Friday, November 30, 2007

Not Enough

Such a strange game.

Could there have been anything else that happened tonight? A penalty shot, three reviewed goals (all going against the Caps), funny bounces, an Ovechkin hat trick where the third goal came against his own team...insane.

It's hard to be too upset - obviously we would have preferred that the Caps get two points they so desperately need right now, but this wasn't for lack of trying this time and that is a huge difference.

Let's focus on the positives, because frankly I thought the Caps played a great game and just fell victim to too many bad bounces going against them and not enough in their favor. Gee, I feel like I've said that before...

- Ovechkin. Does the kid ever have a bad game anymore? He was firing at top speed tonight and was involved in multiple scoring chances for the Caps.

- The power play looked very good, maintaining lots of offensive zone pressure and striking twice. They still need to work on just making the simple play and shooting the puck at the net, but if nothing else they made the Canes penalty killers work for it.

- Am I crazy or did the line of Fleischmann-Backstrom-Semin look very strong all night? Flash impressed me with his hard work, Semin not only looked more like himself but even did some backchecking and drew some penalties, and Backstrom...well, he just continues to elevate his game night after night.

- This isn't necessarily a positive, but I think Seidenberg has become public enemy number one for that whack at Semin's leg. If he is hurt again I swear...

- With injuries to Clark and Gordon, key members of the Caps penalty killing units, it would have been very easy to write off the PK against Carolina's high-flying power play. The Caps did a great job in their absence, though, killing off all four penalties with confidence.

- A big part of that penalty killing was Quentin Laing, who made his Caps debut tonight and logged almost half of his total ice time when the Caps were shorthanded. I was very impressed with how he performed. When core players go down with injury all you ask of AHL callups is that they slide in effortlessly, fill a spot and don't make any huge mistakes. He succeeded...and then some.

- A couple of key numbers:

  • 3 - the number of turnovers the Caps had all game. Tremendous improvement.
  • 6 - shots on goal by Ovechkin
  • 5 - shots on goal by Backstrom, amazingly enough
  • 11 - takeaways by the Caps, who were pouncing on loose pucks all night and generating chances (the Canes? 3.)
  • 21 - blocked shots for the Caps
  • 4 - blocked shots by Laing, the highest on the team
Okay. So the next step for the Caps is to complete the comeback. No more of these last minute goals to make it a one-goal game, no more blowing leads. Closing out games is going to be absolutely essential if they ever want to climb out of the cellar...and I'm pretty sure they do.

Tomorrow the Caps travel to Sunrise, Florida to take on the Panthers and I think what we need to look for iszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

...oh, sorry. Guess the thought of yet another thrilling meeting with Florida just can't keep me awake. Strange.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bumps and Bruises and Voodoo Dolls

This was supposed to be a great year for the Caps. This was supposed to be the year that they finally start to regain some of the respect we lost during the Jagr years. And while there's still time to turn things around to a certain extent, there just seems to be a rash of nonstop bad luck preventing a major renewal, the latest being the injuries to key players Clark and Gordon.

So my question is this - do you get the sense that this season might just be cursed?

Let's break it down...

- Alexander Semin goes down with a sprained ankle in preseason. Preseason. We didn't even make it to the regular season before losing our 38-goal scorer. The injury continues to crop up at inopportune times (read: every other day), keeping Semin out of the lineup and preventing any real chemistry from developing between him and the other forwards.

- A team with three 30+ goal scorers and bolstered by offseason offensive producers Nylander, Kozlov and Poti, finds it impossible to find the back of the net. This makes the fact that both goaltenders are standing on their heads irrelevant, as allowing one or two goals a game doesn't help when you can't score at all.

- Alex Ovechkin tries to kill Chris Clark with a slapshot to the head. At the same time Semin is out once more and Boyd Gordon then goes down with an injury, sending the Caps reeling. For the first time in years the Caps are in last place in the NHL.

- A fifth straight loss in which the Caps look flat and unable to do the basic things correctly costs Glen Hanlon his job.

- On new coach Boudreau's first day of practice with his team, Semin reinjures his ankle. Again. In his fourth game the Caps go to their first shootout of the season and lose Clark, Gordon and possibly Semin to injury. Again.

And so on and so forth...

But don't worry, Caps fans, because here's the good news - not only do we get to play Carolina and Florida in back to back games this weekend, but we also get to see each of them four more times before the season ends. (At least this is the last season with such a lovely schedule.)

The better news? Only 57 games left...and counting.

If you're looking for a gameday preview for our next two games go here and here. I'm running out of ways to make these "intense" division matchups interesting, and I'm inspired by the current writers' strike in Hollywood to just run reruns in protest. Luckily after next week we get a bit of a reprieve from the Southeast and I'll return to my usual witty self.

All photos courtesy of AP

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shootout Schmootout

I made a last-minute decision to blog from the press box tonight (and special thanks to Nate Ewell and the whole media relations crew for being amazing and on top of things as usual so that could happen). I was all set to bring you updates, witty candor and deep analysis during each intermission.

But for some reason the wireless in the press box hates me.

Such is life, I guess, but for that reason I'm simply giving you my rambling thoughts of the evening and turning in - losing in a shootout always makes me a little bitter and cranky about the plight of the Capitals fan, and losing to the Panthers does the same. That's right, twice the bitter cranky CapsChick tonight, you lucky people you.

1st Period
- Oh, thank god. We get Semin’s requisite hooking penalty out of the way early.
- There's some aggressive penalty killing going on by Clark, Steckel and company but the Caps take a too many men on the ice penalty negating any momentum.
- Zednik makes them pay with an easy tap-in goal off a rebound. You know, after he signed with the Panthers people laughed at me because I said he would score nonstop against us.
- A great save by Olie on one end leads to an odd-man rush the other way but it's the fourth line and either Bradley or Brashear puts the play offside.
- Pettinger gets a good whack at the puck right in front of Vokoun - since it’s Pettinger, though, of course it doesn’t go in.
- We get a good scoring chance by the BBB line - they seem to be flying again tonight, bouncing back after a somewhat forgettable outing on Monday.
- Zed takes a tripping penalty with about 5 minutes left in the period. Now that's the Zednik we know and love, right?
- So much for this newfangled power play that has the boys always moving their feet - they look pretty stationary out there.
- Listless period overall, although there was some jump out of the third and fourth lines throughout the first, with the Laich-Steckel-Gordon line even getting a little feisty in the last 30 seconds.

Thoughts After 1:
The Caps no longer seem to be coming out in the first period with energy – while that could bode well for the rest of the game (since they like to take a period off every night), Florida is a team that you need to take out of the game right away or else they’ll simply lull you to sleep.
Stat of note: 6 giveaways by the Caps in that first period. That’s not good.

2nd Period
- Slooooooow start to the period. I'll alert the media. Oh, wait...
- Brash takes what looks like a reputation penalty but probably was a good call - thankfully the penalty killers come through yet again and there's no harm done.
- The Ovechkin-Nylander-Clark line is causing problems, and sure enough they draw a penalty
- The Caps' 2nd power play looks slightly better than the first but still no shots 90 seconds in…
- In fact the Caps have no shots in this period at all and we’re almost halfway through.
- Bradley tries to spark the team a bit by dropping the gloves with new Panther Garth Murray. We'll see if it provides the kick in the pants the Caps need to pull even.
- Ovie gets two great shots in a row but Vokoun has the answer for both. Could he be the second coming of Luongo?
- Pothier makes a great play to dump the puck in and then collect his own rebound behind the net. This results in a flurry at the net that would have continued if the Panthers weren’t dirty cheaters. (I kid, I kid…the net was knocked off. You know, by “accident”.)
- A great keep in by Clark results him in being left all alone in the slot and he buries it - tie game, 1-1.
- Great save by Olie on Zed, who was in all alone.
- Aaaand Clark takes his requisite hooking call for the night.
- Caps are forcing lots of shots from the outside, perimeter shots that Olie sees all the way. He's looked sharp for most of the night.
- Laich gets about a 10 second rest on the bench beore he’s right back out there – good pressure on the PK by Steckel, Laich, Schultz and Morrisonn. Penalty killed and the Caps got more chances than the Panthers did on that one…that’s rare.
- There’s a bird in the rafters. (Boy, life is exciting high atop Verizon Center! Popcorn popping, pigeons roosting...this is the good life, folks!)
- We have a Russian line – Ovechkin, Kozlov and Semin. There’s a lot of firepower out there. And a lot of potential turnovers.
- Pressure by the Laich-Steckel-Gordon line draws a penalty in the last minute of the period. Those three are really having a strong game.
- Caps will start the third with the extra man.

