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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Matters Most

Much has been made of how we as hockey fans should feel as a result of the ongoing lockout.  It's ridiculous,  however to take our cue from a journalist or a message board when we should already know how to feel or what to think.  To that end, I won't dare to presume to tell you how to feel about this or anything else that may hit close to home.

That's not to say when something happens that scares us all (or should anyway) that we shouldn't talk about how it makes all feel.  I'm speaking of course about the horrible tragedy that took place last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut.  Something like that throws into sharp relief what ought to be more important to us. As opposed to a potential lost season for a sport that is spinning down the drainpipe towards irrelevancy.
For the sake of clarity and sanity, I won't rehash the events as we all know by now what happened.

I noticed that a local journalist asked in a column today titled: "How Do You Respond to Heartbreak?"  A worthwhile question to ponder, and unfortunately also one with no easy answer.  Again, I won't assume to have any magic answers save one: find a way to go on.  Easier said than done of course.  And of course for those of us who would usually try to get some normality back by enjoying a NHL game or three, that option just isn't available.  But as it turns out, there's a lesson to be learned and it's the fact that there are bigger things in this world we need to take the time to acknowledge.

As for me, I can say this much: I have a daughter as well as a stepson and stepdaughter.  In their own way they've shared my love of hockey, or at least tolerated it.  I have to admit however, I may not have always let them know how important they are. I plan on telling all three that they mean the world to me.  More than most other things I come across, and certainly more than NHL hockey at this moment.  That's the only piece of advice I feel fit to impart, being a parent.  Do right by your children while you can and let them know how you feel.

And if you don't have children, take stock in your own life and figure out what matters most.  You might be surprised what you discover.  Life is a gift and not something to be tossed aside.  Now if only we could just remember that.  Because there's one "L" word that should mean more to us than "lockout."  And that's love.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Art of Fighting Without Fighting Sioux

Yes the lockout goes on.  And on. And on.  But there's no point discussing it for right now because nothing's going to change in the near future. That plus the fact that everybody who's anybody--pundits, media types, fans, and especially those outside observers who loving taking their uninformed potshots--has weighed in already makes a discussion of the lockout here all the more irrelevant.  Suffice to say we all know it stinks.
But we're handling it, each in our own way.  End of that discussion.

Something else I want to get out of the way.  Some administrative type stuff: for those of you seeking the link to the On Frozen Blog site, there is a reason it is currently not listed under the Bluelinemates list.  Recently there has been discovered some malware that has seemingly been traced back to a link from that site.  The kind folks at have let me know this and thankfully enough no machine I've worked with has been affected.  But until such time as the folks at OFB clear up this, ahem, personal issue of theirs, there will not be a link to that site from here.  My apologies for the inconvenience, but it's the only way I can keep things going for the time being.

So now on to the real article......anyone following US College hockey knows at least something about what's going on over at the University of North Dakota.  Good old UND.  Maybe it should now stand for UnkNown Draftees?  Or perhaps UNDaunted in their quest to reach another berth in the Frozen Four?  They're certainly not a team that should be UNDerestimated.  Why the weird acronyms?  Because the storied hockey team, as are all the sports teams at the university are now the team Formerly Known as the Fighting Sioux.  Or, more accurately, the Team That Currently has No Name.  No thanks to that bastion of integrity, the NCAA.

Look, I get the whole argument of taking offense at an entire people or nation being made out to be a "mascot" of a team.  Living where I live (the Washington DC/Baltimore area) I understand full well the whole conundrum of having a team that has a nickname that, for all intents and purposes is a racial slur. Of course I'm speaking of the Washington Redskins.  But like with every discussion, there's at least one other side to the story.

That other side is, strangely enough, the Sioux themselves.  You know, the ones who were actually depicted on the uniforms, buildings and such. As it happens, their voice has yet to be fully heard regarding the matter.
Read the entire article linked and scratch your head in wonder at what has resulted.

I recall a Redskins player from years past, Defensive lineman Charles Mann and his answer when he was asked his opinion on the subject.  To paraphrase, his response was that his opinion on the whole discussion did not matter.  Further, the opinion of those depicted in question, namely all Native Americans, was all that mattered.  This I believe is the right way to think about it.  So if being identified as part of an athletic team is offensive to a particular ethnic group to the point where it causes them grief, then by all means change the name.  But that doesn't seem to be the case here.

I share the same point of view as the writer of the aforementioned article, Greg Wyshynski.  I am yet another pudgy white guy whose opinion does not, nor should not count in this matter.  But that certainly doesn't mean  that I don't have one.  And it is simply this: In the specific case of the Fighting Sioux, the name on its surface seeks to honor the Sioux Nation, not deprecate it in any way.  Disagree with me if you wish, again all I am is a fat white hockey fan who sees the logo and the name Fighting Sioux as something of an homage of sorts to identify a proud people.  As opposed to "Redskins" which as I said, is an ethnic slur, nothing more.

Something  from a hockey history perspective (you had to know it was coming): yes there is a team in the NHL called the Blackhawks.  The name was created to honor the U.S. Army's 86th Infantry division AKA the Black Hawk Division. The founder of the team, Major Frederic McLaughlin, had served in the division during World War I. The division, in turn, was named after the Chief of the Sauk Nation, Black Hawk.  Black Hawk as it turns out is an important figure in the early history of Illinois.  Is this hateful or more of an homage?  The answer varies depending on your viewpoint.

But to conclude, I think it's foolish to completely discount the opinion of the very people that are the subject of this controversy.  And that's exactly what's happened.  That's certainly not to say there aren't those who are offended by the Fighting Sioux logo and name.  But to not take our cue from the majority of the descendants of people who hold a lasting place in American History is in my opinion just as offensive.  After all the Fighting Sioux means just as much to the community as it does to the people who created their memories.  Ask yourself what you think of when you see the logos and read the name anywhere in Grand Forks, ND. Better make it fast, though, because identity seems to mean nothing to the NCAA, who this very moment are making sure all removable traces of the Fighting Sioux are being taken down from the Ralph Engelstad Arena. One of the great things about history is that you get to learn who you were, and therefore who you can be.  Little wonder why it seems like we've lost our way since we don't take pride in our identity.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Breaking My Silence....Part 1

Labor is usually helpless against capital.

---Andrew Carnegie

Yes it has been a while.  No I haven't forgotten about the game I love, but I may yet.  Not that it  pleases me to say that.  But I have never been as disgusted with the game as I am this very minute.  This very minute, where labor talks have proven useless in stopping the NHL's fourth labor disruption in 20 years.

Think about that.  That's something happening every five years in a sport that tries to be one of the four major sports in North America.  And yes I say North America because it's just plain ignorant not to distinguish Canada as its own entity and to shrug off the fact that they enjoy their own sports as well.  But every five years something happening to stop the schedule in its tracks?  Ridiculous.  Keep in mind this includes an entire season lost in 2004-05.  Not even baseball which also lost a season in 1994, has such a horrible record.

Right now I'm coming from the perspective of someone who is in constant fear of  losing their job because of business mismanagement. That fear has become reality in so many different ways.  What I'm saying is that, to a certain extent, I side with the players on this one.  Especially when you have to consider the fact that the players were the unquestioned losers that resulted in the lost season of 2005.  And if anything this is all coming about as a result of business mismanagement.

I do have a background in teaching Social Studies and could easily take you on the other side of the monitor or mobile device through a quick lesson in macroeconomics.  For those of you who are retching right now, don't worry.  I'm not about to dignify the NHL's mistakes by trying to explain them as if it's even worthy of a history lesson.  You only need to know this much--the system is broken and has been broken for some time in that it's hard for all 30 member clubs to financially compete year in and year out. It's painfully obvious that the NHL just can't get their act together and has pretty much destroyed any progress it made in the last seven years.

There will always be a top tier that can afford to spend like crazy, always the frontrunners for any high-profile players that are available.  We all know who they are--the Flyers, Rangers, Maple Leafs (you wouldn't believe it, but yeah) and the Red Wings. Then there are the smaller market teams that try to keep up though the league will say they can't. They don't say they shouldn't, they just say they can't.  Yet they do anyway.  Like Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold giving out contracts to two players totaling $196 million in one day.   This is the same man who pretty much refused to spend a dime in improving his previous team the Nashville Predators.  What is this guy trying to do?  Prove he has the world's first case of hockey schizophrenia?  This is just one example of the mess the owners have created.

By the way, if the owners insist on imposing shackles on the players such as no unrestricted free agency for eight years or whatever, I think it's only fair that the door swings both ways.  As in clowns like Leipold not being able to own another NHL franchise for a certain number of years (or better yet forever) after selling off another.

Not that the players don't have their own share of the blame.  While they went out and won the PR war about HRR (Hockey Related Revenue), that only meant that they clearly were not all that serious about reaching a solution that ensured the season started on time.  And it should be obvious to everyone that that was their strategy all along.  Who made most of the proposals? And then who dragged out the responses to those proposals? Need I say more?

Do I claim to have a solution to all this?  If I could insert a laugh track here I would.  Of course I don't have a solution because there is no one right answer to all this and that's the pitfall.  So what as fans are we left to do?  Well as it happens, we do have options, a lot of which have nothing to do with hockey.  For our friends north of the border, I envy you.  Why?  Because a lot of you will have a lot of minor hockey options within spitting distance.  That's not to say we can't get our hockey fix no matter where you are.  No, it won't be the same and it won't be what we've been waiting the longest of summers for.  But there's lots of ways to enjoy this sport we've come to love.  More on this in the podcast.

