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

Friday, January 18, 2008

Panthers/Capitals Preview

Florida Panthers at Washington Capitals
Saturday, January 19th, 7:00 PM
Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Last Meeting: 12/1/2008, Capitals win 2-1

This game is important for so many reasons: it concludes the Capitals homestand and for this team the difference between going 4-1 and 3-2 over five games is huge, the winner assumes sole control of third place in the Southeast Division and a win would let the Capitals gain ground on the stumbling Carolina Hurricanes (3-6-1 in their last ten) and Atlanta Thrashers (lost 10-1 to Buffalo last night).

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About the Opponent

Florida Panthers (21-23-4, 46 points, third in the Southeast Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)

Team Leaders
Olli Jokinen (22)
Olli Jokinen (22)
Olli Jokinen (44)
Plus/Minus: David Booth (+7)
Penalty Minutes:
Nathan Horton (59)
Gregory Campbell (4)

Betcha Didn't Know...
The Panthers have finished in fourth place in the Southeast Division each of the last five seasons.

Random Panthers Statistic
6'2'', 239 pound forward Anthony Stewart has never been in a fight. This season, Stewart has played in 23 games for the Panthers and has yet to pick up a penalty.

Keys to the Game

Play a high-octane game. Florida is a defenseive (read:boring) team that likes to slow down the play and limit chances. The Capitals need to take the game to them and force the Panthers out of their game plan.

Be aggressive. Alex Ovechkin has five goals in his last five games, Alexander Semin has four in his last three, Mike Green has goals in three straight and ten points in his last seven games and Tomas Fleischmann and Viktor Kozlov look ready to break out. There's no way the Panthers can contain all the Capitals offensive weapons for a full sixty minutes, so if they want to win they're going to have to put some pressure on the Caps.

Players to Watch

Tomas Fleischmann - I said it already, but Flash really does look ready to break out and finally start putting pucks in the net after creating those great chances, and I think he'll start tonight.

Jay Bouwmeester -
For any team playing the Capitals, the biggest priority has to be stopping Ovechkin. If there's anyone on the Florida roster who can do it, it's Bouwmeester.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Caps Win After 12-Man Shootout

Capitals 5, Oilers 4 (SO)

When your opponents' powerplay is clicking and the referees are trigger-happy, you're usually in for a long night and that's exactly what the Capitals had to endure last night against the Oilers.

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The call on Viktor Kozlov (slashing) was terrible and it looked even worse given that Alexander Semin had a stick broken across his legs only seconds earlier - Oilers goal.

Brooks Laich gets called for finishing his check on an icing call. If there isn't an icing call he doesn't get that penalty and to me that's not a good enough reason to send him to the box. It wasn't a case of a clear icing and Laich didn't hit the Oilers' player way after the whistle. Laich was just doing what any decent hockey player does in that situation - finishing his check and playing until the whistle, and if the NHL doesn't want players getting hit on icing calls they should institute no-touch icing. Anyways, Laich gets a weak call - Oilers goal.

But enough complaining. The Capitals picked up two points and improved to 3-1 on the homestand. So what does that mean?

Well, Carolina lost and Atlanta lost in a shootout, so:

Games Played


G.P. (Relative to Caps)

Pts (Relative to Caps)
















Okay, show of hands - who thinks Atlanta or Carolina look like they're going to beat the Capitals out for the Division title? Okay, let's try of hands - of those of you who don't own an Ilya Kovalchuk or Eric Staal jersey, who thinks Atlanta or Carolina looks like they're going to beat the Capitals out for the Division title? Yeah, me neither.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Olaf Kolzig -
his numbers were a far cry from stellar, but Olie made a number of big saves, had no chance on the goals he allowed and stopped all 12 shooters Edmonton sent his way during the shootout. Without a doubt Kolzig was the biggest reason the Capitals won this game.
(2) Boyd Gordon - 2 assists, +1
(3) Alex Ovechkin - 1 goal, 1 assist, 4 hits, +1

