Saturday, January 26, 2008

Caps Blue Line Has Moved!

Caps Blue Line has moved!

This blog will no longer be updated at this address ( as it has moved to swanky new digs at

This new website will feature the continuation of this blog as well as several new resources, such as:

I've got plans to add another resources or two (coaching histories is a must). Sometimes you want to see? Let me know by dropping me an email at or leaving a comment on the about page.

See you on the other side, folks.

The All-Star Game is Fine

There's not really any way around the fact that for a number of years it has been frustrating to be a hockey fan. The NHL saw its on-ice product become significantly less appealing as the trap and clutch-and-grab styles of play becoming increasingly effective and popular, suffered through the first work stoppage to ever cancel an entire season in North America and lost its contract with (and hence its coverage from) ESPN. And to top it off, Gary Bettman is still the commissioner.

These problems have built a culture of negativity around the NHL, where it has become en vouge to criticize the league on everything from the on-ice product to the off-ice management to the rules of the game to the uniforms. To an extent these criticisms are warranted and anyone who thinks the NHL doesn't have significant obstacles in front of it needs to either take of their rose-colored glasses or have their opinion taken again once they're off Bettman's payroll. But at the same time anyone who doesn't believe that the NHL is an exciting, world-class league that is in better shape for the long term financially and in terms of the on-ice product than before the lockout is...well, wrong. But I digress.

This aura of negativity has unsurprisingly extended to the center of the NHL world for this weekend, the All-Star game in Atlanta. Even before All-Star weekend started the chorus of critics ratcheted up with claims the NHL All-Star game is irrelevant, meaningless to casual fans and boring, all because the game itself won't resemble a real NHL game. While I don't disagree with those assertions my overwhelming response is "so, what?"

These "problems" aren't singular to the NHL by any stretch. When is the last time you ever saw an NFL game played without blitzes, a Major League Baseball game where both managers made an effort to get all the players in and were required to change pitchers every three innings or that ended in a tie, or an NBA game that ended in regulation with both teams scoring over 130 points? It doesn't happen anywhere but the Pro Bowl, the Midsummer Classic or the NBA All-Star game and yet you don't hear people within the professional football, baseball or basketball fanbases or journalistic circles fret about the integrity and nature of the all-star game nearly as much as hockey fans and journalists do. The other major sports realize what an all-star game is: a chance to honor the best players in the game, take a break from the grueling regular schedule and a chance to watch the best the game has to offer play in a non-competitive exhibition environment that is, yes, meaningless.*

The NHL and its fans shouldn't expect or hope for anything more for their all-star game, yet they do, a direct result of the other problem with the negative attitude that permeates the NHL these days. Besides making it fashionable to levy criticism at events like the All-Star game before they even occur the culture of negativity has in and of itself created a severe images problems for the NHL. Imagine you're a relatively casual sports fan surfing websites during down times at work and every time you read something about the NHL the league is unconvincingly insisting attendance and television ratings are up and while pundits mock the leagues rule changes, uniforms and leadership while painting a doom-and-gloom picture of the future while wistfully writing about how much better the league was twenty years ago. Does that sound like the kind of league you'd want to check out? If the guys who are paid to write about hockey having nothing but complaints about the NHL, what do people expect the casual sports fan's response to be?

Not that the NHL can silence the pundits, nor should they try to. But the league can control what it discusses and why. To insist at every turn that the league is drawing people to arenas in records numbers or that television ratings are steadily on the rise makes the league seem desperate for approval; desperate to impress and is completely at odds with the image the league had cultivated for years. If this were high school the NHL would have gone from being the kid that not a whole lot of people knew but who everyone thought was a badass to the kid who, yeah I mean he's pretty cool, like, if you get to know him but yeah it's totally weird how, like, he's like always asking about whether or not people like him or not and junk (and why does he always change the way he dresses and stuff, does he think people are going to like, like him more for it or something....?)

Let me say this: I am a hockey fan, no doubt. I played travel hockey as a kid, I still play, I purchased NHL Center ice and a DVR just so I could watch more hockey and I spend hours every week writing about hockey without compensation. But I'm not going to watch the All-Star game.** I don't think people like me a problem for the league any more than people who watch the NFL every week but skip the Pro Bowl are for the NFL.

