Saturday, December 27, 2008

Three Stars: Capitals vs. Sabres

Sometimes I think the guys from the media who select the 3 stars of the game take the easy way out by perusing the stat line and issuing the awards based on that. Against the Sabres, Brian Helmer was given first star status but that just doesn't jive with what I saw with my own two eyes. So, having said that, here are the the stars according to Nation's Capital Blog:

  • Alexander Ovechkin
  • Viktor Kozlov
  • Derek Roy

Derek Roy didn't even show up on the score-sheet, but he had a very good puck possession game and consistently moved the puck through the neutral zone. Alex Ovechkin just showed up all over the place, and clearly was the best player on the ice (he's gonna be my #1 star a lot). That breakaway goal he scored was just as sick as the breakaway he disrupted on the back check.

Helmer? Nice game kid. Glad you could mix in some assists while your game is coming around.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More Than Just A Porn-Stache

If some people around the league think of Mike Gartner as the guy who played over 1400 NHL games and never won the Cup, I'm here to tell you he was so much more than that.

Mike Gartner was a elite quality finisher and an electrifying skater. Had he played on teams with a better cast around him (sadly, that counts for his time here too) he could have been a top 15 all-time scoring list candidate. Instead, he resides at the #27 spot.

To prove my point about how lethal he was as a goal scorer, the all-time list illustrates it perfectly. To find the next player on the list with more goals than Gartner (708) you'd have to scroll up the list all the way into the top 10 with Phil Esposito (717) and then you'd have to scroll up four more places to find the guy after that. That's world class.

Conversely, when you look at the list to find guys who have gathered points with fewer assists as part of the total, you'd have to plunge all the way down the list to #45 (Teemu Selanne). Conclusion? Gartner was there to put the puck in.

His offensive consistency was unparalleled. He holds the record for most 30 goal seasons which he accomplished in 17 of his 19 seasons in the league. He was as adept at being where the rebounds and scrambles started for tip-ins as he was for his dazzling speed on breakaways.

So, in recognition of all this, on December 28, the Washington Capitals will raise his #11 jersey to the rafters. And, in spite of all I just pointed out...

I'm not sure about how to feel about this.

For 20 years since he last played in Washington they've seen fit to issue #11 to scrubs like Tim Bergland and Jeff Nelson yet suddenly NOW it's worthy of all-time retirement?

The Capitals rarely seem to "get it" when it comes to this kind of thing. As much of a fixture as Yvon Labre has been in the organization, the fact that his number 7 is retired is laughable and mildly embarrassing. In fact, the only retired number the Caps have that I'm totally comfortable about is Rod Langway's #5. (Dale Hunter supporters crush me on this routinely).

Yes, I'll cheer loudly and appreciatively for a guy who deserves the applause richly. But it just seems like this ceremony just arrived out of the blue.

Perhaps the organization could take a pointer from one of the most history rich hockey organizations in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although they were the first to retire a number after Ace Bailey's tragic encounter with Eddie Shore, they have the fewest number of retired numbers in the league. Instead, they've chose to "honor" 13 players in the rafters while their numbers remain in circulation.

I wish this was how the Capitals did it. With guys like Olaf Kolzig and Peter Bondra coming up for consideration, I'd just like to have them be gracefully recognized without all the hand-wringing about their worthiness for retired number status.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bend it Like Ovechkin

After three quick Ranger's goals I thought "They left the Caps too much time to mount the comeback". After the fourth goal I felt they were defeated. After the debacle in Philly could you blame me? But then, one of the most improbable goals Ovechkin will ever score knuckle-balled its way past Lundqvist like a guided missile.

Ovechkin, who's game is ballistic by nature, took that to mean that he could bring the team back.

I'm sure if you're the Rangers, you'd have to feel like you've put in a good night's work when you jump out to a 4-0 lead. It's only natural to let off the pedal a little bit. But with one curve ball of a goal, the snake-bitten road team became charmed.

The force of will that one player had was enough to inspire a team and simultaneously lift them to unreasonable results. (Did you hear the cheering from the crowd when he tied the game? I think we're gathering a following out there!)

There are two things I've said consistently all season long. 1) Never count the Caps out of a game, and 2) Alex Ovechkin is the Captain of the Washington Capitals.

Clarkie, its way past time for you to pass the mantle.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Niittymaki, Brent Johnson Combine to Deflate Capitals

Not ready to comment on that game at the moment.

