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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

reCap 10/30 vs CALGARY FLAMES

Whatever this team ate or drank in Calgary, can I get it to go?

After an admittedly subpar effort and result in Minnesota on Thursday, the Caps came into Calgary on a busy Saturday hoping to regain something of their form from last year.  I was just hoping we would see the team that won against Carolina on Wednesday.  Well, this being Halloween we got the treat and almost a trick...by Alex Ovechkin no less.   Two goals by the Captain and both came on the power play!  Thirteen (some said twelve) seconds apart! I'm not ready to pronounce this team or the power play as "back" but certainly one Captain Ovechkin is on his game again.

Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin celebrates his first goal during the second period of their NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. Ovechkin came back to score another goal just moments later. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)



Something else I was pleasantly surprised to see was Michal Neuvirth back in net.  With Semyon Varlamov out (still) on IR, Neuvy got his ninth start and his 10th game appearance.  Does "Neuvirth" translate into "workhorse" in Czech?  He's played in all but one of the 11 games so far and looks like he's not slowing down any time soon.  Have we found the heir to Olie Kolzig?  I'm hoping so.  I'm also hoping he doesn't get overused...I know he's got a lot of energy, but too many games between now and April and he'll be burnt out for the playoffs.  For this game, though, it was another masterful performance, 27 saves on 29 shots.

Calgary Flames' Alex Tanguay (L) slides into Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)



So how about that second period?  Unreal.  They get one at the end of the first and torched the Flames for six in the next period.  That is what some folks would call a turkey shoot.  Yes I know...wrong holiday.  But hey, this from the country that has Christmas sales in September....

Something I saw that makes me believe in hockey karma...well, two things actually.  First, the Matt Bradley goal.  No, not because of the fluky way it went in although that was an amazing sight.  It was because Cory Sarich put it in his own net.  I will explain...

A couple of minutes earlier Sarich laid a hit on David Steckel in the offensive zone.  The hit was to say the least, questionable.  It was to say the most, illegal.  Or it is by my understanding of this renewed crusade of eliminating blindside hits anyway.  Steckel had just released the puck and actually had his back turned to the Flames goal.  Depending on the angle you could say that he either came in from the side or from behind.  Either way it is a "blindside" hit--the same one that everybody's gotten their popcorn in a knob about lately.  So why wasn't a penalty called?   The lead referee on the play even had a good view of it and did nothing. Thank goodness Steckel didn't seem to be too shaken up from it.  I don't know, maybe I'm wrong but it sure looked like a blindside hit to me.

In any case the second thing that happened was that David Steckel scored....WHAT?  David Steckel scored? Yes, David Steckel scored.  On a penalty shot, no less.  He stole the puck while killing a penalty and tore up the ice on a breakaway...WHAT?  David Steckel got a breakaway?  Yes, now stop that, darn it!    He was subsequently hauled down from behind and was awarded a penalty shot, which he promptly converted.  Appropriately enough, he roofed it and made the ol' water bottle do a dance against the Flames' backup goalie, Henrik Karlsson.  Appropriate because the Flames were pretty much doused by then anyway.  While it was a pretty goal to be sure, Steckel was certainly helped by the fact that Karlsson for some reason did a ROTF routine when the shot was taken.  Joe B and Locker even pointed out that he did the same thing in an earlier game against Colorado--and got burned then too.

Calgary Flames' Mark Giordano (L) tries to stop Washington Capitals' David Steckel during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)



Really after that there wasn't much to do but sit through the third and hope the game wouldn't deteriorate into a giant brawl, which thankfully it didn't.  I'm just wondering who got the "hard hat" award after the game in the Caps' locker room?  My money is on Matt Bradley for his goal or Mike Green for scoring in his backyard. 

Now it is fun to see the Caps win this way, but it's good to know that they can now also win the close, tight-checking games when the offense isn't so explosive.  They proved that in Carolina.  They proved they can win their regular way in Calgary.  Put them together and how dangerous could this team be?  I've said it before and it's still true--the regular season is a breeding ground for a team's character.  Character which the Caps' critics said that they lack.  You answer those critics by showing them you can get it done in any type of game.  So with one month behind us, let's see them plow ahead and just win, no matter what gets thrown at them--the great teams always find a way.


.....and now for some fun!


I'm not sure what Alex Semin is trying to do here but, I know you don't get always get the puck by begging for it.

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backland (L) takes the puck away from Washington Capitals' Alexander Semin during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)


Hmm, looks like Jarome Iginla is taking the concept of "crash the net" a step further?  Or maybe he thinks if he can hide from his coach he won't get called out again!



Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) falls on top of Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)


And finally, you can say whatever you want about Alex Ovechkin, but you have to hand it to him, he always finds a way to get past the defense.  Or maybe he's just "hoppy" to be there.




Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin (R) jumps over Calgary Flames' Robyn Regehr during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)


Next up, it's back to the Verizon Center where they will host the Leafs on Wednesday.  Maybe Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry will wear something special for the occasion.  Warm up the highlight reel, Grapes, this one should be a beauty!




DETROIT - MAY 31:  Hockey analyst Don Cherry reports prior tp the the Pittsburgh Penguins playing the Detroit Red Wings during Game Two of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on May 31, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

reCap vs. MINNESOTA WILD 10/28

From a pretty good high...and back to earth again.  If this team's players were all in a spelling bee and the word "consistency" came up, they would ALL get it wrong.  Forget about the fact that it was the second game on the second night of a road trip.  The Bruce doesn't buy that excuse and neither do I.  The Swordmaiden, Katie Carrera, seemed to think that was the reason for the loss according to the article in the rag, er, Washington Post, but I don't share that line of thinking.  It's too easy an excuse.  A good team simply owns up when they don't play well.

What blew me away was when I read the breakdown at Japers.  They pointed out that nobody outside the top line so much as fired a shot on goal until the third period.  You don't win games if you only bring a six shooter when your opponent has a machine gun.  Yes I know they outshot them on paper--who cares?  Twenty-two shots doesn't cut it, not against any goalie worthy of his waffle-board. Matthieu Perreault was the one who got that shot, and I'll even take him to task--this is the kind of game where he needed to show that spark that gets teams going and it just wasn't there.

Special teams didn't help--the power play was anemic, although it made some noise with some great chances.  More on this later.  The penalty kill was decent, except when they gave up the eventual game winning goal.


Backstrom v. Backstrom

Perhaps the greatest chance was in the second period when the Caps had one of their two power plays.  They were cycling the puck fairly well when Nicklas Backstrom lined up for a one-timer against Niklas Backstrom.  Backstrom seemed to have the shot ready to go but Backstrom had the angle.  All this happened in the blink of an eye, but you could see it all play out as Backstrom tried to put it by Backstrom.  Backstrom could have possibly tried a backhand shot or perhaps a backdoor play on Backstrom, but instead opted for the backup plan and just shot up high glove side.  Backstrom, however was ready for the shot and only needed to back up a foot as he reached back and got it with the glove hand.  All those confused?  Yeah me too...and I'm writing this thing.

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 14: Niklas Backstrom  of the Minnesota Wild blocks a shot by the Edmonton Oilers in the third period during their game on October 14, 2010 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)


BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 29: Nicklas Backstrom  of the Washington Capitals in the third period against the Boston Bruins on September 29, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Capitals defeated the Bruins 4-1. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)


But seriously Niklas Backstrom the goalie had a terrific game in net and should be credited for his efforts.  By the same token, however,  you can't make the excuse of a hot goalie because you should always make the most of your chances.  Had the Caps done so, the score just might have been different because they have a hot goalie of their own.  Michal Neuvirth has proven himself to be the best player on the ice from game to game.  If only the rest of the team could find a way to produce like that.

I'm not happy with the loss, but I would be more okay with it if my team had put out a better effort.  I didn't see that for pretty much the whole game.  There's one game left on this road trip and it's up against an equally challenging Calgary Flames team.  Mike Green will be in front of his hometown crowd and Ovechkin is officially off Der Schnide with his late-game tally.  Need the points boys, it will make life in April a little easier.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

reCap vs. CAROLINA HURRICANES 10/27

This team just keeps on showing me new things every game.  I guess you can teach a (not so) old dog new tricks.  Just hope there are many more like this.

And by like this I mean a complete and total solid effort at both ends of the ice from beginning to end, top to bottom.  Nick Backstrom's two goals and Michal Neuvirth's 29-save masterpiece certainly led the way.  Got to give props to the whole team, however, and I want to point out some great individual efforts within that:

Matt Hendricks--opened the scoring and got what turned out to be the game winner.  Equally as important is how he got it--by working hard and positioning himself just right.  This is why he belongs on the team.

