Number of People Nice Enough to Stop By....

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Game Seven, not Lucky for Caps

Well it is all over....and where to begin?  You know what I feel like right now?  I feel like I was on a roller coaster that was just starting to get really good, only to be told to get off about halfway through.  I'm trying to make sense of why and how things could end like this after such a great season; and then it hits me---this team is not built for the playoffs, it is built for the regular season.

Let me take you through that emotional ride one more time.  You could say the Caps came out full of fire from the beginning, firing away.  It actually wasn't a bad first period....until Mike Green took that stupid penalty.  And then, disaster.  I thought, "all they had to do was get out of the first period either tied or ahead."  But it didn't happen.  That was the first time I got it in my head that they would lose the game...and the series.  And I would find my worst fears would come true.
You know what happened next, they of course gave up that power play goal.  Great.  So now they have play from behind, again.  I'm taking a close look at the type of shots they're getting and, while some of them are in close, a good number of them are the type I've been complaining about this whole series.  The kind where they sit back on the perimeter and take a long range shot and hope it makes it to the net.  And more often than not, they would do this with one or more Canadiens players two feet in front of them.  No freaking wonder why they had 30+ blocked shots by the second period.

The game goes on...Semin has that oh-so-close chance that clangs off the corner.  Super.  The hockey gods are laughing at us now, only I didn't realize how cruel they would be later.  So the rest of the second period goes as before--lots of shots, Halak sometimes standing on his head, sometimes just being in the right angle, sometimes not needing to do a thing because his mates already got the shot to begin with.  The game is beginning to slip away and 18,000+ are starting to get frustrated.  I can smell the failure from my La-Z-Boy.  Green takes another dumb penalty and they have to waste another two minutes of precious time.  The Canadiens know this and barely try to rush up ice. Mercifully, the second ends with no score change.

I'm thinking, "this last period has to be intense, like they're playing for their lives."  I'm on the edge of my seat as they drop the puck---and they look good.  Right off the bat, Belanger wins the face-off.  One rush produces a soft shot, then nothing.  Canadiens get it back, but they get stopped at neutral ice.  OV grabs the puck and darts into the zone.  They set up.  I'm clawing my chair now in anticipation.  A couple passes to start the cycle, then Ovechkin gets it at the point.  He fires it at the net just as Mike Knuble goes to collect what will hopefully be a juicy rebound.  AND IT'S IN!  OV does his war dance and I'm out of my chair, but then I see out of the corner of my eye the ref is waving his arms like he's trying to swat a thousand bees.  "Oh, no...can't be true,"  but it was.  No goal.   I won't get into the obvious debate here because it's pointless (Ever seen a game replayed because of a ref's mistake?  Yeah, me neither) as the Caps had, up to that point ample chances to put the series away and didn't.

So I sank back into my chair, deflated.  And if I was deflated, the Caps looked ten times worse.  That call just killed them.  They had a lot of fight left but they weren't the same.  A couple minutes later the Canadiens get a nail-in-the-coffin goal...or so we thought.  The refs waived this one off too, although they took a bit of extra time to get it right.   Same call, same line of reasoning.  Only it went to review, where the first call didn't.  Again, no sense arguing it as it won't change anything, but it just seems strange that in two examples of the same play one went to review and one did not.  It doesn't matter as the result was the same---no goal.  

The clock is winding down...more tension, but I can literally feel the game slipping away.  I'm figuring on a sleepless night anyway, so I make a promise that if the Caps don't score by five minutes left in the game, I go upstairs and call it a night. Mrs. Blueliner and I went back and forth all night.  Me being the pessimist and her saying it wasn't over yet and that I would be wrong again, just as I was in Game Two.  Secretly I was hoping that she would work her magic again and be right, but somehow I knew it just wasn't in the cards.  Five minutes left and still no change in either the effort or the score, so I trudged up to bed, trying to forget about what was probably the worst collapse I'd ever seen in sports history.

I had laid down for a few minutes when I heard a muffled noise of exasperation from downstairs.  I assumed it was Mrs. Blueliner as the kids had gone to bed.  I didn't want to assume what the cause was, though.   About a minute later a scream of joy from the wife--the moment I'd been waiting for!  I nearly break my leg rushing down the stairs...only to see a "2" under "MTL" on the screen.  Needless to say I was devastated.  I stomped back upstairs, quietly cursing this team that has caused me damn near three decades of agony.  Mrs. B came up the stairs and I knew it was over.  I told her, "I was right this time wasn't I?"  "Yeah, you were," she said softly.  No miracle of miracles tonight.

