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

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Powerplay Point Podcast Show #9

Playoffs, here we come!  At least if the season ended today, anyway.  We are back on the air...this being our 200th post on the Blog.  Thanks to all who have stuck aound.  And for all those just getting here, welcome aboard!  Enjoy!



Thursday, April 4, 2013

ReCap 4/4 vs NY Islanders, win the SO, lead the SE!

Ladies and gentlemen, hockey imitates life.  I say this because, just like in hockey, anything can happen in life.  And vice versa.  And anything is what has happened so far for my favorite team this year. Now, with just a handful of weeks to go in this labor-interrupted season, what looked impossible just a couple of weeks ago is now reality--the Washington Capitals are in first place in the Southeast division.

And yes, while anything still can happen with time left in the season, this has to be a confidence booster for this team.  But the only thing I'm afraid of is that complacency will once again rear its ugly head.  In other words, the Caps cannot let up.  Not for a moment.  Not when the prize is within their grasp.  Fortunes can turn so quickly, much like life.

Complacency will not be a factor for the team's most consistent players over the last few weeks--Braden Holtby, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green.  Call them the not-so-Young Guns version 2.0. And kudos to Martin Erat for stepping into a new situation and playing very well.

By no means are their opponents the Islanders out of it--trust me they will be heard from.  And nothing is set in stone, far from it.  But as they have learned, forgotten, and relearned once again, the results can and will come if the Caps stick to their game plan.

Whatever happens it looks to be an exciting finish to the season.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

ReCap 3/31/13 vs Philadelphia

Loser points are for losers.  And that's just how the Washington Capitals played for the last seven plus minutes of their game tonight against Philly.  So it's appropriate then that all they would come away with, was the loser point.  Play them horns!

Play them all night long!!!!!

Honestly, when is this team going to figure out that there are 60 minutes in a game?  Not 55, not 52, not 53, but 60.  Sometimes more if overtime is involved.  This team packed it up with about seven minutes to go.  How many times have we Caps fans lamented this fact that nobody seems to realize you don't win unless you're LEADING after 60 minutes of play?????

It was a heck of a run with this team managing 10 wins in March, as Joe B referred to during the Comcast showing (nearly to ad nauseum, might I add).  But when you can't win the tough games, you might as well not be playing at all.  And so we all know what will happen now.  This team will miss the playoffs.

And you can't say I didn't tell you so!  Because I did!

Truth is, the Capitals do not deserve to make the playoffs.  You can't coast against any team in this league and get rewarded for it.  And yet it happens.  Over and over and over again.

The trade deadline is in three days.  The Washington Capitals better be having a fire sale happening, because everything must go.  At least that's what I'd like to see.  But it won't happen.

Monday, March 25, 2013

ReCap 3/24 vs. NY Rangers

Unbelievable as it may seem, it appears that we Caps fans may have finally seen the day in this season where we can all stop asking "Why can't they play like that more often?"

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way when you're working out of a struggle you lose something.  That something may have been a part of you that needed to be shed, and yet the same time was a part of you.  This might be the key to why the Caps have been so inconsistent over the years.  They might be back, but they clearly are not the same team, the juggernaut that a lot of the current fans grew up with and came to love. Maybe winning does cure a lot of things, but it can mask other things that are problems.

Would last night's edition of the Caps beaten the Rangers in the playoffs last year?  Hard to say.  I ask this because the Rangers were considered by many (including yours truly) to be a Cup contender.  And the Caps have been far from the world beaters they made themselves out to be in years past.

The scoresheet doesn't tell the whole story.  But it does say one thing loud and clear--the best players still have to be the best players night after night.  Which means that they can't afford to have Ovechkin go into an inexplicable funk.  Or Backstrom struggle with inconsistencies.  Or Green battle injuries.  Many things can go wrong with most teams and they somehow get through it, but this team often tries to work through their problems without too many positive results.

Nick Baclstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Braden Holtby were the heroes last night.  But they can't be the heroes every night.  The question I'm posing is, will Caps fans be okay with that?  Because as this team finally comes together, they will need to rely on each other more.  Or they won't amount to much in the future, let alone this season.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Taking Chances a Must for a Win Tonight

The surging Washington Capitals have hitched their fortunes to their stellar power play.  Their play with the man advantage has been impressive all season, but has recently shifted into overdrive, climbing to the top of the NHL in efficiency.  But as has always been the case, you have to get there through your 5-on-5 play.  As they drop the puck tonight in their match against the Rangers, one stat will be key--scoring chances.

Simply put, the Caps have to take it to the net.  Even if they do not manage to get a shot off, they have to make life miserable for the Rangers' defensive corps.  Especially now that their anchor, Mark Staal, will be out indefinitely.  Scoring chances when taken to the extreme not only lead to possible goals while at even strength, they also lead to power play chances.  And thus completes the cycle.

So my point is....drive to the net with consistency, and, as long as the refs have their glasses on when the Rangers resort to fouling, the Caps will be able to cash in.  Watch tonight and see if the game proves me right or wrong.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

ReCap 3/9 vs NY Islanders

I swear by all that is holy....and all that is UNholy as well....I have run out of words to express my frustration with this hockey team that is masquerading like a group of professionals.

I think this will bring it home quite handily.

What's even more frustrating is that it is so freaking obvious to EVERYBODY what the problem is.  And that's a complete lack of focus.  No focus equals no consistency.  Which is why the Washington Capitals cannot put together more than 2-3 good games in a group without completely regressing like a mental patient devoid of their medication.

I don't even have to bother going over what happened in the game.  All it took was one careless (actually two if you think about it) penalty by Mike Ribiero, who got whistled for a double minor (four minutes) for high-sticking.  And the Caps had about a minute to go to kill it off, but then allowed the Islanders to score.  They never looked back after that.  I will give the future Brooklanders credit--they are a team to be reckoned with this season as they do have a very real chance of making the playoffs for once.

No discipline.  No focus.  No chance.

Add to this the fact that the defense corps was even further reduced for Lord knows how long after John Erskine's injury forced him from the game.  They're already environmentally unfriendly (no Green), now they're down to John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Poti, two rookies, and Jeff Schultz.  We are at the halfway point in the season and they're nowhere near consistent enough to make a run at the playoffs. Doesn't take an expert to know the odds of the Caps surviving this are pretty slim.

I have something else about all this that frustrates me, only it wasn't the team's fault.  Or it wasn't the players at least.  Just before the time of the aforementioned losing goal, I found myself on the road as I often do. Naturally I was expecting to hear John Walton's dulcet tones calling the game on 1500 AM AKA Federal News Radio.  But no.  They thought it was more important to cover a (YUCK!) college basketball game.  All right well it's called the Capitals Radio Network for a reason--there are other stations I can turn to.  So I flip over to 1300 AM.  Same thing...college frickin' basketball.  It's March and it's madness all right.

Given my limited options as I live closer to Baltimore, I only had one option left--106.7 FM.  The signal lasted just long enough for me to enjoy hearing about the four-minute penalty and subsequent goal given up.  At that point MIX 106.5 had completely bled onto the broadcast.  All I could hear after that was Justin Timberlake...or was it Justin Bieber?  In any case I found it just incredible that it was so freaking hard to find a decent signal station to hear the Caps game.  But then, the radio audience has always been crapped on by this organization.

In any case it was cause for more screaming.

And unfortunately I think we Caps fans are in for a lot more of that. Unless they can find their focus.  But with 24 games to go and the playoff window closing faster it's not looking good.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

ReCap 3/6 vs. Boston

Seems like old times, eh? Exciting game, one goal differential, physical play, and of course an overtime game winning goal. End result the same--a Caps' win. Only it sure didn't look like it was going to happen at first.

Tuesday night's win against the Bruins seemed to be yet another one of those times where you'd think the Caps have turned the corner. They may well have, but falling behind 3-0 like they did isn't the way to prove it. But to quote Jiggs McDonald, still the Caps were capable of a comeback, and they did. Personally though, I would feel better about this team had they not fallen behind the way they did in the first place.

