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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Recap 3/29 vs Boston: Staying Alive, Staying Hungry

Last night's game, as all the remaining games should be, was about survival.  When you're trying to survive you do anything to prolong your existence.  So it stands to reason why it looked like the Caps were doing nothing but trying to get to the overtime.  Of course it didn't produce any results.  It never does when you sit back and don't dictate the play.

The game finally "woke up" about eight minutes into the third when Dennis Wideman scoring from the high slot.  The play started with an Alex Ovechkin rush into the zone followed by a dish to Wideman from Marcus Johansson.  Not quite two minutes later, Johansson and Ovechkin would hook up again.  In a pattern that has worked wonders in the past, they ran that criss-cross route just above the circles.  And once Johansson lined up his shot, the end result was...well, lets just say a month's worth of frustration was released.  Puck in back of net...beautiful.

Unfortunately, the Caps just had to make things interesting.  All they had to do was play smart hockey for the last twelve minutes.  What they did play was anything but.  With a little over a minute left to play the Bruins had managed to tie it up again.  Cue that sinking feeling, the one that usually accompanies two points floating away into oblivion.  Well somehow they managed to not blow it in regulation, so they managed to get the loser point at least.

The Caps had a couple of golden opportunities in OT, both off the stick of Ovechkin.  I was really hoping that would have ended it.  As much as I like Neuvy, he is stinko in the shootout.

The shootout, for once, really was entertaining and not just due to the end result.  On two separate shots, you had Tim Thomas completely lose it.  First he was faked (almost literally) out of his pads by the Matt Hendricks Experience. Then he nearly castrated himself by backing into the post when he tried to stay with all of Alex Semin's moves.  Finally, Brooks Laich's "can-opener" of a move to the roof of the bakery, er, net finished off the much-needed win.  Appropriately enough, Thomas literally stumbled his way back to the dressing room after storming off the ice.  Guess our nation's capital just isn't his town.


Observaations, great and small:

Tomas Vokoun started the game, but didn't even finish the period.  He did the tear of the groin and got a tenderloin as a result.  And I don't mean flank steak either.  So Michal Neuvirth was pressed into service and skated away with the win and 26 saves on 28 shots plus two of four in the shootout.  Not bad for coming in cold.

A few words about Jason Chimera's hit on Adam McQuaid. Yes it was an obvious penalty.  Unfortunately it was the wrong penalty.  By definition it was boarding, not charging, as was called by referee Steven Walkom..  Despite what Bruins announcer Jack Edwards would have you believe, Chimera did not skate toward McQuaid taking 14 strides with the express purpose of laying him out.  It is important to see it as a "boarding" call as opposed to a charge, because that way, it's more black and white.  This is due to the circumstances of the hit--as you can clearly see no matter how you view it, McQuaid did turn at the last second into the boards.  What is the rule of thumb in this case?  Keep your head up and know where you are on the ice at all times--especially when you've got the puck.  Of course it's regrettable that McQuaid got hurt on the play, nobody wants to see that.  But the players do bear some responsibility for being more aware.  Based on the Office of Player Safety (aka the Shanahammer) and their penchant for punishing the injury, don't be surprised if Chimera is gone at least 2-3 games if not all four remaining games.  This despite the fact that Chimera has a clean record.  Bad break all around, but the league will find a way to make it worse.  At least the Caps killed off the penalty.

Didn't like the beginning or the ending of regulation of the game.  Way too friggin' passive and the Caps can't afford to be that way with the playoffs on the line.

And so it's back home to face Montreal, with perhaps some good news in tow--Nick Backstrom should be starting.  Let's hope a certain Canadiens player doesn't decide to take another liberty again.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Recap 3/27 vs Buffalo: Shishkabobbed

Well I hate to say it, but it happened.  The Capitals blew yet another game they absolutely had to have.  And so here they are once again, backs to the wall.

I'll be honest and say that, by the time I had gotten to the game even via the golden voices of John Walton and Ken Sabourin on radio, the game looked to be pretty much lost.  As it turned out, I was right.  Not that I wanted to be.  From what I was hearing the bounces just weren't going their way, and how many times if you've seen enough Caps games have we seen that happen?  I'm not sure if they were wound up too tight or if they were overprepared if that's possible, but either way they didn't quite look like the team they needed to be.

As soon as I heard Braden Holtby was in net, I groaned.  Don't get me wrong, I think the guy has a bright future, but he was not going to be the guy.  This was too important a game not to give over to your most experienced goalie available, in this case Michal Neuvirth.  Another error by Hunter in what has been a season littered with them.  And so it came as no surprise that the first goal came off of a fluky bounce followed by a bad play by Holtby.

So to that end I'll dispense with my usual recap save for my praise of the lone marker by Alex Semin.  We've seen vintage Ovechkin all this past month, we were treated to classic Good Sasha on that shot last night. Everyone's thinking it, but I'll come out and say it--that could well be his very last goal in a Caps' uniform.  So enjoy it, folks.

Turnovers aplenty, the most egregious of which by Alex Ovechkin that led to that stupid shorthanded goal.  Speaking of turnovers, John Carlson could open a bakery with what he was doing last night.  Remember how I pronounced Marcus Johansson a bust last week?  John Carlson is not that far behind.  I don't think the finest psychologists in the world could cure what's wrong with him.  If the Capitals were to hold a fire sale he should be offered up as the first item up for bids.  You could have Bob Barker come out and run the whole thing.