Mike Green--was quite literally all over the ice.  The idiot statisticians in Carolina forgot to credit him with at least a couple of hits that I saw him pick up.  No matter.  Finished at +1 and was probably the best defenseman on the ice, the only blemish on his game being a questionable penalty at the end.  Oh and that wipeout and subsequent penalty after that, but still....

John Erskine--played not only his usual tough game but also played smartly as well.  Kept his game simple and effective. 1 A and +1.  Here's hoping he can put together more games like this.

David Steckel--won his usual compliment of faceoffs and his gritty play in front of the net helped set up the game winner.  Finally looks like he's ready to play.

Mike Knuble--Cam Ward got to know his face...and his other body parts because he spent as much time as he could camped out in front of his net.  As a result, he collected 2 A and looks to be back on his game again.

Jeff Schultz--Sergeant Steady continues to quietly keep things clean in his end, racking up another +2 in his bank account and even getting a couple shots on net.  Is proving to be the perfect compliment to Mike Green's offensive style.

I can't think of any Cap that had a really bad game.  If I was disappointed in anything I had figured that this game would have a lot more hitting in it.  Not that it was completely missing, but games against Carolina are always intense.  This one...not so much.  It wouldn't have mattered, though.  Come to think of it, Ovechkin did have that boarding penalty--not exactly one of his finer moments.  Funny how Carolina could have used that as a rallying point but did not.

So what do we take away from this game?  Something very important.  THIS is how you win the type of game that is often played in the playoffs--close, tight games with a fair amount of scoring chances at both ends.  Chances are if you can consistently play and win this type of game, you can go far in the playoffs.  Both Chicago and Philadelphia proved that last year.  The Caps didn't overwhelm anybody with their talent and their offensive game--and they didn't have to.  Most importantly, Neuvirth was there every single time he needed to be.  I still like this guy's demeanor--I have no idea why part of the knock on him is that he doesn't look like he's mentally into the game.  Neuvy is focused and motivated, and he doesn't need to hit you over the head with that.

Hard work leading to gritty goals, solid defense, good puck movement, and flawless goaltending.  I was never too nervous about the game looking at this team, they just looked so in control.  Oh yeah, the penalty kill was perfect again.  Solid game from beginning to end.

Sounds like a winner to me.  Keep it up, gents!

ROCK THE ROLLER COASTER

My apologies for not being on in a while...couldn't even get to the computer for a plethora of different reasons.  None of those are worth going on about here.

Not that I could figure out what I was going to say anyway.  What DO you say after a pair of losses where you can question just about everything your team does?  It wouldn't be inaccurate at all to say that, yes, Tim Thomas played two fantastic games in net for the Bruins.  He wasn't quite a one-man band but I'm sure quite a few of his stops will make the highlight reel. 

Not that it's a legitimate excuse in the eyes of the big boss himself, Ted Leonsis.  In one of his recent Ted's Take posts, he took himself and the team to task for not producing a better result.  And he explicitly said that the "hot goalie" excuse was no longer valid.  Good for him, I say.  You can't take away what Thomas did, but the team's overall performance still left a lot to be desired.  I'm sure that's what Mr. Leonsis was getting at.  Average team indeed.  Yes I would say that is an accurate assessment.

Let me mention something else, I'm damn glad the Caps won last night.  You always want a win to come with the team playing "their" game, but a win is still a win.  Only thing was, it took quite a bit just to get to that win.  Last year, this dominated their opponents with an overwhelming offense.  This year, well, it's more like they're "gutting it out" for wins--reaching deep down late in games to pull it out.  Winning games like this will pay dividends later on in the year.  It will also accelerate the learning curve of the rookies and younger guys who will learn form that experience exactly what it takes to win in clutch situations.  As great as some Caps teams were over the last three decades, none of them displayed this much in terms of character--something that carries as much value as talent.

I will dispense with my usual recap of last night's game and instead tackle several points I think are important:

Mike Green was a surprise lineup addition to the game, but it soon became apparent that he was going to see very limited duty.  When he hopped over the boards for the team's first power play, it was a nice thing to see.  Mrs. Blueliner pointed out within a few seconds that Green was obviously not 100%.  I asked her how she could tell.  She said because he wasn't shooting.  Sure enough he never once let go his patented point shot.  Maybe once or twice he did the walk-in-and-fling-a-wrister, but no real hard shot. 

Don't get me started about that non- goal either.  I'm not one to espouse conspiracy theories, but has anyone else notice that anytime there's been a replay situation so far this year, the Toronto office has ruled against the Capitals?  We're talking about yet another play that literally could have gone either way depending upon the interpretation of the rule.  I for one didn't think there was a "distinct kicking motion" that the rule spells out.  It was more like a distinct stopping motion of a skate blade.  But I'm not an NHL official.

I'll get this in here while I can, because I'm actually going to dedicate a whole post to the man, but:  MATTHIEU PERRAULT MATTHIEU PERRAULT MATTHIEU PERRAULT!!!!!!!

Now, about the other call-up from Chocolate-town....Jay Beagle.  I'll start by admitting my bias here--I just plain don't like him.  I'm sure he's a great team guy and all that but in the admittedly cup of coffee amount of time he's had with the team, he's yet to impress me even in the slightest.  For the life of me I can't think of anything.  So his stats from last night: 6:37 TOI, no shots, no points, a minus one, and one really stupid penalty.  Like I said, largely forgettable.  If this guy is supposed to be Boyd Gordon's fill-in, he's got one hell of an uphill climb before he earns the respect that Gordon has.

Another yuck--the top line laid another egg last night though the overall effort at least made it look better.  From what I hear Mike Knuble at least took the reins and tore into the team after the first period.  Somebody had to--they just looked lost out there.  But once again, lots of shots, no goals to show for it.  Ditto for the power play.  At least as far as goals that actually made it to the scoreboard, that is.   Sooner or later all that effort will pay off.  I'm betting on sooner than later.  You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, and you don't keep Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom off the scoresheet for very long.  Doesn't roll off the tongue but you get the idea.

One Jim that did get messed with out there was the Thrashers' Jim Slater.  He looked like one of these:

AUBURN HILLS, MI - AUGUST 19: A crash-test dummy sits in a testing sled at Takata's current crash-testing facility August 19, 2010 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Takata dedicated a new, high-tech 18,000 square-foot sled crash simulation facility today that cost $14.6 million and is expected to be built and operational by August of 2011. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)



Obviously I'm not talking about the band.

One other member of the Thrashers that was a true dummy Dustin Byfuglien.  What as a big bad 260 lb. forward are you doing throwing an elbow at a goalie?  Did you even try to get out of the way? Do you feel like a man now?  Hope you enjoyed watching the game from the locker room you bucket of crap!

Ok...done...calming down now.  But if you saw it you'll agree that Byfuglien's hit on Neuvirth was beyond illegal. The guy didn't even bother trying to get out of the way. But the worst of it was the Caps' response. Much has been made of this over at Japers and for good reason.  David Steckel, who, other than his faceoff talents has been a minor disappointment so far this year, just sort of nudged him halfheartedly. Byfuglien just shoved him aside like he was nothing.  To the rescue rode John Erskine who charged in from across the ice and laid the smack down on him but good.  It capped a nice send off as Byfuglien was kindly asked to exit the game for good having earned a match penalty for charging.

A word about John Erskine...there's been much negativity directed his way for his results.  I say, yes, you can complain about his results, but you cannot question his effort.  Let no one look upon his as nothing less than a team player.  Besides, he's part of that element of toughness that rounds the team out nicely.

So to wind things up, Matty P gets two assists, Semin gets the hat trick and Tomas Fleischmann of all people gets the game winner in OT.  How you like him now, folks?  What do I keep telling you, eh?  RESULT, RESULT, RESULT.

The rest of the story to be written in later games.  I know this much, though.  Watching the first line is like waiting for a timebomb to explode...with no timer.  Matthieu Perreault will keep up his efforts and earn the spot he deserved at the beginning, mark my words.  Mike Green will return and pump up the still-anemic power play.  Neuvirth will continue to steal games, and this team will continue on its crazy up-and-down ride and into a winning record for the month.

Enjoy the ride, not necessarliy from Acela Express.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

reCAP VS. BOSTON BRUINS 10/19

Going to keep things brief because I've GOT to catch up on my sleep, so we're going to do it rapid-fire style tonight:

Ugh...Neuvirth doesn't look sharp and gets pulled...because he's got a case of the yucks so I'm told.  Second goal was awful--he was five feet out of position.  The Japers folks begged the question--if he wasn't feeling well, why was he played?  Varlamov looks sharp at least.

Marcus Johansson gets his first. Congrats!  .....and many more!

PK is still perfect, go figure.  Let's see if they can keep it up.

Matt Hendricks in a fight early on...not too shabby.  John Erskine also got into it.  Too bad he also got into some bad stuff that pretty much doomed the Caps.