Thoughts After 2:
MUCH better period, at least in the second half (once they actually took a shot on goal) by the Caps. That Bradley fight actually did seem to do the trick and it woke the Caps up. If they can carry the momentum into the third and maybe even get a power play marker this becomes a whole new game. Only 3 turnovers that period, too…

3rd Period
- The Caps start the period with 1:23 left in the power play.
- Beautiful keep in by Greenie followed by a great pass to Ovie, but Vokoun has the answer yet again.
- Florida doesn’t have a shot in the first 4 minutes of the period…
- Here's something shocking - Semin almost forced a turnover in the Panthers' zone instead of creating one himself…but he fell down in the process. Par for the course.
- Somehow Mike Green is all alone and just rifles it - right under the cross bar. Do you get the feeling that the Caps are just not getting the bounces?
- Gordon puts in an extremely hard-working shift that results in a pretty good scoring chance, deflected by a flying Panther.
- Horrible penalty call on Pettinger for a “trip” – aka one of the Panthers falling down over his own feet.
- Poti continues to play much better under Boudreau than he ever did under Hanlon – not really sure why but it makes you think what could have been had the coaching change happened earlier…but that’s a game for another day.
- Zednik takes yet another penalty, and the mighty power play gets yet another crack at putting this one away as the remaining seconds of Petty’s penalty are killed off.
- The natives are getting restless on this power play…lots of pretty passing but not much in the way of shots...
- ...until now – Semin had a great chance in tight on Vokoun but he held the post.
- There was definitely one, maybe two blatant non-calls in the waning minutes of the period. I'm not sure when it became legal to crosscheck someone in the face, but apparently it is now.
- We're off to overtime.

Thoughts After 3:
Good sign? The Caps have played with increasing intensity every period and really dominated most of the final frame. Bad sign? They've still only scored once. Tonight I'm inclined to believe that Vokoun is holding the Cats in it because the Caps have had their chances. Olie has also come up big, but he's had to be less impressive than his Florida counterpart.

Overtime
- What exactly do the Panthers do to just suck all the energy out of a game? Pit them in a game against the Devils or Wild and you've got yourself a surefire cure for insomnia.
- ...is it still overtime?
- Wow. A bouncing dump-in by Nylander almost gives Vokoun (and the 3,000+ fans in attendance) a heart attack. It also almost ends the game. Note how I used the word "almost".
- Cullimore decides to exact revenge on Nylander for making his goalie wet his pants and trips him - not smart. Caps go on the power play for the remainder of the overtime.
- Can they score with the extra man for once?
- Can they??
- No. Good pressure in the final two minutes and one instant where Ovechkin should have shot the puck instead of passing, but that's it for the extra frame. Time for a shootout, the bane of my existence.

Shootout
- After eleven rounds we discover that three very pretty shootout goals by the Caps (Kozlov, Backstrom and amazingly, Gordon) are not enough to top four fairly nice shootout goals by the Panthers. Final score: 2-1 Panthers.

Final Thoughts:
Good...god. Another loss to a lesser opponent. Another loss to the Panthers. And the Caps fall to 2-1-1 under new bench boss Boudreau.

There's not really a whole lot to say about this one - the Caps should have come out with more fire in the first instead of allowing the Panthers to dictate the very sloooooooow pace of the game. Zednik's goal should not have held up for as long as it did against a team with this much firepower and the offense and power play both continue to struggle, just like they did before.

Each period got better and there were some truly great moments, good scoring chances, wonderful saves and a bit of energy for a team mired in a very tough stretch of the schedule. In the end, though, it was too little too late and the Caps pick up just the loser point. I doubt it's any consolation.

Not to make the evening any worse, but both Clark and Semin were unavailable in the shootout because of injuries. Here we go again.

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Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Panthers

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers
Where: Verizon Center
When: Wednesday, November 28, 7 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; FSN Florida, 790 the Ticket

Media Notes:
NHL.com
Washington Post
Washington Times
Miami Herald
Florida Sun Sentinel

It happens from time to time that one team will dominate the other for no apparent reason - and since the 2003-04 season, the Panthers have owned the Caps. But don't kid yourself, the two teams that meet tonight in DC are nowhere close to the two teams that created that history. For one thing, a good deal of Florida's wins against the Caps came with Luongo in net for the Panthers. For another, most of them came with Hanlon behind the bench for the Capitals.

If Boudreau is going to turn this team around, it has to start here with the Panthers. These division games are only going to get more crucial as the year goes on, and while they (and we) may be sick of seeing the damn Panthers already, it's safe to say this game and the one on Saturday are must-wins. Not only will it be a sign to the fans that the crippling losing streaks are over but it will also put to rest this notion that the Panthers are the better team.

They're not.

In fact the Caps have much more talent, much more depth, much more promise - the games they've dropped this year were not indicative at all of what this team can do. They managed to make the first two games of the season series close while still playing lousy, boring hockey. Think what they can do if they actually show up firing at full strength.

The Panthers come into Verizon tonight on a modest winning streak of three games; meanwhile the Caps are moderately hot in their own right, going 2-1 in their last three. To pick up two points, look for a few things out of the Caps - the power play clicking, the passes connecting, and the turnovers at a minimum.

It would also be nice if someone besides Ovechkin scored...

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Culture of Violence

A bench-clearing brawl involving two minor league teams is under investigation by their league and could result in criminal charges as well. The brawl, which took place between the Duffield Devils and Niagara Falls Thunder of the Niagara Falls Minor Hockey Association, lasted about thirty seconds.

The players on the teams were eight years old.

The incident was caught on tape and submitted to police. Said the NFMHA:

"While it appeared that the incident between the children didn't last more than 30 seconds, it is obvious by this tape that the Niagara Falls players were clearly defending themselves. [...] the tape also demonstrated that members of each coaching staff were equally at fault for escalating the violence of the situation."
Fighting in the NHL has always seemed like somewhat of a necessary evil to me and I continue to believe that. The real issue comes in to play when children start emulating their heroes, spurred on by the people who are supposed to be teaching them the difference between right and wrong.

The pros do it to protect their teammates, right a perceived wrong, or change momentum - fighting like this has no place in children's hockey, though, and the parents and coaches on both teams should be held responsible.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

And We're Back to This...

If this is the Caps' idea of a joke...we're not amused.

If this is there way of making sure we don't get overexcited too quickly...I think I can speak for everyone when I say they needn't bother.

If this is just a tired team playing a team that has recently gotten hot, which I sincerely hope it is, then they get a brief reprieve before I climb back out on my ledge.

Nothing was going right for the Caps tonight. (The good news is it was nationally televised, so a lot of people got to see the Caps absolutely collapse...) There were far too many turnovers and for a while it seemed like every turnover resulted in a goal. Sloppy plays, missed passes, bouncing pucks at the blue line - all of them resulted in a rush the other way, odd man or otherwise. Olie made a few spectacular saves just to keep this game close, but the Caps were never really in it and seemed disinterested at best.