Quick Hits
  • Sheldon Souray sure does like to shoot on the powerplay, doesn't he?
  • Nice hit by John Erskine on Dustin Penner in front of the net on the Oilers powerplay. Of course it would have been nice if it had happened before Penner put the puck in the Capitals' net.
  • Sometimes a second assist is an indicator of a really nice play. For example, Jeff Schultz's breakout pass to Boyd Gordon on the play that lead to Ovechkin's goal.
  • On his goal Mike Green picked his spot and hit it as well as any forward in the league.
  • Jarret Stoll was crying about having to go to the box for slashing Nicklas Backstrom halfway through the second period, though I'm not sure why because on the replay you could see Stoll take his stick to Backstrom three times.
  • The Capitals gave up the fourth goal because they were playing aggressively in the physical game. You want to be physical and hit with a lead, but not to the point where you're taking yourself out of the play to land a check.
  • Mike Green had 31:13 of ice time, during which he blocked 5 shots.
  • The following Caps had 4 hits: Alex Ovechkin, John Erskine, Mike Green and Matt Pettinger.
Photos: AP

Oilers/Capitals Preview

Edmonton Oilers at Washington Capitals
Thursday, January 17th, 2008
Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Last Meeting: 10/28/2006, Capitals lose 4-0

Let's be frank. The Capitals should win this game. Period.

They're at home, just proved to the NHL they can beat top-flight opposition (four times without losing), and if it weren't for the the shootout (or as Peerless calls it "Bettman's gimmick") the Oilers might just have the fewest points in the NHL.

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One of the more interesting subplots of the evening will be the Capitals goaltending situation - will Brent Johnson or Olaf Kolzig be starting? And what will the implications of either choice, and the respective netminder's performance, indicate for the Caps' situation between the pipes for the rest of this season?

About the Opponent

Edmonton Oilers (21-22-4, fifth in the Northwest Division, fourteenth in the Western Conference)

Team Leaders
Goals: Shawn Horcoff (19)
Assists: tie - Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky(25)
Points: Shawn Horcoff (44)
Plus/Minus: Tom Gilbert (+7)
Penalty Minutes: Zack Stortini (114)
Fights: Zack Stortini (12)

Betcha Didn't Know...
The Oilers official colo(u)rs are: Midnight blue, copper, red, white and silver

Random Oilers Statistics
(1) During his first three seasons at Michigan State, Shawn Horcoff averaged 0.77 points per game (36+51 in 113). His senior year he averaged 1.55 points per game (14+51 in 42)
(2) Sheldon Souray was brought in during the offseason to provide offense from the blue line and help improve the Oilers powerplay. So far Souray has played in 21 games, has nine points (three goals, six helpers), and if quarterbacking a powerplay that ranks 28th in the NHL.

Keys to the Game


Don't underestimate the Oilers. They don't have a lot of big names, they're near the bottom of the standings and the Capitals just beat Ottawa for the fourth time this year, but that doesn't mean the Capitals will be able to roll right over their guests.

Go to the shootout. Edmonton has won 11 times in the shootout this year; seven of those wins have come with Mathieu Garon in net, as Garon has stopped 21 of the 23 shots he's faced in shootouts this year (91.3%). The Oilers' best bet for a win is to fight tooth-and-nail till the clock hits zero in overtime and then try to pry away a twelfth points from the skills competition.

Players to Watch

Alexander Semin
- Semin finally looked like he was hitting his stride on Tuesday against the Senators picking up three points, including a highlight reel goal.

Jarret Stoll
- Stoll is the type of center any coach would want - he can can play both ends, has a good shot, plays a physical game and has grit to spare. The Oilers will be looking to him to help generate offense from the second line. Horcoff can't do it all himself.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Caps Win; Pull to Within Five Points of 'Canes

Capitals 4, Senators 2

The Capitals, behind a three-point night from Alexander Semin, a strong outing from Brent Johnson and a team total of 21 blocked shots*, swept the season series from the Eastern Conference leading Ottawa Senators and improved to 2-1 on their current homestand.

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The Capitals again managed to keep the Senators best players in check - Jason Spezza had no points and Daniel Alfredsson was limited to just one assist (Dany Heatley is injured and did not play) - and controlled special teams play, going 2-5 on the powerplay and keeping the Senators scoreless on their two chances with the man advantage.

