Monday, February 01, 2016

Best All Star game ever

The three on three format for the NHL All Star game generated enough action and highlight reel plays to keep the games entertaining, but it was the John Scott story that stole the show. NHL fans made Scott an All Star and he made it to Nashville despite the NHL’s action to keep him away from the game. The league could not have imagined the best hockey All Star game ever playing out around the story of the Pacific Division’s Captain.
The Nashville fans celebrated Scott, after his two goal performance in the preliminary round. They chanted “MVP” for him while hockey fans online, once again, voted Scott in for an award. He was not on the ballot. Scott deserved the MVP after his two goal performance in the Pacific versus Central game. As many said, his second goal was well earned.
There could not have been a more heartwarming story and it was fantastic to see his very pregnant wife and young kids with him on a magical night in his forgettable NHL career as an enforcer. Maybe Gary Bettman and company should learn something and consider including a fan voted non-traditional All Star to the big game, the one that means nothing regardless of how hard the NHL tries to sell it otherwise, instead of stashing John Scott in the AHL. At least, there is talk of Scott getting some endorsement deals.
That is what the NHL does not get, at times. The magic about hockey is contained within the stories of the people who play, train, coach, manage, own, support, and watch the game. John Scott had a ball and so did all the fans who watched him.
P.S.
On a side note, nice to see Braden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom and Egeny Kuznetsov represent the Caps well at the All Star game, but time to get back to it on Tuesday.
Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, January 18, 2016

The hockey IQ of Justin Williams

The player dubbed “Mr. Game 7” for his Stanley Cup championship playoff heroics, although it is a moniker he prefers to shrug off, is one smart hockey player. The hockey IQ of Justin Williams makes him the type of player that the Caps needed to add to their lineup at the end of last season. T.J. Oshie and Williams added critical veteran leadership and hard-working players to this team and helped to amplify the culture Coach Barry Trotz set out to build.

Williams’s 15G-16A-31P and +14 stats in his 43 games has him on pace for a year he has not seen since his 59 points in 2011-2012 with the Los Angeles Kings. Williams seems stoked to play on this team. His leadership has to be a huge help to Trotz, too. What better person for the players who have not played in the Stanley Cup finals to listen to on the bench.

Two years ago in the playoffs skating for the Stanley Cup champions Los Angeles Kings, Williams’s 9G-16A-25P and +13 helped that team win. His 7 points in the finals earned him the Conn Smythe trophy. The Caps can only hope for a similar experience during a playoff run that hopefully lasts longer than one series.

Williams’s contribution to the Caps this year includes lots of smart plays like dishing the puck ahead of three players against the New York Rangers and getting his own rebounds. Like making an impact regardless of his line mates, Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, or Chimera and Evgeny Kuznetsoz. Williams assists and scores with all of them.

His hat trick and first star performance on Sunday versus the New York Rangers included a little luck and an empty net, but Williams makes his own luck, too. He is constantly involved in the play, stirs up trouble, makes great plays and gets great cycle games going with Johansson and Kuznetsov. He likes playing against the Rangers, too, since he had a 2G-1A-3P night against them for another first star performance on December 20, 2015. Williams is a key cog in the wheel of the Caps playoff hopes.

Let’s go Caps!


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Monday, January 11, 2016

The joy of watching Alex Ovechkin

I learned about number 8 by reading about him months before he stepped foot on the ice for the Washington Capitals. As a long suffering Caps fan, I could not imagine Washington being a destination for a generational player, but that is exactly what Caps fans have witnessed, 10-years of a generational player’s career to become only the 43rd person in NHL history to score 500 goals. From his first two goal, shattered glass game against the Columbus Blue Jackets through his next 498 goals, the joy of watching Alex Ovechkin has never faded.

Ovie’s smash mouth hockey, combined with his sniper’s ability to shoot and score highlight reel goals and his infectious celebrations when he or his teammates scores make him unique. He still draws amazed gasps in my household on a frequent basis. There will never be another Washington Capital like him in my lifetime.

Three of my favorite goals and why:

The goal – because I stood up in the room where I watched that goal saying over and over again “He meant to do that.” That and Wayne Gretzky’s face and slight smile made me optimistic for that generational label.

The February 29, 2009 goal against the Montreal Canadiens – the one where Ovie slid around Roman Hamrlik and bounced the puck back to himself off the wall, caught the puck, and got tripped up by Kyle Chipchura, slide across the ice to chip it past Carey Price. That was the most impressive goal I’ve seen.

