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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Monday, November 09, 2015

The Fedorov versus Ovechkin discussion

Alex Ovechkin lands in Detroit tied with his Russisan countryman Sergei Fedorov as the most prolific Russian goal scorer in the NHL. Ovie scored his 483 goal against the Toronto Maples Leafs. The amazing thing is that he scored those goals in 772 games while it took Fedorov 1,248 games to reach the same mark. Think about that. Ovie nets goals in an era when goaltenders are far stingier than they used to be and it took him 476 less games to hit the mark. Fedorov is rooting for Ovechkin.

To be fair to Fedorov, he played center, not winger so it is no surprise that he has more assists than Ovie, at this point, with 696 to Ovie’s 428 assists. Ovie’s assist numbers would be much higher today if was passing to wingers who actually shot the puck instead of fumbling his pass. Working with a talent like T.J. Oshie on Ovie’s right wing helps with that challenge. Fedorov never had that challenge passing to his Russian Five teammates, Igor Larionov and Vyacheslav Kozloz.

Ovie and Fedorov are very different players. Ovie is the pure goal scorer in an era where it is difficult to score goals. Goalies are trained and coached like all players today, which was not true in the Wayne Gretzky days. Ovie plays smash mouth hockey. He is not a finesse hockey player, but he is a blast to watch. His highlight reel goals show his skill and effort to get that puck off his stick, even if he is falling to the ice or being harassed by a defender, and past the goalie in a flash before the goalie knows what happens. This is Alex Ovechkin’s gift.   

Fedorov was the two-way complete player that won two Selke trophies and three Stanley Cups. His line mates and defensemen, Vladimir Konstantinov and Viacheslav Fetisov made up Coach Scotty Bowman’s innovation, the Russian Five, that teams did not know how to defend. That line focused on puck control, as it seems, the Red Wings still do today. The Russian Five contributed to Detroit’s first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

Both players won the Hart and the Lester B. Pearson, but the bottom line is they are different. Smash mouth sniper Ovechkin versus elite two-way player Fedorov. The NHL will never forget either of them because Alex Ovechkin will follow Sergei Fedorov into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, November 02, 2015

A worker on every line

Coach Barry Trotz’s stated strategy to beat the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, after a sluggish start by the Caps, was to “put a worker on every line.” The Caps looked like they were skating in quicksand after playing the Columbus Blue Jackets the prior night.

To create a spark, Trotz broke up his hardest working trio of Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera and spread them among the top three lines. Those are not the only line changes he made as that spark happened early in the 3rd period when Beagle tied the game assisted by Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams. The Caps won that game in overtime, thanks to the continued magic and hard work of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s offense, assisted by his fellow Russians Ovie and Dmitry Orlov. The Caps responded to their coach and won the game. That is encouraging.

Trotz is all about accountability and effort and that has been evident since he arrived in Washington last summer. He increases ice time when players play well and sends them to the press box when they are not playing the game the right way. That is polar opposite of the Coach Bruce Boudreau country club atmosphere days when the Caps players were more concerned about their activities off the ice.

The additions of T.J. Oshie and Williams this season and Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen last season show how serious General Manager Brian MacLellan is about fixing the problems the Caps have had getting past the 2nd round of the playoffs in the Ovechkin era. He has brought players to Washington that understand how team effort and team play are the most important qualities for winning championships in any professional sport. This group did not bring just their offensive and defensive skill to the Caps, which was also sorely needed, but they brought the leadership intangibles that teams need.

These recently acquired Caps, along with homegrown prospects like Tom Wilson, who is already exhibiting leadership qualities in his play and the words he says, and Kuznetsov, who is so humble in his interviews bodes well for the Caps. It take all of these parts, in addition to the highly skilled players, to make it work. With a couple of exceptions, it has also made the Caps fun to watch.

Let's go Caps!

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Oshie equals effort

Throwing his body around and finishing his checks while being the only guy on the team under 6’ , T.J. Oshie gives notice to his opponents that he will make them pay for any transgression with an offensive or defensive play. Oshie oozes effort on every single shift he plays. That means he is worth more to the Caps than just his offensive output. Oshie brings the leadership and hustle intangibles that the Caps were lacking in the pre-Barry Trotz era.

Through four games, Oshie is 2-2-4 and minus-2, but the points came evenly distributed in the last two games and his plus-minus improved to plus-1 and 0. He is finding chemistry with his new line mates, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, for now. Oshie showed chemistry with Nicklas Backstrom (welcome back 3-point night Nicky!) on the power play against the Carolina Hurricanes. His shot from Backstrom on that play showcased a beautiful one-timer.