Dopey penalties, lazy play, and somewhat suspect goaltending. It looked as though the Caps from earlier this season were back to stay. But in the end, as so many members of the team would mention in their respective post game statements, they stuck to the system and kept playing their game.

A word or two about Alex Ovechkin. When he is good, he's very good. Sometimes. When he is bad, well.... Let's just say that he needs to start keeping his stick to himself. At least when Brad Marchand is around. That and the Verizon Center ice crew may want to start reinforcing the anchors that hold the nets in place. That and whatever the penalty timekeeper used to give Alex Semin he should now give to Ovechkin. But he at least was a factor in the crucial first goal that began the comeback. He corralled a point shot from rookie defenseman Steve Oleksy and whipped it to an open Mike Ribiero who put it away.

Braden Holtby. A name that normally inspires images of stellar goaltending. Sometimes anyway. He bounced back from a wobbly first period and played shutout hockey for over 40 minutes. This means he hasn't allowed a goal in five of the last six periods he's played. But when the margin of error is so thin, you can't afford a near meltdown and that's what he narrowly avoided. Maybe he could have had that penalty shot. Or Dougie Hamilton's power play marker. Regardless, the Caps need just a bit more consistency from their current number one goalie. Maybe I'm being harsh, but again...the margin of error is razor thin right now.

Nick Backstrom made not have made the three stars but he probably played his best game of the year, winning key draws and creating lots of scoring chances in the last two periods.

Lest we forget Eric Fehr. Yes I said bringing him back was a joke. But he sure is making George McPhee look like a genius for bringing him back. Not only does he score goals, he scores the crucial goals.  Which is something Alex Ovechkin used to do once upon a time.  His game winner was something that legends are made of; that kind of drive to the net is the kind of tenacity this team badly needs right now.

Barry Srvluga wrote an article in today's Washington Post, the premise of which is that the Caps are going to have to rely on the current roster to dig them out of the hole they are still in.  And reading the article over it can be implied that their ability to do so seems at  best questionable.  I would like to point out however several things--for every missing Mike Green there is indeed a John Carlson.  For every missed game by Dmitry Orlov there is Tomas Kundratek.  No Brooks Laich?  No problem, Joel Ward is doing just fine, thank you.  And yes, Nicklas Backstrom is indeed starting to get his game back--he was the one who set up Fehr's game winner. He may only have 2 goals so far this season but is also tied with Mike Ribiero for the team lead in assists.

I said before that the team is playing better because they have bought into the system--different players stepping up is yet another sign.

To all that, if you add just a bit more consistency from Braden Holtby (might be time to consider sitting him down for a game), and a LOT more on the defensive side of the puck from the Captain, this team just might have something.  There is just barely enough time for this team to at least make things interesting.  And we all know they will--for better or for worse.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Powerplay Point Podcast Show # 8

Yes folks, it is finally here, the moment so few of you have been waiting for...the return of the podcast.  Please remember that popcorn is for eating and not for throwing. Also that I'm actually the son of a Butcher.


Friday, February 22, 2013

ReCap 2/21 vs New Jersey

I have no earthly idea how else to say it...the Caps penalty troubles have reached epic proportions and no, I am not exaggerating.

So to express what I believe the Caps should learn from this experience, I am posting THIS as something of a parable which hopefully the whole Washington Capitals team can learn from.  Please take the time to read the linked article, then come back.



Read it all?  Good.  Figure out how it's important yet?  No?  Well I will tell you.  Simply put, the moral of the story is to....





STAY OUT OF THE DAMN BOX!!!!!

Monday, February 18, 2013

ReCap 2/17 vs NY Rangers

And so the winning streak endeth.

We shouldn't have expected much more than this to be honest.  But you just aren't going to win many games by giving up 40 shots.  That's too much for any goalie to deal with and try to keep his team in it.  Braden Holtby did his job and more, though, stopping all but two shots sent his way. If only his teammates had help up their end and scored more than one. 

Holtby deserved at least a third star in the game.  Honorable mention should go to John Carlson, however.  He played what was probably his best game of the season, scoring the only goal, blocking three shots, and logging over 26 minutes of work.  The Caps will need him to keep up these efforts especially now that Mike Green's health is now questionable at best. 

We have the classic glass half full/glass half empty issue.  Taking away just the bad we have the 40 shots given up, the five power plays give up (one of which led to the game winner), and the sudden lack of finishing ability by practically the whole team.  Taking away just the good we have four of five of those penalties killed, Braden Holtby playing like playoff Braden Holtby, an edge in faceoff wins (BFD), and the fact that they kept up with one of the best rosters in the NHL for 60 minutes.

In the end however it was a chance for more standings points lost.  And with it the best possible playoff seeding.  This team can't afford to settle just yet, it needs to find another gear.

Friday, February 15, 2013

ReCap 2/14 vs Tampa Bay

Whew.....

I agree with Joe B., that was way more exciting than it had to be.  But a win, especially in regulation is one I will take every day.  Still, there's more than just lip service in Troy Brouwer's postgame comments regarding the Caps last few minutes of play.

It was another late night for me so I caught most of the game on the radio.  It was shaping up to be another good solid effort by the Caps. Brouwer opened the scoring (he's been doing that a lot lately, hasn't he?) with a power play marker. Perennial pain-in-the-Caps'-collective-butt Martin St. Louis tied the game six minutes later.  Though the Lightning seemed to come up with their share of scoring chances, it looked as if the Caps held a slight edge in the flow of play.

That's when Eric Fehr took over the game.  Yeah, I'm kind of regretting what I said about him a few games ago....that is, unless he disappears again and/or gets hurt.

But seriously, F-16 seems to be back in full stride.  He was ably assisted (literally) by his linemates Matthieu Perreault and Joel Ward, both of whom are in the midst of having comeback seasons themselves. Fehr first found the net on some great work in front of the net (hey, positioning is part of the art, right?) for the Caps' first lead in the second period.  He then put them up by two to open the third period scoring with a perfect blast that eluded Lightning goalie Matthieu Garon.

Random Jeers and Cheers:

Jason Chimera, what the hell? Get it together, you can play better than this.

Braden Holtby had another solid game, stopping 27 shots.  The starting job is his to lose for the time being and his mates are believing in him again.  Sounds like a good marriage to me.

Matthieu Perreault finally looks to have some linemates he can play with.  Although he is still not exactly top line material, the Fehr-Perreault-Ward line combo may be a solid one for the rest of the season and should see regular action.

Alas twas the end of the point scoring streaks that once belonged to both Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribiero.  But the fact that neither of these guys had a point and the Caps were still able to produce, and win, is better news.  Because it means the system works.

Joey Crabb...continuing to do more with less.  Sounds like my overall budget.

And now back to the game.....

As I was exiting my vehicle to catch the last few minutes of the game I heard John Walton say that the Caps' next shot would be their 40th of the game. Unfortunately that shot never came.  Fortunately, it wouldn't prove to be their undoing.  The Caps had pushed things to 4-1 by then, but quickly gave up a goal to Teddy Purcell to make it 4-2.  No cause to worry, yet.

But for some reason the Capitals are a lot like my favorite football team the Baltimore Ravens...they just can't seem to make things easy for themselves.  And like a girl I knew in college, Joel Ward gave it away which led to a Nate Thompson goal for the Lightning.  The score was now 4-3 with more than three minutes left in the game.  Thus began the girding of the loins, the clenching of fists, the biting of nails, and the munching of sandwiches.

Somehow the Caps were able to hold off a suddenly desperate Lightning team that smelled blood.  And they were clearly gassed towards the end.  There was more icing in the last 90 seconds of the game than in 10 episodes of Ace of Cakes.  But the clock inevitably ticked down with the last clear and the Caps had two points all for themselves.  As a result of their current win streak, they are now in a three way tie for third in the Southeast division and are just four points away from a playoff seed.  They also happen to be one of the hottest teams in the NHL.  Much is still to be done, but things are looking a hell of a lot better than they were this time last week.