Twists and Turns

Following a sports team can be a lot like a roller coaster ride. Full of loops and twists, slow and difficult climbs, and effortless and frightening plunges.

Right now I'm about halfway through a loop about Michael Nylander. I look back about two weeks ago when I came to his defense at the suggestion of moving him out of Washington for Khabibulin.

Right now I'd trade him for a hot dog at the concession stand.

Maybe, with luck, this will loop back into a positive frame by April.

Puck drops in Philly in one hour as this is being written. I detest the Philadelphia Flyers. You can be sure, whatever the results are, I will be back at the keyboard with something strong to say.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Enforcing the Rules

Perhaps in the construction of this team, GMGM took into consideration that the star player on this team is more than capable of standing up to his opponents. But when Ovechkin is needed to stand up for the other star player when liberties are being taken on him...

Something's not right here.

Full kudos to him for charging in to the defense of his fallen line mate, but when everything was said and done... everything was said, but nothing was done. No penalties from the officials (not even to OV), and nobody really held David Backes truly accountable for his cross check that put Semin out of the game. Donald Brashear went out looking for takers, but no one would play.

I think I'm calling my hockey team soft.

It's clear that the officials just aren't policing the game according to the rule book. So when the policing has to be issued by the old time code of hockey, who among our ranks has the snarl to set things right?

Our goalies get run, Semin and Backstrom take slashes and cross checks, and I'm beginning to get a bit frustrated here. Did the playoff series against Philadelphia teach us nothing last year? If the zebras aren't going to be the deterrent, does that mean Ovechkin has to be?


Thursday, December 18, 2008

St. Louis: Gateway to the Jest

The St. Louis Blues are a joke. And not even a funny one.

The Western Conference cellar-dwellers come into DC after losing 4 in a row to match up with a Capitals team on a 4 game winning streak, a Capitals team that just doesn't lose at home, and a Capitals team that has just been admonished by their GM and coach.

If I were Blues coach Andy Murray, I'd be slipping an envelope to referees Mike Leggo and Kelly Sutherland.

When your marquis player is Keith Tkachuk, who is an echo of his former self, the outlook isn't rosy.

Then, to add injury to insult, the Blues come to town in beat up condition. #1 goalie Manny Legace is down (thank you Sarah Palin), as is Erik Johnson (no, not the virtuoso guitarist), Andy MacDonald, and several others.

It's no wonder they're giving up goals like crazy. Defenseman Barret Jackman sums it up when he says "When you're giving up five, six goals a game, it's hard to win". Keen observation Jacky.

I expect a positive experience at the arena tonight.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


As read on NYI Point Blank (blog) by Chris Botta about the offensively skilled Capitals:

"...The Washington Globetrotters were on the verge of “Sweet Georgia Brown”-ing them out of the building."

That's why he writes a real blog, and I just hack away. (Thanks to OFB for directing me to this article.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh Gee! OV in OT!

Alex nearly sealed the deal with a double post ringer, but wouldn't get double crossed the next time.

In a game that was more interesting than it should've been, here's a few quick post-game observations.

  • Mike Green skates around defenders like they're pylons. It seems like he might be becoming contagious too 'cuz I saw Tom Poti do it tonight as well.
  • Garbage goals rule the night for both teams (with the exception of OV's first goal). But, as I'm fond of saying, garbage goals are worth one- just like pretty goals.
  • Speaking of pretty goals, Joey MacDonald was grumbling "Son Of a Bitch" after The SOB line cashed in on Semin's sick behind-the-back pass to left wing.
  • Boudreau didn't just shuffle lines and "D" on Tuesday- he put them in the blender and whirled them. I guess chemistry isn't as big a deal when you've been through the kind of shakeups the team has seen this year (but please don't split the top line up!)
  • Boyd Gordon has apparently decided to attack the net- and got results.
  • Never, under any circumstances, can Karl Alzner be allowed out of the NHL. Aside from his solid play, suddenly the Juice is loose!
  • Matt Bradley = punching bag.
  • Jon Sim must die. He kills us every time we play him.
I guess the Caps relaxed a bit in the third period, and Brent Johnson was less acrobatic than his last few games (no shocker), but in the end- Alex the Gr8 saved the day.

For all the rancor on the other blogs about who the team MVP is... I give you exhibit AO.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Full Court Press

Was that a playoff game against Montreal? It sure was contested like one. Very much like they did against Boston, the Caps found success by relentlessly pressuring the puck-carrier from one end of the ice to the other. Montreal couldn't find a groove to work with until late in the game.