Moving on from the game, as if we had any choice, it's easy to say the season is over.  Despite that, there are still five games left and anything can happen.  Except now the Capitals have to hope that the Sabres blunder in at least two of their last five games in order to have any real shot at taking the eighth spot back.  Of course there's the "alternative" way which would involve winning the division.  But being five points behind and Florida still having a game in hand, it's not likely.

I'm not giving up just yet, but it may be time to pack everything up for the year and look to the offseason.  Clearly this team as it is concocted is not getting it done.  When a team doesn't get the job done, changes will come.  So the offseason, whenever it comes, should be even more interesting than the season could possibly be. Change will be a good thing in this case because it's been a long time coming.  They've tried a coaching change, goalie switching, a shift in overall strategy, and small scale personnel changes. And it has all failed.

I never thought I'd say this, but I almost want this team to miss the playoffs because the harsh memory of it just might spur some of these dopes into coming back more focused and dedicated next season.  Not to mention it would be the very loud thud that would be heard when the team comes back to earth after being on top of the league for a while. So that very loud thud will resonate and get results.  Results like getting rid of some of the passengers that don't seem to want to give the maximum effort required.  Or players that never should have been a part of the team in the first place.

In other words it's going to take a very calculated dismantling of the team because there are some parts that can and should be saved.  And it's going to take a very experienced manager to accomplish that.  That manager should not be George McPhee.  His time is done as he now needs to be held accountable for his mistakes and shortsightedness.  I only know that what this team is doing isn't working and it all starts at the top.  That's where it all needs to be torn down...the whole thing.  Because plugging holes is no longer going to cut it.  Unfortunately that means we as Caps fans will have to accept at least one or two years of mediocre seasons. But the end result will be worth it--if the team is rebuilt by an architect that knows how to craft a winning team.

We've already borne witness to this abortion of a season, now that we know what to expect it should soften the blow.   Not that it'll make it any easier.  But then, it's never been easy to be a Caps fan.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Recap 3/25 vs Minnesota Wild About Winning

The Washington Capitals came up with a much needed win against the Minnesota Wild.  I'd like to say that I am impressed with both the effort and the result....

I say I would like to say that, but I won't.

The reason I'm unimpressed is because that the Capitals not only needed this win like a fish needs water, but that they also should have won this game.  The fact of the matter is that the Minnesota Wild have defined "tailspin" since about two months into the season.  Their spiral has been so bad that this ought to be their theme song for this season.  The fact that the Caps did win 3-0 and looked only like marginally like a playoff team speaks volumes.

The goals:

It sounds strange to say this given the calls to run him out of town, especially here at the Power Play Point, but Alex Semin is quietly giving this team a chance to win.  On top of that, no longer is he doing the "bad" things to put them in trouble.  He set up the first goal admirably, outmaneuvering Clayton Stoner and sliding the puck to a charging Jason Chimera for his 19th.

Perfect tic-tac-toe drawing between Troy Bouwer, Alex Ovechkin, and Matthieu Perreault to finish on the power play.  But was it a power play they should have had to begin with?  More on this later.

And to put the exclamation point on it all was Alex Ovechkin.  The classic Great Eight goal where he flies down the wing and blasts it with all his might past the goalie. This goal might not been more than an extra insurance marker on the surface. But it meant so much more when you put it in the context of Friday's heart-grinding loss.  That goal should be a reminder that this team should NEVER take its collective foot off the gas.

Game notes:

How about Alex Ovechkin getting back on the play and blocking Mikko Koivu's scoring chance?  Alex Ovechkin backchecking.....'nuff said.

Sorry Caps fans, but Clayton Stoner got called for a penalty he shouldn't have.  If you can find a replay, check out how the puck magically changes its angle a split second after it leaves his stick.  That doesn't happen unless it hits something mid-flight, which it did--Mike Knuble's stick.  Stoner would go the box and the resulting power play goal probably caused a fit that would have given new meaning to his last name.

Braden Holtby finally looked like he was in the groove that earned him an extended look last year.  He stopped all 28 shots and looked considerably less sloppy covering his angles.  Had this game not been nationally televised, he would no doubt have won the steak dinner.

And so as of this posting our Washington Capitals are once again in a playoff spot.  How long they will hold onto it is anyone's guess.  While I have no doubt the Caps will give it their best with two weeks to go, I'm doubtful as to whether or not it will be enough.  Because they're just not consistent enough for my liking. Tomorrow night comes the showdown of showdowns--Buffalo.  We had damn sure better come up with a better effort than last Friday.

Am I hopeful?  Yes.  Am I optimistic....well that's a different story.  I'm sure I'm not the only one as the Verizon Center has sounded like a tomb recently.  This team has to show us something or else there's nothing to get excited about.  Playoff races are exciting, but not so much when the feeling of blowing it grows like a fungus.

To end--there is good news on top of good news:  Nicklas Backstrom has been cleared for full practice with the team.  Timetable is still unknown at this point, but it's 100% better than where he was a few weeks ago.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Recap 3/23 vs Winnipeg: Blown Away by the Jets

Probably the most anticipated matchup of the season came through town. It's no secret that the Winnipeg Jets are the main team that stands in the way of the Caps making the playoffs this year.  And there even seems to be a budding rivalry building between the two teams.  Buffalo might be in the hunt as well, but it's the Jets that had to be shot down tonight...and could have been.  If only.

