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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Recap 2/28 vs NY Islanders Overtime is Ovechkin's Time

Well, now maybe the Caps don't have to play a full 60-minute game to win after all.  Of course I'm kidding, but I have to say I wasn't holding out much hope when it was 2-1 with a minute left to go.  I had gotten the particulars via radio on my usual trek home, which seems to be taking longer for some reason.  I got home in time to catch the last few minutes of the game and of course they were trailing.

Lots of curse words flying out of my mouth when they couldn't keep it in the zone.  And then by a stroke of luck an Islander flung the puck into the bench, putting the faceoff in their zone.  There was about 25 seconds left on the clock.  Jeff Halpern, one of the best faceoff artists in the league took the draw and got into his patented low stance. In a carbon copy of what he did in the last Florida game he dug the puck out back to a waiting Brooks Laich.  Laich then got it to the point where Dennis Wideman threw up a prayer.  It was answered by the right hip of Troy Brouwer.  Unbelievable!

So I'm thinking, OK, well at least we'll get a loser point out of this.  Yeah, not a good way to think I know.  but if you look at the standings, it's worked for Florida so far this year.

The CSN crew shows the Ovechkam and the Captain is falling all over himself in just about every highlight.  Great.  Guess we can't count on him for anything tonight.  As it happened, I was dead wrong.  Thank goodness. About a minute and a half in he got his chance with a takeaway at his own blueline.  He and Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic were dance partners for about 60 feet of ice.  After he gained the zone,  Ovechkin waited until Hamonic set up just enough of a screen in front of Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov and released his drive.  It was a picture perfect shot that went in through the five hole.  Game over.  Happy me.

So another two points in the books, but thanks to Toronto's perpetual bumbling against Florida, it only vaults them into the eighth and final playoff spot for now.  So we'll take that, for right now anyway.  And don't look now, but the Caps are now officially on a winning streak!  Hasn't happened in over a month, let's hope they keep it going for a while.  This is an awesome way to start a five game homestand.

Next up is the New Jersey Devils on Friday.  Keep it going, boys.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Deadline Day News, Part DUH

Well the least anticipated trade deadline ever came and went and nothing appears to have been done.  This should actually come as no surprise except in looking at this team we were all waiting for something to be done. The awful truth is that this team as it is will accomplish the same--nothing.

The least management could have done is move some or all of the obviously discontented troops (Knuble, Hamrlik, Vokoun) and make for a healthier locker room environment.  Of course that wouldn't clear away the stink caused by Dale Hunter's ceaseless ability to get the least out his players.

Most puzzling of all was why Backstrom was placed on LTIR at all if no move was imminent.  Of course such a move may have been contingent upon whether or not a deal could have been made. Which would have been the most intriguing deal was the one everyone waited for, but never had a chance--Alex Semin.  Lemme 'splain.

In the past, when there was a re-sign to be done, GMGM would do whatever he could to start negotiations and get the player under contract. That is, if he really wanted him under contract.  That never happened with Semin, at least not this year.  So the plan is most likely to ride whatever can be had out of him for what's left of this year, then let him walk.  Stupid, if you ask me.  Because ultimately this is the end result of that plan.

Even if the market is thin for underachieving, overpaid, enigmatic Russian wingers, something is always better than nothing.

So at the end of the day when it was needed the most, George McPhee had an opportunity to improve the team. And he failed to do so. Whether it would have been for the long or short term doesn't matter as what was and still is obvious is that this team will win nothing.  Not as it is now.

I love this team, but if this is a sign that we as fans shouldn't book our playoff tickets in advance, I don't know what is.  I really hope I'm wrong, but I have a feeling I'm not.

Deadline Day News, Part 1

Going to try like heck to keep up with what might be a busy day in Caps-land.  All reports will be as always, extemporaneous and on the fly.  In other words, not scripted.

The first bit of news is actually not a trade at all, but news that should not come as a surprise--top center Nicklas Backstrom was placed on long-term Injured Reserve retroactive to Jan. 4.  The initial report is here.  This will give the Caps a total of $7.6 million in salary cap space, which obviously gives them much more wiggle room to swing a deal, not that one may be imminent.  No idea with this bunch.  And McPhee will keep it close to his $300 silk vest.

By the way, according to Japers Rink, after his two-game "chance" resulted in further healthy scratches for Mike Knuble, you can bet the double-wide that he will no longer be a Capital after today.  Sad, but true.  Ditto for Roman Hamrlik.  Hamr, we hardly knew yer.

Stay tuned as we've got a couple hours left and the reports will start a-rolling in......

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Double recap: Canada Combo

Not that I haven't enjoyed the Capitals' first sweep of a back-to-back set in forever, but I was just waiting until the end of last night's game just to be sure.  In fact, I'm not convinced the Caps have turned a corner just yet. The reason is because there are still a lot of holes in their game and how they approach it.  Does that diminish the result?  Hell, no, it was four big points. But there are now 20 games left to play.  That's a max of forty points to be had if they somehow run the table, which they damn near need to do to lock up home ice. And guess what?  Even after all these two wins they are still on the outside looking in.

