Sunday, February 26, 2006

And Down The Stretch They Come!

Well that was fun. Or not. Team USA was a disappointment, but not nearly as much of a disaster as Team Canada. So Hockey was a bust as the Swedes stole the gold right from Finland’s hands. While teams that overpowered the international scene four years ago find little comfort after getting to the quarter finals and failing to continue, the Nordic teams steam rolled their way into the goal medal game and Sweden takes home the shiny hardware.

But now it’s over. Now it’s for Lord Stanley’s Cup. And the home stretch is the last chance for deadline trades, pushes for that 8th spot in the Conference Standings, and jockeying for home ice advantage.

For the Capitals it won’t be about making the playoffs, but who they can sell, how they improve our chances next season, and build off their successes. Needless to say that there is a lot of work to do for this team to be considered a Eastern Conference threat.

A possible trade on the horizon that seems almost certain is Brendan Witt. The only question is where? Nashville Predators has expressed some interest to thicken their defensemen. George McPhee will defiantly be a busy man the next couple of weeks.

What the Caps need to shop for is a stronger blue line. The lack of strong defensive group in experience could use a couple of veterans in front of Olie Kolzig. Possible defensemen to trade would be Mathieu Biron, Ivan Majesky and Mike Green (although I think Green is one of the better players on the team). McPhee needs to get out of the state of mind that big defensemen means more physical play. Not in the new NHL.

Caps must also find some more offensive weapons to fill out the top lines. At one point the entire checking line were the second leader scorers behind Alex Ovechkin. The top line needs goal support from the other groupings. Alex Semin may help, but the Caps can not afford another legal tussle with the Russian Super League.

Capitals will be looking to get some kind of advantage out of their prospects, but need to find experience to push their team from a novelty to true competitors. Circus shots can only take a team so far, this team must be more rounded to make some noise next season.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Time To Come Home

Not a good Olympics for North America. One team just never got anything going, the other not enough gusto to finish. Both Canada and USA are out of the men’s Olympic tournament. Both teams that seemed to dominate the action in 2002 could barely get it going in 2006.
Canada may be the biggest disappointment. They had a golden goal all along, but that was quickly snuffed out by a 20 year old NHL rookie that just happens to play for one of my favorite teams: Alex Ovechkin.

USA never even got off the ground. They could do just about anything they wanted to on the ice during the preliminaries except score. Then the major question that annoyed them before the games was goaltending. The goalie was the one thing that failed them in the first elimination round.

So North America, Canada and the US both, are going to be crying in their beers tonight. US will be bothered about if this was the right team for the games, Canada will be scowling at Wayne Gretzky and calling his wife and Rick Tocchet a distraction for the team. I am sure their will be conspiracy theories to last us a lifetime.

Now that they are out and my poor Swiss team was manhandled, who is left? Russia, Finland and Sweden as of 4:55 pm eastern. NBC must be fuming that there is nothing left to draw ratings.

This could also bite the NHL in the butt. With Canada and the US out, the NHL can now only feature the foreign players. Some who don’t even play in the NHL. That can’t bode well for many watching the remaining games.

My major disappointment lies on the US who brought two poorly constructed teams on both the men’s and women’s side. At least the women won a medal. Now that this ridiculousness is over lets get back to the stretch down to the Stanley Cup. And I am going to hang my USA jersey back in the closet for another 4 years.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Olympic Update

Let’s take a little quiz. Before the Men’s Olympic Hockey Tournament started I would have answered the following questions, and then the reality of those answers to follow. You ready?

1. Will USA be able to handle their first opponents Latvia with little trouble?
My answer 2/14: The US will probably start slow, but will have no trouble playing Latvia and should come out with an easy win. WRONG!
Reality: The US team came out strong, but then allowed Latvia to gain some ground tying the silver medalist of 2002. Latvia who has little chance to make the final rounds splits a preliminary point with the US.

2. How many goals will Canada score versus team Swiss?
2/14: The Swiss only has 2 forwards in the NHL, it will be hard for them to slow down the Canadian attack. Team Swiss will be lucky to escape 5 goals down. WRONG!
Reality: After an emotional win versus the Czech Republic 3-2, Swiss came out with some hard work and another great goaltender performance from Martin Gerber. Canada is shut-out 2-0.

3. Russia and Sweden are in the same pool, what will the competition be like?
2/14: Even though Canada has this pool in their back pocket, the battle will be for the second tier between defensive Sweden and offensive Russia. The game will be close with the Swedes able to come away with 2 points. WRONG!
Reality: Russians proved that speed is everything, making this game a no contest. The Swedes failed to score a point and the Russians steam rolled the Swedish team.

