Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ode to a Traded Player

Your time with us was far too brief
We wish you needn't part
We'll miss your smiles, we'll miss your frowns
But you're always in our heart

You're moving on, the deadline past
We knew this day may come
Yet part of you in us will last
You'll always be our chum

Your lanky frame a familiar sight
Your accent strong and proud
You never backed down from a fight
You made us cheer out loud

But now you're off to Buffalo
We wish you wouldn't leave
The best of luck to you my friend
We'll try hard not to grieve

Farewell, dear friend - we'll miss you so.

Timo Helbling
Washington Capitals & Hershey Bears
August 8, 2006 - February 27, 2007


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An Anticlimactic End to a Crazy Night

After the Panthers scored their third goal in less than ten minutes to start tonight's game, I turned to my stepmother and said, "they're going to rally, I can feel it."

...I was kidding.

I'm trying to not let shootout losses get me down anymore, so from here on out I've decided to count them as ties and move on. We don't need the points anyways, so who cares?

So we'll call this was a very valiant tie, one deserving of the Caps.

I don't know if it felt this way to anyone else, but it seemed like both the Caps and the fans started this game a little flat, still reeling from the trades of the last two days. Most notably absent was Dainius Zubrus, but it was also strange not seeing Heward and Zednik out there without them being injured. Throw in Clark's continued absence with a sprained shoulder, and this one could have easily been over before the game was a period old.

But the Caps put together a performance that made me proud - they held their heads high, my brave little soldiers, and marched on in honor of their former teammates. They were nipping at Florida's lead all night, spotting them a goal or two before cutting the lead back to one until finally tying it. As empty as the building was, I thought the roof would blow off when Laich tied it up.

Just a couple of thoughts:

- I loved the SOB line :) Sutherby, Ovechkin and Brashear had a fun chemistry when put together and at the very least crashed some bodies into the glass. It's good to see Sutherby getting rewarded for his strong play over the last week and he added another two points to this little hot streak. Glad to see him finally start to turn it on. Meanwhile, Brash had close to ten minutes of ice time, the longest he's had in a while, and put it to good use. He doesn't quite have the finish of Clark, though, I have to say...

- I'll admit I was a little nervous when Cassivi came in to the game in relief of Johnny after the first period. But Freddy looked very sharp tonight and the guys did a good job of letting him see shots and cleaning up rebounds. He allowed just one goal on 18 shots - give him credit for coming in at a tough point in the game and keeping the Caps in it long enough to get the tie.

- A lot of guys looked good - Laich and Sutherby had good games, as did Beech (although he can't finish on a breakaway to save his life). Jurcina, who has been playing the body superbly, made sure that tonight was no exception with a bone-rattling hit that brought the fans to their feet.

- And then there were some who looked bad - You can't really blame Eminger and Muir for being a little rusty, with one out for a few weeks as a healthy scratch and the other with a broken bone. Pettinger seemed to be having a rough game, turning over the puck on one play that led to another Panthers goal and just not being able to finish. And Semin - well, it was a very Semin-like performance; jaw-dropping stickhandling followed by the predictable lazy pass or turnover. Grr.

- Power play was 3 for 5 tonight. 3 FOR 5! That's one way to break out of a PP slump.

- Shots were even at 33 apiece - when is the last time you saw that against the Panthers?

- So these games against Florida - they're supposed to be rivalries, right? Jokinen scored a hat trick and I must have missed the announcement, because I didn't even know it until they announced him as one of the three stars. Where are all the opposition fans? Where were the hats? For the love of god, give us back our archenemies...please.

- And then the shootout...yeah.

So the Caps turn another corner and continue on without good friends Dainius Zubrus, Jamie Heward, and Richard Zednik. We'll miss them and we wish them all the best. The hope now is that the new additions and draft picks will yield some success for us in the future, whenever the future may come.

It was a good game, though, and I was very pleased with the outcome of a game that, to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to.

Oh, and one more thing: Alex Ovechkin is


Big Picture, People

Okay, everyone take a deeeeeeep breath.

Now let it out.


I'll admit, I had to be pulled in from the ledge when I saw to which team Zubrus was traded. I'll be honest, I was sad to see him go for a 23-year-old and a draft pick. I'll level with you, I'm wishing he could stay here and keep feeding Ovechkin steak.

All I needed was a good dose of crazy to bring me down to earth, though. And by crazy, I mean some of the commenters on Tarik's blog post about the trade. People threatening to cancel season tickets, people calling for GMGM to be fired...yikes. Ah, nothing like the warm embrace of my fellow Caps fans to give me some much needed perspective.

I know, I know - Buffalo. We hate Buffalo. And that's fine, because they hate us too.

But anyone who has been following the minimal information coming out of the GM's office regarding a contract extension for Zubrus knows that the two sides never seemed to come together. What's more, the problem wasn't money - it was time. Money is, oddly enough, an easier point on which to compromise. You say $2 million, I say $1.5 million...details that usually can be worked out. GMGM and the Caps clearly see this organization on a strict schedule, though, and signing Zubie to anything more than the three years that was apparently on the table must not have fit into the plan.

What's interesting is the reaction to what we got in return. Since Zubrus wasn't going to sign here, the best option for the Caps was to at least get something back. People are turning up their noses at Novotny and a draft pick - people, it's more than St. Louis got for Guerin. It's equivalent to what Florida got for Roberts. In fact, has anyone seen a trade today that involved two high-level players switching places? No, and you won't either.

The playoff race is too tight and too many teams are either buyers, looking to get a quick fix for the postseason, or sellers, looking to stockpile picks and prospects. If you thought we were going to get someone like Drury back in return, you're even crazier than I am. Novotny is young and could easily fill in on the second or third line, which if we're honest is probably where Zubie belonged to begin with. Backstrom hopefully arrives next year, and it sounds like he'll be ready to take the other spot. As for the first line, well...speaking of good would he look in a Caps sweater?

Just food for thought.


The Newest Buffaslug

Per TSN's deadline day coverage:

Dainius Zubrus and Timo Helbling have been traded to the Buffalo Sabres for Jiri Novotny and a first round draft pick.

Great. Just great. More later...I have to go drink myself silly.


Say It Ain't So, Zubie...

No official word yet, but Tarik reports that he spoke to Zubrus just a little while ago and it doesn't appear that an extension will be reached before the deadline. Obviously a trade has not been finalized but I'll report back as soon as...well, as soon as someone else reports on it. Such is the life of the unconnected blogger.

I'd say more, but I'm too depressed to talk about it.

Talk amongst yourselves.


You're So Vain...

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway, yay
And I wonder if I'm really with you now
Or just chasin' after some finer day

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me waitin'

And I tell you how easy it feels to be with you
And how right your arms feel around me
But I, I rehearsed those lines just late last night
When I was thinkin' about how right tonight might be

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' me waitin'

And tomorrow we might not be together
I'm no prophet and I don't know nature's ways
So I'll try and see into your eyes right now

And stay right here 'cause these are the good old days
(These are the good old days)
And stay right here 'cause these are the good old days
(These are the good old days)
(These are the good old days)
(These are the good old days)
(These are...the good old days)



Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Panthers

Who: Your Nation’s Capitals vs. Florida Panthers
Where: Verizon Center
601 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
When: Tuesday, February 27, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, WTNT 570 AM; FSN Florida, WQAM 560 AM

Media Notes:
Washington Post
Washington Times
Miami Herald
South Florida Sun-Sentinel (poor bastard...)

2006-07 Standings: Caps 24-29-10, 58 points – 5th in division, 14th in conference; Panthers 24-26-13, 61 points – 4th in division, 13th in conference

2006-07 Season Series: Caps 2-3-0, Panthers 3-2-0

Last Game: January 20 in Washington, Caps lost 4-1
- A penalty-filled first period made it difficult to determine how this game would end up. The first twenty minutes saw the two teams whistled for 8 minors combined, 7 of them in the first ten minutes.
- The Caps were able to take advantage of the penalty-filled period early, capitalizing on a 5-on-3 to take an early lead just under 4 minutes into the game.
- That would be the last “good” part of the game, however, as the Caps and Panthers skated through a lackluster game that ended with the Panthers again on top, 4-1.
- Florida failed to connect on any of their ten chances with the extra man, a lone bright spot in a dismal game for the home team.
- There’s not much else to say – for whatever reason, the Panthers seem to have the Caps’ number. A team that has hovered between the middle and bottom of the pack for the past two seasons continues its dominance over the Caps, outshooting and outplaying them in the majority of their meetings since the lockout.

