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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Suspension of Belief

Alex Ovechkin has been here before.  Sitting in the press box watching his mates get through a game or three,they even manage to win more than their share.  This time feels different, however.  When he came back from his suspension for his unfortunate hit from behind on Brian Campbell, there was a marked difference in his game.  The snarl was gone, he seemed more cautious.  Critics were quick to point out that he lost his edge.  That will not be the case this time.  You see, he's ticked off now.  And the rest of the league will soon find out that they ticked off the wrong guy.

There's a saying that applies here.  I'll clean it up for the sake of any virgin eyes that are reading.  It goes something like this: keep handing me your dung, it's nothing more than fertilizer for what I'll use against you.
That's exactly what's happening here.  If you think for one second that he doesn't know what people are saying, think again.  Writers from within hockey's inner circles and even those who wouldn't know a hockey puck from a Ring Ding (many of whom write for the Washington Post) are all saying the same thing.  They might mince their words, but I won't--they think Ovechkin's a punk.

But the great thing about all this is that out of so much fertilizer, you can grow something beautiful.  The thing of beauty in this case is a meaner Ovechkin ready to run over anybody who gets in his way.  Because he doesn't care anymore.  He obvious doesn't give a crap about representing the league at some glorified pick up game. Why should he care about what a bunch of hack writers who have no idea what it takes to get through a full 82 game NHL season plus playoffs?  That's just it, he shouldn't.  And that was his mistake before.

I'm not saying one way or the other whether Ovechkin is justified in snubbing the NHL's glad-handing and smile festival.  Just that he's focused on more important matters.  And that requires both a rested body and a sound mind.   A sound mind for him is to approach the game with a mean streak.  Kind of hypocritical when we celebrate some of the game's best--Mark Messier, Bobby Clarke, Eric Lindros--as having a mean streak as part of their game.  So why then is Ovechkin different?  The truth is he's not.

Ovechkin is at his best when he plays his game--hit anything that's in his way and shoot more than all four Terminator films combined. Look for that the moment he comes back from his current suspension.  In the meantime, he's exuding the leadership qualities we've all been waiting for. It's already showing in how he celebrated Matthieu Perreault's hat trick.  He's having fun again, his way.  As well all know, happy workers are much more productive workers--meaning Ovechkin is due to explode.

And his teammates will be right behind him.  Best not get in their way.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recap 1/24 Matty with the Hatty Sends the Bruins into Hibernation

It bears worth repeating even if it's been said a lot recently.  The Caps had their backs against the wall facing the defending Cup champs without their three biggest stars.  Their odds didn't look good.  As it turned out, there really wasn't much cause to worry.

No Green.  No Backstrom.  No Ovi.  No problem.

Who needs them when you have Matthieu Perreault?  Okay, maybe that was a bit much.  I had an idea to  inject as much French into the article as I possibly could to honor Perreault.  Then I realized how utterly creepy, not to mention how Pierre McGuire-esque it would be.  So I'll just stick with saying that Matty P got himself a nice tour de chapeau.  That's a hat trick to you and me.  More on this later.

So despite a mediocre output of 22 shots, the Caps managed to best the Cup champs, with Tim Thomas' White House snub as the backdrop.  Some would say that was the more important story although it has absolutely nothing to do with who may or may not qualify for the playoffs.  Not me. I would rather focus on what happened on the ice.  Can't say as I blame Thomas though.  1600 Pennsylvania Ave. just isn't quite what it used to be.  Place must be losing its tourist appeal.

So back to the game--yes we were all nervous, but one Cap in particular had an extra spring in his step with the notion of being placed on the top line.  I'll give you one hint, his jersey number matches the same year that all this was in effect.   Nine thousand for a new car?  Oh, if only......

Things certainly didn't look like they'd end well, at least if you were judging by the first goal of the game.  Rich Peverley, that son-of-a-Beverley put a shot on net that was harmlessly deflected by Karl Alzner. Or at least that was his intent.  Minus one for you, Karl.  Plus one for the ol' fantasy team at least.

The second period was much better as the Caps got off to a fast start with Cody Eakin getting them on the board.  Perreault followed with his first of the game 41 seconds later.  The two teams would end up riding the see-saw the rest of the period as they traded goals, including Perreault's second on a beautiful steal and breakaway.  Unfortunately Perreault later got called for a hook and on the ensuing Bruin power play Brad Marchand, he of the illegal low hit, scored to tie that game.  The teams would end the period tied at 3 apiece.

Speaking of see-saw play, John Carlson had himself a schizophrenic night. He did look good at times, getting credit for blocking 4 shots. However, he also had that bad pass that was picked off by Steve Kampfer and finished off by Tyler Seguin. Good Carlson, Bad Carlson. We'll work on that one.