I certainly haven't forgotten the GWG.  If you wanted a "defining" moment to the game, I leave you with the following:

te·na·cious  

/təˈnāSHəs/
Adjective
  1. Not readily letting go of, giving up, or separated from an object that one holds, a position, or a principle: "a tenacious grip".
  2. Not easily dispelled or discouraged; persisting in existence or in a course of action: "a tenacious legend".
  3. Jay Beagle's play in front of the net for the winning goal, and at the end of the game       

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

ReCap 2/12 vs Florida: YES again!

The firewagon is back!

OK, not really.  But it sure did seem like it last night, didn't it?  Shades of the old Bruce Boudreau run-and-gun-and-trade-goals-til-you-outscore-'em Capitals.  When you knew they had enough firepower to make a comeback, no matter the score?  Yeah we might not have known it, but that's what we saw.

But while it's good to know that this Caps team is capable of winning games like that, hopefully they won't have to rely on it too much. Especially if the games go into overtime.  Why? Because as was pointed out yesterday in the Noon Number column over at Japers Rink, the Caps have a long way to go to be part of the playoff hunt this season.  And winning in overtime only helps a little since their opponents still get the loser point.

Not to mention the fact that under Oates' system, complete lapses and breakdowns are supposed to be near non-existent.  Last night I lost track of how many times there were either missed assignments, lackadaisical defensive zone coverage, and worst of all, really bad line changes.  Make no mistake, while Troy Brouwer's winning goal was a thing of beauty begun by Nicklas Backstrom's brilliant pass, the Caps were damn lucky to win that game with how they played at times.

My observations:

One half of the previous game's fight card, George Parros, saw his ice time cut down to a microscopic 4:02.  Unfortunately the same was not the case for the other half, John Erskine.  He played over 19 minutes and managed to score two goals--for Florida.  Granted they were both the fluky kind that makes one wonder whether or not somebody replaced the puck with something out of a Disney movie.  One goal went in off his elbow and the other off his skate.  Ersk, just a hint....you need to do a little more than play "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" in front of the net.  Just saying.

Braden Holtby didn't have a great game, but he was hung out to dry on several goals. But he did have that key save where he strrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeettttttttttcccccccchhhhhhhed himself out to stop a two-on-one. The play had resulted after the first of several horrid line changes that left a whole lot of empty ice with no Caps defensive coverage in it.  Bottom line--if Holtby doesn't make that stop, the Caps most likely lose. He may not have played well enough to earn a star, but he did save the game and the two points.  Most importantly, he didn't allow a single goal during the five (count 'em) power plays the Caps allowed.  Confidence builds when you know you can rely on your goaltending at critical times.

I've ragged on Eric Fehr this season a bit, but I will give him credit--he played a nice game last night. He collected a crucial rallying goal and added an assist.  He and Joel Ward could make for a very effective one-two punch on the team's two-way line going forward.

How about those unexpected goal scorers?  Matt Hendricks showed his sweet handedness by roofing a blind pass from Ovechkin. (Mrs. B's reaction--"That was cool!" Indeed.)  Karl Alzner blasted one off of a quick faceoff win for his first goal in....well, forever.  More on Ovechkin later, but is anyone outside of Caps Nation noticing that he's on a three-game goal scoring streak as well as a five-game point scoring streak?  So is Mike Ribiero for that matter.  In fact "Ribeye" is on pace for a 60-point season, something that's good enough for an 82-game season, but absolutely eye-popping in a 48-game schedule.

After a start that had many questioning his health, Nicklas Backstrom is quietly moving his way up in the scoring leadership on the team.  He now has 10 points which is good for third on the team.  And how about that zing of a pass that sprung Troy Brouwer for the game winner?

Wasn't all that impressed with Jason Chimera or Jeff Schultz last night. Chimera ended up with a minus three rating which was bad enough. Add to the fact he accomplished it in only 5:43 of ice time is enough to make you retch.  And Schultz continues to prove that the Sheldon Cooper method of playing defense is ineffective. For those of you who have long been critics of Schultz, you know what I mean.  If not, perhaps this will explain.

Not sure if it actually amounted to much, given the back-and-forth nature of the game, but kudos to all the Caps faceoff takers who collectively went 44 wins against 24 losses at the dot.

Good to see that Alex Ovechkin seems to be in full-on "I'm-mad-as-hell-and-I'm-not-going-to-take-it-anymore" mode.  I refer of course to his handling of Florida's fake tough-guy, Kris Versteeg.  The perpetually petulant punk dared instigate some rough stuff with the Captain and was promptly put in his place by the former MVP.  In addition to being tossed around like rag doll, Versteeg also got an extra two minutes in the box for his phony attempt at bravery.  (!!!!!!)  Doubly sweet was the fact that the ensuing power play resulted in the first goal of the game for the Caps.

Despite that he could have had an even better showing what with that shot that rang off the post (which apparently never went in).  He also could have ended the game with at least an even rating had he not flubbed that clearing attempt that led to the Panthers' opening goal off the stick of ex-Cap Tomas Fleischmann. (but not before bouncing off of John Erskine's aforementioned anatomy).

What was NOT good to see was that none of Ovechkin's fellow Caps could be bothered to jump in to back up their Captain.  Ben Raby actually made this rather astute point during the wrap-up of last night's radio broadcast of the game.  He pointed out that Matt Bradley once leaped in to spare Ovi from having to fight Steve Downie a few years ago during a game against the Lightning, and left it at that.  Good on Ben for pointing that out, but I won't leave it at just that.  What the hell is that?  You're supposed to be a team--back up your mates no matter what.  Those who were on the ice at the time need to be hauled onto the carpet for that.  They ought to be ashamed of themselves and are most likely part of the problem and not the solution going forward.  At the very least respond in kind and go after one of their top players.  But nothing of the sort happened.  And it's telltale signs like that's proving that this team hasn't yet come together as a team, which is sad.

So yes, we can all be happy with the two points and their first win away from home.  But there's still far too many rough spots in need of ironing for my liking.  In other words, don't go celebrating just yet.  Not at least until they get within sniffing distance of the division lead.  This team is far from being back, but at least they're headed in the right direction.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

ReCap 2/9 vs Florida: YES!

Now THAT was more like it!

Except where has this team been all season?  Nice of them to show up now, but we could have used this kind of effort and result about a week and a half ago.  It was probably as close to perfect as the Caps have gotten so far this season.

I know what you're thinking.  "The scoreboard says perfection to me."  Look, I want to believe it too.  And yes the scoreboard from the game looks very good.  But the standings still look like crap.  Come April, that's the only listing that really matters, not the score of an early-season division game.  However, if the Caps can manage to string more games like this together, things may well indeed look better come April.  Extra added bone for you glass-eternally-half-full people: the Caps now have just as many wins as do the defending Cup champs the Los Angeles Kings.

Oh yes, Braden Holtby was indeed the star of the game, and believe me I will give him his due.  But what impressed me even more (if that was even possible) was the total team effort.  Going up and down the lineup, I can't see anybody that had a bad or mediocre game.  Or for that matter anyone who was even invisible for stretches--that's the key, everyone contributed in different ways.  If I have any complaints it's that they collectively gave up too many shots (27) for my liking.  As is his job, when the Caps' defense did falter, Holtby was there.

Think about it, though.  No one really had a bad game.  If you watched, you could tell the effort was there by the play when the Caps didn't have the puck.  They hounded any Florida puck carrier relentlessly, earning themselves periods of sustained pressure.  Sometimes the Panthers found themselves trapped in their own zone for up to a minute or more because of the Caps' consistent forechecking pressure.  It truly was a thing of beauty.

Individual performances that stood out:

Tomas Kundratek is starting to impress me.  He's beginning to look more comfortable out there. Though he logged the least TOI out of all six Caps defensemen, he hardly looked out of place, especially in the transition game.  If he continues this kind of play, they might not miss Dmitry Orlov as much.

Can it be that we are finally seeing the real "Real American Hero" John Carlson this year?  That shot of his made an appearance, leading to the game winner.  Plus smooth skating and puck handling, like what we saw in last year's playoffs.  More of that, please.