Things to Look for:
- Well, between now and tonight the Caps’ roster could look different. At the time this was written, Zednik has been traded to the Islanders. The Panthers, as well, could look different, although there has been no word yet on movement among their bigger names – Gary Roberts, Todd Bertuzzi (still injured), Martin Gelinas, Eddie Belfour...all potentially on the trading block for the highest bidder
- While the Caps continue to stumble through the end of the season, the Panthers have found a little life of late. 4-1-2 in their last 7 games, they have jumped over the Caps for 13th in the conference and have a 3 point lead.
- The Panthers have lost 13 games in either overtime or a shootout – the most in the league. The Caps are tied with 3 other teams for second most with 10. So if this one goes into extra they both lose?
- Ovechkin has found himself mired in a slump lately (breaking news, right?) but scored an Ovechkin-esque goal in Sunday’s loss to the Devils. Whether that snaps him out of his funk for good remains to be seen, but he has been skating better over the last two games.
- With Zednik gone, the question now becomes who will fill Clark’s spot on the top line while he’s on the IR. Brashear and Zednik had been alternating shifts, but I don’t see Hanlon keeping Brash up there full time. Clymer has spent time on the top line, as has Sutherby (briefly). At this point they might as well take the opportunity to try out different combinations, see which of the young pups can possibly hang with Ovie.

Possible Lineup for the Caps

Ah, screw it...I'm sorry, I know I'm going to get in trouble for this one but I'm begging off the nicknames once more. It's only because we have no idea who is going to be in the lineup between now and the game. (Have I mentioned I HATE the trade deadline?)

If I have time I'll try to put something together after the deadline passes - if not, check back before the game on Thursday for the first post-trade deadline nicknames of the season as the Caps take on the Bolts.

Two Southeast Division matchups in a row.

Can you stand the excitement?


Monday, February 26, 2007

And the Hits Just Keep On Coming...

The Caps have sent perpetually "ill" defenseman Lawrence Nycholat to the Senators for defenseman Andy Hedlund and a 6th round pick in 2007.

This move was a little more unexpected, only because AHL-caliber players tend to fly under the radar of both the national media and local fans. Still, the fact that he's been on the IR for the past few weeks with what was described as an illness had to be a sign that he wasn't long for this team, either by way of a trade or a waivers claim in the course of being sent down to Hershey.

After initially jumping out to a hot start, Nycholat cooled down quickly and towards the end was often a defensive liability as his career AHLer status caught up with him.

So the Caps appear to be ramping things up a bit, albeit with some smaller trades. We'll see what happens as the countdown slips to 20 hours. This could get interesting...


One Down...

Let us all come together and wave our handkerchiefs sadly, for Richard Zednik is a Capital no more.


Per Tarik, Zednik was traded to the Islanders for a second round pick in 2007. This obviously wasn't completely unexpected, and as I mentioned before, while I loved having him here, things just weren't clicking with him. Zed joins Brendan Witt and Chris Simon on the growing list of former Caps to pull on the Islanders logo in recent years.

Here's wishing Zed all the best on the Island.


Tick, Tick, Tick

28 hours to go...can you feel the excitement?


I hate this time of year. Really. I hate not knowing who will stay and who will go, whether we will bring in a big name or headline a blockbuster 15 player deal or sit idly by as other teams swap players like baseball cards. And this year in particular I'm feeling rather anxious. For the first time in a long time I like every single player on the team. I like what they bring to the ice, how they interact with one another. Chemistry is such a delicate thing to work with - throw one wrong person in there and it ruins the whole balance. I know McPhee understands this and it is my hope he will continue to work within that framework to improve this team.

Good news/bad news time.

The good news is that my temper tantrum yesterday about the possibility of Clymer going to the ArmPitt may have been a bit early. According to Tarik, McPhee has told him that we shouldn't read too much into Clymer and Eminger being perpetual scratches lately, stating that players who aren't playing well will sit from time to time. Now GMGM can be slick sometimes so I'm choosing to take this with a grain of salt, especially since I thought both of them were playing rather well when they were initially removed from the lineup. But specifically mentioning them and explaining their absence makes me feel just a bit better.

Another somewhat comforting thought, at least in terms of these two players, is the possibility they've been removed to showcase other players as trade bait. If the Caps were planning on moving them, you would think they'd be playing them to give other teams' scouts a better idea of what they're looking at. One or two games is one thing, but being scratched over the course of a week or two really doesn't give a team the best picture if they haven't been eyeing that player all along...and with these two guys somehow I doubt anyone has been.

By the way, judging by the handful of comments I got yesterday, I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one who would be sad to see him go...although I can't say I would have gone so far as to purchase a Clymer Penguins jersey ;)

Bad news...Zubrus, Zednik and Heward look to be on the move before tomorrow's deadline. Of the three I'm most concerned about the status of Zubie and am hoping the Caps get some last minute, 11th hour deal done with him to lock him up. I know that's not likely at this point but I have to keep the faith. I really think losing him could be detrimental to this team - he may not be the #1 center he's been assigned to be, but he's still a strong player who has helped mentor some of the younger guys and he would be missed.

As far as Zednik and Heward are concerned, I love both of them. Having said that, if they should find themselves somewhere else as of tomorrow afternoon, I'll shed a few tears but somehow I think I'll survive. As much as I have enjoyed having Zednik back in DC and as much as I know he wants to stay, it just doesn't seem to be working out. He's got that speed we all remember, but he has the tendency to give up on plays after the initial shot or hang on to the puck for too long...we've already got one lazy player, and he is ten years younger and is at least racking up the goals.

Heward is one of my favorite players off the ice and one of the ones who frustrates me the most on it. He has these mood swings, going back and forth between being a standup defenseman who makes the smart plays and being the guy who turns the puck over three times in one shift. The problem is these mood swings take place not from game to game but from shift to shift, so you never really know what's going to happen when he steps on the ice. My only concern with removing someone like Heward is that the average age of the blue line drops dramatically. The oldest defenseman then becomes Muir, who has been injured, followed by Pothier - who hasn't even turned 30 yet. It makes me very nervous to not have some sort of veteran presence back there.

So the clock continues to tick down and the hours remaining with the current roster slip away. I'll do my best to keep an eye on things as they progress while not getting myself fired in the process. I'll also make sure to keep the valium intake down so you can understand what I'm writing...although really, what's the fun in that?


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Poor Benny...

I'm hearing some disturbing rumblings among the NHL trade rumor mill - Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun ruined my Sunday (assisted by JP, who pointed it out) by sneaking in a little note that the Caps could be sending Ben Clymer to hell.

I mean Pittsburgh. Oops.

Anyways, for whom, he doesn't say; from whom he heard this, also not mentioned. So it's your usual trade rumor, blah blah blah, and we take it with a grain of salt. Still, if this does turn out to be true it concerns me for two reasons:

1 - No good can come from making trades with the Penguins. I know Clymer is no Jagr (and thank god for that) but have we not learned our lesson from that fiasco? You know the saying - lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas and a $77 million dollar charge on you credit card.

2 - I think I may be in the minority among Caps fans, but I actually like Clymer.

For whatever reason, Clymer seems to have inspired the wrath of many and no one seems sad at the prospect of his leaving. People have painted him as the biggest liability on the team, railing on him constantly for reasons I have yet to pin down. I'm puzzled by his recent stretch of healthy scratches, especially considering the fact that I thought the two games before being banished to the press box were two of his better games this season

I know as Caps fans go, I tend to be blinder than most when faced with the negatives of players I like. I routinely turn a blind eye to Ben's abysmal +/- rating and his occasional tendency to whiff on a point shot. I look away when I see his numbers this year compared to last year, his tryout year.