The Caps hosted Montreal in the first part of the back to back set. Matthieu Perreault, as has become his custom, had a good game against Les Habitants  and opened the scoring on a classic back-door tap-in.  This puts him on pace for nearly 20 goals for the year.  Jason Chimera used his speed to score on a breakaway later in the game and chipped in with the assist on Perreault's goal.

Nice to see the Captain back on the scoresheet after his one-game absence.  It was scary to be sure, but a 90% Alex Ovechkin is better than a 50% Alex Ovechkin.  He got the second of two goals scored 16 seconds apart early in the second period.  It was a one-timer that came as a result of some nice passing from Dmitry Orlov and Marcus Johansson.  Jason Chimera's breakaway started the rout.  That biscuit must have had butter on it, because it just did slip through Carey Price's pads.

Michal Neuvirth once again looked good in a rare start, stopping 30 of 31. Quite a few of these were of the highlight variety, as were some stops by his opponent at the other end, Carey Price.  Neuvy has proven he can handle a consistent workload, could he be the Caps' goaltending answer going forward?  He could hardly be blamed for the the one goal that they did score.  A certain player wearing the number 8 on his back and a "C" on his front had something to do with it.  But at least he called himself out on it.  Accountability is a good thing.

Now as wonderful as it was to see a complete game from the Caps, it has to be said that it came against a team that in a bigger tailspin than they are.  The Canadiens' defense looked befuddled all night.  Montreal's woes have been well documented and after the trade of Hal Gill, it's clear that they've pulled up stakes on this season and are looking to move on. Two points is two points, but there's still a lot of work to do.  Most of it against teams far better than Montreal.

Next up was last night's game against the Leafs.

Marcus Johansson showed me something last night.  Now if only he could show us all every game.  He got the opener 32 seconds in with a wraparound.  He's shown that he's at his best when he gets to use his touch in close to the net.  The secret to the play, however, was the quick line change by Dale Hunter.  The top line didn't start the game, but came over the boards about 20 seconds in shortly after the Caps got their first breakout.  Even though they had the last change as the home team, the Leafs seemed caught off guard and the Caps took advantage.  Nice bit of coaching, Dale.

I had to admit I was concerned as the game went on.  It was after all the back set of consecutive night games and the Leafs looked like they had more jump in their skates.  Matthew Lombardi in particular was flying.

Speaking of flying, about two minutes later Alex Semin gave a great solo effort as he took a shot on the left wing, swept around the net, stole the puck from Luke Schenn on the right wing and flung a wrister past James Reimer to make it 2-0.  I had to wonder--where the hell has this been all year?  While the Leafs were the better skating team, the Caps were the better in terms of stickwork.

The second period was just as good.  Jeff Halpern got a workman-like goal on a rebound, breaking a 32-game drought.  Three and a half minutes later,  Keith Aucoin got his first of the year with a tap-in.  This capped off a gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing play started by Ovechkin.  Aucoin already had an assist on Marcus Johannson's opener.  For his efforts, Messrs. Beninati and Laughlin named the mighty mite the game's winner
of the local steak dinner.

Then came the third period.  Even a team that has stumbled a bit like the Leafs is capable of a comeback.  Sure enough, Colby Armstrong picked Dmitry Orlov's pocket and scored five minutes in.  It was one of 11 shots Michal Neuvirth ended up facing in the third period alone.  Yuck.

Later on , during the Caps' lone power play chance, he showed his frustration after former Cap David Steckel of all people (you could hear the skates going KA-THOOMPA, KA-THOOMPA, KA-THOOMPA) was allowed to get a clear shot on a breakaway.  Rightly so as the Caps exhibited perpetual head-in-ass syndrome coupled with disk-a-trek-a-phobia. Defensive and disciplinary breakdowns are not going to get you a lot of wins, especially if they've happened in the third period.  We've talked about this before and it happened again.  A pair of slashing penalties in the third--not the kind you need to take when protecting a lead.  You can't just coast anymore in this league, not during a game, not during a season.  The margin for error is just too damn thin.

As it turned out Neuvy was once again more than equal to the task.  I don't want to start giving Coach Hunter too much credit but his "show me you belong on the ice" strategy appears to be working.  Of course, I figured that's what Mike Knuble was doing, but he was yet again a healthy scratch.  GMGM may have said he's not going anywhere, but what is the point if he's not going to play?

Other observations.....

I like Matt Hendricks a lot, but he does NOT belong on the ice in the last minute of a game when protecting a lead.  It's a puck, not an Indian rubber ball.

One power play chance for the whole game?  Seriously?  Not that they needed more as it turned out, but come on.

The Caps did manage to get 36 shots on net, but gave up 30 themselves.  As inconsistent as the offense has been, the defense needs to tighten up more.

He didn't score, but Jason Chimera got another breakaway powered by his natural speed.  A return to his early season form where he dominated the team scoring race would be nice.

