Saturday, November 27, 2010

60 Minutes of Beautiful Hockey & A Natural

The Washington Capitals played their best sixty minutes of hockey last night and, boy, was it fun to watch. They took their game to the high flying Tampa Bay Lightning and stifled them with defense. Yes, that's right, the Caps shut down the league leading point and goal scorer, Steve Stamkos, who made one shot on net and ended minus 2. Martin St. Louis, the other top 10 league leading scorer, managed two shots on net and ended minus 1.

That the two rookie blue liners John Carlson and Karl Alzner were asked to shut down the Stamkos line and did so effectively says a lot about the future of the Caps defense. Carlson played a Calder Trophy worthy game on defense during his 24:55 TOI. He unleashed a shot past net minder Mike Smith off of a beautiful faceoff win by Marcus Johansson, blocked 3 shots and ended the night plus 1.

The rest of the blue liners chipped in, too. John Erskine got the second goal to start the second period barrage and ended the night plus 1. Tom Poti blocked 4 shots and potted the last goal of the 6-0 domination.

By pure luck, I happened to be sitting on the side of Verizon Center where the Caps shoot once so I witnessed the enigmatic Alexander Semin natural hat trick show about ten rows off the ice behind that goal. It took him 4 minutes, 29 seconds to score those three goals. The first one he connected with as it bounced off the ice from a pretty Johansson pass. The second two were from plays started by Alex Ovechkin and passes from Nicklas Backstrom.

Semin's play was impressive on both ends of the ice and his penalty killing just keeps getting better and better. All the Caps, in fact, played well on both ends of the ice keeping up their forechecking throughout the game and sacrificing their bodies when necessary. It's a rare sight to see that for sixty minutes from this team.

Semyon Varlamov didn't get much work last night, only 17 shots, for which I'm grateful. Although his play in net impresses me and he got the shutout, his groin problems make me fear for his longevity.

The other player I have to mention is Marcus Johansson. After starting out slowly and working through an injury already this season, he appears to be coming into his own and adjusting to the smaller NHL rink. His beautiful pass to Semin and key faceoff pass to Carlson netted him a 2 point night. He looks more and more confident, too, as he gains experience and his skating ability stands out.

Was Coach Boudreau's intense practice after two horrible hockey games the inspiration for this performance? I hope so and I hope they keep it up. No matter how talented a team is, it takes effort to win hockey games in the NHL and even more so in April, May & June. The Caps forget that more than they should and it bites them every time. Last night, they played the way their supposed to and the results showed.

Carolina is next up tomorrow.

Let's go Caps!

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fan Favorite Brads is on Fire

Matt Bradley is playing inspired hockey right now. As I write this, he gets named the Caps player of the game. Brads potted a great goal, drew a key penalty, chased down a Sabre from behind to beat him to the puck and got another point, an assist on David Steckel's goal, for a 2 point, +2 night with 5 shots on goal.

Brads always works hard, but he seems to have an extra kick in his step these days. Maybe it's because he's not getting bloodied as much this season. I love his courage, but I hate seeing Brads with blood pouring down his face. D.J. King, when he has a sweater and John Erskine, he of the haymaker fight against the Thrasher's Eric Boulton, and Matt Hendricks fight instead.

Keep it up Brads. You're the best.

The Caps are on a roll right now, but they're still struggling to play a complete sixty minutes of hockey. They've won several one goal games and I'm glad they're learning how to do that, but they have to keep their focus on eliminating the defenses lapses and taking their foot off the gas. In the Buffalo game, a two minute lapse led to two Buffalo goals and a shaky Michal Neuvirth who recovered his composure, as did the rest of the Caps, to stop Buffalo and win the game 4-2.

Next up, the Atlanta Thrashers tonight.

Let's go Caps!

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Monday, November 01, 2010

The positive post

A 7-2 victory over the Calgary Flames showed what the Caps can do when they're focused on their game. Michal Neuvirth was outstanding in net, again, and Alex Ovechkin broke his goal scoring slump with two power play goals and threw in another assist for a three point night. The Caps anemic power play jumped from near the bottom of the league to 14th from this one game where they converted three of their seven tries. Let's hope that trend continues.

It's apparent that the Caps are trying to play a more defensively responsible game. They sometimes look out of whack doing that, but I'm all for the effort. They'll need it in April. Their 2.27 GAA is far better than their 2.77 from last season. The Caps moved up from 16th to 3rd in that category, tied with Montreal and Los Angeles and behind Boston and St. Louis. The highlight reel saves Neuvy keeps making are a big part of that stat, too, of course.

I hope Mike Green stays healthy. As much as I've ragged on his playoff performances, during the regular season, at least, the Caps are a much better team when he's on the ice. They need Green to quarterback the power play. He's also playing better defensively. His first goal came in the game against Calgary where he had a three point night with three hits, two takeaways and zero giveaways.

The Caps responded after laying an egg in Minnesota. I hate excuses - don't get me started on the hot goalie excuse - but I will give the Caps a teeny, tiny break after playing Carolina the night before and then flying to Minnesota for the game where they had no energy.

They had a team meeting after Minnesota and got it together. Unfortunately, they still played a crappy first period against Calgary, but potted six unanswered goals in the second period. Fun to watch...

That's it. No negatives from me tonight.

Looking forward to seeing Caps play Toronto at the phone booth on Wednesday.

Let's go Caps!

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