In the meantime, your influence, your voice still counts.  My silence was for personal and other reasons, not to mention the fact that I didn't feel as if I should even dignify all this crap with a response.  I felt this way because I figured my purpose was to put out my observations mainly on what was happening on the ice.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

Take advantage of the times we live in, get out there and let both sides know how you feel.  There have been calls to do an "Occupy" protest outside the NHL store.  There has also been a plea for all fans to boycott officially licensed NHL merchandise for a year.  Both of these are legitimate forms of protest and will hit owners and players where they deserve--in the wallet.  But if all you do is get on the social media outlets and speak your minds, that is just as valid.  What isn't valid, from my point of view anyway, is this self hating nonsense.  In other words, for God's sake if you're going to speak, speak intelligently and don't just scream obscenities and nonsensical garbage.  It might make you feel better but it'll make you look like the idiot you claim not to be.

Yes, when (or God forbid, if) this all blows over and the NHL takes the ice again, we as fans will come back.  Was Gary Bettman an ass for assuming what we will do, even if there is a lockout?  You bet he is.
Sadly, he is correct.  We are hockey fans and there is nothing better in the hockey world than NHL action. Some of us will take our time coming back, and there will even be a fair few that turn their backs on the league for good.  But the vast majority will be back and that's good enough for the owners, even the ones that like to cry poor.

And if the unthinkable should happen and (shudder) the season should be canceled...or worse?  Well as sad as that will be, that is when things will get interesting.  Just because the NHL is the only game in this part of town doesn't necessarily mean it owns hockey.  And it cannot rule the game if it fails to function.  Read up on your pro hockey history and see for yourself how there have been different leagues that have challenged the NHL, albeit unsuccessfully.  If anyone gets the notion and the wherewithal, things could get very interesting indeed.  At the very least it would be a topic worth discussing.

So get out there, loyal hockey fan.  Let the world know you're not taking this quietly.  Let players and owners know that they can sit on their collective assets and let the league simmer in its own incompetence.
Let them think hockey will cease to exist for the time being.  But be sure to let them know how you feel about it.  Because hockey is a part of us, it is for all of us, it is an unquenchable fire within us.  And no one can own that.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Crown 'em the Kings of Hockey!

Absent a massive comeback the likes of which the world of hockey hasn't seen in exactly 70 years, it looks like the Los Angeles Kings will skate away with the Cup.  If it doesn't happen tonight, surely it will happen within the next week or so.  And if we can assume they win tonight, not a big leap when considering their playoff performance this year, how will they be remembered?  How should they be remembered?

If you'll pardon the obvious pun, this Kings team has all the makings of a dynasty.  And when you have the words "hockey" and dynasty in the same conversation you tend to think of several teams.  The great Montreal Canadiens teams of the 50's and 70's surely come to mind. Surely the New York Islanders four straight Cups in the 80's merit a look.  But for most people's money the ideal hockey dynasty, not to mention the most recent, is the Edmonton Oilers of the mid to late 80's.

Their record speaks for itself--five Cups from 1984 to 1990. That team had it all...with the possible exception of a stingy defense.  Their most dominant year was 1988, where they won the 16 games necessary while losing only twice.  Which brings us back to today.  If the Kings win tonight, they will match that record.

Maybe the Kings don't have those giant names like Gretzky, Fuhr, McSorely, Coffey, and Kurri.  Maybe they don't need them.  Besides, Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, and Anze Kopitar are already household names to those of us in the know.  This steamroller of a playoff run has been a perfect showcase for their talents:

Jonathan Quick--lives up to his surname, literally.  Makes all the saves he supposed to make, and just about all the ones he's NOT supposed to make. Master of the toe save.  Stands to finish with the best playoff goals-against average in over 70 years.

Drew Doughty--his end-to-end goal in game 2 of the Final is probably THE defining moment in these playoffs for the Kings.  Pure skill and speed personified.  Looks like he's worth that big contract after all.

Anze Kopitar--the Slovenian sniper has been a "sleeper" pick in lots of fantasy drafts.  Not anymore.  He hasn't failed to score less than 20 goals and 60 points in his six years as an NHLer.  And at 24 his best years are probably still ahead of him.  Scary, eh?

And some slightly lesser lights:

Dustin Brown--Captain and all around force on and off the ice.  Plays on the edge (just ask the Coyotes) and is good at getting under the other team's skin.  His star hasn't shined as bright during this round, but he's set the tone for the Kings in the first three rounds, doing everything it takes to win which is just what a Captain should do.

Jeff Carter--Was probably the "missing piece" the Kings needed as they were goal-starved for most of the year until he arrived.  GM Dean Lombardi took a huge gamble on him and appears to have won the jackpot.  Still struggles with inconsistency at times, but has been there when needed most.

Alec Martinez--Next to Doughty he is probably the best young D-man the Kings have. He's not quite as flashy, but he's extremely reliable and remarkably poised for a young defenseman.  As his confidence grows, so will his ice time.  Best of all. he won't hurt his team in his own end.

Dwight King--Nothing has been handed to him and that's the way he likes it.  Has come up with some clutch performances after he was called up in the season.  Possesses an abundance of determination and grit and has a surprisingly nice scoring touch around the net.  Like Martinez, he's only 22 and only looks to get better.

Dustin Penner--Pancake Man has endured a forgettable season to become a solid playoff performer.  I hope for his sake his soon-to-be ex doesn't try to claim his Stanley Cup ring, however.

There's a pattern to this team--a lot of their players are 24 or younger. Some are just entering their prime, others are having breakout years. And others like Jordan Nolan are getting their first shot and making the most of it.  With the help of veterans like Justin Williams, Rob Scuderi, Willie Mitchell, and Jarret Stoll rounding things out, it's easy to see why this team had so much promise in previous years.  And in what should sound like a familiar story, they gelled at exactly the right time.

So yes it's early to declare this team a potential dynasty, especially since there hasn't even been a repeat Cup winner since 1998.  But this Kings team has all the makings of a team that should dominate for years to come.  What will be interesting is how the Eastern teams try to come up with something to match them come playoff time.  Not sure how they would do it but it will be fun to watch them try.

One Cup wonder?  We'll find out....if the powers that be are willing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Powerplay Point Podcast Show #7

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Here it is, our first season and playoffs wrap up.  Have an opinion?  Agree or disagree?  Let me hear you, hockey fans!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Howling Mad, Royally....

Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, even when my team hasn't been involved has been incredible.  There's been much to like, a lot to be enjoyed, and we still have just over a round to go.  When you're not watching your team play, generally you want to see a good game.  And you want to see the best team win and have the players decide it--preferably within the rules.

Well that's not what you got for an ending if you saw last night's Western Conference Final with the Kings skating away with the series win.

And why?  Because the referees could not be bothered to do their job. Missed calls aplenty on both sides.  Drew Doughty of the Kings was called for interference when it was his stick that was held on the play.

Then there was the ridiculousness where goalie Mike Smith lost his glove and the refs acted like: "Don't look at us, we don't know what to do!" Never mind they could have legally whistled the play dead.

Don't even get me started on Slava Voyanov and how he threw the puck over the glass. The damn refs have been so quick to call this one all year long.  How could they miss it this time?  This is taking the time-honored rule of not calling penalties in overtime to a ridiculous extreme.

But of course there was one act that was worse than all that came before it.  I think most of you know what I'm talking about.  If not, read on....

Dustin Brown is a dirty, dirty player.  I don't want to read a single article complaining about Alex Ovechkin anymore now that this guy has shown what he's all about on a national stage.

There are those out there, and I admit there are a lot of them, who say Brown is not guilty of anything illegal.  But the damning evidence is the reverse angle of the replay.  If you throw out the whether or not the hit is late, what you have left to question is the legality of the hit.  Again, take a look at the reverse angle of the replay and tell me you don't see what I see.

While you're watching, bear in mind this little piece of information--straight out of the Official NHL Rulebook:

50.1 Kneeing - Kneeing is the act of a player leading with his knee and in some cases extending his leg outwards to make contact with his opponent.

Here's my point...despite the officials taking a nap for the whole game I was actually enjoying what was arguably the best game in the playoffs up to that point.  Because the game ended not thirty seconds later when the Coyotes were all discombobulated and lost one of their best puck moving defensemen.  And before anybody says anything, Shane Doan was absolutely right in giving Brown an earful in the handshake line.  As much as I respect that tradition that no other sport has, I believe Doan was perfectly justifed.  Anybody calling this whining needs to shut up and think of what it's like to be a leader of a team.

So to close, I would like to extend a personal thank you to the referees of last night's game--Kevin Pollock and Brad Watson.  You two gentlemen absolutely ruined what was shaping up to be the best game of the playoffs.  Thanks so much!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hunter Rides Off into the Sunset.....

So the inevitable happened and it became appropriate for Dale Hunter to make his call.  His call was to go back to the family farm in Petrolia, Ontario.  Back to his ultimate dream job of running his team, his way.
I said it was inevitable for a reason.  No one should be surprised by any of this.  After all, if you think about it Hunter was helping out an old friend in need.  And it just so happened that Hunter might have harbored thoughts of plying his trade in the big time, having already proven himself in the Canadian Junior leagues.  Even so you got the feeling from the off that this was going to be a temporary arrangement at best.  And so it Hunter's choice as it turned out.

