Monday, December 31, 2007

Capitals Players Looking to Turn a Corner Heading into the New Year

Resolutions, promises, a fresh start: What better time than New Year's Eve to take a look at some of the players on the Capitals who look like they're going to (and need to) turn a corner in the very near future?

Without further ado, here are a half-dozen Caps players who will be looking to elevate their game start January 1st against the Senators:

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Tomas Fleischmann - Flash has nothing left to prove at the AHL level, where he's scored 114 points in 102 games since 2005, but he hasn't been able to consistently contribute offensively in Washington. I think Flash stands a pretty good chance at getting on the scoresheet on a regular basis now that he's becoming aware that he is not skilled enough to get by on skill alone and has hence started working harder without the puck and driving to the net. I'm still not completely sold on Fleischmann though and time is starting to run out for him, although you'd have to think that if he's ever going to show he can play at the NHL level it would be under another relatively slight winger who showed a ton of skill in the minors but couldn't stick in the NHL.

Viktor Kozlov - Kozlov hasn't been as bad as some Caps fans seem to think (a number of people have recently advocated his benching in the comments on Capitals Insider). He's second on the team in assists and shots and is getting his chances - he just needs to start converting them. And he will.

Olaf Kolzig - After allowing six goals on 22 shots against Ottawa (despite not playing all that poorly) Kolzig's save percentage is down to .888 and his GAA up to 3.02. His numbers haven't been stellar and he's let in a number of soft goals, but he has been playing better recently, even if the numbers don't show it. With Johnson out 2-4 weeks and with the team playing well and gaining ground in the playoff race the Capitals need Kolzig to be a solid presence in net.

Matt Pettinger - In a season that has been disappointing thus far for Capitals fans perhaps no single player has been as disappointing as Pettinger, who has only five points in 37 games and was a healthy scratch against Ottawa. But the numbers look worse than Pettinger's play has been - while Pettinger has only two goals he is getting his chances and his shots per game average (1.86) is about the same as what it's been the last couple years (1.81), and you don't go from being a guy who shoots better than 14% to a guy who shoots under 3% without some bad luck in there. Although Pettinger has only three assists he has played much of the year with Boyd Gordon and David Steckel, neither of whom is finding the net on a regular basis. At this point I think Pettinger's problem is largely mental - he looked like he was on his game early in the year and I think the lack of success he's had playing his game started to get to him, he started to doubt himself, got off his game and has looked a little lost. Hopefully sitting out a game or two helps him get his head back together and boosts his on-ice performance.

Jeff Schultz - Schultz is a defensive defenseman, so unlike Kolzig or Kozlov it might not be as obvious when he turns a corner and is able to elevate his game. Rather than flashy goals or saves, Schultz is at his best when he plays positionally, frustrates opponents and avoids mistakes. Not especially jaw-dropping stuff, but it's an important role nonetheless. Sarge has been looking smarter and more comfortable almost by the game and is close to becoming a very solid backline presence. Schultz has also taken some heat for not being physical enough given his size (6'5'', 215) and the nature of his game. I don't think it's that Schultz won't initiate contact, I think it's that he doesn't want to draw himself out of position trying to deliver a big hit. As he become more aware and more confident in his own end watch for his physical game to improve as well.

David Steckel - I conceived this post a couple weeks ago, but the holidays make me lazy (you know it happens to you too) and I wish that I'd written it up before before Steckel three-point performance against Tampa Bay, but here it goes anyway: Steckel has received praise from Caps management and fans for doing jobs that are all too often underappreciated (playing a defensive role, faceoffs, penalty kills) and so it's become easy to forget that he put up 61 points (30+31) in 71 games for Hershey last year. While Steckel will never be a great scorer at the NHL level he has enough talent to chip in offensively on a consistent basis. Lately he's looked more comfortable in the offensive end, going to the net more often, being more assertive and showing better vision, so I'd expect some points to follow.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Wild One in Ottawa: Caps Beat Sens 8-6

Capitals 8, Senators 6

On one hand the Capitals scored eight times against the best team in the Eastern Conference, held the Senators to just two shots (!) in the first period and dominated the play for much of the game. On the other hand they also let the Senators get a number of good scoring chances, gave up two short-handed goals and nearly squandered the three-goal lead they have going into the third. Incidentally, the officiating was terrible.

Offensively the Capitals eight goal output speaks for itself, but the question as to why this offensive outburst is relevant and I think it's because of the way the top two lines are put together; that right now the Ovechkin/Backstrom/Kozlov and Fleischmann/Nylander/Semin combinations are ideal.

Obviously first line discussion begins with Ovechkin. Backstrom looks like a better center for him because he plays the type of game Ovechkin does (fast moving, looking to jump on opponent's mistakes) better than Nylander, who is more inclined to play a puck-control game and wait for something to open up. Viktor Kozlov seems to play a better game and have more energy and confidence when he plays with Ovechkin and since Fleischmann and Semin don't seem to be able to click with the Great Eight the Caps aren't missing much by having those guys on line two. Plus, Semin and Nylander seem to work pretty well together as Nylander is content to hold the puck and wait for Semin to find a seam in the opposition's defense. And once Semin gets the puck with a little time and space in the slot, look out.

Defensively the Capitals were all over the place, oftentimes dominant but also unsettlingly easy to break. That's not to take anything away from the Senators - the plays by Fisher and Alfredsson to get shorthanded breakaways were great plays, as were Fischer's deflections and Spezza's slapshot (though Kolzig should have that one). It might be tempting for Caps fans to do some hand-wringing over it but I, for one, am not too concerned because these goals aren't going to happen all that often. Kolzig has looked pretty solid the last few games and I think he's done allowing really soft goals on a regular basis, Tom Poti's not going to put one in his own net off his hand very often, the opposition isn't generally going to get two goals off great deflections and the Caps have generally been solid enough defensively they won't allow as many odd-man rushes as they did last night. The Caps had an off-night defensively against a very good offensive team. It happens to every team and until it happens at least in consecutive games I won't worry about it.

Speaking of off-nights, the referees didn't have their best night either (to say the least). They missed at least one too-many-men call for each team, missed Brashear getting Gerber behind the Sens net, called Fleischmann for hooking a Senators player but not a Senators player for hooking Fleischmann only a second earlier (which caused the turnover and led to the hook by Flash), got Morrisonn for interference but not the Senators playing for holding onto Morrisonn's jersey on the way down (see picture) and let Kozlov get run into the boards, from behind, without the puck, after the whistle by Chris Phillips. The only consolation is that it didn't seem to affect the outcome of the game - the Capitals were the better team and won.