Simply put, the NHL All-Star game is what it is: a nice little break in the middle of the season where the players can have fun and as fans we might see some dazzling offense and as such, it is fine. But it isn't enough to be a savior for the league or even a legitimate chance to showcase the NHL or its players, so of course the event is going to fail to live up to any expectations people might have that it should be. The league needs to realize this and concentrate their efforts on making the on-ice product as good as possible rather than continually hoping that if they can just nail the presentation in All-Star game/Winter Classic/Opening Night/Crosby vs. Ovechkin/Playoffs or whatever else all their problems will be solved.

*I know the MLB All-Star game decides home field advantage in the World Series. To me that's not really enough to make it important to most people, even those in the Major Leagues. Rather, it's just an embarrassing example of what happens when a league decides it tries to all-star game mean something.
**Okay, the full version is less dramatic. I'll be playing hockey during the All-Star game, but I'm not too upset that I'll miss it and if I weren't playing I'd probably have the game on in the background, but not really watch it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Caps Enter All-Star Break One Point Out of First

Capitals 2, Maple Leafs 1

Now that's more like it.

After clearly outplaying the Maple Leafs Wednesday night in Toronto and losing, the Capitals came home to Verizon Center last night and claimed two points in a game in which they were outshot 32-20 and in which they twice had the man advantage and saw themselves shorthanded five time. If we're going to be objective, you'd have to look at this game and say the Capitals didn't necessarily deserve two points. Not that they were outplayed or deserved to lose per se (I don't think Toronto played all that well either), but the Maple Leafs were pretty effective in shutting down the Caps offense and without the stellar performance from Brent Johnson Washington's defense wouldn't have looked that great either. But given that the karmic balance after last night was such that the Capitals were probably deserving of two, I won't feel too bad about it.

The story of last night's game goes beyond the Capitals and the Maple Leafs though. Now, heading into the all-star break, the Capitals are the only team in the Southeast Division above .500 and are one point out of the division lead, with two games in hand. I can't speak for any other Capitals fans but if I were offered that scenario at the beginning of the season, I would have taken it. If I'd been offered it Thanksgiving Day I would have asked if you thought I believed in Santa Claus too.

Yet here we are, mid-January and the Capitals are not only poised to take control of the Southeast Division, they are clearly looking like the class of the division, going 17-8-4 since Bruce Boudreau took over while each of the other teams in the Southeast have played well below .500 since then. With Carolina and Atlanta still looking inconsistent at best it would be surprising if the Capitals don't take first place in the division with their two games in hand on the 'Canes. It'd be even more surprising if, once they took the lead, they ever relinquished it.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Brent Johnson
- 31 saves on 32 shots, .969 save percentage
(2) Alexander Ovechkin -
2 assists
(3) Viktor Kozlov - 1 goal (game winner)


Since Coach Bruce Boudreau stepped behind the bench on Nov. 22, Johnson has been one of the team's best players. He is 5-1 with a 2.05 goals against average and .926 save percentage since Boudreau arrived, and his coach believes he has earned the right to play more down the stretch.
-Tarik El-Bashir, from his Washington Post write-up

Quick Hits
  • John Erskine's first period penalty for delay of game was real bad because there's no reason to even come close to putting the puck off the rink when there's no pressure.
  • Each Capitals player who took a faceoff (Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley) was at 58% effectiveness or higher. For the game the Capitals won 33 of 53 faceoffs (62%).
  • Milan Jurcina led the Capitals with six hits. Nice to see the big man finally using his body.
Photos: AP

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Caps Lose to Leafs, 3-2

Maple Leafs 3, Capitals 2

I can't remember the last time I saw a team get dominated like the Maple Leafs were last night and still win the game. The Capitals outhit, outshot, outchanced, outskated and outworked the home team in Toronto last night but they just couldn't outscore them.

Two things can bury a team that generally outplays its opponent: bad luck and bad plays; the Capitals fell victim to both. The Leafs first game came when Donald Brashear tried to make a between-the-legs breakout pass in his own zone (bad play). The Leafs second goal came at the end of a sequences where the puck was kept in the Capitals end because Mike Green blew a tire behind his own goal line (bad luck). The Leafs third goal came because whoever should have been covering Mats Sundin (the center on the line, I think Dave Steckel) was no where to be found (bad play), because Olaf Kolzig put a rebound in a bad area (bad play) and because Sundin just happened to be in exactly the right/wrong spot (bad luck). Take away those combined thirty seconds and there's really nothing to complain about as a Caps fan.