The return of Semin and Eminger was less than exhilerating, as Eminger finished -2 on the night (although he did pick up an assist) and Semin had two turnovers that seemed like five or six and was also -2. Ovechkin was flying but was also guilty of a few blatant turnovers, as was Nylander, Kozlov, Erskine, etc., etc., etc... In all honesty the only player who looked like he was putting in a consistent effort was Backstrom, whose 19:25 of ice time was second only to Ovechkin among forwards.

Basically the game looked very similar to the pre-Boudreau era Caps. They seemed unable to get any sort of consistent forecheck going. The power play looked shaky. They were trying to be too fancy. They would come out flying but mistakes at one end would end up in the back of the net at the other. And none of the shots they actually took went in - credit Ryan Miller for continuing to backstop a team that frankly, despite their four game winning streak, was not all that impressive. It wasn't what the Sabres did tonight...it was what the Caps didn't do.

A quick aside - I was embarrassed to be a Caps fan tonight. The building was maybe half full, and many of those seat-fillers for the evening were clad in the Slug. It's simply amazing how this city continues to be unable to provide a decent fan base for our team, losing record or not. As we were leaving my sister turned to me and said "I'm tired of being the away team."

Me too.

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No Time to Panic

Since this summer there has been a lot of hand-wringing among the Caps faithful on the subject of Alex Ovechkin's contract. The second the Caps were allowed to negotiate with the Russian superstar people have been waiting for news that we've locked him up for twenty years, an anticipatory stance that only intensified after a number of big names signed long-term deals with their current clubs. I think some kid in Steeltown was in that group, but I could be wrong...

Now on the heels of the world's most obnoxious column (written by the world's most obnoxious columnist, Larry Brooks) the anxiety has reached a fever pitch. When are we going to sign him? Why haven't we signed him? Are we just biding our time until Alex, too, departs our fair city?? Are we going to lose OVIE???

I'm starting to feel like the yoga instructor for the DC Metro area. At the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to ask everyone once more to take a deeeeep breath.

First of all, Alex will be a restricted free agent. Restricted. Meaning as of July 1, he can receive offer sheets from other teams but the Caps always have the option of matching it. Let's put this into perspective - Kevin Lowe offered Thomas Vanek a huge, long-term contract. Buffalo matched. Vanek remains a Sabre. Ovechkin is just as much a cornerstone of our team as Vanek is for the Sabres, if not more - do people honestly think the Caps wouldn't match?

For that matter, what makes people think that whatever the Caps offer him wouldn't be upwards of the maximum he'd be able to get from anyone else anyway? Ovie is worth $10 million a year in my mind, more so than Vanek will be for Buffalo on his best day...and Vanek is a pretty decent player. The Caps have been saying for the last few years that they are building this team around Alex. So it would look pretty silly to let him walk after spending time and money to make this team Ovechkin-friendly.

The thing that is making people antsy is the timeline. As soon as Crosby signed his big "hometown discount" contract (oh, seriously, gag me) with the Pens, all eyes turned to Ovechkin to follow suit.

The problem there is that Ovie, for whatever reason, fired his agent this summer and is currently without representation. And no, his mother is not his agent and can't be - she's not licensed to do so. The fact that there is no contract yet and hardly even a whisper about negotiations for a contract makes me think Ovechkin is simply choosing not to deal with it right now. There's nothing wrong with that. He has until July...and it's November. We've only just cleared the turkey and stuffing from the table; if we get to March and there's no deal, then we'll talk.

So why is he waiting? Maybe, and this is just a theory, he's waiting to see what happens this year. And I'm not just referring to the team, although getting a winning record under their belts would certainly help the Caps in their bids to woo him into a long-term deal.

Ovie is coming off a somewhat disappointing season - yes, I know it sounds ridiculous to say that a 92-point season is disappointing, but frankly after his rookie year it wasn't what we expected and it definitely wasn't up to his standards. Last year at this time Ovie had 25 points; he was also a -6.

This season he is quietly putting together the best stretch of games we've seen out of him in his young career, with one more point through the same number of games and a surprising +1 rating on the year. And as the team starts to play better, so will Ovie (which has to be terrifying for the other 29 teams who have to play him).

Beyond that he's starting to grow into his leadership role and has taken it upon himself to be a mentor of sorts for both Semin and Backstrom while pushing himself and the team on the ice every night. I've said it so many times this season - he continues to be one of the best players on the ice night in and night out, and that's something I don't think we could always say about him in the past.

I don't think it is so hard to believe that maybe he wants his new contract to be based on his best performance and not on a year that he likely wants to forget. When all is said and done, sport is a business like anything else and if he's as smart as I think he is, the delay has less to do with him wanting out of DC and more to do with him simply wanting to be rewarded for and judged by his best work.

I think that's something we can all appreciate.

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Gameday Preview: Caps vs Sabres

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres
Where: Verizon Center
When: Monday, November 26, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: Versus, NHL Network (Canada); 3WT Radio; WGR550

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

The Caps have a chance tonight to prove they have in fact turned a corner when they take on the visiting Sabres, a team that has also experienced a recent resurgence. Like the Caps, the Sabres have performed well below offseason expectations and are only four points ahead of the Caps in the standings. While our boys have two straight wins under their belt, the Sabres are flying high with four straight over division rivals Ottawa and Montreal.

The last time these two teams met, the Caps blew a first period lead, allowing four straight goals in the second period en route to a 7-3 victory. Too many penalties, too many shots on goal, and too many turnovers gave the Caps just their second loss of the season (remember being over .500?). The Caps will look to use their revitalized power play and their more aggressive attack in all situations to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Two straight wins are nice and the return of offense is also great. The Caps have jumped out to three goal leads in both games, though, and almost given the game right back before finally finishing off their opponent. It would be nice to see them take a lead and hang on to it all the way through - shutouts, while always appreciated, aren't necessary. Just keeping a comfortable cushion would be great.

Tonight could also mark the return (for the third time...or was it the fourth?) of sniper Alexander Semin, who has been listed day to day and missed the last two games after tweaking his ankle yet again in practice last week. If Boudreau can find a spot for him that continues the offensive magic and power play dominance the Caps have displayed in their last two wins, this game has the potential to be explosive.

A Letter to Caps Fans

Dear fellow residents of DC, loyal supporters of the Washington Capitals and proud wearers of the red, white and blue:

As you all are aware, there are certain games that tend to bring out a fair number of the opposition's fans. We know them, we love them, we circle them on our calendars: among them are Pittsburgh games, Rangers games, and yes, visits from the Buffalo Sabres. These games are always extra boisterous and fun because there is that constant clash in the stands that takes it to another level. It's wonderful that these teams have such passionate, vocal fanbases and we welcome them to spend their hard-earned money on our team anytime.

As I'm sure you are also aware, these fans have a tendency to vocalize their support for their team in the form of chants - in this case, the somewhat head-scratching "Let's Go Buffalo" chant seems to be pretty popular. And again, that's great. Cheering for your own team regardless of where they may be playing is part of sports and a sign of true fandom.

The trouble starts when the chant becomes the loudest sound in the arena, the clarion call for all opposition fans to join in and have their cheer echo through our building. And the natural instinct by the hometown crowd is to boo in an attempt to cover it up.

Caps fans...please do not boo.

I've never understood this phenomenon. The sound of booing is an ugly sound and should be reserved for only the ugliest of situations (i.e., Jaromir Jagr touching the puck). I get that we want to drown out the sound of enemy chants and believe me, I'm all for it. But why boo?