As I lie there contemplating what was supposed to be versus the colossal failure I saw, I thought of a lot of reasons for what happened.  The more I tried to put it out of my mind, the more I thought of it, so I gave up fighting it.  So much promise in so big a year--the first ever President's trophy, trophy nominations in many different categories, a banner year in so many ways; all this shot down in a bright red flame of failure.  This is a hurt that will take a while to get over, but I'll remain a fan nonetheless.  But with each year grows a new layer of bitterness like the hardening of skin in cold weather.  It's making me more cynical that I will ever see my team lift that beautiful prize that bears so much history, otherwise known as the Stanley Cup.  Yes I'll get over this and there will be a next year, but I'm going to approach things with an even more watchful eye.  I've learned a thing or two in watching this sport for so long and I feel that now is the time to add my voice to the chorus that is the internet.  And I'm going to use that voice to proclaim loud and long what I see as right for the team.  And right now I see a team that can't win in the playoffs.  Right now there's nothing more than a long summer of waiting to find out if something will be done about it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Game Six is over, looking to Game Seven

So here we is now down to a Game Seven.  The monster known as the Montreal Canadiens refuses to die. It's not as though the Caps didn't try last night. But their lack of trying in Game Five brought them to this point.  If (dear Lord God forbid) they should lose this series, that will have been the turning point. I have no idea what it is with this team, but one thing remains the same---when it comes time to go for the kill, they have a ridiculously hard time getting it done.  This is a problem, but not an altogether unsolvable one.

Breaking things down, let's start with the obvious. Yes, Jaroslav Halak is hot again. Yes, he stopped 53 shots out of 54 flung his way last night.  Yes he looked nuch the way he did at the beginning of the series. Not looking too good for us is it?  Except for one thing--he's been solved before, and it can and will happen again with the proper game plan---more on this later.

That's not to say that the "hot goalie" problem is not one to be feared. Too many times in the past, the Caps have run into that exact problem while having an otherwise stellar series. In 1984 it was Billy Smith of the Islanders. In 1989 it was Ron Hextall with the Flyers. And need I go through the list of previously unknown goalies playing for the Penguins that turned into stars during their countless playoff series over the years? Johan Hedberg ring a bell for anybody?

We Caps fans like to say that this is a team that's different from those days. Those days where we could count on the offense to sputter when it was needed most.  Surely the regular season numbers for this team say otherwise, but, as we all know, this ain't the regular season.  We have seen dominating performances by the offense in this series.  They've already chased Halak out of the net once, there's no reason it can't happen again. 

But how does that old saying go? The one about insanity and trying the same thing? For all of the Bruce's swagger, he sure fails to find the simplest of solutions. What I'm getting at is the boys' propensity to sit back on the perimeter and take clear shots expecting them to magically elude whatever body parts are in the way. Unless it's been on a fast transition play, the crucial goals have come by hard work in front of the net. Bodies in front of Halak so he can't see. Jamming the puck towards the net and into submission. Teetering on the edge of, but not committing, goalie interference.  Why haven't they done more of that instead of trying the same thing they tried all of Game Six?  Could that also be why the Power Play is failing?  Last night I was on the edge of my seat expecting something to happen in that two-man advantage, but nothing ever did. There's just no excuse for that, not for a power play that clicked at better than 1-for-4 over the year. More of the same there: too much tentative play, poor shot selection, too much running around and not nearly
enough traffic in front of the net.

Blah...and more bad news just came in.  Looks as though suddenly starring defenseman Tom Poti will be out with an eye injury, ruining what was a decent playoffs for him.  Here's hoping his replacement will be at least serviceable as his contributions on the penalty kill will be sorely missed.

Speaking of potential replacements here's some folks who should sit and their potential replacements...let's do this lightning round style:

Alexander Semin--I don't care how "close" he is. "Close" doesn't cut it in the playoffs. At the very least put him strictly on Power Play duty only as he seems to tire late in games.

Tomas Fleischmann--has been...what's the word?  AWFUL.  Bits of brilliance early on, but little to show for it. And it certainly doesn't help that he failed to bury that game-tying chance late in Game Five.

Joe Corvo--looks too tentative with the puck, especially on the Power Play.  Will probably see more Penalty kill time with Poti out, though.


Scott Walker--I've been wondering exactly why he has not been inserted into the lineup recently.  Has anyone else noticed that the Caps are actually getting outhit lately?  This is the reason we got him--he will not let the game get out of hand in that way.  He may not be able to put the puck in the net, but then again he might. Remember Game 7 against the Devils?  You lose nothing by giving him an energy shift or five.

