Friday, February 29, 2008

Rolling in the Rock

Photo courtesy of Getty Images


Gameday Preview: Caps vs Devils

Who: Washington Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
When: Friday, February 29, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN; FSN-NY

Media Notes:
Caps' Site
Washington Times
Washington Post

Here we go again - another game that is "the biggest game of the year", and it's up to the team to ignore all the controversy swirling around them and just play their game. Carolina's off tonight after falling to the Rangers (and a great big thank you to the Blueshirts for doing that, by the way) so that makes this one of those coveted games in hand for the Caps. A win and they're three points back...a loss and they stand pat but drop to two games in hand.

These are the games they need to win - you know, kind of like that big game against the Canes a week ago? It's important to note that the Caps outplayed the Devils the last time these two teams clashed; here's hoping for an off night by Brodeur so they can make that effort count.

Tonight's game holds a few new little wrinkles, more commonly known as Sergei Fedorov, Matt Cooke, and Cristobal Huet. The Caps came out flying against Minnesota on Tuesday after the deals were done and the new players weren't even there - how they respond to the new additions actually being in the lineup will set the course for the rest of the season.

Careful, though, expectations may be high but as we all know it's the rare player who can slide into a lineup and find instant chemistry. Just read this cautionary tale to see how rare it really is.This may take a bit of tweaking, probably more of an issue Fedorov and Cooke than Huet but relevant all the same. It would be great if they can come in here and just tear it up in their respective roles; that being said, I think we'd all settle for just an emotional lift from the rest of the team.

Expect to see Huet in net, facing off against our nemesis Martin Brodeur. The good news? Huet's played one game against the Devils this year - it was at Prudential Center and it was a winning effort. The, er, not-so-good news if you will? Thirteen shots against, three goals allowed in that win, not exactly stellar numbers.

Of course, he followed that performance with a 35-save shutout...against the Caps. But that's neither here nor there.

And on the subject of goaltending, it's hard not to laugh at this little snippet swiped from the preview:

After pulling off a major trade before Tuesday's deadline in hopes of helping to make their first playoff appearance in five years, the Washington Capitals suddenly have three quality goaltenders on their roster. The New Jersey Devils, meanwhile, are doing just fine with their one.
Ouch. Poor Weekes, guess he's not a "quality goaltender" - but hey, he does have lovely music on his website!


Just a quick reminder about tonight's game - if you haven't already heard, a number of big-hearted Caps bloggers have banded together with the Capitals, the Bears, and other groups in a grand fundraising effort to support the Wilson High School hockey program. Be sure to come out and lend your support if you're in the DC area, as we all gather at Clyde's to watch the game and support a great cause.

You can read all the details about this event here, as well as information on how to donate if you're not able to attend. It's a fantastic effort and all involved should be commended - hope to see you all there!


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Working the Three Goalie System

As the dust settles from the Huet deal, it's starting to look more and more like this goaltender situation could be a problem. How big a problem and what repercussions it will have, on and off the ice, remains to be seen.

Looking at this move from both a GM standpoint and a hockey fan standpoint, bringing Huet in for a song was absolutely the right thing to do. You get a proven number one goalie with experience but also with lots of good years left, someone who can bridge the gap between the old guard and the new - and all for a second round pick in two years. You also shore up a position that, while solid recently, has had peaks and valleys this season and could be a weak spot heading into the postseason.

And, if they can work it right, this move gives the Caps a lot of options. If one guys falters there's someone else to pick up the slack, and if that guy falters there's still someone else in the wings to come in and clean up. It's a luxury a lot of teams don't have - actually it's one that no teams have, and you have to think that it will push all three goalies to play at their best. We've already seen how Olie responded on Tuesday, stopping 34 of 35 shots in a stellar performance that coupled with Laich's offensive explosion gave the Caps a huge two points. If that's how he responds the rest of the way, things could be very promising for this team down the stretch.

But while both Olie and Johnny remain just as classy as ever, there are rumblings. Johnson is frustrated (and understandably so), coming in just at the end of practice today for a bit of ice time and conceivably manning the stands for at least the near future. Kolzig's agent is reportedly unhappy that the Caps brought in another number one goalie. The coach doesn't seem to be completely on board with the idea of a three-man rotation, although like the others he's being professional in airing his concern.

It is confusing why McPhee would choose not to move one of the other two guys, particularly Johnson. If he's not going to play here there had to be another team in need of a solid backup who is having his best season in quite a few years - and keeping him here isn't going to do Johnson any favors. He's not going to get to play much if at all, no matter how much McPhee and others may assure fans and the media that three goalies is a workable situation.

There's no question that Kolzig and Johnson will both handle this with professionalism. Neither is going to snub Huet; after all, it's not his fault he's here and that's not their way even if it was. Neither is going to pout and complain. Olie has said he would do everything he could to make Huet comfortable and Johnson made a point of saying that he would continue to be a positive presence in the locker room.

But what about the psychological impact, the confidence level? Whether the Caps were looking for a new number one goalie or not (and I don't believe they were), you have to think that both Johnson and Kolzig are feeling like the team has no confidence in them to take this team to the next level. It's something the team, the coaches and the management will have to work with down the stretch to avoid this becoming a poisonous situation.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New Blood Inspires New Life

Nothing like a spirited game from start to finish by the Caps to show just how excited these guys are to meet their new teammates, right?

Put the questions about the goaltending situation behind you; worry not about Ovechkin's continued goal-scoring drought. Because all that matters right now is that this was a huge team win tonight, with stellar performances from Olie Kolzig and Brooks Laich capping off a tremendous game for everyone in red white and blue.

...of course since the Devils are utterly useless the good guys gain no ground on the Canes, but the win does keep them on pace with Carolina which is important. Still having games in hand is also important, and the Caps can take some revenge on New Jersey for their idiocy on Friday - and they'll have some new friends to help them out.

Great game, great win, and most importantly, two points!


New Troops in Town

So the deadline has passed, the dust is slowly settling, and it's time to take stock of what we've got, what we lost, and where we're going.

Let's start with the first deal of the day for the Caps. GMGM snatches up Cristobal Huet from Montreal for a second round pick in 2009, the pick received in exchange for Brian Sutherby. Talk about maximizing your assets - in Huet the Caps get a 32-year-old goalie who is a proven starter, a goalie capable of stealing games for his team despite his recent slump, a goalie familiar with our coach and his systems, and someone who down the road could carry the work between the pipes while we wait for our baby goalies to develop.

Drawbacks? He doesn't bring a lot of playoff experience, with just six games under his belt (although his 2.33 GAA and .929 save % are pretty numbers for that stretch). He has the tendency to be a bit inconsistent and even admitted himself that he didn't work hard enough to keep his spot in the Habs lineup. Still, it's hard to be too upset with a guy who comes to us for little more than a pick. Now the question becomes, with the deadline come and gone, what happens in net? We have three goaltenders...only two can stay. You do the math.