I get that Mike Green is still working on getting back into game shape.  But he needs to get out of the habit of taking penalties.  At least he went from a stick foul to a restraining foul last night so that's progress.

This of course was their last game before tomorrow's trade deadline.  I don't pretend to have any clue what George McPhee's intentions are, nor should anybody for that matter.  I do know that these last two wins don't necessarily mean that the Caps have righted the ship.  Short of Nicklas Backstrom waking up miraculously without concussion symptoms it appears that something needs to be done.  If anything perhaps just as a reminder that these guys cannot take anything for granted.

So depending on what, if anything, gets done on Monday we could see a new look for the Caps when they hit the ice at the ancient Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum come Tuesday.  Just hope they continue to win the game they need to win.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Abomination

It's time we face facts.....this team sucks.  And I have decided that I will not waste time blogging about them until they at least play like they belong in the NHL.  That is all.

One more thing, I hope it screams the loudest the fact that I'm posting while the Ottawa game is still live.  Hope to be back soon.  But this team doesn't have a prayer.  Not that it would save them.

Breaking News....

In a season that increasingly tasting like a bag of these, things are beginning to take a turn for the bitter.  Yes I said bitter, not better.

Just gotten wind of a development heading into tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators that just might blow an irreparable hole in what is already a sinking ship.  Simply put, this don't look too good, folks.  Special thanks to the Swordmaiden and Alex Ovetjkin.com for their diligence.

It just goes to show that things can always get worse.  And sometimes they just do.  As my Jewish friends would say...Oy Vey!


Stay tuned, O ye few but faithful.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Recap 2/20 vs Carolina: Another Natural Disaster

Going to keep this short because I have literally run out of negative things to say about a hockey team that is giving me exactly nothing to cheer about lately.  Last night's 5-0 boat race was certainly nothing to write home about.  Several odd-man rushes and overall bad puck movement led to most if not all five of the goals scored.

An in-game change in goalies made no difference and by the time the Caps resorted to fisticuffs to swing the momentum, the game was pretty much lost already.  I had turned it off pretty much after a few minutes into the third.  I'm not giving up, but I have to say I'm damn close to it. This team ought to be ashamed of itself.

For those of you desiring a more action-packed, detailed, and slightly less grumpy assessment of last night's debacle, please read Becca's excellent recap over at Japers.

The most ridiculous thing about all this is even now they still have a chance to not only get a playoff spot, but also to win the division.  But only because their division has been mediocre at best, which doesn't say much for the Caps.  Southleast indeed.

Next Monday is the trade deadline.  After that it may be all downhill.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Recap 2/18 vs Tampa Bay: Zapped Back into Reality

Well, here we are again.  Another  back end of two games in two nights. The result is one we've seen all season--a loss in regulation.  I swear I could take an earlier post and paste it here and it would have the same effect.  In fact I'm pretty much going to do just that--mail it in.  Because that's what the Caps did last night. With the exception of Brooks Laich.

Yes I know that technically they outshot the Lightning, but only by one shot.  I also know that Alex Ovechkin hit the post.  Woulda shoulda coulda...this getting so old it's making me sick.

Goat of the game: Matt Hendricks.  His ill-advised cross-ice pass at the point was intercepted by Steven Stamkos.  The man already had a 2-on-1 chance minutes earlier, what do you think was going to happen?  Exactly what happened was that Stamkos potted his 40th goal.  This happens to be his third straight season of at least 40 goals.  No surprise there.  Even less surprising was the fact that the Caps never fully recovered from the mistake.

Look, I hate the scheduling too.  It sucks that they have to play so many back-to-back games.  But when you're in that part of the season where every game is make-or-break, the rest of the league is not going to take pity on you.  Look at Chicago--they lost nine games in a row and they've still managed to stay involved in the playoff hunt.

The power play contributed what they always contribute--nothing.  This was still another game they had a chance to make the difference and once again failed to get the job done.  But then, it's hard to score when you take only one shot in four minutes of power play time.  I don't know about you, but that to me is the definition of pathetic.

On the other side of the special teams, the penalty kill went a perfect four-for-four.  That in of itself is a pretty good effort.  Although why the Lightning's power play percentage is only 13% this year with a guy like Stamkos in the lineup is a bit mind boggling, but I digress.  My problem with all this is the type of fouls that were committed.  Brooks Laich was called for interference and Mike Green was called for tripping.  These are restraining fouls and can be considered "necessary" penalties; the kind that prevent scoring chances.

But the next two, both of which took place in the third period, were stick fouls.  Specifically a high-sticking call on Alexander Semin, and a slash called on Marcus Johansson.  These are undisciplined penalties that impacted the Caps' ability to mount a comeback in a crucial point of the game.  This is why I'm calling out the team's effort, because the little things have to be done right.  And you don't take these kinds of calls when your team is trailing.

Although, between you and me, I think Semin can be forgiven for high-sticking Martin St. Louis.  It's tough not to high-stick a guy who maybe tops out at 5' 9" while in skates.