Scoreboard watching Caps fans may have noticed a change in the composition of the Southeast Division as a decimated Hurricanes squad lost and Atlanta won. The 'Canes and Thrashers both have 48 points (to the Capitals 43); since the Thrashers have more wins they're in first. The good news for Caps fans is that Carolina and Atlanta have played 48 and 47 games respectively, while the Capitals have played only 45 and with Edmonton (21-22-4, eight shootout wins) and Florida (20-22-4) coming in to finish off the homestand the Caps have a very good chance to make up some ground. With the way each team has played, if the Capitals can get to a point where they are tied with Atlanta and Carolina for the division lead I think they become to favorite to take the division. And with four remaining games against each Atlanta and Florida, the Capitals will have the chance to prove it.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Alexander Semin - 2 goals, 1 assist, +1
(2) Tomas Fleischmann - 2 assists, +1
(3) Alexander Ovechkin - 1 goals (game winner)

* Capitals blocked shot leaders: Milan Jurcina (4), Quintin Laing (3), Shaone Morrisonn (3), Tom Poti (3)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Senators/Caps Preview

Ottawa Senators at Washington Capitals
Tuesday, January 14th, 2008
Verizon Center in Washington D.C.
Last Meeting: 1/1/2008: Capitals win 6-3

The Capitals look to both get back over .500 on their current homestand and get back to the winning ways they've become accustomed to under Coach Bruce Boudreau against the Senators tonight. With a win the Capitals would complete an unexpected sweep of the season series against the Eastern Conference's best team and while it might seem improbable, so have each of Caps' wins against the Senators so far this season - while I wouldn't necessarily expect the Capitals to win, I wouldn't bet against them either.

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About the Opponent

Ottawa Senators (29-11-4, 62 points, first in the Northeast Division, first in the Eastern Conference)

Team Leaders
Goals: Daniel Alfredsson (29)
Assists: Jason Spezza (38)
Points: Daniel Alfredsson (59)
Plus/Minus: Dany Heatley (+31); active: Jason Spezza (20)
Penalty Minutes: Chris Neil (114)
Fights: tie - Brian McGrattan, Chris Neil (6)

Betcha Didn't Know...
Only one Senators player, Alexander Nikulin, has a negative plus/minus rating. Nikulin has played in just two games for the Senators this season and is -2.

Random Senators Statistic
Brian McGrattan sees 2:31 of ice time per game and spends 1:18 per game in the penalty box. McGrattan has as many games with four or more minutes of ice time as with less than one minute (six), including a season low of six seconds against Buffalo on January 4th. And no, that's not a typo.

Keys to the Game

Weather the storm early. The Senators are the best team in the Eastern Conference points-wise and will be desperately trying to avoid being embarrassed by being swept by the Capitals for the season, so they'll come out very strong. The Capitals need to keep things simple at the start and frustrate Ottawa, rather than letting themselves be outgunned.

Exploit the Capitals defense. With John Erskine, Jeff Schultz and Milan Jurcina all playing the Capitals defense lacks mobility; the Senators are fast and can move the puck well so they will be looking to take advantage of the Capitals' slow defensemen to create offense.

Players to Watch

Milan Jurcina - Jurcina, a 6'4'', 235-pound defenseman, had zero hits in the Capitals last game and has been a plus player only once since December 29th (five games). The Capitals biggest weakness tonight is going to be their defense's poor foot speed, butSchultz helps negate his mediocre skating by playing smart and positionally sounds; Erskine helps negate his by playing and extremely physical game. If Jurcina can't find a plus to offset his skating he could be a big enough liability to cost the Caps two points.

Martin Gerber/Ray Emery - During the last two games these teams have played the Gerber/Emery tandem has allowed 13 goals on 54 shots (.759 save percentage). The Senators will need strong goaltending if they hope to stop the Capitals' offensive weapons.

Capitals Goaltending By the Numbers

I've put together this table comparing the league's goaltending statistics with the Capitals' netminders. There are currently 44 goaltenders who have played enough to qualify for the league lead in statistics. As Olaf Kozlig is one of them, the number in parentheses next to his statistics is his league rank; since Brent Johnson is not among the 44 qualified goalies the number in parentheses is what his rank would be if he has enough minutes to qualify.