Moving on to the second "holy hell, where did that come from" trade - Sergei Fedorov, acquired from the Blue Jackets in exchange for prospect and 2007 draftee Ted Ruth. This is another one of those potentially low risk, high reward moves for the Caps, and Fedorov brings a few things to the table that could be key.

He provides another veteran Russian presence for our two young Russians, which is going to be key down the stretch. He's also got experience (as we all remember) with winning a Stanley Cup, and he fills Nylander's center spot - something that the Caps have needed since losing Michael for the season. As for downsides, again, low risk, potentially high reward here; if he doesn't work out we have him for about a month and then set him free, and if he does, we might see ourselves doing more in April than we have in many years.

And the final piece in the puzzle, Matt Cooke coming to DC from Vancouver in return for Matt Pettinger. We've talked about Pettinger around here already and it really looked like his days were numbered; he just wasn't getting it done for the Caps anymore and you have to like that he'll get a second chance to prove himself on a team he grew up rooting for. In Cooke the Caps add some grit to the third or fourth line, a similar player to Pettinger but more of an agitator. It's something that has been lacking a bit in the lineup and all in all it looks like another good deal.

Oh, and welcome back to Alexandre Giroux, who returns to the Caps in exchange for Joe Motzko. I think I speak for all of us when I say...woo.

So the dust slowly settles and it looks like we can throw that whole "standing pat" thing out the window for sure. But this was a good day for GMGM and the Caps. Some key moves shoring up some key positions while not giving away the farm, and a definite message that this team is serious about making the playoffs.

A few things of note - the Caps, as I mentioned, did not move Olie or Johnson, so there is a bit of an issue in net and we'll have to see how that plays out. Also, Steve Eminger remains a Cap even after saying he hoped something would happen...and the mystery of Eminger's lost season continues. More on that later. And no solid defensemen were added, although it didn't really look like the pool was that great to begin with so you can't really blame McPhee for that.

Twenty games left (including one tonight, don't forget) and the Caps sit five points out of the playoffs with a couple of fresh faces in for the stretch run. Hard not to get excited, isn't it?


Welcome to Washington much for a nice, quiet trade deadline day here in DC, right?

Welcome your new Washington Capitals: Cristobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov.

Raise your hand if you saw either one of those coming.


Halpy Back in the SE?

According to Yahoo!'s Ross McKeon, a deal is pending that will see the Stars send a package of players to Tampa Bay in exchange for Brad Richards - among them Jeff Halpern and backup goalie Mike Smith. The same source is saying the Canadiens have landed Marian Hossa in another packaged deal that could see, among others, Michael Ryder heading to Atlanta.

Keep in mind that no one else is confirming this story so far so like everything else you hear on trade deadline day, take it with a grain of salt. If it is true, however...the Southeast Division just got a new look.

Stay tuned. Looks like we're just getting started...


Monday, February 25, 2008

Deadline Day Approaches

With rumors flying and a good chunk of the Southeast Division potentially on the move, these next 18 hours could prove eventful...or they could fall far short of expectations. My guess is it'll be somewhere in between.

Here in DC the rumor mill is pretty quiet; we've already heard it straight from GMGM that the Caps, barring a fantastic bargain that will help the team, are standing pat with the team we've got. And given the crop of players available I have to say at the risk of repeating myself that it's a great idea.

So who is out there? In the past few hours we've found out that Mats Sundin and Alex Tanguay will not be on the move but Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa almost certainly will. Peter Forsberg has returned for another run with the Avs, while Brad Richards is on the "maybe" list - along with any number of players heading into their unrestricted summer.

A few of the notables :

Marian Hossa - This slippery winger (read: puck hog) seems to want to have nothing to do with the Thrashers and contract negotiations have ground to a halt, so ol' Hoss is definitely hitting the road. He's similar to a Yashin or a Semin in that he needs strong linemates to open up space and allow him to play. With 30 points in 22 games against the Caps over the last three years, I don't think anyone will miss him around here. Rumored destinations: Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit

Brian Campbell - If you caught the Sabres/Flyers game this evening you may have had the chance to catch Campbell's last game in a Buffalo uniform. The All-Star defenseman's camp is reportedly "unhappy" with the latest deal coming from the Slugs and it looks like he's out of there, although nothing is certain. Want him? Sure, he's a high-scoring guy with a knack for the power play, but he's also a defensive liability - which, for a defenseman, isn't exactly what you want. Sayonara, Soupy. Rumored destinations: Unknown

Brad Richards - Of the "big three" in Tampa, Richards lifts out with the least worry and the most benefit to the team in the long run. On pace for just under 70 points, he's never really regained his form that he displayed during the Cup run - and especially not the form displayed in, surprise, his contract season. At almost $8 million a year and with three years left on his contract, he's an expensive risk to take; even more expensive because the Bolts will probably require a huge return of prospects and cheaper players in return. Rumored destinations: Columbus, Vancouver, Dallas, Chicago

Vaclav Prospal - It's no secret that "the other Vinny" has been in the middle of some tension recently with head coach John Tortorella...of course, who hasn't? The bigger reason Prospal could be on the move, though, is that pesky UFA status this July; Tampa is probably on the cusp of a rebuild right now and they're just not going to pay him the big bucks to stick around. On pace for 70+ points, he'll be a good rental for a playoff bound team looking for a little flash on the wing and some veteran presence. Rumored destinations: Unknown
Update: Just as this is about to be posted...we find out that Prospal has been traded to Philly.

Dwayne Roloson - With the rebirth of Mathieu Garon out in Edmonton, Roli finds himself the odd man out and is reportedly requesting to be moved. Obviously goaltending is at a premium this time of year, but at 38 years old and with 8 wins in 30 games Roloson is no longer "premium" quality. Might be a good pickup for a team looking for a semi-solid backup guy in net...and will probably garner little more than a bag of pucks in return. Just what an ailing Oilers team needs. Rumored destinations: Tampa Bay

Michael Ryder - Ryder took on the characteristics of fan scapegoat this year after starting the season slow. Think molasses on skates slow. But recently things have picked up for Michael, pride of Newfoundland and once the hot young thing in Habsland, so it's up in the air as to whether he gets moved or not. He'll be a UFA this summer, though, and the Habs are lousy with young talent. A move to the Southeast isn't out of the question... Rumored destinations: Atlanta, Edmonton, Tampa Bay

Patrick Marleau - Marleau hasn't known any other team besides San Jose, but that could all change tomorrow. He's the captain of the Sharks and is definitely well-liked, but a pending UFA status and a disappointing season - he's a -21, a mark better than only 4 players in the entire league - provide the perfect ingredients for a rental player move. Rumored destinations - Atlanta, Florida


Sunday, February 24, 2008

That's It

I'm starting a petition to force Martin Brodeur into early retirement. After all, there's nothing like going out on top, and saving the collective rear ends of your listless team certainly qualifies as the top.

...who's with me?


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Blown Away

This just about says it all, doesn't it?
First, the good news. Alex Ovechkin's point scoring drought is officially over as he racked up three assists. With Malkin being held off the scoreboard earlier today, that brings him back within one of the scoring race.

