Saturday, February 25, 2012


Not Great, But Better

The Capitals finally get it right in back to back games. Thanks to early starts in both, Washington breaks the ninth place tie by gaining 4 points in two nights with wins over Montreal and, the team they were tied with, Toronto. Early goals in the first moments of each game has the Caps finally heading in the right direction.

But the road to the playoffs won't be won in these last two games. In fact, the Capitals still are on the outside looking in stuck in ninth. Two teams are ahead of them in the Division, Florida and Winnipeg who both gained big points today as well.

The Panthers rallied to over come a 2-0 deficit against the Carolina Hurricanes and won the game in a shoot out to give them the Southeast Division lead. The Jets were able to make it to overtime to gain a point and stay a point over the Capitals today when they lost to a shoot-out with the St. Louis Blues. In a division where the lead can change nightly, the Caps need to start piling up wins with some consistency. It could be the difference between looking in and being 3rd in the Conference with precious home ice advantage.

The Capitals road troubles have to start solving its woes pretty quick. They will be on the road for another 9 of their remaining 20 games. They will have to navigate through all of the leaders in the conference with tough teams like New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston and the Rangers. Not to mention they will see division foes another 5 times before seasons end and Western Conference monsters like Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota (road games with the first two).

I agree with Alan May, the Caps are going to need to reach 95 points or better to safely make the playoffs. That means the Caps need to close the gap with 28 points (roughly 14 wins out of the remaining 20 on schedule). It is a tall order for the Capitals to close out the season looking at the competition they have to face, but not impossible.

Trade Rumors

What is more distressing, that general manager George McPhee hasn't made a move yet or that the Capitals have just about disappeared from any trade rumor in the last 4 days or so? There was talk of Roman Hamrlik being moved due to his recent healthy scratches. But those sort of fizzled out.

There was talk of a possible trade with Columbus for Jeff Carter, but he ended up in LA. I thought I heard a rumor about Ales Hemsky being talked about, but he resigned with the Oilers for another two years.

McPhee is notorious for keeping mum about the trade deadline. But even the experts are not sure if he is a seller come the trade deadline or a buyer. There is a real possibility that McPhee will just sit on his hands on this one, a maneuver he has done before.

If I had a dollar for every time I was wrong when it came to the thought process of one George McPhee, I would be a rich man.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sinking Season

The road trip from hell. The Capitals were looking to grab 3 of 4 of this road trip to stay afloat in the standings and maybe even grab hold of the lead in the Southeast Division. But after a spectacular win against the Panthers, things went downhill fast for the once mighty Capitals. To cap off the fourth game of the four game road swing, it seemed that Disney On Ice that occupied Verizon Center saw more favorable action than the Caps on the road. It seemed only fitting that a team the Caps could mathematically catch in the standings were the Ottawa Senators would steam roll them 5-2.

Okay, so Matty Perreault takes a puck off his face and scores, and John Carlson maybe added a glimmer of hope with his power play tally after a pretty Alex Semin pass (a scene we have seen too little of this season). But besides the fact they didn't get shut out, there were not a lot of positives to take from the game.

Alex Ovechkin looked uncomfortable in morning skate and ended up leaving early from practice was a bad omen to the already reeling Capitals. He would not strap them on for tonight's tilt, forcing the Caps to recall Keith Acoin to fill out the roster. Listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury, the Capitals would lose an offensive weapon (if you can call it that this season).

This doesn't seem to be a coaching problem. Even with a new system in place, the Capitals scoring has not improved. It seems to be a player problem, which could be corrected with some names being moved at the trade deadline.

The door in the Southeast has been open for some time, but it seems no one wants it. Florida seems to bump into it more times than not and the Capitals road effort couldn't beat most college teams at this point.

One thing is for sure, serious changes have to be on the horizon. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Enigmatic Semin

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
In my last post, I may have made a knock or two at Alexander Semin's play and described him looking disinterested in a game or two. In the last two games I witnessed in person and in talking with other fans and bloggers, there was a consensus that Semin seemed mentally checked out. Readers were quick to retort my criticism with some of the following comments.

"Semin has been just about the most consistent point producer since Hunter took over. All of his stats have improved. He's engaged in the game, not disinterested," Said Hale in a post comment of All Eyes On GM.

"If there is any positive change in the team comparing to BB's era - it's more motivated Semin," Said Anon. One went so far as to point out Semin's willingness to block a shot or two as point to prove a more motivated Semin.

It warrants some more discussion about what Semin has done for the Caps this season.

The Good

In part, some of what the readers have been saying is true. Semin's point totals were a disappointing 5 goals and 5 assists before Dale Hunter took the reigns of the Washington Capitals. Semin was credited with 2 blocked shots and eight hits (including a 3 hit night against Anaheim) in the Bruce Boudreau era this season which was 21 games this season.