It was the media that assumed when Hunter first took over he was on a short leash.  Oh how wrong they were.  Oh how I'm enjoying how wrong they still are.  Because you see if it's one thing I admire it's someone who does things their way...and never apologizes for it.  Hunter not only pulled that off, he also walked away on his own terms.  But it doesn't matter what the cynics in the hockey media choose to believe, Hunter accomplished what he set out to do.  He changed the culture and the psychology of the team.  We saw a completely different team both on the ice and in the locker room as a result.

Never mind that the problem with the team is whether or not that change of mindset sticks through next season and beyond.  Never mind even that the transformation took almost too long to take root. He may not have even been the right guy for the time--there were certainly more qualified, accomplished, and experienced coaches available.  But none of that matters now.  Because for once this team has been shown what it can do if they believe they are greater than they are as individuals, and their best player led the way.

It wasn't pretty, it wasn't always eye-catching, and it certainly didn't make anybody go ooh and aah--unless you saw someone take a blocked shot in the tenders.  But for a month and a half, it worked.

And now whoever remains on the team needs to follow the example, pull themselves up by the jock strap, and carry on.  Because it only gets harder from here.  But then if the Cup were easy to win, it wouldn't be worth winning, would it?  Of course not.

Godspeed, Mr. Hunter.  And it wouldn't surprise me one damn bit to see you chewing gum behind an NHL bench again someday.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Recap 5/12 Game 7 vs NY Rangers

Rangers  2
Capitals  1
Game and Series Winning Goal--Michael Del Zotto
Three Stars--Henrik Lundquist, Brad Richards, Michael Del Zotto

There is no shame in losing when you give it  your absolute best effort and you leave it all on the ice.  There is shame, however if you don't go into the most important game with the utmost intensity and effort.

I will give you three guesses which of those were how the Caps approached this Game 7 and the first two don't count.

If you haven't figured it out by now, they lost because they just plain didn't show up.   Again.

To come so far only to have it end this way is the ultimate kick in the groin.  Especially when one considers how many times this team had its collective back to the wall again and again and came out stronger every time. Or so we were led to believe.

So many factors that happened in this game and all the other losses in this series....

Dennis Wideman's overall sloppy play and minus 7 rating.
Alex Ovechkin getting knocked off the puck for the eventual series winning goal.
Alexander Semin disappearing once again in a second round playoff series.
Joel Ward's four minute minor in Game know the rest.
Braden Holtby's momentary loss of focus in Games 1 and 7.
The power play once again tanking when it was needed the most.
The whole team running out of gas in triple OT in Game 3.
Umpteen kerjillion shots that either hit posts, crossbars, and other such ridiculousness that for some cosmic reason resulted in their never reaching the back of the net.

All of the above were only parts of the reason they lost.  But it wasn't for any one reason.  Just like it wasn't because of any one player.  While it's true they rode the hotness of Holtby's puckstopping and the exuberance of Ovechkin's leadership...for fourteen games they lived out the ultimate credo:

Win as a team, lose as a team.

Which brings us to the flip side--how this team got this far.  They played better than the sum of their parts and became better than 23-plus individuals by the end of the ride.  Just as Dale Hunter said, they figured out exactly how they needed to play in order to win in the playoffs.  And they were one win away from the Conference Final.  After that, anything could happen.  You can't help but think this team is one final piece away from putting it all together.

Or are they?  They may not be, but that's for a later discussion.  Now is a time to reflect on what was accomplished.  The Washington Capitals didn't get there going the usual way.  They looked simply awful at times to be honest, but the point is that they did indeed finally get there.  They can be proud of what they did--eliminated the defending Cup champs and put the regular season Conference champs on the brink.  It was a hell of a playoff ride and fun to watch.

Yes they fell short once again, but as always, they made life very interesting for all of us who call ourselves Caps fans.  Here's to next year, whatever it may bring...even if it's another heartbreak.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Recap 5/9 Game 6 vs NY Rangers

Capitals  2
Rangers  1

GWG--Jason Chimera
Three Stars: Braden Holtby, Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera

Never say die!  Or some such phrase.....

As fearful as I was going into last night's game, you just knew the Caps would come out with a stone-faced attitude towards what had happened the game before and the task in front of them.

In other words, they just simply had to forget about Game 5 and move on. Here's how they did it....

It all began just over a minute into the game when Jason Chimera was hauled down by Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman.  A word about that--Stralman hasn't impressed me all that much and why John Tortorella plays him as much as he does is beyond me.  Unless he's using him to spell off his big horses like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.  In any case, he just seems overmatched and a liability no matter who he plays against, and taking that penalty was just more proof of that.

The Caps top power play unit took the ice and they only needed 15 seconds to make something happen.  Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green did their usual masterful job in keeping the cycle going.  Ryan Callahan lost his footing along the left wing boards which created that much more space for Alex Ovechkin, and that was all he needed.  Green found him all alone in the high slot and the Captain sent a wrister home for the early lead.

The way this team continues to evolve has been a marvel to local writers who otherwise care not and know not about hockey. It has also been a topic of debate for those more knowledgeable about the game. Either way, it was noticeable last night as the Caps decided not to go into a defensive shell after that goal, but to keep their foot on the gas.  They actually held an early lead in shots in the first period before the Rangers eventually over took them.  Even so, they ended up putting nine shots on net for the period.  The rest of the way, they didn't exactly trade shot for shot, but they kept up well, coming close on several chances.

Around 11 minutes into the second, the Caps created a sustained cycle in the Rangers' end of the ice.  Backstrom again was key in keeping the play going.  The puck ended up on John Carlson's stick, who put it on net.  It deflected off Backtrom's skate over to a waiting Jason Chimera for a tap-in..  This was of course the eventual game winner.  But none of it would have happened at all had it not been for the hard work of Alexander Semin.  Let me say that again...the hard work of Alexander Semin. Believe it.  Not sure if you can?  Watch the game highlights.  By the way, that name again is Alexander Semin, not Jacques Cousteau.

With time dwindling in the third, the Rangers pulled Henrik Lundquist. Marian Gaborik scored with just under a minute left in pinball like fashion. More on this later.  Other than that one blemish, Braden Holtby was again superb.  He was literally a human vacuum cleaner, swallowing up every shot that came his way.  He was of course ably assisted by the corps of shot blockers.  EXCEPT for Jay Beagle.  Unfortunately and unbeknownst to me until I heard John Walton's bewildered explanation of it, Snoopy would miss the game with an undisclosed (when is anything EVER disclosed come playoff time???) injury.  If I had to guess, he blocked a shot last game and it felt none too good.

That last goal, the one at the end that spoiled the shutout.  It gave new meaning to the phrase et le but(t). As in that's how it went John Carlson's.

Speaking of duffs, here's a nice video.  I've always wondered--what would he do for an encore?

And on that subject, it should be pointed out that the Captain got lots of love for his efforts last night.  This from the same talking heads and swordsmen and swordswomen who wrote him off earlier for having a bad year.  Say it with me....we're sorry, Alex.

Three cheers to the Penalty Killing units.  Although, if I had my way, they wouldn't have been out there as many times as they had to be!  A double-minor for high-sticking?  Gee, good thing THAT wasn't disaster...again.

So onward to another Game 7 we go.  Yes we've been here before, but that won't guarantee the same result as before.  I'm just hoping for a clean game without any controversy or some sort of screw up by either team. Or the officials for that matter, and that includes the people running the clock.  And may the best team long as that team is in the road white colors.

One final all my fellow pizza lovers out there.  Though they didn't score the four goals needed, Papa John's has decided to accept the usual code in celebration of the Caps efforts.  Enter CAPS50 when placing your online order today....and enjoy!  I know I will!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Recap 5/7 Game 5 vs NY Rangers

Rangers  3
Capitals  2  (OT)

GWG--Marc Staal
Three Stars:  Marc Staal, Brad Richards, Braden Holtby

If I could accurately portray in words the urge to hurl my television over a cliff after what I saw last night I would. Sadly, you'll have to be content with my just saying it.

Can you call it a collapse?  I don't even know what to call what happened in the game's dying minutes.  Perhaps this would best describe it all.

Six seconds.  The Washington Capitals were six seconds away from being one win away from the Conference Final--a place they have been in 14 years.  There's heartbreak and then there's this...right now I can't tell you which is worse because I've felt both.  Well that's not true because while it seems there's no tomorrow in the playoffs, there is always next season.

Being a Capitals fan for as long as I have I've seen some playoff disasters in my time.  I'm not going to go into the roll call of it here, there's no need. But let's just say Joel Ward's last minute double minor will forever go down as one of THE playoff meltdowns of all time.  They say winning cures everything, so there's a chance, slim as it is, that this can all be erased and remembered fondly as another bump in the playoff road.

But I doubt it.

Looking at the game itself, at first you had to wonder if the Caps were ever in it at all.  They were horribly outshot 17 to 4 in the first period alone.  Not surprisingly, they found themselves trailing by a goal by period's end.  I don't really have to tell what happened for the rest of the game---Brooks Laich tied it and then John Carlson put them ahead with his now patented blast from the power play point.  All seemed right with the world until about 22 seconds left.  That's when Joel Ward decided he wanted to be Carl Hagelin's dentist.