I choose to focus instead on the positives he brings. For one thing, he seems to be a good locker room guy, which for a team where character is so important, that's key. He may not score a lot but he has a tendency to come up with that big goal at key moments, when you least expect it. He's consistently willing to stick up for teammates, dropping the gloves when necessary even when his opponent is much bigger.

And lest we forget, he's won a Stanley Cup. That's important. I believe, and correct me if I'm wrong, that the Caps have only one other person on the roster who has won it all, and that's Bryan Muir. Yup, that's right. Muir. A handful of others (Kolzig, Clark, and maybe a few others sprinkled in there) have made it to the Finals, but that's it. That experience, the knowledge of what it takes to win 16 postseason games, is worth a lot for a young team, most of whom have rarely experienced winning even 16 regular season games.

I get that on this roster, Clymer's type - the rugged hardworking forward who isn't a goal-scorer but who tries really hard - is literally a dime a dozen. I know that some people consistently call for the Caps to move one or more than one of these to free up roster spots for others. In my opinion, though, and take it for what its worth, you can never have too many of these guys on your payroll. Mixed in with the right formula of talent, it can be deadly.

Just look at the rosters of the last four teams to play in the Finals - Tampa Bay, Carolina, Edmonton, Calgary. They have their stars, to be sure. But look down the list of names of the guys who dressed during their playoff run and tell me how many of them you recognized at the time versus how many you know now. You need those guys, the ones in the trenches making room for your snipers and playmakers to work their magic.

I don't know. I'm hoping this isn't true, partly because I don't want to see a player I like don the hideous yellow and black of the flightless fowl, but mostly because I don't want to see him go anywhere. Not yet, at least.

As I write this, by the way, I have just finished watching Tampa Bay (Clymer's former team) hand the Pens (his rumored destination) yet another loss, 5-1.

I'm choosing to take that as a good omen.


Snow Blindness

This morning, Mother Nature took the opportunity to dump some snow on the DC area.

This afternoon, the Caps took the opportunity to dump a completely different substance out on the ice.

It's not that they played particularly badly, but they didn't play particularly well either. It looked like they never quite woke up for this one, like they had been out celebrating yesterday's win last night. For their part, the Devils looked they had been out trying to forget yesterday's loss (although when do they not, really?)

There's not really much to go into on this one. They alternated between being flat and having momentary bursts of energy. Good goals by Brooks Laich and Ovie, who looked like he was going to jump through the roof after he scored. Another solid game for Johnny. Clemmensen, who has either the easiest or hardest job in the NHL as Brodeur's backup, played okay but didn't really have to be brilliant. The Caps' power play continues to sputter, although the Devils only gave them only one opportunity so it's not that bad.

And the officiating...oh, the humanity. Far too many missed calls out there, blatant penalties that should have been called but weren't, that could have changed the flow of the game. For a moment I thought it was ol' Eagle Eyes Koharski and Pageant Hair Fraser refereeing instead of their evil twins, Marouelli and St. Laurent. That was bad enough.

But then to call a penalty on Brian Pothier, who made a brilliant diving poke check and had the misfortune of being around when the New Jersey player stumbled and fell on his own, is ridiculous. True to form, a bad call resulted in a power play goal for the Devils and that was that. The Devils shut it down, making the neutral zone a familiar place for them - a swamp - and another one goal loss goes into the books.

I don't know...maybe they just wanted to get through this one so they could go out and build snowmen.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Demons Exorcised All Over the Damn Place

It's games like this that make me so frustrated with this team I can't even explain it.

Maybe the Devils were a little tired. Maybe they had some injuries. Maybe Marty didn't look as scary as usual. But the Caps took advantage of all those things, coming out and playing just an amazing road game for the win.


I'm ecstatic with the two points, don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled that they were able to break down the man who may be the greatest goalie of our time. I'm over the moon that Johnson finally gets his first win since taking over for Olie.

But this just shows they can do it, they can put together a 60 minute game, score goals, kill penalties, position themselves well where the hell has that been lately? To break this kind of performance out after dropping 5 straight, 6 straight to the Devils, is just head-shakingly odd.

Enough whining, though. Let's take this win for what it was - just a well-executed game from start to finish, and surprisingly considering the opponent a pretty exciting game. The Caps were able to fight through that infamous neutral zone trap and snapped the Devils 17 game streak of allowing 3 goals or less. And let's face it, anytime you can dent the twine four times against Marty Brodeur it's a good day. The Devils were off their game from the net all the way out, and the Caps were able to capitalize on the mistakes while minimizing their own - that in itself, if you ask me, is amazing.

Lots of stuff to talk about with this one...
- Tomas Fleischmann - I'll admit it, I've been less than thrilled with Flash's performance up to this point. He's one of those players who generates a great play but seems consistently unable to finish it, and I've never really understood why everyone was so high on him. Even after today I'm still not convinced he has what it takes to play in the NHL - but it's certainly a start. This had to be one of his best games as a Cap hands down, a performance that was capped off with (finally) his first career NHL goal. It may not have been a thing of beauty, but it was a nice finishing touch to a hard-working day for Tomas. Congrats, Flash!

- Cam Janssen - I just had that feeling. I knew it. The second Joe B. and Locker started discussing Janssen's record-breaking streak of the most games played to start a career without a point, I knew somehow he would end it today. Thus is the magic of our colorful commentators, as Janssen ripped a slapshot past Johnson for his first career NHL goal. Just in case there was any question about his real role on the team, though, he later tangled with Erskine in a somewhat comical maration fight. Since we won today, I can honestly say congratulations to Cam on his first marker and wish him all the best over the next few years as he searches for big #2...

- Brent Johnson - Johnny has certainly had his share of ups and downs this season, following up a sparkling stretch to start the season with a run that saw both mediocre and sometimes painful performances. But since Olie went down with an injury, Johnny has really stepped it up and kept the Caps in every game. The fact that they can't seem to win one for him is another story, but I have been so impressed with his play over the last 5 games. His work today was no exception, as he went toe to toe against Brodeur and really outplayed him all afternoon. As someone who watched as he sat hopelessly in his crease following the Shark's tying goal Wednesday night, I'm ecstatic that he finally got the win he so deserved.

- Alex Ovechkin - SIGH. Oh, Ovie. This was a strange game for him, as he seemed to be showing some signs of life, but that flash and dash to his game is still missing. That could have just been due to the suffocating NJ defense, which has really kept him quiet all 7 times they've met, but Ovie may have slipped too far into his head - it's going to take a big spark to pull him out. On a side note, I really liked the way Zednik and Brashear both stepped up their game as they were swapped in and out of Clarkie's spot, each of them having what I thought were great games.

- Jurcina/Morrisonn/Erskine - These three blueliners matched Jersey's vaunted defense all day long, doing a good job of keeping the Devils off the board for a large part of the game and doing the big and little things the Caps needed them to do. Jurcina and Mo really have found their groove, each helping the other elevate his game. Morrisonn with Pothier was good, but he's found a new level to his game with Jurcina and the mistakes are fewer and farther between. As for Erskine, a diving poke check (a la the scratched Eminger) and the aforementioned fight with Janssen rounded out a good day for the rugged blueliner.

- Martin Brodeur - Amid the sparkling, jaw-dropping saves we've come to expect from Marty, there was also a hint of shakiness to his game today, as for the first time in a very long time he looked, dare I say it - human. The Caps have long been Marty's personal chew toy, futilely hurling pucks at him while he knocked them away, yawning. But today he seemed a little off and the Caps took advantage. Two pretty goals and two ugly goals equal one happy of Caps fan.

- Matt Pettinger – If Brian Sutherby’s garbage goal the other night was an example of the type of goal he needed to score, Pettinger’s shortie today was an example of what he needs to do. Just a beautiful backhander over Marty, which proved to be the game winner, reminded us of that pure goal-scoring ability he has exhibited in flashes this season. It’s the first goal of this type that he’s gotten in a long while – I’d like to see him take this goal and use it to pick up his game.

