Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spooky Wednesday

Happy Halloween!

It's a non-gameday Wednesday, so of course that means assorted goodies for your reading pleasure.

- First up - Mike Vogel, of course, has a great piece on Peter Bondra's retirement over at the Caps' website. Reading about the various milestones, the franchise records, the evolution of one of Washington's great athletes just reminds me how amazing he was as a Capital - something I think we forget from time to time with a couple of young superstars burgeoning here in the District.

- Morrisonn, Green and Jurcina stopped by the NHL Store in Manhattan and made an appearance on NHL Live on XM Center Ice. Some highlights:

  • Jurcina talking about having to learn English and about the difference between playing in Boston and Washington.
  • Morrisonn discussing getting "jumped" by Vinny and offering the quote of the day: "Next time I don't want to lead with my face onto the ice." Indeed.
  • Mo grew up idolizing Cam Neely, switched his allegiance from Vancouver to Boston when Neely was traded and had the opportunity to meet him when he was drafted by the Bruins; Green idolized Scott Niedermayer; Jurcina was a fan of the Red Wings and Canadiens but loved Chris Pronger
  • Favorite movies: Morrisonn, Braveheart; Green, Dumb and Dumber (oh Mike...really??); Jurcina, no favorite movies
  • What they do on days off: sleep. Bet you didn't see that one coming.
  • By the way if you've never heard Green, Morrisonn and Jurcina talking together before and you get the chance, be sure that you're caffeinated. Let's just say that Mo was probably the most animated of the three...
- Karl Alzner was voted team captain by his Calgary Hitmen teammates, a process the team does later in the season to allow the team to get to know one another. Said Hitmen coach and GM Kelly Kisio, "I think Karl is a student of the game. He's there every night and competes hard every night." Karl will look to lead the Hitmen out of a recent slump in which they've dropped 5 of their last 7 - this is after starting the season 9-1. Good luck and congratulations to Karl!

- Mr. Happy Sunshine Guy Tarik reports that its not looking good for any of our three injured players returning tomorrow night against the Rangers. Clark is still day to day, Semin skated with the team but not at full speed, and Poti is still nursing a groin injury - and we know how long those can take to fully heal.

People need to stop panicking, though. We beat Toronto...and no, the Leafs are not exactly a formidable opponent. Who says the Rangers are? They have Jagr and a slew of centers unable to play with him; they have a defense about as good as Toronto's; their only asset really is their goaltending. If the Caps play like they did north of the border, they'll be fine.

Plus I'm not ready to count Clark out for the game until I hear official word otherwise. The fact that he flew to NYC when the Caps return home again on Friday gives me hope that he'll be back sooner rather than later - I guess we'll wait and see.

- Finally, happy 24th birthday to injured (or "injured"?) defenseman Steve Eminger - you still have the love of the Cheap Seats, Stevie!

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Caps Clip Leafs

WOW. What a difference two days makes.

What can you really say about this game? It was almost perfect. The offense was clicking. The power play was clicking. The penalty killing was clicking. The defense was clicking. And when the defense had the occasional breakdown (as every team's D will) Olie was more than clicking. Some spectacular saves by Zilla to, if not keep the Caps in the game, at least make the score look that much more impressive.

The Caps had every reason to come into this game performing at half-speed. Without their captain, one of their snipers and their power play QB and on yet another losing skid this game could have very easily turned ugly. Full credit to every member of the team who came out and played like they haven't played since the first two games - 60 minutes of hockey.

This was a complete team game. Need proof? Check out the numbers:

Ovechkin - 2G, +1, 7 shots, 3 hits
Pothier - 1A, +2, 2 shots
Erskine - 1A, +1, 4 hits
Bradley - 1G, 2A, +3, first career shorthanded goal and first career 3-point game
Gordon - 1G, 1A, +1
Sutherby - 1G, +1, 2 hits
Pettinger - 1G, 1A, +1
Kozlov - 2A, 3 shots
Fleischmann - 1A, +1
Schultz - 1G, +3, first career NHL goal
Nylander - 3A, +3
Kolzig - 32 saves on 33 shots

Lovely.

As for the bad...well, the Leafs. I'm not sure what happened but their defense was nonexistent tonight. Very few of those goals really can be blamed on either goaltender and Toronto looked disinterested to downright bored most of the night. As a result, the soldout crowd looked to be about half capacity by the time the second period rolled around.

Of course, their boos and sarcastic cheers were still just as loud.

The Caps now go into, yup, another stretch of days off leading up to back-to-back games. So nice of the NHL schedulers to help kill any momentum, you know? So Thursday the Caps return to Madison Square Garden to remind the Rangers that they still know how to penalty kill...really. Then Friday they return home for what is being bizarrely marketed as "Ovechkin vs. Briere" when the Flyers pay a visit to Verizon Center. I'm glad to see we've put that lovely little incident behind us.

Great win by the boys tonight - that's a HUGE two points and a big congrats to Schultzie on his first NHL goal!

Photo courtesy of AP/Getty Images

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Bonzai Retires

There are some players that flit in and out of an organization, whose impact is never truly felt, whose mark is never really made on the team or the fans.

And then there are the people who, regardless of what jerseys they may have worn in their final game, will forever be linked in our minds with a certain team. Ray Bourque will always be a Bruin; Steve Yzerman always a Red Wing.

Here in DC we have had quite a few of the former, players who barely distinguish themselves in a Caps sweater before moving on. But we're also lucky enough to have several who are indelibly stamped on our brains as one of ours and only ours.

Dale Hunter. Rod Langway. Olie Kolzig.

And Peter Bondra.

Regardless of how he may have left the team or how he attempted to come back, Bondra - Bonzai to those who followed him lovingly - is one of those people.

It was announced today that Bondra will officially retire to become the GM of the Slovakian National Team, an appropriate role for someone whose poster likely adorned the walls of the young talents he will soon be guiding.

I doubt I'm alone in admitting that, while all that was basically missing was the "official" part for the last few months, the news is still a little jarring.

Those of us who were lucky enough to watch Bondra from the start know that there have been few superstars like him in Washington hockey history. He was never mistaken for a power forward or a great playmaker or a Selke candidate - he was a sniper, pure and simple.

But what a sniper...no player was able to bring the fans out of their seats quite the way Bondra did back then. The way people lean forward in their seats now when Ovechkin or Semin have the puck, that's what happened when Bondra was on the ice. He was breathtaking, exhilarating, surprising. His goal celebrations were one of a kind, full of joy and excitement and pure hockey happiness.

When Bondra was traded along with the bulk of the superstars back in 2003-04, there was many a tear shed in DC. For most of us it seemed to be the unthinkable trade - how do you send someone away who was such a cornerstone of the organization, so beloved by fans and so integral a part of Caps history? Seeing him in a Senators jersey, a Thrashers jersey, a Blackhawks jersey, always seemed wrong somehow. Watching him score his 500th career goal was bittersweet because it was done in Chicago, in front of cheering fans who didn't know him like we knew him.

Yet I'm not here to argue that he shouldn't have been traded or that we should have re-signed him, because I believe the organization did the right thing on both counts. But even if I didn't, that's not what this should be about. Bondra has been the center of controversy here in DC these last few years - and frankly its a shame. One would hope that his legacy with the Caps would not come down to petty arguments over money and flagrant manipulation of the media. Those years should be nothing but a footnote in the history of Peter Bondra with the Washington Capitals; a sidebar item, not a headline.

So I choose to remember him as the man who put fear into the hearts of goaltenders, who terrorized the Lightning for five goals in one game, who reinvigorated a franchise and made us cheer night after night. I choose to remember him as #12 with the goofy smile, the wicked shot. I choose to remember him as Bonzai.

Good luck to Peter in all his future endeavors. We wish him all the best.