Now onto the bad news. Where should we start...

Well, it was a loss, first of all. To Carolina. Which drops the Caps down to six points behind the Canes after sharing the division lead just a few days ago. And Ovechkin's goal-scoring drought stretches to four games. Plus the penalty killing...has looked better.

Okay, so there have been better games - but there will be no more dwelling on this one, because it's over and done and nothing can bring those two points back. The Caps know what they did wrong (hint: everything). Now it's time to reset, rest up and get ready for tomorrow's matinee against the flaming hot New Jersey Devils.

We're going previewless this weekend as part of an ongoing experiment to see the effects of...nah, screw it, I'm just lazy. Open thread tomorrow, hope everyone is getting out to see what I'm sure will be a thrilling game against the Devils.

No, no, I'm being totally serious. I swear. Really.

Photo courtesy of AP


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Trading Away the Farm

We are now less than a week away from the trade deadline and as always there are suspiciously calm waters around the league, with minimal movement save for one "blockbuster" deal between the Canes and Sens and a few players for picks deals.

And it's a funny time of year for Caps fans. There is a level of excitement here in DC that hasn't been seen in years, a sense that for the first time in a long time the Caps won't automatically see their name on the "sellers" list. In fact, straight from GMGM's mouth: "we're not going to be sellers". Not only crystal clear but a welcome change to years of fire sales and shipping away of beloved veterans.

However...before you start licking your lips and looking at the names being bandied about as trade fodder, remember one thing. Not being a seller does not mean being a buyer, and in this case it's probably best that they're not.

Being so tantalizingly close to a coveted berth in the postseason for the first time in years can do funny things to your head as a fan. For one thing, you go into games without that sense of dread that once plagued you; a season of ups and downs has convinced you that this team can in fact go into any game with the chance to win. And winning...makes you want to win more.

Because of that, there will be a group of fans who will absolutely rail on GMGM if the Caps do nothing in the next week, a knee-jerk reaction that is most likely not the right one. We have a tendency here to make the leap from believing we're a potential postseason contender to believing that, with a few select moves, this team can win it all. It's part of the attitude prevalent not only in a city that is attracted to winners but also in a set of loyal fans who have had their hearts broken too many times.

But patience is going to be key here. Yes, McPhee could go out and pick up some rent-a-player, trade away our young hotshots and picks en route to a playoff berth and a likely first round exit. Then what? All of a sudden you've given up core pieces of a team that, while no longer rebuilding, is still building - always building - for just a taste of playoff glory.

There are a few things to consider:

1) Right now this team is built on a foundation of youth and the knowledge that there is a great pool of talent just waiting to fill in spots in the coming years. It's been said before but it bears repeating - you cannot just sit on one group of guys and not keep your eye constantly on the future. Part of the philosophy behind the rebuild is that the Caps want a team that they draft, polish, and bring up through the ranks to create a sustainable cycle of players.

You need picks. You need hot prospects in Hershey. You need young guys here in DC. It ensures that after this year, after next year, and in all the coming years there will be a consistent flow of talent into this organization. It's how you not only build a consistent playoff competitor but, hopefully, an eventual Stanley Cup winner. Trading away a packaged deal of picks and prospects and maybe even a first or second year Cap for a player likely to depart July 1 undermines that plan and sets the team back in ways we won't even see right away.

2) There is no guarantee that some rental player gives you the final push you need. Think about this fact - of all the teams who will make deadline deals this year, there can only be one who will see results in the form of Lord Stanley's Cup, if any.

Yes, Doug Weight and Mark Recchi helped the Canes in 2006. They were key in helping Carolina win it's first championship for sure. Quick, name another deadline acquisition that pushed a team to the Cup in recent years.

Tkachuk and Zhitnik really helped out Atlanta against the Rangers, didn't they? How did Zubrus do in Buffalo? Ryan Smyth with the Islanders, Bill Guerin with the Sharks, Bertuzzi with the Red Wings - and that's just last year. Unless you already have a contender in place these big flashy deals often turn out to be busts, for one big reason...

3) Chemistry. You bring in players with big names and big salaries and you plop them down in a locker room of guys who, for the most part, have been playing together since September, if not longer. You do this right when the schedule gets the most stressful, when chemistry and seeing the ice and knowing your teammates becomes the most crucial. There's a reason why offseason free agent signings sometimes take a bit of time to produce, and it's because chemistry isn't always instant.

But bringing guys like that in during the offseason buys you time to create it - deadline deals do not. You have to mesh and mesh fast, especially if you're right on the bubble like the Caps are right now.

Frankly there is a lot to like on this team right now. When they lose it's not because of missing parts or lack of talent as much as it is lack of effort, the rare nights or even parts of nights when the Caps don't show us their best work resulting in blown chances and lost points. Looking down the roster there aren't as many holes as people think there are, and there is a nice balance of flashy talent and hard-working grit that has the potential to at least make some noise down the stretch.

Bottom line is this - the Caps will probably be in the fight for a postseason berth for the remaining twenty games of the year. They've made an improbable turnaround and continue to improve over last year, regardless of whether they make the playoffs or not. As fans, as hard as this may be, we have to be patient and know that we may have to wait a little longer but it will happen and it will happen when the time is right - not because of some player who will flit in and out of this organization faster than you can say "choke".

Photos courtesy of AP/Getty Images


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Most Dangerous Lead in Hockey

Photo courtesy of AP
In the pre-2005 NHL, a two goal lead was known by that moniker; in the high flying days of the post-lockout NHL it might as well be known as the "you're going to blow it" lead (of course in the Rangers' case, that lead is actually a five goal lead, but that's a topic for another day).

Twice in the last two games the Caps have jumped up to 2-0 and gone into the third period with a lead, and twice in the last two games they've blown it. Only this time was more devastating, as it not only resulted in a loss but also gave a point (and eventually two) to the conference rival Islanders - a team they're battling with for the eighth spot.

You have to wonder at what point this team will learn how to take a lead and - this is the tricky part - hang onto it. Saturday night in Tampa they got away with a brief moment of less than stellar play and managed to salvage the win in regulation on the back of a quick retaliatory Semin goal. Tonight they weren't so lucky, and while one would assume that would be a wake up call for the team, it's happened too many times this season to hope that will happen. Part of it is a byproduct of the high risk, high reward style of play they've enlisted...but part of it is pure sloppiness and it has to stop.

For the most part the Caps didn't look all that bad. After a somewhat flat start to the game they jumped out to a lead on a pretty breakaway goal by Semin and then padded the lead with a nice power play deflection by Brooks Laich, his 10th goal of the season. There was sloppy play throughout by both teams, lots of pucks bouncing over sticks and turnovers galore, but the Caps took a two goal lead into the locker room after one.

Enter our old friend Miroslav Satan. Raise your hand if you knew the second Joe B. mentioned Satan's efficiency against the Caps that he was going to score. The curse of the commentator strikes again.

The tying goal...well, it's hard to even discuss it. Just a really unlucky play that caught Olie a little out of position but not so much that you can completely blame him. He was big when he had to be tonight and it was unfortunate, but it always seems to be that kind of goal that does it in the end to the Caps.