- Kris Beech – after being a healthy scratch for the past few weeks, Beech returned Wednesday night and put in a decent but not great performance. But you could see a difference in his game today as not only did he have good foot speed and good positioning but he factored in to the offense. It’s very easy to say someone who scores had a good game, but I think we all know that’s not always true (see Semin, A. – today would fall in that category for him). Beech really did look good out there. It may be too little, too late as far as his future with the Caps is concerned, but it was still nice to see.

Don't worry, I'm not going to start getting all moony-eyed, waxing poetic about how the Caps are still in the playoff race. I know it's pretty well out of reach. At this point I'm just happy to take a win every once in a while so I can justify my bizarre love of this team for a little while longer.

It would be easy to just feed off the euphoria of this one for a few days...unfortunately the Devils follow the Caps home tomorrow and I’d bet they’ll be looking for revenge. Still, the Caps have the confidence that they can beat this team and they need to remember that feeling as they stare down at #30 tomorrow. He’s beatable. The whole team is beatable.

And who knows, there may even be people at the Phone Booth tomorrow (besides me) to watch it happen again...


Friday, February 23, 2007

Everything I Ever Needed to Know...

...I learned from watching hockey:

Closing one nostril and blowing out the other is a perfectly acceptable means of clearing your sinuses • Justice isn’t blind - referees are. • I really do want to drive a zamboni! • When yelled at an opposing player, “XXX, you SUCK!” is an insult. When yelled at your own player, it’s a term of endearment. • Girls like hockey, too • It’s not a mullet, it’s hockey hair...and it’s damn sexy • No one likes a tattletale. • Mascots are just adults in goofy costumes trying to eat people’s heads – and that’s why they’re scary • The good old hockey game is the best game you can name...and the best game you can name is the good old hockey game • Communal water bottles = flu epidemic • It’s a hook, but it’s a dive too • $8 beer tastes as crappy as the kind you can get for $2 at the grocery store, but you’ll never admit it. • There are only two kinds of cups that matter...and neither should be run through the dishwasher • Teeth are overrated • Fighting is a perfectly legitimate means of discussing the issues of the day...unless you’re in the stands. • Fear the visor • It’s always the other guy’s fault • Kansas City would make an excellent home for a hockey team • You can never have too many goaltenders, defensemen, or bloggers • Stay inside the trapezoid • There is nothing cuter than a kid in goalie equipment • The only good thing about having low attendance is that you have somewhere to put your coats • There is no better trophy than the Stanley Cup.

Happy Friday!


Thursday, February 22, 2007

A View from the Press Seats

Gather round, kiddies - it's story time!

Once upon a time, in a land not really that far away, there lived a little girl (who would later grow up to be the queen of everything). She was a happy child, living in magical Suburbia with her family, and spent her childhood as so many others like her - with one exception. While other kids grew up among tales of the gridiron, she spent hours of her youth watching in awe as the mighty knights on skates did battle with some of the most fearsome creatures in all the land. Creatures like devils, sharks, panthers, and the most feared of all creatures - the penguin.

As she grew older she developed a deeper passion for the intricacies of these battles, learning the stories of the heroes who had come before and teaching herself what the heck 'offside' meant. She loved all the knights, but it was one group of knights in particular who held her heart. "The Capitals of Washington," she would say proudly when asked where her allegiance lay. Ignoring the mocking songs of those who supported enemy groups, she followed her men religiously. Her passion soon turned into desire to spread this love to others, and so she joined a net of communication and began writing tirelessly, sending her message of dedication to all four corners of the earth...or at least to all four people who sought it out.

One day a great proclamation went out across the land: Let all who speak of the Capitals of Washington, all the commoners whose heart is true and whose pen is mighty, come join the professional heralds of the sporting world. Gather up your quill and parchment, have your questions at the ready, and come stand next to those knights of DC.

And so she sent word of her intent and was invited in to that magical place...the Press Box.

That's right, it's true - I caved and went to join the real media up in the press box last night for the epic battle between the Caps and the San Jose Sharks. I'll admit, I wasn't sure what to expect, and as a blogger I wasn't completely sure that I should be there. I'm still not convinced either way, but I do have to say that the experience was a truly amazing one.

Before I go into details, I have to send out a special thank you to the Capitals organization for allowing me and so many others in the past to have this opportunity. If nothing else, it really gives you an idea of how difficult it would be to do this professionally - to get the quote you need, write the story, and get it all in by a strict deadline...well, let's just say that judging by the lateness of this recap I probably wouldn't do so well!

But on to last night. It was, to put it plainly, just an incredible night from start to finish. So many surreal things, moments where I had to stop and work to maintain my "professional" composure. Almost getting run over by Joe Reekie in the media room en route to the soda machine would be one of them; standing less than 2 feet away from Zubrus, Pettinger, Mike Grier, and Ron Wilson after the game would be another. (By the way, special thanks to some special blogger friends who were kind enough to let me trail after them like an annoying puppy dog all night long while pretending they weren't actually annoyed by me...)

Before the game all the media outlets gather under the arena for a meal, where they spend about an hour chatting away before being ushered up to the press box. This was one of my favorite parts of the evening. I got to listen in on so many conversations amongst people who are tops in their field, be it mainstream media or blogging, and 99% of the conversations were about hockey. Sightings of local celebrities like Reekie, Al Koken, Jill Sorenson, NBC4's Lindsay Czarniak along with the TSN guys from Canada made it hard to focus on eating, though, and I gave up halfway...which is fine, since true to rumors I'd heard, press room food is not exactly haute cuisine.

Once we were all settled in the press box I took some time to soak up the atmosphere. I've sat right below the press box before, but somehow it's a completely different perspective from up there. The whole arena spreads out below you like some otherworldly place, and you're completely separated from the murmurs of the crowd. Empty seats look bigger up there, and it's easy to spot the enemy jerseys from many different teams.

By now if you're reading this it's probable that you either watched the game or have read some fantastic recap of my more timely colleagues in the blogging world, but since I was given the opportunity to view this game as press, I figure the least I can do is give you my take on the game:

- Quite a few San Jose fans here tonight - they're very vocal as their team takes the ice, too. Even if they are with the enemy, it's nice to see that a team doesn't have to exist where it snows in order for it to have a rabid fan base.
- Goalie matchup - injury problems for both teams in this position, so it will be yet another battle of the backup vs. the semi-backup, Johnson vs. Nabokov.
- Clymer and Eminger continue to be scratched (and I crane my neck around looking for them up here but to no avail) and it looks like Beech will be taking Laich's place in the lineup. Not sure how I feel about that one...

Starting Lineup for the Caps: Bradley-Gordon-Pettinger up front, Jurcina-Morrisonn on the blue line, Johnson in net
Starting Lineup for the Sharks: Clowe-Thornton-Cheechoo up front, Ehrhoff-Vlasic on the blue line, Nabokov in net

Pre-game ceremony for Right to Play featuring Ovechkin, Pettinger, Thornton and Olympic medal winning speed skater Joey Cheek...anthem sung by Bob McDonald (YAY!)...

...and here we go!

First Period
- Slow start to the game for both teams, lots of hitting but very little in terms of offensive zone puck control
- An early power play for the Caps goes awry (shocker!) - they seemed to have better entrance into the zone than usual but were unable to maintain any sort of pressure
- Ovie has a few big hits already but no shots - it's okay, though, because no one does. We're 10 minutes in and no shots
- Scratch that, 1 for the Sharks. Caps respond at the other end with two shots of their own, and Morrisonn's booming slap shot from the point to put the Caps on the board, 1-0. Hmmm...2 shots, one goal. I like those percentages!
- Less than a minute later and the Caps are on the board again, as Sutherby taps in a rebound for his 5th of the year - 2-0 Caps. John (of OnFrozenBlog fame) and I marvel at the fact that Sutherby actually got one and discuss the lack of garbage goals for the Caps this season - these are the types of goals Sutsy needs to get more of. Hope it continues...
- The Caps seem to be having trouble going up the boards against this team. San Jose won't let anyone squeak by, taking the body and putting an end to the rush before it even gets going. They may have to try something else.
- Sharks get on the board with just under 3 minutes remaining. Well, there goes the shutout.

