Thursday, January 14, 2010

The ups and downs of this Caps team

Prior to producing two solid wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-1 on Friday, and the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3 yesterday, the Caps became the team that frustrates their fans in their little tour of the Southeast Division.  They reverted backed to their lazy ways and took it too easy against the Tampa Bay Lightning, for a 7-4 thumping, they managed to eke out a win in the shootout against the Florida Panthers and they played their one good game with a 8-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.  The Caps performance at the Atlanta game is what championship teams are supposed to do and they're supposed to do it every game night.  Take their two points with conviction when the opponent is struggling.   The Caps tend to forget that lesson, at times.

The Caps are back on top of the Eastern conference again, for the moment, so why am I calling them out for their unforgettable performance against the Southeast?  Because, I want this team to play hungry every night and I want them to remember that they have won exactly nothing.  I do realize that no team plays on the top of its game every night during an 82 game season, but laziness cannot became a habit of a contender so I'm happy to see they played with more energy the last two games.

Positive observations:
  • Brooks Laich ended his scoring drought against the Flyers, collecting two goals - one short-handed - after having a video review session with Coach Boudreau.  Brooks is always a hard worker and I'm thrilled he ended his scoring slump.
  • The Caps defense, as a unit, is playing better this season.  Another year of experience under the belt is helping players like Jeff Schultz and Mike Green.   Green made a spectacular poke check deep in the defensive zone yesterday that had Craig Laughlin saying it was a "Norris worthy" play.  Schultz looks more comfortable in his body and it's showing. His +/- at +27 is second in the NHL only to his team Captain, who leads the league at +28.  Green and Schultz both still have to prove themselves in the playoffs so this season is a big test.
  • Alex Ovechkin seems to be taking his game to a whole new level recently as his 5 point night (1-4-5) against Toronto showed.  His playmaking abilities are beginning to match his goal scoring abilities, as he now has 34 assist and 30 goals for 64 points.  Ovechkin has found strong chemistry with Mike Knuble and Knuble, since recovering from surgery on his finger, has become that net crashing, garbage goal scorer Caps fans were hoping for when he was signed. 
  • Jason Chimera took a little while to settle in with the Caps aggressive offensive system, but he's stepping up now.  He's a big guy at 6'2, 216 lbs, he plays physical and I liked it when Chimera defended his teammates on Friday night against the frustrated and chippy Maples Leafs.
  • John Carlson, he of the recent game winning gold medal goal for Team USA fame, received an ovation Friday night when his name was unexpectedly announced in the starting lineup.  I cheered wildly in my Carlson jersey.  Brian Pothier is hurt so Carlson is playing.  His confidence level from the junior world hockey championship carried over into his play during the last two games.  Carlson played +2 hockey in 14:32 of work against Toronto and had 2 missed shots, 1 hit and 1 giveaway.  He played +2 hockey in 15:51 minutes of work against the Flyers, had 2 takeaways, 2 blocked shots and 1 giveaway.   The jitters that showed when Carlson made his NHL debut against the Montreal Canadiens in November are gone and he is playing like he belongs.  Carlson was sent back to the Hershey Bears today, but I have no doubt we'll see him again soon.
Nagging Concerns:
  • Goal tending - is Semyon Varlamov going to be a healthy, productive net minder? I don't doubt his ability to be a #1 goalie in the NHL, just his resilience.The jury is still out as he gets injured every year and has been out since early December, except for playing one game in Hershey where he managed to injure his right knee.  Michal Neuvirth gets overwhelmed when the Caps defense is playing poorly and the forwards aren't back checking as effectively as they need to be.  He has a 5-4 record with a .892 save percentage, so he's not playing horribly, he just needs more experience.  And, Jose Theodore is 13-7-4 with a .902 save percentage.  At times, the Caps play horribly in front of Theo and, at times, Theo can't get his rebounds under control.  All of this makes me wonder if the Caps currently have what they need in net to contend for a Cup run and the answer is "not right now". Thankfully, it's only January.
  • Penalty killing - the Caps penalty kill has dropped back to 25th in the league at 78.6% effectiveness.  That needs to improve before the playoffs.  The Caps are doing somewhat better at avoiding untimely costly penalties, but they need to kill off penalties better.
The positives outweigh the negatives so let's keep it up Caps.

Detroit Red Wings are next.

Let's go Caps!


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