John Erskine/Karl Alzner---pick 'em!  I don't think you can go wrong with either of these choices. Erskine provides much needed physicality and Alzner (recently called up due to the Poti injury) brings a lot of smarts to the game.  But you can't have both, you can only have one as Corvo, Carlson, Morrisonn, Green, and Tyler Sloan look to get the call.  Japers Rink prefers Alzner, I prefer Erskine.  We'll see what happens.

Mattieu Perrault--has provided a spark every single time he's been called up.  And don't you think he would be drooling at the chance to play against Les Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge?  What have you got to lose?  It's only the fourth Game Seven in the last three years.

So there you have it.  My picks for who should sit and who should play.  It's fun to play coach, but for the real thing, it can be murder.  Was it just me or did Coach Boudreau just look like he wasat the end of his rope at the end of the game last night?  I saw him taking questions on NHL on the Fly and he was asked what he needs to do differently to prepare for the next game, since they'd lost their last two.  He looked like he'd just been hit over the head with a two-by-four.  I'm pretty sure he was trying to be sarcastic, but he stammered, "That's a good me out here, what do I do?"  It was the worst I've ever seen him look and more proof in my estimation that this guy is probably not going to be the one to take them to the Cup.

Yes there's reason to despair and reason for hope.  But that's the beauty of a Game Seven.  It all comes down to one game.  You can throw out any cliche you want at this point, it won't make it any less appropriate.  All I know is something I've heard and said at least a thousand times--they best come out breathing fire and playing their "A" game.  If they don't, everybody paying attention will know what will happen.  A whole season of promise will come crashing to a halt.  Not to mention the harsh reality of starting over next year answering the  same questions about "Can they do it in the playoffs?"  I say, don't wait until next year.

Your time is now--make the most of it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Puck Daddy sent to his Room...

I will openly admit I've just arrived to the party that is hockey blogging, and it's not like I had an engraved invitation, either.  Not to sound like a cop-out, but I'm still feeling my way here, and as such deserve not to be taken too seriously yet.  Hell, I don't even take myself seriously--this is just down-time for me.  But as a fan I still have the right to call out others who have taken it upon themselves to put out their opinions on what they see and hear around the league.  And I certainly can't let commentary about my team pass without adding my own judgment to it.

So here it goes--it seems that Puck Daddy, arguably the hockey's most recognizable blog, has decided to go on record and kick some dirt on an issue that, until recently, didn't merit much consideration in this blogger's humble opinion.  Puck Daddy (real name Greg Wyshynski), declared that a recent Sports Illustrated article that tried to shed some light on the recent controversy surrounding a Northern Virginia (what is it with Northern Virginians causing all the trouble?) chiropractor who was arrested with a amount of anabolic steroids investigators called "usually meant for distribution."  This chiropractor, Douglas Owen Nagel, was linked as a supplier to Richard Thomas, who was arrested last year with about $200,000 in steroids, brashly claiming clients from both the Capitals and Washington Nationals baseball team.  Nagel had been treating three Caps players---Eric Fehr, Matt Bradley, and Shaone Morrisonn, which of course only makes the smoke clouds from this story look even thicker.

At the time of Nagel's arrest, the Capitals issued a statement:

"The Washington Capitals are not the target of this investigation, and there is no evidence that steroids were provided to any Capitals players...This has been a thorough investigation, and we are satisfied that law enforcement, the NHL and our own internal investigation have not led to any link of steroid use by Capitals players."

As of right now, the Polk County authorities are continuing their investigation, and it is on record that the three players mentioned above were interviewed by those authorities and have cooperated fully with them.

So what's with this SI article then?  Well it seems that the writer of that article, (I won't  mention their name  because SI knows as much about hockey as Mister Rogers does about rave shows) has uncovered emails from the NHL Director of Security admitting that there was never any investigation done by the league.  Puck Daddy, in an article he posted yesterday, said that the SI article was "refreshing."   Really?  Is that because they're trying to make a story out of  nothing?  Nothing is all I see here--all NHL players are subject to random drug testing throughout the regular season.  I would think that would include Morrisonn, Bradley, and Fehr would it not?

Puck Daddy goes on to praise the SI article which claims that the "investigation" done by the league wasn't quite as thorough as one would have heard.  Read the above paragraph about how players are tested and you should be able to figure out how foolish this sounds.  In other words, why should there be an investigation if the players are already being tested for substance abuse?  Trust me, I'm not one of these people who puts complete stock in these tests. But it would stand to reason that if there has been no positive result posted thus far, that should stand on its merit as pretty conclusive evidence that no wrongdoing was committed by any player shouldn't it?