Then Brad Richards (you kinda knew it would be him) got that goal near the end of regulation.  And it was the beginning of the end.  One penalty killed. And they almost killed the other.  Almost. Until Marc Staal's shot from the power play point ended it.

It's cruel when you think about it.  Joel Ward was the hero in the last series and he figured to be the goat in last night's game.  But those are the fortunes you deal with in hockey sometimes.  You're a hero one minute and a bum the next.

Yes there's at least one game left and it's in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center.  And we're still very much alive in the playoffs which means anything can happen.  But you have to wonder, with all the resilience the Caps have shown--can they get past this?  Will this be the last rally before the Rangers go in for the knockout blow?  There's only one way to find out.  And I'm not really anywhere near as confident about our chances as I was a while ago.  But there's still a chance, and sometimes that's all you need.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Recap 5/5 Game 4 vs NY Rangers

Capitals  3
Rangers  2

GWG--Mike Green
Three Stars: Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Artem Anisimov

So much for the fatigue factor, eh?

This game was the epitome of a back-and-forth, up-and-down, you-hit-me-I'll-hit-you-right-back run.

We begin of course with Ovechkin's goal.  He had already taken several shots with no success.  I take that back.  He was successful--in finding Henrik Lundquist's glove.  But like all great players, he persisted, and persistence always pays off.  And it did pay off at 12:43 of the first period.  Officially, the goal has no assists posted.  However, it should be pointed out that he was indeed assisted, just not by a Capital. Much celebrated rookie Chris Kreider made a bad clearing attempt that found its way onto Ovechkin's stick.  One hard blast from the point later, the Caps had first blood.  On a side note, Kreider also found himself on the ice for another goal against and saw his ice time drop to 7:34.

Unfortunately, Ovechkin was also responsible for the game's next goal early the next stanza. Perhaps proving why he gets a seat on the bench in key defensive situations, he  let Dan Girardi get around him.  Once Girardi did so he was able to find Artem Anisimov for a quick tap-in.

The Captain giveth and the Captain taketh away....

But then, there was Backstrom.  His was perhaps the most satisfying goal of the game, maybe even the series. Pursuing the puck, he found himself in the corner where he absorbed (and returned) not one, but two hits before sending the puck behind the net to Joel Ward.  Ward left it for Jason Chimera in the opposite corner, who zipped it to, appropriately enough, Backstrom who finished the play from the slot.

Who says Swedes don't go into corners?  Soft?  I don't think so.  That is, until....

Mark Staal sent out a zone clear that began harmlessly enough.  Except someone forgot to tell Artem Anisimov that it was probably going to end up as an icing.  The Caps defense pair of Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman also missed that memo as they completely gave up on the play and let Anisimov go.  There's no two ways about it--that was simply Gosh-awful hockey.  The end result was a near carbon copy of the winning goal from last game, down to the same guy who scored it, Marian Gaborik.

So we entered the third period tied, and you had to wonder when the two teams would start making mistakes. The fatigue factor was beginning to work its way into the game.  And it showed in various lapses and breakdowns on both ends.   The Caps had two glorious chances, one stopped on a brilliant save by Lundquist and one that suffered an early death by referee's whistle.

Late in the period, John Carlson found himself in a battle with Carl Hagelin when Hagelin decided to audition for one of these.  Fortunately, all that was damaged was Carlson's stick.  The Caps took advantage of this opportunity when Mike Green slapped home the eventual game winner from the point.  Welcome back, number 52.  Much rejoicing ensued about an hour or so later when they finally got the last minute of the game played.

A word about a certain questionable play.  There will be those that will stand on their soapbox and bleat until whenever that Ovechkin should be suspended for his hit on Dan Girardi.  Yes he left the ice.  No, the principal point of contact was not the head.  And, most importantly, there was no injury on the play.  Whether you like it or don't like it, it is the standard used to judge the severity of a play.  If the Office of Player Safety gets this one right, we will all be feeling fine.

It's hard to say that the momentum has shifted to our side.  Control of the momentum has been fleeting at best for both teams.  But I like the way this team keeps on showing its resilience.  And they will need more of it in this now best of three series.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Recap 5/2 (5/3) Game 3 vs. NY Rangers

Rangers   2
Capitals   1 (3 OT)

GWG:  Marian Gaborik
Three Stars:  Marian Gaborik, Henrik Lundquist, Braden Holtby  (kind of a no-brainer there!)


I swear I am a glutton for punishment...this team, I don't know what it is. They're like a cruel lover, they bring you all the way to the brink and then just leave you hanging.

And yes, even now as I write this, three days after it happened, I am STILL recovering from it all.  I kinda feel bad, because at times....dare I say it?  I wanted the damn thing to end so I could just go to bed.  But this isn't baseball after all--this is hockey.  And when it's the Cup that's on the line, you play until there is a winner.

Because it's the Cup.

And with that you are reminded....whyyyyyyyyyyyyy it is these players (and their fans) put themselves through absolute hell every spring.

Now, I wouldn't put this game anywhere up there with some of the multi-OT classics such as the Easter Epic or Game 4 of the 1996 Conference Quarters against Pittsburgh.  But this game had its moments; such as Matt Hendricks perfectly delivered (and clean!) body check.  And Ryan Callahan's relentless pursuit of the puck.  Not to mention Alex Ovechkin shooting...and shooting...and shooting.

Of course by the time the sixth period had trudged around, the players were skating in Belgian mud.  The whole flipping time I couldn't help but think, "all those missed chances all those times before in the game are going to come back and bite them in the ass."  Well, sure enough.....and naturally it was a Brad Richards' pass that found Marian Gaborik for the goal.  Although I was sure Ryan Callahan would have a hand in the winning goal, he just would not let up.  I swear he was like DiSaronno served when it's served best--all over the ice.

Yaaaawwn.  Well, I think I'll catch a quick nap before the game starts.  Judging by how damn close these games have been, I'll probably need it!

Friday, May 4, 2012

OnAssignment--Love for Glendale's Go-getters

Yes the title of this post is correct.  And yes this is still a Caps blog.  But there is a saying...they that pay the piper call the tune.  Well, my tune has been called, and it comes from the direction of the great American Southwest.  I've mentioned one of best friends, Pete, on both the blog here and on the podcast.  We both grew up hockey fans.  We watched the Caps' highs and lows and marveled at the great Rangers teams of the 1990's. So when he went out to Arizona State University after we both graduated high school naturally he began following the Coyotes.  And though they lost last night against the Predators, don't think for a second that they've lost their grip.  This could well be their finest hour.  Which is exactly why I'm lending my voice to give an evaluation of how this team got to where it is now and where it will go in its quest for the Cup.

Most who give a damn, or at least those of us in the hockey world know the story of the Coyotes as it is now--they're in need of an owner and for whatever reason, it's gotten to be a lot more complicated than it should have been.  Until that time the League is paying the bills, and has been for going on three years now.  And through it all, the Coyotes have been playing some damn fine hockey.  But this year they managed to take it up a notch and win the Pacific Division title.

And that takes us to the playoffs.  Their first test wasn't an easy one, the Chicago Blackhawks.  But they beat them in six games.  Through it all there were the controversies of the suspensions of Raffi Torres and goalie Mike Smith's questionable injury that got Andrew Shaw banished for a few games.  But through it all, they didn't back down and did what they had to do, even if it meant working overtime...literally.

So that's the back story anyway.  And now they stand two wins away from the Conference Final.  But who are these guys that do what they do, playing a game on ice in a land where ice doesn't tend to last very long That, folks is the key to their success--it's who they are that makes them what they are on the ice.  I will explain.

It starts with their coach, Dave Tippett.  There's no flashy, headline grabbing star here.  It's 20 plus guys that take their direction in a belief that a team game wins the day.  Sometimes they'll light it up for more than just 2 or three if you give them the opportunity, but usually they'll stick to their guns and wait for you to make a mistake.  Tippett's game plan ensures that all 19 guys (20, minus the backup goalie) work hard and make the most of their efforts.  And they're relentless. Don't believe me? Watch their games.  Because they're like the mail with the Postal Service--they keep coming in waves, even after the budget's been cut.

Their on-ice leader is Shane Doan, who has been the team's Captain since 2003.  If anyone personifies this team, it's Doan.  He's the last holdover from when the team came over from Winnipeg back in 1996.  He will do anything it takes to win: score, fight, block shots, hit, hustle.  He's even gone over the line once, being suspended last year for an illegal hit.  But, to be good, you have to play with an edge, and Doan has that. His scoring touch has slowed some, but don't count him out when a goal is needed.

Taking a look at the offensive side of the puck, the Yotes have several options on the attack.  First there's the grand old man of the team, Ray Whitney, AKA, the "Wizard."  His OT goal in Game 1 set the tone for this series against Nashville as he is always a threat to score.  He's still getting it done and he hasn't even hit 40 years young yet...but he will May 8. Then there's Antoine Vermette, a slick center picked up at the trade deadline from Columbus.  He leads the team in points so far this playoff season.  And for speed and clutch scoring, there is Mikkel Boedker.  The Great Dane is coming into his own this playoffs, with two OT goals and is one of the fastest players in the league.