Jason Chimera still getting to the net....still not able to finish

I'm not ashamed to say I've got Nathan Horton on my fantasy squad...so if there's any good that came out of it it was his 1 A 1 P  +2 night in addition to Varly's .929 Save Percentage for the Bumblers.

Caps shoddy defense and poor backchecking---and Alex is a minus 2!!!!!!  When is this team going to be "angry" enough to realize they can't play from behind all the freaking time?  Japers Rink thinks it might be partially a coaching issue and I'm inclined to agree.

Alex, Alex, Alex....you play for the Capitals, not the Nationals!  or the Wizards for that matter!

Brooks Laich and Semyon Varlamov--only two Caps worth mentioning  with the possible exception of Jeff Schultz (a beast on the PK) and Marcus Johansson of course.  Come to think of it, Alex Semin had some good shots too.  But despite a stronger effort overall, they're still not getting results...GIT R DONE!!!

Better bring a bit more intensity Thursday--Thomas looks sharp. And it'll be their home opener so they'll be pumped.

Final score--Bruins 3,  Capitals 1  GWG--Milan Lucic.

Up to the Gah-den on Thursday.  Time to make like Emeril and kick it up a notch.

Your best overall Capital for the game is in red in the pic below.  Enjoy!


WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 03: Brooks Laich  of the Washington Capitals shoots the puck against the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center on October 3, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Monday, October 18, 2010

JAPERS' RINK RADIO REVIEW

It has come to my attention that this will be my 35th post since I started this thing back in the playoffs last spring.  While I've never been one to toot my own horn, (in fact I really can't stand talking about myself) I have to admit that I've grown fond of this little creation of mine.  This whole thing started as a way to let out some frustration during a bad time and has started to sprout, just a bit, into a labor of love.  God knows I'm not doing this to attract any sort of following...all you have to do is check out the number at the top of this page to see that!  But in order to lead into what this article is truly about, I have to reveal a bit about my humdrum weekday life.  So please bear with me.

I have two jobs, which is just barely enough (most days) to cover all the bills.  I won't bore you with too many details, but suffice to say I've got quite a bit that I'm responsible for, so if working a day job and a night job is what it takes to keep things going, well then, I do it.  Part of my day involves taking the Baltimore Light Rail to and from my day job.  We decided as a family to do it that way instead of driving because it was just a better choice given the circumstances.  Well, one of the small pleasures I'm allowed in my life involves taking my brain away and losing myself in a good podcast courtesy of the iPod that Mrs. Blueliner got me for Christmas one year.

Which leads me to Japers' Rink Radio. Over the past year, I've found hockey podcasts to be a fun and somewhat fascinating way to keep up with the sport.  My very own hockey talk shows whenever I want, a great thing to have on long train trips.  So of course I'm going to gravitate to anything my home team puts out.  Around the time I started this blog, I was searching for more podcasts and especially something focused on the Capitals.  I found Japers' Rink Radio.  I was of course already aware of the blog, easily the largest and most prominent of all the Caps blogs.  I pay homage and credit to them whenever I can as they provide great material and are the beacon for all us Caps fans and bloggers.  I wasn't sure about the podcast, but I decided to jump in and hear what it was all about.

Five months later, it's a big part of my Monday morning routine.  Mondays, as we can all relate, are no cause for happiness for most of us.  The trick, therefore, is to do a little something special to break up the classic Monday blahs.  So every Monday morning I climb into the train and put on the past weekend's edition of the show.  For those who don't know, Japers Rink Radio usually broadcasts live nearly every Saturday morning, but is available through iTunes. 

The show's genial hosts are Stephen Pepper, a regular contributor to the blog and Russell Waxman.  They may not be the most polished on-air performers, but that isn't why I listen is it?  Their love of the game and of the Capitals truly shows in every edition and therefore makes it fun to listen to.  They also happen to know what they're talking about a good part of the time. Well this past edition of the show was so good, I listened to it not only on the ride up, but during work and on the ride back as well.  And that's what I'm here blogging about now.

The featured guest was one Alan May, a former Caps player in the early 90's. Those of us who have followed the team for, uhh, a good while now remember him as the Caps feared enforcer.  Yes, the guy who drops the gloves and beats the hell out of the other team's fighter.  So after a brief introduction preceded by a discussion about the Caps' current injury woes, Alan comes on and just wows everybody.  Japers Rink promised it would be "Ten pounds of awesome in a five-pound sack."  Folks, I have say that it did not disappoint.  Not by a longshot.

Alan May started off by imparting his knowledge of the game, both from a player's and a coach's perspective.  Who knew he had such a grasp of the inner workings of the game?  I'm kidding of course.  Those of us who regularly catch the games on Comcast already know that he does one hell of a job on the post game shows breaking things down.  In fact, I'd put him up any day against any of those folks at either Versus or that four letter network that doesn't like hockey anymore.  But man, just the way he broke down how to block a shot by itself blew me away.  I'm not ashamed to say I learned quite a bit from listening to him.

So then Russell got a chance to ask Alan about his days as a player and that's when, as good as things were before, everything really took off.  Instantly I was taken back to my high school days in the early 90's with the stories that he told.  I won't give anything away here--you'll just have to download it and listen for yourself.  But I will say there's some good stuff in there about Caps legends Dale Hunter and newly minted Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli.  Not to mention how then-GM David Poile kept the team motivated with an old trick that even Lou Lamoriello picked up on.

I didn't want it to end, I could have listened all day, but alas...most shows are about an hour long anyway, can't expect them to hang around all day I suppose.

I've collected a good number of hockey podcasts over the past month or so and I'm debating giving my thoughts on them as feature in the PowerPlay Point blog.  This is because there doesn't seem to be much in terms of reviews that will help you decide whether or not to invest the time.  Believe me, not all hockey podcasts are good as there are some stinkers out there.  We'll see.

But in the meantime I'm happy with what I've found so far for the most part.  So if you haven't already done it, give Japers' Rink Radio a try...you won't regret it if you love the Caps.  I haven't.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

reCap vs. Nashville Predators

"If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end, as to be worthy of remembrance!"

---King Theoden, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


And what an end it was.

For the first two periods of this game, I had wondered if I would even stay for the end.  The Capitals...well I can't come up with a better word to describe their play except...feh.  No I'm not misspelling Fehr, I'm saying feh. Still not sure what I mean?  Then go here. 

I use the word "flat" a lot but this game was different.  They were trying...sort of.  In fact they did get a few chances.  I was thinking for a brief minute there that I was in a train station because I heard a lot of CLANG!  CLANG! CLANG! of the pucks going off of goalposts.  Can't really think of a tired cliche to insert here to describe the Caps' tired play.  Maybe they were just.....tired?  No, impossible.  Whatever the problem was the Caps certainly did not look their best last night.  Not for most of the first two periods anyway.

For the record, the Predators' goals were by J. P. Dumont  and Jordin Tootoo.  Dumont is a former first round pick who has had a serviceable, but not explosive career.    He's got value for sure and has been an asset for the three teams he's played for, but for my money I expect more tangible production from a first-round forward, especially if he goes third overall and was constantly compared to Joe Sakic.  He was able to take advantage of the Caps' lackadaisical play in their own zone (see below) and fired a nice wrister over Neuvirth's stick side.  This of course after Neuvirth was screened by his own defenseman, John Erskine.

Tootoo, of course is the first player of Inuit descent in the NHL.  He also happens to be one of my favorites league-wide.  He may not put up big numbers, but you're guaranteed a big effort from him.  His goal came on a busted play.  He tried to toss a pass to Joel Ward after he gained the zone (as a result of a turnover, again see below) but it deflected into the net.  So it's two-zip and I'm thinking heeeeeeeeeeeeeere we go again!

Have to say that I saw more turnovers in last night's game than at a county fair.  And a good number of them by Alex Ovechkin.  Look, he may be our best player, but you've got to call them as you see them and...damn.  At least most of his were in the neutral zone. (although one of those led to the second goal) And he's certainly not the only player I'm going to take to task:

David Steckel--looked asleep on his skates out there, ended up -1.  What happened?  You're supposed to show that you WANT to be out there.

Brian Fahey--uhh, ok so it was your NHL debut and we can't all start out like Derek Stepan did, but poor positional play and a -2????  Never mind that your big boot gave the Predators their second goal.  We won't even discuss the first goal where he let Colin Wilson slip past him.  THIS is the best Hershey can send us?  GMGM may need to do a bit of wheeling and dealing.

Nicklas Backstrom--yes even the Swedish Treat was off his game...again.  Actually it was a Tale of Two Games:  Worst of games--looked terrible along the boards and in the offensive zone and couldn't hang onto the puck for beans.   Best of games--he managed 13 wins out of 19 faceoffs, four shots on goal, and two assists.  I hope he's not feeling any ill effects of Thursday's winning goal. 