The Caps picked up one point relative to the last playoff spot in the East and are now only five out.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Alex Ovechkin
- 4 goals, 1 assist, +2...who else could it be?
(2) Alex Semin - 1 goal, 2 assists
(3) Nicklas Backstrom - 1 goal, 2 assists, +1

Quick Hits

  • Poti's play to control the puck with his skates and make a quick pass to Ovechkin for Ovechkin's second goal could easily became the overlooked play of the game.
  • I mocked Chris Neil after his fight with Brashear but I have to hand it to the guy - apparently getting the crap kicked out of you is great way to fire up your team.
  • The only Capitals player who wasn't either positive or even in +/- was David Steckel.
  • I've really been wanting to have Ovechkin have a big game so I could say that the fire eye'd boy gave 'em all the slip. So...there's my ultra-smooth way to include indie music in my writeup.
All photos AP

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Caps/Penguins Recap

Capitals 3, Penguins 4 (OT)

It's funny how the Capitals seem to manage to find a way to make fairly successful games feel like soul-crushing losses. It happened in Detroit, it happened on Long Island and it happened again last night as the Capitals picked up a point in the second game of a back-to-back set in different cities, in which their struggling goaltender had to come off the bench (and not even the Caps' bench, the special Visiting Backup Goalie bench) due to injury, without their best player for the last ten minutes and in front of a hostile sell out crowd. Picking up a point on the road almost always deserves to be called a success and the Capitals were able to do so last night, pulling out of sole possession of the Eastern Conference basement.

That's not to say the team should be completely happy with pick up only one point in a game where they could have picked up two but not being shut out on the road is, at the very least, acceptable.

I think it'd be hard to overstate how well Olaf Kolzig played or the importance of seeing him play as well as he did. Aside of making several impressive saves Kolzig looked sharp, positionally and technically sound and confident. For the first time in months he looked like he was ready to be the backbone of the team again. I've already seen some Caps fans who want to blame Kolzig for the Penguins overtime goal, but it wasn't his fault. Sidney Crosby was driving to slot with the puck and made a great pass to send the puck over to a wide open Sergei Gonchar, who in turn took a great shot. For Kolzig to have made that save would have been quite impressive and you can't fault him for letting it get past.

Kolzig was solid against the Lightning and very good against the Pens, especially when you consider he had played the previous night and had to come in cold, and again it'd be hard to overstate how encouraging his recent play is. Even at his best Kolzig isn't going to be a dominant keeper or steal a lot of games but if he can play like he did last night every night the Capitals aren't going to have to worry about their goaltending.

It's still hard not to be a bit disappointed with the way this night played out. Going into the game a win, combined with favorable results around the league, could have put the Capitals just four points out of the Eastern Conference's last playoff spot. At the moment the Caps are still six out, having neither gained nor lost any ground last night.

One final note: the Pens resurgence that allowed them to come from behind started when Shaone Morrisonn was called for roughing with less than five minutes left. I didn't see the whole play since the cameras focused on the play but it looked like he was called for going into the boards with Evgeni Malkin and if that's the case it was a bad call. Morrisonn was going to play another Penguins player who had the puck (I believe it was Crosby) and Malkin stepped in, essentially setting a moving pick. Regardless of whether Morrisonn gave him more than he should have and earned the two for roughing it sure looked like Malkin should have been called for interference.

Quick Hits

  • Ovechkin's goal was made possible by a nice play by Backstrom - his decision to not play the puck.
  • Quite a nice night for Brashear - a goal, a fight and four hits (all of which came in the first period).
  • European players are often accused of being soft, but both Alexander Semin and Malkin both play with reckless abandon, get knocked around, get up and don't complain, as evidence by last night's game.
  • The shot Brian Pothier scored on was a bomb.
  • I miss Mark Tinordi.
  • Early indications are that Brent Johnson will have to miss 2-4 weeks with the injury he suffered last night. Word is that Ovechkin's injury was a cut, so he shouldn't miss any more time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Eric Fehr Update

It could have easily and understandably been missed, a short paragraph in the notes section at the end of Tarik's Washington Post writeup from last night's game, but it potentially has significant ramifications for the Capitals:

Prospect Eric Fehr, who has been out since February because of a mysterious hip ailment, recently has begun ramping up his rehabilitation with Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League. General Manager George McPhee said last night that Fehr, a 2003 first-round draft pick, could play as soon as next month, though he likely would play in Hershey first. . . .
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The Capitals have struggled to get offense from the right wing position all season as Viktor Kozlov (three goals) and Tomas Fleischmann (eleven points) have not been as productive as it was hoped and Chris Clark and Alexander Semin (who's a natural left wing) missed significant time due to injury, and Fehr is regarded as a skilled offensive player who's especially adept at scoring goals. If Fehr does continue to get healthy it wouldn't be surprising to see Fehr called up and contributing with the Capitals once he's in game shape.

That might sound silly given that Fehr has two goals and one assist in 25 NHL games. But consider this: last year Fehr put up 21 goals, 19 assists, an 18.33 shooting percentage and was +20 in 40 games with the Bears. For a young prospect like Fehr those numbers generally mean they're ready to contribute at the next level.

Now it's possible that Fehr might not play at all this season, in D.C. or in Hershey and it's possible he may play in Hershey and not quite be able to get back into the swing of things enough to warrant an NHL call up this season. But the best case scenario, given the numbers that Fehr had in Hershey last season and the way other former Bears have responded under Boudreau, is that Fehr could come up for the last 10-15 games with the Capitals and provide the same kind of impact a solid deadline deal could during the final stretch run...provided the Caps are still in it at that point, of course.

Caps/Lightning Recap: Caps Win 3-2

Capitals 3, Lightning 2

It took overcoming a hot goaltender on a video-reviewed goal in the final minutes of the third, but when the final horn sounded Capitals fan were able to breathe a sigh of relief as their team came out on top in a game that at times looked like it could become yet another game in which the Capitals outplayed the opposition but were unable to pull out a win.

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On the day Bruce Boudreau was rewarded with the removal of the "interim" tag from his title he proved his coaching mettle by juggling the lines to start the third period, which the Capitals in turn dominated. I don't mean to pick on Glen Hanlon but that really is the kind of adjustment that the Capitals didn't seem to be making when he was behind the bench this season.

While we're on the subject of coaches I thought I'd share a thought I had during the game: John Tortorella is sort of the NHL's version of Ozzie Guillen - he got lucky and won the championship one year because he was in the right place at the right time, not because he has any managerial talent and right now his most distinguishing characteristic is that he's a world-class blowhard.

The first period of this game was an example of what having a good goaltender versus an average goaltender can do for a team. In that period the Caps had twelve shots and three or four excellent scoring chances chances while the Lightning had nine shots and a one decent scoring chance, yet each team picked up one goal and they went into the intermission tied. That's what's great about having a guy play like Karri Ramo did that period - it takes a perfect play to beat and sometimes even that isn't enough (remember Ovechkin's chance on the powerplay?) That's why having a great goalie is such an advantage. As long as you score a decent number of goals and don't leave them out to dry six times a game, your team will win more than they'll lose.

In the Capitals net Olaf Kolzig had his first solid game in a while and while he wasn't spectacular, and I'm sure would have like to have the first goal back, his performance was a key part of the Capitals win. Even without making highlight-reel saves Kolzig gave his team enough confidence that they could play their game without having to be overly focused on their own end by correcting some of the mistakes he's made recently, specifically holding the post well and doing a better job with rebound control.