Second Period
- A late penalty to end the first has carried over and the Caps start a man down. Johnny comes up big and the Caps are doing a good job of clearing out rebounds. The PK looks very aggressive this shift, with Clark in particular rushing the puck carrier on several occasions.
- It's 5 minutes in and the Caps are starting to run around a bit in their own zone. They need a goal or a power play soon, something to create a little momentum.
- Beech gets a good breakaway chance with a nice move around the SJ defense, but the puck seems to get rolling on him and his shot is easily stopped. *SIGH*.
- Lots of hitting and a bit of pushing and shoving as play stops. This game has a chance to get pretty chippy, as you would assume for any game between this Caps team and any team Ron Wilson coaches.
- I had to laugh to myself when Johnson was being shown on the jumbotron and the organist started to play the theme from the Tonight Show...get it? 'Heeeeeere's Johnny!'
- Caps get another power play and have a much better set up this time around, even occasionally completing some passes to one another.
- After two periods the Caps cling to a one goal lead. And I'm popping back the valium.

Third Period
- Caps seem to be forechecking very well to start the third. Sutherby in particular is having a very strong game and is being rewarded with some time on a line with Ovechkin and Clark, then Semin and Fehr.
- Sharks get a power play goal, right as I was thinking that the Caps appeared to be shutting it down (you know, like good teams do when the have the lead?). The goal is awfully reminiscent of Sutherby's garbage goal. Johnson sits in his crease with his helmet off for about three minutes afterwards before getting back into position. Poor guy...he's played another great game from where I'm sitting - the Caps just can't seem to get him any run support.
- Ugh, the Bubble I the only one who finds it more creepy than funny?
- Semin breaks in and is promptly tackled, but no call from the gruesome twosome (aka Kerry Fraser and Don "Donut Boy" Koharski). And that old favorite, "Refs You Suck!" chant starts's always louder than "Let's Go Caps" for some reason...
- Caps are getting a lot of shots from the outside but again there's no traffic in front of the net and rebounds are quickly handled by the Sharks.
- Good pressure by Ovie, Zubrus and company draws a penalty - here we go, momentum shifter. If the Caps can get one, they have a good shot of winning. If not, I see a SJ victory in the cards...[yes, I really wrote that at the time - can I help if if I have psychic powers?] And SJ kills it off. *SIGH AGAIN*.
- Hannan is doing a great job in his assignment to shut down Ovie - another rough night for #8.

- Caps are flying right now, shooting from everywhere and putting a lot of pressure on the Sharks, but they can't seem to buy a goal. Beech rings it off the crossbar...he's had a decent night, but I'd love to see him actually score one.
- Nope. Looks like another repeat of my very favorite thing in the whole wide world...the SHOOTOUT.

- Pettinger scores but no one else does, and once again the Caps lose a point because of a skills competition. All together now...*SIGH*

- So here we are - the part of the night I was both eagerly awaiting and dreading at the same time. Down to the locker rooms we go!
- First stop, SJ locker room. Mike Grier is surrounded by media and I stick my little camera in there to get some video of our old friend. [Note: I have video and I'll do my best to post it sometime soon...however, the sound is horrible because my camera kind of stinks. C'est la vie - still fun to see them, though!]
- If you've never been in a locker room after a game, particularly a visiting team, try it some time. It's nuts - equipment bags being carted out all over the place, media and team personnel wandering around, players trying in vain to shower and change in peace...very stressful but exciting.
- Someone who I believe is Mark Smith walks by and I can't help but stare a little - his hair is awesome, multicolored and spiky. It's pretty funny to see that hair on someone wearing a suit!
- On to the Caps dressing room, which is already pretty empty at this point. I pass Jamie Heward on the bike in the hallway, then walk past Matt Pettinger into the locker room. Zubrus, Jurcina and Morrisonn are holding court with the press and I get some video of their interviews. Johnson is wandering around in the back of the room and Ovie is giving an interview in Russian.
- Ted Leonsis appears and I am standing right near him, but like the wimp I am I say...nothing.
- Matt Pettinger is leaning against the wall two feet away from me giving an interview and I get more video of him. Afterwards Bryan Muir walks by in a suit and carrying a stick, and Olie is also around.
- I make it back to the Sharks hallway for Ron Wilson's meeting with the press, which is cut short when he catches sight of George McPhee and makes some joke about having to go talk to the guy in the effete pink tie (sharp tie, George!) which makes everyone laugh. Sutherby is lurking further down the hall, evidently waiting for Mike Grier to come out. (Sutherby to a member of the Caps staff: "Get Griersy!" So cute.)
- On my way out I'm passed by Patrick Marleau, looking very quiet and stoic as usual - he's one of my favorites, though, and I admit I'm a little gawky as he passes. Hope he didn't notice :)

And there you have it - my night as a pretend member of the press! I hope to do it again someday, preferably for a Caps win, but all in all it was a good game and a great experience. Thanks again to the Caps organization and everyone else who was so nice to me all night, it was fun...


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Heward Makes Caps History...Almost

Poor Jamie. For a brief moment he had etched his name into the Caps record books, scoring the fastest two goals by a defenseman in franchise history.

But alas, like a Caps win, it was not to be. Jamie's first goal was later credited to Brian Sutherby, and once again the Caps fell behind early and despite a stronger showing in the final 40 minutes were unable to recover for their 5th straight loss.

This was another one of those games where the Caps shot themselves in the foot early on, leading a parade to the penalty box and giving the league's second best power play a chance to shine. 6 penalties in the first period alone put Montreal up 3-0 after just twenty minutes. They even managed to cancel out Perezhogin's double minor for brutally elbowing Morrisonn by taking not one, not two, but three penalties.

After the horn mercifully sounded on the first period they seemed to settle down, though, getting two quick goals early in the second and bouncing back from a shorthanded Habs goal with a last minute goal by Semin. The third period was shaping up to be quite a battle, with Montreal's once gaping three goal lead cut down to one, but the Habs seemed to shut everything down and added an empty-netter to finish off the Caps.

*Sigh*. I'm starting to lose my passion for just recapping loss after horrible loss. Don't get me wrong, I'll still do it. I should take advantage of this time, because in less than two months I'll be without my Caps until September. It's just frustrating when the best thing I have to write about after a game is the fact that someone almost made history.

Basically the Caps didn't play particularly badly (first period aside) but there was very little spark to their game. Johnny had another strong game, and you can't really fault him for letting in any of the goals tonight. It's unfortunate that the Caps continue to be unable to give him a win.

The real story, however, remains the ongoing Ovechkin saga.

Ovechkin was virtually invisible for most of the night and continues to struggle - when Heward has three points and even Johnny gets an assist but Ovie fails to crack the scoreboard, something's wrong. I don't know if he's just too much in his head or he's getting frustrated with losing or he's trying to do too much or he's injured, but as a fan it's hard to watch. All players go through slumps, I know, and it's unrealistic to think that just because he's Ovechkin he is immune to such stretches. But this is a time when the Caps need him to step up, and for whatever reason it's not happening.

So another night, another road loss, another loss overall, another two points missed. I can only hope the Caps turn it on for the home crowd tomorrow night when the Sharks roll into town. It's half price tickets tomorrow, and I believe there are some other deals going on as well - so if you don't have plans, come on by the Phone Booth to see Ovechkin snap out of his funk against Joe Thornton and the Sharks!

Nicknames and all the babbling that no one reads will return for this weekend's home and home series against the Devils. However, I'm taking a brief hiatus on the Caps-Sharks for reasons to be revealed tomorrow.

(I'm so mysterious...)


Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Canadiens

Some of you with sharper eyes may have noticed that I didn’t write a recap of Sunday’s game against the Penguins, so here it is: PBBBBBTTTTTTT. And feel free to quote me on that.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to...

