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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!

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