A few words about the goaltending.  Tomas Vokoun stopped 29 of 32 and wasn't overly spectacular, but he did what he had to in keeping the Caps in the game.  Assuming the offense can keep up its current pace, all we need is for Vokoun to stop the shots he's supposed to stop and some of the ones he's not supposed to stop.  So far, so good.  And even when he slips, Michal Neuvirth has proven to be more than adept at coming off the bench.

There were a lot of good goals in this game.  But the featured goal of course was the game winner, which was a thing of beauty.  Marcus Johansson began the play from the right wing boards with a beautiful, yet risky, blind pass to the point.  Luckily enough, Roman Hamrlik was there to corral it, just barely keeping it in the zone.  It can't be overstated how much his play has improved as of late.  After his marvelous keep-in, he flung the puck on net where it bounced off of Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask's pads.  Ready and waiting for the rebound was the game's hero, Perreault. Snapping up that rebound, he easily lifted it over the sprawling Rask for his third of the game.

And the hats came a-rainin' down after that.  Not to mention peoples' plans to order Papa John's for today.

In the closing seconds, Dennis Wideman flipped a seeing-eye puck 180 feet into the empty net for the insurance marker.  Happy fans with thoughts of full stomachs from pizza tomorrow--what could be better?

Though Perreault was the game's obvious number one star and Hamrlik and Alex Semin ably assisted him, we should give credit to some unsung heroes.  Specifically the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Cody Eakin, and Joel Ward.  They worked their collective butt off every time they were on the ice and even chipped in a goal.  Ward ought to get props just for the hits he was absorbing from Zdeno Chara.

Naturally, Perreault's performance merited some extra on-camera time. Smokin' Al Koken was there for the honors.  But poor Matthieu didn't even get to answer the first question before getting the ceremonial attack of celebration from a surprise guest.  Selfish? Petulant?  I think not.  More like team-building, which is what a Captain should be all about.  Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, NHL.

Up next?  Well, it's a nice week-long break.  Hopefully we'll have a lot of healing going on, both mentally and physically.  And, In Matthieu Perreault's case, perhaps ophthalmologically.  No offense to Dennis Wideman and the other 40-odd All Stars, but I think I'll take my cue from Ovi and skip the All Star, uh, festivities (yeah that's it) this year.  You can only dress up a pig in so many ways, but at the end of the day it's still a pig.

Simply put, the All Star game has pretty much lost it's meaning.  This is something I plan on discussing in the next podcast which is this coming weekend.  Since there won't be any games between now and next week, look for the next show, plus a mid season report and not much else before the next game vs. Tampa Bay next Tuesday.

Until then, keep the faith and C-A-P-S  CAPS CAPS CAPS!!!!!

'Liner



Monday, January 23, 2012

Recap 1/22 vs. Penguins: Winning the Loser Point

For the first time in a while it's the Caps on the losing end of a regular season tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  At least it was a much better effort overall for the team.  Just wishing the end result was a bit different.

As we've been accustomed, this was the more typical Caps/Penguins game that contained everything: fighting, hitting, great saves, great goals....everything we could possibly want.  Except for the two points.

I'm not going to do a full recap of the game and you'll figure out why if you keep reading.  Suffice to say I didn't quite get to see the game as I'd like.  I don't think I could have done it justice anyway to be honest.  I don't like everything John Walton does, but he did a fantastic job conveying the excitement of the game.

The morning stories from various sources indicate that both Alex Ovechkin and Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek face disciplinary hearings for separate incidents during the game.  Michalek's infraction, an elbow to the head was penalized during the game.  Ovechkin's hit, a "leaping" check that appears to target the head of the opposing player, ironically Michalek, was not penalized.  I haven't seen either play as I had the pleasure of listening to John Walton's call via radio as I was on the road most of the day.  Therefore, I will not comment on either play except to say this--they both deserve to be suspended.

Now, I won't comment, but it obviously hasn't stopped certain idiots from commenting.

There is no excuse if the initial point of contact is intended to be the head of the opposing player.  Rule 48 clearly makes any such deliberate contact illegal.  Unfortunately in Ovechkin's case, this will most likely mean a suspension approaching double digits as he has been labeled a "repeat offender" from previous incidents.  But that's how it should be--no one should be above the rules.

If that happens, you can pretty much write off half the month of February for the Caps.  They're already missing Nick Backstrom.  Lord knows when he'll be back.  Marcus Johansson had some sort of illness that was hopefully the 24 hour kind.  Too bad this isn't the NFL where they only play once a week, he could have come back like Eli Manning did.

It was a tremendous effort overall, given the circumstances.  But I have to wonder whether or not the Caps' already mercurial fortunes might have taken a turn for the worse....