Instead of voicing our displeasure with the opponent's fans, we should use our voices to support our own team. Nothing is more effective for drowning out the other team than starting up a cheer for our valiant boys that far outweighs theirs. A little "Let's Go Caps" goes a long way. The old school "Let's Go Capitals" would also suffice. Heck, even a Canadian-inspired "Go Caps Go" would work.

And you don't have to wait for the Horn Guy or Goat to get the cheer going - start your own. Be brave, stand up, and lead your section in the most beautiful sound there is. The team probably does not know why you're booing but they recognize the cheers of their faithful fans and you can bet it lifts them up.

On opening night the building was bouncing with energy; the chants were loud, proud, and constant. Olie even remarked that it sounded like what playoff games used to sound like - so they can hear us, folks, and they feed off the energy. Let's try and bring that energy every night, positive energy, starting with tonight's thrilling showdown.

Sincerely,
CapsChick

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Green the Scoring Machine

Jaromir Jagr scored this afternoon in the Rangers' 3-2 loss to Dallas, giving him a grand total of five goals this year.

That's right - for about eighteen hours, our very own Mike Green had more goals than the mighty JJ.

...I don't think Jags misses Nylander at all, do you?

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Two in a Row

Nine goals (including four power play markers) and four standings points in two games...who is this team and what have they done with the Washington Capitals?

Tonight the Caps came out firing early and held on through several flurries by the Canes to win their second straight game, the first time they've won back to back games since that lovely three game streak to start the season. It's also the first time they've had more than two power play goals in a game, the second time they've beaten Carolina on home ice, and the third time they've scored five goals in one game...you know, if you're keeping track at home.

The big story tonight was the power play, which struck three times on three consecutive stints with the man advantage and would prove to be enough firepower to win the game. Boudreau is looking like a genius having Green and Backstrom out consistently on the power play; between the two of them they have six power play points in the last two games. And to a man the power play has simply looked sharp - crisp passes, shots on net, offensive zone pressure...everything they weren't doing before.

Ovechkin continued to be a force, scoring two goals including one with under two minutes left that essentially put the game out of reach - but he didn't have to be the only one out there. In fact, the ice time for forwards was spread out pretty evenly tonight, with even Bradley and Brashear getting close to nine minutes apiece.

The fact that Boudreau can roll lines comfortably means everyone is getting in on the action and, more importantly, no one is getting worn out. And it showed in the performances. Nylander was great, picking up a goal and two assists for his efforts. Backstrom continued to thrive in all situations. Green added to his points total (and his PIMs, but that's another issue). Poti had some great plays. And on and on and on...

The difference in the Caps' play these last two games is the way they have handled adversity. They let up a little yesterday and consequently gave up a three goal lead, but they held on to win it in overtime and didn't get discouraged. Same thing tonight - you couldn't think that a team with as much firepower as Carolina was going to stay off the boards all night, especially not after being shutout to open the season series. Cole's goal in particular was the product of pure power and skill, muscling through two huge defenders in Erskine and Jurcina to close the gap to one.

But the Caps held on and even added to their goal total, with Ovechkin adding a fourth and then Gordon getting a hard-working shorthanded empty netter to make it 5-2. No one panicked. The Canes would maintain pressure but get very little on net - there were sticks and bodies in shooting lanes all over the place, something I can't remember happening in recent days. They racked up 14 blocked shots and 16 takeaways while turning over the puck only 8 times.

There were, as always, little things that need improvement. Jurcina continues to look shaky. Turnovers are still happening, albeit less frequently. Pettinger's pointless drought continues and he was a -2 on the night. And Olie needs to keep that five hole shut. But for once they are just little things. Another great, great job by the Caps to get a key two points in the standings.

If you were checking that out of town scoreboard, the other two Southeast division teams both lost tonight. That puts the Caps five points behind Tampa and Atlanta and six behind Florida (with two games in hand on the kitties). The gap is still wide, but suddenly it doesn't seem so daunting anymore. The Caps need to keep this up and they could start making some noise - they certainly look like they're starting to believe they can do it.

Next up, the evil Slugs pay a visit to Verizon on Monday, likely bringing with them their many hordes of blue and yellow clad supporters. Let's see if we can't shut up those "Let's Go Buff-a-lo!" chants...

All photos courtesy of AP

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Gameday Preview: Caps vs Canes

Who: Washington Capitals vs Carolina Hurricanes
Where: Verizon Center
When: Saturday, November 24, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; WCNC 99.9 FM

Media Notes:
NHL.com
Washington Post
Washington Times
Raleigh News-Observer

Last night the Caps came out and dominated for close to sixty minutes in a hostile environment, displayed good team unity, and produced a thrilling overtime victory off the hands of a talented rookie. Now the hometown crowd will want to see it and Caps fans everywhere are just waiting for the winning streak that seems perpetually around the corner. The first game was just a warmup - tonight marks the first real test of whether the Caps have truly turned a corner or just gone through the motions.

They'll have a tough opponent to do it against, as the division-leading Hurricanes make their way to Washington off of a come from behind victory over the Lightning. Last time these two teams tangled the Caps took costly penalties early, giving up a natural hat trick to Cory Stillman and failing to beat Cam Ward even once on their way to a 5-0 rout.

If yesterday's game was any indication, though, both the penalty killing and the offense may have been reinvigorated. And if the Caps have any chance of beating the Canes, they'd better be. One thing is for sure though - the "Fire Hanlon" chants will be gone.

Get to Know...the Carolina Hurricanes
What is your favorite TV show?
Cam Ward: Seventh Heaven - it's very pure and wholesome, like me. Oh, and all the whiny kids remind me of Staal.
Erik Cole: Masterpiece Theatre...but I love a good tractor pull, too.
John Grahame: The Girls Next Door. Those girls are really, really...er, smart.
Rod Brind'amour: America's Next Top Model.
Eric Staal: Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers! Jordan is always the pink one...oh, did I tell you that already?
Bret Hedican: Skating with the Stars.
Glen Wesley: Golden Girls. Those girls are really, really...er, smart.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

High Hopes

There has been far too much pessimism and gloominess here in DC this season, and rightly so - the Caps have given us little to be excited about since the third game of the year and have slumped to the basement of the league. The Caps have been serenaded by boos and bashed by every message board poster, every blogger, and every pundit/analyst known to the hockey world.

It's time to change that tune.

The Bruce Boudreau-era began today in thrilling fashion, with an overtime win that showed signs of the old Caps, the hard-working team that has now been infused with high caliber talent. It's one game and it's certainly too early to get overly excited.

However, it has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and that step was taken today.

There are some who may say the Caps are done already, 22 games in - that's it, season is over, hang up the skates and line up for the top five pick. That seems like an incredibly short-sighted stance to take, especially given the performances I've seen out of the Caps when everything is clicking. The Caps will need to put together some streaks, and lengthy ones at that, if they want to be in the mix. But while a difficult task it's by no means impossible, especially not for a team that has not played as badly as their record shows.

And it's not out of the realm of possibility that this team turns it around. There have been other teams who have done it in the past - take the Panthers, who had 20 points at this time last year (with 4 of them coming from OT/shootout losses) and then made a push to come within four points of a playoff spot. The Penguins won four of seventeen games in a stretch that spanned almost a month last winter and finished the season with 105 points. A month and a half into the season Ottawa was 7-11-1...they went to the Stanley Cup Finals.

We need to be carefully optimistic going ahead, and to do that we need to throw predictions, common sense and logic out the window. We need to avoid falling into the trap of saying the Caps need X number of points in X number of games to make the playoffs. We need to do what the Caps need to do, and that is take it one shift, one period, one game at a time.

Because this season has already been so bizarre and the East is very tight, talentwise. On any given night any team can beat any other team; on any given night the last place team can beat the first place team; at any moment a team that is slumping can get hot...and vice versa.