Well things started out great anyway, with a 3-0 lead.  And who better to kick it all off than speedy, hard-working Jason Chimera.  Better still that it was continued by the Captain. Happy me as I personally would like nothing more than to see the Winnipeggers go home empty handed. Their fans and their media have, for the most part, shamefully approached this season with a sense of entitlement.  It would have been nice to kill their hopes.  Again, if only.

Alas, as they are wont to doing, the Caps lost focus.  A Jeff Halpern turnover led to the first Jet goal by Ben Maxwell.  Just over a minute later, Bryan Little pulled the Jets within one.  And just like that there was cause to worry.  Ample cause as it turned out.

Because instead of putting their foot back on the gas and going after this team, they sat back.  So much so to the point of NOT GETTING A SHOT ON GOAL UNTIL MORE THAN 15 MINUTES INTO THE THIRD PERIOD.  I hope my putting that all in capital letters drives the point home.  Because that approach was simply pathetic.  As I type this I can hear Craig Laughlin lambasting the team for a lack of aggression.  Bingo. I don't know if they just ran out of gas, lost the will to play or what happened.  Whatever happened it is not the mark of a hungry team.

Brooks Laich did what he could to wake his mates up by getting into a fight with the Jets' Jim Slater shortly after the second goal.  You would have though that would have woke them up.  Nope.

More than any of the four they ended up giving up, the game tying goal signified how this game was going to go.  Nobody put a body on Spencer Machacek as he approached the goal.  Jeff Schultz was standing between Machacek and the goal.  Schultz, as he always does, thought putting his stick in the way would be enough.   Once again, it wasn't.  Tie game.

Kinda lends itself to an old song...when a body meets a body coming at the net, you won't have the puck behind you, sitting in the net.

Still, there was overtime and we had a (somewhat) healthy Alex Semin back--our best player four-on-four.  But yet again, they sat back as if they were simply waiting for the shootout.  No aggression, not even a hint of willingness to go after the win.  Did they not learn from the last game against this team?  I counted and it was on the Jets' fifth (yes I said fifth) scoring chance midway through the extra period where Tim Stapleton, perhaps the Jets best player, put away the game winner.


Other observations:

Mike Knuble had a couple of golden opportunities to put away another goal and just barely missed both times.  In what appears to be the theme of this article.....if only.

The officiating was just terrible all over the place.  Ridiculously quick whistles, questionable penalties, and blatant missed calls--the Tanner Glass covering the puck non call leaps to mind. Probably the worst I've seen all year and that's saying something.

The last guy that should be blamed in any of this in Michal Neuvirth.  He made 38 saves, some of which he had no idea how he even made.  His team simply deserted him.  If he were a wife suing for alimony he'd have one hell of a case.

I will continue to be unimpressed with Marcus Johansson.  With a minus 3 on the night, he gets the Yuk award for play that makes me sick. His play is just not consistent enough to merit a roster spot.  Gets knocked off the puck far too easy and is the poorest fit in Dale Hunter's system.  If there were more quality centers to go around, he would be riding the bus to Chocolate City now.  I now pronounce you....a bust.

Surprisingly enough, Dennis Wideman didn't embarrass himself tonight. Unfortunately, his defensive mates John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Jeff Schultz did.  Want to know something sad?  Those last three names are all former first round picks.  And this whole year they certainly haven't played like it.

Rounding out the D-corps, Mike Green didn't have a bad night.  But unfortunately he also didn't have a good night.  And that isn't going to cut it, not with the postseason on the line.

This Caps team had a chance to bury a competing team and help solidify a playoff spot for themselves.  Instead they did the exact opposite. I said before that this team may have found its identity.  Well if they looked in the mirror now, they would probably not like what they see. Unfortunately, it's far too late to change.  Even more unfortunately, it's probably cost them the season and the playoffs.   You do not blow a three goal lead when it's this important.  The twenty men in red forgot that tonight.  They should be ashamed of themselves because once again, I sure as hell am.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Recap 3/19 vs Detroit

Well shut my mouth and call me a believer.  Well, no, not yet anyway. But last night's effort might just go a ways towards making new converts.

Alex Ovechkin scored two goals on the power play and Mike Knuble continued his scoring ways by contributing yet another goal.  Both are getting hot at just the right time.

To be honest, I was going to watch the game from afar.  Even without Nicklas Lidstrom and on a four game slide, the Wings are always a dangerous team.  I wasn't liking what the result could be especially after the debacle the night before when they just collapsed after a period and a half.  To say the least I was pleasantly surprised. And I was overjoyed when the mighty mite Keith Aucoin put away goal number four guaranteeing reduced price pizza for the next day.

Now if only the Caps could hang on.  Because there was still well over a period left to play.  And, well, it's still the Red Wings.  If any team could put a dent in the Caps' perfect record when leading after two periods it would have been Detroit.  Things started getting a little tense when Knuble took a tripping penalty late in the third.  Great.  Of course none of this would have gotten started if Matt Hendricks hadn't taken yet another dumb penalty that led to a Kyle Quincey power play goal back in the second period.

Somehow the Caps managed to kill off the first minute of the Wings' power play and a call against Henrik Zetterberg took care of the rest. Jason Chimera got a well-deserved (and well-timed) empty netter to seal it.

Mike Green had a much better game and came away with an assist and a +2 rating.  Perhaps he's finally getting back into playing like only he can. Or he's now used to the system.  Whichever.  Of course it may or may not be a coincidence that Dmitry Orlov was also absent from the game....