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Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Leafs

Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Where: Air Canada Centre
When: Monday, October 29, 7:30 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT; Leafs TV

Media Notes:
Caps Website
NHL.com
Washington Post
Washington Times
Toronto Star
Toronto Sun

Two beat up teams with mediocre records meet in a clash of the titans as the Caps venture north of the border for the first time this season. The Caps are potentially without captain Chris Clark, out with that lacerated ear just as he managed to start picking up points, and are almost definitely without the services of Alexander Semin (ankle) and Tom Poti (groin). Meanwhile the Leafs are missing Bryan McCabe...okay, maybe not missing, but he's injured. They're also without the services of Darcy Tucker, Kyle Wellwood and Carlo Colaiacovo.

Here's the difference. Even with the injuries the Leafs have played better these last few games, winning two straight against the Rangers and the Penguins - two teams the Caps were unable to defeat. Of course, they did lose to the Thrashers as well...but everyone has their moments. The Caps on the other hand haven't had a full roster since the home opener and it shows, dropping five of their last six after a 3-0 start.

Bottom line, the Caps need to find a way to score. They need to get the scoring from someone other than Ovie. And they need to remember how to play special teams - both of them. Without those three, no way do they pull off a win here. Sounds simple, right? We'll see.

I'm feeling very not creative today so...we won't be getting to know anyone on the Leafs today. Besides, without Darcy "Mother" Tucker in the lineup, what fun would it be?

Go Caps.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Busy Saturday

A couple of interesting developments:

- The Caps signed Alexander Semin to a two-year, $9.2 million contract extension today that will pay him $4.2 million this year and $5 million next season. I know there are some around here that don't particularly like Semin and I'll admit he has a tendency to commit lazy penalties and turnovers...but I love him. This is great news.

- Tom Poti's groin injury hasn't quite healed enough and he'll be out of the lineup - bad news for a defense that struggled last night, but in the long run I'd much prefer that he heal completely. Groin injuries are no joke and as we've seen so many times, the nagging ones can change a player's game completely if not given time to heal. Of course, this means a repeat of the Erskine and Green show...I feel a headache coming on already.

- Continuing on the injury front, as we know Clark won't be in the lineup tonight but may return on Monday for the Leafs. Bigger news is what's happening in his absence - Backstrom gets his first shot at centering the big line, working as a pivot for the first time this season between Ovechkin and Kozlov. Young Nicklas really continues to impress me with how calm and mature he's seemed so far, so I'm excited to see how he looks in his natural position.

- Fleischmann returns to play with Nylander and Semin - Flash showed some improvement after moving from the first to second line, but we'll see how he does with Semin instead of Backstrom. Of the three he's probably going to be responsible for working the boards so...yeah. Expect a lot of meetings between Flash's rear and the ice. Checking line likely stays in tact, with Bradley probably remaining on the fourth line with Steckel and Brash.

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Clark Update

So it looks like Clark is out for tonight's game, which considering how much pain he looked to be in last night isn't altogether surprising. The good news - no concussion, no lasting damage other than what sounds like a crazy amount of stitches.

The better news - he could be in the lineup as soon as Monday when the Caps travel to Toronto.

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Habs and Have-Nots

Ever wonder what the difference between a top-ranked power play and a bottom-ranked power play looks like? Observe:

Total PPG by the Caps on the season - 6
Total PPG by Montreal in one night - 5

(The Habs also threw in a shorthanded goal and an even strength goal, just for funsies...)

Habs celebrate goal #3...or was it 4? Maybe it was #7.
Photo courtesy of AP/Getty Images

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Caps Power Play Not Enough

I'm not exactly sure what I expected out of this game - I saw enough of the Canucks in the playoffs last year to know that they've got tons of offensive talent but they like to just kind of lull opponents to sleep and then let Luongo do the rest, which is fine. I like the Canucks when they're not playing the Caps so I won't pick on them too much.

I guess I was hoping that the Caps would let their offense and speed dictate the type of game we'd see and they never really did. The game was, quite frankly, pretty dull.

Let's get right into the good and bad of the game before I fall asleep...

Good
- The power play connected. Twice. Hallelujah.
- Both goals involved players crashing the net. Double hallelujah.
- Ovechkin scored and added an assist, marking his second straight multipoint game of the year
- Clark continued to roll, adding two assists of his own
- After starting off the season fairly shakily, Pothier has really impressed me over the last four or five games and seems to be settling down, making smarter plays and better passes. (I know, I can't believe I just wrote that either...)
- The last 3 or 4 minutes of the game - apparently desperation kicked in right then and the team started playing well. Of course, it helped that the Canucks took a couple of bad penalties to let the Caps' thrilling power play go to work (yeah, I know, I can't believe I just wrote that either...)

Bad
- This is the first time this season that I have had to say the following: Mike Green had a very rough night, which included a horrible turnover that led directly to a Vancouver tally.
- Add Semin to the list of guys with sloppy turnovers tonight (although he did have some sneaky shots that seemed to catch Luongo off guard).
- Schultz had a Mike Green-esque night in that he balanced out some really horrifying shifts with some smarter defensive plays. I guess he's starting to improve? I don't know. Until he learns how to hit I'm not really interested in finding out. Bring back Eminger.
- Snarky AP reporters. Observe:

Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was getting a bit nervous while watching Alex Ovechkin try to rally the Washington Capitals to a victory. Perhaps Vigneault forgot for a moment one salient fact: His goalie, Roberto Luongo, simply doesn't lose to the Capitals.

Is it true to a certain extent? Yes. Is it necessary to write it that way? No. Absolutely not. Obnoxious.
- Never leave a Sedin twin open. Ever. Sneaky little buggers...
- Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

In the "make CapsChick's heart stop beating" category, Clark taking a slapshot to the head was probably the scariest thing I've seen since...well, the last time he got a puck to the head, only this time he stayed down. And when Clarkie goes down and stays down, you know it's bad. He had to be helped off, looking extremely shaky on his feet, and word is he got stitches in his left ear. The only thing I've read about it is a quick, unexplained quote from Hanlon that said "it's not going to be good." I'm not even sure what that means. Scary, scary, scary.

So best wishes to Clark on a speedy recovery. Hopefully you were just a little shaken up and true to Chris Clark form you'll be back very, very soon.

Next up the Caps wing off to St. Louis for an 8:30 matchup with the Blues tomorrow night. Here's your gameday preview: thank you NHL schedule, I have no idea what the Caps will see when they play the Blues because we haven't seen them since 2005. They have Weight and Tkachuk and Kariya and a bunch of good young kids that we never get to watch firsthand. Johnson will be in net against his old team. St. Louis is a place with...a giant arch. Or something.

But the good news is we have eight games against the Panthers. It's all about perspective, people.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Canucks

Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs Vancouver Canucks
Where: Verizon Center
When: Friday, October 26, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT; Sportsnet Pacific, TEAM 1040

Media Notes:
Caps' Website
Canucks' Website
NHL.com
Washington Post
Washington Times

It would be very easy to boil this game down to Ovechkin vs. Luongo, Round 10, and it could very well end up that way. But while Bobby Lou has had his way with the Caps over the last two years, he was also going up against a team with firepower that was frankly limited to whatever #8 could provide.

With the Caps' offense finally waking up Wednesday night and the Canucks struggling in the young season, this game will come down to more than just great goaltending or one great shot. Vancouver is a hard-working, gritty team with bits of flash and dash thrown in, but they've struggled lately in racking up shots on goal and currently rank last with just over 23 per game. The Caps are slightly better in that area but have scored only 4+ goals once so far. You have to think that this game will be all about special teams, lucky bounces and secondary scoring for both teams.

Special Edition: The Swedish Spectacular

For the first time since Calle Johansson was around the Caps have a Swedish presence on the roster in rookie Nicklas Backstrom and slick veteran Michael Nylander - and its just in time to take on one of the more Swede-heavy teams in the NHL. So to honor the Scandinavian influence that will play a key role in the battle on ice tonight, let's look at some famous Swedes who helped make the world what it is today...