#499 – the overtime game winning goal versus the goalie that has been punished the most by Ovie, Henrik Lundqvist (see an Ovie stats article on nhl.com), had everything. Great saves by both goalie Braden Holtby and blue liner Nate Schmidt and Ovie’s around Holtby’s net, coast-to-coast sprint ending in making a Ryan McDonagh look silly by using him as a screen and getting the puck in the net is vintage Ovie.

In 2010, I took a trip to see the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and watch hockey in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa and got to see Ovie’s appeal to Canadian fans of the game. From his ubiquitous presence in the Hall of Fame for his three trophies at that time – the Richard, the Lester B. Pearson and the Hart – and his world juniors appearance in 2005, where he won the honor of being the best forward is also in Toronto to the Ovechkin jersey appearances in each city I visited, Ovie was everywhere. Most Canadians I talked to wished he played for their team, but one thought Ovie was the best player in the world.

In the Caps game versus Montreal on the 2010 trip, Ovie got two assists and had a monster hit on Hal Gill, the 6’7, 241 lb. defenseman that pushed him into Carey Price’s net. Classic Ovie. I look forward to continued unexpected highlight reel moments from one of the greatest scorers to ever play the game.  

Let’s go Caps!




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Monday, January 04, 2016

When adversity strikes

The Washington Capitals place on top of the Eastern Conference by nine points could not have come at a better time. The season is nearing its mid-point at 38 games and key injuries are piling up for this team. The Caps wins have come in a variety of ways, but they have also benefited from Goalie Braden Holtby’s Vezina contending season to get them on top and keep them there.  Now, with key players out the Caps get to display how they react when adversity strikes.

The injury roundup:

  • The veteran leader of the defense and for the team as the assistant captain, Brooks Orpik played his last game on November 10th and the up and down nature of his recovery is not encouraging.
  • John Carlson, the blue liner having a strong year and picking up for Orpik’s absence, got injured in Montreal on December 26th.
  • Jay Beagle, the faceoff and penalty kill specialist, had hand surgery today and is out for six weeks. The Caps are 21-0-5 when he scores. Beagle scored in his last two games and was the first star of the game twice against the Montreal Canadiens and the Carolina Hurricanes. He is the hardworking checking line forward that always puts his heart and soul on the ice. According to his Coach Barry Trotz, he is also the practice guy, motivated to practice like he is motivated to play. That help to the accountability culture will be missed.

The Caps lost their past two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Carolina Hurricanes. This is the first losing streak of the season for the Caps. The competitive NHL means that 9 points is nothing and can vanish in under a week. The team behind them is the Florida Panthers and the Caps recent performance against that team is not encouraging with a 1-4 loss on December 10th and a 2-1 overtime win at the end of October. The Caps need to deal with the adversity and get back to winning with a new mix of line combinations and defensive pairings.

The best news of the day is that Carlson and Orpik are traveling with the team. Neither is expected to play, but the fact that they are on the trip is encouraging.

Let’s go Caps!


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Monday, December 21, 2015

Goalies need more support

Braden Holtby’s play in net this season has put him on top of the NHL leader board with the most wins at 21. The Caps lead the league with the lowest goals against per game with 2.61 and most of that is due to Holtby. Watching him develop into an elite goalie under Coach Mitch Korn is fun. But, the Caps players have not given him, or his backup Philip Grubauer, the defense they deserve. The goalies need more support.

It showed when Holtby started in Tampa Bay and let in 3 goals on 12 shots. They Caps broke down, in front of him, like they do for parts of what seems like every game, particularly, during their notorious slow starts to games. Coach Barry Trotz pulled Holtby because he wanted to send a message to the players. He’s reaching elite numbers and is 1st in GAA% with a 1.96 and 5th in SV% with a .931. His highlight reel saves are becoming as common as Alex Ovechkin’s highlight reel goals and they’re responsible for helping Holtby win those 21 games. He is doing his job, but the same cannot be said for all of his teammates on a consistent basis.

Yes, the Caps are 25-6-2, but they play sloppy, at times, and then expect Holtby, or Grubauer, to bail them out. The Caps players need to be responsible for cleaning up their mistakes in the defensive zone. They went 6-1 while playing 7 games in 13 days, but that blazing pace is due to their net minders keeping pucks out of the net.