Now, as badly as they played for the first 40+ minutes, you also have to give credit where credit is due.  Anders Lindback drew a tough assignment filling for Pekka Rinne against a notoriously high-powered offense.  Lindback finished the game with 31 saves on 34 shots.  Like I said, it wasn't as if the Caps weren't trying to score.  But damned if every time they had a scoring chance, Lindback would have the net covered.  Bang! shot and a leg would stick out.  BANG another shot and an arm would stick out.  Six feet six inches of him covering the net.  After a while, he was beginning to resemble one of these:

Comedian Andy Samberg performs a routine at the 2010 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, California July 14, 2010. Samberg was dressed as Paul the octopus, which lives at Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany and correctly predicted eight matches at the recent 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SPORT IMAGES OF THE DAY)



So Lindback keeps on playing like a Swedish Ken Dryden and I'm thinking we're never going to score on him.  Meanwhile Neuvy's more than holding his own at his end, making save after save.  And those he didn't get to he was bailed out by his best friends the left and right goalposts.  Let me tell you something else, that team better start kissing his posterior because had it not been for Neuvirth's play in the past three games, the Caps' record might be something different.  So much for Washington's goaltending being a question.

Third period begins.  I of course have no way of knowing what the Bruce said to the team after the second intermission.  But whatever he did say, or do (me, I'd probably be throwing some furniture) Our Washington Capitals looked like a muuuuuuch better team in the third, finally taking the initiative.  Why it took two periods of mediocrity to wake this team up, I'll never know.  Four minutes in Cody Franson takes a holding the stick penalty.  Really, who's dumb enough to try holding the stick and get away with it anymore?  You almost never see that penalty called these days.  Capitals now have a chance to  It doesn't take long for Alex Semin to convert from a setup from John Carlson and Nick Backstrom.  Nice.

The Caps are flying now, storming the zone at every opportunity.  The shot counter says they got 12 shots off the whole period.  (remember folks, it is a shot counter, not a clock.  So anyone that calls it a clock, please introduce them to the nearest blunt object to smarten them up)  They made the absolute most of their chances and the resulting 12 shots.  They crashed the net.  They buzzed by Lindback's crease like Tom Cruise did to the tower in Top Gun.  In short, they did everything they were trying to do in the first 40 minutes only better.

Thirteenth minute in and the second line is on the ice.  Not much to show so far except Semin's PP goal, but they're buzzing.  Tomas Fleischmann had just lost his umpteenth faceoff against Cal O'Reilly.  Somehow Brooks Laich got the puck back and sent it to Fleischmann who was in the high slot area.   Fleischmann glided in and potted a neat wrister from 12 feet!  If you look at the replay you'll notice that three Predators have surrounded him as he took the shot, making it all the more amazing. 

A word to my fellow Caps fans here.  I read the recap over at Japers and of course they had to get in another dig at Fleischmann even after scoring this goal.  The writer was asking why in the world the Preds would ever have three guys on Fleischmann.  I get the power of sarcasm and all that, but, in the words of Joe B, Geez Louise!

The third ends and we go four-on-four for overtime.  Nearly a minute in and Ovechkin grabs it from the right corner boards in the offensive zone.  Ryan Suter is all over him and finally drags him down.  The ref's arm flies up and the boo birds come out, but they have nothing to complain about.  More on this below.  power play time once again--for the win I'm hoping.  After a fruitless first 30 seconds Nashville clears the zone.  The Great Eight collects it and breaks out, dishing to Backstrom who was waiting on the right side boards.  Backstrom carries in and circles back, sliding to Ovechkin at the point.  Ovechkin lets a one-timer go and it's in!  I DON'T BELIEVE IT!  but it's another great comeback.  Smokin' Al Koken, subbing for Joe B, later confirmed that the goal would be credited to Brooks Laich as he got a piece of it, but no matter.  Lindback after a great effort deserved better, but had no chance on that one.

I'm happy for the win but is anyone else concerned that it took two periods for this team to get going? 

I am also happy that the special teams basically saved the day--two power play goals including the game winner and the penalty kill is, hmm what's the word?  PERFECT.  Blackjack shellac they are 21 for 21.

Have to mention it once more since it was such a bone of contention among hockey pundits, but I think Michal Neuvirth has pretty well proven himself as NHL-worthy.  This game sealed it and I defy anyone to say otherwise.  Anyone else outside of Capitals' fandom noticed that he has yet to give up more than two goals since the loss on Opening Night?

We are continuing to get consistent good results from Jeff Schultz (24 minutes and +1). Fortunately, rookies Karl Alzner (23 minutes, +1) and John Carlson (24 minutes, 1 assist, and Even) aren't too far behind.  Unfortunately for the defense corps as far as the bright side, that is all.  I like my pizza crust thin, not my team's defense lineup.


Thoughts from the La-Z-Boy....(stuff I noticed about the TV coverage):

I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing that Alex Ovechkin CCM Crazy Lites skate commercial.

Kind of appropriate that they played in a building called the Bridgestone Arena with all the rubber flying around--39 shots by Nashville, 34 by Washington.

Just what the heck was that the Nashville fans were cheering after they scored?  Whatever it was, they were saying something else after Brooks Laich's OT goal.  Something about the referees performing a certain act I believe.  Look, I get that you guys feel screwed cheated after last year's playoffs with that non-call against Marian Hossa.  Not to mention the Backstrom boarding call. (sorry but it could have easily been 4 minutes or a misconduct) But come on...one of your guys hauls down Ovechkin in overtime and what do you think is going to happen?

Hilarious how BOTH the Caps TV guys on Comcast AND the Predators announcers said that Neuvirth's save on Kevin Klein's wicked slap shot from the point in overtime was "one of self-preservation."

The Preds TV guys, Pete Weber and Terry Crisp...I don't know what game they were looking at but it may not have been the one we were watching.  After the first goal Crisp said something like, "finally they solve Neuvirth."  Huh?  'Finally?'  After all of what, 17 minutes in?  I can understand saying that if the first goal comes near the end of the game after 30-odd shots, but that early?  Pete Weber tossed in another gem when he said that Lindback "couldn't handle that rebound" on Semin's first goal.  What rebound?  Semin's shot went in on its own.  Lindback may have juggled it a bit, but there certainly was no rebound.  And Crisp must like his hockey like his hair care products because he used the phrase "Curly Q" an awful lot.

Speaking of Smokin' Al, I thought he did a fairly good job last night.  Mrs. Blueliner thinks Joe B is pretty much the best there is in terms of NHL play by play and I tend to agree.  But I don't think a beat is missed whenever Joe B slides over to Versus.  Smokin' Al is just as willing to take the team to task, if not more so when their play is subpar like it was last night.  Besides, I want to know where he's found the Fountain of Youth.  I've watched him cover the Caps for well over 20 years and the man doesn't look as if he's aged a day!    Stuff that in your pipe and blow another $120 million on your crappy organization, Daniel Snyder!!!

And with that I'll close...next up is the home-and-home against the Bruins, truly the Caps' toughest test yet.  Two or three points would be nice, but of course they're capable of a sweep. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

IT'S BEEN ONE WEEK....

Since we've started the first of 27 in the 2010-11 NHL season.  Already there have been some big goals, big plays, big scary moments, big efforts, and big scrrwups screwups.  The following is how the Capitals are doing so far, and will need to do, from my vantage point.  Unfortunately you're going to have deal with subjective ratings for now.  Objective scoring will come later.

Player-by-player ratings

Forwards:

Nicklas Backstrom-- finally got on the score sheet Thursday against the Islanders with a goal and an assist.  Should equal or better his totals from last year.  As durable as they come; he played all 82 games last year and shows no signs of wear.  Looks to have put behind whatever had him in the slump earlier in the week.

Mike Knuble--scored in the first game and has been a presence in front of the opposing net ever since.  He's probably not going to light it up every night, but he'll show up for every game.  At 38 he isn't getting any younger, but as long as he can stay healthy will be a fixture on the first line.

Alex Ovechkin--what do you say about somebody that has a bad game and ends up scoring the game winner anyway?  Shows signs of rounding out his game, but still needs to show that, like a Peter Forsberg or even Mario Lemieux, he can carry a team on his back if he needs to.  All the great players all the way back to Newsy Lalonde have shown this quality on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.  This is Ovechkin's time.

Tomas Fleischmann--still not exactly the most popular Capital on the roster but nonetheless the team's hope as its much-discussed second line center solution.  One goal, two assists and three points and a plus 2 in 4 games.  Not too shabby numbers-wise.  Defensive play still needs work however.  I recently had a discussion with Red Army Line at the Red Line Station blog about Fleischmann's play.  He made the point that he doesn't seem to be in a position to be at his best.  Agreed, but one has to wonder if that entails demotion to the third line and whether or not that's best for all involved.  One thing's clear--if he's expected to continue to play center and not his natural position of left wing, he MUST improve his abysmal face-off performance.