The pressure didn't relent any when the team was shorthanded either. (OK, I can't be quiet. Does Bill McCreary hate the Capitals? Maybe familiarity breeds contempt, but every time a ref makes me want to detonate, it's always one of the dinosaurs like McCreary, Koharski, or Devorski.) Umm, yeah the pressure. I love the aggressive "come out and get you" style that Bruce has them playing on the PK. I think the "hang back and take away passing lanes" approach is bad for the psyche. Especially when you're facing a power play from Montreal that is flat-out broken.

Congrats to Simeon Varmalov, errr Varlamov (not only was Locker flubbing it, but Lisa Hillary was butchering it in the post game- to the point she stopped even trying to say it). It did take a while for him to be tested to the degree that I could see what he was made of, but they said he was aggressive, and they were right. I like aggressive. That's why I love Bruce. Fearless.

In a sport where courage is mandatory, it's worth noting that courage and fearlessness are not the same.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stretching the Limits

The prospect of having to fall back on website producer Brett "Stretch" Leonhardt would definitely have been bad. But boy would it ever have been cool.

When word started to leak out hours before the game that our esteemed co-host of the Capitals Report was getting a jersey, I thought to myself simultaneously " Oh shit, that's awesome". I'll bet that's pretty much what it felt like for him as he sat on the bench in the first period. On a night when there was so many things worth writing about, I just couldn't start anywhere but here.

But, there's plenty to talk about from a game where all the breaks went the Cap's way. Make no mistake, the Sens play was not reflected in the score. It makes me think back to the mildly annoying clip that gets run on the Jumbo-tron where Al Pacino says "The inches we need are all around us". Ottawa just couldn't find the inches on this night and Washington seemed to have a tape measure full of 'em.

What a difference it makes when the SOB line (Semin, Ovechkin, Backstrom) is back together. I firmly believe that this line is the most lethal combination this city has ever seen. How crazy is it that Backstrom could get three assists and Ovechkin could get two goals and neither of them could crack the "3 stars of the night". That's when you know things are going well for you. OV was his normal self, but Nicklas just shined against the Sens. Confidence is just oozing out of this guy right now. He seems to see every opportunity on the ice, and now that he's shooting more often, opponents are that much more tentative about how to defend him. The power play goals by OV and Green were essentially composed by Backstrom's wizardry.

And what a joy it is to be able to watch Mike Green do his thing. After watching Tyler Sloan struggle to make a smart outlet pass out of the defensive zone, it's such a change of pace to watch Green, who doesn't even need to pass it out. Put the puck on Mike Green's stick, and it's nearly a guarantee that it's gonna end up safely in the offensive zone. I'm not saying he's Paul Coffey, I'm just sayin'...

Welcome back Sergei! Now it's starting to look like the Washington Capitals again. Apparantly the old fart hasn't forgotton how to play the game. With all the skills he brings to the table, I like our teams chances even if Stretch was playing in goal.

But it wasn't Stretch against the Sens, it was number one goalie and number one star Brent Johnson. He and his posts denied almost every opportunity that Ottawa had (and as I mentioned earlier- there were plenty). This guy is playing at an unbelievable level right now. I didn't think he had this kind of talent in him. Not only is he strong positionally, but he has displayed some remarkable imagination on how to keep pucks out of the net. I hope this guy can stay healthy enough to extend his streak of brilliance.

Hockey Night in Canada featuring the Washington Capitals again. They can't get enough of this team up there. And neither can we.

Friday, December 12, 2008

All Star Voting Bandwagon

I've been voting all along, but tonight I will jump on the bandwagon and fire off 10 text votes during the intermissions. But I won't be thinking about any yellow and black teams...

Anonymous No Longer

One of the great blessings in my life is the privilege of being able to watch the NHL network on my TV. Sure, the programming and advertising in the US can be a wee bit redundant, but it serves as a tonic for my acute case of Caps myopia. Only in this objective medium can I truly gauge the footprint of my team relative to the buzz effect of the entire league. (Trust me, the Caps are routinely a topic of conversation on the network.)

Featured shows include vignettes of NHL Captains (sorry Chris, haven't seen one on you yet), and there is also another feature this year called "Voices" that profiles the play-by-play radio personalities for different teams. Last night, Steve Kolbe was given the honor of being featured.