On the defensive side of the puck, there's a roll call filled with puck movers and hard hitters.  Keith Yandle and Rostislav ("Rusty") Klesla are the puck movers and Derek Morris and Adrian Aucoin are the hitters.  But the crown jewel of the defensive corps is young Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Swedish Treat is a Norris Trophy winner in the making and gets a lot of love from all the different hockey shows and podcasts I listen to. Yandle led the D-corps in points, but it won't be too long before he passes that torch to Ekman-Larsson.  They are the key to the transition game that keeps them in so many games.

Finally, we have the last line of defense--the goalie. Mike Smith was handed the goaltending duties this year when Ilya Bryzgalov left via free agency.  To say that his road to success has been bumpy would be an understatement.  He started out in Dallas then was traded to Tampa Bay, where he struggled with consistency and eventually lost his job to Dwayne Roloson.  Many had said he was finished and wrote him off as a career backup.  But Tippett, his old coach in Dallas, saw something in him and pushed to have him picked up before the season began.  And before anyone says it's Tippett's system that is the key and not Smith's goaltending, consider this: In 9 playoff games he's stopped 94.2% of the shots he's faced and has made at least 30 saves in every one of his starts except for the last game against Nashville, where he still stopped 24 of 26 in a losing effort.

Sometimes all you have to be is the right guy at the right time in the right situation.

In the playoffs, the trick is to find a way to win, no matter what.  This team is two wins away from its first ever trip to a Conference Final. Beyond that lies the Cup.  And as I've said, anything is possible in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  And this is not your typical "trapping" team either: they fight for every loose puck and they skate as hard as anybody.  When even that breaks down, they have a goalie who has done nothing less but stand on his head.

So to hockey fans from Glendale to Gibraltar and back, I'm putting in a couple zinc lincs: give the Phoenix Coyotes a chance.  Watch them play. They will win you over, even if they don't win the game.  Though this year feels different...I'll be watching, and loving every minute of it!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Playoff Uh-Ohs, Part 1

A trio of Russians find themselves in the playoff spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  Don't worry, Caps fans...Alex Ovechkin is not one of them.

First, we have winger Ilya Kovalchuk, he of the New Jersey Devils who looked uncomfortable all through game one of their series against the Philadelphia Flyers.  As a result he was a non factor.  We now know why as it is the result of an undisclosed injury.  Needless to say, this doesn't bode well for the Devils' already slim playoff hopes.  They trail the Flyers 1-0 in their series.

Next, we have forwards Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn of the Nashville Predators.  Neither of them will play in the Game 3 of their series against the Phoenix Coyotes.  But they are not injured, rather they are out as a result of a team-imposed suspension due to a violation of team rules.  No one  is commenting on the nature of the suspension, but if it leaves them in the press box in a critical game, it must have been bad.  Or at least very naughty.

The Predators are being dominated by the Coyotes as the series switches to Nashville for Games 3 and 4.  Down 2-0, this probably couldn't have happened at a worse time for the Predators.  Stay tuned.

Recap 4/30 Game 2 vs NY Rangers

Capitals  3
Rangers  2

GWG: Alex Ovechkin
Three Stars:  Braden Holtby, Michael Del Zotto, Alex Ovechkin

Grandma Fiddler said it best.

A much needed win in a hostile environment to even the series.  Now we're back in it.  And the best part is that our Captain is back on the board.  With the game winner no less.

This series is shaping up to be another old fashioned, grind-it-out, score while you can type of showdown.  In other words, a lot like the last series.  Now there was one other encouraging sign other than Alex Ovechkin's overall play (what little we saw of it).  And that was the fact that the Capitals jumped out to a two goal lead in the first period.  Which once again confirms what we already know about Henrik Lundquist--that despite his heroics, he can be beaten.  Observe.....

After some helter-skelter play on both sides, the scoring finally opened on a beautiful pass play that was finished by Mike Knuble.  The play started with a Joel Ward rush into the zone, then a dish to Keith Aucoin, who waited until the right moment to throw it to Knuble for the tap-in at the top of the crease.  Time of the goal was 12:20.  Nearly five minutes later the puck was sent around the boards where Lundquist played it, but was beaten to it by Jason Chimera.  He dug it out to the high slot where Matt Hendricks threw it on net and it trickled in with some help from Chimera.

Towards the end of the period however, the Rangers would strike--Michael Del Zotto and Marian Gaborik connected with Brad Richards for a tap-in with 43 seconds left in the first.  I always say, last minute goals are a thing to fear....beware the momentum shift.  The good news was that it took a while for that momentum swing to happen.  The bad news, well, is that it happened.  It took place 6:58 into the third period, while shorthanded no less.  Can't blame the zebras on this one--Mike Knuble tried to play the puck with a high stick.  All he got was Ryan Callahan's face.  Lucky for him it was only two minutes.  Unlucky for the Caps the Rangers only needed 56 seconds to score.  Callahan deflected it from in front off a bomb from the powerplay point by Richards.

The awful feeling of "oh no, here we go again" hung in the air after that goal.  After all, it was a lost lead. But that could only mean one thing--the Caps needed someone to save the day.  Or something like that.

Now he may have only had 13 minutes of ice time, but Alex Ovechkin sure didn't carry himself that way.  His attitude was not lost on the NBC Sports commentators, who praised him constantly for how he went about his business both on and off the ice.  Speaking of the former, yes it was he who broke the tie, but it was the way he did it that made it so special. The Caps were the beneficiaries of a power play, which resulted from a constant battle between John Carlson and Brad Richards. Carlson was held more than my last date held me, but that's another story.  Richards would eventually get called for it, which set the stage. 

If the Rangers power play took 56 seconds, the Capitals only needed four. Nicklas Backstrom took the draw, won it, and promptly set a screen in front of Lundquist.  That would be all Ovechkin needed.  After collecting Backstrom's draw pass, he circled to the left side of the power play point and BAM! (Sorry, Emeril) Instant lead!  He topped it off by celebrating at center ice, letting the stunned Madison Square Garden crowd know that, yes, he could hear them, and no, he didn't give a damn.  Six and a half minutes later after much clanging of posts and biting of nails, the Caps emerged victorious.


We begin with our Man Bites Dog item--Dennis Wideman was one of three Capitals to finish the game at minus one.  MUST RESIST URGE TO SMASH TELEVISION....when he touches the puck, that is.

Speaking of dogs, Jay Beagle led all forwards in ice time by over a minute.  He also led with five hits and picked up an assist. That's a hard working dog, not anything at like Snoopy.

Now Braden Holtby did indeed earn his number 1 star last night.  But he wouldn't have gotten anywhere without some help from the Washington posts.  No, I don't mean the newspaper.  I counted at least three clangs, one for each post and the crossbar in the third period alone.

Paging Alex Semin, that's Alexander Semin, your presence is requested sometime this series.

An ill-advised change leads to a goal.  It was Brooks Laich who...had to go to the bathroom?  had to send an urgent text?  forgot to tie his skate? Whatever the reason it was embarrassing to see.  Might as well have give the Rangers an unannounced power play.

You're kidding?  The Caps blew a lead?  Nahhh, impossible.

Smacka da forehead--Jeff Schultz paired with Dennis Wideman?  Sergeant Stiff and Corporal Clumsy?  Can someone please explain this?

One coaching decision that is working least for the use (or lack thereof) of Alex Ovechkin. The more the media puffs up this story, the more it blows up in their face, which would explain why the talking heads were so on board with it.  Half of a controversy comes from how it is treated by those directly involved.  So far, both Coach Hunter and the Captain have said it is a non-issue.  As long as they continue to treat it like a non issue, there will be no potential fallout.  But one wonders what will happen if things start to take a turn for the worse. This has the potential to change the life of the playoff run for this team. (Cue ominous music here).

So the Caps have come away from the Big Apple with a split.  Good things come when you share.  Let's hope this is a continuation of a trend.

Game 4 is at Verizon Center tomorrow night with an approximate puck drop time of 7:41.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Recap Game 1 vs NY Rangers

Go ahead, say it with me....

I was afraid this would happen.

Yes, instead of riding the huge wave of momentum from eliminating the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals promptly jumped off and started acting like another mediocre hockey team. Now I didn't have the fortune (or misfortune) of actually seeing the game due to family obligations, but by all accounts the team that just defeated the defending Cup champs was on vacation for Game 1.

Note to Alexander Semin: if you get slashed by anyone in blue, make like your wife or significant other is communicating with you and DON'T RETALIATE!

And another thing, while keeping the opposition down to less than 20 shots is a good thing, you have to take more than that total in order to score.

Mr. Holtby, please do not forget who you were just a few days ago.  Or at least forget who you were on Saturday.

That is all.  This team knows what to do.  It's just a matter of doing it. Being down 2-0 isn't necessarily a disaster, but a split would be much better.  Just saying.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Recap 4/25 Game 7 vs Bruins

Capitals  2
Bruins     1  (OT)

Game and Series Winning goal:  Joel Ward  

Three Stars: Joel Ward (duh!), Tyler Seguin, Dennis Seidenberg

Seventh Heaven!!!!

Now that I've gotten what has to be the biggest cliche in all sports out of the way....

We all know by now what happened.  And now that what has been, literally, the closest playoff series in NHL history is over it's time to catch our collective breath.  But not before reflecting on what just happened, because it was yet another defining moment in a season for team still trying to find out who they are.

