Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Caps Are Lackluster

Capitals 2, Canadiens 4

Olie Kolzig wasn’t too pleased when he banged his stick twice on goals just 26 seconds apart. But the mood on the bench was even more disheartening, because it looked like the team just didn’t care.

With a third of the Verizon Center full, the Capitals just couldn’t make things happen. What was suppose to be a big spoiler night for the Caps turned to mush in their hands over a team they have had success with this season.

Montreal, who is in the hunt for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, got contributions from unlikely sources and key lapses in Caps defense left another period where the Caps have allowed 3 goals or more when either tying or beating a team in the other two periods.

Brian Sutherby and Alex Ovechkin both scored the Caps only goals. Sutherby, after a botched drop pass, was able to kick the lose puck to his stick and pulled a nice wrister past Cristobal Huet. Ovechkin, who was benched for 14 straight minutes at the end of the 2nd period and beginning of the 3rd period, scored with just 10 seconds left on the power play.

When asked about his prolonged sit, Ovechkin politely steered the question to his coach. Glen Hanlon declined to comment, but it may have to do with a little touchy feely moment between Ovechkin and the Montreal defense late in the 2nd period. Ovechkin made a run at both defensemen, but it didn’t seem out of place for the physical rookie.

Overall Grade: D

Wash Post is on the case on why Ovechkin had a seat. The Caps have no way of getting into the playoffs, all but mathematically eliminated. But the Caps must find a way to continue to win games now. Chemistry seems a bit lacking lately with the additions of Rico Fata and Kris Beech. I would like to see both players excel and gel with their teammates now, instead of waiting out an off season.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Games Mean More Now

With the season winding down for the Capitals, the Playoff races around the league are starting to heat up. Whether it’s the struggling Canadiens in the Eastern Conference or the President’s Trophy race between Carolina, Detroit, and Ottawa, the NHL may have one exciting conclusion to this season.

The shootout still sparks debate especially as the season comes to a close. While most fans think it’s an improvement, the old guard of hockey’s traditionalist past cries foul each time their beloved team loses the final shootout after a tie game. “Bring back the tie!” they cry, then applaud it as soon as it works to their favor.

But now the race for the playoffs is closer than ever, and each game seems to carry more and more weight. The games are starting to have playoff feel, already a month from the end of the season. And if you don’t know what to watch for you may miss some great regular season games. All this excitement and we aren’t even talking about Lord Stanley’s Cup yet.

Teams on the bubble in the Eastern Conference:

Atlanta Thrashers – The Thrashers as of today are in 9th in the Conference. But their schedule is not an easy one. They have to play hot teams like Ottawa, Buffalo, and Carolina to try to secure the 8th spot. If the Thrashers want to be invited they must win key games against in their Division. Tampa Bay and Washington can both be key stumbling blocks for the Thrashers, and if they don’t pay attention to the team they are playing, they could find themselves on the links early.

Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs keep finding ways to lose games rather than winning them. They too will have to play the hot teams in the Eastern Conference like Buffalo, Ottawa and Carolina. But they also have several teams that could be considered given wins, which have given them trouble this year. The Leafs must put their game faces on to face wounded animals like Pittsburgh and Boston.

Teams on the bubble in the Western Conference:

Vancouver Canucks – Their next 3 games are against Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks seem to be self imploding after a blow out loss to Detroit but their schedule actually helps the team if they bear down and get some key wins. They have the chance now to gain road on their division rivals Oilers if they can win this short 3 game series.

San Jose Sharks – With the acquisition of Joe Thornton, the Sharks need now to start pulling wins together to get themselves in reach of that 8th place playoff spot. They have put successful wins against Colorado and Nashville, but it will be the bottom of the pool that may give the Sharks fits. Teams like Chicago and St. Louis look to be spoilers in the Sharks dream of a playoff berth.

President Trophy hopefuls:

Detroit Red Wings – How can you talk about the playoffs with out mentioning the Red Wings? The Wings have quietly taken on the season as just another day at work with one difference, they’re winning games. Red Wings must be careful though, if they don’t take the first series seriously, they may be a one and out.

Ottawa Senators – This season has been the dream season for the Senators. Their goal scorers are scoring, their defenses are standing up other teams and the goaltending makes beating this team seem a lofty goal. The Senators may have the regular season title within grasp, but it has to be Cup or nothing for this team.

Of course with a month to go, answers to the questions will be slowly answered. Right now I believe that Ottawa has the team to beat for both the President’s Trophy and Lord Stanley’s Cup. My fearless prediction is Ottawa and Nashville in the finals.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Owner on Track

Ted Leonsis was recently interviewed in the Wash Post about what lies ahead for the Capitals as this season comes to a close. Leonsis looks to make some moves, but won’t go free-agent crazy.

I think Leonsis is on the right track as he looks for players to compliment, rather than just looking at stat sheets. He was quoted:

"I'm more interested in free agency as the players get a little younger, as time
marches on," he said. "I want to plug them in as we're on this upclimb, someone
who has been in the league four or five years, his best years are still in front
of them."

It sounds like the Caps have a bright future and it will be exciting to see the team gain it’s chemistry. Leonsis is on the right track in building a successful franchise not just for Stanley endeavors, but for many seasons to come.

Rico Fata and Kris Beech, the two newest Capitals, look like they are going to get some time to impress. Fata’s speed will be helpful in an aggressive forecheck, and Beech’s good playmaking skills the two should be able to grow into their new Caps sweaters.

What the Caps may lack is a physical presence in the absence of the recently departed Brendan Witt (who got into a fight over the glass separator with the Sharks in his first game as a Predator). Nolan Yonkman has tried to fill that gap, but the Caps may need some one with some more experience playing that role.