What the hell is going on? I am giving up on the US team after their failure to put the puck in the back of the net. I am now a full fledged Swiss fan. Now I just need to find an official Suisse Jersey. “Hop Suisse! Hop Suisse!”

-- Olympic Notes --

  • Dominik Hasek is out of the tournament which actually hurts the Czech Republic’s chances. Hasek pulled a groin muscle in his first game of the tournament. He should be healthy when he returns to Ottawa.

  • Jaromir Jagr got on the bad end of a check and was bleeding from the forehead when he left the ice in a game versus Finland. If you’re physical with Jagr early in the game, and sometimes he won’t show up. In this case it just took him out of the game. Jagr should be back in the lineup Monday.

  • Slovakia has been the surprise of the Olympic Hockey Tournament behind Team Swiss. So far unbeatable with impressive wins versus the US and Russia. Former Capital Peter Bondra is having a good tournament, scoring the game winner against the US.

Enjoy the Olympics! Hop Suisse!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Women's Game Not Quite Ready

Canada blows Italy away with a 16-0 score while the United States wins their games easily 6-0 and 5-0. It makes me wonder if women’s hockey is ready on the world stage.

Looking at the recent Olympic Games feature women’s ice hockey for only the third time still sees no improvement from other nations to make the tournament competitive. Many blame countries other than the USA and Canada for not starting girls young enough in the sport. Others say that money is the biggest obstacle many nations face.

But with just two teams playing for gold, is it worth to have these nations embarrassed by eleven to nothing scores? It seems as if the round robin is just a formality, and bears no change that is going decide who will be in the final. Then why play them at all?

With no disrespect to either of the elite teams, the Americans and the Canadians, but women’s hockey just might not be ready to be considered for the Winter Olympics. Instead the sport can continue its international tournaments and get the competition to the point where teams can come to the Olympics and have the opportunity to play well.

However, it does become a catch-22 for nations trying to raise awareness of ice hockey for women if they are not in the Olympics. While the play may be poor, how else are these nations able to gain some recruiting for future Olympics?

Looking at the overall picture of this tournament, I just believe that it needs a few more years to develop the sport in some young women. Let it grow, then let the best team win gold.

-- Olympic Notes --

  • USA men’s hockey got off to a rough start mostly because of bad weather on the east coast over the weekend. Only three players from the U.S. have arrived in Turin. Many players will arrive with just a day to recover from the travel and time change before the tournament starts on Wednesday.

  • Even it has no bearing on any thing to do with the sport of hockey, Wayne Gretzky’s troubles with his wife and assistant coach Rick Tocchet may bear some affect on the Canadian players in Italy. Janet Jones, Gretzky’s wife, did make the trip to Italy. Players will be plagued with questions of the gambling for the entire tournament as Canada tries to defend its Olympic Gold Medal.

  • From the Caps, Olaf Kolzig (Germany), Alex Ovechkin (Russia) and Ivan Majesky (Slovakia) have all left for Turin. All will join their respective teams today or tomorrow.

Getting a Break

The Caps go into the Olympic break with some pretty sorry losses. In the last 4 games the Capitals played they were out scored 21 to 7. The worst game came against the Eastern Conference worst Pittsburgh Penguins were the Caps looked to come out with a lot of rage rather than play the game.

The Caps looks now to try and finish strong in the final stretch of the season, but can their legs carry them. With the Caps top scorer playing in the Olympics, it is still to be seen how Alex Ovechkin can keep his legs under him.

Olaf Kolzig signs a two year extension with the Caps that quells the rumors of a possible trade of the all-star goaltender. And there is new talk and rumor about a possible trade with Nashville for Brendan Witt. Many teams looking to the post season would like to beef up their blue lines with an experienced Witt so I am fairly confident that Witt will not be in a Capitals sweater by season’s end.

The Capitals should considering shaving some of there prospects away for better more consistent players. Possible players I would think GM George McPhee should consider a trade for include Brooks Laich, Brian Sutherby, Ivan Majesky, and Mathieu Biron. I would hate to see Sutherby go, but his solid play has proven him to be a solid player that increases his value for a trade.

But no trades will come during the Olympics, in which the first Men’s Ice Hockey game is on Wednesday. The break comes with some relief for the Capitals were they can work on improving their system and allow injured players time to heal their bodies before NHL play continues in two weeks.