Let me first start by giving a nod to the former Japers Rink Radio show. Because they nailed this, only it was two years ago.  It was after the utter disaster that was the 2010 playoffs and they, Steven Pepper and Russell Waxman, discussed the need for the team to undergo something of a makeover.  They saw this as necessary because it was painfully obvious that skill alone was NEVER going to get them through the playoffs.  This lesson the Caps would learn, but only to a small extent the next year as they bowed out in a humiliating sweep after rolling through the first round.  But the whole time Pepper and Waxman stressed the need to have the ability to score the gritty goals that define the hard work that it takes to succeed come playoff time.  And a gritty goal is what won it last night.  Wherever you guys are, I hope you're smiling!  And come back soon, if you can!

About that gritty goal...I have to admit I was scared as hell when the game went to overtime.  History shows that the game would either end within the first few minutes of OT or go to a second period and beyond. That kind of a long grind tends to favor the home team and it didn't look like either team would yield anytime soon.  In other words, it was going to be a game of "next mistake loses."

But you know what?  The Caps didn't come out like they were playing not to lose.  There was a jump in their step, a spark in their play that made them look fresher than the Bruins.  When I noticed this, I was really hoping that they would go for the kill when they got the opportunity and not sit back.  The Bruins nearly beat them to the punch 35 seconds in when Patrice Bergeron almost won it with a half-open net in front of him. All he had to do was lift it over Braden Holtby's pad, but somehow he couldn't before the puck was swatted out of harm's way by Karl Alzner. You had to feel for him because if he was 100% healthy, there's no doubt he would have put that away.

Nail-biting, back and forth play ensued for another two minutes.  Then, a neutral zone turnover was picked up by Mike Knuble who led a two-on-one rush towards the Bruins' net.  Of all the unlikely scenarios for this series, this was probably one of the least likely.  It mattered not as the 39 year old Knuble suddenly looked like he had the legs of a man half his age and blazed toward the net.  Joel Ward was on his right wing, but Knuble had one thing on his mind--get it on net.  He did.  It was the perfect shot that didn't go in; a juicy rebound that came off of Thomas' pads.  It was collected by Ward, who by then had sidestepped defenseman Greg Zanon, leaving him just enough space for his game winning shot--a sweet backhander that slid through Thomas' pads at 2:57 of the extra session.  I don't think I've done that much jumping and screaming since kindergarten.

And now, it's time to give credit where credit is due.....even though we all know cash is better.

Credit--to Matt Hendricks for exemplifying what I mentioned in the last paragraph.  In a Game 7 situation, goals are often at a premium and need to be scored by any means necessary.  Hendricks was willing to go to the net and do whatever it took and it paid off.  No telling where this game would have gone had he not opened the scoring.

Credit--to Craig Laughlin for calling out the officials near the end of the game when they handed out that penalty to Jason Chimera for holding. Sure if you went by the book, it was a legit call, but they completely ignored Matt Hendricks being dumped by Dennis Seidenberg earlier.  Like Locker said, if you're going to put the whistles away, keep them away. By the way, one of the refs last night was Stephen Walkom, who has missed some very obvious calls in this first round, including the now infamous Raffi Torres hit on Marian Hossa.  If he makes an appearance in the second round, then there ought to be an investigation.  Sorry we won't hear your golden voices for play-by-play, Locker and Joe B, see you next season!

Credit--to Karl Alzner for being the soul of stability on the blueline corps. He did everything that was asked of him and he did it well.  And he got almost no credit for it, save for a second star in Game 2.  He'll never light up a scoresheet, but anyone watching knows that it would have been tough for the Caps to have kept their end clean without him.  Saved the series in OT by blocking away Bergeron's dangerous chance.

Credit--to John Carlson for coming alive at the best possible time.  He got his swagger back, putting shots towards the goal.  One of those led to Matt Hendricks' opener.  And in Game 7 he tied for the game high in blocked shots with five.  He's peaking at a good time and they will need him to continue into the next round.

Credit--to Jay Beagle for his outstanding play throughout the series. Looking over his numbers, one thing stands out--his faceoff percentage. He never finished a game below 53% and even won as many as 70% of his draws twice in the series. Add to that his overall solid play in the defensive zone whether it was along the boards or clearing rebounds and you have to put him up there as one of the Capitals move valuable players in this series.  This may have been Braden Holtby's coming-out party, but this series was also a showcase for Beagle's skills as he has now solidified his place as one of the Caps' top defensive forwards.

Credit--to Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman for at least not screwing up.

Credit--to Alexander Semin who hopefully has chased away his playoff demons.  Time will tell of course as his team enters the second round, but Good Sasha showed up enough times to make the difference in so many ways.  Let's hope it continues into the next round.

Credit--to the entire Boston Bruins team for being very worthy opponents.  I said at the beginning of the series that they're not the defending Cup champs for nothing.  Save for a few lucky bounces, they could have easily taken the series.  They definitely did not go down quietly and were proud champions to the end. Congratulations and good luck next season.

Credit--to Joel Ward and Mike Knuble for closing out the series.  Smokin' Al Koken said it right on the post game show--how fitting that these guys who had been relegated to pretty much being glorified benchwarmers get the job done at the most crucial moment.  It is their grit, experience, and knack for coming through at the right time that will be relied on from here on out.

Credit--to Alexander Ovechkin for perhaps finally doing what a captain needs to do by putting his team ahead of himself.  Sure he's still ticked about his ice time, but he knows now that it's what gets the wins.  I'm a bit disappointed in his OT play however, he threw his hands up in disgust when Dennis Seidenberg stood him up in front of the net.  I'm hoping that was disgust at no penalty being called as opposed to frustration or a "give-up" gesture.

Credit--to Braden Holtby for standing tall in net and believing in himself and his team when everybody (including me--but I've never been so happy to be wrong, except when Mrs. Blueliner is talking to me) had counted him out.  This kid was virtually unflappable and, except for his roughing penalty in Game 1, showed the poise of a hardened veteran during the whole series.  THIS is the type of goaltending that carries teams to championships and that's no exaggeration.

And finally.....

Credit to the Coach Dale Hunter.  Yes that's right, I'm saying it.  He's proving that his system is what the Caps needed to not only survive in the playoffs, but succeed as well.  His team may have been outplayed and overmatched at times, but never, ever was out of this series.  Every game was a tossup and Dale Hunter's squad had a chance to win all seven of these games.  Against the highly regarded and experienced Cup champs, that's no small feat.  Whether it was matching lines against Claude Julien or keeping the club loose before a tense Game 7, Hunter pushed all the right buttons in this series.  Yes it's true that Holtby bailed them out many times, but it was Hunter's gameplan that kept them in it the whole time.  It's a bit funny if you think about it--he showed little emotion, preached defense, and didn't waver in his overall scheme.  In other words he was the exact opposite of Bruce Boudreau.  Maybe that's what this team needed all along. Please, Coach, don't make a liar out of me next series because you've got the whole town believing again.

So it's on to Round 2.  Not to be a downer about all this, but after such a long, hard-fought series there's a danger of a letdown and the Caps have to avoid that.  In my opinion it's what set them up for failure last year. The Caps need to keep on thinking big picture while continuing to do all the little things right.  I'll say something else here, if it's the Flyers we're facing, I'm not sure I like our chances.

But then, we've already knocked out the defending champs, so anything's possible, right?

In the Stanley Cup playoffs it sure as hell is.  As long as you believe......

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Recap 4/22 Game 6 vs Bruins

Bruins  4
Capitals 3

GWG---Tyler Seguin   Three Stars:  Tyler Seguin, Nicklas Backstrom, Andrew Ference

I'm going to slide by the usual recapping of the last game.  I was so sickened by what happened that I actually had to take a step back and close my mind to hockey for a while.  But not for too long, of course. Things keep going regardless.  Looking back,  I knew as soon as Backstrom made that horrible pass that it was over.  I'm glad these players were able to put it out of their minds quickly because I sure as hell couldn't.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what it's like to be a Caps fan come Spring. It's like being in love only the potential highs and lows are more extreme. If any of you reading this listened to my latest podcast, you would know that I laid all this out in describing a game I saw 25 years ago.  And here we are again at another Game Seven, again after they had a chance to put their opponent away.

Despair?  Yeah, there's that.  Hand wringing?  Got plenty of that, too. But there's just as much cause for optimism as there is for gloom and doom. If you read Dan Daly's article, you will see why.  I'm going to be very cautious and approach this much like diffusing a bomb.  There's also a car wreck element to it--you can't look away because you have to see what happens.

This whole series I've made a new Facebook friend.  She's a fellow Caps fan named Denise Aitchison who I first heard about through the Puck Podcast.  She's actually the show's Fan Correspondent representing the Capitals.  On the most recent show, she pointed out that the long break between games led to hockey media types scratching for stories.  The alleged controversy over Alex Ovechkin's "reduced" ice time is a prime example of that.  So he's a bit pissed, so what?  He also said if it works for the team, he's fine with it.  Let it go, people.

At this point I'm tired of all the talking and I wish they'd just play the game.  So I'll be anxiously awaiting the 7:30 PM puck drop and hope for the best.  For those of you who go back at least 15 years, this one's for you:  It could end up like the collapse against the Penguins in 2009, but I'm hoping not.  I have a feeling it will be more like the Eastern Conference final in 1998 against Buffalo.