Astrid Lindgren - author of the famous Pippi Longstocking stories, the international children's favorites about a young girl with unusual strength, pirate gold and an aptitude for making adults look foolish

Alfred Nobel - noted chemist, engineer, innovator, armaments manufacturer and the inventor of dynamite. His fortune went to the establishment of the Nobel Prize, awarded since 1901 to individuals for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and for work in peace.

Marcus Schenkenberg - supermodel, actor, singer, writer, TV personality and former arm candy of professional flotation device Pamela Anderson.

Ingmar Bergman - legendary film director who dealt with existential questions and the human condition. Directed 62 movies and over 100 plays before his death this past July.

ABBA - international musical phenomenon that has reportedly sold 370 million records worldwide and has spawned hits such as "Fernando", "Take a Chance on Me", and of course, "Dancing Queen". Recently their songs were translated to the broadway stage for the smash hit Mamma Mia, slated for film release in 2008.

Ingvar Kamprad - founder and CEO of home furnishings powerhouse (and college apartment staple) IKEA; currently the richest person in Europe, with net worth of around $33 billion US.

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More Caps-Bolts Pictures

Here are some fantastic pictures from last night's game provided to me by my friend (and recovering Thrashers fan) Geneen:


Pettinger pre-game
A pensive moment for Olie before the game
Kozlov with his distinctive bright yellow stick
Backstrom
Johnny in his new mask
Gordon getting warmed up
Jurcina, Ovechkin and Semin
Brooks Laich stretching it out
Ovechkin
Captain Clark flanked by two Russian superstars
A gap-toothed grin for Steckel's first goal
St. Louis is hiding...
Ovechkin, always focused
They're fighting...really.
See? Ouch. Poor Morrisonn.
And that would be it for Vinny's night.
Semin keeps his eye on the puck
Well done.
Goal!!


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Vinny the Goon and Other Tall Tales

There was a loud whooshing sound last night as the clock ticked down the final seconds - did you hear it? It was the sound of the Caps faithful breathing a collective sigh of relief as the losing streak is over.

It's never good to go through stretches like that, but you have to think that the team learned a thing or two about themselves and they got it out of the way early in the season. For one thing, they saw what happens when they play a team game, everyone chipping in - 3-0. They saw what happens when they don't...0-3. And they learned that even playing well doesn't always get the win, especially if your offense and power play production are sputtering (i.e., the Penguins game).

I thought overall the Caps looked solid and it is amazing how much a difference being back with Ovechkin has made in Clark's game. The checking line played great against what is essentially Tampa's one big line, even though St. Louis did get on the board, and having Semin back, albeit a slightly rusty Semin, was a nice boost for the club and the fans. Ovechkin had another complete game, doing more to convince me that this new well-rounded thing he's taken on might be here to stay.

I could talk about the power play continuing to falter, and it did, but it looked markedly improved even with the shorthanded goal. There are tweaks to be made, sure - getting Semin back in game shape is job one, and that will happen soon enough. Shooting the puck needs to be a priority, as well, but the Tampa penalty killers are renowned for being not only well-positioned but also aggressive...hence the shortie. I'm okay with how things seem to be progressing, at least.

Congrats to Clark, who not only saw his pointless streak end with two goals last night but also probably got home in time to see his beloved Red Sox take game one of the World Series. Congrats to Dave Steckel, who scored his first NHL goal and point off of a beautiful cross-ice pass from Ovechkin. Best wishes to Shaone Morrisonn as his face heals after being jumped by Vinny Lecavalier of all people.

UPDATE: If you missed it last night, here's the Lecavalier-Morrisonn fight courtesy of the good people at hockeyfights.com. You can see at the end why Mo had to get 10 stitches over his right eye, and it wasn't because of Vinny's wicked right hook.



And now some pictures...ooh, pretty:

Pettinger playing housekeeper during warm-ups
Crashing the net Dave Steckel's first NHL goal
Kozlov and Ovechkin ready for the draw
Semin and Ovechkin during warm-ups
Clark, Kozlov and Ovechkin lining up for the draw Slightly blurry evidence of offensive zone pressure
Another faceoff
GOAL!
Johnny's relieved this is just warm-ups...

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I Don't Believe in Signs, but...

I just checked the weather report and here's how it looks:

Watch for Lightning? Uh oh. That sounds ominous.

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Caps Host Bolts

Yikes - 8th game in and already slacking...gameday preview? No? Oops.

So. The biggest news going into tonight's game is the possible return of Alexander Semin to the lineup. I say possible only because there's no official word as to whether he's been taken off the IR but he did practice yesterday and participate in the morning skate. Plus Hanlon said he would play. Now we're just waiting on the paperwork to be finished. Hey, it wouldn't be Washington if something didn't get mired down in paperwork, right?

Semin's return, as I mentioned a few days ago, will hopefully spark the power play and the offense in general, both of which have been underachieving...to put it lightly. Other changes include Clark's shift to the top line alongside Ovechkin and Kozlov, Brooks Laich sliding into his spot on the checking line, and Dave Steckel centering the fourth line between Brashear and Fleischmann.

So Flash is now on a line with Brash - aside from the unfortunate rhyme, it seems like Flash might be on his way back to Hershey sooner rather than later. This is the third "demotion" he's had after starting the season on the first line, and we're less than ten games in. I say put Bradley back in, send Flash back to Hershey and call up Clymer.

It could happen...

I'll be at the game tonight, as I hope many of you will be as well, to see our first of eight games against the delightful Lightning. I'm even bringing a Thrashers fan with me who has promised to root for the Caps (although I think it's only so she can say her team won for once). Lots of things to watch for tonight, not the least of which is special teams in both directions, but with Bolts goaltending continuing to be, well, Bolts goaltending and the Caps offense sputtering, you have to think something has to give one way or the other.

Finally a quick shout-out to DCSportsChick, who has joined the world of OnFrozenBlog to keep those crazy boys in line and provide the female (read: intelligent) perspective on all things Caps. Good to see you back in the blogging world, DCSC - it was far too empty without you!

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Buh-bye, Joey

Hang in there, Caps fans - one more day until we get to put this losing streak behind us and get back to some real hockey...

- That "paper" transaction has now become a real transaction, as Joe Motzko is headed back to Hershey. Poor Joe. It's not really his fault. Had he been used on a third or fourth line rather than thrown to the wolves alongside Ovechkin and, dear god, on the power play point, he might have made a better impression. As it was I think the majority of people saw what I saw - a fairly balanced combination of decent plays and forehead-slapping blunders. Back to Hershey you go, Joe, and best of luck.

- Motzko's departure means but one thing - Alexander Semin is back. And not a moment too soon, if you ask me. Scary stat of the day: Semin's power play goal total from last season (17) is greater than the total number of goals scored by the entire team to this point (14).

- Hanlon is taking the opportunity (i.e. the horrific losing streak and continued ineffectiveness of the power play) to mix things up a bit, moving Clark back up to the top line alongside Ovechkin and Kozlov and shifting Steckel up to the checking line in his place.

This is one of those "good in the moment" moves, because as much as I like Clarkie and as much as I want to see some sort of production out of him, he's really much better suited to a checking line role. And anyone who doubts the beauty that was the Pettinger-Gordon-Clark line only has to see the number they did on Crosby Saturday night - the Kid had only 2 shots. That's it. Brilliant, brilliant work against a very tough player.

- Tinkering continues on a flailing power play and Mike Green makes his return to the point alongside Poti, which is good news for everyone. I know that ideally you want at least 4 forwards out there, but Greenie's got more points than a lot of our forwards right now and he doesn't seem to have this crippling fear of shooting the puck. And with Semin coming back you have to think that they're bound to get one in eventually...right?

- Good piece in the Times today about bloggers working with the Caps to lead the interweb revolution, filling a void left by shrinking mainstream media budgets and attention spans. Oh, the irony.