As for the individual Washington efforts, there were a few that deserve mention. Brooks Laich had some jump in his step and had some great chances, while the whole line of Laich, Gordon and Brashear was very effective at hemming in the Islanders and wearing them out while generating chances. Matt Pettinger continued his strong play and picked up his first point in a month, a heads-up play that sent the puck to a wide open Semin. Green was flying around all over the place and Morrisonn is starting to look much more like himself with some great defensive plays in his own right.

And then there was Ovechkin, who played his third straight game without registering a point. He looked much better than he did over the weekend if not still a bit sluggish, but he also was marked very well by Martinek and rarely had much room to maneuver. When he did get open he owned DiPietro - and you can still hear the resounding clank of a hat trick of posts ringing into the wintry DC night.

So mark it down as a loss, a messy one at that, and only the fourth loss at home in the last thirteen games. Since Tampa Bay decided to also be completely useless tonight by falling in overtime to Buffalo, 9th, 10th and 11th place stay exactly the same as they did before puck drop. Everyone inches a little closer to idle Philadelphia and the Caps get the slimmest of margins over Atlanta, but no one moves, no one leaps, and the race is still on.

The good news? The "loser" point that seemingly is the topic of so much discussion lately will actually come in handy, as it at least lets the Caps keep pace with the Hurricanes. They remain two points out despite Boston failing to win in regulation last night and the Caps failing to finish off the Islanders tonight, and they still have two games in hand - three after the Canes and Thrashers meet tomorrow night.

...a game I think we'd all rather ignore because there is no good outcome.

It also makes Saturday's twilight game all that much more important, because while it won't allow the Caps to leapfrog the Canes it will at least give them to again draw even. We're talking big, huge, major importance surrounding this one, and it wasn't exactly something to sneeze at before. The Caps cannot afford to fall too far behind at any point, and a four point deficit is much more daunting than two.

So settle in for a bit, we've got another two days of idle torture before the Caps are back in action Saturday evening. Lots of games coming up tomorrow night with potential ramifications for the Caps, as the Islanders take on the Lightning, the Bruins play the Panthers, Toronto and Buffalo face off, and the Sharks try to salvage their road trip against the slumping Flyers.

And of course, the Canes and Thrashers meet for a Southeast Division no-win situation in Raleigh. Go...anything in regulation.


Food for Thought

With Saturday night's victory over Tampa the Caps earned their 28th win of the season, the same number of wins they had all last season. With one more win they tie their single season high over the last three years. The last time this team had a 30+ win season? 2002-03, when the Caps finished their 92-point season with a record of 39-29-14.

Whatever happens from here, it's important to take away the fact that the Caps are on the right track.


Gameday Preview: Caps vs Islanders

Who: Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders
Where: Verizon Center
When: Wednesday, February 19, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN; FSN-NY; NHL Network (US)

Media Notes:
Caps Site
Washington Times
Washington Post
CBS Sports - Mike Green feature

A banged up blueline on one end of the rink, a recently hot goaltending tandem on the other, and Alex Ovechkin trolling the neutral zone just two goals shy of 50. Anyone else feeling a Washington offensive explosion coming on?

It would certainly be a nice change. In the last three games of the season series the Caps have dented the twine only six times, held at bay by Rick DiPietro and his quirky moves and a defense that has their number. In fact, since the lockout the Caps have scored three or more goals only three times, finding themselves outscored to the tune of 42-24 in that 11-game span.

Meanwhile the Islanders, who average the fewest goals per game in the league, have only failed to crack the three goal mark against the Caps three times - all losses - since 2005-06. Just another one of those little quirks that makes us love this team, though, right?

Things get a little more interesting this time around, though - and that's saying a lot when you're talking about a Caps-Isles throwdown.

The Islanders, despite going on a recent four game tear that has propelled them back into the playoff race, continue to lose bodies to injury. The most recent hit comes on the blue line, already weakened by injuries to Witt, Campoli and Gervais, as Andy Sutton went down with a torn hamstring and is out 4-6 weeks.

For the Caps, Tom Poti will likely be back in the lineup after missing the last two games with a bruised thigh. Ovechkin and Steckel are hopefully on the mend after recent bouts with the flu kept them in less than stellar shape and Ovechkin can attempt to regain the scoring lead with two (or more) points tonight. Damn that Malkin and his talent.


On a completely non-Caps related note, the Habs fan side of me just has to mention last night's historic Canadiens win. Montreal came back from being down 5-0 to tie the game and eventually win in the shootout, erasing a five goal deficit for the first time in franchise history and, as an added bonus, embarrassing the Rangers. That's just something everyone can celebrate, don't you think?

...I wonder what dress Jagr wears to eat humble pie.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Divisive Divisions has an ongoing report from the GM meetings in Florida and there's an interesting look today at the Southeast Division GMs and how they are approaching the trade deadline. It seems our little division is gaining interest daily as the lead changes hands at breakneck speed and we move closer and closer to February 26.

Buried among the enigmatic quotes and underhanded swipes at the Southeast, though, is an interesting fact: the Thrashers have picked up 25 points within the division, two better than Carolina, Washington and Florida. Tampa has 22 divisional points.

If you look around the league, no other division has such a small discrepancy - just another way that this division is becoming increasingly tough down the line, and something else to think about with a stretch of seven straight against the division coming up at the end of the season.


Monday, February 18, 2008

The Puzzling Case of Matt Pettinger

This season has been a strange one for so many reasons, but one of the biggest mysteries that has plagued the team is the question of what exactly is going on with Matt Pettinger.

Pettinger is a member of the core group that has been around since before the rebuild, one of just a handful of guys left who remembers what it was like to be on the same team as Jaromir Jagr. He is also one of the homegrown prospects upon which the Caps are now trying to build a contender. He was drafted 43rd overall by the Caps back in 2000 and has made consistent improvements in his game every year.

Coming into this season, the buzz around training camp was that he was going to make up a third of what looked to be, on paper at least, a dominating checking line alongside captain Chris Clark and center Boyd Gordon. Aside from shutting down the other team's top lines, this grinder line was also expected to chip in some offense at a rate of about 10-15 goals per person.

As they say, though, the best laid plans...

There were the injuries, with Gordon and Clark missing significant periods of time and casting Pettinger into a sea of the lineless, forced to shuffle around the four lines as the Caps scrambled to find consistent scoring and chemistry. He went from the third line to the second line to the first line before dropping down to the fourth. His minutes went from an average of about 17-18 minutes a night down to about 12 minutes a night.

And then when Boudreau took over, Pettinger saw himself in the press box - the first time he'd ever been a healthy scratch since joining the Capitals. He continues to flit in and out of the lineup with the callup of Eric Fehr and hasn't recorded a point since picking up an assist in the Caps' shootout win over the Penguins on January 21.