Brooks Laich--the Caps designated bump-and-grind guy.  Doesn't have to put up the numbers to show his effectiveness but has still managed to pot two goals in four games.  Must be because his shot selection is better. Caps' most versatile forward thus far

Marcus Johansson--the rookie from Sweden has had his moments, both good and bad, in his short time with the big club.  Has shown his worth just by his willingness to take any assignment handed to him.  Will continue to learn and grow as a player as the season rolls on.  But first he has to heal from an injury.

Alexander Semin--the ever-enigmatic Russian has a point in all four games.  The cloud still hangs over him though--will he be traded or will he stay?  Can't argue with his offensive upside, but you have to wonder if this "fancy boy" will be the solution or part of the problem.  Serving as the foil to Brooks Laich's grinding game for now.  Is also a constant on the currently struggling power play, not that it will change.  His being a constant, that is.

Jason Chimera--the speed demon of the team.  Seems to be able to do everything right...except finish...his shots into goals that is.  His checks he always finishes.  Great character player as well.

Eric Fehr--Another player with two goals after four games.  Is showing more of a terrific touch around the net but still needs to figure out how to create chances for himself using his huge 6-4 frame.  Defensive play still needs work as well as he is a minus one.

Matt Hendricks--something of a surprise earning a walk-on roster spot.  Won't see much more than fourth-line duty due to his average skill level but is another sparkplug providing that element of grit that was conspicuously absent last year.

Matt Bradley--no longer the only Matt who uses his fists, which should allow him to concentrate on his usual dependable game on the third and fourth lines as well as some penalty-killing duty.  If the coaches decide to give him the chance he might be good for 15 goals or more, not that it's necessary for him.  All he needs to do is continue with his irritating style of play to be productive.

David Steckel--faceoff master and defensive specialist.  Is a minus one in two games so he'll need to step up his play or else his time will be given to others.

Boyd Gordon---classic utility player.  Gordon does his best work on the penalty kill as well as taking key defensive zone faceoffs.  Unfortunately he will never blow anybody away with his offense, but his leadership and overall skill on the other side of the puck are invaluable.  His best game so far was the tightly contested match against the Islanders.  A solid plus 2 through three games.

D.J. King--was brought to the team for pretty much one reason and wasted no time in proving it in his first game.  Haven't really had a chance to see much else out of him, though I can't imagine he'd be easy pickings along the boards or in the corners.


Defensemen:

Mike Green--We all know by now what Green is best at and he's still one of the best past the opposite blueline with the puck.  The other side, however....yeah, still questions.  But he's been seen diving for loose pucks in a redoubled effort to improve his defensive side.  Conditioning still a question as he tends to wear down by season's end.  In fact, he's hurt already and isn't on the road trip as he is currently nursing an upper body injury.  Is a surprising plus four defensively so far.

Jeff Schultz--something I never thought I would be saying as recently as last year, but Schultz has become Sergeant Steady on the Caps' backline.  The most reliable defender in all three zones, he won't wow anybody with a ton of ability or physical play, preferring instead to tie up opposing forwards.  Is a key element to the team's revamped penalty kill.  Last year's NHL plus-minus statistical leader so it's no surprise that he's already a plus 3.

John Carlson--twenty-year old rookie sensation.  Has the skills and the training to become one of the elite defensemen in the league.  Is also prone to the typical rookie mistakes, however.  Has a phenomenal wrist point shot that finds the target.  Decent first move out of the zone as well.  His main challenge is to get through this first full year plus playoffs without letting the expectations that have been heaped upon him to affect him in any way.   His stats pretty much reflect this challenge as he has a goal and five points in four games but is only Even defensively.

Tom Poti--recovered nicely after a scary eye injury at the end of last year's playoffs.  Minute-munching defenseman called upon to take care of crucial situations last year.  His role this year is as the mentor to rookies Carlson and Karl Alzner.  Still makes mind-boggling decisions with the puck, but will still be called upon for key assignments as he is the most versatile backliner the Caps' have.  Also the best point shot.  Currently on the injured list.

Karl Alzner--the other rookie defenseman.  A bit less heralded than Carlson, yet much is still expected of him.  His strengths are more on the defensive side of play.  Seems a bit uncomfortable at times, but should settle into his role as time goes by.  Think Tom Poti last year only with a bit more upside.

John Erskine--the closest thing the Caps have to a true classic stay-at-home defenseman.  Has been doing anything he can to stick in the lineup and make life miserable for opposing forwards.  Unfortunately for him, he is a minus three already defensively.  This has to improve or he may find himself out of a job by season's end.

Tyler Sloan--literally a two-way player as he can double as a winger.  Hasn't been penciled in for full-time duty, but is hungry to prove himself.  With the recent injuries to Mike Green and Tom Poti, he's got the chance he's been waiting for but will he make the most of it?  Hasn't done anything to lose a spot but nothing really to earn one yet either.

Brian Fahey--looking to get his first regular season duty tonight against Nashville.  Was one of the last cuts in preseason.

Goalies:

Michal Neuvirth--Has started all four games this year and looks to get the nod tonight even with Semyon Varlamov returning.  Makes relatively few mistakes positionally and looks very comfortable with being the go-to guy.  Wonderful agility. Has literally been the difference between wins and losses in just about every game this year.  Reminiscent of Olie Kolzig in the way he covers the angles and in using his body to minimize the overall target area.  If there's one thing he tends to do too much it's that he tends to go down too early, leaving more skilled shooters a chance to go top shelf.  If he puts in the time to develop a book on some of the top shooters in the league, he can correct this.

Semyon Varlamov--unfortunately has become the butt of jokes among Caps fans for his frequent visits to the injury list.  This overlooks his contribution to the team in the playoffs, however.  Has recently returned to the active list.  Right now is still in contention for the No. 1 job but must earn it.

Dany Sabourin--Journeyman backup, probably won't see much time with the big club unless there's an injury.


Non-Player evaluations

Coaching staff:

The Bruce, Dean Evason, Bob Woods, video analyst Blaine Forsyth and goalie coach Arturs Irbe collectively have a target on them as they work with one of the most talented collection of players in the league.  But the expectations are nothing short of winning the Cup, or at the very least a Final appearance.  Anything less and the whispers calling for a new coaching staff, or at least a new head coach, will become screams.

Basically the task for the coaches is threefold:
1. Keep the team focused on the big prize at the end.  This will involve keeping the team mentally prepared as well as physically.  Too many times the Caps looked like they just weren't into what they were doing.
2. Acclimate the rookies into the grind of a full NHL regular season as well as the playoffs
3. Once the playoffs begin, show that the mistakes from the past have been learned from by ratcheting everything up a level or five.  Why else would every series played take seven games?

So far, the Bruce has deflected a potential goalie controversy, improved the penalty kill and had to deal with a surprisingly snakebit power play.

Management:
George McPhee has many assets he's keeping as his aces in the hole.  Or is he?  So far he isn't telling what he might do, but that's always been his style.  The feeling is that there are one or two missing pieces needed to complete this team.  What bothers me is that he won't even admit that he's taking a risk in basically going with the status quo, banking on the inherent chemistry to provide the difference.  Puck Daddy scored Caps' management a B in his preview of the team for this reason.  I'm inclined to agree.  I discussed this with a friend of mine at work and he put it using a baseball analogy:  I'd rather they swing for the fences and miss rather than just stand there gawking.  Come the trade deadline we will see.


It's a nice start so far.  But there are a lot of kinks in the system to be worked out.  If this team can keep the results at the same rate, they'll be in great shape.

REACTION TO A "FAN REACTION"

I was working on the one-week evaluation of the Capitals.  Naturally I went online to sites like Yahoo NHL for background information for support.  I'm browsing through and I get to the team page.  And there it is, yet another hateful article about my team.  Surprise, surprise, guess we should be used to it by now because there's this hatred of the idea of team from D.C. being successful for some reason.  But no, this wasn't by Puck Daddy or Ross McKeon or even one of the regular idiots who like to leave what they call intelligent commentary on the message board.  This was a whole other form of venom.

This article was by a fan, a regular Joe, under the guise of something called "associated content."  This "Associated Content" feature appears to be some new service that allows know-nothings like this moron to post their opinions and present it as a news article.  Now, to be sure, there's a something of a disclaimer if you take the time and do the research about this "Associated Content."  But the way Yahoo! presents it gives this person credence, like it or not, as some sort of "expert" on hockey.  This blurs the line between fan and objective observer and, I believe cheapens the purpose of the Yahoo NHL site.  Do the folks at Yahoo really want it to degenerate into nothing more than a few million idiots with an opinion to gain credibility?