It is nice that their grind it out win in Carolina tonight showed they found another way to win. When their legs looked like they were skating in quicksand, they dug deep for that extra gear and made it through that final penalty kill for that ridiculous too many men on the ice penalty. This, after two comeback games, one in Tampa Bay and last night in New York as they were down by two goals at the end of the first period last night, but ended up winning the game with six unanswered goals. That’s the last piece of balance the Caps need, a way to grind out a win with offense as often as their goalies bail them out.

No team is going to play the game the right way for an 82-game season and, at a minimum, 16 more games to lift the Cup, but when the Caps play the right way they give their goalies support and they win easily. It is that simple and it is fun to watch.

Let’s go Caps!




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Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Russian scoring contest

Watching Evgeny Kuznetsov skate circles around the opposing goalie’s net without losing the puck or getting touched by defenders as he dishes to Dmitry Orlov for the game winner against the Jets shows the wait for his presence in the Caps lineup was worth it. Former General Manager George McPhee knew the skill Kuznetsov would bring to the Caps.  It makes the loss of Filip Forsberg, a bad and desperate GMGM move, a tiny bit less painful. Also, Forsberg is a winger while Kuznetsov is the second line center the Caps have needed since Alex Ovechkin entered the league ten years ago.

Kuznetsov’s first full season with the Caps came as Coach Barry Trotz installed his new system and taught team accountability. It is probably a good thing that he did not spend too much time in Washington before that. His full potential started shining in the playoffs last season with his 5G-2A-7P and plus-14 in his 14 playoff games. This season he started as the Caps first line center, while NIcklas Backstrom recovered from offseason hip surgery, in between Alex Ovechkin and new Capital, T. J. Oshie. Kuznetsov flourished on the first line, capped by his 3 assist night in Calgary and 5 point night in Edmonton within three days. He plays smart, poised hockey, beyond his 23-years.

In 23 games this season, Kuznetsov has 8G-18A-26P and is plus-14. His 18 assists and 26 points puts him at 6th place in the NHL, while his plus/minus is good for 4th. The other half of the Russian scoring contest, Alex Ovechkin, in 22 games, has 12G-10A-22P and is plus-12, good for 5th in the NHL with his goal scoring is also 5th in the NHL. Last season in the playoffs, Ovie generated 5G-4A-9P, 2 assists better than Kuznetsov, but was a minus-3. This contest should be fun to watch all season and Kuznetsov can push Ovie. Ovie, the Capitals leading point generator throughout the majority of his tenure, is currently behind his Russian teammate by four points. That should keep Ovie focused and that can only be good for the Caps.

Throw in the offensive minded Russian defenseman, Dmitry Orlov, part of the Russian troika, with Ovie and Kuznetsov, that won the overtime versus the Florida Panthers on a Kuznetsov goal with assists from the other two, and there is lots of scoring potential from the Russian Capitals. Let’s hope Russian scoring continues, in droves, throughout the season, and way past April.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Chimera's Contribution

In 77 games last season, winger Jason Chimera generated 7 goals and 12 assists and ended with a minus-1. In 17 games this season, Chimera has 5 goals and 2 assist with a minus-4. This includes a 2 goal, 1 assist night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Both of his goals came on the power play, an area where the Caps needed traffic in front of the net. They got that with Chimera parked in front of goalie Steve Mason.  He netted two goals on the power play in that game, the most he has ever had in one season.

Chimera’s shined in his first star performance that night. He is always on the hard working line for the Caps. During regular shifts, he has been paired with the sneaky, but effective winger Justin Williams and the hard working center Jay Beagle. Chimera spent much of his time, prior to this season, skating with Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer so it was tough to know how he would adjust. That coupled with Chimera’s struggle last season with Coach Barry Trotz’s system, as noted in an earlier Washington Post article, seemed to indicate that this season might continue to be a struggle for him. From the low of sitting in the press box last season to his performance, so far, Chimera is getting better and better since he became a Cap in December 2009.

This season, he has almost as many goals as last season. At 36, Chimera flies down the ice like a younger man. He does not look like he has lost a step and he still has the ability to skate around defenders, like he did versus the Flyers. He is another all effort all the time type of player. The Caps finally have more than one player focused on playing the right way throughout the season and, more importantly, for the playoffs. Chimera is a critical component for the Caps success.

The Caps are back in Detroit for another game versus the Red Wings. Caps need more traffic in front of the net and goalie Petr Mrazek. Let’s go Chimera.

Let’s go Caps!

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