Marcus Johansson continues to look lost out there.  I am astounded that this guy was actually a first round pick, because he's been playing like a third-rounder at best.  I thought his miss against San Jose was a one-time thing, but he managed another last night.  I've never been a big fan of his, but like it or not he is the de facto Number 1 Center.  Which means either he has to get better, or the team must upgrade.  Count on neither one of these happening.  Unless GMGM gets a wild hair and makes a trade. But what would we have to give up?

And for gosh sakes, do NOT get me started on the Jeff Carter rumors.  The man is definitely a quitter, and it's looking like we have enough of those on the roster already.  You mark my words, whoever gets stuck with him and that ridiculous contract of his will regret it.  However, there looks to be something possible involving a different center from the Columbus Blue Jackets that might be at least somewhat serviceable.  Stay tuned.

I suppose the one bit of good news was that Mike Green finally made it back into the lineup last night.  As is the custom, the bench bosses made it easier on him by dressing seven defensemen, reducing his work load. He made a minimal impact on the game, save for his aforementioned penalty.  He was even credited with one blocked shot and one hit, but still needs a game or two to get back into form.  Still, it's great to see him back in a uniform.  I'm just hoping it lasts more than a few games this time.

So here we are again, the NHL's most consistently inconsistent team seems stuck in neutral with its collective foot on the gas pedal going exactly nowhere.  Much more of this and there will be questions that need to be answered right away.  And the one nobody wants to hear just yet is this: do you retool this team or blow it up and rebuild?  The closer we get to the trade deadline, the clearer the picture will be.  Assuming the Caps can't get it in gear, I'm leaning towards a rebuild.  Clearly what they have now is not working.

Master of the obvious am I, this I know.  But then we have yet to witness a real solution to these problems, have we?  And we're still waiting.......

Friday, February 17, 2012

Recap 2/17 vs Florida Where the Rubber Finally Met the Road

A desperate Capitals team finally played like it and won a game they needed to win.  Better than that it was a win during regulation.  A win like that normally leads to better things.  But we know better than that. This team is capable of statement wins that seemingly signal a turnaround. And it is equally capable of dismissing any good that came of that win in the very next game.  In other words, we all know that while this was a great and much needed win on the road, there's much more work to do. This mountain isn't anywhere near climbed yet.  Not by a damn sight.  But you've got to like how the Caps fought back and won tonight.

Former Cap Tomas Fleischmann opened the scoring in the first period. After that it was a goalies duel of sorts.  Only another ex-Cap, Jose Theodore, was proving he still belonged in the league by stealing the show with many spectacular saves.  It looked bad for a while.  Like "oh-my-gosh-we're-running-into-another-hot-goalie" bad.  Theodore eventually stopped 39 of 41 shots.

Yes, you read that right.  The Caps put 41 shots on net and launched countless untold others that missed or hit bodies in front.  The effort was definitely there, but for once so was the determination to back it up. And it was that determination that carried them through adverse moments like Mike Knuble's glorious tap-in being called back due to some bullshit (yeah I said it) interference on the goalie call.  I could waste a lot of pixels bleating about that and other horrible calls in what continues to be a season of awful performances by the refs this year.  But I won't.  I think I've made my point in any case.

What I will say is this--Mike Knuble did all he could in proving he belongs in the lineup.  The man has a nose for the net like no other.

You got the feeling as the game wore on that sooner or later the bounces would favor the Caps.  Eventually they did.  The Caps got a call their way when John Carlson was slashed by Mikael Samuelson early in the third period.  It didn't take long for a crowd to develop in front of the net. And it was led by guess who?  That's right--Mike Knuble.  Florida defenseman Mike Weaver fell to the ice to try and block one of his shots then proceeded to try and eat Knuble's stick as apparently he had skipped the pregame meal.  Okay, so maybe that isn't quite how it happened but you get the idea.  The eventual result was a loose puck that ended up on Alex Ovechkin's stick then fling into the net.  And as it goes in that song, it was a 1-1 hockey game.

Later on in the third, Alex Semin took a pass from Dmitry Orlov in the offensive zone.  But instead of his patented wrist shot, he launched a hard slap shot at Theodore.  What started out as a low shot turned into a shoulder-high missile that tucked in under the crossbar.  All courtesy of last year's playoff pain-in-the-butt Sean Bergenheim.  Doesn't matter, it was a goal all the same.  The Caps suddenly had the lead with just over six minutes left to go.

I complained about the refs earlier but it needs to be said that the Capitals benefited from four straight power plays in the third period alone.  Not something you see every day.  While they only converted on one of them, it did change the tone of the game.  As was pointed out by Joe B during the game, Florida seemed to fall apart mentally as the game wore on.

Eventually the Capitals held off a surging Panthers club that looked dangerous after Theodore was pulled for the sixth attacker.  But Jeff Halpern did his best impersonation of a rugby player and prevented the Panthers from gaining any possession during the last two faceoffs.  Rough stuff ensued but the Caps came away with the only two points awarded in the game. If you want the best commentary, go to Japers Rink.