Final thought: this game wasn't nearly as close as the score and if Ramo hadn't made so many great saves the Capitals could have easily had six goals.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) David Steckel - 2 goals, 1 assist, +2
(2) Matt Bradley - 1 goal, 1 assist, +3
(3) Olaf Kolzig - 18 saves on 20 shots

Quick Hits

  • Kolzig didn't look very good on Vincent Lecavalier's goal, but that one is on Viktor Kozlov for first turning the puck over at the opponent's blue line and then failing to clear the puck out of the front of the net.
  • Pet peeve alert: people who yell "Shoot!" on the powerplay irritate me for oh so many reasons, the biggest being: the team has a much better chance of scoring by setting something up that by just shooting and when you're at the blue line and there's a 6'2'', 215 pound player bearing down on you and at least two of your teammates are open, what's the better play: to pass it off and to knock it into the opposition's skates and give them a shorthanded breakaway? It's especially bad when the team's powerplay is clicking (like the Caps was early last night) and generating shots (five in four minutes).
  • Alex Ovechkin is not playing his best game right now, registering no points against the Lightning while taking the Capitals only penalty and leading the team in giveaways with three and taking more than 59 minutes to register a shot against the Islanders on the 23rd.
  • Memo to last night's refs: it's still cross-checking even if it happens after the whistle. I'm all for letting players clear out the other team in front of the net with your hands, but cross-checking is a penalty because it's dangerous. It happening after the play doesn't make it any less so.
  • For most of the first two periods I kept thinking 'Geez, Pothier sure is shooting a lot for a guy coming off a broken thumb. I don't think that's such a good idea, if I were the coach I'd tell him to look for a pass'. This is why I am not a coach.
  • If the Capitals schedule consisted of playing the Lightning 82 times would Dave Steckel lead the league in goals?
  • If Steckel didn't, would Pothier?
  • Brooks Laich won 9 of 11 on faceoffs.
  • Tamp Bay had four minor penalties; the Capitals had one.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Caps/Isles Recap: Caps Downed 3-2 in OT

Capitals 2, Islanders 3 (OT)

The Capitals would have been a bit fortunate to have come out of last night's game against the Islanders with two points. The teams were fairly evenly matched, but the Capitals were outshot (allegedly 31-16) and would have needed a little more luck than they had to pick up the two. But they deserved better than what they got: losing on a soft goal, in overtime, while their most dynamic defensemen lay behind the net with blood gushing out of a gash in his ear.

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In this morning's Washington Post Olaf Kolzig was quoted as saying "Over the last two weeks, going back to the Devils game in Jersey, I've probably given up a goal [each game] that I could be better on, that I can stop". At the risk of beating a dead horse, that was the case tonight. You can't fault Kolzig on either of the Islanders' first two goals. The first was in equal parts the fault of John Erskine, Jeff Schultz and Miroslav Satan. The second was bad luck more than anything else - you can't cover everywhere in the offensive zone and below the circles, fifteen feet from the net is a spot that has to be considered a low priority. Very nice play by Bill Guerin to put that one in.

But Park's goal in overtime was completely Olie's fault. It wasn't from a good angle, it wasn't with men in front of the net, it wasn't off a nice pass and it wasn't a rebound. It was a weak shot that, like so many this season, simply found its way through Kolzig's legs and into the net, and it wound up costing the Capitals an opportunity at an extra point.

This Capitals are currently seven points behind Florida for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. In the ten days alone Kolzig has cost the Capitals at least two points (from the Buffalo game) and legitimate chances at two more (against the Isles and Red Wings). With solid goaltending the Capitals could be in the Panthers' rearview mirror by this point. With good goaltending they could be knocking on the door, three points (or less) out of a playoff spot. Instead they're still seven out, with a huge hill in front of them.

I've been hard on Kolzig in recent days, I know. I'm not trying to be unfair - Kolzig is as classy as a professional athlete as there is and has done more for the Washington Capitals that any other play in terms of on-ice performance and off-ice activities. I'm hoping he turns it around, because he deserves success for his dedication, professionalism and loyalty to the Capitals. The good news is that Kolzig's problem is that he is allowing too many soft goals, not that he's regularly getting beat because his skills have clearly diminished. At this point Kolzig can still be a decent NHL goalie if he can stop letting so many soft goals in , but probably nothing more. Here's hoping he pulls it together and helps the Capitals pick up a lot of points in a hurry.

It sure would have seemed weird to say at the beginning of the season, but if the Capitals make the playoffs it might be in spite of Kolzig's play, not because of it.

Since Kolzig's debacle against the Sabres on the 13th, Ilya Bryzgalov has allowed five goals in 184 minutes of play and stopped 96 of 101 shots (95.05%), and won three games in a row.


That, my friends, was a clinic.
-Islanders television commentator after Alexander Semin's second period goal

Quick Hits
  • Maybe this is silly to say coming from a Caps fan, but the ice looked pretty bad on The Island last night.
  • The Islanders television commentators also noted Ovechkin's contract running up and then mentioned that Ovechkin liked the team, like the city and that the Capitals had a lot of young talent to play with him. Funny how guys who aren't blinded by an original six/big market sense of entitlement see things so much differently, huh?
  • Lots of Caps fans were scratching their heads over the Erskine/Schultz pairing before the game due to the duo's lack of puckhandling skill and foot speed/agility. It appears the concerns were somewhat founded because these two factors lead directly to the Islanders' first goal.
  • The Islanders certainly helped the Caps out tonight, more than once taking themselves off the powerplay with penalties and more than once taking unnecessary penalties in the offensive zone.
  • The official stats say the Capitals had 16 shots on goal. I'd have to question that number. They definitely seemed to be getting ones on net that weren't being counted on the shot total (and for what it's worth the Islander television commentators agreed with me).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Caps Chat!

CapsChat from Friday, with Tarik from the Post.

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Interesting selections:

Fairfax, Va.: The Caps rank dead-last in attendance this season and have always been near the bottom of the rankings even when the team was decent. I'm a huge fan of all Washington teams, but in the back of my mind, I get worried that the NHL may try to move the Caps if the attendance doesn't pick up. Are the Caps safe in D.C. or are they one or two seasons away from being the KC Caps?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps are safe in DC. Trust me on that one. And if you are basing "last in attendance" on's numbers, those are really off.

There's announced attendance and there's real attendance. Some teams give away 3,000-4,000 tickets per night to boost their announced attendance. The Caps give away less than 1,000.

The "real" numbers are known only to the owners and the NHLPA execs.

That said, the Caps' attendance on most nights stinks. It should be much better. But a winning team would help a lot.

The Capitals are not owned by the NHL. They are owned by Ted Leonsis. Leonsis would have to want to move them, not the NHL. And given that Leonsis owns the Mystics and is in line to buy the Wizards and the Verizon Center, there's no chance he'll be moving this team anywhere.

Friendship Heights: Any frustration from Caps management/coaches about their offseason free-agent acquisitions?

Poti has yet to score, Kozlov has only three goals despite getting a lot of ice time with Ovechkin and Nylander is a minus 15 and all three seem to be MIA for long stretches of games.

Or were these just bad signings and a reflection of management not the players?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't think anyone is overly disappointed in Poti. But he does need to start playing with more consistency. A goal (or five) would be nice, too.

Kozlov, on the other hand, has been a disappointment. I don't think anyone would argue that. Not even him.

I haven't got a good feel for how management views Nylander. He's putting up points, but he does seem to be on the ice a lot when the other team scores. As Boudreau said, some people think plus-minus is a flawed stat. But, as he said, if one player has a much higher minus than everyone else, something is wrong.