- Kind of a big night around the NHL, as the Canadian media is wetting themselves over Ryan Smyth's return to Edmonton - the city he left in tears last season. Meanwhile a true battle of the titans takes place across the border as the Maple Leafs host Atlanta, and Sidney Crosby is revealed tonight before the Pens-Rangers game. Revealed as what, they don't say...I'm guessing some kind of robot.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Don't Just Sit There

There's a disturbing trend I'm starting to see on a few of the blogs and among the message board posters around CapsNation, and I'm curious as to the thought process behind it. Maybe someone can enlighten me because I'm completely confused.

We all know that when the Penguins come to town, at least in the last two years, their fans take great pleasure in packing our arena. It's some sort of sick, twisted game to them - they jam the ticket outlets the first day tickets go on sale, scour eBay and Craig's List and Stub Hub, and organize bus tours from the Pitt to DC.

They nudge each other in the ribs with laughing smiles. Ha ha, they say; the Caps can't even sell out their own arena, they mock.

Never mind the fact that of course there are seats available when they first go on sale, or the fact that they're basically helping us to pay off the rest of Jagr's contract. Or the fact that no Caps fan in their right mind would claim that attendance has been good in the last decade. (Pens fans, we get it - DC is a town made up of about 50% expatriates from other places and 50% of people who like to see a winning sports team. It's just the way it is...time to find a new joke.)

But that's not the disturbing trend. What disturbs me is the note of defeat I'm hearing among Caps fans who have the time, money and ability to get to the game - and don't. There's a sense of there being no point. Why should we subject ourselves to the evil hordes of invading Pens fans when we can enjoy the game from the comfort of our recliners and couches? We're probably not going to win anyways, so why bother?

People. Please. You don't combat an invasion by staying home - you go out and fight it. If every person who decided not to go because the idea of sitting with Pens fans was too much had actually bought seats, that's a chunk of tickets not going into the hands of the yellow and black. See how that works?

One of the eternal jokes about our franchise is that there's no passion here, but I disagree. There's plenty of passion...the problem is it's tempered with a lot of broken hearts and defeatist attitudes that prevent us from being a truly great hockey city.

Last night there were probably about 4-5,000 Penguins fans in attendance and if you read Penguins blogs their loyal fans are convinced that the "Let's Go Pens" chant was louder than the "Let's Go Caps". I disagree - not that it would have been out of the ordinary in the past, but last night was not a Penguins game of the past.

Try yelling "Let's Go Caps" over that other horrible chant and see if you can hear the difference between 'Pens' and 'Caps' - you can't. It all becomes one big blur of sound. If Pens fans have some super secret hearing ability, great, but if not they heard what I did and they're all lying. There were far more Caps fans in the house last night than at any of the Penguins games last year and they were loud. Maybe not when the game ended, and maybe it wasn't even louder than the "Let's Go Pens" chants. All I know is from my vantage point it sounded very different than it has in recent years.

The point is this: if you're waiting for a game where the Pittsburgh influx is absent, you'll be waiting a long time. Along with the normal assorted jackasses they've also got a great deal of very devoted, passionate, intelligent fans who love their team, many of whom live in the area. But the Caps are getting better and are worth supporting regardless - annoyance with the flightless fowl is not a good enough reason, not if you're a true fan.

So all of you who don't have an excuse for not being at the game other than the fact that you just couldn't be bothered, shame on you. You want to bitch about the Penguins fans, fine - be my guest. I certainly do my fair share. But I was there and thousands of others were, too, lending our voices to the cheers that filled the arena for the first time in a long time. Where were you?

March 9. I expect to see you all there.

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Patience is a Virtue

The doom and gloom patrol is out in full force today, and it's not really surprising - losing a fourth straight and having it come against the Penguins is very demoralizing for Caps fans. Believe me, before last night's game I was informing everyone that should the Caps lose they could find me on the roof of the nearest building, poised to leap.

I'm not up there, though, and no one else should be either. We are, and let me make this very, very clear...7 games in. Do the two points still count in October? Yes. Is this a worse start than we would have preferred? Yes.

A good start to the season is very important. It sets the tone for the rest of the year, gets fans into it early, and gives the team confidence going forward. But it's not everything.

Case in point: the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators last season.

Buffalo, if you remember, started the season with 10 straight wins. 10. That's insane. They were going to win the Cup and the season was a month old. But they choked on their own confidence and despite winning two rounds of the playoffs you have to admit they never really looked like the same team in the postseason, ultimately falling to the Ottawa Senators.

Then we have the Sens. In their first six games last season they were 2-4-0. Through 19 games they were 7-11-1, good enough for last place in the division and beating out only Philadelphia in the conference standings. They finished the season with a record of 48-25-9 and dominated every playoff series except for the Finals.

I'm not saying the Caps are going to make it to the Finals - my insanity has its limits. But there is something to be said for having a little patience, and I'm more inclined to do that under current circumstances.

Think about this - the Caps went through three weeks of training camp and preseason games where they actually had to make real decisions for once on who was going to get cut and who would make the team. During this short period of time the top two lines were essentially unchanging, skating together in almost every game and throughout camp.

Then you have three unexpected things happen one after the other.

First, Semin goes down with an ankle injury in one of the last preseason games, throwing a wrench in what was expected to be a one-two scoring punch. Then you have Fleischmann, who performed so well in camp that he was given a slot alongside Ovechkin and Kozlov, basically self-destructing when asked to repeat it in regular season play. And last but certainly not least, you lose one of your best faceoff men and penalty killers, Boyd Gordon, for three games due to injury.

Each one of those things alone is workable. You make adjustments, you shuffle the lines, and you go forward. But they happened all at once, when the team has barely been skating together for a full month, and that's going to wreak havoc with your performance. People who are saying "fire the coach" or "put Nylander on the top line" are simply offering the typical knee-jerk reactions to a club that's dropped a few. It's understandable but not logical. Not yet, at least.

Bob Hartley was fired because the Thrashers lost their first six games...and their last four. And limped into the postseason. And had nothing to work with. That team had and continues to have problems with or without Hartley behind the bench and last night's loss to Tampa continues to prove that he probably shouldn't have been the only one let go. If Hanlon can't get results out of this team by mid-November, I'd say he's gone - but let's give him a little time with a full team to work with first, okay?

As for Nylander, yes...we all thought he was coming in to play on a line with Ovechkin. Guess what? He's got better chemistry with Semin and Backstrom. We saw it at camp, we see it now. And Kozlov, last night's somewhat off-night aside, has really hit on something with Ovechkin. They just find each other on the ice in all situations and the results are nothing short of breathtaking.

The Caps lost a close one last night for their fourth straight, but as I've said and as others have also pointed out, they looked fantastic doing it. Were there problems? Sure. I'd love to see Poti shoot that puck a little more. I'd love to see Motzko back in the AHL, or at least on a third or fourth line where he can use his feistiness without being responsible for as much. I'd love to see the offense or the power play start to kick in (although there were signs of improvement in both, even if they didn't show up on the scoresheet).

But last night's loss was no 7-3 stumble like the one against Buffalo, and it wasn't the 5-2 fiasco we saw Thursday night either. It was a goaltending duel, an officiating nightmare, and the most complete game the Caps have played since the home opener. Semin is likely on his way back, probably by Friday. Goaltending continues to be one of the best features even in the losses (Olie's performance Thursday not included). Gordon returned last night and looked like he'd never left. The signs are all there - things are starting to turn around.

On a completely unrelated topic I need to pass on a quick note to all the AP writers and anyone writing a story about last night's game - Crosby did not "power" the Penguins to anything. He didn't "lead" the Pens to a win. He was actually pretty invisible. His one assist came on a feed to the point while on the power play and I'm sorry, but any forward on the power play makes that pass routinely. It was a good pass, but I'm not inclined to stick it on a highlight reel. In fact, if that win was a product of any individual it was Marc-Andre Fleury...not Captain Penguin.