That said there still is cause to worry.  And the focal point is one that has been something of a sore spot for a long time now.  And that's the lack of a quality center.  Marcus Johansson is still rounding into form and Matthieu Perreault, while serviceable, still gets knocked off the puck far too easily to be consistently effective. Nicklas Backstrom is obviously missed.  The questions are these--how do you replace him assuming he doesn't come back and at what cost?

Once again, the win was very satisfying.  But there's still a lot of work to be done.  And a long road yet to be traveled.  We will need to see much more of this type of effort going forward from now until it's time to hit the golf course, whenever that may be.

Even now I can hear Ivan Carter on Comcast saying what everybody's thinking--they won the game, but......

Sad to say but he's right.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Falling Apart Together

These are the times that try men's souls
                         ---Thomas Paine, The Crisis

For a Caps fan, there's been a lot to digest over this break before tomorrow's divisional challenge against the Panthers.  Just about all of it has been bad.  Consider these events over the course of the past week:

* The Washington Capitals have used their top three goalies and each one of them has not only lost their start, they all gave up questionable goals.

* Mike Knuble has gone on record as being unhappy with his situation (healthy scratch in three straight games) and indeed there is now speculation that he has played his last game as a Capital.

* Coach Dale Hunter's rationale for benching Knuble has not only been questioned, it has been ridiculed.

* Michal Neuvirth has also expressed his displeasure with how he has been treated lately, from being given zero time to prep for Sunday's game to being benched in favor of Braden Holtby against San Jose on Monday with little warning.

* Olie Kolzig, former Capital great, now associate goalie coach called out his former teammate and the Caps' current Captain Alex Ovechkin regarding his work ethic.  Not hard to read between the lines on this one.

*And, most damning of all, those rocking the Red Monday night with the Sharks in town loudly voiced their dissatisfaction with the team during many points of that train wreck of a game.  Not surprisingly by the third period, the Verizon Center resembled a beer can after I get through with it--empty.

Add to all this the fact that Nicklas Backstrom is still nowhere near returning.  It has been well over a month.  Everyone's thinking it, but I'm going to say it--he's probably done for the season.  Let's just hope he's not done for his career.

About the only shred of optimism that's left is that Mike Green is getting ever closer to returning to the lineup. He could possibly be back by the end of the month, at least that's the hope.  He could well be the difference maker as the Caps are 9-1 with him on the ice.

So where does all this leave our team?  In complete disarray of course. Which is what happens when you don't have true leadership in a locker room full of people not playing for each other.  There's no sense pointing fingers--there's already plenty of that going on In D.C. already.  No, the focus as always should be on how to fix the problem.

I don't claim to have any solutions, but I sure as hell know where to begin, with three sore points to this season:

1.  The Power Play.  Once it was the feared element of our team.  Now it's nothing more than a joke.  But as bad as it's been, there's hope for improvement.  Here's a few tips: STOP WITH THE PERIMETER SHOTS!  These have no hope of going in especially with a body five feet in front of you.  Did they not learn anything from the 2010 playoffs?  Move your feet--as in don't stand around. Keep the cycle going but give the pointmen a target so they can at least put pressure down low.  And lastly, put someone with good hands and a large frame in front of the net.  Troy Brouwer is good at setting a screen.  Unfortunately he hasn't been much good at anything else, at least not on the power play.  Mike Knuble anyone?

2. Number eight needs to be great again.  And exactly when was he great? I'll give you a hint, he didn't have the third letter of the alphabet on his left shoulder. I don't know if it's that he doesn't know how to be Captain or if he's feeling the pressure and can't/doesn't know how to handle it. Either way, let's turn that "C" back into an "A" or just nothing at all and let him concentrate on him playing his game.  Both Alex and the team will be better for it.

3.  Start becoming a team....again.  Now I'm not suggesting everybody hold hands and sing "Kum-Ba-Ya" or anything like that, but there's got to be something that will get these guys to come together as a team.  The Dads/Mentors trips event, the Hard Hat award, and the cream pie facials are nice and all that but they don't seem to mean as much as they used to. It's more than a bit disturbing that in-game events like Brooks Laich playing on one good leg or Matthieu Perreault rushing headlong into the offensive zone despite giving away several inches in height and at least 20 pounds don't inspire the hell out of this team.  The chemistry is obviously lacking and it's hard to pinpoint the true source of the problem. But like being an alcoholic, admitting you have a problem means you're halfway there.  Given the comments among various members of the team, it's obvious that this team needs to heal and quick.

These are just my observations based on a season's body of work.  I may be totally off base and I understand I may not have the best insight into everything.  But then again, Kettler IcePlex ain't exactly across the street from me like Piney Orchard used to be.  Not that I'm bitter--Kettler's an awesome facility and a team should have nothing but the best.  But my point is that if that it's obvious to a regular guy like me that happens to have watched this team for a while that things are falling apart internally, then things really are that bad.  It doesn't mean they can't be fixed however.  Just as long as they're willing to own up to it.

Of course there's one thing that trumps everything and cures all is winning.  Now if only they could figure out how to do that more than every other game.....