No one is saying this team is going to the Finals - in fact, playoffs may not be in the cards for the Caps, either. I've maintained that, as much fun as playoffs would be, if the Caps challenge for a spot I'll consider this season a success. That's a mindset I think everyone needs to have.

But from everything I've seen and heard about Boudreau and the results I've seen out of this team when they're playing up to their potential, I have to agree with Mike Vogel - it starts with one.

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Clean Slate

Well, that's a hell of a way to welcome the new coach, isn't it? An overtime victory on the road in Philly, off the stick of our rookie phenom, to snap a five game losing skid. Excellent.

This game, while more interesting than it had to be, was really entertaining from start to finish and just a great 60 minute effort by the Caps. Everyone had a good game, as is usually the case when the team gets a win like this.

The Flyers did a pretty good job of keeping Ovie fairly quiet (or as quiet as you can keep someone like Ovie) and that meant everyone else had to step up. And step up they did - we get a goal from Brashear (deflected from a Morrisonn slapper), a power play goal from Green off a beautiful Backstrom pass, an equally beautiful play by Kozlov to set up Clark, and of course, Nicklas Backstrom with the overtime winner. Happy Birthday to Nick, indeed!

The power play looked good and connected, but the real special teams success story was the penalty killing, which was really phenomenal today despite the two goals during Clark's double minor (one of which shouldn't have happened had the whistle blown in time). Anytime you can kill off an extended 5 on 3, there's a good chance you'll come out on top. We saw it against Ottawa a few weeks ago and once again today it was guys like Gordon, Steckel, Laich and Pettinger stepping in to keep this game competitive.

Going back to that double minor, good for Chris Clark for stepping in to defend Boyd Gordon. I was surprised there was no call on Hartnell for that hit at center ice, but since there wasn't it was the captain's job to make things right. I'm sure we all would have preferred he not pick up a truckload of penalty minutes and put the team down a man for four, but that's one of those "good" penalties that, especially with the win, are easier to swallow.

And then there were just strong performances by Kozlov, Nylander, Morrisonn, Bradley, and everyone else in a white jersey to cap off Boudreau's first career NHL win as a coach.

It's hard to judge this team, and this coach, by one game. We've certainly seen them come out and play like this on isolated situations this season, and with a new coach I expected nothing less. We know they have it in them. What we haven't seen is this kind of effort in back to back situations and that's what is needed at this point - a string of wins to get them out of the cellar and back into the mix where we all know they belong.

But for now let's just enjoy this win (made that much sweeter by happening in Philly, which is always a fun place to win) and look ahead to tomorrow night's game against the Canes. Back to back games against tough teams is the first test for this new coach and the new phase for the Capitals.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hanlon Out, Boudreau In

Anyone who has followed Caps hockey at all this season knew that it was not a question of if Glen Hanlon would be fired...but when.

And "when" becomes today, as it was announced this morning that Hanlon had been removed from his position as head coach. Serving as interim head coach will be Bruce Boudreau, bench boss for the Caps' AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears.

None of this is a surprise.

Hanlon's tenure here was overall a very successful one, creating a team that grew a reputation for being hard-working and feisty if not overly talented. He was the perfect coach for a young, rebuilding team - patient, calm, and always eager to teach. The problems started when suddenly this group of lunch pail guys was infused with more talent, and then magnified when the talent suffered a rash of injuries.

It seemed at times that the Caps simply stopped listening to him. Many players came out over the past week and defended Hanlon, saying he was telling them what to do and they just weren't executing - well, that's a problem. If the players aren't motivated to follow instructions that they know are right, it's time for a change.

So after a loss to the Thrashers last night the Caps find themselves under the guidance of Boudreau, a talented AHL coach who has led the Bears to two straight Calder Cup finals. Boudreau has the advantage of having coached a number of the Caps in the AHL and has been regarded by some as one of the better coaches not in the NHL - we'll see how true that is when the boys travel to Philly for a post-Thanksgiving matinee against the Flyers tomorrow.

Best of luck to Hanlon - I'll admit I'm sad to see him go, as much as I am looking forward with hope for a turnaround. And of course good luck to Bruce Boudreau in his new role...here's hoping he's got what it takes.

It certainly can't get any worse.

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Hanlon Fired

Anyone surprised?

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It Could Be Worse...

...you could be this guy:HAPPY THANKSGIVING
FROM THE CHEAP SEATS

And to my Canadian friends...Happy Thursday.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nothing Left to Say

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Gameday Preview: Caps vs Thrashers

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Atlanta Thrashers
Where: Verizon Center
When: Wednesday, November 20, 7 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; SportSouth, 680 the Fan

Media Notes:
Caps' Website
NHL.com
Washington Post
Washington Times
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Quote of the day, courtesy of Olie Kolzig: "The grass has gotten greener, but it hasn't turned into wins."

Indeed.

The boys have apparently gotten mad, studied plenty of game tape, had an intense practice, changed up the lines and gone back to basics. That's exactly what I've been waiting to hear. Let's get that, er, grassy win, shall we?

Battle of the Kozlovs: Round 3

In this corner, weighing in at 224 pounds...the one...the only...Viktor...KOZLOV!

...aaaand in this corner, his challenger, at a measly 190 pounds...Slava...KOZLOV!

Remember, gentlemen, we want a good, clean fight. Nothing below the belt, and Slava? No pinching. Let's get it on!

Draft Position
Viktor: 1st round, 6th overall
Slava: 3rd round, 45th overall
Nicknames
Viktor: Kozzy, the Better Kozlov
Slava: The Professor, the Other Kozlov
Stanley Cup Rings
Viktor: 0
Slava: 2
Height
Viktor: 6'5"
Slava: 5'10"
Weight
Viktor: 224
Slava: 190
2006-07 Season Totals
Viktor: 25-26-51, +12
Slava: 28-52-80, +9
2007-08 Season Totals
Viktor: 3-9-12, -2
Slava: 6-7-13, -4

Tiebreaker: Head-to-Head
Caps vs. Thrashers, 2007-08
Viktor - 1-1-2, E
Slava - 0-1-1, E

There you have it, folks! The winner and still champion of Kozlov vs. Kozlov: Rumble in the Phone Booth is...
VIKTOR KOZLOV!!

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Replenishing, Not Rebuilding

Something needs to be addressed about this Sutherby trade, because this has been bugging me. A lot of people have been questioning the terms of the deal, saying that if the rebuild is over we should have gotten more than just a draft pick that we won't even use until 2009.

First of all, what makes people think that a player whose numbers went down last year and whose minutes have been limited this year would warrant anything more than a second round pick? If anything that's more than I think we could have expected.

Second, and this is important - the rebuild is over. We may not be seeing the results just yet, but it is, and just because we pick up a draft pick does not mean that ceases to be true. The next step is and has to be creating a sustainable farm system that will continuously provide quality players for years to come. A hockey franchise is not stagnant - you have to keep stockpiling picks and adding fresh talent to the mix. That's how you create depth and longterm success, and you only have to look at the successful franchises over the last 5-10 years to see that it works.

This deal works out well for both sides; Anaheim gets a gritty, hard-working player in Sutherby who can fill gaps when needed and the Caps get a chance to add even more young talent to the organization in the coming years. Hard to argue with that.

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Another Wasted Chance

The Caps were the better, more talented team on the ice last night...and for exactly ten minutes they looked that way.

The rest of the night was spent wasting chances, missing passes, turning over pucks and making far too many defensive mistakes for this point in the season. They stormed back in the third to make it a game but again had difficulty getting out of their zone and wasted precious seconds that they needed in the last minute scramble. And because of that they fall to a less than stellar Panthers club whose own doldrums seem to be cured by playing the Caps.