If anything, the league is definitely guilty of tripping over its own words, and it would probably be best served if whoever is handling their PR on this were told to find another job.  That point, to some extent I can agree with.  But it was said much better in today's Toronto Sun article by Steve Simmons:

Simmons is someone else I find to be somewhat odious in the world of hockey journalism, but he at least has seen and heard more than most in 30 years of covering the NHL and is, at the very least, respectable.

Before some of you start labeling me as a "hater" or a "wanna-be"  I say, "Pfui."  (Go read a Nero Wolfe novel if you're not in the know or at least get your own blog).  I happen to enjoy a lot of PD's articles as he has done quite a bit to put, and keep, hockey on the online radar screen in his years of service.  As for being a wanna-be, well...who wouldn't want to have one of the premier blogs online, let alone one about hockey?  But I'll get there on my own,  and certainly not by doing what he does--mine is more the true spirit of what a blog was meant to be in my opinion.
In the game of "did they or didn't they?" I say innocent until proven guilty, but what do I know?  I would like to believe that most of the rest of us bloggers have some sense of decency by not assuming anything, good or bad.  But by putting the spin that the team is guilty simply because the NHL failed to properly articulate what was and was not looked into is beyond irresponsible to me.  And yes, this would apply to any team or player in any situation, not just my Caps.  I guess the whole idea of "if it looks like a duck..." is good enough for Puck Daddy and Sports Illustrated.  As for myself I like to rely on facts.  Here's two links that contain just that....Enjoy!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Game Five Recap and Analysis

Harumph.  Sorry but that's the best I can do to verbalize a sound of frustration.  I'm not kidding either--it's a good thing I'm not doing a podcast right now because my voice is toast.  I'm hoarse from all the yelling I did at my TV the entire 3rd period.  You long-time Caps fans out there know what I'm getting at here without me having to belabor the point.  When is this team going to get it?  When is this team going to realize that, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you cannot take a night off!!!  EVER!

All right, rant over. But once again, The Washington Capitals put on display the prime example of why not nearly enough experts favor them to win.  They thought they could simply walk out on home ice and have Montreal roll over for them.  They got the exact opposite.  They played a desperate hockey team and failed to make the absolute most of their chances.

Sure they have some built-in excuses.  Like the ridiculous foul-up on the plane ride home that delayed them several hours.  Or the in-game delay because of some cameras not working.  Or the questionable officiating.
"Series manager" Kevin Collins ought to get an earful from the Caps for the lousy job the two clowns did, whoever they were.

But bottom line time---they had ample opportunity to close it out by simply playing their game.  You know, the game they played the last half of Game Two and all of Games Three and Four.  Instead, they reverted back to the way they played in Game One, at least for  most of the first period.  Flat, uninspired, no hitting, back on their heels, no forecheck, no emotion.  There's a four-letter word to describe that kind of play--blah. It turned out to be just enough to kill them.

For sure, they woke up later on in the game.  Unfortunately, it seems so has Jaroslav Halak.  He stopped nearly everything that was flung his way, except for a stuff-in by AO.  And let that be a lesson to them.  Halak is very good what he does, (35 saves in all tonight) but even he can't stop what he can't see.  Put some bodies in front of him and don't be polite about it for crying out loud!  This is hockey, not chess!  Have they forgotten how they solved him in the first place?

What really ticked me off was how they played towards the end of the game.  Where was the sense of urgency?  Where was the will to win?  Only Ovechkin looked like he was giving it his all---whatever happened to following the lead?  They had better hope this was a one-game aberration, because yet another first-round seven games series is NOT going to help this team on the way to a longer playoffs.  Way too much running around.  Way too much lackluster puck possession.  The power play is still swimming in mud.  And Tom Poti needs to stop handling the puck like it's a milkshake---I counted at least three giveaways in the defensive or neutral zones.

Getting back to Halak, he looked like he was the one with the swagger this night.  Gone were the shaking hands AO made mention of a few games ago.  He looked a bit too comfortable out there as a matter of fact.  Again, got to get bodies in front of him and not let him get into a groove.  This kind of hot goaltending is what can, and so very often does, steal a series.  They're getting the shots, and the chances, they just have to mean it...and want it.

Now our goalie wasn't too shabby either.  In fact, he was probably our lone bright spot.  Semyon Varlamov has definitely won back the starter's job convincingly, making 26 stops.  Jose Theodore probably won't see the ice again this playoffs barring either a disaster or an injury.  If  Boudreau tries to play coy about his starting goalie, no one will buy it.