So with the Caps off the Ice I will start commenting on the Olympic effort of the US, and my next couple of posts will come soon on Women’s and Men’s Hockey from Torino Italy. And make snow angels in the freshly laid 10 inches of snow that fell this weekend in the D.C. area.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Slept On It

Capitals 0, Panthers 5

It is easy for me to get upset over the last two games. It’s easy to criticize the players and their work ethic. But it’s really not fair to them. This is a team that needs to find itself. Apparently it will take longer than just a few good performances to find it.

Last night I chose not to write the blog after the game. It might have been a good thing because I was really frustrated over the games outcome. Instead I made my wife crazy stewing about the loss and waited to write this morning. I came to the realization that this is not a whole team.

The speed is there, the skill is apparent, but the structure and the experience are missing. It’s not a good sign either when the opponent scores 3 unanswered goals in the second period and the announcers are already throwing in the towel for the Caps.

It made me think that I had put the Capitals at a standard that was too lofty for them to reach. Instead of believing that this team could turn spectacular efforts into consistent wins, I was watching a team go through its growing pains in an effort to put together some sort of a good competitive likeness on the ice.

Sure the Caps were with out some key players, Chris Clark, Matt Bradley, Jeff Halpern, and Steve Eminger. But, that just proves that the Caps have no depth. So I find myself hurrying up to wait for this team to be champions.

Overall Grade: D

As much as I wanted to give the Caps an “F” I felt that their first period play didn’t warrant any kind of failing grade. And of course we have to give credit to the Florida Panthers defense and Roberto Loungo for a well executed game, shutting down the Capitals high octane and streaky offense.

Jon Sim got a hat trick on the night, with one goal that was a wrap around slapper that went off Olie Kolzig and into the net. It was quite the highlight goal for a transient player that has played for 6 different teams in his career.

Wash Post will dazzle you with defining details of the match up. Caps must now throw whatever game plan that was out the window and work on making a consistent effort (even if it is a consistent loss) against the Flyers on Olympic Opening Night (otherwise known as Friday night).

Saturday, February 04, 2006

From Good Straight To Ugly

Capitals 0, Lightning 5

Brent Johnson had no help as the Capitals didn’t even show up to play. This game was decided in the first 11 seconds. It went nowhere but down hill for the Caps there. Johnson started in net for Olie Kolzig who had a spectacular night against Toronto.

I am tired of these fantastic performances by the Caps only for them to come back to play like an ECHL team the very next game. So instead of saying all the same things over again when the Capitals lose big (i.e. poor defense, bad puck decisions, slow cumbersome play), I am just going to grade and finish my six pack.

Overall Grade: F

How can they play so well, and then suck so bad? Caps need to start looking for consistency, and that means making tough decisions like maybe consider trades for some of their prospects to build a better team around Alex Ovechkin and Kolzig.

Scoring for the Caps tonight… no one. This one was pathetic from the moment they dropped the puck. It is frustrating to be a fan of this team right now.

Wash Post has a smart reporter that will be less biased than I. But that is why you read my thoughts, right?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Skeleton Crew Comes Up Short

Capitals 3, Islanders 5

In Washington D.C. politics is king. So when the State of the Union address comes around every January, every channel in D.C. is focused on what powers the nation’s capital. This in turn puts the Caps game on some obscure channel (MHz2, usually the channel is on 24 hours a day).

In response to this bad error in timing for Comcast Sportsnet, they have generously decided to replay the game at 2 a.m., and then again later during the day. My wife and I decided to do dinner and instead of watching the game (which is a great frustration on her part when I do watch), I decided to be in a giving mood and watched the rest of American Idol when we got home then did what a majority of America did and watched the President’s speech.

Setting my alarm clock for 2 in the morning, I jumped out of bed and turned to my second favorite channel to watch the Caps play. I am very tired.

The Capitals actually played very well, keeping the game close. Considering the Caps were with out Alex Ovechkin (lower body), Dainius Zubrus (upper body), Matt Bradley (not sure) and Steve Eminger (lower body).

This gave some considerable time to other players. Rookie Mike Green, a defenseman that has shown great potential in the minors looked like a veteran on the ice. Brooks Laich also played really well, he was fast and handled the puck well. But with their new ice time came fatigue and the Caps looked winded late in the third.

Overall Grade: B-

The Caps first real test with out Ovechkin was really a good one. The Islanders are a solid team, and the Capitals made it close for most of the game. The Caps goals were by Brian Willsie, Matt Pettinger, and Jeff Friesen, who all three really needed to find the back of the net. Friesen actually looked relieved after his goal bounced of an Islander skate and into the net.

Wash Post has the inside scoop to the game. Caps play the Maple Leafs on Friday. It should be good with a rested Ovechkin and Zubrus. This time the game will be on a channel that actually exists. I am going back to bed now.