Matthieu Perreault (1G, 1A) or Marcus Johansson (healthy scratch)?  Right now I'll take Perreault, at least he knows what to do with the puck when it's in front of the net.

John Erskine made it back into the lineup after serving a three-game suspension.  It was for a high elbow that bloodied and eventually gave a concussion to Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.  Erskine didn't provide eye-popping stats on the scoresheet--when does he ever?  But he made a valuable contribution nonetheless.  After starting with a flourish, the Caps seemed to be losing momentum early in the first period as the shots began piling up. That's when Erskine decided to tangle with the Panthers' George Parros, one big hombre to say the least.  Not that Erskine is a shrinking violet himself, as he would prove.

They fought at center ice and it looked like Parros had him at first after a few right hands when Erskine lost his balance and was on his knees.  But then a split second later, Erskine bounced back up and began swinging.  One of his punches made a solid connection to Parros' left cheek that appeared to have staggered the bigger man.  From then on, Parros hung on to Erskine's sweater and eventually wrestled him to the ice.  But Erskine had stood his ground and provided a much-needed wake up to his team and the crowd.  Job well done.

Joel Ward has been an unstoppable force in front of the net at times.  Maybe he's not supposed to be carrying some of the offensive load, but he is anyway.  Added a goal and an assist to bring his point total to eight for the season, tying him for second best on the team.  He also leads the Caps in plus minus with a +5 rating.  As dismal as this season has been so far, that should tell you something.

Of course I would have to mention that Alex Ovechkin finally broke through and scored a full and even-strength goal last night.  We can only hope that the curb-stomping in Pittsburgh (and in the hockey media as well as from, ahem, some bloggers) has finally awoken this sleeping giant.  You want to lead this team?  Shoot more, hit more, and be where you're supposed to be on the ice and to hell if the Canadian media doesn't like it.

Troy Brouwer got a side-of-beef goal for the opener (and eventual winner) and added a fabulous power play marker not long after that to give him the team lead in goals.  Along with Ovechkin, let's all hope he's finally getting into the season and that it's not too late.  In addition to his hitting, we definitely need to see him on the scoresheet a little more often.

Braden Holtby, Braden Holtby...wherever it was you went to, we are so glad you're back.  Twenty-seven times Florida shooters came at him. All 27 times he turned them away. One of those 27 was a key stop on a two-on-one on a shot from the Panthers' petulantly persistent Kris Versteeg in the first period.  No telling how the game would have gone had he not snapped his glove out and snared it with ease.  His confidence increased as the game went on and the team's did as well.  To top things off, he added a totally sweet assist on Troy Brouwer's power play goal in the second, helping his own cause.  After a terrible start to the season, a shutout is just what the doctor ordered.

Yes indeed the 0 looks terrific if you are a Caps' fan.  But another "O" that's looking good is Capitals Coach Adam Oates.  Because you see, the end result of this game was a result of playing his system the way it was meant to be played.  When it is played the way it's supposed to be, you will get timely shots on net, ample scoring chances, sustained puck possession and all the good things that come with that.  Did anyone else notice that on all of the goals, the eventual scorer was at exactly the right place at the right time?  Even on Brouwer's fluky game-winner?  Not unlike a chess game where you put your pieces in place, then strike.  Sound familiar?  Can we now stop to admire the brilliance of this man instead of calling for his head? 

Hell, even Jay Beagle had a quality scoring chance (that unfortunately he whiffed on) what does that tell you?

So we are at the first quarter pole and though it's been a rough start, it does look like maybe just maybe the Caps have turned a corner.  There's 36 games left and if they can turn in the kind of effort they did last night for the majority of those 36, we just might have ourselves something here.  The key word being effort--they have to show up.  But if it's anything I've learned in life, effort isn't much without first believing.  And this is a team that is finally looking like they are starting to believe.






Friday, February 8, 2013

ReCap 2/7 vs. Pittsburgh

Ugh.  Uuuuuuuuuuuuuugh, not even going to try.  As I worked late I was spared most of the awfulness that was the game last night, but that makes it no less painful.  I was treated to a sparkling Braden Holtby save during the Pens' seemingly endless run of power plays in the second period.  And then they ended up scoring their fifth unanswered goal.  Stop me if you've heard that before...oh that's right you have.  Because it happened the last time these two teams played not even a week ago.

Anyway, it was at that very moment that I turned the radio off for good that night.

I'm done trying to figure out what's wrong with this team.  Glutton for punishment that I am, I read Katie Carrera's column about the game in the Post.  Seems that the Captain, among others, believes that most of them lacked emotion.  Really?  Is that why the Penguins were so easily able to walk all over you?  And don't even pretend we're supposed to get excited over yet another Ovechkin power play goal.  Talk to me when you've figured out how to score five-on-five.

So now we have yet another issue at hand--lack of emotion.  As in the players just aren't into what they're doing.  This on top of allllllllllllllllllll the problems they already have. Great.  Can we say "blow up the team"?  Because it may just be time for that.  A miracle turnaround isn't out of the question for this season. However if this bunch isn't motivated for a game against what used to be a fierce rival, or any game for that matter given how compacted things are, then all hope is lost.  They may as well just finish out the season as passengers and await what happens on draft lottery day.

They've now imploded for two different coaches in the space of a year and a half.   It's time to start all over again.  I do understand what that means and the feasibility of certain moves (ridding themselves of a certain two very fat and ridiculously long contracts) might not be there right away.  But it still has to be done.  The Caps are going nowhere with this group and a wake-up call isn't forthcoming.  Which leaves only one solution.

Put everyone on the roster on notice.  No one is safe.  You want a job?  You've got to earn it, and your contract will be nowhere near what it was with the new CBA in place.  Because guess what?  That's how it is in the real world, a fact made painfully obvious to thousands of ordinary people every day.  Only their buyouts don't run into eight figures or more.. 

I'm done investing my emotion in this sorry bunch.  I will continue as a disconnected observer for now until they show me something.  Honestly. I liked them better when they were losing by one goal because of a stupid mistake.  At least for part of the game they cared.  Now it's painfully obvious that they don't. It doesn't matter that they called themselves on it, the old saying still applies.

You reap what you sow.  And this team is pulling up a bitter crop.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

ReCap 2/5 vs. Toronto: Caps Lose Again, Man Bites Dog

Anyone one else getting tired of this?  I know I am.  I know many other of my fellow fans are.  But apparently the 20 men that have the ability if not the will to turn things around aren't.

And though things look pretty bleak right now there's still some hope.  And that hope lies in the reality that this season is still not yet out of reach.  But with each passing game, and the Caps' corresponding increase in ineptitude, that reality becomes harsher as the losses pile up.

But here's an even more sobering dose of reality--the Caps seem to be stuck on a treadmill of losing due to stupid mental mistakes.  The kind that make you want to jab an electric cattle prod in your eye. And as we all know, it only takes one such mistake to kill a game.  Not only that, but they have a mountain of issues within themselves to overcome.  To wit:

1. Everybody is still on the steepest of learning curves--not only is the team learning a new system, but the coach is learning how to be a head coach for the first time.  And to date, this is Calle Johansson's first gig as an assistant coach as well.  It's like a stage actor being thrown into a play with very limited rehearsal time--and the director and the stage manager just got the script a week ago.  Obviously everybody is still uncomfortable and this is going to take a while.  Hopefully Coach Oates will find some line combinations that work well as he continues to figure things out.  In the meantime, there's probably going to to be many more games like last night.  Hopefully after that we will see their real potential.

2. Both goalies stink and it's not their equipment--Neuvirth and Holtby have both had outings where they've given up goals they wished they could have back.  Neuvy's miscue with Tom Poti should not be happening, new system or not.  And Holtby has not looked comfortable in the crease at all this season.  As competitive as this season will be, you need a goalie who can steal you at least a point if not a win.  These two aren't even close to doing that.  One good way to shake up a team having problems is to make a trade.  If there's a deal to be done, (and the whispers are starting to get louder about it) it's here.

