outside of winning in hockey. When you see Sid give an interview after a bad loss he looks like he's sad that he let his teammates, coaches, management and fans down. When you see Zach give an interview after a loss -- any kind of loss -- he looks pissed that the world let him down for allowing his team to lose and a little bit shocked that such a thing could happen in the first place. (Also, in a goofy interview about gaming, the only thing Zach could think to do was brag that his older, barely-good-enough-to-be-a-minor-leaguer loser brother whom he idolizes is capable of getting 5 stars on Level Hard in Guitar Hero. That's just sad. Even Sid wouldn't stoop so low.)

The Devil we don't know but should:
Schnookie - I have to pick only one? Well, there's Rod Pelley, who is going to be the new John Madden when the old John Madden can no longer serve in his role as John Madden, but he's not much of a threat to score or anything (right now he's just a preternaturally calm presence on the PK). The guy Caps fans should look out for is whichever interchangeable D-man has just been reinserted to the lineup. We're carrying 8 defensemen right now, and Sutter's dressing 7 a night; he's rotating healthy-scratching the non-top-two guys, and lately whichever one has been sitting has been awesome as soon as he's given the chance to play again. Rachunek did it first, demonstrating in his return to the lineup an offensive dynamism that we'd never seen from him before, and Brookbank did it most recently, getting his first two career points on key assists in our 4-3 comeback against Boston.
Pookie - David Clarkson. He has the potential to be the new Randy McKay. He's a scrapper, a pest, a fighter and a yapper, but he's also shown he's got good hands and a huge heart.

The Devil we know but shouldn't:
Schnookie - If you'd asked this a few weeks ago I'd have had a long list that would have started in bold-face all-caps with Patty Elias and Brian Gionta. But they've both been scoring lately (since Patty got shifted to center), and in our last game the Patty/Gio/Zach line was an indomitable force. Right now, there isn't anyone on the team who's overrated.
Pookie - Thanks to Lou's strict policy of not promoting players over the team, we've ended up not having many overrated players (nor many players people have heard of at all!), but I guess in this case I'll answer Gionta. This seems to be a bit of an unfair answer, since he's had a few great games recently. Sutter put together a line of Parise-Elias-Gionta, and as of the last game they're officially on fire. However, I'm sticking by this answer solely on the strength of the fact that he's on the All-Star ballot but shouldn't be.

Ovechkin is breaking in one-on-one. The NJ defenseman I would HATE to see between him and Marty is...:
Schnookie - Johnny Oduya. He's a perfectly adequate fifth defenseman, but if he got stuck between Ovie and the net, he'd probably find a way to drop his stick in the farthest corner, and then opt to skate out to pick it up.
Pookie - Johnny Oduya. He is on a mission to set a new world record for Most Dropped Sticks in an NHL Season. He'd just drop his stick, Ovie would kick it into the corner and then, just as he's done in at least two games this season, Oduya would leave his position to retrieve the stick, leaving Marty all alone to...stop the puck without breaking a sweat. [We'll see about that last part, missy.]

Chico or Doc?
Schnookie - Doc! Doc's the best play-by-play man in sports, and he's the straw that stirs the drink with regards to the experience of watching the Devils on television.
Pookie - DOC! Doc is hands-down the best broadcaster in all of sports (and I've heard a lot of 'em, in a lot of sports). Chico... is Chico. I'll be very sad when he's gone, but I'll be devastated the day I have to watch a full Devils season without Doc.

Chico or Locker?
Schnookie - Dude, there is no question -- Chico.
Pookie - You know I love Locker, but I gotta go Chico. Chico is, after all, the one who said, "Marty looks like a mermaid out there! Except he's a man...wait, I know! He's like a male mermaid out there!"

Butter or margarine?
Schnookie - Butter. And lots of it. (Do people even eat margarine anymore?)
Pookie - Butter. I just recently found myself asking, upon seeing margarine as a Safeway Score and Win prize the other day, "Margarine still exists?"