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Recap 1/20 vs Carolina Hurricanes: They Must Be Jokinen

So we're back to this again.  The team with the identity crisis reverted back to its old ways with another lackluster effort last night on the road.

It seemed to start off well--another Matt Hendricks fight to get them fired up.  But it was all downhill after that. Too many battles lost, far too many giveaways in their own zone, and just plain too much careless play all around.  All to the benefit of Hurricanes winger Jussi Jokinen, who scored twice.  Not to mention goalie Cam Ward, who stopped all 23 Washington shots.

John Carlson looked especially bad.  He may have blocked 5 shots, but he also bobbled the puck at his own blue line during a power play.  The end result was a shorthanded goal that ended up being the game winner. Really Awful Hockey, John.  You can do better than that.

There were times where it didn't even look like they were going to clear their own zone,  It was if they just completely forgot how to play defense.  They gave up 33 shots and even the best goalies are going stop 94% of them on average.  You do the math.

Equally as frustrating was the offensive output.  Sure they got more shots, but had several golden opportunities they could have buried and didn't. Cody Eakin's clanger off of Cam Ward, then the post was the best example.  It's called making the most of your chances and they simply didn't.  Maybe it just wasn't the Caps' night.  But it's never really that simple, is it?

The signature moment that showed just how unbelievably bad this game was came on the last goal. Tomas Vokoun saw that no one was going to put a body on the rushing Jiri Tlusty so he took matters into his own hands.  Or rather his legs.  It didn't help.  He's lucky he wasn't called for a penalty on the play.  You could just see the frustration he was feeling.

No point in going on about it, this was one of the worst games they've played all season.  Not quite as bad as the Buffalo game that ended up being Bruce Boudreau's last, but it's up there.  Or should I say down there. Whichever.

Up next is a nationally televised game against our old rivals, the flightless birds of the frozen tundra.  That's the Pittsburgh Penguins to you and me. Maybe they'll show a better effort for this one.  Your guess is as good as mine.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

1/18 Recap vs Canadiens: Matty P and Michal are Magnifique in Montreal

Now THERE's  a much better overall effort.  Well, a much better result anyway.

Michal Neuvirth's 31 save performance backstopped the Caps to victory last night as he earned his second shutout of the season.  His goal support was more than adequate, despite a paltry output of only 16 shots by his teammates. Matthieu Perreault, as is seemingly his custom, shined in front of his hometown crowd scoring the game winner less than five minutes into the game.  But surely his goal and perfect night at the faceoff dot merited more than six minutes of ice time?  Il fait bon, Monsieur Perreault!

Let me get this out of the way--I'm still not 100% convinced that less than 20 shots, which is the trend the Caps have been on lately, is going to cut it.  But at least they made the most of the chances they did get.  This is a good sign considering the fact that a large part of their offensive engine is on the injured list.  At the same time, more shots equals more goals in the long run.  They can't keep this up forever.

Marcus Johansson got the second goal from his "office"--right in front of the goalie.  He's in double digits now and has goals in two of his last few games.  To top it off, he even had a pretty good night taking faceoffs.

Alex Ovechkin came up with the third goal--a rocket from the right power play point.  This prompted my favorite all-time Lockerism:  Blew By You.

Some would say the game got kick-started with Matt Hendricks' predictable yet still pleasurable to watch scrap with headhunter Rene Bourque.  Maybe the end result--an Olympic style takedown--wasn't the desired one, but the effort sure was.  The team played inspired hockey from then on.

Unsung hero:  Brooks Laich.  Yeoman-like work in killing all the ridiculous (oops, did I say that out loud?) penalties, and was once again the one-man-shot-blocking machine.  He was officially credited with four, but it was really more like six or seven from what I saw.  Maybe they were using the metric system for shot blocking since they were in Canada, I don't know.

Poor Cody Eakin still looks like he's in over his head.  He's still very weak on his skates and he didn't look very good whenever he handled the puck. He's still a boy playing among men and it shows.  We would do better with Keith Aucoin or Chris Bourque.  Give him 1-2 more years and things will be different, though.

As good as a 31-save shutout is--and it was good, I can't remember Neuvy having to make too many difficult saves except for during that stupid extended penalty kill. Well, maybe one or two others. But make no mistake, wherever the shots went, he was there.  He made it all look so eas, like the 10-game layoff was nothing.  Nice to know we have a goalie that can come off the bench and pull that out of the air.  This is the kind of "goalie problem" teams love to have--when the two of them play a season-long version of "Can You Top This?"