Who: Your Nation’s Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens
Where: Centre Bell
1260 Rue De La Gauchetière O.
Montreal, Québec, H3B 5E8
When: Tuesday, February 20, 7:30 pm

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

Media Notes:
Washington Post
Washington Times
Montreal Gazette

2006-07 Standings: Caps 23-27-9, 55 points – 5th in division, 14th in conference; Canadiens 30-25-6, 66 points – 4th in division, 9th in conference

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

Last Game: January 4 in Washington, Caps won 4-1
- As rare as it is, the Caps managed to put together a very good game through all 60 minutes, exacting a bit of revenge for a sloppy loss against the same team just a week before.
- Craig Rivet’s power play goal midway through the first period gave Montreal the early lead as the Caps appeared sluggish to start the game, but it would be the only Habs goal as the Caps and Olie shut down Montreal’s offense.
- The Caps managed to kill off a 4-minute high-sticking penalty on Alex Ovechkin coming with only a minute remaining in the first, despite Montreal’s top-ranked power play.
- The game was later mired by controversy, as a power play strike was waved off after the referee thought Koivu had interfered with Olie. Both Saku and Olie later said they felt the call was incorrect and was probably the turning point, as the goal would have made it a tied game. Instead the Caps remained in the lead and went on to score 2 goals in the 4 on 4 that followed.
- Zubrus’ two goals and Semin’s two goals sandwiched around a Nycholat marker to round out the scoring for the Caps, and Semin’s first goal would chase Huet from the net early in the second. The multi-point night continued as Nycholat also added an assist, Eminger had two assists, and Ovechkin had three.
- It’s not unusual to see Ovechkin getting a lot of shots in a game, and this was no exception, as he fired a game-high 7 shots at Montreal’s net. What is unusual is the next three on the list – Pettinger with 6 shots, Boyd Gordon with 5, and Nycholat with 4. Zubrus, incidentally, continued his amazing shooting percentage, going 2 for 2 on the night. Amazing what hitting the net only 30% of the time will do...

Things to Look for:
- Nothing really seems to be going right for this team right now. They play well, they lose. They play badly, they definitely lose. I don’t know what the cure is (and if I did I’m betting I’d have a job offer from the Caps faster than you can say Ovechkin) but you can bet that the mood in the locker room is not a happy one right now.
- But wait, there’s good news! Nothing is going right for the Habs, either! Okay, that’s not so much good news for me, since I’m actually a fan of both these teams. It’s true, though – the Habs finally snapped out of a season high 6 game losing streak with a win over powerhouse Columbus but continue to be mired in a slump that suddenly finds them outside the playoffs for the first time in months. Yup...great. Excuse me while I hurl myself out a window.
- I take solace in the fact that at least one of my teams has to come away with a win tonight. That much I can predict with 100% certainty – one of these teams MUST win this game. Whether it will be the Caps and whether it will be a good game is something completely different. I’ll go with, meh, 50% certainty on those.
- Johnson continues to play well and I have nothing but faith that he will pull out another good performance against the Habs. The question really is how well will the Caps play in front of him, and if we’re judging from past occasions, I’d say it doesn’t look good. Once again, though, the paths of these two teams become oddly entwined as Habs star goalie Cristobal Huet is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a hamstring, so Montreal will also be relying on a backup and a callup for the rest of the way. where’s that window?

Possible Lineup for the Caps
8-Alex “Chin Up, Young Person” Ovechkin, 9-Dainius “Suddenly Hot” Zubrus, 17-Chris “O Captain, My Captain” Clark
28-Alexander “Clank” Semin, 21-Brooks “Scrappy Doo” Laich, 14-Eric “Bright Light” Fehr
18-Matt “Scoring Change” Pettinger, 15-Boyd “Killer” Gordon, 10-Matt “...Clymer?” Bradley 87-Donald “Keeping ‘Em On” Brashear, 16-“What About” Brian Sutherby, 20-Richard “One Shot” Zednik

23-Milan “Me Like” Jurcina, 26-Shaone “Mo” Morrisonn
2-Brian “Head On (Apply Directly to the Forehead)” Pothier, 55-Jeff “Point Shot” Schultz
4-John “...Eminger?” Erskine, 6-Jamie “the Go-To Interview” Heward

1-Brent “Stepping Up” Johnson, 35-Frederick “Splinter Butt” Cassivi

Possible Lineup for the Canadiens
21-Chris “Yalie” Higgins, 11-Saku “Goalie Interference” Koivu, 73-Michael “Newfie” Ryder
15-Sergei “Chunky Monkey” Samsonov, 35-Tomas “the Tank Engine” Plekanec, 20-Mike “Desert Dog” Johnson
84-Guillaume “Take That, Patrick Roy” Latendresse, 14-Radek “Onomatopoeia” Bonk, 42-Alexander “Is a Popular Name” Perezhogin
62-Duncan “the Bulldog” Milroy, 40-Maxim “Overdrive” Lapierre, 22-Steve “It’s Not Tan, It’s” Begin

25-Mathieu “Marc and Luc” Dandenault, 51-Francis “Frank the Tank” Bouillon
8-Mike “the Steamroller” Komisarek, 79-Andrei “Ovie’s Frenemy” Markov
32-Mark “Swiss Army Knife” Streit, 44-Sheldon “Que Sera” Souray

30-David “the Swiss Alp” Aebischer, 41-Jaroslav “the Backup’s Backup” Halak


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Penguins

Who: Your Nation’s Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: Mellon Arena
66 Mario Lemieux Place (ugh)
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
When: Sunday, February 18, 3:30 pm

Broadcast Info: NBC; WTEM 980 AM, WXDX 105.9 FM

Media Notes:
Pens Start New Careers, Abandon Hockey
Oh, the hype...the HYPE!!
Oh, the hype...the HYPE!! (Continued...)
Washington Post
Washington Times
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Therrien Gets Credit, Swollen Ego
Come On...He's No Cary Grant
Scouting Report

2006-07 Standings: Caps 23-26-9, 55 points – 5th in division, 13th in conference; Penguins 31-17-9, 71 points – 2nd in division, 4th in conference

2006-07 Season Series: Caps 0-1-1, Penguins 2-0-0

Last Game: February 3 in Pittsburgh, Caps lost 2-0 (but not really)
- In a game featuring some of the brightest offensive stars of today’s NHL and two of the more porous defensive corps, a 1-0 outcome was not exactly what anyone expected. Still, it was an entertaining game that in the end came down to just one goal, another close game between these longtime rivals and rebuilding clubs.
- Ovechkin’s 13-game point scoring streak, the longest of his career, came to an end as he was held off the scoresheet. That’s okay, because the other member of the dynamic duo, Sidney Crosby, saw his own point streak snapped as well. Semin had no goals...but neither did Malkin. Clark...Recchi...also none. The winning goal came from Ronald Petrovicky of all people, beating Olie Kolzig on a slap shot from along the boards.
- The only other tally in this one was an empty-netter...also known as the easiest goal ever scored. I don’t count them when the Caps score them, so I’m certainly not giving the Penguins the credit. We’ll call this a 1-0 game and be done with it.
- The Caps actually seemed to dominate large portions of the game and could have been up by 2 or 3 goals were it not for the sparkling play of Marc-Andre Fleury in net for the Pens. Both teams played amazingly strong defense, with the goal-scorers never really getting room to maneuver. I’ll bet the NHL brass just hated this one.
- The Pens never mustered more than 8 shots a period, and were outshot for 2/3 of the game, including 13-5 in the final period. Everywhere else on the scoreboard, the two teams were amazingly even - both teams had 3 penalties, 5 power play shots, 1 shorthanded shot.
- Milan Jurcina made his Caps debut after being acquired from Boston and instantly made his presence felt, working over Crosby several times and helping to muzzle him for most of the game.