A word or three on what makes someone an "expert" or at least credible.  Let me just put this out there--I'm not always a big fan of a lot of what Puck Daddy puts out on his blog.  But I respect his contribution to the game.  Same goes for the other writers there--Nicholas Cotsonika, Ross McKeon, Justin Bourne, and Sean Leahy. These are people who prepare and put a lot of time, effort, and most importantly, thought, into what they do.  These are men who have been observing the game and have provided astute judgments on it for quite a few years now.  And, for the most part, they don't speak from an obviously biased point of view and even when they do, they do their homework in getting their facts straight first.

It's my blog so I'll pump a bit of my own experience in this area for a bit,  You're welcome to skip the next paragraph if you can't bear with me.

About eight years ago, I was part of a website known as AllExperts.com.  And yes, I signed on as a hockey "expert."  My point of view was that I had done extensive research in the history of the game.  So in my profile I said that I could answer just about any question posted about the history of NHL as well as how the game worked.  Now, did that automatically qualify me as a true "expert"?  Of course not.  But you know what?  Every time someone asked me a question, I always checked my sources, even if I was sure I knew the answer.  My experience is simply that of a fan.  A fan who has been in love with the game since age two.  I've played it (not very well) and studied it for that long.  And I've never presented myself as anything but.  The opinions in my blog are just that--my opinions--and I admit as much.  I'm lucky enough to have a tiny core of loyal readers and I will not lie to them or anyone else.

Now this guy who wrote this trash, calling himself  "M Colman" (probably not his real name) obviously has a very strong opinion, and he's welcome to it.  I'm not going to post the link here, nor will I glorify this jerk's idiocy by running extensive quotes, so I'll just paraphrase.  I do have to take him to task for a few things, however.  Some things he's just plain dead wrong about.  So sit back while I take apart his entire article, bit by bit.

He begins his article by proclaiming that the Caps have no heart.  Okay fine, so how so?  But he doesn't expand on it he just says it.  Rule number one when you put yourself out there---if you actually do have a point, make like your most important computer file and back it up.  I've alluded to it before a few times, but Eric Belanger playing immediately after his emergency dental work took a lot of heart if you ask me.  There--some evidence.  That wasn't so hard now was it?

Instead he moves on to the next point..which is...that the team is talented.  Oooookay, nothing new there.  Then he mentions that the Caps tend to "brag about it."  Fine, sir, but where's your proof?  The true fact is that there have been quite a few hockey pundits who have sung the praises of the Capitals recently.  When you have observers making sweet music about your team, you don't have to toot your own horn.

Next he alludes to the notion that the team tends to crumble when faced with a challenge.  My words not his.  All right fine, but again, what's your point?  He tries to make one by going back to the talent issue, saying that it gets "squandered" and they are "easy to hate" because said talent gets squandered.  Wait a minute did you just say that the team has a lot of talent?  Guess it's not bragging if it's fact.  But wait--he promises to "count the ways."  Maybe he has proof after all.

So he begins by attacking not the players, but our fan base.  Sorry, but I'm going to take that personally because, well, I'm a part of that.  He said that "You couldn't go on a NHL message board without hearing Caps fans already planning their Stanley Cup parade."  Really?  Is there a link?  Do you have a page reference?  Some shred of evidence?  Or are we just supposed to take your word for it?  To quote Andy Sutton, sorry but you're not an expert. Many fans talking about tickets to the Finals?  Hmmm, I sure wasn't.  And I didn't hear anyone else who was.  If there were Caps fans who distinctly recall putting money down for Finals tickets, please let me know.  There's a difference between confidence and arrogance.  Most Capitals fans are confident in the team.  But we're sure as hell not feeling like we've won the Cup already.

And that part about not being serious contenders?  Show me one hockey journalist that felt the same way.  I don't recall hearing anyone in the hockey community saying so much that the Caps would never get out of the first round or not being a "serious" contender.  And what is your definition of a "serious" contender anyway?  I'm sure none of the 22 Capitals players or their coaching staff treats their jobs as anything less than serious business. I know Ted Leonsis does.

M Colman then segues into the next point---the fact that the Capitals have never won a Stanley Cup.  All right fine, yes it is the truth.  However, to my knowledge no team has ever been handed the Stanley Cup before playing a full season, not even the inaugural winners, the Montreal AAA.  So that means everybody starts out by having to go out and win it the first time.  He then reveals that the Tampa Bay Lightning is his team. So what that your Tampa Bay Lightning has one all of one Cup.  What happened to your team not long after that?  Oh yeah, that's right, it got blown up, and then sold--twice!

To be sure, having Stevie Y. on board as GM is putting the Bolts on the road to respect again.  But look at your team's overall record in its entire history before you start throwing stones.  The first thing that I notice is that your team has failed to even qualify for the playoffs in twelve of its 17 seasons.

And you want to talk about arrogance--I distinctly recall a Lightning fan by the name of Pete Chocquette making visits to the Capitals NHL boards on AOL a few years ago leaving insulting messages on a daily basis.  This same person also claimed that Dan Boyle would run roughshod over the league.  Last I looked, he hasn't even been a finalist for the Norris trophy.  He's not even on the team anymore.  You seem to be sure that your team and the rest of the Southeast division will do the same to the Capitals.  And you call US arrogant?

So you claim to have a "real" hockey team simply because you have won all of ONE Stanley Cup?  I guess the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks,  Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Phoenix Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers,and Atlanta Thrashers aren't all "real" teams either eh?  Well...maybe not Florida..just kidding.  But you're saying there are only 19 "real" teams in the NHL just because they've won the Cup.  I'm sure the folks in Buffalo and Vancouver especially will enjoy being told that they don't have a "real" team after 40 years.  Idiot.

So thankfully it's on to the last point.  I won't sugar-coat it, he calls the Capitals "choke artists."  And his proof?  The "fact" that the Capitals got "smashed" by the Canadiens in the playoffs last year?  Oh really?  "Smashed" was it?  As I recall the series went to seven games so it was hardly a "smashing."  And three of the four losses were by one goal, one of which was in overtime.  Not exactly what I call being "smashed."  Forget the fact that they blew a 3-1 series lead.  I'm not just blowing it over because it's the Caps, but more because it's happened so many times in the past in different series it's nearly irrelevant.  After all, we also saw a team blow a 3-0 series lead last year.  Oh, by the way, it's spelled Canadiens, with an "e" not "Canadians."  You may want to cover up, your lack of hockey knowledge is showing.

So we're supposed to be scared because of last year's playoff failure.  If I know anything about hockey history it's that certain patterns tend to repeat themselves.  And I remember the Detroit Red Wings having some setbacks in the early 1990s before they won back-to-back Cups.  I have a feeling that the Capitals are headed for the same fate.  I call that confidence, not arrogance.   Our team has the same feel about it, the same hunger.  I'm not even saying that it'll definitely happen this year, but I like our chances.  I know this much--your Lightning will be lucky even if they contend for the playoffs.  Sorry but they're not ready for much else.  I acknowledge that the competition will be tougher this year, but no less than Greg Wyshinski (Puck Daddy) himself has said, and I quote, "the Capitals can probably sleepwalk to the Southeast Division title this year."  Check out the 20th episode of Japers Rink radio if you doubt my veracity.  That certainly doesn't sound like a team that will make its fans "squirm."  And, judging by the nature of a few of the wins they've gotten already this year, I don't see anything resembling the word "quit" in this team.

I'm done with M Colman.  I won't presume to give this arrogant jackass any more of my time.  Next time you want to post an opinion, don't try to pass it off as fact unless you have something with which to back it up. Better yet just stick to writing boring reviews about restaraunts in Key West.   People like him are a dime-a-dozen and his uninformed opinion exposed him for what he is--a jealous hateful fraud.

I am not done with Yahoo, however.  I have a Yahoo email account and I'm giving serious consideration to terminating it because of this episode.  Do they realize any idiot can pass themselves off as an expert without offering any credentials?  At least with a blog you know it's someone's personal page and you're clued into to their point of view.  But when this kind of an article is linked to a team's page at Yahoo NHL as if it were a news article, that's just wrong.  There's no sin with anyone posting their opinion, no matter how ill-informed or ridiculous it is.  Just don't try baiting people into reading it if it's just opinion and not fact.  If this person has an axe to grind, let them start their own blog or post a message on one of the boards after the real writers produce an article.