Under Boudreau, Semin scored an average of .238 goals per game. Compared to Hunter era numbers, his average crawls up to .322 goals a game. In terms of total points per game under Gabby, Semin had an average of .476. Under Hunter, that number jumps to .774 points per game. Seeing a jump (albeit small) in goals per game, and a bigger jump when you talk about points proves there has been some improvement in Semin's game. Whether you attribute that to Hunter coaching abilities or a playing in a contract year, I will let you decide.

The stat that beats them all is his penalties per game. In the 21 games amassed under Boudreau, Semin was called for 16 minor penalties (an average of .716 penalties per game). Under Hunter he has only been whistled 8 infractions in 31 games played (average that plummets to .258). The best improvement over any other stat Semin has had in comparison from the Boudreau era to the Hunter era this season.

The Bad

You can pull a lot of good out of those numbers. However, compare those numbers to Semin's numbers from the previous two seasons under Boudreau and they look dismal. Semin had a point average per game of .831 (54 points in 65 games) in 2010-2011 and a point average per game of 1.15 average point per game (84 points in 73 games) the season before that. The numbers have significantly dropped. Not to mention in the previous two years Semin was a +22 in 10/11 and +32 in 09/10. This year, Semin is a +5.

The Ugly

This season Semin has, for the most part, been invisible this season. He has zero game tying goals and zero game winning goals. Of 178 power play opportunities, Semin has only 2 goals and 6 assists. That is .045 points per power play opportunity this season. Sure, overall the power play has been struggling (especially with 19 out of the lineup), but Semin's numbers has not been much help to special teams either.

To prove Semin's invisibility in some measurable way, I can count on one hand how many games Semin has earned a star of the game honors. Three to be exact. A first star against the Rangers on December 28th (scored two goals), a third star when the Caps shut out the Canadiens on February 4th (goal, assist), and second star against Winnipeg on February 9th (goal, assist). For 52 games under Semin's belt, one would think his efforts would be more visible, but they are not.

I am not even going to get into playoffs, other than to say Semin has not really set the world on fire with his play in the post season either. That could be a post unto its own.

Semin is a very skillful player that almost every other player envies. To have a blistering slap shot and wrister that has some accuracy behind it is what makes him a special player. But his attitude and sometimes non-nonchalant demeanor seems to keep him from accomplishing great things in the NHL.

I believe a good portion of Caps' fans want to see Semin become successful and so do his teammates in a way. But, looking at the big picture here, he has yet to convince me that his efforts are helping the Capitals at this time.

Monday, February 13, 2012

All Eyes On GM

The Washington Capitals are a shadow of its former self. Once a offensive power house that put fear in goaltenders league wide, now just a team struggling to get their star players to find the back of the net. Sure, you can point to injuries or slumps and maybe even some bad chemistry. But the Caps have come out of the off season with what seemed to be sure bets in free agency, only to see this team struggle to maintain mediocrity.

They changed their coach, Bruce Boudreau out for Cap legend Dale Hunter. But the results seem to be the same. The offense is sputtering out marginal results even with some great work by support lines who are holding their own and then some. The so called "Young Guns" are starting to look more like "Old Excuses" and it's not fun to watch the team struggle the way it has.

One day they are flirting with first in the Southeast Divsision, only to see it slip away to a 2 game lead by a team they beat to take over the first place spot, Florida Panthers. Teams they should be beating consistently, they are struggling to hold a two goal lead late in the game against a non-playoff team.

With the trade deadline looming, George McPhee will have to either find something to re-spark the team's competitiveness or cut bait and take the season for a loss. Are the Capitals a buyer or seller?

After the last few year's disappointments, the Caps can't deny the success they have had. But maybe that success in the regular season has handcuffed the team come playoff time and given them a false sense of security. This season, there is no false sense of anything but a real fear that the Caps could be outside the playoff bubble and looking in at the conclusion of 82 games. How they are playing of late does not hold out hope that the team could A) make the playoffs, and/or B) go any further than the first or second round once there.

GMGM is not just looking for a spark for his team, but might as well be fighting for his job. If the Caps do finish the season in 9th or lower in the Eastern Conference, McPhee will have to look back on a resume that includes a lot of bridesmaids awards, but no hardware that holds a title. His failures will far out weigh his success as architect of the Washington Capitals.

Trade Alex Semin is the new mantra coming out of the Cap Faithful. A talented forward with the "golden hands" already looks mentally checked out of the game, noticed by fans and media alike. Mike Green's inability to stay healthy has some seeing him as more of a liability rather than any help to the Capitals at this point. He is also amongst trade rumors as his contract ends at season's end. If the duo are dealt, McPhee will depart with his "Young Guns" strategy developing a team around a core group of guys. He would instead look to bolster Alex Ovechkin's numbers in hopes of making it to the playoffs.

If the Caps are winning, Semin's disinterest would be tolerated. Green's injuries don't seem that bad. But with Nick Backstrom out for what could be the rest of the 2011-2012 campaign, GMGM should be looking for a overhaul rather than a tweak here or bolster depth there. That is if he does not cut bait.