Tomorrow night's game would be a good start.  Time's a-wastin' though.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Recap 2/13 vs San Jose: No Way

There....that wasn't so good, now was it?
                     --Dan Aykroyd as Leonard Pinth Garnell

I have to admit, I was not even going to bother to post after the abomination that was last night's game. The jackasses were skating in mud last night with the possible exception of Alex Ovechkin.  One of my favorite podcasts, the Puck Podcast has a feature every week called "Did you see...?"  Well I have a "Did you hear?" as in did you hear the boos come a-raining down at the Verizon Center?  Yeah so did I and they deserved it.

Let me blow a theory I've been hearing a lot lately out of the water. While there may have been scouts at the game last night, they couldn't have been there to see the Capitals.  They were all so awful, who the hell would want any of them even for the bargains typically offered at the trade deadline?  I jest, but only partially.

Can someone please tell me what in the hell Dennis Wideman was doing just standing at the blueline?  Was he there to open an imaginary door to let Marcus Johansson in the Sharks' zone?  Maybe he was doing his impression of the Washington Monument? In any case it had to be he silliest thing I've ever seen in a hockey game, Johansson knocked down by his own man.  Not that he was very strong on his skates anyway.

Troy Brouwer was useless last night.  His offensive output is nowhere near consistent enough whether on the power play or 5 on 5 to justify his still being on either one of the top two lines.  Not to mention whatever disease Wideman had he spread to Brouwer as he too was doing his best to be a statue.

Joel Rechlicz' stats for the evening: Ninety seconds of ice time in two shifts and 10 PIM. Apparently he got the penalty for complaining too loudly due his hemorrhoids from sitting a lot. This guy gets a sweater and Mike Knuble sits?  Can we end this joke of an experiment?  Please?

Further evidence that one cannot trust plus-minus on its own:  Eight Capitals finished to the good.  Don't forget that three of the Shark goals were scored on the power play and you don't get a minus one for allowing a power play goal.

Speaking of the power play, well....you can say that the Caps tried.  Or that they at least got their chances.  Unfortunately those are the only good things you can say about the continually abysmal power play.

The Caps have been plagued by a rash of strange (some would say soft) goals.  This game happened to be chock full of them.  For the Caps, there was Roman Hamrlik's wrong-side-of-the-net backhander, Dmitry Orlov's squirter from the point, and Jeff Schultz' goal complete with Ovechkin doing his Teddy Roosevelt impression in front of the net.  Unfortunately, the Sharks countered with that stupid long shot from center ice and Patrick Marleau's second tally that rolled up Braden Holtby's shoulder and into the net.

Let's see, I've mentioned Teddy Roosevelt, and George Washington....I need one more to complete my Presidential trifecta.  Well I believe it was Abraham Lincoln that mentioned four scores and seven beers ago....no?  Okay, well I tried.  But if I had seven beers they would have all been gone by the middle of the second period with how bad the game was.  And four scores with two less by the opposition would have been nice.  Pizza anyone?  But I don't think they could have gotten any more past Sharks' goalie Thomas Greiss (rhymes with "rice").  OK now I'm hungry.

Blah.  Now they get three days off and another shot at the division leading Panthers on Friday.  A regulation win would be a nice birthday present.  Not Abe's or George's, but mine.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Recap 2/12 vs. NY Rangers: Road Apple

Anyone else starting to think the Washington Capitals can't even buy a win on the road?  Because that's what it's starting to look like.  I guess we shouldn't have expected much, I mean after all it was the Conference leaders and they are on a hot streak.  Still, it was the Rangers and the Caps have played them well recently.  If last week's game against the Panthers was a statement game, this one would have been a confidence booster.  Alas, it was not to be.

Apparently Michal Neuvirth was not supposed to be the starter and only did so because Tomas Vokoun wasn't feeling well.  I read Katie Carrera's article this morning--according to Neuvy, Vokoun texted him and told him as much.  But the he ends up taking warmups anyway.  All those confused? Needless to say it threw off Neuvy who came in almost totally cold. Might have made the difference, but we'll never know until the end of the season.

So the Rangers get the first goal, no surprise there.  OK, no problem, we're used to it.  The Caps are still capable of coming from behind.  That they did.  Alexander Semin took a nice drop pass from Jason Chimera on the right wing boards and launched a drive past Henrik Lundquist for the equalizer.

Jumping ahead to the game winner--a shorthanded goal by Brandon Prust, it was yet another breakdown of a Washington power play.  Hmm, that could be taken any number of ways.  In any case it turned out to be the back breaker even after John Carlson score to pull within one.  But it was too little, too late.

Some other ob-servations....

Alex Ovechkin got a point on the last goal.  Is there something wrong with getting excited that Alex Ovechkin registers a point even in a loss? There's trying to find the good and then there's just plain hoping against hope. Things are rapidly deteriorating towards the latter.

Dmitri Orlov didn't exactly have his best game out there--something Pierre McGuire felt a need to point out at least a few times. Unfortunately for once he was right.