Braden Holtby, called up to replace an injured Tomas Vokoun filled in admirably, but seemed to fade towards the end.  By all accounts, the Joe Louis Arena was unusually humid which possibly contributed to that.  He would end up stopping 30 shots. But he's not quite there in terms of being a reliable goalie...yet.

Alex Semin continues to quietly produce, putting up two assists.  Along the same lines, Marcus Johnasson had a much better game and also chipped in a pair of assists.

So how about the power play all of a sudden?  Three goals on the night, but of course one of them was into and empty net.....

Next up are the Flyers on Thursday.  We haven't fared well against them, so it might be time to turn that around.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Recap 3/18 vs Chicago

The Washington Capitals don't deserve to make the playoffs...
                              --Jeremy Roenick during last night's postgame wrapup

Don't blame JR, folks...he's just doing what he always does--telling it like it is.  And what it's like is that the Capitals have suddenly stopped playing like a desperate team.  Maybe they really have quit like everyone claims they have.  What does it say when team leaders Mike Knuble and Alex Ovechkin score goals and they mean nothing?  Or when the team falls behind 4-1 after just over 30 minutes of play? Or when they let a no-talent punk like Andrew Shaw score two goals?  Or worst of all that they didn't even get 20 shots on goal?

Now of course in the NHL you're not going to win every game.  But when it matters most, you have to show up with your best effort.  This is now back to back games where it's happened.  Gentlemen, in case you have forgotten, YOU ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A PLAYOFF RUN!

This whole team acts like it needs an enema, and then a swift kick in the rear.  Or perhaps the reverse.  Whichever.  But there's no excuse for games like last night.  And it only gets tougher because they visit Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings tonight.  Now they can pack it in and concede their 31st loss already or they can fight and get a point out of this game, two with any luck.

The time for half-assed efforts was over a dozen games ago.  It's man up, or go golfing--what's it going to be?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Recap 3/16 vs Winnipeg

Well I was hoping for a win to keep the recent streak alive, not to mention the playoff hopes.  What I got what a team that played not to lose and ended up doing so.  Which is exactly what happens when you approach this kind of a game with that attitude.  Especially when you play a team that is more desperate than you are and happens to be backed by 15,000 screaming idiots rabid fans.

Did not like how the Jets pretty much had tilted the ice towards the Caps' end especially during the most critical moments of the game.  Again, playing not to lose will get you that exact result. The Caps looked physically outmatched in every battle, as if drained even though they were coming off a few days rest.  This is one of those inexplicable losses where you know they could have played better and yet somehow didn't. Unfortunately two points slipped away as a result, worse when you consider that the Jets now have new life in their playoff drive.  And Florida keeps on winning.

The game winner was one the Caps' D might like to have back.  How could they not have anticipated that Dustin Byfuglien would not have jumped in on the play?  Unfortunately Karl Alzner realized way too late and worse, played it the way Hugh Hefner would have--on his back. What was that all about?

The offense was just as pathetic, more so perhaps.  Sure they picked up the slack in the third by firing as many shots as the first two periods combined.  But it was simply too late.  (You ever notice nobody ever says "too much too late"?)  The only time offense was generated was as a counter to what the Jets were doing.  You can't afford to counterpunch a team like Winnipeg all night with their skating ability.  In fact, one of the Caps' goals was scored when the Jets' worst skater, Ron Hainsey, was on the ice.  Not sure if he was praying over the puck or what, but Matthieu Perreault gladly took advantage and tied the game temporarily.

There are many things that can turn the course of a hockey game.  Things like a big hit, a fight, or time out followed by a spirited tongue lashing by one's coach.  But there is nothing that can give you momentum like killing off a 3-on-5 disadvantage.  The Caps did just that and would go on to score a game-tying goal on the very next power play they got.  How and why they could put together absolutely nothing after that is beyond me.

Alex Ovechkin picked another bad time to be ineffective.  In a game where he needed to show something, the end result was nothing.  He was credited with five shots on net and the same amount of hits, so the effort was there.  But effort alone doesn't get you standings points.

Tomas Vokoun was named the third star and for good reason.  He kept the Caps in it when the Jets were running wild in the zone at times.  Some of the saves he would literally pull out of the air.  Haven't heard whether or not he or Neuvirth will get the start tonight against Chicago, but Vokoun just might be worth a second look.  He definitely has that competitive fire again.

Other than that, not too many Capitals looked all that impressive.  Jay Beagle had yet another solid outing, with 3 blocked shots and fourteen wins out of 20 draws in the faceoff circles.  Brooks Laich ended up being the only plus player.  The once-vaunted shutdown pair of John Carlson and Karl Alzner both ended up with minus 2 ratings, however.  Pathetic when you consider the fact that they weren't exactly asked to shut down Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby.

So it's on to Chicago for the continuation of this make-or-break road trip. Which Caps team will show up is anyone's  guess at this point.  Not sure I even care anymore, so long as whichever team that does show up wins. Because that's all anybody should be caring about at this point, and as such, should do everything it takes to get there.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Recap 3/13 vs NY Islanders: Captain Ovechkin Does it Again

Another two points in the books.  Before we get to the good, however, it should be pointed out that, for a good part of the game anyway, they could have been zero points in the books.  The Caps would come back from three goals down--twice--in order to win it.  I hesitate to say because they often end up proving me wrong, but maybe this team has finally turned that corner with another character win.