The Capitals haven't yet lost consecutive games in regulation under Bruce Boudreau and with the team coming home and looking to get the two points they earned last night, I'd be willing to bet today won't be the first time it happens either.

Quick Hits

  • If he's going to hit like that every game I, for one, can overlook John Erskine's deficiencies in the skating department.
  • Where was Tom Poti going with that hog-tie on Dominic Moore?
  • The Maple Leafs had 11 players take shots; the Capitals had 16.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fun with Numbers!

From last night's game:

Shots against/saves
Olaf Kolzig: 15/10
Danny Sabourin: 13/9
Ty Conklin: 17/16

Shots, by team
Washington: 30
Pittsburgh: 15

Goals, by team
Washington: 5
Pittsburgh: 5

Saves in overtime:
Olaf Kolzig: 1
Quintin Laing: 3

Resiliant Caps Win in Shootout, 6-5

Capitals 6, Penguins 5 (SO)

It took "the gimmick" to do it but at the end of the night the Capitals had won their fourth in a row and snapped a seven game losing skid against the Penguins.

It was an ugly game for the Caps, but imagine this: Your team has just had a goal waived off and to boot it's because a penalty was assessed. The other team has gone on the powerplay and scored to take the lead. Your goalie has stopped eight shots and let five get by him for the game.

Now that's a discouraging hockey scenario if ever there was one.

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Well, imagine this: Your team is battling in overtime and one of your top two defensemen is called for a phantom slashing penalty and only 53 seconds later your team is again whistled for an infraction, sending you down two men for 1:07 against a skilled team with nothing to lose.

Now that's a discouraging hockey scenario if ever there was one. And yet, as they have done ever since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the bench, the Capitals remained focused and resilient and battled back behind another four assist night from Nicklas Backstrom, another two goals from Viktor Kozlov and a two-goals, eleven-shot performance from Alexander Ovechkin.

While it's nice to pick up two, especially against the Pens, as a Caps fan you'd have to look at this game and say the Capitals were somewhat fortunate to get one point, let alone two. The red, white and blue had a lot of major miscues: far too many penalties, far too many blown coverages in their own end and far too many pucks getting by Olaf Kolzig that simply shouldn't have. But then that's the advantage of having a resilient team...and a line that will combine for three goals and eight points:

DMG's 3 Stars (1) Alexander Ovechkin - 2 goals, 1 assist, 11 shots, +1, shootout goal
(2) Nicklas Backstrom - 4 assists, +1
(3) Viktor Kozlov - 2 goals, +1


"To me, [the Capitals] are the most exciting team in the National Hockey League to watch play"
-Keith Jones

Quick Hits
  • If Ovechkin connects on his run at Evgeni Malkin it immediately becomes the front runner for hit of the year.
  • I don't know if anyone watched the Versus post-game show but Mike Green wasn't even on the list of guys who were overlooked for the all-star game. Talk about being overlooked...
  • In a 4-on-3 situation, if you're going to play one defenseman, why the hell would it be John Erskine? That's the question I was asking myself approximately two seconds before Erskine was whistled for hauling down Malkin.
  • Nice job by Tom Poti to keep his cool against Jarko Ruutu and put the Caps on the powerplay to start the second.
  • I'd still taken Donald Brashear over Jordan Staal in the event those two bodies collide again.
  • Tough night for Ty Conklin. Come of the bench cold and you stop 15 of 16 shots only to lose to a goalie who only stopped two-third of the shot against him.
  • Tough first sixty-five for Alex Semin. A great move is stopped by Ty Conklin and backhand at a wide-open net hits a Penguins' defender in front. And then there were the penalties...
  • Was anyone else shocked to see that Semin was at only 25% success in the shootout coming into this game?
Photos: AP

Random Thoughts on Versus

Has anyone ever seen the movie Dead Man, directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Johnny Depp?

I ask because it's exactly what the Versus ads are like - random, in black and white and interspersed by jangly distorted guitar chords (although I don't think Versus has Neil Young working for them).

I Told Ya, He's Comin' for Ya....