I really wish Kozlov would stop smiling when he missing his chances. Other than that I don't really have much to add. It's an excellent question.

Atlanta: I agree that Kolzig has been hung out to dry on a number of the goals against him this year, but he's also let in a lot of soft ones on wraparounds, rebounds he could have controlled better and especially through the 5-hole. Given that the team is playing pretty well right now but Kolzig is not, is there any indication the team (or coach) is losing confidence in him?

Tarik El-Bashir: I spoke to Boudreau today about Olie. He said he wants Olie to pick up his play, but that Olie is still his guy. I did find it interesting, though, that he didn't name Olie the starter for tomorrow

My question. So you know it's important.

Finn: Tarik,

What is your honest opinion of Kolzig based on his play this season? Do you think it was a mistake by the Caps not to pick up Bryzgalov? Would Bryzgalov as an UFA cost the team less than Kolzig at $5.45 million?

Thank you.

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm told the Caps didn't pick up Bryzgalov because they were concerned about upsetting the dressing room's chemistry.

But if I were running the team, I would have snagged him. Because even if you're not going to re-sign him, you could flip him at the deadline for a high-round pick.

Thank you, Finn. Thank you, Tarik. I have defended McPhee in the past, but I just don't understand this move. Bryzgalov is better than both Johnson and Kozlig, is a legitimate number one goaltender, is fairly young (27), could have been had for nothing and would serve to bridge the gap between Kolzig and Neuvirth/Varlamov very well.

McLean: Nylander is no Hart candidate, but isn't part of his role to be a mentor to the rookie Backstrom? That's worth something outside of the stats.

Tarik El-Bashir: That is very true. The two of them spend a lot of time together at practice, in the dressing room and on the road. Nyls has definitely taken Backstrom under his wing.

That cannot be underestimated.

Atlanta: Speaking of Kozlov as a disappointment -- how do Coach Boudreau and others in management feel about the fact Kozlov is frequently seen smiling/laughing after missing good scoring chances?

Tarik El-Bashir: I was just talking about this with someone. He's obviously not happy that he missed the net, or that he's struggling. It's just an unfortunate expression that he makes.

Me again! I had considered that - you know what they say: "sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying".

Frederick, Md.: I don't get putting Erskine in Pothier's place over Eminger. Eminger and Pothier play a similar style where Erskine is more compatible with Jurcina or Schultz in terms of a big body. Just me?

Tarik El-Bashir: I asked Boudreau about that today. He said that Erskine has been the No. 7 all year, so he's the first to go into the lineup when someone gets injured.

Erskine later told me that he was scheduled to play tomorrow anyway as a part of the D-man rotation.
My thoughts exactly. I still think Eminger is better than Erskine. Hopefully he gets a chance to prove it, getting in the rotation now that Pothier is hurt.

Too Good to be True

Yet another article proclaiming Alexander Ovechkin is possibly headed on his way out, this one is from the Montreal Gazette and titled "Ovechkin joining Habs rare rumour that has legs". Alright, so fans of Les Habitants can dream, can't they? But the best part of this article is this:

All it will take is, oh, $120 million over 15 years and a slew of first-round picks.
Caps fans should hope so! Given that the Capitals can match any offer another team signs Ovechkin to, if Ovechkin were accept that offer sheet what he would be doing would be assuring that he would be in a Capitals uniform until he's 37, at the cost of eight million dollars a year to the Capitals. Think the Caps would take that chance? I do. Of course, Ovechkin knows this (unlike oh so many stupid journalists) and unless he's willing to commit to D.C. for that long, he won't sign a 15-year offer sheet.

And I can't help being offended by this:
Or the Canadiens can go another route: If the Capitals are reasonably certain they're bound to lose Ovechkin, the Habs might be able to swing a multi-player deal, offering Washington any player on the roster not named Carey Price. The Canadiens get Ovechkin, while the Caps get a balanced lineup capable of winning hockey games.

and referring anyone to an earlier response I had to a similar proposal: No young talent? No depth on the team or in the farm system? Alexander Semin, Shaone Morrison, Boyd Gordon, Matt Pettinger, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, Josh Godfrey, Semen Varlamov, Michael Neuvirth, Chris Bourque, Francois Bouchard, Sasha Pokulok. Yeah, the Capitals need more young talent.

Plus they're 7-5-2 since Boudreau took over. Plus they've had a lot of injuries. Plus they just outshot the Canadiens 37-21, so I don't know that's the lineup the Caps will want to be pilfering if they're trying to get better.

Really guys, you're professional journalists. Is it so hard to do a little research?

Caps Goaltending Needs an Upgrade

It's a fact that's been beating down on Capitals fans for most of this season, and it was again underscored during last night's 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens: you can't make the playoffs with a mediocre goalie. There are simply too many teams with good goaltenders for that to happen.

Let me explain. In my mind there are four classes of goaltenders in the NHL (please note the examples I use are how good the players are right now, not their career potential):

Tier I - "Do

Dominant goaltenders have three distinct characteristics. One is that they have no obvious weaknesses. They are technically and positionally sound, control rebounds, play smart and are just as hard to beat up high as down low. The second is that they very rarely allow soft goals. The third characteristic is mental toughness: these netminders aren't going to get rattled when things don't go their way (which is going to happen sooner or later if you play in net).

Results-wise these goalies will virtually never cost their team the game and will in fact keep their team in games they have no business being in and will "steal" games for their team on a regular basis.
I would estimate that there are between three and five such goalies in the NHL right now, the prototypical example being Roberto Luongo (pictured).

Tier II - "Very Good"

These goalies are generally solid and can be counted to play a good game the vast majority of the time, but are not quite at that dominant level because they aren't top-notch is every aspect of the game. They may have only average lateral movement, five-hole coverage, positioning or rebound control. They may allow too many soft goals, not make enough big saves or get rattled too easily.

Although goalies in this second tier are not dominant night in and night out they are difficult to beat and it usually takes a nice play, a rebound, a screen or sustained pressure to get one by them. While they won't steal games for their teams on a fr
equent basis it's not exactly a rare occurrence either. Although you could technically do better as a coach or general manager, any solid team should have success with a goalie of this caliber. Ryan Miller would be an example of a Tier II goalie.

Tier III - "Decent"

An average goalie is just that - average. They probably don't excel at any particular aspect and the areas where they are above average are offset by other areas where they are below average - or worse. Tier III goalies have clearly exploitable holes that they are unable to compensate for without making themselves even more vulnerable. Soft goals are not uncommon and if the goalie steals more than a game or two a season for his team he's outperformed expectations. These goalies are often "tweeners" - not quite good enough to be a starter for a contending team but better than most backups. Examples would include Marc Denis and Vesa Toskala.

Tier IV - "Mediocre"

Mediocre goals will very rarely steal a game for their team, will let in soft goals on a regular basis and have easily exploitable holes visible even to casual fans. While Tier IV goalies may make passable backups any team that is starting one is going to be in trouble, no matter how skilled the rest of their lineup is. For an example think of any unspectacular career backup, such as John Grahame or Curtis Sanford.