3. Five alive--While the power play seems to be back on track, their even strength play has left a lot to be desired.   It just seems like there's a fundamental lack of energy at both ends and backchecking strength is almost non existent. Was it any wonder that the only two goals they scored last night were on the power play?  Is it also any wonder that the grinders on the third and fourth lines seem to be shining while the top two are floundering?  Whether it's that they haven't bought in or they're still confused about what to do, the top players need to be the top players--at both ends.  Which leads to....

4. Big money needs to play like it--The Caps two highest paid players, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have been at best, painfully ordinary.  At worst they have been simply awful.  Oates' system demands efficiency of movement and these two look terribly out of sync with their teammates whenever they're on the ice.  Again, no matter the reason, these two simply aren't doing the job they need to.  Whether it's Backstrom's health or Ovechkin's heart it really doesn't matter anymore.  Separate or apart, they both need to find a way to be the dominant force they once were.  And they can do their part by preventing goals as well as scoring them.

5. Young gun needs to act like it--Mike Green needs to unload that wonderful shot we all know he has.  The fact that he's logging a buttload of ice time means he back at 100% which is great news.  But it won't amount to much if he doesn't make use of his greatest asset.  While we're on the subject of young defensemen, John Carlson slowly seems to be shaking the funk that has caused his (so far) horrible play this season.  Which is a good sign as he will be a key cog in the Caps' plans for this season and beyond, as will Karl Alzner.

6. Discipline, discipline--The Caps have treated the penalty box like a hotel room this season, and even when they kill off the penalties it still costs them in the long run.  This is another problem that has nothing to do with learning a system.  It has everything to do with being a better hockey player.  There's no excuse for not knowing when to hit the ice for a shift because you can't be bothered to figure out there's already five of your teammates out there.  That's what happened last night. The end result was another two minutes wasted in killing a penalty that should not have been.  As has always been the case, smart penalties are ok, dumb penalties not so much.  Unfortunately the Caps have been committing more of the latter.

7. Finally, they need to finish--meaning not just score goals, but actually put away teams when they're vulnerable and on their heels.  The Ottawa game was a classic example. So was the first game against Toronto.  Even last night they had a chance to plunge the dagger into the enemy's throat--despite being down by two, they came out swinging in the third against a shaky goalie and couldn't finish the job.  It's not like this hasn't been said before of this team, but they need to develop a killer instinct.  And again, due to the shortened season, it is more important than ever because the more points collected in regulation, the further you distance yourself from the rest of the field.  Unfortunately, it works both ways as the Caps are now learning.

So a quicker summation for last night's game--better five-on-five play, cut down on the mental mistakes, and more shooting and the end result would have been better, right?

Looks like I should just copy paste that last question as it will probably be how most games end this season.  And the Caps seem to be learning from their mistakes as quickly as Jeff Schultz can skate.  Yuck.

You the reader may have problems with this list and you're entitled to disagree.  In fact I encourage it. I'm certainly not going to claim these are all of the problems.  But it is what I'm seeing when they play.  And since everybody from The Hockey News, to Puck Daddy, to Hockey Night in Canada seems to be weighing in on the Caps woes, I figured I would as well. But unlike them, I refuse to simplify the problems with this team as simply two things--blame Ovechkin, blame the system. To be sure those two aspects are the heart of the problem, but every team loses and wins together.  As a team.

I end with a critique of one of the Caps' beat writers, Katie Carerra.  To quote her article in today's Washington Post regarding last night's game the Capitals "could not solve" Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens. Seriously?  Could not solve? With all due respect, Ms. Carrera were you even watching the game last night?  Scrivens was practically giving the Caps glorious rebound opportunities like it was Valentine's Day at an elementary school.  Could not solve?  Ben Scrivens was most certainly not a Rubik's Cube, last night he was more like a coloring book.

Only the Caps could not stay within the lines.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

ReCap 2/3 vs Pittsburgh: Stupor Sunday

The Washington Capitals are inventing new ways to disappoint their fans. I don't think I need to say any more than that.  Not after this last game.

On a brighter note, I am a Ravens fan, so I know  THAT team will at least show up.

Will the Caps do likewise?  Eventually they might.  But it's already too late.  As you will all find out in my new podcast, I had this figured even before it began.  And I have some reasons why.

Oh I'll keep watching and commenting.  What else are we to do?  But you can't say I didn't tell you so.

Friday, February 1, 2013

ReCap 1/31 vs Toronto

Seems like the Caps are feeling generous lately.  Once again they were winning in a game and then decided to give it away like a father does with his ugly daughter at her wedding.

I had a baaaaaaaaad feeling about this game going in.  The Leafs were on something of a skid, having just lost Joffrey Lupul to a broken arm and Phil Kessel struggling to get going so far.   And of course, they have the most reliable goaltending tandem in the league.  So reliable in fact that they're reportedly the top contestant so far in the Roberto Luongo sweepstakes. So they seemed like easy pickings, eh?  Yeah, sure...I knew otherwise.  So I figured I'd stay away from watching because I just couldn't bear to witness yet another debacle.

As it happened, I was with Mrs. Blueliner in her new house and the cable hadn't been set up yet.  Without my asking, she was periodically checking on the game through her mobile phone as we were enjoying the view of the unpacked boxes.  Out of sheer morbid curiosity I asked her how it was going.  To my surprise, the Caps were making a game of it.  But I will never forget the look on her face as she shook her head each time she checked her phone.

The reason for this was because every time you turned around, there were Washington Capitals going to the penalty box like it had an open bar in it.  Five minors in the first period and three more by the end of the second.  I've said this before--this is not football...you cannot have eight men in the box!

By the way, the last two penalties are worth mentioning: Troy Brouwer for smothering (presumably the puck) and Jay Beagle for holding.  Smothering and holding?  What the hell were these two guys doing?  Trying to go on dates during a hockey game?

Amazingly enough, they only gave up one power play goal during all that mess.  It just happened to be during Jason Chimera's double minor.  OK so six out of seven power plays killed, Alex Ovechkin scores on the power play, Mike Ribiero and Joel Ward continuing to contribute.  Lots of good things happening so they should have come away with the win, right?  Wrong.  More checking the phone, more shaking of the head.

Here's my list of what I call the "Ain't Gonna Cut It" s:

Eight penalties called in total for seven power plays given to the opposition
Forty shots given up
41% faceoff percentage
And for the gazillionth time, leading after two periods and blowing it in the third

All of that "ain't gonna cut it."

Still plenty of time, still more than enough hockey to be played where they can make this all look like a happy accident.  But they're starting to run out of time and, worse, they're starting to look like a team that will never learn from its mistakes.  And they're in danger of making it look like they're having an accident--all over themselves.

The disdainful look on Mrs Blueliner's face during and after the game said it all.  If only she hadn't broke my camera when I tried to take her picture.





Wednesday, January 30, 2013

ReCap 1/29 vs Ottawa

Maybe it was the Beavertails.  Maybe it was the flight from Dulles.  Perhaps they were held over a ridiculously long time at Customs.  It could be that the officials there forgot all about hockey no thanks to the lockout.  Whatever the reason, the Capitals completely squandered a great start to a game they seemed to be winning handily.  They started out so well, dominating both ends of the ice.  And then over the course or forty or so minutes of play, they faded like an overly bleached pair of jeans.

Perhaps the "O" on the Senators' sweaters were subliminal messages that told the Caps how much they'd have left in the tank by the third period.  Because they certainly looked like they were OUT OF GAS.

Last night was yet another refrain in the song we fans kept singing about this team--why oh why can't they put together a solid 60 minute effort?  That song may have ended on a horribly sour note with a highly dubious penalty handed out to Joel Ward towards the end of the game.  However, as is often said, the good teams tend to rise above bad officiating.  Last night was no exception. I am referring of course to the bad officiating done by Don Van Massenhoven and Wes McCauley.  The truth is that the Capitals had ample opportunity to put the game away despite that and simply did not.