Caps will play the Sabres tonight on OLN. Capitals will have to play smart team defense when they go up against the leagues top scoring team. Alex Ovechkin is looking for a goal after being shut down in the previous two games.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

About Time

Sorry for the hiatus, I know how you puckheads like to check out the blog every now and then. But sometimes life gets in the way of updating blogs and websites. Recently I have found myself with out employment, so right now there are other things that are important, like a paycheck. But this isn’t about me, is it.

Capitals 6, Penguins 3

The Penguins have never swept the Capitals in a season series, and it sure isn’t going to happen this year. The Caps finally put a good team win together to finally put the only team that has a worst record than them down.

A lot of hype about Alex Ovechkin and Sid “the Kid” Crosby, but the story really wasn’t about the two fantastic rookies and more about lucky bounces and solid team play. I thought the Caps played well, using one another for opportunities and seemed to buzz in the offensive zone.

Ivan Majesky probably had the goal of the night. In an attempt of an innocent clear on the penalty kill, Majesky lifted the puck out of his own zone, some 140 feet away, when the puck took a fortunate bounce over the glove of Sebastien Caron and into the net for his first goal of the season. Hey, it counts.

Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal, a goal, 2 assists and a +1. He set up a beautiful goal on a 2 on 1 to Chris Clark, and had even more explosive plays as the game went on, where as Crosby seemed content with drop passes. I guess he figured that he beat the Caps 3 times this season, and that would suffice.

Overall Grade: B

Wash Post and my man Tarik El-Bashir who covered the Daytona 500 during the Olympic Break is back doing what he does best. The Caps needed this win for Ovechkin if for nothing else to secure rookie of the year honors. They came into this game with a better work ethic than the Penguins, who looked a little shell shocked and tired.

During the game a pigeon decided it wanted a closer look and would land on the ice and buzz the referees from time to time. Pittsburgh may sign the bird to fill out their defensive line. Brendan Witt did not dress for this game, which means his trade is in a matter of hours instead of days. Where ever Witt goes I do wish he can make an impact.

Next post should be the review of this week’s trades. I will break down the winners and losers of the sweater switches. Some trades and recent signings have me already raising my eyebrows.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Whose Staying, Whose Going?

March 9 is the trade deadline for the NHL. And if you have checked your calendars lately that means the deadline is just a week away. So I thought I would play General Manager for my team and picked the 3 players I would send away, and the 3 players I wouldn't dare part with on the Capitals roster.

To Trade:

1. Brendan Witt. Obviously, he has wanted a trade since they started this whole rebuilding process. Many Caps fans have already discounted him as trade fodder and cant wait to see the replacement they get for the 31 year old defensemen.

2. Jeff Friesen. Unable to add any spark or veteran steam to this growing team, Friesen has been more of a money taker than a money maker. It just didn't work well for him here in DC. We should get something solid in return for him.

3. Ivan Majesky. The Caps need to shed some size on the blue line for speed and puck handling ability. This Slovak is slow and would rather hit than contribute anything substantial.

On the bubble to trade: Nolan Yonkman, Brian Willsie and Mathieu Biron.

To Keep:

1. Alex Ovechkin. Okay, you would have to be insane to think we would ever give him up.

2. Mike Green. I know he is usually a call up from Hershey, but Green has shown some promise and looks to contribute greatly as his learning curve improves. His speed and offense savy will make him a staple of the position he plays on the Caps roster.

3. Matt Pettinger. Who can deny this guys speed and wrist shot? He has added a spark when he has been on the ice of late. Pettinger has a certain talent of keeping 3rd and 4th line defense off kilter and his speedy stick handling abilities can provide the goal support Ovechkin needs.

On the bubble to keep: Brent Johnson, Dainius Zubrus, Shaone Morrison.

Olaf Kolzig, Jamie Heward, Chris Clark and Bryan Muir have all signed extensions with the Capitals.

The Caps have a good core that is buying into Glen Hanlon's message, but the team is in desperate need of some depth. GM George McPhee should take anything he can get, forwards or defense in this seemingly sellers market. The Caps would do well to keep a core of intact lines and beef up the bench. As usual your thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Little Luck Goes a Long Way

Capitals 5, Maple Leafs 3

The Maple Leafs could do no right, the Capitals could do no wrong. 16 days off seemed to help the Caps gain focus, and a few lucky bounces doesn’t hurt either. After a review of the Alex Ovechkin’s goal where the puck hit his skate and into the wide open net.

The Caps had time to heal and work out some bugs, even rumored to practice during the Olympic break with out coaches and trainers. Even while Olaf Kolzig and Ivan Majesky took the Toronto game off, Ovechkin was back in the swing of things albeit a bit tired.

Matt Pettinger has a huge night with two goals, one shorthanded. Darcy Tucker saw something that made his blood boil a little bit, “It's disappointing because you sit there at the end of the game and the other team is looking over at you and laughing," Tucker told reporters. "It's not a fun thing, that's for sure.”

Tucker must have thin skin or may be steaming after Brent Johnson robbed him of a goal in the second with a fantastic glove save. Either way the whole night seemed to be a disaster for the Maple Leafs as they were booed off their own ice. The Caps just seemed to have Toronto’s number. It proves again the Capitals ability to play to the level of their competitor. A work on consistency is the biggest lesson this team must learn.

Overall Grade: A

Trade Watch

With some injured players returning from Torino, many teams will look for healthy defensemen. Brendan Witt’s stock is about to rise. Apparently he has been ready for a trade for a while renting his car and apartment. I guess that makes it easier to slip away in the night.

Another Capital that may not stick around until the end of the season may be Jeff Friesen. It should be an interesting next week to see who the Caps sell and what they receive.