The referees were ridiculous in this game.  If I didn't know any better I would swear that they were trying to sway the outcome in favor of the Canadiens.  Forget the six-minute minor on John Erskine, which was questionable at best.  That looked like two cops trying to figure out who had the right to give out a ticket.  No, the worst call of the night was Alex Ovechkin's delay of game penalty.  I don't know about anyone else, but the replay I saw CLEARLY shows the glass partition wobbling as if something impacted it.  Something being a puck, and not a body.  I don't care what the Commish says, the officiating is getting worse, not better.

But hey, a win is a win is a win is a win.  Except for one thing....couldn't they have scored just ONE more goal so Bryan and I could have had our pizza?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Recap 1/17 Long Night vs. Long Islanders

I have a pain in my left wrist, had it since Monday and I'm not sure how I got it.  But it's not nearly as annoying or frustrating or making me half as ticked off as the pain I'm getting from watching the Washington Capitals play last night.

All this team can do is make you wonder.  Wonder why they can't win the games they're supposed to win.  Wonder how they can play three or four decent games then throw up an absolute stinker of a game like last night's effort.  Wonder how this team will ever live up to their potential if they can never EVER put together a solid 60-minute effort.  Wonder how they can still have the nerve to call themselves a hockey club.

Let's break things down by concepts and facts: (bear with me, my hockey sarcasm is at an all time high today!)

Concept:  You give one of the best road power plays six chances and they will convert at least once.

Fact:  The Islanders did indeed get that many chances and converted not once but twice--more than they needed to win.

Concept: You shoot the puck enough times after creating a scoring chance eventually the goals will come.

Fact:  The Caps spent waaaaaaaaaaay too much freaking time trying to create scoring chances and not enough time shooting.  Result = a pathetic 17 shots on net and 0 goals.

None of this is anything new of course to anyone who saw the game, but you get the idea.  My good friend Bryan told me he got so frustrated he flipped over to the Australian Open. I tell you what--with the possible exception of Matt Hendricks (7 hits), there was probably a hell of a lot more hitting going on there!

Going back to the issue of the shooting, let's break it down by period. The Caps' shot totals were 5 in the first and second each, then seven in the third.  Like I said, pathetic.  Going the other way it was yet another popcorn-tossing few moments of watching the Caps get pinned in their own zone (sound familiar) for an entire shift.  Now there was a sequence in the second where the Caps turned the tables and kept the Islanders in their zone until they ran out of gas. And they STILL barely produced a shot on goal.

And that's when the boos came a-raining down. Deservedly so. These are some of the reasons why:

Dmitry Orlov's cross-ice pass to...nobody.  What the hell?

Real American Hero John Carlson is becoming a Really Awful Hole of a defenseman.  Speaking of which, how about leaving the goaltending to the man in the mask? He practically screened his own goalie on the third goal!

Alex Semin--17 shifts, 17:27 TOI and a whopping total of one shot on goal. Not just Bad Sasha, more like Pathetic Sasha.

Marcus Johansson won half his faceoffs.  Not bad.  Except he forgot that the play continues after the draw. ZERO SHOTS!

Even reliable Joel Ward stunk it up, and he barely had 10 minutes of ice time.

Hell, if we were in Kindergarten again the whole damn team would get a collective Mr. Yuk sticker.

Well, there was Brooks Laich who turned himself into a human shot-blocking machine.  But not even he can do it all.

Again, the obvious fact is that they had a chance to get at least another two points.  It would have been acceptable had they failed and played hard, but they only succeeded in failing miserably.  It's games like this that frustrate the bejeezus out of even the most die-hard Caps fan.  How is this team supposed to succeed if they can't string together more than a few good games at a time?  No wonder they got booed off the ice!

We can talk about nice things like CORSI ratings, Fenwick, zone starts, and Quality of Competition.  And even if you aren't the biggest stat geek, a cursory look at some of the numbers (shots especially) will tell the tale that they're just not getting it done.  But it doesn't tell the whole story. What the hell is it about this team where they can look like world beaters one night and then sleepwalk through the next game?  THAT, ladies and gentlemen is what makes us fans angry about this times. Sometimes.  But I suppose that's one reason why I have this blog.....

By the way, if you want something else to be angry about, read up on the SOPA and PIPA bills.  If you're a blogger like me you should be against them like me.  But don't take my word for it--read about it yourself, while the government doesn't have its clutches on the internet.

Oh that's right--if you try to access Wikipedia today, you won't be able to.  Just a small sample of what would happen if the US government has its way with the internet.

Great.  Something else that gets screwed up in D.C.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Recap 1/15 Coulda Been Fina vs. Carolina

First a Lightning storm then a Hurricane.  The Washington Capitals sure like to keep things interesting don't they?  All in a week's work as the Caps have now clawed their way back into first place for the time being.