This team needs some sort of wake up call. If dropping all but three of their last seventeen games isn't enough, they also have a firm grip on last place in the entire league - something even last year's mediocre squad avoided doing.

I'm simply running out of words to say the same thing after every game. Frankly, we all know this team can and should be playing much better than this and seeing this half-hearted effort night in and night out is getting frustrating.

Some thoughts on last night's game:
- Florida has mastered the snoozetastic art of the trap and is really talented at just slowing everything down to a crawl. As if the hometown crowd needed an excuse to be dull and uninspired...

Photo courtesy of AP
- Alexander Semin made his return to the lineup in style and was on the ice for a good portion of the game - so much for easing him back in. I thought he played great, though. Still our little drama king but he drew a few penalties and got his first goal of the season. And that's Semin being a little rusty.

- Our defense did a great job of standing around and watching while the Panthers crowded Olie's crease. Beaming with pride over here.

- Is it concerning anyone else that Backstrom (6'0", 203 lbs) puts more energy into his checks than Schultz (6'6", 221) does? Sure, Nicky may end up on his rear half the time but at least he's trying.

- Penalty killing looked great. No, really, it did. I was very impressed - and you have to love a shorthanded goal, for all the good it did.

- Ovechkin led the team in ice time with over 25 minutes but it showed, as he was clearly trying to do it all himself and ended up turning the puck over a few times simply because no one else was around. The team has got to step up and help him out now and then.

- I'm really enjoying seeing how much more confident Backstrom seems in his natural position. He had a great game (relative to the rest of the team, at least) and should have had his second career goal for sure. Damn goal post.

- Brooks Laich was on the ice for only ten minutes last night, and yet he showed more energy on his shifts than most of the team combined. Maybe that's why it felt like he had more ice time...and why he was rewarded with a nice shorthanded goal.

- Speaking of Laich, that goal puts him at four on the year. If you want to try and find the small positives in the Caps' season thus far, the fact that Laich is already halfway to his career high is very promising.

- Here are your superstars of the game: Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and Laich. Everyone else? You're on my list.

Special thanks to loyal reader Victor for the extra ticket to the game!

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Sutherby Traded

Well...there you go. I guess that answers two questions - one, how the Caps were going to make roster space for Semin and two, why Sutherby continued to see press box time.

I always liked Sudsy - he was one of those gritty, hard-working players I seem to gravitate to but also seemed like a genuinely good guy off the ice. I'll miss him, but good for Brian...I'm sure he'll see more minutes playing in Anaheim then with a team that has an excess of centers.

Best of luck to Brian with his new team.

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Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Panthers

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers
Where: Verizon Center
When: Monday, November 19, 7 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; FSN Florida, 790 The Ticket; NHL Network (Canada)

Media Notes
:
Caps' Website
NHL.com
Washington Post
Washington Times
Florida Sun-Sentinel
Miami Herald

Okay, let's try this again, but this time with feeling! A little more fluorish, a little more oomph, maybe something a little more...Russian? Yes. I like it.

Oh, and boys, if you could try to refrain from putting the audience to sleep, that would be great. I know you don't like playing the Panthers (believe me) but if you could just slap a smile on and give it your best, that would be great.

Not much to say when you're playing a team that beat you just four short days ago. Goal-scoring, special teams, no turnovers, strong goaltending...nothing new. Hopefully after the game we'll have something new to talk about - like a Caps' win.

Get to Know...the Florida Panthers
What are you most thankful for?

Nathan Horton - my tweezers

Olli Jokinen - the World Championships...gives me something to do in April

Richard Zednik - health insurance

Gregory Campbell
- nepotism

Ville Peltonen - plea bargains

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Between the Pipes

Okay, so let's talk about this whole Ilya Bryzgalov thing, because a lot of people are claiming we should have picked him up.

I am not one of those people.

Bryzgalov is a very good goalie. I'm not going to argue that fact, nor will I argue with the fact that he's 27 and probably in the prime of his career. To get a goaltender of his caliber without having to give up anything is very rare and it is, for some teams, a golden opportunity.

However...he is not the answer to our problems. He's good but not great - he's not the second coming of Patrick Roy or Marty Brodeur. Anaheim didn't have enough faith in him to carry their playoff hopes last year and when Giguere was out with an injury to start this season, Bryzgalov was not exactly stellar in relief. They have a much better defense out there, too, in case you've forgotten.

I, like the Capitals organization, am not willing to give up on Brent Johnson just yet. I was stunned to see how quickly the battle cry turned to "get rid of Johnson!" after Friday night's loss, so willing are we right now to point the finger at something concrete like a bad goalie that we forget logic and common sense. No, it wasn't his best game. I could tell you that, the commentators could tell you that...Johnny himself would likely tell you that. One bad game, though, and we dump him? Why?

I also think we're playing fast and loose with the definition of a "bad game". He let in some softies, sure, but he also made some great saves, including one sparkling one on Lecavalier that had me rewinding and watching again. And may I remind everyone that Olie had one of the worst games I've ever seen him play earlier this year against the Islanders - where were the cries to go out and get a "real" goalie then?

So what of the argument that we need to get a replacement for Olie now, start polishing up the next shiny new goalie before Zilla hangs 'em up? Frankly I don't see that there's any rush - we have some good goaltending prospects and should none of them be ready to fill the void in two years there are things called trades and there is something called free agency. Ilya Bryzgalov wasn't going to be that guy anyways - try as you might, you can't make me believe that he would hang around as a backup and then re-sign as a UFA when his contract is up.

I get that there is a sense of urgency right now among Caps fans. We're looking at the standings and seeing another long summer ahead. We're looking at the contract extensions by other big name players like Crosby, Thornton and Kipprusoff and we're wondering where they are for our guys. The future seems very uncertain right now. We see a good player become available and we want to pull the trigger, do something, show some sign that this team is interested in winning.

But you don't just go out and grab any old guy off the waiver wire, especially when you're talking about the one position that has been the steadiest all year. Aside from Ovechkin, Johnson and Olie have been the most consistent players of anyone on the team. If you asked McPhee why he passed on Bryzgalov he'd likely tell you that goaltending has not been the problem - and it hasn't been. Our netminders have been great. The rest of the team...well, that may need some work.

There's time.

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A Return to Optimism

I've had my hockey spirit revived a bit in the last day or two, despite the fact that the Caps continue to hang on tight to that last place spot. I'm starting to feel weirdly optimistic that they can snap out of this and I have no idea why, but I'm also just remembering why I love hockey. It's amazing what a night of good, intense, Canadian hockey will do for your outlook on life, isn't it?

For starters, I got to watch an absolutely hysterical Habs-Bruins game last night, one that started out as a well-played, evenly matched game and dissolved into a march to the penalty box. I know, I know, fighting isn't hockey and it's the downfall of the NHL and blah blah blah...but it was funny, and anyone who watched it can back me up.

At one point the Montreal coaching staff was alerting the refs to their "unhappiness", and Carbonneau actually physically pulled Kirk Muller back so he wouldn't say enough to get a penalty...or so he wouldn't sock the ref in the mouth, it was hard to tell. Muller and Claude Julien then began yapping at each other a la Hartley and Hanlon last season, which made me laugh for a number of reasons. Montreal finished the game on a seemingly endless power play (thanks to Chara being...Chara) and won 7-4. Good stuff.

The aftermath...

After the Habs came my other secondary team, Calgary, taking on the mighty Oilers in round three of the Battle of Alberta. These games are always fun despite the standings, with the energy and excitement you would expect out of a division matchup (not the kind you see when the Caps and Panthers face off).