Crosby is an amazing talent and does so many things that make your jaw drop - let's not cheapen them by trying to equate everything he does to some kind of magic.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Where's Your Seeing Eye Dog, Ref?

Losses like this one, even against the Penguins, are always a little easier to swallow than the parade of horrific hockey we've been subjected to over the last few games. The Caps were dominant, outshooting and outplaying the Penguins for most of the night.

The difference? The combined forces of Marc-Andre Fleury and some of the worst officiating I've seen in a good long while.

We'll start with ol' Flower - there were a few saves where he looked shaky, even in the waning minutes, but for the most part he was a force in net and made the big saves when the Penguins needed him to (which was often). I'd even say he was the player of the game if it weren't for the not one but two swings he took at Caps players for having the audacity to get shoved into him. No call on either, of course.

Which brings us to the refs. Wow. I'm sure there were a few plays that we Caps fans in attendance thought should have been called that really weren't penalties - after all, it's the natural inclination of a fan to take umbrage with any sort of manhandling of their players, legal or otherwise. But there were several blatant non-calls as well as several penalties that had no business being called - including a 5 on 3 that led to a Penguins goal as the second penalty expired and one that resulted in a power play goal.

Some thoughts:
- Welcome back, Boyd Gordon - he slipped back into the lineup without missing a beat and really played a good game considering the fact that he's been out with back spasms for over a week.
- Brent Johnson was an unexpected choice for tonight but I thought he was fantastic, making a series of spectacular saves (and effectively shutting up the Caps fans behind us who were ragging on him all night).
- The Caps once again failed to connect on the power play but it looked much better than it has the last few games. They got someone to the front of the net and even picked up a few shots - still needs work, though.
- Yes, there were lots of Penguins fans in attendance...I expected nothing less. But it was a sellout (even though all the seats weren't filled) and there were many more Caps fans than in the last few years. When the Caps scored the volume was much higher than when the Penguins scored, just as it should be, and the crowd was raucous and into the game all night - so great to see even with the excess of yellow and black sprinkled throughout.
- Joe Motzko has been recalled to Hershey. Thank god. Think he'd be willing to take Schultz and Fleischmann with him? I'm done with all three of them.
- Hit of the night: Ovechkin leveling Crosby as #87 was coming up through the neutral zone with the puck. The crowd went wild. I smiled like an idiot.
- Brashear and Laraques may have exchanged punches, but the fight of the night was Matt Pettinger and Jordan Staal - for sheer entertainment value alone.
- Backstrom is getting scrappy and learning to throw his body around, which is for some reason always funny. Good to see though.
- I really thought Nylander played well tonight, doing just enough stickhandling and serpentining to throw off the Pittsburgh (and I use this term loosely) defense without turning over the puck.
- Kozlov had no such luck.
- Do I need to say that Mike Green looked good out there? Another great job by Greenie - he's really perfected that rush up the middle, too. He's rapidly becoming very fun to watch.
- Ovechkin...always, always amazing.
- The Caps outshot the Penguins 31-22, but there is an even more telling stat. 20 shots missed the net completely and another 17 were blocked, compared with 9 missed shots and 11 blocked for the Penguins. The Caps were firing from all over the place - the next step? Hitting the net. We'll work on it.

So the Caps don't get the win but it looks like at the very least the team is starting to remember how they played to start the season. A couple more bounces in their favor and this one goes the other way. Next test comes Wednesday as the Caps continue their 4-game home stretch with a visit from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Gameday Preview Special: Caps vs. Penguins

Okay, everyone ready? A visit from the Penguins always calls for a little something special in my book, so if you came by looking for a regular gameday preview move along. Nothing to see here.

This year's first glimpse of our favorite feathered flightless friends comes early in the season when our threshold for pain might be a little lower. Hope everyone brings their game faces. And, you know, a few extra Caps fans...

So here's where we are heading into tonight's game. The Caps come in on a three game losing streak but had yesterday off to practice, among other things, the power play. Brilliant idea. Meanwhile the Pens squeaked out a shootout victory against the Canes last night but had dropped three of their last four before that and have been prone to slow starts.
Hanlon had the perfect quote today regarding the overhyped, overplayed, hardly a real discussion Ovechkin vs. Crosby thing:
"For the people who haven't been here, it was a rivalry long before Ovechkin and Crosby came on the scene. That's how we look at it."
Well said. Although I think Ovechkin's response to why the "rivalry" continues to be in the spotlight wins for quote of the day:
"Because they like us [and] because we're cute," he said, struggling to keep a straight face. "Because we have good smiles."
But if you really need to know what's going on in the 'race', let's look at the stats:
Ovechkin - 6 GP, 4 G, 2 A, 6 Pts, +1
Crosby - 6 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 Pts, -3
There. Now that that's out of the way...let's move on.

As usual the more insane branch of PensNation (think the Pittsburgh equivalent of us crazy Caps bloggers) is getting all riled up and unrolling those ever-creative insults for which they have become famous. Namely they like to attack our lack of attendance and absence from the playoffs...over and over and over.

Right. Because before the lockout the Penguins did really well in both areas.

Oh, but I'm not here to start a firestorm. God only knows that occasionally their snarky remarks are true, and occasionally we Caps fans are also guilty of fueling the hatred. Maybe by, I don't know, making sweeping generalizations at the expense of certain attributes one identifies with our friendly foes. *cough*mullets*cough*

I think it's time we put aside this silly animosity and move forward in the true spirit of sportsmanship, don't you? Let's all join hands and sing a song near and dear to our hearts (updated for current events, of course...):

The Caps are Gonna Win
(to the tune of "The Good Ol' Hockey Game")

Hello out there, check out the hair,
It must be Penguins time
In Steelers gear and four cups of beer
Up into the stands they climb

They storm the seats like bumblebees!
Clad all in black and gold
Then someone roars, "OVIE SCORES!"
Suddenly they're not so bold.

OH! The Caps are gonna win,
Even if our crowds are thin,
All the loyal fans can grin,
'Cause the Caps are gonna win.

2nd period...

'Neath his 'gangsta style' and his gap-toothed smile
Ovechkin leads the lads
Captain Clark is there to clear the air
And Godzilla stacks the pads

With a tricky deke and some slick technique
Our Swedes both old and young
Will send those fowl home with a scowl
And the Caps will take game one.

Oh! The Caps are gonna win,
And they'll give the Kid a spin
There'll be rejoicing when
The Caps pull out a win.

3rd period...first meeting of a loooooooong season, too

Oh take me where the Horn Guy blares
And the chant is "Let's Go Caps!"
Where the locals light up the stands with white
(And the fights stay under wraps)

To the ol' Phone Booth where we learn the truth
That the Caps will rule the day,
Though the enemy swarms like a vicious storm
We'll have the final say.

Oh! The future can begin
With the help of Ovechkin
And we'll share his beaming grin
'Cause the Caps are gonna win.

Yes, the Caps...are...gonna....wiiiiiin!
(With apologies to "Stompin' Tom" Connors)

Alright, enough of the singing and peacemaking. Bring on the trash talk, folks! Keep it clean and civil, though, or risk permanent bannination from the Cheap Seats. Oh, and if I hear one word about "three games in four nights" I shall beat the offending party about the head with a newspaper, because that's how the Caps started the season...and they won all three. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

It should be a good one.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Zilla Goes Down in Flames

After five games of saying that our goaltending has been solid when needed and spectacular when really needed, it pains me to say this - but it has to be done.

Olie Kolzig was the worst player on the ice tonight.

As a whole the Caps weren't all that bad (although for the love of god if they don't start shooting the puck at the net on the power play I'm going to scream). The majority of the action in the first and third periods was even controlled by the Caps...the second period I could have lived without, but what can you do. I'm not going to dwell on all the bad things because there weren't a whole lot of blatant things wrong, just a lot of little things, defensive miscues and turnovers and the like that hopefully will go away soon. There was enough good stuff that I'm not going to nitpick tonight.