Let's hope that history doesn't matter at all and this year's Capitals forge their own successful path.

PS--no offense to Jeff Schultz, but if the rumors prove true and he will be in the lineup, he better step up his game, because the Bruins will be bringing it.  If he doesn't, the game could be lost.  As long he plays mistake free and is willing to play the body (good luck with that) he can be effective.  Otherwise, we will just have to hope he doesn't play in enough situations to affect the outcome.  Awful of me to say, yet true. By the way, that goes DOUBLE for Dennis Wideman!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Recap 4/21 Game 5 vs Bruins

Capitals  4
Bruins    3

GWG---Troy Brouwer

Three Stars:  Troy Brouwer, Dennis Seidenberg,  Brad Marchand

A chance to either seize control of the series, or the beginning of the end.  That's what was staring the Caps in the face upon their return to TD Banknorth Gahhhh-den, er, Garden.  With a such an up-and-down season, you had to wonder which Caps team would show up, one that came to play or the one that folds like a nervous poker player.

The game started with John Carlson taking a run at Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.  Naturally he got two minutes in the old sin bin for it.  Maybe John didn't care for his recent antics.  I had to admit I was questioning the wisdom of giving a hungry Bruins power play a chance right off the bat. However, if you think about it, Carlson's charge paid dividends for the rest of the game.  More on this later.  But one thing was for sure--they came to play.

Despite a dangerous shot by Zdeno Chara that clanged off the post, the Bruins power play came away looking like this yet again.  Disaster averted.  As it turned out there wouldn't be anything in the way of scoring for the whole period.  Both teams ended up firing 21 shots total, but with no denting of the twine as both Tim Thomas and Braden Holtby were forced to make several strong saves. The chippiness continued however with several penalties being handed out including a roughing call the Zdeno Chara on Alex Ovechkin.

The second period looked to be a continuation of the first, lots of shots and tough play (although what Johnny Boychuk was trying to do with Troy Brouwer in the corner is beyond me). Until about 11 minutes in when Alex Semin took advantage of a scrum in front of the net and deftly lifted the puck over a fallen Tim Thomas. Three minutes later, Jay Beagle, who had been somewhat snakebitten this whole series, finally put one away after a great individual effort.  He corralled a clearing attempt at the point , then skated in and lifted a wrister over the blocker pad of Tim Thomas.

And yet what is it they say about a two-goal lead?  Yeah, still true.

Barely three minutes after Jay Beagle's goal, Dennis Seidenberg and Brad Marchand scored 28 seconds apart to tie the *&#@!@& game.  I've seen pizzas in frat houses didn't disappear as quickly as that lead did.  So the game was tied going into the third....sound familiar?

And then Mike Knuble....MIKE KNUBLE?  WHO THE HECK IS MIKE, er, oh yeah...he DOES play for the Caps, doesn't he?  He scored off a rebound from another player who had been all but invisible, Joel Ward.  The rest of the game, although I enjoyed all the goals, turned into a game of "next goal wins" where you got the feeling it was going to come down to either a mistake or a brilliant play, or both.

Several minutes later, that mistake was made.  Dennis Wideman took a cross checking call against Brad Marchand. (What's the going rate for cross checking a human fire hydant?) Johnny Boychuk capitalized with a rocket from the left point that Holtby just didn't get to.  Tie game....again.  And worse, it was Boston's first power play goal in the series, so there went that streak.

And the game sure looked to be headed for OT yet again.  Except for another mistake, this time by the Bruins.  Benoit Pouliot slashed Nicklas Backstrom late in the period to give the Washington power play one last chance. This time it was the Caps' chance to make good with the extra man and they did.  Although it didn't look like they were going to at first. But then, John Carlson (where was THIS guy all year?) started the rush and handed off to Brouwer, who whistled one just over Thomas' glove with about a minute and a half left in the game.  Thomas was pulled with a minute left, but it did no good as the Caps hung on for the win.

Could it be that this team that so many pundits left for dead just a few weeks ago has the Cup champs on the ropes?  While it's so easy to count the Bruins out, I would be wary of doing so.  They are still the Bruins and can win two games and have the personnel to do it handily, Nathan Horton or no.  That said, maybe the grind really is finally catching up to them.  Or it could be that they believed too much of their own PR and really did think that they would win this in a walk.  Whatever the reason, clearly this team is frustrated and has lost their focus and discipline. Otherwise why does one of your shutdown guys take a slashing penalty late in the game?

And while I can't believe I'm saying this, you've got to give credit where credit is due--Coach Hunter seems to be pushing all the right buttons lately.  Here's the most obvious example of that--Alex Ovechkin only got 15:34 of ice time.  That's nowhere near what he usually gets, certainly not in a playoff game. But in those 15 minutes he led the team with five hits. Clearly, the strategy seems to be, OK Alex, get us the lead and/or wear down the opposition.  Once you do, let the defense take over.  And it seems to be working.

If you go alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll the way back to training camp, wasn't this the type of hockey a lot of Caps fans were hoping they'd play?  Their timing couldn't be more bang-on.  Of course it's not just the Alexes that are getting involved.  We're now hearing names like Brouwer, Ward, Knuble, Carlson and Johansson.  And you certainly can't forget lesser lights like Beagle, Erskine, and Hendricks doing their jobs reliably.

It's awesome to see this team come together.  But for the sake of this year's run, hopefully they haven't peaked yet. And it would be nice to see them keep it up, because as much as we'd like it to be, this series isn't over yet.  There's still that last game to go, and it's on home ice.  Rock the red, my brother and sister Caps fans.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Recap 4/19 Game 4 vs. Bruins

Capitals 2
Bruins    1

GWG--Alexander Semin

Three Stars:  Braden Holtby, Alexander Semin, Dennis Seidenberg

This game, I hope, is one that defines the series.  Or at least defines the Caps' fortunes this year.  Because the Stanley Cup playoffs are a two-month plus lesson in overcoming adversity.  Was it a must win?  Sure it was.  But was anybody talking about it that way?  Not that I heard. Although there were some things that may have been better left unsaid.

So what was the adversity they had to face?  Most dauntingly it was the loss of Nicklas Backstrom, who has been one of their best players down the stretch and into this series.  In addition it was the specter of the Game 3 where the Caps seemed unnerved by Boston's constant physical play.  Braden Holtby seemed a bit less spectacular and even downright ordinary at times. It was looking like things were falling apart for our men in Red, perhaps the beginning of the end of this series.

But as is the cliche, that's why they play the games.  And it didn't take long for the Caps to set the tone as  they got a two-on-one break after the first minute of play.  Brooks Laich penetrated the zone after recovering a loose puck in the neutral zone.  Marcus Johansson was waiting in the high slot and when he got the pass from Laich and made no mistake in burying it past Tim Thomas.

The Caps would hold on to the lead for almost exactly twelve minutes. The Bruins would be the beneficiary of an ill-timed offensive zone pinch by Dennis Wideman.  This allowed for a three on one led by Rich Peverley, who promptly put the puck past Braden Holtby for his second of the playoffs.  The lone defenseman left back?  John Erskine, who had gotten a chance based partially on his toughness factor and partially because of Jeff Schultz' ineffectiveness against Boston's forwards.  He would acquit himself admirably in his 11 minutes of ice time.

Most of the game seemed to feature the Bruins trying (and for the most part, failing) to crack Braden Holtby and the Caps' version of the rope-a-dope strategy.  What do I mean?  Consider the shot counter.  And, as I seem to need to remind certain folks in the hockey world, it is indeed a shot counter, it is not a clock.  The shot count indicated that the Caps were horribly outshot for the entire game. Period by period, it looked like this: 14-3. 18-15, and 13-3.   So far, this has actually worked out for the team in that they have actually managed to win most of their games this way.

The winning goal was scored by Alex Semin late in the second period on a power play.  Yes, a power play.  I don't know if there are any words in any language to properly describe the shot he took, its impossible flight into the net, and the resulting eruption of the crowd.  The best I can do is say that we Caps fans have been treated to that shot so many times over the career of the man wearing the Number 28 sweater.  And it never loses its luster.  I will say something else--for those who would have you believe that Semin has not shown up for the playoffs, do not believe it. From scoring goals like this to that defensive slide in Game 2, he's done it all and then some.  As long as he continues to contribute....

After the goal it was another nail-biting ride through the rest of the second and all of the third period...and beyond.  No, there wasn't any overtime, but there was "extra" time.  As in the freaking clock didn't move for at least three seconds after the last faceoff!   I can still hear Joe B roaring, "THE CLOCK HASN'T MOVED!"  I swear, between all the ridiculous disciplinary decisions, the missed calls, and now two arenas having clock malfunctions, this will forever be remembered as the season of the facepalm.

So fortunately the Caps stuck to their game plan (if you can call it that) and didn't get suckered into their irritating strategy of forcing retaliation. Let's hope they can keep this up.

Rich Peverley is a bastard.  Somebody please run him over if he gets past the blueline.  How his stick-in-the-face call went ignored is beyond me. Maybe Mr. Leonsis has a beef after all.

This is a team that is looking more and more like a cohesive unit that believes in one another and what they are trying to accomplish.  Much has been made of Alex Ovechkin getting very little ice time during the third period.  Is it a problem? Not so, says the Captain.   Now that's leadership.