Yet another game where Alex Ovechkin got around 20 minutes of ice time.  Here is what he accomplished: One hit, one minor penalty, and two shots.  In other words, exactly squat.  Perhaps what many are starting to say about him really is true.  Only one man can properly answer the challenge.  But he's only had two points in the first 6 games of this season.  That puts him on pace to finish with 16 points.  I don't have to tell you how embarrassing that is for someone that's supposed to carry this team at times as its Captain.

Wojtek Wolski set up Troy Brouwer's opening goal, but was also on the ice for the equalizing goal by Kyle Turris.  Wojtek giveth and Wojtek taketh away.

The Caps did manage to get a few chances courtesy of two power plays of their own.  But they limited their own opportunities by taking too long to set up.  Then, when they did have a shot on net, Craig Anderson, he of the daunting save percentage and GAA, slammed the door shut for good.  Why he wasn't named the night's First Star is beyond me--all he did was stop 31 of 33 shots.  But make no mistake about it--his performance last year was definitely no fluke.  As long as he is backstopping the Senators, this team has a chance to go far.

The Caps' best player up to this point, Mike Ribiero was far from it for this game.  In addition to having his point streak snapped, he was a minus one defensively.  He was also atrocious in the faceoff circle, only winning one draw...out of ten.

Mercifully this game may spell the end of the Eric Fehr experiment, as Brooks Laich will probably return to the lineup (hopefully) soon.  And by soon I mean for tomorrow night's match against the Maple Leafs.  Meanwhile, for Marcus Johansson, it was another night of nacho nibbling.  If he hasn't gotten the point by now, he probably never will.

Matthieu Perreault...another game, another unneccessary penalty.  He's like Alex Semin without the goals.

So to sum up, the game lasts for three full periods of 20 minutes each.  It is also played on a surface that is 200 feet long.  So all this team has to do, is figure out how to play like they did for the first 18 minutes for the entire 60 minutes of regulation.  And do that over all 200 feet of the playing surface.  Simple, right?  If only.

Matt Hendricks is showing them the way....but nobody is following.  If the rest of the team had his heart, they'd be running away with the whole thing instead of foundering.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

ReCap 1/27 vs Buffalo: Goodbye Goose Egg!

It didn't always look great. It wasn't a masterpiece by any stretch.  And it certainly wasn't what was expected at this point in the season.  But the drought is finally over, the Caps finally got their first win in five tries this season.

Of course I'm deliriously happy.  I'm literally jumping up and down.  But I'm keeping it inside.  Goodbye goose egg from the win column, hello reality. Because there's still work to do, and lots of it.

I will of course begin with the good.  Let's get the obvious one out of the way, that being who authored the game winner. Actually it's the who and how that is giving us Caps fans some hope.  El Capitano himself, Alex Ovechkin looked like the Great Eight of old with a blast from the left point (that's right the left point) on the power play.  Shame though that it took him five games to get on the board. Now that the tinkering appears to be over, he should be able to get back to doing what he does best--driving to the net, creating chances and getting his customary 4-8 shots a game, right?  Right?  Left?

Speaking of shot totals, the Caps got good results and finished the game with 30 shots on net.  Good things happen when you get the puck to the net.  Have I said this before?  If I haven't I know someone else has.  At least 4,000 times.

It was a much better overall effort by the team, the beginnings of which we saw in the previous game against New Jersey.  Much better effort overall especially on the forecheck and puck pursuit.  And though the defensive side had a shaky start, giving up 24 shots through three periods is far better.

Joel Ward continues a comeback season of sorts, getting his third goal of the season.  Comeback?  No, not really because he never really went anywhere.  That's right, I'm looking in your direction those of you that wrote him off because he spent most of his time on the fourth line last season.  With haughty derision, I might add. As Mike Vogel said during the radio broadcast, put him in the hands of a coach that knows how to use him effectively, and he will produce.  He proved that in the playoffs. He's proving it now. Oh yeah, by the way, he added an assist making him one of three Caps finishing with a multi-point total for the game.  The others were.....

Mike Ribiero who is also continuing what hopefully is a trend that lasts all season and beyond--at least one point in every game he's played.  Against the Sabres today, he began the play that led to both the first and third goals.  Conveniently, he also went 7 for 11 in faceoffs.  Let us also not forget the third multi-pointer in Jason Chimera who earned his first two points of the season with his usual brand of panther-like speed and strong play along the boards.  Together, these three have easily proven to be the best line combination Coach Oates has put together so far.  More of that, please.

Mike Green = minute muncher.  Upwards of 28 on the ice for this game. On top of that, he was double-shifted by defensive Coach Calle Johansson at the end.  Too early to call him Iron Mike, but great to see nonetheless.

Great not to see was Marcus Johansson on the ice.  Whether this proves to be a message sent due his all-too-familiar ineffectiveness or a permanent thing, you can't argue with the result.  Not as much so for Tom Poti, though.  But he may get another look as the season wears on.  Call him a decent insurance policy for the playoff run.

Finally, cheers to a 22-save effort by Michal Neuvirth, who has by now earned the title of hot goalie and will therefore be the go-to guy for the foreseeable future.  But fear not, Braden Holtby fans, as a 48-game season is still long enough to wear out one goalie and so he will be sure to get another look later on.  Neuvirth in the meantime, continues to make the game-preserving efforts. His penultimate save came on a point-blank chance from Sabres rookie Mikhail Grigorenko in the third period.

Now for the bad...it was yet another rocky start for the whole team, especially on the defensive side of the puck.  Yet again they left the ice after the first period giving up a double-digit shot total.  John Erskine contributed a surprise goal and was a good counter to the Sabres new-found physical game.  But John Carlson still looks somewhat lost on the ice and not very confident in either his puckhandling or positioning. Too many times, what should have been a smooth first pass has been a bobble at his own blueline. Karl Alzner, meanwhile seems to have found his groove but must now get used to playing with new partners as the Caps brain trust seems to want to keep things fluid a far as the defensive pairings go.  Either way, both Carlson and Alzner will need to get their game going if the Caps are to continue to improve.

The Caps did a much better job staying out of the penalty box this time and killed off both Buffalo power plays.  And while it's true that your goalie has to be your best penalty killer, he doesn't have to be your only penalty killer.  More than I cared to see, Neuvy had to come up with the big save because the Caps couldn't clear the puck out of their zone.  This more than anything has to get better before much longer.

Matthieu Perreault has tried to make a case for himself for a larger role on the team for some time now.  But a larger role under Coach Oates means you have responsibilities at both ends of the ice.  Perreault appeared to have momentarily forgotten that on the Sabres final goal.  Not only did he lose his draw against Marcus Foligno, he covered him poorly enabling Foligno to get around him in his own zone, which led to the goal. That kind of effort gets you a bowl full of pretzels in the press box, Perreault.

Results are all that are going to matter, though, no matter the looks from the old rear-view.  And the end result after today's win:  out of the Eastern Conference cellar.  Out of the Southeast division cellar as well. Now begins what will hopefully be a long climb towards the top of both. Forty-three games to go.  Now that you've tasted victory, it's time to keep it going.








Saturday, January 26, 2013

ReCap 1/25 vs. New Jersey: Caps Make a Point, but Devils Get Their Due

Still not pressing the panic button over here at Blueliner's Bunker (AKA my humble abode).  In fact, I may have pulled my hand away from the big red switch of AAAAAAAAGGGGHHHH! for the time being.  Yes the playbook that had appeared in the previous three games yet again reared its ugly head.  To explain:

1. Play well enough in the first 10 minutes or so as a start.
2. Give up a goal and fall behind after said good start.
3. Get yourselves into penalty trouble and fall even further behind.
4. Get a late goal to make it look somewhat respectable.

But this time Coach Oates was able to find that spark that had been eluding him and his team so far. At least between steps 3 and 4.  The Caps stuck to their guns and through a lot of determined and gritty play, eventually forced overtime on a Mike Green goal with 2:56 left in the third.

Game Extended, Green.  Not as good as "Game Over, Green" but I will take it.  Let's hope this means he's back for good.  His shot and skating certainly look like it.