League median is derived by calculating the mean of the 22nd and 23rd ranked goalies.

Goals Against Average

Save Percentage

Shootout Save %

Olaf Kolzig

3.04 (39)

.888 (42)

50.0 (t-25)

Brent Johnson

2.85 (31)

.900 (t-33)


League Median




League Leader




Sunday, January 13, 2008

Caps Fall to 1-1 on Homestand

Capitals 4, Flyers 6

As has happened far too regularly this season, the Capitals were felled by questionable defensive play and sub-par goaltending and as a result lost a game where they should have had one point and could have had two. The Flyers, playing for the second time in two days and third time in four days, should have been outgunned by the Capitals (who were playing their only game in a seven day stretch), and if they game had stayed close they probably would have been. But by allowing Philadelphia to get out to a three goal lead and hence play a more conservative style the Capitals diminished their ability to use each team's scheduling situation to their advantage.

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Where does the blame fall? I think jointly on the shoulders of the defense corps and Olaf Kolzig. While Olie had a bad game, I don't think it's by any means inexcusable - he's 37 years old and was playing his 11th straight because of Brent Johnson's injury. Still, Olie should have done a better job controlling rebounds and staying with the puck (not surprisingly Olie's lack of lateral movement played a role as well).

The defense corps was especially poor at clearing the front of the net during during yesterday's game and a lot of it has to do with mobility. With Milan Jurcina, Jeff Schultz and John Erskine all in the lineup the Capitals' defense is simply too slow to not get caught out of position on a regular basis. The numbers tell the story as well: Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn were paired together and were each a +2; all the other Capitals defensemen were worse.

The loss puts the Capitals in a tough spot. The team was hoping to get eight points or more on their current homestand and this loss puts them at 1-1 after two, so to meet their goal the Caps would have to win their remaining three games. It might sound like a tall order but: the Capitals haven't lost two in a row under Bruce Boudreau, face Ottawa (a team they've beaten all three times the two teams have met this season) next and then face Florida and Edmonton. In other words, if the Capitals can build off this loss and come out strong on Tuesday against the Senators they still have a very good chance of picking up their desired eight points.

Quick Hits

  • Tom Poti was -3 in this return to the lineup - perhaps he wasn't ready?
  • The Capitals has 32 shots on goals and 40 shots that were either blocked or missed the net (19 blocked; 21 misses). For comparison, the Flyers had 32 on net and 19 blocked or miss the net (11 blocked, 8 misses).
  • Boyd Gordon blocked three shots; Quintin Laing only one.
  • Milan Jurcina had zero hits - not acceptable for a 6'4'', 235 pound, poor-skating defenseman.
  • Daniel Briere was -2, had one shot and no points and lost 11 of his 13 faceoffs.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

It Has Begun

Capitals fans had to know, as soon as Ovechkin's monster 13 year, $124 million contract was announced that there would be pundits who would decry the deal and as it turn out one of the first was The Hockey News (this was originally linked to from Japers' Rink).

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Let's begin, shall we?

Well, isn’t this interesting.

Well, aren't you a smug little sportswriter? Surely with that attitude you must have insightful and valuable analysis for us, right?

Didn’t we have a year-long lockout a couple of years ago because teams like the Washington Capitals couldn’t afford to pay runaway salaries like the one they’re going to be giving Alex Ovechkin for the next 13 seasons?

Yes and no. What the owner's primarily wanted was cost certainty, so they could have some idea of what payroll expenses would look like, especially with regard to revenues. The result of the lockout were limits on what individual teams could spend what individual players could make, each based on the league's total revenues. This is kind of the opposite of "runaway salaries" since the salaries are in fact limited by the new CBA. I'm pretty sure that by definition the fact that salaries are limited means they aren't runaway. Plus, if you don't think team salaries or individual players salaries for the stars would be higher if there were no cap, you're nuts. Know who I know? Because they were higher before the new CBA, before inflation. Plus the nine million that Ovechkin will make for the next six years and ten million for the seven after that are not going to be the top salaries for their time unless the NHL suddenly starts losing money.

So this is what you must do the next time Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, or any one of his cronies complain about their financial state...
Ignore them, laugh at them, look incredulously at them with your mouth agape, but please don’t buy their malarkey for a second.