Now of course it looked bad early on.  Matt Moulson got his 30th for the Islanders midway through the first and  Travis Hamonic got a LMGOD to close the first period.  Then it turned into the John Tavares show in the second as he planted two goals.  He was initially given credit for Hamonic's goal, but it was then changed, so the delayed hat-raining never should have happened at all.  Nothing like a premature hat-throwing celebration to get the crowd involved.

Sandwiched between Tavares' two goals was a tally by Mike Knuble.  Yes, that Mike Knuble.  Too bad this wasn't a home game as the crowd would have absolutely gone nuts.  Actually it looked to have been shot in by Dennis Wideman at first, but Knuble, as he is good at doing, got enough of it to get it in.

So at least we were on the board anyway.  But that first half the bounces just seemed to go against us.  Especially that first goal off the damn glass. But Michal Neuvirth eventually shook off the initial bad start and hung tough the rest of the game.  It goes without saying that some of the damage was self-inflicted though.  At least Tavares' second goal was.  And it was as a result of yet another deep neutral-zone turnover by Alex Ovechkin.  Mark my words, those are going to be absolutely killer one of these days.

Yes it looked bad.  But then Alex Ovechkin stormed the crease late in the period and collected a rebound from a Brooks Laich shot and put it home. It was our own version of a LMGOD, and unlike the one the Islanders scored, it had an impact on the game.

So the third period starts and the Caps come out full of life and momentum.  Two goals is a lot but isn't insurmountable.  Sure enough, Dmitry Orlov zoomed into the slot after a dart of a pass from Marcus Johansson and just roofed it past Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov.  4-3 Islanders and the pendulum is swinging the other way.  Nine minutes later, Ovechkin buzzed the net again and got not one, not two, but three whacks at the puck, finally putting it top shelf on the third try.  Tie game. Unbelievable.

The rest of the game was a tense affair as obviously the next goal would decide it.  The Caps went into prevent mode and let the play tilt to their end.  Overtime was the worst.  The Islanders got chance after chance, but Neuvy remained groovy and stopped everything that came at him, including his own teammate Ovechkin who plowed into his blocker hand.

So then came the dreaded skills competition, otherwise referred to as the shootout/  Personally I think if they wanted to be really accurate they should call it the "skate towards the goalie and try to score and pretend like it has anything to do with a real game" competition.  Am I giving you the impression that the shootout is an unnecessary gimmick that is wrecking the game?  Good.

And while Alex Ovechkin did his bit and scored and Dmitry Orlov choked on his attempt (sorry Dmitry, gotta tell it like I see it) it was Matt Hendricks who put the game away, faking Nabokov out of his pads. Amazing.

Other observations......

It was good to see this team not let down after some unfortunate bounces and some early sloppy play.  As Coach Hunter said, they just kept on busting their tails until they got the win.  Some much needed grit that came from within is always good to see.

Hard to fathom that Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum would be a real home-ice advantage for the Isles, but that's what it was on the first couple of goals.  Strange bounces indeed off of boards, ice, and glass. Ultimately, though, Neuvy would bounce back from it all and have a solid outing, ending things with a clutch save on Mark Streit in the skills competition.

Make no mistake, John Tavares already is a fantastic young player in his own right and last night he proved it again, hat trick or no..  If management can put the right pieces around him, then someday that team just might be a contender.

Unsung heroes of the game--Keith Aucoin and Jay Beagle.  Aucoin is fitting in no matter the line or the role he's asked to play.  He finished with a +3 rating, which in of itself is very good.  It's even better when you consider that he was playing on three different lines each time he got an assist. Beagle, meanwhile, is quickly becoming the heart and soul of the team, blocking shots, taking key faceoffs, and hitting anything that moves.  He led the team in the latter category with four hits.  Now, if only he didn't take so many penalties.....and if only one of those didn't lead to a goal. In an inspiring display of grit, he took a hard shot that clearly gave him some discomfort, as Joe B would say.  This during a key penalty kill in the first...he limped back to the dressing room afterwards. However, he would return later on in the period.

Speaking of special teams play......Zero power plays?  Seriously?  And five for the Islanders? If that isn't a shining example of crappy officiating I have no idea what is.  Jay Beagle was mugged when he charged towards the net, Marcus Johansson had his stick chopped out of his hands.  And no call. If referees Dean Morton and Don Van Massenhoven are part of the officiating crews for ANY round of the playoffs, it will prove once and for all that the system truly is flawed.  Because they're both awful referees.

And finally, though he had a less than ideal ending, flubbing his shootout attempt, Dmitry Orlov continues to be the NHL's best-kept secret.  He is thriving in an increased role brought on by Mike Green's suspension, which gets lifted Friday against Winnipeg.

And about those Jets....it would be a wonderful thing to come away with two regulation points against them.  Because to do so would put them eight points behind and the Caps own the tiebreaker.  That would quiet them and their fans, for at least the rest of the year.  Sorry, but I'm not on the bandwagon that it would be the feel-good story of the year.  The fact of the matter is that they haven't earned diddly.  No team has...yet.

Twelve games left, time for the Caps to earn something.  Other than respect.  And that includes the Captain--could it be that he's finally learning to carry this team and rally it when needed?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Recap 3/12 vs Toronto: Laich and Neuvirth Put Away the Leafs

The Caps inched ever closer in their quest for the Southeast division lead with their win over the rapidly sinking Toronto Maple Leafs.  The question now is--can they keep it up?  Their longest win streak in the Dale Hunter era has been three.  Now if they win three, lose one, then win three again and so on they might have something.  Of course that would be the equivalent of putting on half your clothes, getting out the door, the going back in to finish, going back out only to forget your shoes....well, you get the idea.  Not that I've done any of this.