Pettinger's slump is enigmatic for a lot of reasons. For one thing, he's got tremendous speed, a great shot, and a willingness to sacrifice the body when necessary. He hits harder than guys taller and heavier than him; he's a gritty, talented player, the type of player the Caps have traditionally loved drafting and developing and exactly the type of guy a team needs for a playoff run. The last two seasons he's scored 36 goals and added another 32 assists, good numbers for someone whose role should be a third/fourth liner.

This year Pettinger has two goals and four assists in 53 games. He's a -12, highest among active players and second on the team only to Nylander.

So what's the problem? Some of it is probably chemistry - with Clark out and Gordon bouncing around the other lines it seems like Pettinger has yet to find linemates with whom he clicks. Some of it is confidence, or lack thereof, frustration clearly creeping in and evident in his body language during games. And some of it seems to just be bad luck, as evidenced by a series of posts and sparkling saves denying him goals in the last few games.

It's certainly not lack of effort. Pettinger's work ethic hasn't waned despite decreasing ice time or minimal offensive production, and credit should be given to him for continuing to maintain his high level of play even in trying times. It's what we've always loved about Matt - he has a perpetual smile on his face in practice and doesn't let the fact that he's struggling poison the locker room.

Of note should be the fact that since his most recent stretch of being a healthy scratch he has been playing even better than usual. He had his best game in weeks coming against Tampa Saturday night when he registered four shots and his first plus game since December 10th, but he was also very impressive in his first game back against the Rangers. It always seems like he's just on the cusp of busting out of this slump, with chances abounding game after game and yet nothing happening.

But the Caps are going to have a difficult decision to make in the coming days, weeks and months. Pettinger has one year left on his contract that will pay him just over a million dollars next season. If and when Chris Clark returns to the lineup, the numbers game would likely put Pettinger back in the press box, especially with the callup of Eric Fehr. There are a number of players developing up in Hershey that could be ready to slide into the lineup as soon as next season, and Nylander will be back as well.

So conventional wisdom says that Pettinger is on the outside looking in, and as much as it can be painful to say it, it may be the best for all parties to trade Pettinger now and let him find his stride elsewhere. The return wouldn't be great, probably draft picks, but it would free up cap space and roster space while giving Pettinger a fresh start.

The question is this - do the Caps try and move him before the deadline, losing a depth player that could be necessary as they head into the stretch drive? Or do they wait until the summer to make a deal, maybe as part of a package around the draft? Or, the least likely of the three, do they hang onto him through the end of his contract and risk losing him to free agency?

The best option seems to be the second one, as it never hurts to have extra bodies going into the final weeks of the season and the Caps don't have to worry about losing Pettinger in the offseason to a ridiculous offer sheet. Regardless, Pettinger's time here does seem to be winding down and you can bet it's something McPhee will be looking at in the coming days, weeks and months.

Top photo courtesy of Getty Images; practice photo courtesy of Geneen Boyd


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thanks for the Heart Attack, Boys

50 minutes of a goaltenders' duel, an explosion of offense in the span of a minute, tremendous performances up and down the Caps' bench (especially Alexander Semin), and 39 saves by #37, Godzilla himself, Olie Kolzig.

Great game, no? Two HUGE points for the Caps tonight, well done.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Sunshine (State) Day

Florida? Again? Really?

Somehow playing the Cats always brings out the inner child in me, and not in a good way...more in the whiny, cranky, "but I don't WANNA!" kind of way. Whether it's the staggeringly boring games we've traditionally been treated to or the fact that the Panthers continue to somewhat have our number, it's hard to tell. But I do feel a bit of a temper tantrum coming on.

So tonight the Caps need a win. There, that's your preview - they need to win and they'll have to do it with a shortened bench, as Tom Poti became the latest blueline casualty Wednesday night and is day-to-day with a lower body injury.

The good news? Sami Lepisto has been recalled (for real this time) and I for one am very excited to see how he does. Sami's generating a lot of interest these days up in Hershey and after a whiff of a cup of coffee with the club on Tuesday he gets his shot at NHL game numero uno. If he gets into the game, keep an eye out for #42 - that may be the most exciting part of the night.

Also, continued best wishes go out to Richard Zednik, who continues to improve daily from that horrific incident earlier this week. It wouldn't be right to go into Florida and not mention him...get well soon, Zed.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Flashy New Contract

We've got contract news!

Tomas Fleischmann has been re-signed to a two year extension, bumping his salary up from the current league minimum to about $725,000 a year and giving some security to a guy who came into camp without a contract.

Thoughts? I think it's a great deal. There are a lot of people around here (myself included) who have questioned Fleischmann's role on this team and his potential to be what he's supposed to be - a consistent scorer and top six candidate. He's even earned himself a not-so-nice nickname here in the Cheap Seats that unfortunately cannot be printed in a family friendly blog.

Sufficed to say, that nickname has since become more of a term of endearment than a knock on his playing ability (much to the confusion of anyone who sits around me at games) and he's slowly starting to win me over. His timing and finish are still a little off but he's made some fantastic plays recently that show glimpses of the player he can be. Flash is exactly that - he's flashy, and when he finally finds his game he's going to be an entertaining player to watch for sure.

Photo courtesy of Geneen Boyd

The biggest knock against him before was that he just wasn't physical enough. Too much stickhandling, taking a nanosecond too long to shoot, getting knocked off the puck much too easily...but in the last month or two he's really started to step it up a bit, and while it doesn't always show on the scoresheet it's at least a marked improvement on the ice.

A two-year deal at this amount of money is ideal for someone like Flash. It gives him time to prove that he belongs in the lineup as Fehr starts to find his stride and Clark (hopefully) returns, and at a rate that isn't going to break the bank. If he performs, he's a bargain; if not, it's a contract that is easily moved if necessary. Good deal all around.


The media blitz around the Caps continues, with mega-newsmongers USA Today and the New York Times paying our little team (and some Russian kid) a bit of attention. I like what Ted had to say about it all, though - "come back and see us when we make the playoffs". I agree. It makes all of us a little nervous to be the center of attention when there are still 20+ games to go...I think we can get used to it, though.

Oh, and newsflash - Ovechkin is MVP-worthy.



Gameday Preview: Caps vs Thrashers

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Atlanta Thrashers
Where: Philips Arena
When: Wednesday, February 13, 7:30 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio;

Media Notes:
Caps' Site
Washington Post
Washington Times
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Carolina may have pulled out a win last night, but by the end of this one there will be at least one new division leader. Again. It's gotten to the point where you can get whiplash just watching the standings from day to day, and while that's loads of fun you can bet the Caps and their fans will breathe easier if they can start to open up some sort of lead in the division standings.

They get their next chance to do just that when the travel to Atlanta to kick off a three game road trip through the division - one that, and stop me if you've heard this one, could prove to be a turning point for their playoff quest.

The Caps haven't been to Atlanta since early November, sandwiching that game and this most recent visit around three straight meetings here in DC. Atlanta has taken two of those three games, so the Caps will be looking to return some of that Southern hospitality and open up a three point lead on their friendly foes.