The first period alone was played at a breathless pace, and the whole game was great - made even greater by the fact that my Flames pulled out a win and looked confident and tight doing so. This is a team that was recently mired in a 5 game losing streak, folks. Things can turn around just that quickly, don't lose hope.

And then comes the news out of practice today that Alexander Semin is reportedly 100% and will be in the lineup tomorrow night barring any unforeseen circumstances. Is he the magic tonic that will heal this team and propel them back to the top of the pack where they belong?

...probably not. But his return should hopefully spark a little offense, which, let's face it, could use more than a spark - it could use a bonfire.

I'm not going to lie, I absolutely adore Alexander Semin and can't wait to see him back out there. I know that there are many around here who don't get that and who question my sanity, but I can't help it. I love the way he plays. I love his slapshot, his wrister, his backhand...his ability to dance through defenders like they were standing still and his inability to complete a pass...his feistiness and his laziness...the way he follows Ovechkin around like a puppy dog...all part of the Alex 2.0 that I love, and I don't think I should have to apologize for that. Glad to see him healthy and ready to go.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

A Kiss for Luck

Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Ovie kissing his stick blade before last night's Panthers game.
He scored a goal.

...maybe the rest of the team should give it a shot.

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Swedes Take DC by Storm

Need a little happy? Check out this report on Nylander and Backstrom in the DC Sports Bog (a rare Caps sighting for the venerable Post blog deserves recognition, don't you agree?).

My favorite part:

Backstrom comes over to the Nylanders two or three times a week; he went to Nylander's son's hockey game last weekend. "I'm not the babysitter; I'm his seventh kid," Backstrom said.

Good stuff. Almost makes you forget they're playing a game in less than three hours...

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Thoughts on Hanlon

Earlier today someone posted the following question in a comment: is it time to fire Hanlon?

Until now this is a subject that I've admittedly been rather wishy-washy on. In all my time as a fan I've been very reluctant to aim the finger of blame directly at the bench boss. I grow attached to coaches, almost as attached as I am to the players, and the thought of firing them often seems beyond my thought process.

That officially ends today.

I'm jumping on the "fire Hanlon" bandwagon right now, tossing aside my sentimentality which really has no place in sports in the first place, ditching my childhood naivete and saying that this team should be better. It should be better and there is no longer any excuse I can give for why they are not.


This is a team full of people talented enough to make a living playing hockey. So why is it that they are routinely unable to do the little things like complete a pass or get a decent scoring chance? Why do players continue to shoot the puck directly into the opposition's skates, often allowing an odd-man rush? Why do players like Ovechkin and Nylander continue to overplay the puck and ultimately turn it over?

The fact that the defense has improved enough to overcome these little breakdowns is beside the point and in fact is little comfort - it may be a goal prevented but it's also an offensive chance blown at the other end. When you're only scoring one goal a night you can't afford to be missing the net with your shots or turning the puck over on the power play.

Then there's the chemistry, an elusive animal that, until recently, seemed to be present in the locker room. There was a good spirit, a positive attitude, a sense that this team was in it together. But is it me or does that seem to be missing lately? Players sound increasingly dejected in interviews - we're playing well but we're just not winning, we're not getting the breaks, blah blah blah.

Twice in the last two weeks we've seen articles come out from scratched players airing their frustrations at the lack of playing time - something I don't remember seeing in recent years. It begs the question, why aren't Sutherby and Eminger getting ice time? You can say chemistry is delicate, lines are set, we want the depth to have two healthy bodies in the press box...but when the team is losing all the time, that argument stops holding water.

You can't claim that this team is better without those two in the lineup - and I'm not saying they're the answer, either. As much as I like both of them I can admit that neither is the team-saving type. I just know that I've seen Jeff Schultz fail to line someone up with a solid check or turn the puck over far too many times not to wonder what Eminger would have done in the same situation. I know that I've seen Sutherby give 110% on every measly shift he's been given this year, something we can't always say about some of the other forwards. It's not like this team can get any worse...might as well let them play a bit.

And what about the work ethic? This team has been one of the worst teams over the last three years but there was never a question that they came to play almost every night. Teams would say afterwards that the Caps were a hard-working team, tough to play against, and you couldn't take them for granted. Haven't seen those quotes floating around after many games lately...

So yes, it's time for Hanlon to go. I realize that I am but one voice and I come into this argument late and with all the authority of an armchair GM. But all these things - the lack of basic hockey skills, the lack of chemistry, the lack of hard work - these are all things that fall squarely in the lap of the coach. It is his job to drill the hockey fundamentals into his team's minds. It is his job to create chemistry where there was none. It is his job to motivate the team to put in a full sixty minutes of high energy, hard-working hockey.

Coach Hanlon is a great guy, a great coach, a great leader. He was a breath of fresh air after the disaster that was Bruce Cassidy's tenure here, a calming voice when the team was being sold off bit by bit, a reassuring presence when the Caps wallowed at the bottom of the league two years running.

But now it seems his work is done. Time for a change.

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Gameday Preview: Caps vs. Lightning

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Where: St. Petersburg Times Forum
Tampa, Florida
When: Friday, November 16 8:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT; SUN Sports

Media Notes:
NHL.com
Washington Post
Washington Times
St. Petersburg Times

After last night's game, Olie Kolzig said to reporters the following: "I don't know if you're going to want to talk to me. I'm probably just going to sound like a broken record."

Consider this to be a similar warning. I think we've been here before - hey, that tree looks familiar...

Yet again this team played fairly well, generated shots on goal, won faceoffs...and lost. What's worse, they only scored one goal against a goalie and a defensive corps that has allowed all kinds of flukey goals in the last week or two.

The Caps have got to find a way to score goals. Even strength, power play, shorthanded, bouncing off the scoreboard, three officials and a post...something. With only 10 goals in their last 7 games (including four in the one win against Ottawa), this does not look like a team that has Alex Ovechkin, Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, Chris Clark, Matt Pettinger, etc., etc., etc. That's some serious firepower going to waste, and not even the absence of sniper Alexander Semin can explain it.

Tampa Bay has got some serious firepower as well, and lately it's connecting. Say what you will about the top-heavy offensive attack used by happy fun guy Tortorella, but you can't argue with the six goals the other night against a Carolina defense that is frankly much tighter than the Caps' blueline. And you can't argue with four straight wins. And you definitely can't argue with averaging just over 3.3 goals per game, second in the league.

If you're wondering the Caps come in 25th.

The best line on the ice last night for the Caps was, surprisingly, the line of Fleischmann-Backstrom-Kozlov. They need to continue playing well and actually add some offense tonight if the Caps even have a shot.

It also wouldn't hurt if they kept mighty mite off the board shorthanded or any of the big three off the board period. Tampa's goaltending has been overachieving of late and the Caps need to get not just shots on net but second and third chances, bounces, deflections, weird ricochets - whatever it takes. Here we go...

2 Minutes with...Caps fans
[crickets chirping]
CC: ...yeah, I know, guys. I'm out of words too. Enjoy the game. Drink up.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gameday Preview: Caps vs Panthers

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers
Where: BankAtlantic Center
Sunrise, Florida
When: Thursday, November 15, 7:30 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; FSN Florida, 790 the Ticket

Media Notes:
Panthers' Website
NHL.com
Washington Post

Another thrilling battle between two mighty Southeast Division residents commences tonight as the Caps travel to Florida for the first of back to back games in the Sunshine State. For whatever reason, the Kitties like to use the Caps as their personal chew toy and last season was no exception. Florida dropped the first two division match-ups to Washington but then went on to win five straight before finally being downed 1-0 in the last meeting of the year.

These are two different looking teams, though. The Panthers sent Belfour and Auld packing and picked up Tomas Vokoun...who has posted the 6th worst GAA in the league so far. They also added former Cap Richard Zednik, whose 6 goals on the year put him almost halfway to his season total from last year (13).