Oshie seems to make things happen on the ice. Creative offense versus dump and chase offense is being played by the Caps and he is a part of that. The top 6 forward situation, with the addition of Justin Williams and a healthy Backstrom looks improved. Their passing is fun to watch again.

But, the West Coast road trip will be a big test. The Caps struggle, more seasons than not in the Ovie era, with a 3-4 record the last two seasons, when they play Western conference teams on the road. Of course, the Caps were home for that debacle of a game they played against the San Jose Sharks. Maybe the addition of two Western conference players, Oshie and Justin Williams, will help the Caps on the road out West.

Oshie is excited about the Caps and “what we can do if we play the right way” as quoted in this Washington Post article. Those words make Caps fans happy. This is another example of those key intangibles. There can never be enough of that on a team that would like to be competitive in the playoffs, if they get there.

Puck drops in Calgary tomorrow night. Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, October 12, 2015

An Ovie classic to start the season

It never gets tiring watching Alex Ovechkin undress a defenseman, in this case New Jersey’s John Moore, and completely confuse a goalie, Keith Kincaid, by pulling the puck back to his forehand and going to the top corner of the net. It was the game winner and started the Caps rally in the third period. They outlasted a tired New Jersey team and ended up with a 5-3 victory. The Caps started the game playing sloppy hockey as if they forgot how to play during their five day break, but they got the two points.

The Caps changed again this summer, thanks to General Manager Brian MacLellan, after he assessed another gut wrenching loss in the playoffs, after, once again, being up 3-1 in the series against the New York Rangers. The top 6 forwards needed an upgrade and trades for T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams netted that at the cost of losing Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward. It seems like a good deal right now, but getting to the playoffs and further than the first round is when Caps fans will be able to tell.

In the game against the Devils, T.J. Oshie made his presence known on the ice. Even with a 0 point, minus-1 performance, Oshie’s hustle and compete level shined as he finished his checks, doled out hits and took pucks. As noted in the Washington Post, Oshie feels he had unfinished business in St. Louis so let’s hope Washington is the place where he makes up for that.

Justin Williams, the veteran winger, known as Mr. Game 7 much to his chagrin, is a Stanley Cup winning leader for the Caps locker room. He started his Caps career with two assists on special teams, one on Jason Chimera’s short-handed goal in the 1st period and the other on the power play empty netter put in by Matt Niskanen.

Some intriguing Caps story lines for this season…

  • Will Evgeny Kuznetzov continue to grow as a player and a leader? Early results, starting in the preseason, are encouraging?
  • Will T.J. Oshie find chemistry playing on the opposite side of Ovie?
  • Will Nicklas Backstrom successfully recover from offseason hip surgery and return to form?
  • Will the confidence Tom Wilson displayed versus New Jersey and in the preseason turn into more scoring and better hockey playing from the gritty winger?
  • Will Andre Burakovsky break out this season?
  • Will Braden Holtby keep up his strong play in net?
  • Will the Caps make it to the playoffs and escape their post season history?
  • And last, but not least, will the Caps escape the dreaded jinx of Washington sports teams named to be the champion or finalist by many prognosticators at the beginning of a 162-game, oops 82-game, season? Enough already, this team has a dreadful post season history, and after watching the Nationals implode, crowning the Caps champion of anything is the last thing any Washington sports fan wants to hear.

More on all of these and other story lines as the season progresses.

Now, onto Caps versus Sharks.

Let’s go Caps!

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Holtby, Ovie, and Lucky Bounces

Braden Holtby and number one star last night, stood on his head to help the Caps win a 1-0 game to take a 2-1 series lead over the New York Rangers. Holtby, Ovie, and lucky bounces have helped wipe out slow starts that the Caps are notorious for and have not avoided in either of their playoff series against the New York Islanders or Rangers. This includes the 12:30 debacle on Saturday and the first period in game three, after the Rangers came to play and pressured early. This team cannot seem to wake up for games that start before 1:00 p.m. or come out pressing in the first period even when the games are this important. Baffling.