Like everything else in the Southeast Division, these two teams are fairly even matched. Separated by only one point in the standings, the Caps and Thrashers have both experienced a renaissance of sorts (albeit an inconsistent one at times) after firing their coaches. A pair of Russian sharpshooters lead the way in goals and points for each team; a pair of Swedish rookies in assists. The Caps are 18th in power play effectiveness, the Thrashers 16th. Penalty killers are ranked 21st for the Caps, 26th for Atlanta. Each team has 27 wins.

But the reality is the Caps have been the hotter team of late - and again, stop me if you've heard this one, they should be able to win this game. Atlanta's offensive firepower is potent and their goalie can keep them in a lot of games, but when one of your top defensive pairings is Ken Klee and Alexei Zhitnik, you're weak on the blue line...and the Caps need to exploit that. Throw in the fact that the Caps have recently gotten their specialty teams back on track with a clinic in both just three days ago, and this team is ready to go.

Oh, and they need to watch out for that Hossa guy - he scores a mean empty-netter.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Hold On to the Feeling

Check out Mike Green's postgame interview last night - could there be a more poetic song playing in the background?


Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Game Over" Strikes Again

Well, that was a hell of a thrilling way for the Caps to steal two points from the jaws of defeat, wasn't it?

Three things of note about this one:

1) That was a textbook road game by the know, up until the last minute penalty that hung over into overtime and the failure to put any pressure on Mike Green. Other than that, though, it was a dirty, nasty, clogging up the center, sucking the life out of the home team (and fairly sizable home crowd), mucking it up along the boards game for the Blueshirts. Call a spade a spade, the Caps stole two points today.

...anyone complaining? No. They can't all be gems, a win is a win, and the two points move the Caps back into first place. I'll take it for sure.

2) Olie Kolzig celebrated his 700th NHL game with a spectacular performance, earning his 296th win to tie Ron Hextall on the all-time wins list. That was just old-school Godzilla. Welcome back, big guy. (And watch those clearing attempts, no need to add to your PIMs.)

3) Jagr is pointless...we'll leave it there, make up your own jokes.

So a thrilling end to a rather dull looking game for the Caps slides them back on top of the Southeast, and again we add...for now. 'For now' will be the motto until this team opens up a significant lead in the division, and it can be done, as four of the next five games are against division opponents. Perfect time for the Caps to get on that roll we've all been waiting for, isn't it?

By the way if anyone is keeping track, today's win puts the Caps' streak at 36 games without losing back to back in regulation and counting - an amazing feat.
All photos courtesy of AP


Caps vs Rangers: Open Thread

It's Sunday, it's a matinee game, and it's Jagr's final visit of the year to the place he once called home (and then mocked openly). It's time for a "CapsChick is being lazy" special - otherwise known as ye olde open thread.

Feel free to comment on the game, the fact that a win would again bounce the Caps into first place in the division, the sheer uselessness of other teams right now or anything else you would like to discuss.

...or just stare at Matt Bradley's flamingo impression. Go Caps!


Thursday, February 07, 2008

All About Bruce

Boudreau gets yet another well-earned day in the spotlight, as ESPN continues their "surprise story" spotlight of the Caps with part three, a look at BB himself. Meanwhile over at the coach took some time to answer questions from the fans, which included these little gems:

Reston, Va.: Would you prefer to coach in a 1-0 game or a 6-5 game?
Bruce Boudreau: Coaches love to be thought of as defensive gurus, but personally I just want to be the coach that has the higher of the two numbers on the scoreboard. So it does not matter to me.

Mohawk, MI: What do you miss most about coaching in the minor leagues?
Bruce Boudreau: McDonald's of course. And the movies on the bus.

And of course this Bruce quote, pointed out by astute reader Victor:

South Riding, Va.: How do you pick players for the overtime shootout?
Bruce Boudreau: You have your standard go-to guys, but you might sneak in a guy who is having a hot game. Or if you go 10 or 12 rounds then some of the guys just jump on the ice and go.

Oh, Matt Bradley. We do love you.

Then there's the AP story about how the Caps went from worst to first and why. Of course they point to the fact that the Southeast Division is the weakest in the league - and I have to say, I take issue with that. Not that it's a barn-burning division by any stretch, but Carolina got off to a very hot start and was right on pace with Detroit and Ottawa before a rash of injuries devastated the team and cooled them off; on the flip side, both Washington and Atlanta got off to a slow start and are just now getting hot.

It's not so much a weak division as it is an inconsistent one - should the Caps win the division and make the postseason I'm sure we'll have to revisit that discussion time and time again.

Here's the promising part, though. In Burnside's piece on Boudreau, he clearly states that this is not where they want to be. They want to be challenging the Senators, Habs and Devils of the league, not just the Thrashers and Islanders. As a Caps fan you have to feel encouraged by the continuing sense on this team that good enough is not good enough. And if that keeps up, whether or not the Southeast Division is weak or not may not be the story for much longer.

Continuing the ESPN lovefest, we have a question and answer session with Alex Ovechkin, again over on always did love us over there, didn't they? Nothing particularly earth-shattering, just more of the same lovable Ovechkin we see everyday. The kid was raised right for sure.

Sandwiched between college football and NBA news...proof of's undying (and until now, hidden) love for the Caps

And rounding it all out, props for Boudreau from "the hairdo" himself, Barry Melrose - who needs to learn how to pronounce Semin's last name before the FCC steps in:

H/t to Peerless for the video

It's funny how getting first place in the division suddenly shines the spotlight on the little team that could, isn't it? Not that we don't welcome the attention, of course. We even got a little more love from ESPN last night, when one of the commentators followed up a blink and you miss it highlight reel of our game by saying "that's it, I'm officially a bandwagon Ovechkin fan."

Welcome aboard, friend. You're not the first and you certainly won't be the last - but there's room for all.


Tenuous Hold

A win in Philly always makes the morning sun a little brighter, and today is no exception. Save for a little stretch where the Caps seemed content to sit on a three-goal lead (have they learned nothing??), last night's game was a clinic in defensive positioning, pretty goals, and winning on the road.

It also was the first time in recent days that someone other than Ovechkin scored - and of course his goal turns out to be the game-winner. Not that we don't love when Ovie gets a goal but it almost seems a shame that he gets the GWG in a game where he was pretty well held in check. Brooks Laich's goal, aided by lousy Flyer defense, was just a beautiful backhand. Kozlov's goal was a wicked shot off an even more picturesque Fleischmann pass. Bradley's marker was earned by doing something they haven't been doing lately - simply going to the net and getting your body in the way.

Power play? Stunk. Penalty killing? Well, the Flyers have a pretty good PP and they scored with one of our best PKers in the box, so I'll let that one slide. Officiating?

...don't even get me started.

But that was a team win through and through. Guys were blocking shots, taking the body, and simply frustrating the high-flying Flyers offense to the point where it was just an ugly game - and that's what it needed to be.