As Coach Oates mentioned in his postgame presser, both goalies played very well last night.  But Michal Neuvirth was on fire last night.  The Caps found themselves in penalty trouble early in the extra session that forced them to kill off a dreaded 4-on-3 against one of the league most consistent, if not dangerous, power play units in the Devils. Neuvirth was amazing, covering as many angles as he could.  The ones he didn't he recovered with near-perfect lateral movement.

By the way, the Caps performance on that very same penalty kill is yet another reason for hanging on to optimism.  They did everything right blocking shots and standing their ground, and when they did lapse, Neuvirth was there to make the key stop.  Inevitably, they would kill off the disadvantage, even surviving Jay Beagle's stick breaking.  And though he would eventually give up the winner off Ilya Kovalchuk's patented sharp angle blast, Neuvirth did well for himself by finishing with 32 saves, eight of which came in the OT session.

Whoever picked the three stars last night, a suggestion: lay off the controlled substances.  Are you serious?  Jacob Josefson as the third star? And neither one of the goalies who each put on a spectacular show as one of the three stars?  Come on.

Faceoff performance has been something of a weak spot (among others) but was much improved last night. All but two Caps either broke even or won the majority of their draws...except for two.  Mike Ribeiro was one of them.  Can you guess the other?  I'll give you a hint, his name rhymes with "Choke-Man-Son."  No, not the assistant coach.  Ribiero can at least be excused as he potted the first of the Caps' two regulation goals.  The other.....yeah, not going there today.  We've beaten that horse to death.

What I liked was the surge in the Caps' effort in the last period.  Though they were down by two, they upped the intensity of their attack.  This in turn led to a couple of power play chances, one of which would be converted by Mike Ribiero.  In all, they would launch 13 shots at Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur, one short of their combined total from the first two periods.  It was a hell of a lot more fun to watch than their usual half-assing that we've been treated to in the previous games.

Of course there's still more work to be done.  Though the Caps got the loser point, they remain, well, losers. Four games in and one point and no wins to show for it isn't very good, but it can be turned around.  And the Caps seemingly are on the way to doing that.  But they will really have to start earning it as the road gets increasingly tougher: back home against a gritty Buffalo squad, then a quick road trip into Canada to play Ottawa then Toronto.  Good things are starting to happen, let's see if they can keep it going.


Friday, January 25, 2013

ReCap 1/24 vs Montreal

OK, I'm not panicking just yet.  But I'm damn sure not happy with what I'm seeing.

You can't chalk up the kind of sloppy play that was the Capitals' effort last night to just another round of lethargy.  Not only is it too easy, it's just not accurate.  Although players missing assignments and being out of position can be the result of being out of game shape, the fact that it's happening consistently over the course of several games points to an internal flaw, not just worn parts.

Still...three flops, however colossal, does not a season make.

Last night seemed to be a carbon copy of the game against the Jets.  Hence why I will keep this post short--there's really nothing new I can add! 

Seriously though, it followed the exact same summary, except for the fact that the Caps actually played well in the first period.  But again, they got themselves in penalty trouble and the rest went down the crapper.
And how ironic (as in not the ha-ha type of funny) was it that Matthieu Perreault, who has been grumbling about his role recently, began the parade to the penalty box?  This makes two ill-advised and horribly timed penalties in three games.  Not the way to impress the coaches or the fans, Monsieur quatre-vingt cinq.

And yet you get the sense that this team could be on the verge of righting the ship.  Well, I do anyway. The reason is because there's just too much talent on this team to squander a wide-open opportunity.  There are flashes of brilliance; who'd have thought Joey Crabb would be the only one to get on the board?  Just another example of how the newcomers seem to be leading the way.

I listened to the Capitals Report this morning and I heard Mike Vogel say he wasn't a big fan of Alex Ovechkin playing the Penalty Kill.  I have to say I agree.  I think his talents are better suited to switching him off with your top four wingers and giving him his minutes that way.  By the way, Marcus Johansson would not and should not be among those forwards.  Those familiar with my work should know that I have never really cared for his supposed talents.  Some of the regulars over at Japers Rink call him Marcus Nohandsson.  Last night for the gazillionth time he showed why.  Can we finally cut our losses with this guy?

I remain for the most part optimistic.  But like a fart in the wind, that optimism is fading quickly.  And like a fart, the Caps are becoming scary good at clearing a building early.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

ReCap 1/22 vs Winnipeg: Home Cooking Tastes Terrible

Any one who saw last night's game, well...there's not much that can be said.  The way they played pretty much said it all.  It was yet another Classic Capitals Collapse.

What bothers me is, as much jump as they seemed to have in the season opener against Tampa, they were severely lacking in any urgency or energy last night against the Jets.  Save for perhaps Matt Hendricks (one assist short of a Gordie Howe hat-trick for his efforts).

Al Koken astutely pointed out several key issues during the second intermission.  The two factors contributing the most to this now 0-2 hole are:  1.  The dearth of players that are in actual game shape  2. The complete 180 degree turnaround the team has been asked to do in terms of the system of new coach Adam Oates.  Regarding the latter, it may not be surprising that two of the newcomers (Woltek Wolski and Mike Ribiero) are having the least amount of trouble keeping up with the play, at least in the offensive zone.  Unlearning something and then learning something new can be a million times harder than just learning a new skill.

Losing a home opener and going into a 0-2 hole to start the season is uncharted territory for the Caps.  This 48-game season is going to prove anything but conventional for the entire NHL.  Given that, it would obviously behoove this team to knuckle down and figure things out as quickly as possible.  There are 10 games left to the first quarter pole of the season and it will be there that a true team evaluation can be made.
It's not presumptuous to say that if the Caps aren't faring much better by then, the playoffs may be out of reach.

Look, I get that I'm playing the role of Mr. Obvious here.  But if it were really as simple as correcting the problem, it would have been done by now.  Time is against them, but will also help cure their problems.  As in time spent together as a team and learning where everyone will be on the ice.  Right now, they're still bumbling  like Keystone Kops in their own end.  And we all know what happens then. Also right now they still have the advantage that the other 30 teams haven't pulled away just yet.  But that won't last very long. Especially if this trend continues.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

ReCap 1/19 vs. Lightning: Raising the Curtain...to a Storm

While it's certainly good to be back recapping games, I had certainly hoped for better.  To say the Capitals defecated all over themselves would only be a slight understatement, unfortunately.  Overall, the only good thing I can take away from this is that the curtain was finally raised on this season.  We can now see what the Caps' have to offer.

And folks it's sad to say, but it's not much.

I can't really break out the "I-told-you-sos" though this might be an appropriate alternative.  But I can't since I never bothered with a season preview or anything like that.  Now if I had, what I would have said as this was my observation was that this team was headed for failure.  Adam Oates has the potential to be a great coach.  But he needs to figure out a scheme that suits his personnel better.  The up-tempo style he wishes to implement requires a commitment from everybody.  And even when they all buy in there are still risks.

Case in point was Cory Conacher's goal in the third.  Braden Holtby was having more than an off night anyway (more on this later), but he was pretty much left out to dry on this one.  And it was far from the only incident where a Cap would get caught out of position, thus creating the dreaded odd-man rush.  Here's one last hint--try not to let Steven Stamkos alone in front of your net...with the puck!  If your defensemen are going to jump in on the play, they have to be smarter, faster, or both.  Or get help from the forwards somehow.  None of that happened.

The Comcast folks described Oates' philosophy as defense-first.  Really? Well I can't say I saw a whole lot of that last night.  They ended up giving up a total of 34 shots last night.  Not good at all, even if your goalie is on fire, which Mr. Holtby was most certainly not.  What I did see was a fair amount of jump on the offensive side.  At least Captain Ovechkin looked to be on his game again, hitting and shooting.  Only one problem: no goals, no assists and therefore no points in over 25 minutes of ice time. And as we all know, when your best player isn't on the scoresheet (for the right reasons anyway--nice diving penalty, Alex) it's awfully hard to win.

Much has been made about the Caps supposedly being able to get their Power Play on track this season. And so far they're off to a decent start, converting one out of four last night. However, special teams has another side to it and that's the Penalty Kill.  Two goals allowed on six power play chances is not good at all. If the Caps expect to keep up, this has to get better and in a hurry.