Other bright spots---Alexander Semin has come out of his coma, firing nine shots in the game.  It's good to see simply because of the inevitability of  at least a couple of those shots going in if he can keep it up.  The overall team defense clamped down and played smart even if the team's defensemen didn't play like it.  Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, Joe Corvo, and Tyler Sloan (Tyler Sloan?) were all a minus 1 defensively.  John Carlson continues his impressive playoff showing by picking up an assist and being one of only two Caps who were plus players.  The other?  Tom Poti.   Go figure.   Well, it was something of an unusual game.

You have to know that we will see a better effort next game.  The question is, will we see it in Game Six or in Game Seven?  Bigger question--will Boudreau figure out what it takes to get this team to start playing consistently? 

Wrapping things up here, I dare not make a prediction.  See my previous posts for how well I've fared so far and you'll figure out why.  And won't waste time or words with a full-scale analysis either.  The Washington Capitals know exactly what they need to do.  They need to show up ready to play, and just get it done.  Montreal can still be beaten.

Now let's just see it.  In the name of Rod Cory Langway, just get it the hell done!

Rock the red!

Only a Brief Rest for the Weary

Yes I am back...for longer than a while anyway.  I had some personal business that, frankly, still needs attending to, but is at least allowing me some time...for now.  Not going to get into too many details here but it can be extremely annoying when life gets in the way of what you want and/or need to get done.  At the same time, it is more than necessary to take a step back and catch your breath, which is part of what I had to do.

But I haven't been completely ignoring the blog, after all it is my personal forum for all things NHL. Here and there I've tried to pick up tips to make things more enjoyable for you, the reader.  I want you to enjoy what you see and hear as much as I enjoy bringing it to you.  Eventually, my goal is not so much to rival the bigger hockey blogs out there, but to offer something of a fun alternative.  Something that shows that, given some time and enough passion, that anybody can be a part of if they want.

Mrs. Blueliner has, as always, been a great help as my sounding board and pseudo-editor-in-chief.   She's also been a steadying hand during what has been something of a difficult transition time for us.  It also helps that she's a big fan of the Caps, making her feedback and support all the more valuable.  If you've noticed that I make mention of  her in at least every other post, then you know how much she means to me.  If all this makes you want deposit your already-digested dinner into a trash can, I understand.  But I won't apologize.  My wife is every bit the reason why this exists, so get used to it.

Anyway, that's enough explaining about missed time.  This very minute, I'm taking in the post-game recap of Game Five.  For those of you reading this, if you were every bit as frustrated by the result as I am, just you wait.  If you thought the Angry Montreal caller was steamed, then read next post.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eating a Heaping Helping of Crow--And Loving It!

Well Game Three is over...and yes I will admit it, I was dead wrong. Five goals! And only one for the other side! But I've never been so happy to be so wrong in my life. Right now I'm watching the Versus guys singing the praises of the Caps' effort tonight and loving that too. Man I love this time of year!

But I also love my wife...and I have to credit her (again) for helping me to stay sane through all of this; or at least holding onto something resembling sanity. Of course I was nervous as all get out before the game. You have to understand I've seen collapses like you wouldn't believe over the years and this was beginning to look like yet another chapter of that. But Mrs. Blueliner kept telling me, as she always does, that things would be fine. Fine they were, and once again, right she was. I didn't get a whole lot right tonight, but I got one thing right in marrying her.

Yes I predicted a Canadiens win in my last post. No, it didn't happen and I'm damn glad. But that first period was terrible for my nerves. With each shot I swear I had my heart in my throat. More on this in the analysis side, but great game from old Varley! So for now I'm just trying to calm down and come down from the high I'm on now. So I'll wrap this one up early, and fade out by watching L.A. and Vancouver fight it out in the late game. Gotta love the first round of the playoffs--nothing but hockey. And that's as it should least in my world.

Game 2 Analysis/Game 3 Preview

Okay...down to brass tacks here. Yes the win was exciting. Yes it was one of the greatest games to watch in Caps the point where it echoed the 1988 Game 7 comeback win against the Flyers. But let's not kid ourselves here. Serious and even not-so-serious hockey fans know that the job is only one-quarter of the way done. Bigger issue here is that, like I said in my first post, THEY STILL HAVEN'T LEARNED FROM THEIR MISTAKES!!!!!