Meanwhile the Caps have improved. I guess.

Or so we're told.

But let's look at where we are right now. The Panthers come into this one having dropped four straight, including two in a row where they gave up the lead or the game-winning goal in the final minutes of the third. Meanwhile the Caps seem unable to generate goals at any point, let alone last minute offensive outbursts. So one of those little streaks is going to end...place your bets.

For whatever reason no one gets too excited for Caps-Panthers games - the players, the fans, the media...I'd be shocked if tonight's game were to change anyone's mind.

2 Minutes with...the Florida Panther Fan Club

CC: Is...this everyone?
FPFC: Yes.
CC: Okay. Well...great. Let's go around and have everyone - er, both of you introduce themselves. You, ma'am, with the blue hair...
Woman: I'm Esther, I've lived in Florida for twenty ye-...Oy, bubelah, come here - you've got some schmutz [takes out a tissue and licks it, aiming it at CC's face]
CC: NO! I mean, no, I'm fine. Thanks. Let's...move on. How about you, with the, er, cup of beer?
Frat Boy: Dan the man, Class of 2008. GO GATORS! WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
CC: Um, I'm sorry, Dan...are you a Panthers fan?
Dan: Yeah, dude, they rock. They have the best QB and-
CC: No, hockey. Hockey. The Florida Panthers?
Dan: Uh...are they they guys with, like, the masks and stuff?
CC: ...sure. Okay, so welcome, both of you. Let's talk about your team - what do you like the best about the Panthers?
Esther: They're such nice young men. They always send me thank you notes for the sweaters I knit for them. It gets chilly in the winter, you know; I don't want them to catch their deaths. I had such a cold last year, oy, the phlegm. And you know my oldest boy called me every day, such a good boy, loves his mother. Now my youngest, the big shot doctor, he only called twice the whole time and I said would it kill you to call your mother? For all you know I could be dead tomorrow and then you'll be sorry. Oh, I notice you're not wearing a ring - he's single, you know. Handsome, too. A doctor. Very successful, I should have him call you...
CC: Er...great. Dan?
Dan: Dude, this one time last year a buddy and me went to a game and there was like this crazy brawl and these two dudes were just, like, punching each other and blood was flying everywhere and...it was awesome. Oh, and the cheerleaders are smokin' hot-
Esther: Sit up, young man. You want you should get a hump? And tuck in your shirt.
Dan: Yes, ma'am.
Esther: A good smack on the tuchas, that's what you need. Drinking beer, honestly.
Dan: Sorry, ma'am.
CC: OKAY. Well, this was...great. Really enlightening. Thanks for meeting with me, you two. I really appreciate it.
Dan: Sweet, that was easy.
Esther: Here, dear, let me give you my Samuel's number. Such a pretty face, you'd give me beautiful grandkids...
CC: Security!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Snap Out of It

I don't know if it's the crazy gaps in the schedule, the lack of wins the Caps have earned this year, or the fact that the Caps play the Panthers four times in the next two weeks...but something is killing my hockey spirit.

It's why I'm not concerned about Ovechkin's contract. It's what makes me laugh half-heartedly at Jiri Tlusty's photographic ambitions. It's the reason that I don't particularly care that Joe Finley has mascot rage.

Sure, I could do a rant about why I agree with Steve Eminger that he is better off in the lineup than Schultz or Erskine, or why Sean Avery is a dirtbag whether or not he said the things he allegedly said. I could even talk about the ridiculous names that are showing up on the All-Star ballot (the fact that Martin Havlat and Dan Boyle have played a combined 5 games this year seems irrelevant for some reason).

And I will, at some point.

Until then, anyone have a cure for the early season doldrums? A win tomorrow night might be a start...

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wake Me in June

I'm back...did you miss me?

We are almost a quarter of the way through this season and the frustration level has already hit a fever pitch around here. What makes it even more frustrating is that every time we seem poised to leap from the roof, the Caps pull off a great win. So we smile, brush ourselves off and climb back inside to wait patiently for the big winning streak to turn around the season.

It hasn't come yet.

In fact, the only winning streak we've had to date is the three-game streak we had to kick off the season. Remember that one? We were already ordering playoff tickets and planning the parade route for the Cup. Since then, we've had three wins. Three. Perfectly timed, evenly spread out wins, but only three nonetheless.

And yet Caps fans are not alone in their frustrations. There is something very strange about this year; it's as though every team, not just the Caps, is having trouble doing the simplest things. The number of poorly played games I've seen this year far outweighs the number of great games I've seen.

There have been good moments, sure - the Caps beating Ottawa just last week; Modano's record-breaking goal; Jonathan Toew's beautiful shootout strike; Ovechkin and Crosby continuing to elevate their games. But everything else? It's been a study in mediocrity, with a sprinkling of shoddy officiating and a dusting of horrible hockey.

Right now the top three teams in the league are Ottawa, Detroit and Carolina. They're good teams, sure. But are their records due to an overload of talent and skill? They might be more a result of playing teams like the Sabres, the Oilers, the Caps and the Thrashers over and over again.

Even the decidedly mediocre teams - throw Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Tampa and even Anaheim in there as well, none of them are good right now. And all of those teams are but one loss away from the bottom of the conference. The division and conference standings could change in a heartbeat - and not in a good way.

Last year's playoffs were fairly humdrum across the board, but the regular season was exciting from beginning to end. There were no sure bets but it was exciting and unnerving, keeping fans on their toes right up until the very last game of the season. The differences a year can make are staggering:

- Sixteen of the thirty teams are currently at or below .500. A year ago today only twelve were in that category, with eight of them coming from the West.

- Nine teams have hit the twenty point mark, with no one cracking thirty. Last year on this date thirteen teams had 20+ points, and two, Buffalo and Anaheim, had 30+.

- Last year the difference between 15th and 8th in the East was eleven points; in the West it was nine. This year? Five and four, respectively.

- The Southeast Division was dominant last season, with three of the top eight teams coming from below the Mason-Dixon and one sitting just outside in ninth. This year all but one are out of the playoff picture and in fact hold three of the four bottom slots.

The differences continue - just look at the standings a year ago today:



And look at where we are today:



The product has grown stagnant, and while there are enough sparkling moments to keep the devoted fans hooked, you have to wonder how a league with so much obvious mediocrity, for whatever reason, is planning to attract casual fans.

Maybe we should just take the advice of my friends over at Interchangeable Parts and do a coaching lottery...at least it would bring us one night of entertainment.


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Friday, November 09, 2007

The Aftermath

It's always fun after a win up in Canada to see what is being said, if only because it tends to get a lot more coverage than it does down here. It's that much more fun when the Caps, a lowly 15th place team, top the Sens, the mighty 1st place team. (Not to pick on Sens fans too much, because I like Ottawa. Just not for the next 24 hours or so.)

Here's a quick rundown of all the press clippings...

Do you get the sense that everyone is as surprised as we are?

On that same note, here's a little local flavor, just for fun:

And finally, here are a couple of great snippets from the Ottawa Sun's game story:

- "So, the starting goaltender of one team didn't make himself available to the media yesterday while the star forward of the other team took the time to go into the hallway - in his underwear - and read a couple of lines of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas for a feature TSN does each year. Alexander Ovechkin read the lines at least a half-dozen times, laughed while doing it and when he was thanked by Brent Wallace of TSN, replied "No problem." And you wonder what makes a guy a pro."

- Backstrom on his goal: "If it hit [Emery] in the head," said Backstrom afterward, "I'm sorry."

- "[F]ormer NHLer Bob Probert was outside the Caps dressing room after the game. He introduced himself to Ovechkin. The star walked away and asked somebody, "Grobert? Who's Grobert?"

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