Withstanding a frightening 44 shots and turning away all but one yet again was the game's number one star, Tomas Vokoun.  How long he can keep this up is anyone's guess, so long as he can keep it up. Some of the saves were routine, some were borderline spectacular, and some were just mind-boggling.

What cannot be kept up is the fact that the Caps keep on getting outshot game after game.  Yesterday was another pitiful output with far too many chances given up.  A microcosm of what went wrong was a 48-second span in the second period where, try as they might, the Caps' "shutdown" unit could not even clear the zone, letting Carolina have several dangerous chances.  The Hurricanes were supposed to be the ones playing back on their heels as they were on the second part of back-to-back games, but they clearly looked like the fresh team at least for the first half of the game.

Buoyed by Dmitry Orlov's first ever NHL goal, (wasn't the look on his face priceless?) not to mention Vokoun's stellar puckstopping, the Caps were able to finish strong.  That is except for the last minute when the Canes had their goalie pulled.  All the Caps could manage is forced icing--that guy Justin Faulk for Carolina is either a glutton for punishment or one speedy SOB.

How many times have I said this?  I love the win but.....

In all seriousness even with the win the Caps could have played much better than they did. That's not to say they came out flat: Jay Beagle, Troy Brouwer, Dennis Wideman, and Alex Ovechkin all had at least 4 hits each. But at the same time they couldn't get much going offensively nor could they get organized defensively.  In short, the problem I had with this game is that they could have easily been on the wrong side of that 2-1 final score.  It's gotten to the point where you have to wonder if there's some mysterious ailment with the team where they can't get the result they need.  I know what they say, better to play a bad game and win than to play your best game and lose.  Even so, the wins aren't as easy to come by anymore, so you would think the time for possibly piddling away two points has long since left the station.

Shifting topics to another matter, what the hell was wrong with the officials?  I'm only referring to the goal that never was scored by Brooks Laich. First of all, I agree with the "call" of incidental contact with the goalie.  Yes, I said it.  Here is the problem I have with the whole thing--the "call" of incidental all came from the broadcast crew--Joe B., Locker, and guest analyst Alan May.

Every disputed goal, as we should all know by now, get reviewed by the "war room" in Toronto.  They're the ones that make the determination whether or not it's a good goal.  So evidently in yesterday's case they figured it wasn't a good goal.  Okay, fine.  But at least tell us why.  No one did.  All the referee did when he stopped playing Secret Service agent was wave his arms like some demented airport worker.  This is the thing that drives even the most casual fan berserk about the officials. Increasingly they seem to have this idea that they don't have to explain themselves to anyone, least of all the fans.

So we're back to where we always are after a win like this.  Happy we got the two points and also relieved it didn't go the other way.

Les Habitants await.  Is that a target on Rene Bourque I see?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hats Off to Brouwer as Lightning Strikes, but not Enough

Sorry the posts are getting smaller, but, like my free time lately they've shrunk for the time being.  Friday night's game was obviously a good one as it had goals, the odd tussle, hard hitting play, and of course the win.   Troy Brouwer gave us all a reason to smile as he put away the last three Caps goal.  We can't forget about the Captain opening the scoring, but who was that parked in front of the net setting up the screen?  Oh yeah, that would have been Troy Brouwer.  It's not like other Caps players didn't do their part, but you get the idea.

As they so often do, however, the Caps just HAD to make it interesting towards the end.  They were up 3-0 heading towards the end of the second.  It all started when that classic little pest of a forward Martin St. Louis stole the puck from Mike Knuble from behind.  He then slipped it to a waiting Tom Pyatt who buried it in the low right corner past an unprepared Tomas Vokoun.  Hmm well it was Friday the 13th...could it be that Knuble was suffering from disk-a-trek-a-phobia (the fear of traveling any distance with the puck)?  I'll save you the trouble....

In all seriousness, we who are fans of Knuble's usual strong play were hanging our collective head on that one.  I'm hating myself for saying it, but that miscue may offer some explanation into his reduced ice time this year.  Personally I think he should be used more on the power play and the screen in front, but, as we saw in the opening goal, Mr. Brouwer has proven himself more than capable in that role.

Friday the 13th sure wasn't kind to Alex Semin either--two hit posts??? Seriously?

The Lightning would eventually rally to make it 3-2.  Brouwer's hat-tosser into an empty net seemed to lock it up with exactly a minute left (OK, really 59.3 seconds).  But the Lightning still wouldn't go away as 49 seconds later Vincent Lecavalier squeezed one past Vokoun to make it 4-3. Lecavalier damn near earned his team a loser point sent the game into OT a few seconds later with a shot that hit the outside of the post.