Specifics. I singled out Mike Green for praise in Game One. Apparently, that's all he figured he had to do, because he was simply horrible Saturday night. Game One he was diving for rebounds, poke-checking like crazy and throwing himself at anything near the Caps' net. Game Two he did the exact opposite. One less mistake by him and the game turns out differently. It boggles the mind how awful the defense is and yet they are so unwilling to even tweak their tactics.

It's not even as though they can't win the tight, close ones. They were in it in Game One. Before that there was April 1 vs. Atlanta, a 2-1 win. Varlamov stopped 19 of 20 in that one. I'm no hockey genius, but it seems to me that if you can do it once, you can do it over a seven game series. Granted it was against Atlanta, but....

Seriously though, it seems to be a simple matter of good puck control, sustained scoring chances, and getting back on defense once that chance is over. It's a cliche, but it has stood the test of time--they need to finish their checks...both ways. Yes AO, that means you and the other forwards need to rush back like a bat out of hell whenever the puck is turned over in the offensive zone.

I'm making it sound so simple, but obviously it's not. This can only mean it runs counter to their overall strategy. And, gee, guess who's responsible for that? Same guy I've been complaining about for over a year now. First name rhymes with 'goose' last name rhymes with 'Food-throw.'

While I'm complaining about the coaching can I just point out one other thing that Joe B, Locker, and Smokin' Al have picked up on? It seems that this series is a continuation of what went on in the regular season: tight games, close that went into extra time. So, figuring that, wouldn't it behoove the bench bosses to limit everybody's shifts so they're not nearly comatose by the third period??? Or is that how the players get into gear? Because in both games so far it has looked like the Capitals were skating in mud for the first two periods.

I'll make this next argument short and sweet..I'll have to or we'll be here all day. The obvious discussion point now, besides "When will the Caps start playing defense?" is who will start in goal--Theo or Varley? You could make the case for either goalie, to be perfectly honest. Both have their merits, and, equally, their liabilities. It's all been discussed on other sites by other observers, so I won't rehash it here. It comes to this---who can win this series on their own if they have to? I hate to say it, but I have to give the nod to Varley on this one. Strange though it may seem, the kid is a proven playoff commodity after last year. While I do think Theo deserves another chance, if anything because you dance with the one that brought ya, Varlamov has the "hot" hand as it were. It's looking as though it will happen:;_ylt=Arh3iRr62dioicUnehjBwOQmvLYF?slug=ap-capitals-varlamov

Now that's not to say the old double-reverse shouldn't be practiced as well. If the Caps falter early (again) with Varley in goal, Boudreau is certainly within his rights to pull another switch. The question is, will he?

I'll close with some positives. Here they are in no particular order with the possible exception of the last being the most important:

The Caps DID come back from a deep hole--something they're going to need to draw on in the future assuming they continue on past this round. And they did it twice, once with barely two minutes left in the game.

Which brings me to my next positive---John Carlson. Mrs. Blueliner is my witness---I wasn't too high on this kid when he first came up and I was scratching my head when he got the nod over Erskine in this series. But he's been arguably the Caps' most consistent player and certainly one of the breakout young stars of this playoff season.

Nicklas Backstrom continues to make his case for his share of the limelight next to his more boisterous linemate. Already has a hat-trick and a game-winner and shows no signs of slowing down...would be an absolute perfect 10 if he could improve on the backcheck. (And not take dumb penalties!)

Capitals forwards have dominated in the faceoff circle, with both Eric Belanger and Brendan Morrison leading the way, and Backstrom holding his own. This can only lead to bigger and better things if this trend continues, puck possession being key.

For all the talk about how Jaroslav Halak might be unsolvable simply because he was a unknown quantity he sure looked pretty easy to figure out Saturday. Not to mention human. Six goals getting pumped past you will do that. Whether it's him or Carey Price in goal (don't bet on it), the good thing here is that the top line has its swagger back---and you know what that can mean. Backstrom is at the top of his game, he's waiting for his linemates to join him. Somehow I can't see both Knuble and AO being quiet for long. Nor Semin, for that matter, thought his inconvenient disappearing acts are starting to get old. Note within a note--it's also hard to imagine the Power Play continuing its drought, if for any reason other than no penalty kill is perfect. Boudreau has vowed this will improve and there's no reason for doubt here.

Finally, the team got a much needed shot in the arm when a member stood up for his mates. And when Matt Poti.....Tom Poti??? Not exactly known for his fists, Poti nonetheless sparked his team at a critical moment. His bout with an even lesser likely candidate, Scott Gomez, game that team that boot in the ass that they so desperately needed. Let's face it folks; the team looked like a bunch of sad-sacks by that point. Defining moments like that are generally what championship teams draw on as the turning point on the way to greatness. Let's hope this holds true and proves to be a harbinger of a long playoffs.