After complaining about their lack of heart, the Caps pulled out a tight series versus the Islanders with a seesaw performance. They pounded the Islanders 5-1 in game 5 only to fan on the opportunity to close out the series in game 6. Instead, they lost and had to go to a game 7, which they eventually won 2-1 with goals from playoff hero, Joel Ward, and the young wizard with the puck, Evgeny Kuznetsov. The heart comes easier when the Caps are desperate, which is not how teams win the Stanley Cup.
The Caps took that victory and stunned the Rangers with a 2-1 win, to open their second round series, led by a possessed Alex Ovechkin and steady in the net Braden Holtby. The captain flew around the ice with purpose, scoring the first goal of the series on the power play from his usual spot. That the Rangers practiced defending that play and could not prevent the laser shot that went in the top of the net and back out in a flash before goalie Henrik Lundqvist even knew what happened is testimony to Ovie’s power as a sniper. In game 2 of the series, Ovie’s highlight reel goal in the 3-2 loss made fools of Ranger defenders, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, by splitting them and knocking a puck in top left corner as he fell to his knees, a vintage Ovie goal. Ovie is playing on another level and the Caps need that to continue.
Holtby’s been strong and getting stronger since the playoffs started, even if he occasionally lets in softie goals. He’s calm and focused as he bails out his team more often than he lets in softies. His game last night was probably his best of the season. His .949 save percentage shows leads the league among the remaining goaltenders. The Caps need that to continue, too.
The lucky bounces were two game winning goals, noteworthy, because lucky bounces do not find the Caps. Joel Ward’s game winning goal off of Alex Ovechkin’s impossible pass across the body and in front of the net to the waiting Ward with 1.3 seconds left was lucky. Jay Beagle’s hard working second attempt to get the puck in the net deflected off Keith Yandle or Lundqvist and became the game winner. Beagle demonstrated how hard work creates luck and nobody deserves it more because he always toils on the ice. Keep working hard Caps and keep making luck.
Let’s go Caps!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Stars are Producing, But Heart is the Issue

The Caps won a must win game versus the New York Islanders tonight. They played with more desperation, but it is not encouraging that this team cannot rise to the level of intensity that characterizes teams that win playoff series and Stanley Cups. The knock on the Caps have been that their top stars, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, have not performed and they must make lots of noise if the Caps are to be successful in the playoffs.

Ovie’s playoff stats of 33G-31A-64P puts him at just over a point per game although his last couple of playoffs have not been as productive as the years 2008-2011 when he had 41 points in 30 games. He’s also plus-9 over his 62 playoff games. Ovie, however, shows up for the playoffs and this season is no exception. He’s hitting and he’s a force on the ice.

Nicklas Backstrom, on the other hand, is 18G-31A-49P in 61 games, with anemic production during his last three playoffs of 13P in 29 games. Those stats for the #1 center are not good enough for the Caps to hold a shiny silver cup, but his first star 3P performance in game two and his overtime game winner tonight is what the Caps need.  Both Ovechkin and Backstorm scored and assisted on each other’s goals.

The stars are producing, but heart is the issue. Do the Caps want to win enough to throw it all out on the line? That’s not evident, at this point. Other teams slugging it out in the playoffs, right now, seem to have more heart than the Caps. The Caps seem to do enough to get by and that’s not good enough to win a Cup. They will play a strong game in game 2 to lose game 3 in horrendous fashion 15 seconds into overtime, when New York Islands John Tavares threw the puck at Washington Capitals goalie, Braden Holtby, multiple times, and the last one squeaked past the goal line. That shot sent the Caps to a 1-2 deficit in their first playoff series in two years. It felt like a huge letdown after Nicklas Backstrom finally tied up the game 1-1 at 13:54 in the third period.

In game one, the Caps were outmatched mentally and lost the game 4-1. They showed jitters early, but never stopped making stupid passes in the neutral zone or everywhere else on the ice during their 11 giveaway night. On a night Holtby felt ill, the Caps should have been able to help him out, but they could not stop helping the Islanders out instead. It was not a good start to the playoffs.
In game two, it took the Caps until 11:26 in the second period to score after the Islanders already scored two goals. This game started with Cal Clutterbuck when the 4th line grinder, who scored his first NHL goal against the Caps (he’s one of many, many players with that dubious honor), scored on an odd man rush at 5:14 in the first period. The Caps first goal came courtesy of Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom netted his first point on his way to a much needed three point night.

In some respects, the Caps are winning some battles, for faceoff wins and hits, but in other respects, they are losing, grit and perseverance, for instance. The intensity of the hockey being played in the NHL and the heart of the teams playing, right now, is crazy versus Caps-Isles. The difference is palpable.

Let’s go Caps!

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