And the moral of that story, yet again, is play all 60 minutes no matter what.  But the good news is that now the Caps only trail the Florida Panthers by two points for the Southeast Division lead.  Today, there's the game against woeful Carolina.  The inclination would be to look past this game.  The inclination would also be like putting hot sauce on a jelly doughnut--a very bad idea.  The Canes have actually been playing solid hockey as of late, recently beating the defending champs the Bruins. They're also benefiting from the resurgence of Eric Staal.   This one should be a good tune up for the rematch later on this week at Consol against the Penguins.

One last moral and it bears worth being repeated:  Never put hot sauce on a jelly doughnut unless the bet is for a ton of cash.  Just some words of wisdom for the next Friday the 13th.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

1/11 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: Vokoun the Star as Caps beat Pens

I wasn't anywhere near as excited for this game as I normally am.  No, it had nothing to do with Sidney Crosby not being there.  Okay, so maybe it did.  A little.  But for other reasons it just didn't have the feel that it normally did; no pregame jitters simply because it was the Penguins--long a thorn in our collective side.  No team gets me jonesing for a game like the Pens and yet the game seemed all full of meh.

But I was fine with that.  And so were the Caps, for the most part.

Both teams went into the game bruised  (extremely in James Neal's case) and battered with injuries to key players.  And yet the NBC sports crew was all there with their spotlights and everything.  Although I have to say even Pierre McGuire seemed a bit more subdued than usual.

Jason Chimera got what would prove to be the game winner at 15:25 of the first.  The play was initiated by a brilliant takeaway from Evgeni Malkin by Joel Ward.  That started the odd-man rush with Jeff Halpern who streaked down the right wing with the puck.  Halpern slid it to Chimera who was all alone in front of the net. Chimera finished it off by flipping the puck over Marc-Andre Fleury's stick hand.

The rest of the game was a tight checking conservative affair until the third period.  I'm not sure if the Caps were running out of steam but it seemed like they were relying on Evil Kounevil to bail them out.  Thank goodness he was up to the task.  That third period save on Malkin was like nothing I'd ever seen before.  I thought for sure Malkin had him beat and yet somehow Vokoun managed to get in the way of his shot.  Vokoun's lateral movement has been 1000% better lately and it showed last night.

There are two things that concern me. The Caps were taking an average of no less than 25 shots per game under Hunter for a time.  That figure has since dropped to around 20 shots per game, not counting the loss against San Jose.  This kind of output is only acceptable if the pucks go in and as we all know, sometimes they don't.

The second thing is that they had 30 shots against.  That's too much for my liking, and that doesn't even take into consideration the ones that didn't make it on net.  In the last 40 minutes of play, they gave up 21 shots, not exactly a big help when you're trying to hold on to a lead.  Too much running around in their own zone and not clearing it out when they needed to.  So there exists the very same problem since forever--getting a solid 60 minutes out of this team.

One other item of note--Tomas Kundratek was called up from Hershey to take the 6th defenseman's slot in favor of both Jeff Schultz and John Erskine.  He got in a decent 11 minutes and did fine, even blocking one shot.  Way too early to tell if he'll stick, but clearly Coach Hunter is looking for mobility in his defense corps.

So after all that I was pleasantly surprised when the final horn went and the scoreboard still said 1-0.  But the blah feeling never went away.  Of course we'll always take the two points in this perverted game of leapfrog known as the playoff race.  But there's still no Nicklas Backstrom and no Mike Green in the lineup for nobody seems to know how long.  As a Caps' fan you must ask yourself--was last night's one-goal output a bump in the road or just the result of a coach's good gameplan against one team?

Three games left on this homestand--six more points would be great.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Losing in More Ways than One

I'm not going to attempt to cover the whole game against the Sharks as I didn't see it at all.  The game was on too late even for a rabid Caps fan like me and I'm at the age where every bit of sleep I can grab counts, darn it all.  I was hoping for a better result than what happened, obviously. But I can't say I was surprised.  The Caps just haven't done well on the road this year, no matter who has been the bench boss and it's a trend that needs to change if they want to move up in the standings.

The injury bug had come at a bad time (when is it ever a GOOD time for that?) affecting the team's best players.  Alex Semin was barely up to speed last night and, despite good reports from recent practice sessions, Nicklas Backstrom was held out of the lineup.  Worse, Mike Green may be lost yet again for nobody knows how long.  Seems he took another hard hit in the second period and ended up missing the last half of the game.
Something has to be done about this and quick.  No, I'm not suggesting a "don't hit #52" rule.  Rather, something more along the lines of what was suggested in this excellent article that was posted at Japers Rink not so long ago.