Things to Look for:
- Okay, it’s true – the Penguins are pretty hot right now. In fact, they’re the hottest team in the league, picking up points in 15 straight games and losing only twice during that stretch. Meanwhile the Caps continue to sputter, dropping 8 of their last 11 games. All things must come to an end, though...right? I mean, at some point the law of averages has to swing in their favor. The Pens can’t win every game from now until the end of the season, just like I’m pretty sure the Caps can’t lose every game. Pretty sure.
- Johnny came out and played like a superstar in Thursday’s loss to the Lightning, allowing two goals and keeping the Caps in it long enough to force overtime and earn a point. If he can take that confidence and bring it in to today’s game, I have no doubt the Caps will at least have a shot.
- Johnny’s goaltending opposite will probably be Penguins’ backup, Jocelyn Thibault – and that’s good news for the Caps, only because Fleury has been red hot lately and was a key reason for the last Penguins’ win over the Caps.
- As Tarik has been pointing out fairly consistently over the past few days, Ovechkin is admittedly in a bit of a slump. He has fallen out of the lead in goal-scoring and is slipping even further away in the overall points race. That may look bad, but to the naïve optimist (hi there) it’s a recipe for a breakout night. And what better time to snap out of it big time than against the Pens? Works for me...
- This is round 3 of the Ovechkin-Crosby show, the overhyped circus that remains the only reason the Caps will even appear on national television two of the three times they are scheduled to do so this year. However, unlike last season, this year seems to be about anyone but these two. Game 1, both players factored in, but the spotlight was stolen by Evgeni Malkin. Game 2, it was Petrovicky who provided the fireworks. Just goes to show how the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Possible Lineup for the Caps
8-Alex “the Mad Dialer” Ovechkin, 9-Dainius “I Hit the NET!” Zubrus, 17-Chris “Gappy” Clark
28-Alexander “Slippery on Ice” Semin, 21-Brooks “Clark’s Stunt Double” Laich, 14-Eric “State” Fehr
18-Matt “Princess for a Day” Pettinger, 15-Boyd “Softie” Gordon, 10-Matt “Where the Hell is Clymer??” Bradley
87-Donald “the Strong Silent Type” Brashear, 16-“What About” Brian Sutherby, 20-Richard “One Shot” Zednik

23-Milan “Crushing Crosby” Jurcina, 26-Shaone “Mauling Malkin” Morrisonn
2-Brian “Dizzy” Pothier, 55-Jeff “Movin’ On Up” Schultz
4-John “Wrong Side of the Rock” Erskine, 6-Jamie “Turnover King” Heward

1-Brent “My Turn” Johnson, 35-Frederick “Mr. Creativity” Cassivi

Possible Lineup for the Penguins
12-Ryan “Seacrest” Malone, 87-Sidney “OVECHKIN!!” Crosby, 8-Mark “Grandpa” Recchi
11-Jordan “I’m Here Too!” Staal, 71-Evgeni “Snaggletooth” Malkin, 7-Michel “I Forgot My” Ouellet
16-Erik “the Red” Christensen, 25-Maxime “Magazine” Talbot, 20-Colby “Stretch” Armstrong 37-Jarko “Wears a Pretty Pink” Ruutu, 18-Dominic “Junior” Moore, 26-Ronald “Sharpshooter” Petrovicky

3-Mark “I’ve Already” Eaton, 55-Sergei “Woop Woop” Gonchar
2-Josef “Stalin” Melichar, 5-Rob “Razor” Scuderi
19-Ryan Whitney “Spears”, 44-Brooks “Wishes He Was Laich” Orpik

29-Marc-Andre “Chompers” Fleury, 41-Jocelyn “Afternoon” Thibault


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Shootout Shmootout

There was plenty of potential for doom and gloom tonight.

The Caps went in to this game as they frequently have over the last few months, as the underdog to a much stronger team. Their starting goaltender is out with an injury, the defense is being shuffled, they've lost all but 4 of their last 15...on and on and on.

So I think you'll forgive me for being pleasantly surprised at the performance I witnessed tonight. Of course there were issues and mistakes as usual, but I loved the gutsy play - the Caps were in this one all the way.

The first period had to be, as Locker said, one of the best periods I've seen the Caps play in a loooooong time. There were clean passes, there was good offensive pressure, Johnny looked solid; it was just a very exciting twenty minutes capped off with a lucky bounce that found them on the board first. Good to see Semin get on the board, even with a dribbly goal like that.

Then came the traditional crapfest known as the second period, which was no less than utterly predictable. Bad penalties, sloppy play (yet still better than anything we saw on the ice Saturday night) and suddenly it's 2-1 Bolts thanks to the 'Vinny Lecavalier special teams show'.

So the first period in the books, the second period history, we move on to the third - once again the Caps were, if not dominating, then at least controlling the play. Were it not for what had to be divine intervention combined with Denis' magic glove, this game would have ended very differently. Still, it was pretty darn exciting...and then with 15 seconds left Zubrus suddenly remembers how to hit the net at precisely the right moment.

Is it just me or have we had more of these last minute goals forcing overtime this season than ever before? Put another notch in the lipstick case, kiddies, we're going to...the OT Zone.

And then the Shootout Zone. Or what I like to call "hell".

And then it was over. One goal between the two teams and just like that, the Bolts get the extra point.

Thoughts and observations:
- For all the fear and hand-wringing among the Caps faithful about the goalie situation, give Johnson a lot of credit. He played great tonight...not counting that brief mental hiccup that led to the power play goal. I was very impressed with Johnny's performance, coming in under a huge amount of pressure and really rising to the challenge as he kept the Caps within one long enough for them to get the equalizer.

- The top line was finally playing like the top line, something we haven't seen in a while. Ovie was flying, Clark was playing the body and crashing the net, Zubie had some pretty slick hands...and lest we forget the tying goal that sent the game into overtime...

- Were the Caps going for a hat trick of the worst penalties tonight? Too many men, delay of game (playing the puck outside the trapezoid), delay of game (puck over the glass) - ARGH! All of them avoidable, dumb penalties. Although I had to laugh when Ovie got sent to the box to serve back to back penalties, and he and the guy in the box had a little chuckle. How do you not love this kid??

- Special teams...hmm. They need work. That power play goal by Semin was nice, but there's no excuse for a power play goal and shorthanded goal within the same period, let alone the same game.

- Ready? Deja vu time. Boyd Gordon played really well tonight. He is...the man. What more can I say.

- Period. Exclamation point. Close parentheses.

So a point. A point is good! It's not going to get them into the playoffs, but not much will right now. We take the good performance, we take the point, and we roll it all into Sunday's big game. It may not mean much from a standings point of view, and it may not even mean much to the Caps' players (since most of them weren't even born during the heyday of the Caps-Pens rivalry) but to us Caps fans, it's everything. We need this win.

We need Ovie to beat Sid the Kid.

On national TV.

It's going to happen. I can feel it.


We Are Live...

Here's my attempt at live game-blogging...ready? Okay, here goes:

Maybe, just maybe, the Caps should stop shooting gloveside on Marc Denis.

Just a thought.

That concludes our live transmission. Thank you.


It's Really Not Easy Being Green...

You all let me babble on about something pointless when something real was going on?

Shame on you.

We have official word now that someone has been sent down to Hershey...and it wasn't who I expected at all:

Capitals Assign Mike Green to Hershey

Yet looking at it from a logical perspective (and I know what you're thinking - me? Logical?) this does seem to make sense. For one thing, as Tarik points out, Green is on an entry-level contract - that means he can be called up and sent down ad nauseum without being subject to the waiver wire. That's one advantage over someone like Nycholat, who would have to clear waivers first. Clearly the Caps didn't think Larry could make it and decided not to risk putting him out there.

Looking at it from another angle, you have to think this is beneficial to Mike. I don't think it's a secret that his quality of play has diminished significantly over the last few months. As a result, he's finding himself with less than 15 minutes of work on average per night and has even been benched for the remainder of the game on several occasions for one reason or another. People say that other than goaltender, defense is the hardest and most technical position to learn, and Greenie is young yet - a little more time in the AHL, as disappointing as that may be for him right now, can only help him continue his development.

I don't know how permanent this move will be or who will follow with Erskine's return, although I'd be willing to bet that Schultz despite his solid play will be the next one returned to Hershey, also playing on an entry-level contract.


Wilted Roses...Just for You!

It’s February 15, and what better way to spend the day after Valentine’s Day, a day filled with love, then talking about hatred?