I'm nervous as hell for this one, but let's drop the puck. My prediction? Going to be another close one, but I can't see a third straight OT game. Unfortunately I think the Caps will be slightly discombobulated by the travel and come out flat again. This time it will cost them, but they will have a better-rounded game in a close loss:

Canadiens 4
Capitals 3
GWG Brian Gionta

Yes, of course I hope I'm dead wrong. We'll see.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Always listen to to your wife....

Capitals 6, Canadiens 5 OT
GWG--Nicklas Backstrom

WHEW! I don't know about anybody else, but I'm out of breath after last night's game. I swear this team is trying to kill me! Say what you want about the Caps, but boring, they ain't. That had to be one of the greatest games I've seen in a while....or at least partially.

Yes I have to admit it...I turned the damn thing OFF after that fourth goal. Not that I was feeling too good after the second goal. I'm sure there are a lot of other Caps fans watching that felt the same way. So I went upstairs and called it a night, lamenting to Mrs. Blueliner about what happened. She looked at me like I was crazy. Our conversation went something like this:

"How come you're not watching the game?"

"Because it's now 4-1. It is over."

"Well how much time is left?"

"About a period and a half."

"Plenty of time...they've come back before."

"Yeah but, dear this is the PLAYOFFS....that kind of thing doesn't happen in the playoffs." Looking back, I feel pretty stupid for saying that, simply because I have an overdeveloped knowledge of hockey history. For the best example of such, I give you the following:

So anyway, I go back downstairs after about 25 minutes for something to drink. Just out of nothing else but morbid curiosity, I turn on the game again. Comcast just happened to have their cavalcade of commercials on. I figured it was intermission, so I waited (and waited) through that. Finally the game came back up---it was indeed intermission, only the score was 4-2. Apparently, Nicklas Backstrom had scored while I was away. I started to feel even more like an ass when I saw the replay. So I figured I'd stick around and give it another shot.

Little did I know what I was in for.

So, three minutes in Ovechkin pounds one in to make it 4-3. I'm finding myself paying more attention at that point, obviously. I have to apologize if I'm coming off as jaded here, but I've seen this team collapse too many times in the postseason to get my hopes up too high. But right then and there I decided to make the commitment to stick it out whatever the outcome. Seven minutes later, Backstrom gets his second to tie it up! Who says this is a one-man team? So ten minutes to go and anything can happen. The play begins to slow up a bit and I'm thinking, "OK here we go again to OT." Not a minute after that the slippery SOB Tomas Jagr, er Plekanec slides one in with two minutes left. I wanted to turn it off and go back upstairs but I figured one goal down with two minutes to go is a heck of a lot better than several down. And that's when the magic REALLY happened.

The clock is winding down. I'm losing hope and thinking, "well at least they can say they battled back and carry that into Game Three." It's getting close to pulling Varley (the goalie) and making one last rush. I'm looking and I hear Joe Beninati say that AO had been slashed and the ref's arm had gone up. Okay this is cool, we get to end the game on a power play. Although it can also be bad because the other team can just fling it down the other end towards your empty net. So Backstrom picks up the puck and darts across the red line. What's this? The Montreal defense is LETTING him across? All right, fine...we'll take it. He crosses into the zone and dumps to John Carlson, who trailed the play. Carlson takes two steps to his right and lets a zinger go towards Halak...AND IT'S IN! I hear a voice from upstairs, "Gee honey, I take it they tied it up again?"

I'm out of my seat...but there's a catch. There's over a minute left to go and anything, and I mean anything, can happen. Fortunately the last ticks of the clock go by without too much of an incident. I collapse into my chair and turn towards my computer, oblivious to the tired collage of commercials. Fifteen minutes later they drop the puck to begin again. OT again in two games? Yeah...too unreal. Backstrom loses the faceoff, but Les Bleu, Blanc et Rouge do nothing with it. So Nicklas grabs the puck, crosses the line again and this time he lets a wrister go...AND HE SCORES!