There were some standout individual performances to mention, however. Ovechkin continues to find a whole new level of greatness that boggles the mind. Green is displaying moves that would make some high-flying forwards jealous (and occasionally he even plays defense). Backstrom's feed to Fleischmann was perfection to bring the Caps even and make the game interesting.

Speaking of individual performances, Matt Pettinger had a fantastic game and is quickly becoming one of my favorite people to watch. The highlight of the night was him battling through 3 vicious hits to get the puck into the Islanders zone on the penalty kill, then holding the puck against the boards for so long that it drew all 5 Islanders to him. Smart, stunningly beautiful penalty killing at it's finest by Pettinger.

So why is it that Olie decides tonight is the night to let in not one, not two, but three softies? There's no excuse. There's no reason for us to be cringing and hiding our eyes every time the puck comes near the net. Pucks should not be dribbling through him and under him like that, especially not more than once.

He stormed off the ice at the end of the game and rightly so, because frankly that was one of the worst games I've seen him play in years. He should be angry and annoyed and pissed off, and only at himself. There were some shoddy defensive plays, sure, but he should have had almost every one of those goals. The Islanders had 20 shots and very few of those were quality.

The one good thing about this, the silver lining if you will, is that I know Olie. When he has a bad outing he steps it up the next game. And that's great news for Caps fans because the next game is against the Penguins...

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Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Isles

Who: Your Nation's Capitals vs. New York Islanders
Where: Verizon Center, Washington, DC
When: Thursday, October 18, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT; FSN-NY2

Media Notes:
NHL.com
Islanders Website
Dueling Jeff Schultz articles:
Washington Post
Washington Times

Season Series: Caps 1-0-0, Islanders 0-1-0
Season Standings: Caps 3-2-0, 3rd in Southeast; Islanders 3-3-0, 2nd in Atlantic

Last Game:
After two stellar games to kick off the season, the Caps traveled to Long Island to face the also undefeated Islanders who were coming off back to back wins against the Sabres. The Caps stayed in a game that saw the Islanders come out firing, supported by the impressive goaltending performance of Olie Kolzig until they were able to mount a comeback. Kozlov scored against his old team to bring the Caps even, and Brooks Laich slipped the game-winner in around a fallen DiPietro in the third to continue the Caps winning streak.

Tonight's Game:
Once again these two teams meet on similar two-game streaks, but this time they're losing streaks. The Caps fell with a rather loud thud to the Rangers and Sabres on back to back nights. Meanwhile the Islanders have dropped 3 of their last 4, losing to Toronto and the Flyers in recent days. Both teams have been on the business end of a goal-scoring explosion, with the Caps giving up 7 to Buffalo and the Isles being pasted for 8 against the Leafs.

So what happens now? Obviously something has to give. Both teams are looking to change their fortunes just like both teams were looking to continue their trajectories a week and a half ago.

The Caps have a few issues that need to be and probably have been addressed in practice this week, not the least of which is their power play. With Semin continuing to be out with an ankle injury the Caps seemed to get a bit of a spark putting everyone on one unit on Saturday, and even though it only connected once I'd expect the same thing to happen tonight.

As for the penalty killing, it's gotten slightly better since the disastrous turn it took at MSG, but without Boyd Gordon in the lineup it's still a little suspect. Given the fact that there are still a number of quality PKers on the roster, that should not be the case and people like Pettinger, Clark, Laich and Steckel need to step up a bit.

And then there's offense - for some reason this team that on paper has tremendous scoring ability continues to produce few goals and have yet to score more than 3 in a game. In the first three games the defense and especially the goaltending were good enough that more goals weren't needed, but some holes started to appear over the weekend. Ovechkin still can't carry the team on his own and secondary scoring needs to come from the third and fourth lines.


Two Minutes with...Rick DiPietro

On his hair: People think it takes a lot of work but really I don't spend that much time on it. I shampoo and condition it, then follow up with a specially formulated serum that I leave on for exactly 2 minutes and 37 seconds. I wrap it up in a towel heated to precisely 82 degrees and let it set for an hour. After that it's just a quick gel, blowdry, mousse, gel again, a quick coat of hairspray, run my fingers through it and we're good to go!

On his puckbunny following: I'm flattered to get so much attention and I love my fans. Hey, as long as they don't mess up the hair, you know?

On staying in Long Island for the next 14 years: It's great! I love the Island and especially the fans. After all, no one knows more about hair than Long Islanders. I've gotten some great tips on how to make it really big on top, which is awesome - not only do I look good but it gives me extra padding under the helmet, too!

On future career plans: I'll probably take over for Snowy when he retires, keep it in the family. Plus as GM I don't have to worry about my hair getting all sweaty and caught in my mask anymore. Sounds like a fun job!

On his obsession with his hair: Really, I don't think too much about it. It's hair, you know? Whatever...why, does it look bad?? Oh, god! I need a comb. Can someone get me a comb? And some hairspray? Hurry!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

You Spin Me Right Round

Guess I should talk about the Caps at some point...

So Gordon continues to be day-to-day with back spasms and his status for tomorrow is unknown. Schultz was recalled, meaning Erskine will probably head to the press box. Semin was placed on IR retroactive to the 7th, so he's possible but not probable for tomorrow's game against the Islanders. Sutherby remains in green jersey purgatory. Motzko is getting a crack at the right wing slot.

And the wheel o' players continues.

Anyone else miss having a stagnant roster for more than two games?

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Hartley Gone, Problems Still Abound

The web is buzzing today with the news that Bob Hartley, our very bestest friend, has become the first casualty of Atlanta's dubious 0-6-0 start. Caps fans in particular seem both overjoyed and unsurprised by the move and I'd count myself among them as we bid adieu to Smilin' Bob.

Being winless and in fact pointless to start the season isn't good. To score only 9 goals and be shutout twice with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Slava Kozlov and Marian Hossa on your team is even worse. Throw in a painful four-game sweep at the hand of the Rangers back in April and it's no wonder that Hartley got the axe.

What's happening in Atlanta, though, is not as great a fall as people seem to think and that is because, and I mean this with all due respect, they weren't that great a team last year. They were average, maybe even good. They started out hot and at times seemed poised to run away with the division. But this was a division that frankly was a pretty easy division to win - and they barely did that, holding off Tampa with a whip and a chair as the season drew to a close.

Oh, and save the talk about two of the last three Cup champs being from the Southeast. Our division has, in the past, done plenty to remove the moniker of "SouthLeast" and the Carolina and Tampa teams that won were great teams; the ones we saw last year were not.

Atlanta finished with 97 points last year. 43 of those came from division play. That's almost 45% of their point total for the year. Compare that with the seven other postseason teams in the East:

Buffalo - 113 points, 39 from division rivals (34.5%)
New Jersey - 107 points, 47 from division rivals (43%)
Ottawa - 105 points, 41 from division (39%)
Pittsburgh - 105 points, 43 from division (41%)
NY Rangers - 94 points, 35 from division (37%)
Tampa Bay - 93 points, 40 from division (43%)
NY Islanders - 92 points, 38 from division (41%)

Look who comes the closest - NJ and Pittsburgh, who had the Flyers to kick around but also managed 100+ point seasons (while also playing each other 8x), and Tampa...another Southeast Division alum.

But let's not stop there; look at the most telling total from the Thrashers "glorious" season - overtime and shootout losses. Atlanta picked up 7 points (5 OT, 2 SO) from losses in the extra frame against division foes, more than any other postseason team. Even the Islanders, who squeaked into the playoffs by way of a shootout win, earned only four points by essentially losing to their Atlantic rivals.

I'm not going to rally against the point system right now because I have neither the will nor the energy - but take away those 7 loser points and the Thrashers were on the outside looking in.