Speaking of being shorthanded, there is one great way to not allow power play goals--and that's to not put people in the penalty box in the first damn place.  Can we say lack of discipline?  Two tripping calls plus a roughing minor in the third when you're trailing?  Terrible.

All right, on to what was supposed to be a strength but was clearly the biggest weakness last night--goaltending.  To be sure, neither goalie looked all that sharp last night.  The Lightning's Anders Lindback looked shaky and a bit shellshocked after the first period, but held his ground and kept his team in it.  Braden Holtby on the other hand just looked shaky. Yes he was screened on a couple of goals, but still didn't seem to have his angles covered.  And having that much trouble with your sight lines even after some games in the minors is more than a little concerning.

Yay--Tom Poti made his way back into the lineup after a two-year absence and got an assist.
Boo--He looked a step slow and ended up a minus one.

Games like last night are why no one should have penciled in Holtby as the outright number one this year.  And that's because this is the kind of thing he did last year.  It also gives fuel for those that argued it was the previous coach's system that helped him and not his own stellar play.  Can Holtby bounce back and prove he can handle the more wide-open style or will he end up riding the bench until the playoffs?  Yes of course it's far too early to say "goalie controversy," but at the same time, there are only forty-odd games to work with.  That leaves next to no time for a bad slump.

Again, if there's anything good to take away (other than we have actual NHL hockey again) it was the fact that a lot of the guys had a good amount of jump in their legs at least in the early going.  And who knows? A better bounce here, one less penalty to kill there, the game might be different.  At the very least there was no sign of the lack of effort that was painfully obvious at times last season.  These guys know the intensity level has to bury the needle right from the off.

Look, I get the fact that they have only been a team for six days, and they sure played like it.  But there's not a whole lot of time to work out the rust. Worse, there's precious little time to make adjustments for a system that may or may not work for this team. For example, the coaching staff may want to rethink the ideas of seven defensemen or Ovechkin on the Penalty Kill. But kinks like that have to be worked out on the fly if they want a shot at the playoffs. It's too early to panic, but it's certainly not too early to be concerned.

One down, forty-seven to go.  Next is the home opener is Tuesday night against Winnipeg.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Let There Be Hockey

We are hours away from the dropping of the puck to finally open the 2013 NHL season, the 96th one in its history.  I couldn't let it go however without posting my own response to the (insert laughter) advertised apology recent seen in major news outlets across North America.  Enjoy.


Let there be the donning of home jerseys, t-shirts and costumes.
Let there be footsteps boarding subways, metros, trains, and vehicles.
Let there be that knowing smile between child and parent when their home rink comes into view.
And yes, let there be the ringing of coins and cash and the swiping of cards as the teams collect our hard won wages.

Let the arenas swell with crowds of fans young and old.
Let the ticket takers' smile be like home as they welcome us back.
Let the anticipation be like never before, the buzzing of people like sweet music.
And yes, let there be lines longer than city blocks to all concessions and bathrooms.

Let us all roar when our teams take the ice.
Let there be oohing and aahing as we watch the warmups.
Let there be that familiar wince hearing the puck clink off the glass.
And yes let there be apologetic ceremonies to open a season we once thought was lost.

Let them drop the puck at center ice.
Let there be skating and scoring and sweat towards one common goal.
Let red lights indeed flash and the sirens so sound
And yes let there be the shaking of entire buildings and communities when the home teams score.

Let there be those who watch from far and away.
Let them connect through devices; the fruits of technology's wonder.
Let us all suffer, willingly or not, through talking heads and pundits as they babble and bloviate.
Let us all enjoy this majestic spectacle, a quest for a Cup; this grand dance, this awesomeness that is NHL hockey.

Let's you and me take in a game tonight...because we are hockey fans. And we are part of this greatness.


And the moral of THAT story is, if you're going to say something, think about it first before you say it.


Yes, I feel this strongly about it.  Not as strongly as I do about certain other aspects of life.  See here.  But strong enough to feel pride in a game that sorely needs it. If you're a fan, please indulge to your hearts content...if not, I pity you.  Because to me, this game more than any other is about people.  We make things what they are.  We are the memories that remain when all is said and done and we are what keeps it all going. Which is why it all exists in the first place. Make your game, whatever it is, a good one.  One worth writing about.

You folks who are staying away do as you please, I don't begrudge you. But I know what I'm doing tonight. And most important of all, who I will be with.....

Only one thing left to say...DROP THE DAMN PUCK!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

You Can Wine Me, and You Can Dine Me, but....

So I get an email this fine foggy morning from the team that supposedly contains a "Special Announcement." I figure, ok, I'm game.  I open it up and there it is...this season's schedule!   For my initial reaction to said announcement, please go here and click the play button.

But wait there was more.  Training camp starts on the 13th (that's today, so get out there, those that can and/or want to) which also happens to kick off....CAPITALS FAN APPRECIATION WEEK!  Hubba-whaAAAA???

Week?  Did that really say week?

I swear I had to rub my eyes and read that again.  But yeah, it really said the word "week."  As in seven days.  Seven days.  Insert ominous pause here.

ARE YOU FA--REEKING KIDDING ME?????????

This abomination of a lockout that is supposedly over lasted 113 days. That is well over 16 weeks.  Sixteen weeks of time lost which cannot and will not ever be regained.  And you want to insult our intelligence by trying to fool us into thinking it can all be made up for in the space of a week?  Well, Mr. Theodore John Leonsis, you are going to have to do WAAAAY better than that.

Am I giving you the impression I wasn't feeling the fan appreciation? Good.

I took a minute to calm down and I figured I would read the fine print as it were.  Well the "week" basically consists of a Jan. 17 event at the VC (that's the Verizon Center to you non-Caps hockey folk).  This will be an open practice complete with free food of the diet-ruining mentality.  Also scheduled is a Q & A with "select players," games for the kiddies, plus a meet-and-greet with Caps legends Rod Langway and Peter Bondra.  And there's also the obligatory 20% discount at the Team Store.  Do with that what you will.

The rest of the week consists of a goodwill tour by Slapshot who will be personally giving prizes away in and around the DC area.  There is also a week-long contest at the website for other assorted giveaways including luxury box tickets.  To top it all off, the Capitals will pay for all convenience fees for individual-game tickets purchased through Feb. 13. Take THAT Ticketmaster!

Okay.  Well I had to admit after reading all that it didn't sound too bad....for a first offer.  Come on, Ted.  You're going to have to do a hell of a lot better than that over the course of this season to get back on our collective good side.  If this indeed is your opening salvo then fine, let's see what else you've got.  If not, well, the way this team may be going, you're going to wish you hadn't raised ticket prices last year.  Just saying.


Monday, January 7, 2013

NHL Labor Peace at Last?

Yes the NHL lockout is over....

Oh no, it's not.

That's right, you read me right.  Look, we're all happy (well some of us are anyway) that there is an agreement on the horizon.  At least we want to be.  But let me ask you this--how many times have we been given hope only to be left hanging like a teased and jilted lover?  Yeah, you all know what I'm talking about.

It comes to this--it is NOT over.  Not until all the I's are dotted and the T's crossed.  Not until there's an officially signed agreement that's wet with the ink from the pens of BOTH Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr. Not until a majority of the 700+ members of the NHLPA have officially given their approval.  Not until a damn schedule that works around the NBA, gazillions of concerts, and other such gatherings is meticulously worked out.

And most important of all, this thing damn sure isn't over until I see a man with a striped shirt and an orange armband drop a one inch thick, six ounce disk made of frozen vulcanized rubber at center ice in an official NHL game.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hate to be the one throwing ice water around in a whorehouse, but I will believe it when I finally see it and not one second before.  Much like how Mr. Henry Kissinger once said--peace may be at hand, but it is still not in hand. But assuming we are coming in for a smooth landing, there is one gentleman we NHL fans ought to be thanking. And that's Federal Mediator Scot Beckenbaugh.  The man definitely deserves our undying gratitude for his tireless work. Or at least a new pair of wingtips.