Rookie Scoring, morning of January 19th:
Patrick Kane: 45 points
Nicklas Backstrom: 32 points

Rookie Scoring, morning of January 20th:
Patrick Kane: 45 points
Nicklas Backstrom:36 points

Rookie Scoring, right now:
Patrick Kane: 45 points
Nicklas Backstrom: 40 points

Pens/Caps Gameday

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins
Monday, January 21st, 2008, 7:30 PM
Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Last Meeting: 12/27/2007, Caps lose 4-3 in overtime

Two days after finishing their homestand 4-1 and working their way back to .500 for the first time since late October, the Capitals head to Pittsburgh to face their rival the (now Sidney Crosby-less) Pittsburgh Penguins, who are 8-1-1 in their last ten games.

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About the Opponent

Pittsburgh Penguins (27-17-3, first in the Atlantic Division, second in the Eastern Conference)

Team Leaders
Goals: Evgeni Malkin (24)
Assists: Sidney Crosby (43); active: Evgeni Malkin (29)
Sidney Crosby (63); active: Evgeni Malkin (53)
Sidney Crosby (+15); active: Colby Armstrong (+9)
Penalty Minutes:
tie - Ryan Malone and Georges Laraque (70)
Georges Laraque (8)

Betcha Didn't Know...
Several years ago The Hockey News took a poll of hockey journalists, asking them to rank the NHL's best fighters. Penguins enforcer (then with the Oilers) received more than twice as many points in the voting as anyone else, more points than the next five players and was ranked first on 31 of 42 ballots

Random Penguins Statistic
When he was 15 years old Sidney Crosby played prep school hockey at Shattuck St. Mary's, a boarding school in Faribault, Minnesota and amassed 72 goals and 90 assists (162 points) in 57 games.

Keys to the Game

Use your depth. The Penguins match up pretty well with the Capitals top guns and have the tools to contain Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom. They do not have the tools to contain those three plus Viktor Kozlov, Mike Green and Tomas Fleischmann.

Use team speed to create chances. The Capitals could have better speed on their checking lines and on defense. The Penguins, with their large number of skilled skaters, should look to exploit that lack of mobility for goals and draw penalties to get their top-ten powerplay on the ice.

Players to Watch

Tomas Fleischman
- could he be playing any better or be any closer to breaking out without doing it? Any day now...

Pittsburgh Evgeni Malkin - Malkin's been superb so far in his NHL career but can he play as well as Pittsburgh wants him to when (1) he doesn't have Sidney Crosby on his line and (2) he is the go-to guy?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Impact of a Crosby-less NHL

As you may have noticed, had you read or seen just about anything about the NHL over the last couple days, Sidney Crosby suffered a high ankle sprain during the Penguins January 18th loss to Tampa Bay.

So just what are the ramifications of this injury? Are the Penguins still a playoff team? Does this affect the Capitals at all? What will they talk about in-studio on Versus now? Is this actually a good thing for Crosby and Penguins fans, giving him a chance to rest to help avoid a more serious back injury, the result of being asked to carry an entire professional sports league?

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Let me preface this by saying that I like Sidney Crosby, and I have ever since his rookie season (2003-04) in the QMJHL. His talent is undeniable, he's got as much professionalism as anyone else in the NHL and his character flaws from when he first entered the league (complaining to referees too frequently; diving) were forgivable and have been fixed. In addition the criticisms leveled against him are generally, well....wrong. Crosby doesn't rack up most of his spoints from secondary assists (see here and here) and he isn't soft - he played through a broken foot in the playoffs and he takes as much abuse as almost any other player in the league and still go into high-traffic areas hard to fight for points.

Anyhow, let's start with Sid the Kid himself:

Sidney Crosby

A high ankle sprain is one of those injuries, like a groin pull, that any NHL player fears. Of course there are worse injuries (just ask Bryan Berard or Pat Peake), but as far commonly seen injuries a high ankle sprain is about as bad it gets. It's nearly impossible to play through, hard to rehab, easy to reaggravate, and once reaggravated can be just as bad as it was when it first occurred.

If Crosby tries to play with his ankle at anything less than 100% his skill set is going to be severely diminished. Given that, and how easily a high ankle sprain can be reinjured, Crosby needs to focus on his rehabilitation and not give in to the temptation to return to the lineup early, which will certainly set in in the likely scenario that the Penguins see their play drop off without him.