The program included the obligatory testimonials from Joe Benanati and former announcer Ron Weber, but it was interesting to see the "off the ice" side of our seemingly over-caffeinated radio voice. It includes his youthful foray into goaltending (he's seemed like a bigger hot-head than a young Olie Kolzig), his love of the Caps while growing up, and his passion for outdoor endeavors such as fishing and archery.

Proir to watching the show, I think I knew more about PA announcer Wes than about Steve Kolbe. But one thing I did know was what a stark contrast he was to his predecessor. Ron Weber, bless his heart, was the only voice this team had ever known until 1997. But his meandering, behind the play style could sometimes get a bit frustrating.

Enter Steve Kolbe at the beginning of the Capitals magical run in 97-98. Raw, a little ragged around the edges, but loud and bursting with enthusiasm. I loved him right off the bat. Perhaps Benanati has more savvy, but no one goes more balls-to-the-wall into a microphone than the Ice Man.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Unholy Alliance?

The buzz around the hockey blogosphere these days is centered around the declaration at ThePensBlog calling for a movement to join with Caps fans and elevate Alex Ovechkin past the Canadiens players and into the starting line-up at the year's All Star Game. An excerpt of this call to action follows:

"In the coming month, Penguins fans and Caps fans from around the world will form the most unholy alliance to date. And we will be launching the largest internet battle in the history of the NHL."

Somewhat surprisingly, Pens faithful appear to be embracing the idea. Peerless Prognosticator and Capitals Kremlin have taken positions supporting it from a Capitals point of view. My way of thinking on the matter runs like this:

Nuh-uh. Ain't gonna happen.

For all the Ovechkin well-wishers out there who want the rightful owner of the left wing All Star starter status to get his rightful due, I gotta say, not at this price.

This game is a steaming pile to begin with and the voting process is laughable, as we can all plainly see. Do you think I'd be willing to set aside years of carefully cultivated pettiness and resentment just for that? Are you actually suggesting that I should go online and cast votes for Captain Lipstick? Just looking at his overpromoted face makes me nauseous. Maybe Malkin (yeah right, I doubt that too) but no way, no how for Crosby.

For all the objective minded people who can see past the uniforms and make rational decisions... I applaud you. I'm just not one of you. I wish the best for OV, but a man has to stand on his principles sometimes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Undoin' the Bruins

Opportunity knocks. Guys named Alex who play in Washington answer. Can we officially begin the campaign to trade for every player named Alexander in the league? Ovechkin, Semin, Giroux (ok, technically the last guy is Alexandre, but who's splitting hairs).

It was so refreshing to see Semin in the lineup as well as Poti (even though I did think he coulda poked the Lucic goal out of harm's way). Those guys made a big difference as the Caps found themselves needing to play a possession game to diffuse an especially hot Bruins team.

This was a huge and unexpected victory for the locals, and it only serves to re-confirm that the Caps have enough hockey horsepower to gallop with any team in the league.

One point of concern however is the health of (let's all just go ahead and admit it) number one goalie Brent Johnson. Without his acrobatics against Boston there would clearly have been different results and we all hope he springs back to form.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bruins are Brewin'

Who knew the Bruins were this good? Being a Caps fan, when I think of Boston I think of Tim Thomas getting pulled twice in the same game in a ten goal barrage and Shane Hnidy getting abused by Donald Brashear. (seriously, look it up again at youtube, in retrospect it's hilarious)

Next thing ya know, Boston is on a tear and facing off against our beloved Capitals. Any great coach, if pressed will admit that its good to pick up whatever points you can when the odds are against you and you're trying to get things right. Even if half the guys that've been missing come back for the next game, let's face it, they're still a team that'll be trying to get it right. So far, the results have been pretty good, but I'll be rooting extra hard for a win against Boston.

Yeah, I hate Pittsburgh and Philly more, but the Bruins are a solid number three in my book. Besides that, these Caps can claim more than just the #3 playoff seed when this whole thing is said and done. Any ground they could make up in the conference would be critical. How nice would it be to put Boston on ice with this band of ragtag misfits? Let's go Caps!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Charmed or Cursed?

Hockey Night in Canada featuring our Washington Capitals. Sweet. And the solid effort against the Maple Leafs was even sweeter, right?

Tell that to Eric Fehr. Is this team charmed because they're earning victories with such a decimated roster, or cursed because each game sacrifices another player?