And spare me the bullcrap discussion of how the Southeast division sucks this year.  There have been bad divisions all through different sports.  It's what you do when you get into the playoffs.  I figured we had all learned that by now....

Looking back on this game, I can't remember a thing the Caps didn't do too well, with the possible exception of closing out the first period.  The Leafs were close to scoring a LSGOD (Last Second Goal of Doom) and had some sustained pressure towards the end of the period..  But the Caps would get out of it.  And as it turned out, that's as close as the Leafs would get to scoring.

Brooks Laich, who is on something of a roll, got opener and game winner on a Leafs power play.  He read the play like a cheap novel, picking the pocket of  defenseman Jake Gardiner when he tried to make a drop pass. Flipping a wrister over Jonas Gustavsson's outstretched pad, he got his14th of the year, delighting the Verizon Center crowd.

In our "Man Bites Dog" feature....Marcus Johansson missed a wide open net.  This is starting to get comical, at least to everyone except MJ90.  He looked like he wanted to take his stick to someone's head after that latest miss.  He settled for the bench door.  Fuel for the fire, Marcus.

Other than that, there was the Matthieu Perreault goal to give them some insurance early in the third.  The game was spectacular in being unspectacular.  Which is exactly the type of game that the Caps will probably need to stick to if they want to keep on winning.

Something else--and I hate to say it, but the Caps didn't seem to miss a beat with Mike Green out of the lineup yesterday or against Boston. Between that and the outstanding play of both goalies, Coach Hunter has some interesting lineup decisions to make.

So, for the time being anyway, it ain't over, folks.  This team hasn't quit yet, though others are certainly getting that impression.  On to Long Island and a date in the NHL's worst building.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Powerplay Point Podcast Show #5

So here we are, finally.  Between delays both self-imposed and not so self-imposed, technical and not technical, we finally have a show for you. Check out our companion site http://blueliner77.podbean.com/ for the particulars about this months' show.  Mr. Mike Walsh was kind enough to give his blessing, so as promised here is the link to his website for those who want to read more about Willie O'Ree's accomplishments.  Be sure to watch the interview at the end, it's good stuff.


http://missioncreep.com/mw/oree.html



Recap 3/10 vs Boston: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Bruins?

It was another heart-stopping affair in yesterday's matinee against the defending Cup champs the Boston Bruins. Let me be honest with you, I wasn't so sure at times during the last few minutes that the Caps would come away with one point, much less two.  Somehow they did.  Here's a rundown of the goals from the good guys:

Alexander Semin opened the scoring by putting in a rebound off a Karl Alzner point shot.  I'm not sure if it's the eight straight starts, but Tim Thomas looked a bit off the whole game.

Twenty-five seconds later Matt Hendricks put in a shot from in front to put them up 2-0.  It should be noted that, while he didn't get credit for an assist on the play, Jay Beagle's hard work in the corner was what generated the scoring chance in the first place.  Maybe, just maybe, there's something to what Coach Hunter said after all.

You could hear the steam coming out of coach Claude Julien's ears after that goal.  So you knew the Bruins would come back and make a game of it, which they did.  By the end of the fifth minute of the second period, it was tied at 2.

Speaking of Beagle and hard work, he would be rewarded with a goal of his own.  The Caps took advantage of some miscommunication when two Bruins actually collided with each other.  Alex Semin absorbed two hits, then deftly slipped a pass to Beagle, who had rushed into the open space in the high slot area.

Next came the game winner.  It was created by a penalty drawn by Matthieu Perreault.  In fact, the last three penalties of the game were committed by the Bruins.  They seemed a bit off in the discipline department, yet they "brought the house" as John Walton put it.  In any case the Caps were the beneficiaries of the power play, and for once they converted.  Brooks Laich put it home from the close-in slot.

Now notice where I said he scored.  From in close.  He couldn't have been more than five feet from the goalmouth.  THAT is where he is most effective, not from the circles, not from the point, not blasting it from the wing, but fighting through traffic and getting in close.  Just about every goal he's scored.  I've never said he was a terrible player, but he is capable of so much more.  I think he could be a solid 25-35 goal scorer if he would just take his own advice more often.

A two goal lead for the Capitals, who have been money with a lead after two periods.  Except the Bruins have been equally tough when down after two this season.  Keep in mind that they're not the Cup champs for nothing. You knew it was going to be interesting.  Perhaps a little too interesting.

The Bruins ended up putting 13 shots on net.  They would only get one goal, which Johnny Boychuk put in with about three minutes left..  The Caps for some reason only got two shots.  Much too passive.  There's not taking chances and then there's tightening your belt so hard you cut off your circulation.

The last two minutes has to be the most nail-biting, heart pounding, nerve wracking moments of the season. I'm talking how your lover makes you feel on your best day type of heart pounding.  If that gives you any idea. The ice was tilted to the Caps' zone for all that time period and it led to uh, some interesting decisions with the puck.  Joel Ward's deciding to ice the puck when he didn't have to comes to mind.  There was a lot of head banging going on (mine--against my headrest) with every blessed time the Caps would ice the puck in those last two minutes.  In fact, there as more icing in those two minutes than on the last five cakes combined at our company birthday parties.