That's not to say that Atlanta didn't have a decent team last year. When I say they weren't that good I don't mean they were worthy of a last place finish. They've got considerable talent and youth (neither of which is found in their current captain, but again, another discussion for another day) and they did a fair job of taking out the Caps on more than one occasion last year.

But they were for large stretches of the season inconsistent - and I don't mean that mildly. I mean blatantly, glaringly inconsistent, winning 5 or 6 in a row and then losing 5 or 6 in a row. Even when the season started and they picked up points in 11 of their first 12 games, four of their wins came in the extra frame, three of those were OT or shootout losses - and 9 of those games were against the Southeast.

So here's where they stand right now. Going into this season they've lost their big free agent rental Tkachuk, Caps-killer Jon Sim, Andy Sutton, JP Vigier, Greg De Vries, Vitali Vishnevsky, Niko Kapanen and Shane Hnidy, all of whom were part of getting them to the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

They picked up Ken Klee.

And they're placing their hopes on a 23 year old goaltender who will probably be a great goalie someday, you know, when he grows up.

...and they're 0-6 why now? Puzzler.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Local Women's Hockey and Other News

October is a pretty slow month for the Caps, with only eleven games and multiple stretches like this one where they will go three, four, five days without a game. It's a good thing for the team - it gives them time to rest their walking wounded, go over some basics, and spend time with their families.

For fans, on the other hand, the going starts to get a little rough. After five months off without hockey and only one home game to date, I don't think I'm alone in going a little stir crazy waiting for Thursday to roll around.

While we're waiting, here are some assorted goodies for your Tuesday afternoon enjoyment:

- If you haven't already gotten your tickets to see the Caps host the Penguins this Saturday night, the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference is selling special discounted tickets to the Caps-Pens game for $25. The cost of the ticket includes admission to see UVA face off against the University of Delaware that afternoon at Verizon Center. Support local women's hockey and the Caps all at once! Click here for more details on purchasing tickets.

As I understand it, the afternoon game itself will be open to the public - so even if you've got your tickets, why not head out to Verizon a few hours early and check out some great collegiate hockey action? I'm going to try and be there as well, cheering on UVA if only to avoid the threat of death or indian burn from my sister and brother-in-law...

Update: From the DVCHC: those attending the UVA vs. Delaware match-up, which will start at 2:00pm Saturday must enter through the Verizon Center's Press Entrance (6th and G, NW) between 1:00pm and 1:50pm. All Caps tickets will be honored.

- OnFrozenBlog has a great write-up on yesterday's visit by the Washington Capitals to Children's National Medical Center, complete with pictures and stories of the team (including one great shot of the Alexes coloring diligently with crayons). Their annual visit, incidentally, coincides with the launch of Capitals' Courage Caps, special team-issued hats that will be sold starting October 26th. 100% of the profits from the sale of these hats will go to benefit CureSearch National Childhood Caner Foundation.

- The Caps get a day off today after what was reportedly the longest practice session of the year yesterday, a two hour marathon that saw Hanlon putting the team through its paces and getting back to basics. To those of you saying they shouldn't have so much time off after a performance like this weekend, well...I'd like to see you strap on some skates and take a beating two nights in a row in hostile arenas and see how much rest you need. Hell, football players only do that once a week - and they sit out games for paper cuts.

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Nothing But a Number

Looking at the stats to this point there are a few things that catch your attention immediately, even with the admittedly small sample size of five games:

- Chris Clark has already racked up 8 penalty minutes, tied for the team lead with big-time scorer John Erskine. A few of those were cheesy calls, but it's not good when your captain is spending more time in the box than anyone else.

- Five of the top ten scorers on the team to this point are defensemen - Green (1-3-4), Poti (0-2-2), Erskine (1-1-2), Pothier (0-1-1) and Jurcina (1-0-1).

- Think Ovechkin is doing okay so far? Yeah, me too. He's got three goals and two assists, 22 shots on goal (which by the way is more than the Caps got in either of their last two games), and only one penalty...although admittedly a badly-timed one. Even better is the fact that he's +1 to this point.

- Nylander is a team-leading -3...and that's with two goals and two assists. Yikes.

- Through five games, Fleischmann has no goals, no assists, five shots and two minors. I'm not one to call for roster changes this early in the season but since I've been saying this since training camp I'll continue - send him back to Hershey. Now. If we wanted someone in the lineup who didn't produce offensively we'd dress Sutherby...and at least he doesn't get pushed off of the puck as much. (No disrespect to Brian - you know I love him.)

- Even after giving up 7 goals, Brent Johnson's save percentage is still above 90%, although his GAA of 4.00 is a little cringe-inducing. But come on...7 goals, whether your fault or not, will still hurt the stats. He's been very solid in net.

- Sidney Crosby has four points in four games and is a -3. Mike Green has four points in five games and is even. Just sayin'...

- After seeing pieces of Maple Leafs games over the past week and seeing all of their scores, you have to ask yourself an important question: how are three of the Leafs (including Hal Gill) in the top 15 in +/-? Just another reminder that numbers don't always tell the tale...thus rendering this entire post pointless.

Thank you and good night!

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Monday, October 15, 2007

The Swedish Mentor

This is fantastic. Read on: Professor Nylander's School of Hockey

It's fascinating - right after Nylander was signed everyone was asking whether he was brought in specifically to mentor Backstrom. We all assumed it was true but McPhee said no. Nylander said no. It was just a case of right time, right place, right numbers...right?

Cut to months later and two weeks into the season Nylander's already taken the young Swede under his wing, teaching him on and off the ice as the two continue to develop great chemistry. That's a hell of a coincidence, but a great one.

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From the Locker Room to the Sofa

The NHL has made a lot of changes over the past few years, some of them more ridiculous than others. Among the more positive changes, however, is a concerted effort to make the game and the players more accessible. As most of you know, in conjunction with launching a league-wide template for team websites, every team now also has an NHL TV channel that is free to the public and provides assorted videos – everything from postgame interviews and highlights to TV spots, player profiles and in game features.

It sounds like a small thing and to fans of the game it’s obviously secondary to the goals, hits, and saves, but there’s something about seeing the personalities behind the sport that makes it even more entertaining and, more importantly, more appealing to the casual fan. For those of us still without NHL Network (anytime you’re ready, RCN) the veritable online feast of highlights, interviews and behind the scenes clips provides welcome relief from a hockeyless Sunday afternoon.

Most teams have about the same amount of coverage as the next, with a handful of videos across various areas like “Interviews” and “Features”. But as is always the case, some were better than others…

Winners
- New York Islanders: “Islanders TV” is packed to the gills with 35 pages of insider videos dating back to the 2005-06 season, including a huge number of video blogs from players at training camp and other assorted goodies.

That's a lot of Islanders. And a lot of hair on Ricky D.

- Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers kicked off the season with a long western conference road swing and took the opportunity to document it not only on a road trip blog on their website but also through multiple video clips. Highlights include extensive footage of team-building exercises in Whistler during a break in the schedule.

- San Jose Sharks: San Jose has always been really good at reaching out to their fan base and providing as much coverage as possible, as anyone who has seen an episode of Shark Bytes can attest to. They’ve stepped it up a bit more with their Sharks TV contributions and continue to provide some great stuff – if nothing else, “20 Questions with…” is always good for a laugh.

Kyle McLaren on the hot seat for 20 questions
Losers
- New York Rangers: They have nothing. Literally. Guess they figured being the self-appointed world’s greatest hockey town precludes them from having to post anything at all.

- Colorado Avalanche: Their “exclusive insider coverage” is limited to 2 videos, both on milestones from last season. This is a franchise with a couple of Cups, Hall of Famers, new faces and great young talent, but none of it is being showcased here.