Goaltenders are not necessarily normally distributed and these tiers are based more on how difficult a goalie is to beat than how good they are compared to other goalies in the league. I believe that the distribution of goaltending tiers is significantly different than it has been in the past. When I was
younger (and playing as a goalie myself) it seemed to me there were 2-4 dominant goalies and another 5-8 very good goalies in the league at any given time and that most teams were starting decent (Tier III) goalies. Now I believe there are 3-5 dominant goalies, at least 10 more very good goalies* and as many as 30 decent goalies.

Why? Better coaching has lead to better technical ability, so fewer holes open up to shooters. Bigger equipment and bigger players at the position mean that when those holes do open up they're smaller than ever before.

That a team needs
an above average goaltender to be a serious contender and, in most cases, to get into the playoffs has not changed. What has changed is what it means to be an average goalie in the NHL. Just as major league pitchers now throw more pitches and throw harder than in the past and just as NHL skaters are bigger, faster and have harder shots than their predecessors, goalies have gotten better.

So where is Kolzig in all this? In my opinion Kolzig borders between a Tier III and Tier IV goalie at this point in his career. Kolzig is not the kind of goalie a contending team would want - he has poor lateral movement and has let in far too many soft goals this season, mostly on wraparounds and through his five-hole. But at the same time he is not a clear-cu
t backup.

Regardless of whether Kolzig is a Tier III or Tier IV goalie, he is well below average for the league and ranks 37th in save percentage and 35th in goals against average (GAA). This is not a new trend for Kolzig. Last season he tied for 17th in save percentage and 33rd in GAA; the year before he was 33rd and 44th. Part of that is due to the fact that the Capitals were not a very good team (to say the
least), but the numbers suggest what should have been apparent to anyone watching the games: Kolzig was now a average NHL goalie at best. This season having Kolzig be average would be an improvement. With so many talented goalies in the NHL right now a team has to have a guy who is at least on the border of Tier II and Tier III to be a playoff contender, unless the rest of their team is very talented.

So can the Capitals make playoffs with Kolzig? They can, but it will be difficult. What would be ideal for a team with so many young players (including the league's youngest defense corps) would be to have a solid netminder who's going to steal them some games - not one they'll have to bail out more often than he bails them out. But the Capitals are a dynamic, talented team that's getting better every day and they may soon be able to carry a mediocre goalie and still win with regularity.

If that sounds crazy, consider this: how much better are Mike Green, Jeff Schultz and Nicklas Backstrom playing right now than they were in October? With so much young talent this could be a significantly stronger team in less than a month. If the Capitals can have their key players continue to develop quickly they stand a very good chance at being a solid enough to carry a questionable goalie. Pittsburgh made the playoffs last year, didn't they?

Caps fans ought to hope the team can do so because General Manager George McPhee's hands are tied at this point in terms of trying to bring in a goalie to supplant Kolzig as the starter as such a player would be difficult to acquire and the inevitable rift in the clubhouse from Kolzig being forced to accept such a demotion would likely ruin any team chemistry. It's not that Olie isn't a team guy, he is. But he's also very competitive...and not very good at hiding it when he is upset.

The offseason is different story though. In fact, I think I heard Joe B. say Cristobal Huet would be a free agent after this season...

*Goalies who I think would clearly fit into either Tier I or Tier II include the ones listed below. There are several others who may or may not be in Tier II, such as Martin Gerber, Ray Emery and Carey Price.

Martin Brodeur
Ilya Bryzgalov
Rick DiPietro
Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Cristobal Huet
Miikka Kiprusoff
Pascal Leclaire
Henrik Lundqvist
Roberto Luongo
Ryan Miller
Evgeni Nabokov
Marty Turco
Tomas Vokoun

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Caps/Habs Recap

Canadiens 5, Capitals 2

How do you outshoot a team 37-21, have more than a 50% advantage over them in scoring chances and still lose? The answer: difference in the quality of netminding. If not for Cristobal Huet's performance last night the Canadiens, in all likelihood, don't win that game.

The Canadiens didn't have a high number of good scoring chances and when the Capitals defense was good it was very good. But when it was bad it was very bad. The Capitals held the Canadiens to only one shot in the first half of the first period (six for the period) and only three for the first nineteen minutes of the second (five in all in the period), but they also conceded the first two goals because they left men wide open in front of their own net.

As for Kolzig: it's hard to fault a goaltender when their defense leave men wide open in front of the net or let screened shots get through, but it's also hard to totally absolve a goalie who's stopped only eight of eleven shots through two periods. The Canadiens first and third goals were stoppable - the first wasn't a great shot, even though it was in close and the third was through a screen but also wasn't a great shot. You certainly can't blame Kolzig on either of those, but it would have been nice if he'd stopped one of them. The Canadiens second goal was one where Olie couldn't have done much - if your defense is going to let the other team have that opportunity you don't have much of a chance as a netminder. That said, Kozlig should have done something. He literally didn't have any of the net covered. Not one. Single. Inch. In fact, Tomas Plekanec had to miss the net to hit Kolzig with the puck (by the way, Merry Christmas, Tomas. If you can't even hit the net from four feet out with no one one you, you'd better believe it's a gift when you score.)

The score might give the impression that this way the type of game the team was accustomed to playing under Hanlon. It wasn't. The Capitals played well for the vast majority of the game, created chances for themselves in the offensive zone and held the Canadiens to 21 shots. This, along with Boudreau's attitude, gives me faith the Capitals will come out strong next time.

Quick Hits

  • Al Koken reported during the third period that Brian Pothier had broken his thumb and is week-to-week. Now's your chance, Steve. Show us you shouldn't have been sitting all this time.
  • Interesting decision to Boudreau to play Ovechkin on the point with Pothier out and the team in need of goals. I like it.
  • Ovechkin needs a new stickhandling move. He does the one he does, where he tries to put the puck through the opponent's legs and go through them, very well. But he tries it every time he's one-on-one with a defender. NHL advance scouts are going to pick up on that and NHL defenders are going to stop it when they know it's coming. Ovie either needs to get a new move or start getting rid of the puck, because all he's doing now is turning it over.
  • Nicklas Backstrom's goal was a very nice play. Taking a bouncing puck at putting in the net from that angle, with the backhand takes a lot of skill.
  • If I were Coach Boudreau I would consider calling Viktor Kozlov into my office and ask him why he thinks it's so funny that he can't score goals.
  • Did anyone else raise any eyebrow when Craig Lauglin said "this period's just about over" when there was 8:30 remaining in the second? At that point (8:30) the period was 57.5% over. Does this mean the Capitals had "just about" as many points (70) as the Senators (112) and Red Wings (124) last year?
  • While we're on the subject of Laughlin, he apparently thought his comment that the "teams must think the ice time over over at nine o'clock" was the funniest thing he's ever heard because he was giggling uncontrollably for a good ten seconds afterwards. What I thought was amusing was that Beninati's comment that "we'd better get them some orange wedges" that came right after was much better than Laughlin's.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Brophy Strikes Again

Mike Brophy is becoming my favorite hockey writer. Because he's so damn easy to mock.

Apparently not satisfied with embarrassing himself to the hockey community with this gem about why the Capitals should looked to trade Ovechkin (my commentary here), Brophy has penned a new piece about why the NHL should retain the instigator penalty.