I haven't mentioned him up to this point, but don't doubt for a second that Tomas Vokoun had a fantastic game yesterday.  He stopped pucks that had no business being stopped, none more evident than that seeing-eye save he had with a minute twenty left.  The one where he had to see around at least six bodies in front of him.  He would skate away with 30 saves, and more importantly, the win.  He's finally showing why George McPhee took a a chance on him last summer.

Additional notes....

John Carlson bobbled the puck waaaaaay too many times for my liking. After the so-so year he's had, people should be wondering what's wrong with him, not Alex Ovechkin.

Dmitry Orlov had perhaps his best game of the season, notching two assists and playing a very solid puck movement game.  Expect more from him in the games to come, especially with Mike Green munching popcorn for the next two.

Marcus Johansson missed a wide open net yet again.  And as Bruins announcer Jack Edwards duly pointed out, it was the third time in five games he's done that.

A big two points indeed, and on the road.  Home sweet home against the Leafs....should be an easy two points against a team that's lost its way. Or will it be?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Recap 3/8 vs Tampa Bay: Ovechkin Strikes in OT Again

One point out of two against Carolina sucked.  But two OT wins out of three chances is good.  Call these the Cardiac Caps.  And that might just be what defines them once and for all this season.  More on that in a bit.
If only they hadn't sandwiched two additional regulation losses in the midst of all this...but first things first......

To start with, kudos to Tomas Vokoun for coming in off his longest layoff of the season and delivering several great saves, most of which came in the first period.  Although my heart could have done without that flurry late in the third. The one where was out of position and the Lightning had 24 square feet of yawning net to shoot at for a few seconds.  He would finish with 24 saves.

Keith Aucoin got things going with another in-close net deflection.  That gives the mighty-mite four points in five games as the bottom two lines continue to step up their game.  Aucoin, as he always does when given a chance with the big club, is making a solid case to stay.  Perhaps Mike Knuble's benching might be somewhat justified after all.  I still say Knuble would be best served as a power play specialist, but at this point in the season it's almost a moot point.  Especially when you consider the Caps get nowhere near the power play chances to justify any such move.  One thing is for certain--the little guy's net presence is the tonic for an offense gone dry at times.  It will be interesting to see if he can hold up to the intensity of a harsh playoff run, not to mention the playoffs themselves should they get that far.

Washington wound up surrendering 15 shots on goal in the first period alone.  Vokoun stopped them all.  But  one word still springs to mind--garbage.  If one of those shots squeaks through--different hockey game.

Mike Green's hit on Brett Connolly in the second will draw some attention. He clearly targeted the head on that play, no question.  So what will be his punishment?  I would wager that he gets no more than a one-game vacation from the Shanahammer.  It could possibly be just a fine as Connolly did return later in the game and Green has no priors on his record.  But given the Sheriff's recent penchant for putting the hammer of justice away given the lateness of the season, it will be no more than one game and no less than the max fine of $2,500.

As they are wont to do, the Caps eventually squandered their early lead with some dumb mistakes.  Sure enough, it began to fall apart in the second period.  Dennis Wideman, whose play has been questionable at best lately, plowed into JT Wyman for a boarding call.  It didn't even take 30 seconds for Tampa's power play to convert as Ryan Malone knocked it home to tie it.

Towards the end of the second, there was yet another call.  This was actually better in that it was a restraining call for holding on Jay Beagle. Nonetheless, the result was the same--power play goal, this time potted by Teddy Purcell.

And then it came.  The much needed chewing out, rallying cry, locker room speech or whatever you want to call it.  Hell, whatever it was Dale Hunter said it woke the team up, obviously.  Coach Hunter downplayed his speech and its effects in the post game presser, but you could see in his eyes it had the desired effect and he knew it.

From then on the Lightning were clearly out worked and out-hustled by an inspired Capitals team.  Tampa didn't even register a shot on goal until 16:26 when Steven Stamkos broke through for quick wrister.  But not before Marcus Johansson pulled them even.  He slipped in a nice five-holer after he took a feed from Dennis Wideman.  Wideman had collected the puck after winning a battle along the boards with Tampa center Nate Thompson.  It was the first of two climaxes to a tense game.  All the result of hard work and team play.

And of course, it was once again some hard work that allowed for the game winner.  It all began where all great hard working plays begin--in the offensive zone corner.  With about a miunte remaining before the dreaded skills competition, Jason Chimera won a race to the puck, beating out a Lightning defender.  He found Dmitry Orlov waiting in the high slot and zoomed into onto the tape of his stick.  In one fluid motion, Orlov made for the net as if to take a shot, but instead passed it to Ovechkin who had streaked in on the right wing.  Orlov had both the defender and the goalie fooled and the Captain had a near-empty netter, although it should be said that the Lightning goalie, Dustin Tokarski nearly got back in time.

The one gigantic scream!  Happy 18,000 plus at the Verizon Center, including 20 guys in red on the ice.

Much has been made recently about how this team has lost its way, that it has no identity.  I will say that, while they still have an uphill climb ahead of them, that they just might have found themselves in this win.  Yes it took a coach to verbally kick them in the rear to get them going.  But once they did, they started playing for each other--like all successful teams do.  Trust me, we've all been looking and looking for this team to finally figure it out.  So many times when it looked like they had, we would live out the disappointment of witnessing old habits creep back in, like stinkbugs in early spring.