This "Associated Content" whatever it is also gives me grave concerns in that anyone wishing to offer a rebuttal or correction cannot do so, save for the usual comment boards at the end of the article.  For this article, 31 users did just that, and the vast majority (save for one know-nothing who will remain nameless) reacted negatively to the article.  Some even questioned Yahoo's methods as I am now.  But unfortunately there's still no way to post one's own article to refute anything so misinformed.  At least let someone in the know offer an informed opinion, someone like Jon Press or Stephen Pepper of  Japers Rink website.  I took a stab at it myself by offering to register for this feature.  You want to register to write hockey articles, though, you'll have to wait in line.  They decide what "assignments" are available and you certainly don't have a chance to offer up a well-timed thoughtful response of your own.  Me?  I got offered the chance to write about suggestions for Halloween decorations.  Boo.

I find this all ironic because earlier today I was listening to the latest available podcast of the Faceoff Hockey Show.  Of all people, Puck Daddy (boy I better get a check or something for the number of times I've dropped his name!) himself was on and so was Lyle Richardson of Spector's hockey website.  They were all talking about how hockey, above all other sports, has taken advantage of the power of the internet and has grown because of it.  These are two examples of how coverage of the sport has blossomed because people like Ted Leonsis have led the way for an internet-friendly environment.  Well, as they say, it only takes one bad apple to ruin the barrel.  This article is a bad apple with a whole lot of worms and feces all over it that can spread to all the other apples.  Like that image?  Did I ruin your dinner?  Well that's what will happen if garbage like this is allowed to continue.  At least give articles like these a proper forum--not as legitimate sports articles.

If this is nothing more than a pathetic attempt by Yahoo to create controversy in order to help reverse its flagging fortunes, then I pity them.  I only hope that if that's the case, Puck Daddy and his staff jumps ship before it's too late and Yahoo soils itself forever with "contributions" from people like this moron.
The rest of us knowledgeable hockey fans will continue to be able to sniff out the trash and avoid it.

That's my opinion, and you're welcome to it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

WELCOME BACK...STROM

ReCap of last night's game, Capitals 2, Islanders 1


Going to have to start calling them the Cardiac Caps!

That was an exciting game to say the least.  Did I or did I not say the Islanders were a dangerous team?  Well, last night they proved it.  I don't mind telling you for most of the night I was scared.  Had it not been for Michal Neuvirth that game could have been 3-1 the other way or worse.

So 3:14 into the game, Nino Niederreiter (wasn't he a character in Empire Strikes Back?) a Swiss import made Swiss cheese out of the Caps' defense.  More on that in a second.  Just a short while before that we were treated to D.J. King's first regular season fight.  It didn't look like much at the beginning as he and Trevor Gillies were getting their bearings but then they just went at it!  While Gillies looked to be the winner, I think King did fairly well for himself and we can expect him to continue to add that layer of toughness they so desperately needed last year.

Niederreiter scores and I'm worried.  Old man Doug Weight saucered a pass to him in the slot, and bang! I've heard good things about him, but I hadn't seen  him play yet.  Turns out everybody was right.  He's pretty good with the puck and he was a threat to score nearly every time he had the puck in the offensive zone.  We'll be hearing more from this kid, assuming he sticks.  Oh yeah, guess who got a plus point on that goal--ex-cap Milan Jurcina.  Who knew he had a point shot?  Wished he could have used it more when he was in D.C.

So the rest of the period goes on then into the second and I'm still worried.  Why?  Well mainly because the Caps haven't scored yet.  And why haven't the Caps scored yet?  Because Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson is standing on his head.  The man just turned 41 two days ago.  Joe B and Locker put up some sort of graphic during the game about goalies who played into their 40s.  Locker made some sort of comment about "getting better with age" which made Mrs. Blueliner groan loudly.  I won't say why because I know she's reading this and I am likely to get killed as it is for saying this much.   Time-honored advice guys--you NEVER talk about a woman's age...if you want to live, that is.

But I mean there was nothing going to get past Roli, he was that on his game.  Fourteen shots he stopped in the second period alone.  The last time I saw him play like this was when he helped the 2006 Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final.  That's not to say he's a mediocre goalie, far from it, but that's how on fire he looked that night.  He keeps this up and maybe just maybe the Isles have a chance at the eight-spot.

Well the fifteenth Caps shot comes from nobody else than Alex Ovechkin.  And I swear to you if you look at the replay it is almost EXACTLY like his first goal he got against the Devils.  Four guys around him and he lets go a stiff off-wing wrister...and it's in!  This after a nice setup from Nicklas Backstrom.  I'm out of my chair, but I have to keep it down as Mrs. B and the kids have already gone to bed (with a stern warning to me to keep the noise level down).  It doesn't occur to me until later that the team got 15 shots in the second after the Bruce put Backstrom and OV back together again. 


You can't blame the Bruce and staff for that experiment though.  If you're a regular reader to the Power Play Point blog, you know I'm not exactly a big fan of Mr. Boudreau's coaching. But sometimes, even with good players, you need to shake things up when someone's in a funk.  Life is no different.  How many times have we all decided to shake up the routine, if just for a little bit, to break the monotony?  Anyway, the point here is that Backis seemed to be slightly snakebit--after three games he hadn't registered so much as a point.  Put him back in his usual setup and he's on the board.


Third period starts and, like Monday, it's tied.  One good thing about the game so far was that the penalty kill still had a zero in front of it, as in zero conversions against.  Unfortunately, the power play also had a zero...as in zero goals in three chances.  You got the feeling something was going to give in this game before it was over.  Sure enough it did.


The Islanders came out with intensity, storming the crease as often as they could, but Neuvirth stood tall when he had to.  The defense seemed to be playing a "bend-but-don't-break" mentality.  I don't know how, but they managed to stop them.  The scariest part was the last penalty kill.  Can't remember if the Islanders got a whole lot going in terms of scoring chances.  I just wanted the streak to continue, silly though it sounds.


And then, something of a disaster as I saw Mike Green heading towards the locker room, not to return.  Yuck, now what?  They've already got Poti out, now Green?  Crud, this is going to require a call-up or something.  This is exactly what Pepper and Waxman have discussed on segments of Japers' Rink radio--what will happen should the defense corps get hit with injuries?  Well we're about to find out soon.  By the way, for those of you that haven't tuned in yet, I highly recommend it.  It's good stuff.


I'm thinking we're headed into overtime again when Blake Comeau of the Islanders shoved somebody down pretty hard.  Obvious roughing call.  All right--another power play chance.  This was probably going to be the last one in the game, so it was time to make the best of it.  It didn't take long--Ovechkin quarterbacked it from the point and sent a blast on net.  It bounced of Backstrom's skate....


And IN!


FINALLY!  A POWER PLAY GOAL!!!!!!!!!
Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin (R) celebrates with Nicklas Backstrom (19) after scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against the Ottawa Senators during their NHL hockey game in Washington October 11, 2010. REUTERS/Richard Clement (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)





The game wasn't over yet. Not by a longshot.  The Islanders were still scrapping, throwing everything they could at the Caps.  For some reason though they waited a bit too long to pull Roloson for the extra attacker.  He didn't come out until less than a minute was left.  Wouldn't you know we were all drooling for the empty-netter but it wasn't to be.  It didn't matter as the clock ticked down and D.C. has another one in the "W" column.


So first the good news.  First and foremost, Nicky's back on the scoresheet for 2010-11.  Awesomeness.  Say what you want about how he got the goal.  What have I said before?  Sometimes all it takes is being in the right place at the right time.  And he got an assist on the first one to boot (no pun intended).


Even more good news...the Penalty Kill is still perfect.  Now 15 for 15, the new "active" approach is definitely working.  Of course nothing lasts forever, but if this is an indication of things to come, I think the playoffs are going to look a lot better.  Of course when you talk penalty killing you can't leave out your best penalty killer--your goalie.  Michal Neuvirth, like the Bruce said earlier in the year, just keeps getting better each game.  He's got the right demeanor about him, you can tell by his body language that he's into the game, but he's not unnecessarily spent like Varlamov tended to be at times last year.  Not necessarily saying he's better conditioned, just that he seems to be able to handle the heavy workload without as much wear and tear.  To be sure, he'll need to be spelled off to stay fresh.


Not sure if anyone else on other blogs have mentioned him, but I will--Boyd Gordon showed a lot of grit last night.  For those of you who doubted, I hope he showed you something as well be cause he definitely belongs.

All right deep breath time...heeeeeeere's the bad.


The beginning--Another game, another first goal given up.  That's three out of four games it's happened.  Yes it is still only the first week, but it's not a good trend.  While they're getting the wins now, this team doesn't always play well from behind.


Power Play--Yes they scored and won the game but it took them many tries to get there.  This is a power play that was a 1 for 4 guarantee last year.  Good within the bad though--now that they've gotten the first one out of the way, the rest should be easy right?  Right???