Important just for reference.

You could say the Capitals had little choice but to offer Ovechkin somewhere near the fully mandated $10 million and they did. After all, he’s one of the league’s most talented players and the prospect of losing him was far more difficult to fathom for the Capitals than the prospect of paying him a minimum 20 percent of the team payroll.

So, point #1 was "it's bullshit that owners like Leonsis may have difficult with their finances, and this deal proves it!" and Point #2 is "the Capitals had no choice but to sign Ovechkin to a contract paying him this much"? Also, I don't think there's any way Ovechkin will exceed 20% of the Capitals payroll for very much of his contract and he may not at all - the Capitals payroll is $39 million this year (with Ovechkin making about $3.8 million). If everyone resigned for the same amount (which won't happen) payroll would go up to about $44 million, with Ovechkin making $9 million. This would be 20.45% of the payroll.

The cap hit will be $9.53 million, about as close as you can get without hitting double digits without the decimal point.

Very good observation! Nine is the closest single-digit whole number to ten! Gold star for you today, Ken!

But they did have a choice on the term. Thirteen years is simply preposterous for any player, regardless of his star quality. And now that he’s throwing that kind of money at Ovechkin, does it make sense to stop there? Well, no it doesn’t.

No one is going to insist that a thirteen year contract is without risk. But, one of the "problems" laid out earlier was that the Capitals were paying Ovechkin a "runaway" salary. You know what, Ken? One of the ways to mitigate cost over the long term is to fix it in nominal dollar amounts and watch the actual (real) value decrease as inflation occurs.

Or perhaps it is that Ken Campbell is actually an economic genius and think that the United States in headed for its first period of deflation since the late 18th century.

Leonsis and the Capitals will now have to join the arms race and spend to the cap. No sense in paying one of the best players in the game that kind of money and not surrounding him with any kind of talent.

Indeed, that Capitals should build around Ovechkin. Maybe get him a tough, playmaking center in the Peter Forsberg mold, another sniper to take the heat off of Ovechkin, some solid offensively skilled veterans and a number of gritty, tough, checking-line players.

It's not all about offense though, as I'm sure Ken must know. The Caps probably need a good defenseman too, one who can compete for the NHL lead in goals from that position, or a guy with a rocket shot who can also get helpers and a solid, tough defenseman to balance things out. Don't forget the need for a true number one back there, maybe a guy who can lead as well.

And then there's the net. Well, the current goalie, a former Vezina Winner, is getting a little long in the tooth. If I were the Caps I'd a young gun, maybe someone tearing up juniors who could start at the World Junior tournament or a young guy already making his mark in the RSL. Yeah, that sounds good, get that Capitals and maybe then you can have Ovechkin weave his magic on your ice!

Oh wait, the Capitals already have all of those.

In a likely best-case scenario, Ovechkin will average 50 goals and about 100 points per season through the life of this contract. Could they not have signed three players for $3 million each, which could have given them more than that?

Maybe, maybe not. What three players could have been signed from this past year's free agent class for nine million dollars who would give than kind of production? How would you have gotten all of them to sign with the same team? Would they all contribute the same to the physical game as Ovechkin does? Would the opposition have to account for each of them every time they stepped on the ice? Would they, collectively, become the face of the franchise? Would their merchandising sales be enough to significantly defray the cost of their contracts in the same amount that having one of the inherently most marketable players in the league will?

And so it goes on. The more we see deals like this, the more two things become clear.

First, the Rick DiPietro contract is looking better with each passing deal and secondly, the league will most definitely insist on limiting the term of deals in the next collective bargaining agreement.

Because keeping player costs down and keeping marketable, fan-favorites with one team is no way to make fans of the game, of course.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Silence, Fools!

For anyone who hasn't seen yet, Alex Ovechkin has signed his new contract with the Capitals and it's a whopper: $124 million over 13 years.

Tarik has more details here.