Thankfully, the Washington Capitals have installed enough organizational continuity to be able to plug in players with little or no NHL experience and still find a way to succeed. It's one thing to say you use the same systems at both levels, but the evidence was on display against Toronto on Saturday night. I didn't see any sign of the "too cute" Caps the coach Boudreau gets so piqued with. Instead, I saw tenacious denial-of-space and positional focus in every zone on the ice.

Fortunately, Alex Ovechkin didn't spontaneously combust out of sheer frustration. Here's a guy who's become quite accustomed to having his hard work be rewarded with results. The only results he seemed to get on Saturday were near-misses and tiki-tack penalties. But the lasting memory for me was the play when he turned right into harm's way as pesky Ryan Hollweg lined him up for destruction, only to find that he was the one who got blew up. That's why I'll always contend that Ovechkin is unique in the NHL. Chris Clark should just go ahead and defer his captaincy to the obvious leader of the team.

Speaking of frustration... I'm always looking very closely at body language and demenor of atheletes. The TV cameras were pointed directly on Brooks Laich when they announced his goal was disallowed. Obviously I, as a fan, was disappointed by the decision but Brooks just replaced his mouthpiece and skated back into position. I thought it showed class and dignity and I applaud him for it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Today you called up defenseman Sean Collins from the Bears to play the Maple Leafs. It just got me wondering about one thing.

Why not me?

I've always wanted to play defense for the Caps. I mean, Sean Collins? C'mon. I'm way bigger than that dude and I'll betcha I've got a harder shot. Sure, I'll make Mike Green look conservative by comparison and I'll probably be in the box more than Dale Hunter, but darn it- I won't go alone!

I'm just sayin'.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Nylander Meander?

Quite often this year the subject of Michael Nylander's status on the Caps has been bandied about (most recently, and quite graciously as a comment on my last post). Originally, the appeal of moving Nylander, or "Circles" as a friend of mine calls him, was based on the organizational depth at center the team is blessed with. After the atrocious performance of Jose Theodore at the beginning of the season it was only natural for the Khabibulin question to come up.

There are so many facets to consider on this one, and I'll do my best to point them out. Maybe at the end of this post I'll have settled in on what I really think about this idea.

Firstly, there is the issue of the "no movement" clause in his contract. I'm pretty sure we can dispose of that barrier out of hand. I'd have to think, in the post Wirtz era in Chicago, even I'd accept a trade to the Hawks. He's been there before in his career, and I'm sure he'd recieve a warm reception.

Then, there's the consideration of the Capital's goaltending position. It's been documented right here in this blog how I thought of Theodore's performance in October. He didn't get the nickname in Colorado of "Jose Three-or-more" for no reason. But the reality is that he went further in the playoffs last season in a tougher conference than Huet did, and was very solid at the end of last season. Did his turnaround in November indicate that he's acclimating to his new "D" and returning to form? Can Brent Johnson maintain the level that he's exhibited so far?

Could Khabibulin add more to the goal than would be subtracted by losing a veteran forward?

From a salary and term-length perspective I can see some value in making this move, so what it boils down to is this: Chicago and Washington both have designs on making a run at the Cup this year. Would this move strengthen the position of the club right now?

This brings up another reason that trading Nylander has been a hot topic as of late.

He's playing like a bucket full of ass.

He has very little speed left, and he doesn't seem to have any awareness that the other team has a goal to shoot at. But what he has, and cannot use right now, is imagination. With the abscence of Semin, Green, and Federov, relentless effort trumps finesse with the Caps. Someone who's playing chess looks very out-of-place alongside a bunch of guys playing rugby.

However, bring back some of those other guys and Nylander begins to fit more into the equation. I'd hate to see the Caps come up short in the playoffs this year because they were one veteran play short of victory. Finishers need passes.

So I guess, now that I'm at the end of this post, I've arrived at the conclusion that I'm OK with riding Johnny and Theo into May and hopefully June. Good thing they don't leave these decisions up to me....

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Honor Roll

The Kudos for Caps campaign is in full swing in the NHL and AHL recently. Four of the last five awards for NHL Player of the Month have been awarded to a Washington Capital. Alexander Semin in October, and the other Alex guy in November and also two of the last three months at the end of the last regular season (interrupted only by Evgeni Malkin).

Not to be outdone, AHL farmhand Oskar Osala of the Hershey Bears also got into the mix as Player of the Month in November.

Remember when the Capitals were the most anonymous team in the league? My how things have changed!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I'm back!

Computer problems are fixed and posting will now resume!