The player I'd most like to punch is...:
Schnookie - Cam Janssen. His dirty hit on Kaberle was the turning point of the Devils season last year, and now he's threatening to get healthy enough to want back into the lineup one of these days. I am horrified at the thought of one of the actual competent hockey players we currently have on the roster losing his job to make room for him. (You thought I was going to say Sean Avery, didn't you? Well, I refuse to give him the satisfaction.) [Plus you'd have to wait in a very, very, VERY long line.]
Pookie - Daniel Alfredsson. He's slowly and very quietly turning out to be a gutless puke but no one seems to notice. Plus his face looks soft, so it won't hurt my hand.

If I ran the NHL I would...:
Schnookie - Abolish the shootout and go back to having ties.
Pookie - 1. Make sure every television broadcast on every channel on satellite and cable was broadcast in HD. 2. Ensure suspensions were meted out consistently and fairly. 3. Create a Competition Committee constructed entirely of fans who would veto changes made before they're instituted.

Prettiest Devil:
Schnookie - I have to pick just one? This is a staggeringly pretty lineup, and this is a tough call. It comes down to Zach Parise, David Clarkson or Travis Zajac. You can't go wrong with any of them.
Pookie - David Clarkson (with Zach Parise a very, very close second).

Ugliest Devil:
Schnookie - Pickin's are slim when you're looking for ugly Devils these days. It's really pretty indisputably Colin White.
Pookie - We're actually a pretty darn good looking team for the first time in years. The Hockey Gods clearly are taking pity on us for having Bobby Holik on the team for so many years. But if forced to choose, I'd go with Colin White. Boyfriend's got the second ugliest tattoo I've ever seen. [Which begs the question...what's the ugliest one??]

Worse uniforms - Islanders or Panthers?
Schnookie - Islanders. By a mile. They're just a hodgepodge of all these different uniform-design elements, like the design team had a last-minute brainstorming session before pitching the concept to the team, and just went with every idea they could come up with.
Pookie - Gosh, that's a really, really tough one. While the piping on the Panthers jerseys (I won't call those monstrosities "sweaters") is awful, I'm going to go with the Isles just on the strength of those obnoxious orange color blocks on the sleeves.

The "forbidden trapezoid" rule is...:
Schnookie - Asinine. What kind of sports league decides to limit the creativity and evolution of a dynamic element of the flow of its game? I understand the idea that reducing how much a goalie can handle puck means he can't function as the "third defenseman" in stymieing attacking offenses. But what about the fact that allowing goaltenders to handle the puck as much as they want to also means they function as a "third puck-moving defenseman" who can hasten his team's defense-to-offense turnaround? And how about the way that, as it became essential for goalies to participate in playing the puck beyond just the area surrounding the net, more and more guys who were really bad at puck-handling were creating scoring chances against themselves? It was a stupid, short-sighted rule change, and I still don't see what value it's added to the game. (Furthermore, Devils fans can't help but feel like their team has been persecuted with this rule. Really, if Marty had -- heaven forbid -- ended up playing his career in Toronto or New York, would the NHL have ever considered that goalies handling pucks in the corners could be anything but a good thing?)
Pookie - A travesty. The only reason it was put into place was to stifle Marty Brodeur. What League goes out of its way to hinder the game of one of the most creative players to ever play his position? Marty's ability to control games by stick-handling was revolutionizing goaltending, forcing other goalies to adopt it as part of their game. This trend was only creating more offense, either by providing a competent stick-handling goalie the opportunity to quickly pass the puck up to his skaters, or by providing less competent stick-handling goalies the opportunity to bungle the puck terribly which 99% of the team lead directly to the other team getting a good scoring chance. The only explanation for why the NHL put this rule into place was to put a lid on Brodeur's talent. This is a travesty.
[As you can tell, this is a hot-button topic. I hate it, too, but I'm not going to lie - I wish the rule had been around in Hextall's day.]