With a lot of players, given how sensitive the ankle will be during the rehab stage and the time away from game speed, there would probably be a period of adjustment, but I don't think Crosby will have that given how focused and talent he is. That is, of course, provided that Crosby does sit until he is 100%.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Are the Penguins a playoff team without Sidney Crosby? You could make a case that they're not: Crosby is their captain, their first line center and their leader in points and assists (he's second in goals). On the other hand the Penguins still have a ton of young talent, lead by Evgeni Malkin, and were better than a borderline playoff team with Crosby in the lineup (Pittsburgh currently sits at second in the Eastern Conference).

What this means to me is that without Crosby, Pittsburgh is a borderline playoff team that would probably get in as a 6-8 seed. Thus they should be able to continue to win on a regular basis without Crosby, and while they won't pick up as many points as they otherwise would they should still be firmly in a playoff spot when Crosby gets back.

The one scenario where Pittsburgh gets in trouble is if they suffer a loss of confidence without Crosby in the lineup and let it snowball into a losing streak. The Penguins need to realize they're still a pretty good team and not panic even though their leader scorer is on the shelf.

Evgeni Malkin and Ty Conklin

While it's unrealistic to expect anything less than a team effort would be needed to compensate for the loss of a player like Crosby the Penguins' immediate fortunes rely in large part on these two players. Malkin has been an excellent NHL player in his short career, but he has also been afforded a luxury very few players selected second overall have had - being able to fly under the radar for the first couple NHL seasons. With Crosby out, Malkin is going to be asked to prove he can be a big-time player without the kind of help he's accustomed to.

The Penguins will also be hoping Ty Conklin's incredible season continues. Although Conklin has already done more than anyone would have ever asked of him it'd be unfortunate for the Penguin if he decided to come back to earth while Crosby's out.

The League and its Broadcast Partners

Speculation already exists about the panic going on within the league offices because of Crosby's injury but the reality is that the injury is not for a long enough term or enough severity for the league to become concerned about hitching their star to Crosby; in reality the ones who are concerned are the television networks: Versus is already cursing Crosby's ankle, as they'll have to come up with at least one topic of discussion beyond "Crosby vs. Ovechkin" (suggestions: each team's record since Thanksgiving, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau).

In my view it's not such a bad thing that the league's talking heads may have to talk about other players. In addition to Malkin and the Capitals' quintet of skilled player under the age of 24, Eric Staal, Jason Spezza, Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel are part of the league's immense amount of young talent. In addition the contribution of guys like Joe Thornton and Jarome Iginla have been criminally underrated for years.

Maybe the league will realize that there are other players worth talking about. If they do, it will be a good thing because it's difficult to be as relevant as the NHL wants to be when the majority of the country associates your league with only one face.

The Capitals

Well...Crosby won't be playing when these teams meet on Monday. So....that's a break for the Caps.

Watch out, Patrick, he's coming for you...

...I kind of feel like someone should be cuing the theme from 'Jaws'

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Caps Finish Homestand 4-1

Capitals 5, Panthers 3 close to free wings.

For about fifty minutes of this game the Capitals were dominant and for about ten they were terrible. That ten minute stretch looked like it had the potential to bury the Caps but at the end of the night the boys in red, white and blue held on to improve to 4-1 on their homestand, behind strong efforts from Viktor Kozlov, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom, who assisted on four of the Capitals five goals.

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Aside of securing eight of ten possible points the Capitals reached another important milestone last night, reaching .500. That's right Caps fans, with the win the Capitals pulled to 21-21-4 and are at .500 for the first time since October 24th.

I don't really have that much more to say about this game, so I'll close with a playoff race update - the Caps are three points out of the division leader and have played three fewer games and only four points out of the eight seed in the Conference.

DMG's 3 Stars (1) Nicklas Backstrom - 4 assists
(2) Viktor Kozlov - 2 goals
(3) Alexander Ovechkin - 1 goal, 1 assist


"We've officially reached mediocrity"
-Bruce Boudreau
"Right now we're .500. But for us, it's just a beginning."

Quick Hits
  • The Panther ice the puck like they have a collective contract clause that pays them each time they do it.
  • It amused me when Craig Laughlin referred to "Iron Mike" Keenen as Mike "Iron" Keenen.
  • Speaking of Laughlin, does anyone else think it's kind of adorable how he thinks every goal hits the water bottle?
  • Jeff Schultz is become more physical - he was credited with three hits and did a nice job getting in the face of the Panthers player who made too much contract with Brent Johnson.
  • Alexander Ovechkin was not credited with any hits.
Photos: AP