If you read Kareem E.'s recap you will see this sentiment echoed. Obviously the future success of the team is tied the health of their highest-paid defenseman. I for one don't think we can afford to lose Mike green for too much more time and it certainly isn't helpful to his career. Can they win in the short term without him?  The Caps have proven that they can.  However, if they want to win when it counts they have to have a 100% completely healthy Mike Green in the lineup come playoff time.  Of course getting to the playoffs is still no guarantee....

One last thing--can we stop with this "hex" that everyone is throwing out about the Sharks?  It shouldn't matter what building you are playing in, if you are at your best you have a decent chance to win.  It's not like a building can beat you.  But then again there was that first goal that took a crazy bounce off the boards....

Maybe the Caps should all eat some Lucky Charms cereal in their next trip to HP Pavilion.

Yes that's the best I got right now.  Hope the Caps come up with better against the Kings come Monday.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Recap 1/3 vs Calgary Flames

Four in a row.  But what price victory?

The Caps came away with another signature Dale Hunter win--making the most of opportunities, keeping your end clean (for the most part, anyway), timely saves, and quality special teams work.  It was a good overall effort that led to a 3-1 win.

And the lineup even had a bit more color in it with the return of Mike Green.  More on this later.  But the game's results might prove a bit more costly than we'd like.  The Caps were already somewhat banged up with Alex Semin listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury.  This forced them to ice seven defensemen including the returning Green.  After last night, though another forward, Nicklas Backstrom would fall to the injury bug although certainly not by his own doing.

Let's go ahead and get the bad stuff out of the way.  Backstrom was taken out of the game in the middle of the third period for precautionary reasons. This of course as a result of a flagrant elbow to the head delivered by Flames winger Rene Bourque.  What that means is, they don't want to take any unnecessary risks if the worst (i.e.--the "C" word) should happen.  He is to be evaluated and there is no word yet if he will make the upcoming western road trip.

I will say this about the hit--it was a blatant elbow to the head.  No getting around that. Therefore it's a clear violation of Rule 48, is it not? Regardless of the outcome of that debate, it was a clear intent to injure. And I don't buy the whole "What, me hit him?" act he tried to pull after the game.  If you look at the hit, he even tries to create some plausible deniability by looking away from Backstrom, yet his elbow is clearly at chin-height.  This one should be a no-brainer for the disciplinary office--it's not as though Bourque doesn't have a history.

What truly hurts is that Backstrom has been the gasoline to Washington's offensive engine.  He leads the team in both points and assists, collecting three last night.

On to better news--once again the Captain started things off with a bang; a power play goal.  He was set up by a perfect feed from Marcus Johansson.  This one was another Ovechkin classic--a sweet one timer from his natural wing. This gives him power play goals in three straight games.  How do you say "welcome back" in Russian?

In the second period, on their very next power play chance, they converted again with Troy Brouwer doing the dirty work in front of the net.  One wonders whether or not that's where Mike Knuble's minutes have gone.  Well there was no need to wonder last night as Knuble got 24 shifts totaling 18 and a half minutes of ice time.  No doubt that will be ramped up due to the injuries to Backstrom and Semin.

Speaking of Knuble he ended up finishing a plus one in those 18 minutes of action.  But he also took two bad penalties in the third.  You know better than that, Knuubs.

Calgary managed to pull within one on a Curtis Glencross goal.  I was iffy when I saw that the autodraft had put him on the Bumblers.  Now I don't regret it at all as he leads the Flames in goals for the season.  Later, however, Dennis Wideman iced it with a goal of his own off of another fantastic pass from Marcus Johansson.
Should Backstrom (God forbid) look to miss some time, he could look to inherit the #1 center slot.

A lot of eyes were on Mike Green as he made a return to the lineup.  The plan was to ease him back into shape, hence the seven D-men.  Ease they did as he got 15:43 of ice time.  Unfortunately like another Mike, he also took a pair of bad penalties.  One of those was a holding penalty--evidence that he is literally not quite up to speed as yet.  But fear not as he should be getting his legs back eventually.  Hell, I'm just hoping he avoids injury for the next few weeks.

Overall the defensive effort was excellent, save for a few lapses in the second and third periods.  Still, they only allowed a total of 19 shots on goal for the game.  And where they leaked, Tomas Vokoun easily bailed them out.  The only thing missing?  The fourth and final goal which never came.  My office mates are unhappy today as there will be no discounted Papa John's pizza.

Okay, so for the time being anyway the Caps are over whatever funk caused them to be unable to string together more than back to back wins. (Remember--it's not a streak unless it's at least three!)  However, new challenges stand in the way.  First, how does Coach Hunter plan to juggle the lineup in light of the dearth of bodies?  Second, we all know the Caps haven't done very well on the road this year.  Can they turn that around now that it looks like they're back on track?