Favorite chant/taunt:
Schnookie - I'm a purist, so I'm always happy with the "Rangers suck!" chants. I like it best when inserted (all rhythmically, "The Rangers Suck!") into the Chicken Dance.
Pookie - "Rangers suck", of course! Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than hearing the whistle that signals the beginning of the "duh duh duh da-duh -- Rangers suck!" group sing-along, but I'm also fond of "If you know the Rangers suck, clap you hands" and inserting "the Rangers suck" into the Chicken Dance. While I personally feel "Rangers suck" is a universal thing, if I happen to be at a Rangers-free event, I'll settle for being the classless goon that I am by adding a hearty "sucks" to the announcement of every name on the opposing team's starting line-up.

Liquid detergent or powder?
Schnookie - HA! Like I do my own laundry! (Pookie does it for me.) (And I cook for her, so it's not like I'm a total freeloader!)
Pookie - Liquid Tide HE, no bleach. With a nice addition of some April Fresh Downy. Safeway Score and Win can send me a lifetime supply of both.

Flyers or Rangers?
Schnookie - What kind of question is this? Whom do I hate more? Rangers. With the passion of a thousand white-hot suns. Don't get me wrong, now -- I definitely hate the Flyers, but just not the same way I hate the Rangers.
Pookie - Excuse me? Is this some kind of Capitals humor? Well it's not funny! [Actually, Capitals humor is saying "of COURSE we'll make the playoffs this year!" - don't worry, you're new. You'll learn to recognize it.] Seriously though, Flyers. I hate the organization through and through, but I'm capable of looking beyond that to not intrinsically hate every player in the line-up. The Rangers, however? I hate every single, eensy-weensy, itty-bitty thing about them. The fact is, the Devils hate the Rangers so much it goes beyond the fans and the players -- both Marty and Lou admitted to the media that beating the Rangers in 2006 was more satisfying than winning the Cup would have been.

Three things I can't live without:
Schnookie - TiVo, Center Ice and wireless internet access.
Pookie - Center Ice, TiVo, the Interwebs [Seriously, we really can't tell you're sisters.]

Hockey was better before...:
Schnookie - The unbalanced schedule.
Pookie - The shoot-out. I don't know who decided we can't handle ties. The NFL has ties and no one seems to care, and yet we're stuck with hard-fought battles of intensity being settled with a super-skills competition. It's insulting.

Hockey is better now because...:
Schnookie - We have a long stretch of normal scheduling before having to go back to "all division, all the time".
Pookie - There are so many good, young players making the NHL an exciting league to watch. We don't have to sit and listen to the media whine and moan about how things were better when Gretzky and Lemiuex were still playing because we've got Sid, Ovie, Heatley, Nash, Getzlaf, Parise, et al.

When the Devils winning streak finally ends I will:
a) stand and applaud a fine run
b) throw something at the TV
c) drink myself into a stupor
d) call CapsChick and curse out her team
Schnookie - Probably D. I mean, really, can this go on forever? And our next game is against the Rangers, so if we're going to have that inevitable "all the bad habits that haven't been biting you in the ass finally do" let-down game, I'd rather it be against a sad-sack team like Washington than the Rangers. Oh, did I say "sad-sack" out loud? My bad. :P [Yeah, we're in a fight.] (But seriously, I'm the world's most pessimistic fan. I assume my team is losing every game.)
Pookie - e) Declare the team dead to me, announce that the entire line-up can't play hockey to save their lives, wonder aloud why I waste my time on them... and then immediately and eagerly check the schedule to see when they play next. [Cheater.]

CapsChick is...:
Schnookie - The greatest woman to ever breathe. [Check is in the mail, my dear...]
Pookie - Brilliant, witty, and wonderful except that whole Caps thing. But we can work on that. [Yes. I will work on not being so brilliant, witty and wonderful. Good suggestion!!]

Special thanks to the IPB ladies for their insights, witty and intelligent as always (if not occasionally a little misguided). Now, Caps fans - feel free to fire back at some of those little digs hidden throughout...anyone think after eight straight wins the Devils and their fans may be getting a little cocky? Hmm?

All photos courtesy of Getty/AP