Olie was very, very sharp - even on that disallowed goal he made a great toe save before getting unceremoniously shoved into the net (and no, it shouldn't have been a goal, read your rulebooks). Mike Green looked downright Mike Green-ish for a change. Schultz has improved immensely and no longer scares me when he has the puck. The Semin-Kozlov-Fleischmann line is looking very impressive. And Eric Fehr continues to make a believer out of all of us with a few more good chances.

Now on to the real story about this win. Anyone who follows Caps hockey and watched or read about last night's game knows what the win meant - two points that vaulted this team over Atlanta and Carolina into first place in the Southeast, third in the Conference. We all knew it. It was talked about ad nauseum by every media outlet that covers (or "covers") hockey.

...still, how many of you did what I did this morning and went right to the standings page, just to see it in black and white? It was one of those "pinch me, I must be dreaming moments" for me where I woke up and thought, what if it was all a dream? Could this team that was back in 30th place just two months ago really have clawed their way out of the cellar to take the division lead? Hard to believe...

Look, there we are! Believe it, baby. This is no dream.

However, there is one thing to remember, and Boudreau said it best in today's daily dialogue - we haven't done anything yet. For now, we are in first place in the Southeast. For now. As early as 9:30 tonight, when the final whistle blows in the Thrashers-Canucks game, that could change.

So we as fans can't sit back and just assume it's a done deal; the team certainly can't sit back and assume it's a done deal. There's a lot of hockey left to play down the stretch. To quote Lenny Kravitz, "baby, it ain't over 'til it's over"...

Here's what lies ahead:

- thirteen more division games, including seven straight to end the season

- a six-game road swing that includes the final two Central division opponents and four Southeast teams

- one final matchup with the Penguins back at the Phone Booth - with or without Crosby, Pittsburgh is always a team that provides a challenge for the Caps

- one more Rangers game, one more Islanders game, two more Devils games (woo) and three more against the Bruins

So enjoy it for now and hope for a wider margin as we continue down the stretch. We'll need the combined forces of fate, luck and skill to get this team past April 5th and I for one think it's possible.

For now, though, enjoy the view from the top - and I think I speak for all Caps fans when I say...go Canucks.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Top of the Heap

Photo courtesy of Getty Images Look, Jeff Schultz hitting someone!

There you have it - first place in the division. Feels pretty good...


Recap/Preview Double Feature

Lots of stuff to cover, so little time...

First of all, last night's game. Aside from a blunder by Nicklas Backstrom and a BIGGER blunder by referee Bill McCreary, the Caps had a solid game and did a good job of mounting a comeback - twice - and snatching two points from the Blue Jackets. Naturally it helps when the starting goaltender gets taken out with an injury, but you can't say the Caps weren't buzzing before and after LeClaire got hurt, or that Norrena was necessarily to blame for the other goals.

Ovechkin was again a force to be reckoned with, as is becoming the usual - his two tallies give him 45 on the year, if anyone is keeping track. And you know we all are. Eric Fehr had a solid game as well and if that line meshes as it looks like it will that trio could become very potent. Semin's goal was very pretty and that new line of Semin-Kozlov-Fleischmann actually had some really entertaining shifts.

The real story tonight, though, wasn't Ovechkin or Semin or Brent Johnson (who was good when he had to be but not extensively challenged). It was Tom Poti.

Forget the goal and the assist on the game-winning goal; before all that Poti was having a stunningly good defensive game. In reality it shouldn't be that surprising - in the last few weeks Poti has stepped up his game and become a much more solid defenseman, which is what the Caps need him to be. But tonight he really was fantastic, blocking shots, playing in near-perfect position...and yes, getting a goal and an assist. We like those.

Quote of the night, courtesy of Shaone Morrisonn:

It was a great hip check by Billy [McCreary] there. I don't know what he was doing in the middle, but everybody makes mistakes. Thank God we got the win, or I probably would have fought him.
Okay, so two points in overtime, again. An overtime winner and a multi-goal game for Ovechkin, again. It's a nice pattern, but a regulation win with more secondary scoring (read: anyone but Ovie) would be good, especially with a long stretch of Eastern Conference teams coming up. Which brings us to...

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wachovia Center
When: Wednesday, February 6, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN+, 3WT Radio; CSN-P; NHL Network (US)

Media Notes:
Caps' Site
Washington Post
Washington Times

I'm not sure why, but Atlantic Division teams like to torture us with special pre-game ceremonies that are particularly obnoxious this season. First it was the Devils honoring former Cap Scott Stevens back in December, a game the Caps lost 3-2. Fun times.

Now it's the Flyers with Ron Hextall, a goalie who spent the better part of his career torturing the Caps - which included scoring the first playoff goal for a goaltender against us. And if you think the timing is accidental, you don't know the Flyers organization very well.

But on to the game itself.

The Caps and Flyers come into this one off of matching one-goal wins, but with the division title in sight once more and the momentum of an overtime come from behind victory fueling them, the Caps could actually be the favorite in this one. Considering they've also already won at Wachovia Center this year, as well, it's not like the threat of a scary Philly crowd is going to stop them.

One thing to watch for is special teams (but isn't it always?). The Flyers have one of the best power plays in the league thanks to a recent hot streak and the Caps PK units will need to be at their best. Better yet, the whole team needs to avoid the dumb penalties - Erskine, Semin, I'm looking at you guys.

By the way, with a win tonight the Caps take over first place in the Southeast Division. Now everyone take a look at the standings...and remember where we were two months ago. It's quite the roller coaster ride being a Caps fan, isn't it?


Something's Not Quite Right...

Per the Washington Post website:

The Washington Capitals have been one of the hottest teams in the NFL since Coach Bruce Boudreau took over in November. He will be online Thursday, Feb. 6 at 1:30 p.m. ET to take your questions about the team and his coaching philosophy.
...oh, WaPo. You do make life more entertaining, that's for sure, but come on - you're a major newspaper. Hire a proofreader of some kind, that's all I ask.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fehr Thee Well: Caps Win in OT

A thrilling overtime goal, a blunder by a veteran ref, a solid return of a young prospect, and Tom Poti's best game as a Capital - take your pick, it all adds up to a handy two points in the standings.


Gameday Preview: Caps vs Blue Jackets

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Where: Nationwide Arena
When: Tuesday, February 5, 7:00 pm

Broadcast Info: CSN, 3WT Radio; FSN Ohio, The Fan 1490 AM

The Caps haven't lost back to back games in regulation since November, and now would not be a good time to start. After getting shut out in two of their last three games it's going to take some hard work and some secondary scoring to get a few past shutout king Pascal Leclaire and avoid dropping that elusive second striaght game.

The biggest news going into tonight's game, though, is the return of Eric Fehr, the Caps highly-touted prospect who had just started to be finding his NHL game last year as the season ended before suffering an injury that sat him for months. After a stint with the Hershey Bears, though, Fehr is healthy and back in action alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom - quite the assignment for the youngster who has only played in a handful of NHL games to begin with.

For more on Fehr, check out Vogel's great piece on the kid. Should be fun to see him out there with the other tots for sure.