When I say hatred, I don’t mean in the sense that I hate when the Caps try and dump the puck out of their zone and instead hand it over to an opposing player perched on the blue line waiting for exactly that trademark Caps move...


No, this is a completely different kind of hate, an extraordinary phenomenon limited only to the sporting world. It’s the animosity we hold for those certain special teams whose successes make us want to tear our hair out and whose failures make us giggle like schoolgirls. It’s not meant in an evil way, we don’t wish actual harm to any of the teams or players assigned the ‘h’ word. We just want them to eternally fail. Is that so wrong?

When we’re kids, most of us are taught that ‘hate’ is a very strong word – too strong for every day usage and probably pretty inappropriate 99% of the time. Instead we’re taught the Tao according to Thumper: “if you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Well, that’s all well and good.

But Thumper got to hang out with Bambi. We have to deal with the Flyers.

It just struck me as odd how strong these feelings can be for something so trivial as sports. It’s no secret that I harbor an intense loathing for the Penguins, something I would bet is shared amongst the majority of Caps fans. Watching them rocket up the standings while the Caps have stumbled to the conference basement has been painful. The same goes for any of the old rivals – the Rangers, Flyers, Devils, and Islanders all hold that special honor of being despised with every fiber of my being.

In that same vein, I currently find myself subconsciously rooting for Tampa Bay to overtake the Thrashers in the division – something they are well positioned to do trailing three points behind with two games in hand. It’s not that I particularly like the Bolts or any division rivals for that matter, but Atlanta is a horse of a different color. Of all the Southeast opponents, they are the ones that raise the ire of the Caps’ faithful and even the Caps themselves, something many of them have mentioned on several occasions. To see them release their grasp on that #1 spot, watch them slide down the conference standings after spending so long at the top, would make my heart soar. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

(Of course, if the Lightning could hold off on their little coup until at least tomorrow, that would be great...)

It’s obviously not just hockey, as any sports fan can attest to. Born and raised in the DC area, I have been brainwashed into hating the Cowboys...even though football is so far off my radar I barely know when the Super Bowl is on, let alone the Redskins’ record from season to season. As a Red Sox fan, the Yankees are public enemy number 1, and with the recent addition of the Nats to the DC sports world, you can add the Braves to that list as well.

But why? Why must we hate others with so much passion, when as sports fans we should be rooting for talent and skill to rise to the top, regardless of the color jersey that may be wrapped up in?

Maybe it’s the natural progression of so much history, so much heartache tied up in one franchise. Maybe it’s our little way of creating a community and bonding with our fellow fans...find a common enemy and let the bile flow. Maybe it’s just so darn fun to glare at anyone in yellow and black.

All I know is this – today, post-Valentine’s Day, I’d like to celebrate by sending my deepest heartfelt feelings of revulsion to all my closest enemies. May your big-ticket names become underachievers and may your golf games improve...

Happy February 15th!


Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Lightning

Who: Your Nation’s Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Where: St. Petersburg Times Forum
401 Channelside Dr.
Tampa, FL 33602
When: Thursday, February 15, 7:30 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, WTEM 980 AM; Sun Sports, WDAE 620 AM

Media Notes:
Washington Post
Washington Times
St. Petersburg Times

Welcome Back, Dan!!

2006-07 Season Series: Caps 1-3-0, Lightning 3-1-0

2006-07 Standings: Caps 23-26-8, 54 points – 5th in division, 14th in conference; Lightning 32-24-2, 66 points – 2nd in division, 6th in conference

Last Game: January 11 in Tampa, Caps lost 5-4
- Of the four games these two teams have played so far this season, this was probably the most exciting – unfortunately the wrong team came out on top, but in a season series that has mostly been a snoozefest, it was nice to at least see an interesting game.
- Lecavalier continued his abuse of the Caps with two goals and an assist, but he wasn’t the only one with three points – Prospal also added a goal and two assists to the scoring frenzy.
- The two teams traded goals for most of the night, with each team taking the lead at some point during the game.
- While so many games this season have been decided by specialty teams, this one was an exception – the two teams combined for just eight penalties, and each went shorthanded only twice. The lone power play tally was scored by Semin to tie the game up at 1 in the first period.
- Olie Kolzig took the blame for the loss after the game, saying that "The team played terrific. The goalie let them down [...] I just didn't make the saves I needed to make, and that basically was the difference." After bailing the Caps out so many times this season, I think they can forgive him for ‘letting them down’ just this once.

Things to Look For:
- The big story right now is obviously the loss of Olie Kolzig, out with a knee injury for at least 3 weeks. It will be interesting to see what this does to the Caps both on the ice and off, as it has been well documented that they have played better in front of Olie than Johnson this season and everyone knows what kind of a presence Olie has in the locker room.
- It’s interesting to note that of the two goalies, Johnson has actually had more success against the Lightning lately, going 4-1-0 with a tie through 6 games and posting a 2.11 GAA.
- Every team has one or two players that other teams pay special attention to – for the Lightning, it’s no secret that those players are Lecavalier and St. Louis. And, like all high profile players, these two have no problem lighting the lamp with alarming consistency against the Caps. Through 40 games, Vinny has 16 goals and 16 assists, while St. Louis has 12 goals and 14 assists through 32 games.
- Having said that, there couldn’t be a better time for the Caps to get stalwart defensemen Brian Pothier and John Erskine back from the IR – both have been cleared to play and should be in the lineup tonight, strengthening a blue line that has already improved over the last week or two.
- Meanwhile the Caps’ own sharpshooters, Ovechkin and Semin, continue to be mired in mini-slumps. Ovechkin appears to be slowly emerging from his dry spell, picking up an assist against LA and getting a goal in the 5-2 loss to the Rangers; Semin, on the other hand, has taken a bit longer to snap out of it – he is goalless since January 27 and has only 3 assists since then.
- With the Caps largely out of the playoff hunt (barring some miracle or other) and the Lightning mired in the thick of the race for a postseason berth, this seems like as good a time as any to start playing spoiler. Who knows, enough wins against playoff-bound teams and the Caps may find themselves back in it! It could happen...

Possible Lineup for the Caps
8-Alex “Speedracer” Ovechkin, 9-Dainius “Hit Me with Your Best Shot (Or Not)” Zubrus, 17-Chris “Jack ‘o Lantern” Clark
28-Alexander “ESL” Semin, 21-Brooks “Jeeves” Laich, 14-Eric “County” Fehr
18-Matt “Invisible Man” Pettinger, 15-Boyd “Killer” Gordon, 20-Richard “Butt Rockets” Zednik
87-Donald “Fighting=$$$$” Brashear, 16-“What About” Brian Sutherby, 27-Ben “Brashear’s Understudy” Clymer

23-Milan “23>68” Jurcina, 26-Shaone “Gotta Go to Mo’s” Morrisonn
2-Brian “Concussed One” Pothier, 52-Mike “It’s Not Easy Being” Green
4-John “Here He Comes to Save the Day” Erskine, 44-Steve “My Boyfriend’s Back” Eminger

1-Brent “Olie’s Understudy” Johnson, 35-Frederick “the Benchwarmer” Cassivi

Possible Lineup for the Lightning
4-Vincent “Journey Groupie” Lecavalier, 20-Vaclav “Live Long and” Prospal, 26-Martin “Frodo” St. Louis
9-Eric “Foster” Perrin, 17-Ruslan “Rusty” Fedotenko, 19-Brad “It’s a Glitch” Richards
24-Andreas “Tucker” Karlsson, 34-Ryan “CJ” Craig, 15-“La Femme” Nikita Alexeev
27-Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor, 74-Nick “Minute Man” Tarnasky, 36-Andre “Brashear’s Punching Bag” Roy

22-Dan “A Watched Pot Never” Boyle, 54-Paul “Mighty Morphin Power” Ranger
3-Doug “Jack, Chrissy and” Janik, 72-Filip Kuba “Gooding Jr”
21-Cory Sarich “and Rescue”, 44-Nolan “Ryan” Pratt

30-Marc “Lion’s” Denis, 40-Johan “Five” Holmqvist