Highlights:
- Two from the Isles - Jon Sim mic’d up during preseason vs Thrashers and joking around with some of his old Atlanta teammates during the game like Kovalchuk and Hedberg, and Bill Guerin delivering suite tickets to one of the sponsors

- “Cooking with the Hawks” segment that displays Jim Vandermeer’s cooking talents and his roommate Brent Seabrook’s lack thereof.

- The St. Louis Blues “Whatever It Takes” commercials featuring players and others from the Blues organization trying to woo fans…literally. Borderline creepy, but Doug Weight with a bouquet of flowers in his hands is worth watching anyday.

Dougie's such a softie...
- Henrik Zetterberg taking a face full of shaving cream on his birthday.

- Thrashers’ Fake Vacations are pretty funny, although they do feature some of the world’s worst photoshopping efforts.

- A number of teams are in anniversary years and have taken the opportunity to commemorate the occasion with highlights and archival footage. Check out Carolina, Nashville, Vancouver and the NY Islanders for a trip down memory lane.

Lowlights:
- Some of the cheesiest commercials from…well, you name the team. Chicago’s are pretty bad. Phoenix’s crazy Pierre the Fanatic Hockey Snowman is surreal (and confusing – how did a snowman get to the desert?) And coming from the organization that once brought you the classic “Always Intense” campaign, the Caps’ tattoo commercial is nothing short of a disaster.

Why isn't he melting?
- The color schemes on some of these are enough to burn your retinas. Flyers’ orange and Kings’ purple are bad enough without being the dominant colors.

There's a familiar face!
- Tryouts for various teams’ ice girls, filmed, edited and posted online. Why is that necessary?

And then there was this, which is really neither a highlight nor a lowlight – it’s really just a ‘huh???’ kind of moment. Technology at it's finest, ladies and gentlemen.

Frankly I think the Caps kind of missed the boat on this one, at least to begin with. The Snapshots are fantastic and it's nice having postgame interviews up, but it would be nice to have a few more archived pieces up there to choose from. What about footage of Ovechkin's goals? How about something commemorating Olie's 250th win? Maybe even the opening videos that have been shown from year to year would be nice. Just a thought...

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

New York State of Mind-Boggling

It's hard to say that a goalie who gets shellacked for 7 goals is your best player, but that was certainly the case tonight. Brent Johnson, taking the second of back to back games, faced 53 shots and amazingly enough made this game look a lot closer than it was. Setting aside the one softie that squeaked in between his pads and the post - uh, flush to the post, Johnny, that's goaltending 101 - he was close to brilliant for long stretches of the game and deserved far better.

There was a handful of shifts where the top two lines looked like the top two lines. There were some good shifts by the 3rd and 4th liners. There were continued improvements in Mike Green's game (including a goal and an assist) and an Ovechkin goal to momentarily shut up the boobirds at HSBC Arena. There were some nice penalty kills.

What are we up to, 5 or 6 minutes of good hockey there? That won't cut it.

On the flip side you have the 53 shots allowed, the 7 penalties (including two extended 5 on 3 penalties, the last of which resulted in goal #7), the odd-man breaks, the turnovers, the defensive mental blocks, the bad positioning, and the overall tilting of the ice that sent huge quantities of shots barreling at Johnny. How he wasn't huddled in the cage crying by the end is beyond me, and every single player on the team owes him a beer.

We can make the excuse that some of the penalties were weak, and they were - officiating continues to be slightly suspect around the league but I think that'll work itself out as the refs get used to the new rule definitions. But the majority of the calls were just undisciplined plays by the Caps and when you start playing like that, when you give the other team so many chances, they're eventually going to burn you. And they did. And it opened the floodgates.

We can also use the excuse that a few key players remained out of the lineup in Semin and Gordon, and their absence was definitely obvious - but this is a new team and we're supposed to have depth. Every team has injuries...good teams are able to overcome them and fight through them, and I haven't seen that yet out of the Caps.

To be fair, I do think that the guys who were shifted around to fill the gaps performed admirably, or at least as admirably as they could in a 7-3 loss. Pettinger really meshed nicely with Nylander and Backstrom, although I think we all know his skill level is just not where Semin's is and that's very obvious at times. Clark adds some grit to the top line and had a somewhat decent outing. And Motzko, the call-up from Hershey, played very well with Laich and had some good shifts, including a play that set up Ovechkin's goal.

I'm not going to say that it's still early because I think that is a bit of a cop-out. Sure they're still learning the systems and finding their chemistry...but then what was happening in the first two games? Where is the team that was making people sit up and take notice? It's in there, we've seen it, and this wasn't it.

The season is long and little issues will I'm sure in time work themselves out. But as so many people have said, 2 points now is worth the same as 2 points in December or 2 points in March. If this team is planning on making the playoffs (and from everything we heard this summer, that seems to be the case) then they have to start taking these games seriously - and for the last three games they haven't looked like they are doing that.

The Caps get a nice long break to replay this weekend in their heads over and over and over before returning to Verizon Center for a rematch against the Islanders on Thursday. I don't think anyone will be sad to leave New York after this thrilling 3-game stretch, do you?

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Who Gets the Call?

Both Corey and Tarik have mentioned a possible roster move before tonight's game - no, not the big kind, but a call-up from Hershey.

Here's where we stand right now. Gordon appears to still be injured, which last night had resulted in Steckel moving up to the checking line and Sutherby taking his place with Brashear and Laich (although the lines went through considerable numbers of permutations after the first few shifts). Fleischmann has rotated on and off the top line, often being replaced by Clark. Bradley and Laich have both had time on the second line with the Swedes in Semin's continued absence, but it looks like Pettinger will slide into that spot.

So who's in and who's out?

I have to think that Flash may be on his way back to Hershey. Maybe it's common sense, maybe it's just wishful thinking - or maybe it's just a result of watching him get shoved off the puck time and time again while failing to finish off the beautiful passes to or from his linemates. If he goes back to the AHL, that seems to put Clark back on the top line, at least for now. Then we slide Pettinger in on the second line as has been indicated. That leaves the bottom two lines with some combination of Laich, Steckel, Brashear, Sutherby, Bradley and a player to be named.

I'm thinking either Chris Bourque or Kyle Wilson gets the call, although neither is exactly checking line material. Clymer would be an obvious choice for that role except he's been injured since going down to Hershey and may not be game-ready just yet.

There is, of course, another option, and that would be that Flash is sticking around. We turn to the blue line - and among the six defenseman it's hard to say who would go to Hershey. Pothier, Poti, Morrisonn and Jurcina seem like unlikely candidates. Green has been one of the best players to this point and shouldn't be demoted (although they tend not to ask my opinion on these roster moves). Erskine is a possibility, but he's been strong so far as well...disregarding last night, of course. No one was good last night. Maybe Eminger's coming back, who knows.

In other words...I have no idea. Aren't you glad you stopped by?

So discuss - let's get a little dialogue going, hash this one out, see who's lurking in the Cheap Seats on a Saturday two hours before game time!

Update: Thanks to alert commenters Chris & Sarah (and a quick little check over to the usual suspects), it looks like nothing I suggested happened. Shocking. Tonight we get to see Joe Motzko's first regular season game in a Caps jersey after putting on a pretty impressive training camp. So here are your lines:

Ovechkin-Kozlov-Clark
Backstrom-Nylander-Pettinger
Fleischmann-Laich-Motzko
Brashear-Steckel-Bradley

First and fourth lines look great, nothing surprising there, although you have to feel for Sutherby and wonder just how much longer he's sticking around if they're willing to put Motzko out over him.

Second line, I'll be interested to see how Pettinger does but I think actually that could be a good fit - Petty adds some grit up there and has showcased some dangling ability of his own this year. Third line...hmmm. Hard to say. Laich continues to be consistently good but the other two are question marks. (Oh, and Flash on a checking line? This should be interesting.)

Defense stays the same, Johnson in net, and 17 minutes to puck drop. Everyone take a deep breath...here we go.

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