And once again, Braden Holtby was equal to the task.  There are still those out there (mainly wearing Bruins colors) that aren't convinced that Holtby's heroics aren't real and that the Beantowners are actually beating themselves.  That's one thing.  But to dismiss 44 saves as a mediocre performance simply because the Bruins couldn't be bothered to try shots from in close more during the game.  Please.  If you're a real hockey fan you should know better.  Besides, by saying things like that you disrespect the work your own goalie is doing.  Tim Thomas has also performed very well this series; the truth of the matter is that both goalies have seen more rubber than all the adult shops in Baltimore.  They are the reason why no game this series has been won by no more than one goal.

Game Five is on the horizon...back to Boston we go.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Recap 4/16 Game 3 vs Bruins

Bruins 4
Capitals 3

GWG--Zdeno Chara

Three stars: Brooks Laich, Zdeno Chara, Alex Ovechkin

Another heartbreaking many times can you have your heart broken and survive?  Not for me to answer, I don't even know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop.  This one was even harder to figure out as it was a whole different game that was played.  The main evidence of which can be seen in both the amount of goals scored as well as the number of penalties called.  I've already been offered condolences that it could have gone either way, but it still rings hollow.

As there were seven goals scored between the two teams, I'll only do a quick rundown as I saw it.  Suffice to say that both goalies seemed to be having a bit of an off night.

First goal---transition play, Semin with a turnaround shot after a crisscross move with OVI at the point and Laich setting a screen

2nd goal  Holtby handcuffed, got a piece of it with his glove, but it was at something of an awkward angle

3rd goal  Ovi answers right back off a floater pitch pass from Laich

4th  Caps forget about defense, Bruin's Daniel Paille was virtually left untouched in front of the net.  And the defense pair?  Schultz and Wideman, big surprise.

5th goal--more sloppy play in front of net, Rolston gets it in as a result. The Caps seemed flatfooted and caught off guard

6th goal--was game tyer from Brooks Laich which was a fantastic play set up by Nick Backstrom's stretch pass

Game winner--Chara takes slapshot and it deflects off Roman Hamrlik's stick with just 1:53 left.  The only way this was a good thing as we were spared yet another, nail-biting, sleep-depriving, jaw-clenching overtime session.  Yeah I know...pretty bad when you're glad it doesn't go to OT.  I must be getting OLD.

Milan Lucic was kept out of the box score except for his eight PIM, one for each of his eight hits in the game. Or so it seemed.  But as I said in the podcast for those of you nice enough to listen, the Bruins have a balanced enough attack so that if any one or two of their big guns are shut down, they have others that can pick up the slack.  Which is exactly what happened.

I know Mike Green had that one assist, but on that last power play it was painfully obvious he still is nowhere near his old self as far as his puckhandling and shooting skills.  He bobbled the puck several times and his shots were hellaciously off target.  We need more out of him at least on the PP unit.

This series had been chippy, but the most dangerous moment in this series up until this point involved a player up against a pane of glass--and the opposing team was nowhere near him.  But it was taken to a new level of nastiness with several players reaching 5 or 6 hits total.  See below for more evidence of that.

Forty minutes in penalties were handed out last night, 16 of which were given to Nicklas Backstrom. Note to NHL:  THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LET A SERIES GETS OUT OF HAND, THEN TRY TO GET CONTROL OF IT! Unfortunately, Backstrom landed himself a match penalty at the end of the game, which is subject to automatic review unless the league decides to rescind it.  Seems he tried to make Rich Peverley eat his stick, though some would say Backstrom was just defending himself.  Given the  Office on Player Safety's changing moods, it's hard to say whether or not he will be suspended or just fined.  Keep your fingers crossed, Caps fans.

To close, I would like to make the observation that, while the game was close, the Caps at times seemed put off of their game. This seemed especially apparent during crucial moments in the final period.  While it is good to see them stand up for themselves they cannot, repeat, cannot afford to get suckered into the type of game they wound up playing last night.  To do so would be a slow death by suicide.  And they MUST remember to stick to their exasperating game of patience that had to some extent frustrated the Bruins so far.

Game 4 is Thursday night.  The extra day to heal some bruises will help. Do we have to say this is a "must win game"?  I think not.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Recap 4/14 Game 2 vs. Bruins

Capitals  2
Bruins     1  (2 OT)

GWG--Nicklas Backstrom   Three Stars:  Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner, Benoit Pouliot

And after two games (really three if you consider all the OT), we are tied. Back to the sweet confines of Verizon Center we go for the next two. Now I never thought that I would say this, because I've always been a proponent of offensive hockey.  After all, I am a child of the 80's and was weaned on Wayne Gretzky and the we he played the game.  But if you add the element of the nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat mindset that is playoff hockey, a defensive/goalie duel is pretty good hockey to watch. The bottom line being that chances to score are always exciting no matter what the end result is. Of course the game going into Sudden Death OT with no possibility of a ridiculous shootout going back makes it that much more exciting.

Analysis and observations:

The goal--as was discussed, it was scored by doing what you're supposed to come tax, er, playoff time.  Which is get the puck on the net and have traffic in front. Alex Ovechkin put a wrister on net that dipped at just the right time.  Then Troy Brouwer used a bit of finesse and a lot of muscle (not to mention some leg work) to be the first to solve Tim Thomas in this series.  Now that they had the lead, you would think they would hold onto it for dear life.  And they did.  Until..............

Twelve minutes in the Bruins get a rush and of course it's the lightly regarded, but ever-dangerous Chris Kelly line.  With a loose puck barely within reach, Braden Holby, slid out and made for the classic Johnny Bower poke check.  The only problem was that he missed and the beneficiary was Benoit Pouliot, who promptly ran over Holtby and put it in to tie the game.  Oops.  I think they said it best here.  You're making us a bit nervous, Braden.... in a few different ways.

Speaking of nervous, does anyone else besides me get that edgy feeling every time Roman Hamrlik rags the puck back into his own zone?  After all it wasn't too long ago that Hamrlik inspired this tirade after one of his gaffes.

I want referees Dan O'Halloran  and Tom Kowal to never work another playoff game this year.  AT ALL.  Send them to Aca-freaking-pulco if you have to, Commissioner Bettman.  How, please, please, tell me how it is that one penalty committed by one member of a certain team is called and the exact same penalty committed by the opposing team is not a penalty just one game later?  Did the rulebook just magically change?  I'm of course talking about Tim Thomas' mugging of Nicklas Backstrom in front of the crease.  It's got to be as John Walton said, there must be a totally different standard if you've won a Conn Smythe trophy.  And that's bullcrap.

Speaking of Backstrom, yes we all know by now that he scored that beautiful goal to win it.  But the magic of the play was Marcus Johansson scooping up the loose puck in the corner just after the faceoff, fending off two Bruin defenders, setting up shop behind the net, and finding Backstrom in front.  I've given MJ90 grief for his inability to finish, but he is still a gifted playmaker and one of the best skaters on the team.

Of course it was still a beautiful thing watching Backstrom's shot.  He tucked it just under Andrew Ference's stick check and in between Thomas' pads for the win.  And Johnny Boychuk was nice enough to stand there and make sure it was in.

No what you read above is not a typo. Neither Nicklas Backtrom, nor Braden Holtby, nor Tim Thomas made the Three Star list for the game. Which means they had the three stars picked during regulation.  The Conn Smythe trophy voting does that too.  Why is it that?  Do these people have some big dinner to go later or something?  Not that I have a huge problem with any of the three they did select, but you have to wonder if they were even watching the game.

Because with the low score of course the goalies were once again going to be center stage.  Tim Thomas made 35 saves and Holtby stopped 40 shots.  Now, there are some fans masquerading as journalism experts and radio idiots pretending to be hockey fans who will try to convince you that Holtby's performance is nothing to celebrate.  Really now?  That's interesting considering last I looked he's stopped 69 out of 71 shots thrown at him in two games of work.  These folks will try to tell you that the Bruins have "made it easy" for him by not collecting their own rebound, or by poor shot selection.  Don't you believe a word of it. Seriously?  So these people are saying just ANYBODY can step in to an unfamiliar role of playoff starter with all the so-called "experts" counting you out---the loudest being the dunderheads up at Hockey Night in Canada, and not only get the job done, but WIN.  Yes I'm talking at you, Dean Brown.

Fact is, ladies and gentlemen, no matter how the shots come at you, they still have to be stopped.  And not just anybody can do it.  And no, they haven't all been missed rebounds or shots into the chest, as they would have you believe.  So the Bruins and their fans can take their psychobabble and shove it.  Because they're not convincing anyone. Fortunately, there are those willing to recognize that both goalies are doing an incredible job.

But on the flip side of things, one must keep it all in perspective.  Just as Game One was just one game that wasn't won, so too was Game Two except it was won.  Pun partially intended.  All those verbally challenged, please seek speech therapy.

Point being this is still going to be a long, grinding, punishing series. So it's very far from over.  It'll be very interesting to see what happens for the next two games with Dale Hunter being able to get the matchups that he wants.  We as fans must do our part--get loud, get rowdy, turn rabid. ROCK THE RED!

Oh, and a few Obama masks wouldn't hurt. You know, just to make Tim Thomas feel welcome.