Injuries--As was mentioned, Marcus Johansson is day-to-day.  So is Tom Poti and that's where the concerns lie, mostly.  Now that Mike Green's status is at best questionable, that leaves two gaping holes in the defense corps.  So now there's Alzner, Erskine, Sloan, Carlson, and Schultz.  In other words a phone call to Hershey will need to be made if no one is feeling better before Saturday.  Unless of course they want to pull a Lamoriello special and dress less than than 18 skaters.  The Bears have a good lineup to be sure, but  are any of their backliners ready for full time NHL duty?  Obviously I'm not counting Sheldon Souray among them.  Unfortunately my guess would be no, but it doesn't matter.  Barring a trade (highly unlikely) or a waiver pickup (even less likely) we're left with either Sean Collins, Brian Fahey, or even Lawrence Nycholat.  No pressure, boys.

So ends our first week of 2010-11.  Barring an interruption for just about any reason imaginable, I should have a first-week evaluation of the whole team in time for Saturday's game against the Predators.  Three wins after a turkey of an opener and I'm feeling good, but it's only week one and there's still some kinks to be worked out.  Since it's the weekend I'll hopefully have a preview of the game as well.  This coming week should be interesting--there's a home-and-home series against Boston Tuesday and Thursday.


I'd like to wind up this entry with a special thank you to my daughter, who, in her own way, is helping to keep things going here at the Power Play Point.  You're truly one of the joys of my life.  I love you!



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

POINT SHOTS, news and commentary Wed. Oct. 13, 2010

From around the league.....


The sordid case of Mark Hardy seems to have come to a quiet close.  "Family squabble that got out of hand"?  Indeed.  While I'm glad nothing more is going to result from this, it  by no means absolves Hardy.  I'm aware that TMZ was all over this, but this isn't the way for the NHL to stay relevant, with lurid misadventures like these happening. Speaking of which....

New York Islanders defenseman James Wisniewski was suspended by the NHL for 2 games as a result of his obscene gesture towards New York Rangers' forward Sean Avery in their recent contest. Puck Daddy gives his thoughts on said suspension in his blog.  Agree or disagree?  Post your opinion if you have one.  My thoughts?  There's no place for this garbage in our game.  And, in other sports, punishment is handed out all the time for this type of behavior.  The problem with the NHL, as is so often the case, is that there's no consistency--what should warrant a suspension, a fine, a reprimand and so forth.  Other leagues, and the National Football League is the best example, have a strict code of conduct.  There's no reason why the NHL can't have one too, one that all players, coaches, and other employees are subject to.

Much has been made of the New Jersey Devils' inability to ice a full roster as of late.  No one seems to disagree that the team got themselves into this mess.  Personally I think they're punishing themselves enough without any further action being warranted, by either the league or the NHLPA.  In case you're a Devils' fan (what are you doing here?) here is a version of their side of the story from the In Lou We Trust blog.  My take on all this?  It's a sad thing to see for sure.  But again, they had it coming as they brought it on themselves.  And it's really hard for me to feel sorry for a team that perpetrated this mess 22 years ago.  Not to mention the crap they pulled Saturday night against the Caps.

So the Capitals are a perfect twelve for twelve on the penalty kill. It will be interesting to see how long they can keep this up. I've been trying like heck to find any sort of a confirmation for the team record for most consecutive times shorthanded without a goal against. I'll update this if I find it.  In the meantime, their power play is an abysmal one-for-thirteen.  They can hardly do anything else but improve upon this.  I said in an earlier post that I believe that a good penalty killing unit can lead to success in the playoffs.  Here is the Die By the Blade (Buffalo Sabres) blog with an interesting take on that premise.

Finally, in another incident that was reviewed, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was suspended two games for his actions in Monday's game against the Buffalo Sabres.  While not exactly a "head shot" per se, it did result in a head injury.  Should the league explore supplementary discipline for actions that cause head injuries? Discuss.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

D.C. DEALS WITH THE SENATORS

Washington Capitals' Mike Green (L) falls in front of the net past Ottawa Senators' goalie Pascal Leclaire and Chris Phillips during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Washington October 11, 2010. REUTERS/Richard Clement (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)


First off, I need to offer up some apologies.  I had to run some unavoidable errands and caught bits and pieces of the game via radio.  Such is life when you've got a family and responsibilities.  I did, however catch the third period and OT, but the recap is going to be sketchy at best.  Suffice to say that, as is my theme a lot of the time, the result is all that matters.  And this game exemplified that.

I finally get to the van to catch Mr. Kolbe and Mr. Sabourin speak.  It was moments after Semin's first of the year.  Yay for the other Alex.  Now he's on the board.  Even through the radio I could tell that there was a steady ebb and flow with the pace of the game, almost like a runner sprinting a few hundred yards, then jogging to catch their breath, then sprinting again and so on.  Either team could have taken control of the game and ran with it, but it didn't happen.  In between hopping out to take care of business and back in for the ride home I hear that at least two more penalties got killed off by the Caps.  More on this later.

Jump ahead to the start of the third...and I'm home.  The Good guys are up 2-1 thanks to Eric Fehr, but all Ottawa needs is one to get back in it.  Seven minutes in, that's exactly what happens when Ryan Shannon scored on a loose biscuit that wandered into the slot.  (That's hawkee tawk for "somebody failed to clear the puck")  Given what happened last year between these two teams where the Sens stole two in OT, I'm suddenly not liking the odds.  The rest of the third is spent in quiet tension with more of that back and forth play with nothing but fruitless scoring chances to show for it.

The folks at Comcast flash the Ovechkam.  We see #8 banging bodies and getting maybe a few shots away but nothing...nothing.  So at the end of it they show his numbers for the game to reveal something even more disturbing---he's a minus one.  There are a lot of stats in the sport of hockey, some meaningful, others not so much.  To me, none are as telling as plus-minus.  Sure a good part of it is being in the right place at the right time, but you know what?  That's how plays are made.  So I wasn't feeling too good after seeing that.  The Great Eight was having a crappy game and the look on his face said it all--he knew it.

The Power Play got another chance, it's fifth and last, but again there was nothing.   Not too impressive at all. I will say I was impressed with the grit that was on display.  Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera in particular doing the dirty work and getting the job done...along the boards, in the corners, wherever.  In the end, it made a difference because it looked as if the Senators might have been a bit worn in the extra session.

And John Carlson.  Mrs. Blueliner likes to say I've changed my tune about him.  And she's right, but then wives often are.  When I first saw him last season, I didn't much care for what he was doing out there, but you look at him now. Smooth skating through the neutral zone.  Effortless puck handling in all three zones.  The man was running circles around everybody.  Only problem is he ended up a minus one by game's end.  The only black mark on an otherwise super effort.

Neuvirth made more than a few key stops to keep the score tied.  I like how he looks calm and collected in net.  He doesn't look like you would rattle him if you clobbered him with a sheet of plywood--he'd just keep going.  The number one job is all but his, barring injury or disaster.

Long story short, we go to OT.  And it's more of the same, I'm afraid.  Until Ovechkin takes the puck down his wing, dekes around the d-man and flicked it  It goes five-hole (between the legs) and then in!  This with 30 seconds left to the dreaded shootout.  And like I said earlier, this looked to be his worst game in a long time.  But like with all great players, all he needed was one moment to make his mark.

This is what some would call a "character win."  I would agree.  I don't know what it is, but I used to be nervous when the Caps had a one-goal lead late in a game.  Not anymore.  The mentality used to be to pour it on then back up.  Now it's go, go, go regardless of consequence.  They've got the guys to be able to do it, now it's just a matter of being more responsible in your own end and with the puck.  Not sure if its was the  crowd that spurred them on or what but this team had more grit than a case of Metamucil. Only much more refreshing. They're showing me something and I'm liking what I'm seeing. Especially guys like Neuvirth, Carlson, and Hendricks.

And if this team can win when its captain and best player has an awful game for 64 minutes but comes up big in the 65th and last minute, that's a sign of good things to come.

A brief word about the penalty killing--perfect.  Need I say more?  No, but I will anyway.  Twelve for twelve through 3 games.  There was talk in the preseason that the Bruce wanted to implement a more "active" style of penalty killing. As opposed to everybody standing around and letting the action come to them.  Whatever they're trying, it is most definitely working.  Can you imagine if they can keep this up and, more importantly, play like this come playoff time?  I've said before that good penalty killing can help get you far in the playoffs...put two and three together and see what you come up with.

So the Senators may have managed a filibuster, but they got vetoed.  Sorry...it was late and I couldn't resist. Apologies to the folks at On Frozen Blog.

Next up are the Islanders, yet another team not doing so well as of late but just as dangerous, probably more so. (Even without John Tavares)

Yea verily I say unto you, until next time, Rock the Red.


Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin (8) is congratulated by fans as he comes off the ice after scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against the Ottawa Senators during their NHL hockey game in Washington October 11, 2010. REUTERS/Richard Clement (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)