I'm not nuts about removing the instigator rule; I think good arguments can be made both for keeping it and eliminating it. I'm not going to attack Brophy for his opinion, but rather for his reasoning and writing. After much consideration (must have been at least four seconds) I decided to use the tried-and-true method favored by the pros at Thus I give you the glory of Mike Brophy.

You hear it nearly every week – get rid of the instigator rule.


While we’re at it, let’s arm motorists, so if somebody follows too closely or cuts you off, you can pull out your piece and shoot out their tires. Let’s give grocery store cashiers baseball bats so if somebody gets in the 10-or-fewer items line with 12, they can be kneecapped.

Best. Analogy. Ever.

I'm kind of tempted to just let that sit and speak for itself, but I feel that I have to dig beyond the superficial, surface level of idiocy that jumps out of this article. Because it's just more fun that way.

The surface-level idiocy I referred to is the general absurdity of the analogy. But the ineffective use of analogy goes beyond that because it compares different things. And I just can't let butchering of the English language stand.

The issue of the instigator rule is an issue of severity of punishment. What Brophy talks about in his analogy [motorists; grocery store clerks] is providing people with the means to commit a violent act more effectively. The instigator penalty does not deal with means to commit an illegal act. It deals with punishment. These are two very different things. Acceptable analogies using the same basic framework would include:

(1) "Removing the instigator penalty would be like reducing the jail time for shooting out someone's tires because they cut you off from [current sentence] to [new, lesser sentence] - it's just not enough of a deterrent."

(2) "Arming motorists so they can shoot out the tires of people who have cut them off would be like giving grocery store cashiers baseball bats so if somebody gets in the 10-or-fewer items line with 12, they can be kneecapped or allowing NHL enforcer to carry sharpened sticks to injure players that have offended their team in some manner."

I'll assume Brophy didn't go with option number one because it doesn't have shock value and isn't "clever" and didn't go with option two because it makes no sense, since the issue of what equipment players can carry is not affected by the instigator rule. Why he chose to combine the two into a statement that makes even less sense is beyond me.

Oh, and let’s allow Chris Simon to drop his gloves and beat Ryan Hollweg to a pulp because Hollweg, who is not a fighter, has the audacity to hit him. Let’s let Chris Simon slug the snot out of Jarkko Ruutu because, like Hollweg, he banged the Islanders’ aging tough guy.

Keep in mind that this passage is already stupid because it references the aforementioned stupid and meaningless analogy. But then also consider this: "let’s allow Chris Simon to drop his gloves and beat Ryan Hollweg to a pulp because Hollweg, who is not a fighter, has the audacity to hit him".

Now watch this.

It's currently 6:56:01 PM, December 19. Ryan Hollweg fought 13 times in the 2006-07 season. It is now 6:56:45, December 19. It took me 44 seconds to research and write that.

I'm not a professional journalist in any sense. Especially not for one of the biggest hockey publications on the planet. I am a graduate student in Atlanta killing time and watching the replay of the Senators/Bruins game from last night. Yet I was willing and able to research this post before I posted it. Can't Brophy do the same? And if he can't (or isn't willing to), and as a result makes such an obvious oversight, why should anyone take his opinion seriously?

Here’s a novel idea for NHL players – if you don’t like the way Ryan Hollweg or Jarkko Ruutu hit your teammates, hit them back. Drive them hard into the boards. Crunch them with an open-ice hit. Get even or, heaven forbid, drop your gloves and fight them whether they want to fight back or not. Take that whopping risk of receiving an extra minor penalty for being the instigator.

So then, just to recap:

Oh, and let’s allow Chris Simon to drop his gloves and beat Ryan Hollweg to a pulp because Hollweg, who is not a fighter, has the audacity to hit him. Let’s let Chris Simon slug the snot out of Jarkko Ruutu because, like Hollweg, he banged the Islanders’ aging tough guy. Give me a break.


Here’s a novel idea for NHL players – if you don’t like the way Ryan Hollweg or Jarkko Ruutu hit your teammates, hit them back...drop your gloves and fight them whether they want to fight back or not. Take that whopping risk of receiving an extra minor penalty for being the instigator.

So...this article's first point is that the idea that players should police themselves and fight is ridiculous ("give me a break"). This article's second point is that the much better solution is to...fight with opposing agitators whether they want to or not.

Oh. Well, at least that's clear.

Also, the phrase
whopping risk of receiving an extra minor penalty for being the instigator is incorrect as well. Being the instigator results in a two minute minor, a five minute fighting major and a ten minute misconduct. Again, where's the research, Brophy? For that matter, where are the editors?

The NHL will never, ever get rid of the instigator penalty. It would be so politically incorrect it defies consideration. The league says repeatedly it is comfortable with where fighting is now, largely because stiff penalties have eliminated nasty brawls. Fact is, we see more brawls in baseball than we do in hockey these days.

You think Gary Bettman is going to stand before a microphone and tell the world the league has decided, for the good of the game, the NHL will let goons run the show? Ain’t gonna happen, folks.

If the NHL can give a guy on his eighth suspension 30 games for a play that could have easily ended another player's career and adversely affected his quality of life outside of hockey for the rest of his life less than a year after he used his stick like a baseball bat against a guy's face (an infraction which resulted in only 25 games) and give a guy who attacked another play from behind, cracking several vertebrae and not only ending his NHL career but taking away the chance to ever play hockey again 20 games, I think they can justify removing the instigator penalty.

Contrary to the opinion of some, removal of the instigator penalty would not turn NHL games into brawls on a regular basis. Why? The aggressor penalty that's still on the books in the NHL, which reads:
"The aggressor in an altercation shall be the player who continues to throw punches in an attempt to inflict punishment on his opponent who is in a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant. A player must be deemed the aggressor when he continues throwing and landing punches in a further attempt to inflict punishment and/or injury on his opponent who is no longer in a position to defend himself."
With this rule on the books players are still protected from completely unprovoked attacks or from being attacked after they've gone into a defenseless position, but the
player who has challenged an opposing player to a fight won't get an extra penalty for dropping their gloves first.

There's a decent case to be made for the instigator penalty, folks. But this ain't it.

Be sure to check back next week when Brophy advocates the return of the glowing puck!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

All the Cool Bloggers Are Doing It... I will too.

Thanks to (1) getting older and smarter (2) the internet as a means of fact-checking and (3) the genius that is, I have discovered the joys of bad sports journalism. And boy do we have a whopper today, in the form of a Hockey News blog entry by Mike Brophy that argues the Capitals should trade Alexander Ovechkin (or at least look into trading him).

Read what Peerless (The Peerless Prognosticator) and CapsChick (A View From the Cheap Seats) had to say.

The argument goes something like: The Capitals aren't winning with Ovechkin and he's not going to be happy there and Washington doesn't deserve him, thus they should trade him in a deal reminiscent of the Lindros-for-the-world swap.

Now for the fun part: picking apart this argument bit-by-bit.

Point #1: Ovechkin is/will be unhappy in Washington: But what if Ovechkin doesn’t want to play in Washington any longer?