2 Minutes with...Columbus, Ohio

Boston has beans, the Red Sox, and the Tea Party; New York is the city that never sleeps. So what is Columbus known for? As the Caps make their first visit in four years to Nationwide Arena tonight, it seemed as good a time as any to get to know the Arch City, The Discovery City, C-Bus...Columbus, Ohio.

- Columbus was founded in 1812, became the state capital of Ohio in 1816, and was deemed a city (after achieving a population of 3500) in 1834.

- Columbus is home to the Ohio State Buckeyes; a buckeye is a type of tree or a chocolate and peanut butter candy designed to look like the nut of the tree; another popular chocolate and peanut butter candy is the Reese's peanut butter cup, produced by the Hershey chocolate company; the Hershey Bears are the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals; Dave Steckel, a Hershey Bears alum, was an Ohio State Buckeye.

- The (in)famous fast food chain White Castle is headquartered in Columbus.

- Columbus is the site of the annual Ohio State Fair, which contributes over $280 million to the state's economy annually. The fair has been taking place for over 150 years and is used as a celebration of Ohio-made products, it's people and their accomplishments. One of those accomplishments? A life-size cow and calf made completely out of butter.

- Performers at the Ohio State Fair have included Ike and Tina Turner, Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, Alan Jackson, Bow Wow, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Air Supply, Rascal Flatts, and Lifehouse.

- Renowned animal expert Jack Hanna, known for his television shows and frequent appearances on late night TV, is based out of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

- The only pro teams located in Columbus are the Blue Jackets, MLS's Columbus Crew, and AFL team the Columbus Destroyers. Columbus is also home to the Columbus Clippers, the triple-A affiliate of our own Washington Nationals.

- Columbus's first sister city was Genoa, Italy, a relationship established in 1955 and commemorated with a statue of Columbus, presented to the city from the people of Genoa. Columbus has since added six more, including Seville, Spain and Herzliya, Israel.

- Columbus is the birthplace of author/cartoonist James Thurber, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, and golf legend Jack Nicklaus.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Monday, Monday

Welcome back! I trust everyone had a lovely Super Bowl Sunday (such as it was) - if you're like me you probably only paid attention during the last five minutes of the game and maybe some of the commercials...only to discover that you would have been better off ignoring it all together. Hey, I hear they were showing chick flicks on every other channel...

Now that football season is over it would be reasonable to suggest that the focus would now fully shift from the NFL to the sports that are actually in the middle of their regular seasons. The key word there, of course, is reasonable.

Around here we'll probably still get a fair amount of football news - the Redskins search for Joe Gibbs' replacement continues, which means every night we'll be treated to a half hour on how...the Redskins' search continues. Hard-hitting coverage right there.

At any rate, let's get back to talking about the one thing we're concerned with at the moment, and that is the Caps. The big news in town today is that Eric Fehr, longtime member of the IR club, has been called up to provide some much needed scoring. In the last three games the Caps have been shut out twice, with the only offense in the rogue game essentially coming from Alex Ovechkin.

This team has become exactly what it needs to not be - a one-line wonder. If your top line is the only one scoring, the other team only has to shut down three players and float through the rest. Ovechkin is talented and can break through a lot of defensive systems, but come up against a hot goalie like Huet on Tuesday or Lehtonen over the weekend and you get exactly what happened.

I'm excited to see Fehr back in DC. He was just starting to heat up and learn how to play in the NHL when he returned to Hershey for the playoff drive and then developed his mystery injury, but all reports have said that he looks good. If he can pan out that gives us yet another young prospect making a splash on this team, something that is quickly becoming same old same old here in Washington.

It looks like Fehr'll be added to that increasingly young, increasingly high draft pick top line to play with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Kozlov takes his hot hands down to center the second line and fill a role that, to this point, neither Laich nor Gordon has been able to fill consistently. That frees them up for third and fourth line duty and maybe gives a rest to Fleischmann or Pettinger in the process.

While the top line has been clicking along at a great pace lately, it's hard to find fault with this. As much as I, er, like Laich, he doesn't quite have the grit or the vision of the ice to center free-wheeling wingers like Fleischmann and Semin. And Gordon has grit to spare but lacks the finish of a second line center.

Kozlov's presence adds both size and the ability to find an open man or open ice, often in creative or even jaw-dropping ways. Say what you will about him being a "disappointment" this year in the goal-scoring department, and you could say a lot, but the man knows how to pass. That much has been consistent.

One moment from the Thrashers game stuck out to me as quintessentially Kozlov, and proof that he is in my mind still worth every penny. It was a simple breakout pass, up the wing to a streaking Ovechkin, and rather than hitting him directly with it Kozlov shot it at the boards behind him, having it deflect off at such an angle that both puck and Ovechkin reached the same point at the same time - behind the defender. It allowed Ovechkin to avoid being stripped of the puck while trying to carry it past the D himself and set up a scoring chance. A simple play, yes...but a smart one.

So we pair Kozlov up with Semin and Laich, Fleischmann or Pettinger on that second line, which gives us Boudreau's favorite combo of grit and flair. Keep that third line (which is quickly becoming one of my favorites) of Laing, Steckel and Bradley, and then use Brashear and Gordon with another rotation on wing for the fourth line. The result, hopefully, is the elusive beast of secondary scoring.

And of course should Fehr work out we're then faced with a new problem, and that is a sudden glut of right-wingers. Clark will, hopefully, make his return to the lineup at some point before April. At that time the roster will be overcrowded and someone has to go, and conceivably the players on the outside looking in are Fleischmann and Pettinger.

While Flash is an RFA at the end of this year, he's also a bargain at about $500K with little chance of a costly raise - he's also scoring goals occasionally, something Pettinger has struggled with for some reason this year. Pettinger has one more year on a contract that will pay him a little over a million dollars next season before becoming a UFA.

As much as it pains me to say it, Pettinger's long history with the Caps may be coming to an end.

Check back in later as we preview tomorrow night's long-awaited match up with the mighty Blue Jackets of Columbus. In the meantime feel free to discuss anything I might have missed, your thoughts on Fehr's return, your questions of why the Caps couldn't score with Ken Klee and Alexei Zhitnik on the ice (at the same time nonetheless)...go nuts.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Empty Cheap Seats

If you haven't noticed already, posting has been sporadic (read: nonexistent) around here lately, due to some out of town visitors in the Cheap Seats who require full attention. We'll resume our regularly scheduled programming Sunday - until then, here's a quick rundown of what's new in CapsWorld:

- The Caps blow a three goal lead Thursday night and still manage to win it in a nailbiter of an overtime. If nothing else, they make it interesting...

- That Ovechkin kid's got a real future in hockey.

- Alex + broken nose = a 5 point night??

- Dozens of kids attended practice yesterday and could be seen cheering and screaming excitedly as a few of the Caps graciously signed autograph after autograph. I give you the next generation of Caps fans, folks!

- Atlanta comes to town tonight but Mr. Potato Head rules the day.

(By the way...I want one. Seriously, if anyone wants to send me one I would love it. Otherwise I have to go track down a kid of some sort and that could get messy.)

The resemblance is striking...