Perhaps finally, this is the time they have figured out that they are the team that can take the blows and outlast anyone else.  Once before they would use their talent to sprint to a big lead then coast.  Those days, however we may have enjoyed them, are no more.  Now, they are the team that will continue to out work you and eventually wear you down. And at the most opportune time, they still have the firepower to go for the knockout blow.  The most relevant piece of evidence I have to offer for those seeking optimism is their third period play.  On his recent podcast, Bobby Holik said that you get tired when you're behind and chasing the puck.  Well, not only did they not get tired, they kept the league's most potent goal scorer, Steven Stamkos, down to two shots and the Lightning as a whole without a shot for most of the third period. That kind of energy and result comes from only one thing--belief in one another as a team.

The Capitals are finally beginning to gel as one solid unit--is it too late for them to use it to get into playoffs and do some damage?

We'll find out in 15 games or less.  I just wish it didn't take this long for them to find themselves.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The New Bad Sasha?

I'm not sure whether or not to classify last night's 1-0 loss to the Flyers as a heartbreaker or just fate.  It was after all one of the two games in the homestand where the Capitals weren't exactly expected to come away with any points.  But again, at least one would have been good.  If there's any positives coming out of this, it's the fact that they seemed to be battling the whole game.  But that's not enough when the only thing that matters with so few games left is the end result.

Alex vechkin personally cost the Capitals the game.

There's a reason I typed that statement the way that I did--I wanted to let it stand on its own because it is important.  Yes, while he said all the right things and took responsibility in the postgame interview, he still needs to figure out how to carry the team on his back and take over a game the way he used to.  So while his mistake put them in the hole in the first place, he needed to do everything in his power to get them back in the game.  And it just didn't happen.

Unfortunately, the Captain is developing the kind of habits and consistency as a certain other Russian on the team named Alex.  The game before this he only came up with just one shot on net.  And before that he was barely a factor until overtime.  This forces everybody to examine things from a new perspective--has Alex vechkin regressed to being an average player?  He certainly looked it last night.

Now of course he wasn't alone.  Not for the game and not even on that one play.  Coach Hunter held him back to get the best possible line matchups against the Flyers.  Given the fact that they only got the one goal, you could say that it was a tactic that was, for the most part, effective.  Unfortunately it only works if you get the puck in the other team's net.

Marcus Johansson still looks lost out there.  I'm not sure if he's a victim of not knowing what system he's playing or if he's just lost his way, but his abilities aren't being utilized to the fullest.  He looks like a third line center trying to play a first line role.  Which is exactly what he is. Unfortunately, we're stuck with him as our number one center until such time as Nicklas Backstrom returns from the wasteland known as post-concussion syndrome.

Now it was nice to see Mike Knuble back.  Can we please start putting him on some front-line duty or at least on one of the Power Play units?  I don't think it was any coincidence he had the best chance all night to put one past Flyers' goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

Lots to build on, but it's a swift, hard kick to the gonads when you lose like that.  Let's see if this team can dig deep and come up with a better game against Carolina.  Remember, gents, it wasn't that long  ago you were all embarrassed by Eric Staal's resurgence in a 5-0 loss.  The Verizon Center crowd will not accept anything less than your absolute best.

(By the way, no, that was NOT a typo. No "O" in your game, no "O" in your name.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Recap 3/2 vs New Jersey: Deviled Goose Egg

I'm seriously beginning to think that, instead of the wonderful logo a lot of us lovingly refer to as the "Weagle" the secondary logo should be the mask from the Phantom of the Opera.  Perhaps next game they could all be outfitted with one!

I jest of course, but I think by now even a casual follower of the Capitals knows what I mean.  They were riding a three game winning streak and coming off a character-building win in overtime.  You would have thought that there would have been a better effort as opposed to the 5-0 boat race we were treated to.  Of course it didn't help that Zach Parise turned the Verizon Center ice into his own personal playground, he of the hat trick.  Make no mistake the Devils are a damn good team, but the Caps could have played them much better than that.

Here's a telling stat:  Alex Ovechkin registered seven hits, but only one shot. If that's not schizophrenic I have no idea what is.

Jeff Schultz with a slashing penalty?  You're not supposed to get that nasty, Sarge.

We're still waiting for the "Mike Green effect" to show up.  To be sure, he's improving with every game, but didn't get a point in any of the three wins and doesn't look to be that game changing factor we all know him to be....yet.

If only the scarecrow had a brain, the tin man a heart, the cowardly lion courage, and if only Jay Beagle could score....

Based on Dale Hunter's logic of poor plus minus stats giving you a seat in the press box, he would have had to bench the whole team save for Beagle, Schultz, Joel Ward, and Jeff Halpern.

Matt Hendricks pretty much doomed whatever momentum that Caps were trying to build up his high-sticking call that led to the opener and game-winning goal.  The least he could have done is to try and bring it back by doing what he does best--fighting.

Speaking of power plays, the refs kept it even, giving each team two. The Devils converted on one.  Any guesses how the Caps did?

Is anybody else tired of seeing a team that is supposedly learning to play a more defensively responsible game give up five goals?

And finally, Brooks Laich says if you can't beat 'em, club them in the face. Of course he didn't actually say that, but if he was going to put the old Kabong! on Zach Parise, accidental or not, he could have done that much earlier in the game.

What a yuck making game.  And it doesn't get any easier as the homestand continues against Philadelphia in a rare Sunday matchup.  If you will be attending, be sure to keep yourself in good voice.  We want Mr. Jagr to feel quite welcome.