Why Point #1 is stupid: Despite the fantasies of some bigger/older hockey markets Ovechkin hasn't said anything to indicate he is unhappy in Washington. He say he likes the team, likes the fans, likes the city, likes his teammates and likes the direction the franchise is headed. He has said he wished he played in front of bigger crowds, but I'm sure he know that when the Caps starting winning, the fans will come. Maybe writers in other hockey markets are hoping that if they keep saying Ovechkin wants out of D.C., Ovechkin will decide that's the case.

Point #2: Washington doesn't deserve Ovechkin. What if the young superstar tells the Caps he’d prefer to play someplace a little more cosmopolitan than Washington?

Why Point #2 is stupid: With its highly educated and highly skilled workforce, abundance of restaurants/bars and myriad of cultural opportunities (including many of the world's best museums, which are free), Washington clearly doesn't stack up in terms of cosmopolitan-ness, right? Naturally Ovechkin will want to go to some other cultural hotbed like Detroit, Buffalo, Edmonton or Raleigh. This statement by Brophy is one of those ones that's so stupid it makes the whole article lose credibility. If anything, the fact that Washington is so cosmopolitan hurts the Capitals because there's so much else to do.

Really though this just comes down to another point writers have been trying to make - Washington doesn't deserve Ovechkin. Why is that? Because the Capitals haven't won a Cup? Philly hasn't won one since 1975; Toronto since 1967, but I'd bet no one would complain they don't deserve Ovechkin. Because of low attendance? Over the last ten years the Capitals have outdrawn the Bruins six times, even though Washington has been terrible for several years. Yet, would anyone claim Boston is not enough of a hockey town to deserve a player like Ovechkin?

Just for the record here's my cosmopolitan-ness rankings for NHL cities:
(1) New York
(2) Washington
(3) Toronto

Point #3: The Capitals aren't going to win any time soon. Let’s face it, with Ovechkin in their lineup, the Capitals have shown no signs of being a playoff team.

Why Point #3 is stupid: The Capitals are five points out of a playoff spot and seven points out of the division lead and fifth spot in the East. They're 7-4-2 since Boudreau took over. They have this year beaten Ottawa and Detroit, in Ottawa and Detroit, when each team was the best in the league.

Point #4: The Caps don't have enough young talent/enough depth. Let’s face it, with Ovechkin in their lineup, the Capitals have shown no signs of being a playoff team...There are no guarantees re-signing Ovechkin will make the Capitals a successful franchise. In fact, if history has taught us anything, moving a young star just might be the best medicine for a struggling team...[discussion of Lindros trade]

Why Point #4 is stupid: No young talent? No depth on the team or in the farm system? Alexander Semin, Shaone Morrison, Boyd Gordon, Matt Pettinger, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, Josh Godfrey, Semen Varlamov, Michael Neuvirth, Chris Bourque, Francois Bouchard, Sasha Pokulok. Yeah, the Capitals need more young talent.

Point #5: The Capitals could get a haul similar to what the Nordiques got for Lindros. When the franchise was still located in Quebec, Eric Lindros put a gun to the team’s head, demanding a trade. The Nordiques considered a few options and ultimately traded Lindros for a package that included Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, a first round draft pick and $15 million.

Why Point #5 is stupid: The Nordiques got six players for Lindros, $15 million and two first round picks. The six players were: a sure-fire Hall of Famer and probably the most dominant player in the league in his prime (Forsberg), a very good goalie (Hextall), a tough guy with some skill (Simon), a great defensive player with good offensive upside (Ricci), a solid defenseman (Huffman) and a great offensive defenseman (Duchesne).

Who even has that kind of talent in the NHL with the parity that exists? I'd say the best team in terms of young talent are Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. With that in mind I give you Mike Brophy's potential trade ideas:

Ovechkin to Los Angeles for Kopitar (Forsberg), Johnathon Bernier (Hextall), Jack Johnson and Brad Stuart (Huffman and Duchesne), Alexander Frolov (Ricci) and...someone else who's analogous to Simon. Oh yeah, and $15 million dollars, adjusted upwards for twenty years of inflation. And two first round draft picks.

Ovechkin to Pittsburgh for Malkin (Forsberg), Fleury (Hextall), Staal (Ricci), Orpik and Gonchar (Huffman and Duchesne), and again someone unknown who's analogous to Simon. Oh yeah, and $15 million dollars, adjusted upwards for twenty years of inflation. And two first round draft picks.

What do you think, guys? Would Pittsburgh or L.A. go for it? I bet they would! Because handing over money and cost-controlled skilled youngsters is a formula for success in the salary cap era of the NHL! Oh, wait....

Plus, I still don't think either of those trades would be as good as what Quebec got for Lindros.

Point #6: It would be a good idea for the Capitals. [whole article]

Why Point #6 is stupid: Washington's fans are already skeptical of management's commitment to win and whether the Capitals can achieve success and trading Ovechkin could deal a blow to the fan base that it may never recover from.

Conclusion: This article is stupid and Mike Brophy probably knows it. But it's getting people to talk about it, write about it, and visit The Hockey News website.

Wings on Caps

So what do the Red Wings have to say after last night's game? The Peerless Prognosticator has compiled a nice assortment here. I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Caps/Wings Recap

Capitals 3, Red Wings 4 (SO)

Behind a strong game from Olaf Kolzig and a late goal from Alexander Semin the Capitals were able to pick a point against the best team in the NHL, in the league's toughest building to play in.

There might be a natural inclination to feel like last night's game was a loss since the the Red Wings picked up two point with their shootout victory, but it was a tie. That the Capitals couldn't pick up the extra point in the shootout is too bad, but the actual hockey game was a tie. And a tie is a good thing on the road, especially against a team like Detroit.

What the Capitals are starting to show at this point is consistency. Early in the season they showed, at times, what a good team they could be - winning their first two games of the season handily, beating Toronto 7-1, in Toronto, and taking a win from the Senators, in Ottawa, when the team was at its hottest. Despite their flashes of brilliance the team wasn't able to play well night in and night out and in fact had trouble even putting together solid efforts in consecutive games. I think that the fact that the Capitals have been playing more consistently is in large part due to Boudreau's attitude. The fact that he doesn't accept moral victories against any opponent, holds players accountable and wants the team to play aggressive hockey because he knows they can is key because it's going to help prevent the team from falling into lengthy losing streaks. Even the best teams are going to lose games. It's the ability to come back the next night, play hard again and avoid hanging your head that lets teams pick up point on a consistent basis and builds a winner.


"If you told me before the game that we would have gotten a point out of tonight, I think all of us would have pretty happy with that. ...I don't look at a shootout loss as a loss. I look at it as a tie."