Alex Semin gets another goal.  If he can come up with a few more of those between now and the 27th we just might get something for him. Or not.

Lest we forget the goal that wasn't....and the whistle that was. Unfortunately, thus endeth the play whenever the whistle bloweth.  And that be straight from the NHL bible, er rulebook.

Ryan McDonagh's second period goal looked like one Neuvy might like to have back.  You would think he would have shaken off the rust by then. Otherwise, he was pretty good, coming up with 25 stops.

It's Monday and so that's pretty much all I've got.  Besides, there's the Sharks tonight, but at least we're at  home.  Just hope that makes a difference.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Recap 2/9 vs Winnipeg: Jets Soar, Caps are Sore...and so am I

I'm not going to waste my time doing a full recap.  It was a goaltender's duel until some goals were scored, some of the fluky kind.  Then they lost in the bogus ending known as the NHL mandated shootout.  End of story.

This was the first of what will be many "gotta have" games.  Well they didn't get but a loser point, which I suppose is better than nothing.  But when you're in "every point counts" mode where regulation wins put you in a better position to get in the playoffs, it's not good enough.

I will close with these observations:

1.  First and foremost, the Caps don't seem to want to make the playoffs, so therefore they will not make the playoffs.

2.  Dale Hunter is a good coach, but his system doesn't fit the talent on this team.  Or the players don't fit his system. Take your pick. One way or another there will be change as this season has been an abject failure.

3. Brooks Laich's stick breaking then his trying to play with it last night is symbolic of this season.  It's not exactly Jason Doig in the 2003 playoffs, but you get the idea.

4. Is anyone else as sick of the shootout as I am?  Let them play four-on-four for a whole period if they have to.  Other sports have no issue with that.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2/7 Recap vs Florida: Ovechkin's Pair, Vokoun's 42 Stops Give Caps the Win...oh wait.....

Killer win, unbelievable effort by an obviously inspired team.  Coach Hunter did a good job in getting his troops ready for last night's match. Matthieu Perreault got back on the scoreboard with the opener and game winner 13 seconds into the contest.  Alex Ovechkin potted a pair of goals to bring his season total to 22 and Jason Chimera added a shorthanded goal.  Throw in Tomas Vokoun's 42 saves to ice the win and.......WHAT?

Yeah, you heard me.  Forty-two saves.  That's a four with a two behind it only it's all one number.  As spectacular as that number seems what is truly mind-numbing is the fact that Vokoun was required to stop that many shots in the first place. If you think the Caps can keep this up for the rest of the season into the playoffs, you're wrong.  I don't even need to argue--the standings are already telling me I'm right.

Do I have a right to kvetch even with a dominating win that results in reduced price pizza?  Some of you may not think so.  I happen to think I do.  I understand that a team can ride a hot goalie into the playoffs and beyond.  So with two blankers in the last three games, Evil Kounevil seems to be that guy, right?  As much as I want to believe it, his entire body of work for this season says otherwise.  Regardless, the Law of Averages is working against the Caps.  There's simply no way, even at his best, that Vokoun can keep this up.  And believe me, I will not ignore the fact that he has been outstanding lately.

But I've said it before--even the best goalies give up a few for every 30-odd shots they face.  So what happens when Vokoun or Neuvirth has an off night?  Well you would think the offense would have to compensate. But to assume that they could would imply that they are still capable of boat racing (def. #3) their opponents and they're not. This is a different Caps team, one that has yet to figure out who the hell they are from night to night.

Bottom line--I'm happy with the win and the fact that they pretty much outplayed the Panthers last night.  So much so that the Panthers looked disinterested later in the game.  That is, if you can call a team that still managed 32 shots in the last 40 minutes of play disinterested.

I'll finish by asking the magical question--Can you consider it a dominating win even though they really gave the Kitties chance after chance to get back into the game?

All I'm saying is that it is far from time to anoint the Caps the once and future Southeast Division champs, no matter how good they look at times. Was it an important game they had to win? Yes.  Did they deliver when their backs were against the wall.  Damn right they did.  Does it mean they've turned the corner, though? Nope.  Not by a longshot.  So stay tuned because this thing is still very far from over.  But it's a great first step.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Digging Deep in D.C.

What? Over? Did you say 'over'?  Nothing is over until we decide it is!  Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!  And it ain't over now.  'Cause when the goin' gets tough....the tough get goin'! Who's with me?  Let's go!
--Animal House

They say: "there's 30 games left, plenty of time to come back and win this thing."  I say different.  The time is now.  You better believe the time is now.  When the hell else are we going to start the playoff run?  Panic button?  Nope.  Not at all.  But it is about damn time this time adopted a "battle stations" mentality for once.  As opposed to coasting through the season thinking half the league would roll over.

If you think all this is cutting too deep and nowhere on target, stop reading now.  Because nothing can be further from the truth.  We as fans of this hockey team have to ask just one thing: When are the Washington Capitals going to look into the mirror, be truly disgusted with their results, and do something about it?  If they want to make the playoffs this year the answer is simple--right the hell now.