Here's a fun question--how long before we see an Ovechkin hat trick? He's clearly got his shot back and it seems like only a matter of time.  And MJ90 seems a capable replacement for Backstrom as evidenced by the opening goal.  The Captain never seems to have a shortage of praise for Jojo as he calls him.  Chemistry...always a good thing on a hockey club.


Westward, we go.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Recap 12/31 Ovechkin's Twin Cannons Shoot Down the Blue Jackets

Now THAT's the way to do it.  Well, sort of anyway.

For the first 40 minutes of this game I could barely watch as, yet again, the Caps came out flat and looked like a tired team.  Perhaps they were. After all, they had already played two games in three nights.  Last night was the second tilt in back-to-back games, so they were already up against it.

Lots of shots that were missing, too many turnovers,  and too many lost battles.  Not so much careless and uninspired play so much as, well, not getting the job done.  It happens.  Now the job of a quality goaltender in this situation is to hold the opposition at bay for as long as possible until the offense kicks in.  Which Tomas Vokoun did to near perfection, stopping 26 of 28 in the first two periods.  It most certainly could have been worse.  Especially after that deflating goal towards the end of the second.

I had to admit I was thinking, "Here's the letdown I was talking about," when I saw that.  Still, we've seen the Caps turn the trick before and do the seemingly impossible comeback late in games.  So I kept watching.

Sure enough, it didn't take long for the offense to take over.  And appropriately enough it was led by the Captain.  He collected a loose puck in the slot and slammed it home.  The Band-Aid award on the play goes to Brooks Laich, however.  Seconds earlier, he took an Ovechkin slapshot in the leg that stung so bad he hobbled to the bench.  He shook it off and came out for his next shift.  No surprise there.

Just over two minutes later, they struck again.  And as he has been so good at doing all year, Nicklas Backstrom started the play.  He got the puck to Dennis Wideman who did some keep-away at the point. Wideman then slipped it to Alexander Semin who was lurking just above the high slot area.  Semin did what he does better than anybody--unleashed that patented blinding wrist shot.  Jackets' goalie Steve Mason never had a chance--you can't stop what you can't see.  Tie game.

It wasn't even a half-minute later when they struck again.  Marcus Johansson and Roman Hamrlik (nice to be mentioning him in a good way lately) broke out of the zone and slipped the puck to Wideman, who carried the puck in for a few strides and let go a drive.  The shot rode up on defenseman Aaron Johnson's stick--a brave attempt at a blocked shot gone horribly wrong.  Doesn't matter, well take it.  And it wouldn't have mattered because had Wideman gone to the pass, he had Johansson streaking to the net, ready for a tap-in. Now they had the lead!  But they still weren't done.

Just under four minutes later, the Caps got their lone power play chance and buried it.  Karl Alzner started the breakout and passed the puck over to Dmitry Orlov who carried it into the Columbus zone and sped past poor Aaron Johnson.  He then glided behind the net to the right circle and dished off to Ovechkin who put home, as Joe B put it, "another bomb" to make it 4-2.

A word about the rumblings regarding the Captain's supposed lack of leadership.  I've said it before--yes, nobody will ever confuse Alex Ovechkin for some great speechmaker--even with all the charisma he has. So what does that leave him if not his words?  His actions of course.  Dale Hunter said as much after the win against Buffalo--when the top line goes out and gets results, the rest of the team backs them up by playing hard. In other words, the Captain has to lead by example and be the best player on the ice.   Back to back games each with a pair of goals will do that.

So yes, we end 2011 on a very positive note--a legitimate win streak.  But I'd be foolish if I told you it ends here.  Not by a longshot does it end here.  Take a look at the standings and you will see that the Caps are still out of the playoff picture as of today.  So there's still work to be done and plenty of it.  But we've got our Captain once again playing like a badass and the whole top line is kicking in the timely goals.  On top of that, Tomas Vokoun is playing like he really is in a contract year. Optimism abounds.  They stay the course they're on and we're talking a solid playoff spot in no time.

OK, so new year, new month.  With apologies to Hadeed, here's the road ahead for January:  Nothing until Tuesday the 3rd against Calgary.  Then three days off followed by a quick western road trip to San Jose then the Kings.  Back home for a four-game stand featuring a rematch with the Penguins.  The rest of the month includes a pair of contests with division rivals Carolina and Tampa Bay.  The Islanders come to town and there's a trip to Montreal in the plans.  Towards the end of the month there will be a visit from the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, but not before another date with the Penguins at Consol.

Some tough ones to be sure.  But if there's some points to be had, these are the games to take them.

Happy New Year, my fellow Caps fans, let's make it a good one.