Quick Hits
  • After the Caps' Saturday game I criticized the classlessness of the Tampa Bay Lightning's fans; tonight I will commend the class of Wings' fans for applauding when the injured linesman was able to get back to his feet after being hurt about a minute and a half into the game.
  • The referees called the game very tight all night, except when Mike Green was hauled down in the Wings' zone rushing the puck in. Why? Because the Wings already had a player in the box. The most important thing as a referee is being consistent and that means being consistent the whole game - even if a team is already short-handed.
  • I'm tickled pink the Capitals scored with less than two minutes remaining in the game to force overtime and pick up a point, but it's too bad it came on a powerplay that was the result of a puck over the glass delay of game penalty because that is really an awful rule.
  • I tend to view going to overtime and a shootout as a tie with the opportunity to get lucky and get an extra point, but it'd be nice if Kolzig were better in the shootout. He's now 5-12 in his career and has stopped fewer than 40% of shots. With the style he plays it's not surprising that he isn't a great shootout goalie, but it'd also be nice if he didn't get beat by the exact same move three times in a row.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Caps Bounce Back; Beat Tampa Bay 3-2

Capitals 3, Lightning 2

I'll start off by talking about what might have been the most controversial play of the game for Caps fans - Filip Kuba's high-sticking penalty on Alexander Ovechkin. Bottom line is this: the Lightning were very lucky they weren't down for more than four minutes, because there's no way a two-handed slash across a player's face should be a double minor. Kuba deserved a five minutes slashing major. For Caps fans there's that instinct to call for Kuba's head and say he should have been thrown out for an intent to injure play and suspended three games. I know, because I felt it. But looking at it from an objective point of view, I don't think Kuba meant to slash Ovechkin up high. It still should have been a major, no doubt, and perhaps even a misconduct because it was such a reckless play, but I honestly don't think Kuba's intent was to hit Ovechkin that hard or that high.

I will say this though: it's easy to make a case that it doesn't matter what the intention was. After all, Marty McSorley has vehemently denied that he intentionally hit Donald Brashear in the head with his stick but still received a year-long suspension that effectively ended his career, and I'd be willing to be that if the Kuba-on-Ovechkin play happens with Brashear, Sean Avery, George Parros or anyone in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform, it's five and a game, no question. As I said before, the bottom line is that as dangerous as that plays was for Kuba to only get four minutes was a mistake on the part of the referees.

I'd like to finish this section by talking about the class level of the Tampa Bay fans in attendance last night, which measures up to where it should be in about the same way Martin St. Louis measures up to the average NHL player (height-wise, not skill-wise). To boo Ovechkin from the outset just because he's Washington's best player is simply stupid, a bit classless and quite immature ("you're better than us! I'm gonna yell bad things at you 'cause I'm jealous!"), but to cheer when he goes down, boo when he gets up and boo when he touches the puck after being felled by an obviously illegal move (and borderline cheapshot) is classless. The constant moaning and yelling about penalties being called or allegedly missed, the booing of the other team's best player for no reason and when he's hurt, the general boorish classlessness... I guess those Tampa fans really take after coach. Or maybe Bettman just had a bunch of flunkies in the crowd tonight trying to build that Caps/Lightning rivalry.

Now, as for the rest of the game:

In what was perhaps an homage to teammate Olaf Kolzig, Brent Johnson started off the game for the Caps by allowing a goal on a shot that shouldn't have even been a challenge and then continued the theme by allowing a mediocre wrister from Vincent Lecavalier to get through his legs.

Between Friday night and last night, the Capitals scored six goals, surrendered one that was the fault of the skaters (non-goalies), one that was an empty netter and five that should have been stopped by the guys with the big pads and cool helmet decals. It's great that the Capitals' skaters have been playing well enough to either keep the game close or win when their goalies have been less than stellar, but the fact is you simply can't be a playoff team when any shot the opposition gets on net is a scoring chance (or, in the case of Buffalo's first goal on Friday, you create scoring chances for the other team).

So is the Caps goaltending in crisis? A fair question, but the short answer is "no". The long answer begins with Brent Johnson because it's quicker to address his situation. Brent Johnson is inconsistent, won't make a lot of great saves and will rarely, if ever, steal a game for his team. On the other hand, he is generally pretty solid and gives him team a fair chance to win every night. You can't ask for much more out of a backup goaltender, and as far as backups go Johnson is solid or better.

The situation is a bit more complicated for Kolzig. As I mentioned before, Kolzig looks like he is a mediocre goalie at this point in his career, and a borderline starter. At this point he may indeed be one. But no one works harder than Olie, no one is as competitive as Olie and no one is as hard on themselves as Olie. While ripping himself after the 5-3 loss to Buffalo Kolzig said he needed "to sit and stew [a while]". It wouldn't shock me to see Kolzig come back strong against Detroit and have a string of very good games. At the same time, it wouldn't shock me to see Kolzig struggles to keep his save percentage above .900 for the rest of the season.

Switching gears: a large part of the Caps success tonight came from their defense's ability to hang with Lightning players rather than be tricked by stickhandling moves or head fakes (Jeff Schultz was especially good about this). That, along with the success the Capitals had in cutting off the passing lanes, let the Capitals force Tampa Bay's attack to the outside. The results: only 25 shots against including a stretch of more than ten minutes where Tampa failed to register a shot. Those numbers are good any game, but against a team as offensively skilled as Tampa they're even more impressive.

I like what Boudreau did with the lines. I think Nicklas Backstrom is the best match for Ovechkin at center - Viktor Kozlov doesn't have enough skill and Michael Nylander's style of slowing the play down and waiting for it to develop doesn't mesh well with Ovechkin's constant all-out attack. Matt Pettinger has looked very good playing on Ovechkin's wing, always going at full speed (which is quite quick for Pettinger) and digging around the net. I like Kozlov centering Brooks Laich and Brashear as well. Kozlov and Brashear are two very big bodies for opponents to have to try to deal with, Laich is solid two-way grinder and Kozlov has quite a bit of skill. Plus it works really well for me in NHL 08.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Brian Pothier - 1 goal (game-winner), 1 assist, +1
(2) Tomas Fleischmann - 1 goal, 1 assist, +1
(3) David Steckel - 1 goal, +1

Quick Hits

  • I didn't see who but one of the Capitals defensemen failed to clear the puck during the penalty kill situation that came from Morrisson' slashing penalty, because he tried to clear up the middle of the ice. Another rookie mistake (and that's being generous). C'mon guys, remember the phrase "high and hard off the glass"?
  • To return to the Kuba/Ovechkin play: What's the point of dressing Donald Brashear if he's not going to make guys pay for hits like that?
  • I was a bit skeptical when I saw Fleischmann was dressed tonight as the lines scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Thanks for proving me wrong Flash.
  • Since being scratched Brian Pothier seems a lot more willing to take a hit, and I think that's helped him get more "in the game" and stay focused.
  • Lecalvier made a real stupid play at the end of the game when he drove the puck into the Capitals zone from his own blue line, resulting in an icing. That's just a frustration play, and you've got to give the Caps credit for frustrating Vinny and the Lightning like that.

I Love You, Coach Boudreau: Part III

...or: The Capitals Better Win Tonight.

According to Tarik, Boudreau had this to say after last night's game:

"I'll find out about a lot of guys [tonight]. Is it a, 'Hang my head, woe-is-me crowd,' or a 'Let's be determined and turn it around again'" crowd?

Honestly, right now I think it's the latter, with the way this team has been playing under Boudreau.

Either way, there's no doubt the Capitals should win tonight. They're better than Tampa, should come out hungry after last night's Kolzig inflicted frustrating loss and Tampa is struggling with injuries.

Not too long ago I would have said a team would be fortunate to face the Capitals after a game they had last night because the Caps would likely be discouraged and frustrated and come out with an uneven effort. Now it's just the opposite - I expect the Capitals to come out aggressive, focused and determined to get the two points they should have had last night.