If you listen closely you can hear the sound of footsteps getting louder from behind.  That would be Winnipeg and Tampa Bay smelling blood and close to catching the Caps.  If you listen even closer, you can hear the sound of footsteps fading away.  That would be Florida, Toronto, and Ottawa putting some distance between the Caps and themselves.

The next game is tonight and it's a classic four-pointer against Florida. This year's Panthers have not been pushovers at all.  Still they can, and have been, beaten.  Brooks Laich may have a go...and then again he may not. Conventional wisdom would dictate that, just to be on the safe side, they hold out Brooks to give him more time to heal.  I think we all know better.  I have said many things about Brooks Laich, but one thing I will never question is his desire.  He's one of those guys with the fire in his belly that will never quit.  Still, an ankle injury is nothing to take chances with.

Getting back to the bigger picture, stats are one thing and the most damning number as of late would be the average shots on goal figures per game.  Of course, they outshot the opposition in the last game and it did them absolutely no good whatsoever.  Even so, it all comes down to a matter of creating quality chances and converting them.  In short, equal parts skill and will.  The skill to find and create chances, the will to fight your way to the net when necessary.  And it is often necessary.  The Caps still have the skill, but have often lack the will to execute.  It is THAT side of the team to which I'm appealing to now.  I'm not alone.  Or at least I hope I'm not.

It's not too late for the Caps to get back in this race.  But it might be if they blow off every other game.

The time is now.  Start the playoff run.


                                             

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Recap 2/4 vs Canadiens: Blacque Jacque Shellacque! Vokoun Hits 21 With Shutout

In Alex Ovechkin's much anticipated return to the lineup from his suspension, the real story would be how badly would the Canadiens roll over in the game.  Trust me because I've seen a lot of it from my own team this year--they looked like a defeated team.  But this is a Capitals' blog, not a Canadiens one, so as much as I respect the history of one of the charter members of the NHL, I'm not here to discuss their woes.  The Caps have had enough of their own lately.

You would expect that the Captain would have come out snorting fire from the get-go.  Indeed it looked that way at first, with his blast of Josh Gorges (pronounced "Georges") early in the first period.  Don't worry folks, it was a perfectly legal hit, so no Shana-hammer will be involved. Gorges (pronounced "Georges") is fine, but maybe with his new contract he can afford to hire someone to teach him how to spell his own name.

Unfortunately for Ovechkin, that would be all that we would hear from him save for one official shot on goal later on.  Hopefully he's just shaking off the rust from inactivity.  Fortunately for the Caps, the rest of the team picked up the slack.  Here be the Yays and Boos for the game:

Yay!  For Dennis Wideman's shot from the point to give the Caps the opening lead, and eventually, the win.  If you get a chance, watch the highlight video.  This shot is the very essence of "knucklepuck."

Boo!  For the fact that Wideman is doing all the work Mike Green would normally be doing.  Unfortunately, no one is stepping up and doing the things that Wideman normally does.  This was pointed out on a certain podcast, who, despite their douchebaggery, does actually make astute assumptions at times.

Yay! For Matt Hendricks recent goal scoring surge.  He now has goals in two of his last three games.

Boo!  For another Matt's sudden demise back to the third/fourth lines after being so productive in El Capitano's absence.  Monsieur Perreault usually performs well in front of the home crowd, but managed only one shot in just over 12 minutes of playing time.

Yay!  For Alex Semin's beautiful slapper past Peter Budaj on the penalty shot to clinch the game.

Boo!  For his overall lack of production.  Let's hope he gets hot these next few weeks to at least provide some warmth to what's been a frigid trade season so far.

Yay! For Brooks Laich's wonderful all-around performance.  Truly playing the role of a utility forward, he did it all--faceoffs, shot-blocking and assisting on two goals.

Boo!  For not making him the third star of the game at least.

And finally Yay for Tomas Vokoun's performance that resulted in win number 21 for the year and his third shutout.  The fact that it was the Canadiens shouldn't diminish this accomplishment as he did have to turn aside 30 shots.  The exclamation point was when he stoned Tomas Plekanec towards the end of the game.  Boo for the fact that he did have to make 10 saves in each period, however.  This is not a good sign when you're supposed to be more defensively responsible.

More of my $ .02 here.....this was yet another game the Caps should have won and in fact did.  It has now been well documented that the Caps have a motivational issue.  We're coming into the last third of the season and another division title is far from assured.  Hell, a playoff berth is far from a sure thing at this point.  EVERY game at this point should be life or death and should be played like it.  And if a coaching change couldn't instill that attitude, I'm not sure what will.  Other than the unthinkable---a roster blowup.  It may take just that.  Sometimes you have some extra pieces that do nothing but make a lot of noise when rattled.  It might be time to just get rid of some if not all of those rattling parts.

No rest for the weary.  It's home sweet home for a Nationally televised matinee against the defending Cup Champs, the Bruins.  No word on whether or not Tim Thomas is staying in the Lincoln bedroom overnight.