If the wife was asleep, I'm sure I woke her up with the yell I let out. I swear I saw it happen a few times in the regular season but I never thought it would happen in the playoffs. It took a good half-hour for me to calm down after that. So when I finally went upstairs to call it a night, the wife gave it to me good--she let me know what a jackass I was for doubting. Happily, I have to say, as she is a lot of the time, she was right.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Introduction/Game One

Greetings to all lovers of hockey (and hopefully some who don't love it---yet). Just a bit about myself here to start--I've been a hockey fan for pretty much my entire natural life. My first team was the Atlanta (yes, Atlanta) Flames. The first goal I ever saw was a Willi Plett slap shot and I've been in love with the game ever since. Now my team is the Capitals as I live in the hockey wasteland known as the Baltimore/Washington D.C. metro area and have been since not too long after I saw that first goal. So I've suffered longer than most, but certainly not the longest. Anyway, I've created this blog mainly as a venting tool for myself. Life can be ridiculously frustrating and mine is no different. I love my team and this game, and if anything I promise to give my 100% honest opinion about both. Hopefully you'll enjoy what I blog about, and if not...nothing I can do about it.

Canadiens 3, Capitals 2
GWG Tomas Plekanec

With that out of the way, let me say that it's fitting that my first post has to do with Game One of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This is the part of the hockey year that truly matters. Well we all know by now how the Caps did--they lost. We as fans are now left scratching our heads wondering how a team that won 50+ games before now came out so flat. What's worse is the team seems to be looking for answers as well. Maybe it really is as simple as Alex Ovechkin saying "I just didn't play my game." Hopefully that's all it is. Somehow, though...I don't think that's the whole story.

Looking over some expert, and not-so-expert, opinions of what happened the consensus seems to be that one of two things (or both) is what's wrong:

1. Alex Ovechkin (hereafter cited as either AO, OV, or the Great8 and other short nicknames to save my poor fingers) is injured and therefore nowhere near 100%.

2. Bruce Boudreau, the coach of the Caps, is at fault for not properly preparing his team for the intensity that is the Quest for the Cup.

For those of you that saw the game, I'm sure you have your own opinion. From what I saw however, I say it's more of the fact that point #2 is the case. How appropriate that it is number 2 that's being discussed because I saw a lot of it during the game.

First, let me try to dispel the assertion that AO is hurt---he's just not. Tired, maybe, but not hurt. Tired would explain why he left practice early. Tired would also explain some of the mental mistakes made in Game One. I've never played the game at any highly organized level, but I know this much--YOU CAN'T SCORE IF THERE'S A GUY OR THREE THAT'S TWO FEET IN FRONT OF YOU WHEN YOU SHOOT! Just an example. Let me offer a comparison to drive the point home---Mike Green was held out of back-to-back games late in the season and had a wonderful game at both ends. Did anyone else catch how he got back and dived to block that chance in the third period?

Coach Boudreau has arguably been one of the best things to happen to this team. The question remains, though, if he can take this team to the next level. His chorus of doubters has gotten louder and larger over the last year and has included the folks at Hockey Night in Canada.
I offer as further evidence this YouTube link featuring Mike Milbury's commentary on the game.
The smack begins at 4:07.

Never liked the guy too much but if you watch that video it's painfully obvious he was right. So what's my point? That this team has not learned from what killed them all last year--sooner or later, you're going to have to clamp down and play defense. And who does this team take its direction from? The coach of course. Jay Leach was let go after last year and Bob Woods promoted from Hershey in an effort to instill a better defensive mindset, or whatever it was. I'm not so sure that has happened. While the regular season goals against has indeed been cut by a mind-numbing 12, ( the playoffs have proven to be an entirely different animal. They could even hold the lead for two minutes, let alone the 12 that were left in the game when Backstrom's go-ahead goal was scored!

Is all lost? Not entirely. The series is far from over and can still be won if the Caps just get back to basics: play their game, don't take unnecessary chances, and put their size and speed advantage to good use against the smaller, slower Canadiens. Time for some hockey-speak, just to warn any novices. Shot selection MUST be 100% better. A lot more responsibility in both the neutral zone and their own zone will lead to less odd-man rushes. Use the boards to clear the zone. (Please, Tom Poti, pay heed to this!) More traffic in front of the Montreal net--Halak can't stop what he can't see (just watch the replay on Joe Corvo's goal). And this above all: STAY OUT OF THE PENALTY BOX!!!!

There were some good things that happened as well. Mike Green and John Carlson played very well at both ends, which is a good sign of things to come. Jose Theodore made a lot of key stops throughout the game. Eric Belanger won something like 14 out of 16 faceoffs he took. Jason Chimera intimidated basically anyone wearing a white sweater. So ultimately, the Caps were one or two chances and bounces away from a better, albeit a luckier result.

Well I didn't want to make my first one too long, but I think I got my points across. Can't wait for them to drop the puck tonight. LET'S GO CAPS!