I'm generally a pretty modest, reserved guy. In addition, two of the things I hate most is when people use their blogs to vent/rant and when people call names or insult other people. But you'll have to excuse me this once because each of these journalists is guilty of at least one of the following:

(1) Chasing ridiculous rumors with no credibility
(2) Failing to understand the CBA
(3) Failing to do any research regarding the players in the Capitals organization
(4) Insulting the Capitals organization, the Capitals players, the Capitals fans and/or the city of Washington D.C.
(5) Pandering to fans in their home market
(6) Ignoring the facts in front of their faces

By doing this, all are guilty of failing to their job are journalists and consequently open themselves us to mockery by us mere mortals who aren't paid to write about hockey, yet somehow know exponentially more and comment on it without smugness and without insisting that anyone who doesn't write for a major new publications has opinions that don't matter.

Let me just be perfectly clear: to be wrong, propose ideas that I (or other Caps fans think are silly) or have an opinion I disagree with is perfectly fine, and while I may criticize the article I won't be rude to the author. But if an author is going to willfully ignorant (or even proud of their ignorance) or is going to insult Washington D.C., the Capitals or their fans as a substitute for research, insightful commentary and good writing, well then I take the Fire Joe Morgan approach: such authors do not deserve the respect of us fans and they will not get it.

That said...

Shut up, Larry Brooks, and realize that just because the Rangers are the most obnoxious franchise of the last fifteen years doesn't entitle them to a damn thing. You know, when you're done with your hissy fit.

Shut up, Jack Todd, and learn the names Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Semen Varlamov, Michael Neuvirth, Alexander Semin, Karl Alzer, Josh Godfrey, Chris Bourque, Francois Bouchard, Jeff Schultz, Sasha Pokulok, Books Laich, Shaone Morrison and Bruce Boudreau before you say the Capitals have a lack of young talent or can't win with the players they have now.

Shut up, Mike Brophy, and learn the meaning of the word "cosmopolitan" before you use it in an article suggesting it's something D.C. is not. (note: the above tip to Jack would be a good one for you to follow as well)

Shut up, Bruce Garrioch, and learn when to trust a source and learn not to insult George McPhee's intelligence.

Shut up, Eklund, and...just...stay shut up until you actually successfully predict an NHL personnel move (being signed to a13 year extension is almost the same thing as being traded to Nashville, right?)

Ted Kulfan, I won't tell you to shut up because you were not rude, insulting or willfully ignorant. But you were wrong, and that's one more article for Capitals fans to look at giggle while they sit back and simply say, "Thirteen years".

And all of you - Larry, Jack, Mike, Bruce, Ted, Eklund - sit and listen to the one voice of reason I've found in all this madness: Spector of Fox Sports.

Thirteen years, Caps fans. Thirteen years.

To close, here's Ovechkin on his extension:

I cannot say how happy I am. I didn't want to go nowhere. If I want to go somewhere, I could sign for three years.

I decided I didn't want to go anywhere, and they didn't want lose me, so we signed a long-term deal. It won't put more pressure on me. I will play the way that I always play.

Photo: AP

McPhee on the Ovechkin Extension

McPhee on the Ovechkin Extension: "Of course we f*ckin' signed him. We're not idiots".

Okay, I made that quote up. But isn't that what this picture seems to say?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Alexander Ovechkin: SIGNED

I'll have a longer version later, where I mock all the stupid sportswriters who were wrong about this but Alex Ovechkin will be a Capital for the next thirteen years.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fehr Returns

Eric Fehr did indeed return to action last night with the Hershey Bears and had a very good game, registering an assist 40 seconds in and finishing the game with the one point, a +1 rating and four shots on goal.

More on Fehr's return from the On Frozen Blog team here.

Avalanche/Caps Recap

Capitals 2, Avalanche 1

Although it took until the third period, the Caps picked up the game's first two tallies and were able to hold on 2-1 for a crucial win to open their five-game homestand.

With the game developing into a tight-checking, low-scoring affair you got the feeling it could be the grinders that decided the outcome and indeed that was the case with Donald Brashear and David Steckel accounting for the Capitals two goals, with assists from Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon and Milan Jurcina. Secondary scoring has been an issue for the Caps all season and while they could still be getting more at least now it seems like someone from a checking line has been able to set up and find the twine when the team needs it the most.

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Of course, you can't downplay the importance of Olaf Kolzig's solid effort - while the Capitals played good defense and let only 19 shots get through to Olie he was very good in net, stopping 18 of them, including several big saves towards the end.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Olaf Kolzig - 18 saves on 19 shots (.947 save %)
(2) Brooks Laich - 1 assist, +1
(3) David Steckel - 1 goal (game winner), +1

Quick Hits

  • Kolzig's been the focus of criticism both on this blog and elsewhere, but I bet Tyler Arnason thinks Olie's still pretty good.
  • Steve Eminger played just 10:05 but had four hits (more than anyone else on either team) and blocked a shot - think he was trying to make a case for some more playing time?
  • The longest average shift for a Colorado player was Marek Svatos' 0:51. The Capitals had seven players who exceeded that: Viktor Kozlov (1:08), Nicklas Backstrom (1:07), Michael Nylander (1:06), Alexander Semin (1:06), Alexander Ovechkin (1:05), Brooks Laich (0:52) and Mike Green (0:52).
  • The Caps had four players (Eminger, Laich, Steckel and Bradley) who registered three or more hits.
  • Shaone Morrisonn's one shot on goal, zero points and -1 rating were apparently enough to get him selected as the game's third star.

Kind of a Big Deal

Two articles of interest for Capitals fans are making their ways through the internet today:

  1. Eric Fehr may play tonight for Hershey (my thoughts on a Fehr's return).
  2. Former Head Coach Glen Hanlon has been offered a job as a scout for the Capitals.

Avalanche/Caps Preview

Colorado Avalanche at Washington Capitals
Wednesday, January 9th, 2008, 7:00 PM
Verizon Center in Washington D.C.

The Capitals look to kick off their crucial five-game homestand win a win tonight against the Colorado Avalanche, a team that hasn't visited D.C. in almost four years. While the Avalanche have a pretty solid roster from top to bottom they are somewhat ripe for the picking given the injuries to key forwards Ryan Smyth and Joe Sakic and the failure to have either José Théodore or Peter Budaj emerge as a true number one goaltender.

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About the Opponent

Colorado Avalanche (22-17-3, 47 points, fourth in the Northeast Division, ninth in the Western Conference)

Team Leaders
Goals: Marek Svatos (16)
Assists: Paul Stastny (29)
Points: Paul Stastny (44)
Plus/Minus: Kurt Sauer (+11)
Penalty Minutes: Scott Parker (56)
Fights: Ian Laperriere (7)

Betcha Didn't Know....
The Avalanche hold the NHL record for most consecutive sellouts with 487, a streak that spanned almost eleven years (November 9, 1995 - October 16, 2006).

Random Avalanche Statistic
Joe Sakic's 1,611 points with the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise are the third most for a player with one team. Sakic trails only Steve Yzerman (1,755 with Detroit) and Mario Lemieux (1,701 with Pittsburgh), both of whom are retired. Sakic was drafted 15th overall in 1989 with a pick the Quebec Nordiques had acquired as part of the trade that sent Dale Hunter to the Capitals.

Keys to the Game

Score the first goal. The Capitals have done a great job of coming from behind to pick up wins since Bruce Boudreau's taken over behind the bench but they can't expect to keep doing it. Eventually constantly surrendering the game's first goal is going to catch up with any team and the Capitals need to look to break this habit.

Play hard, and for a full sixty minutes. The Avalanche have a lot potentially working against them: they are playing the second night of a back-to-back set, had to travel to D.C. after playing Detroit last night, suffered a tough loss on Tuesday at the hands of the Red Wings, are playing a hot opponent and are missing two of their best offensive players in Ryan Smyth and Joe Sakic. If the Avs fall behind it might be tempting for them to just quit. Colorado needs to be resilient and play a gritty game in the face of the aforementioned adversity if they want to pick up two points in the nation's capital.

Players to Watch

Tomas Fleischmann - between the injuries the Capitals are dealing with (Nylander, Clark, Semin) and the inconsistent play of some of the guys they'd hoped would be solid offensive contributors (Pettinger) the team could use some secondary scoring. Flash has looked like he's on the verge of breaking out for several games now and the Caps sure could use some offense from the second line.

Paul Stastny - With both Sakic and Smyth out of the lineup the Avs are going to look to this young center to lead their offense. Stastny has been great in his NHL career to this point, but is he yet able to produce when he's the guy that the opposition will be looking to shut down?

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Strange Case of Steve Eminger

Steve Eminger was drafted twelfth overall in 2002 (one spot ahead of Alexander Semin, incidentally) and broke into the NHL that same year, playing 17 games with the Caps before being returned to his junior team in Kirchner, Ontario. Eminger became a full time member of the Capitals in 2005, after the lockout and played 134 games for the team over the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, accumulating a respectable six goals, 29 assists, 144 penalty minutes and a -26 rating*. Yet this season Eminger has hardly been seen on the ice for the Capitals (recent sightings notwithstanding), playing in on 3 of 42 games thus far. This has brought forth a wave of speculation from devoted Capitals fans: does Eminger has a crucial flaw in his game he has yet to fix? Are there concerns about his work ethic and/or attitude? Did he sleep with a family member of someone in the Capitals brass? Well I have an explanation and, to the disappointment of some I'm sure, it's quite light on conspiracy theory.

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What I think is often being overlook in the discussion of Eminger's playing time is that playing time and roster moves are actually contingent on two groups: the management, headed by GM George McPhee and the coaching staff, (obviously) headed by Coach Bruce Boudreau. Each of these groups is playing a role in Eminger's difficulty getting ice time.

NHL teams generally dress six defensemen for games and generally carry seven so players can rotate in and out as needed due to injuries, fatigue or a more favorable matchup with an opponent. But of course a team wants more than just seven defensemen in the organization so they can be prepared for long-term injuries or for several players being hurt simultaneously, and that's where Eminger comes in. By keeping Eminger the Capitals have eight defensemen on their roster who can play NHL minutes and since there is a steep drop off in the organization after these guys it makes sense the Capitals want to keep all of them. All of the Capitals current defensemen except Jeff Schultz and Mike Green would have to clear waivers to be sent to Hershey and those two have played their way into the team's top five. Thus from a management standpoint the only way to give the Capitals the necessary depth on the blue line is to keep all eight NHL-caliber defensemen the organization has under contract on the NHL roster.

This creates a problem for the coaching staff when everyone is healthy - rotating seven defensemen through six spots is tough enough; rotating eight through six spots can be nearly impossible, especially when a team has five defensemen (Green, Schultz, Tom Poti, Brian Pothier, Shaone Morrisonn) who are going to play every night as the Caps do. That leaves one spot for three players (in this case Eminger, Milan Jurcina and John Erskine). If you're perceived as the weakest of the three in such a situation, you're going to have a hard time cracking the lineup. Period. The job of the coach is to put out the best lineup he can every night and while that might provide some room for a seventh defenseman to get in the lineup, the one who's eight on the depth chart isn't going to get in unless players ahead of him are hurt.

That's where Eminger stands - a victim of circumstance and the CBA, too valuable as a depth player to just be waived but not good enough to play on a regular basis.

So what should the Capitals do at this point? Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, exactly what they are doing. Getting rid of Eminger just because he isn't playing would be a mistake because the organization does need the depth he provides on the blue line and while it's unfortunate for Eminger to be put in this situation the reality is that the NHL, like any professional sports league, is a cutthroat business and general managers are paid to keep their team as competitive as possible, not coddle athletes. If McPhee gets a a good offer for Eminger or can pluck a depth defenseman from the waivers wire or from another team for a mid-round pick it would be nice of him to let Eminger move on, and if the team doesn't play on playing him next year to offer him a qualifying offer would just be cruel**. But right now the Caps need to keep Eminger because it'd be a mistake for the organization to hurt its chances of succeeding this season so that one player can have a more enjoyable four months.

* I am well aware that a -26 rating is not good by any stretch but given the quality of team Eminger had been playing on and his age I can't think that'd be the reason we've seen so little of him this season.
** For the record I think it would be mistake to get rid of Eminger because I think he has more long-term potential than Jurcina, Pothier or Erskine. I'd like to see the Caps break camp with Poti, Pothier, Alzner, Morrisonn, Green, Schultz and Eminger next season and try to retain Erskine by putting him in the AHL if possible.