Monday, March 28, 2011

Mike Knuble

My first comments about Mike Knuble when he became a Cap back in July 2009 were about how much happier I would be to see him in a Caps uniform instead of a Philadelphia Flyer uniform.  I still believe that and enjoyed watching the 38-year-old forward wrap up his 8th consecutive twenty goal season against his former teammates.   It's how he gets his goals that makes Knuble so wonderful to watch.  He's the quintessential net crashing, garbage goal getting forward.  And, that's such an important role for any team with Stanley Cup aspirations.  He's also a leader for the Capitals.

So, how has Knuble done in his almost two full seasons with the Caps?  He's a slow starter offensively.  But, this year, he started out looking slow in scoring and skating.  It didn't help that everyone struggled on the top line of Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble. Knuble's production struggled along with that line.  In his first season with the Caps, it took Knuble 32 games to score his first 10 goals (.3125 GPG).  This year, it took Knuble 40 games to score his first 10 goals on January 11th against Florida (.25 GPG).  But, then, all of a sudden, he'll turn it on and he's turned it on this season.

His overtime game winning goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 13th netted him the first star of the game that night.  That was an important win for the Caps against the defending Stanley Cup champions.  A second star performance against the New Jersey Devils on March 18th ended with Knuble being 2-1-3, +3 for the night.  His 20th goal against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 22nd was part of a 1-2-3, +2 night for Knuble. In that span of five games, he potted 5 goals and had 3 assists. I like it.

Knuble's playoff stats as a Cap in 7 games against the Montreal Canadiens were 2-4-6.  Almost a point a game. Not bad for a then almost 38-year-old.  I'd like to see him back for one more year.

After blanking the Canadiens with a 2-0 shutout performance by Braden Holtby (he's impressive), the Caps are home finally for a game against the Carolina Panthers tomorrow.

Let's go Caps!

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eight games to go, Injuries Mount, Flyers Game Heroes

The news from yesterday that Alex Ovechkin will be out nursing an undisclosed injury for 7-10 days made me stop breathing for several seconds and also made me curse the lousy luck the Caps have.  In typical fashion, the Caps demurred when asked specifics about the injury Ovie has been battling through for, apparently, several months.  But, he skated today so it can't be too awful.  The key injuries continue to climb for this team, although at this time of the season that can be said about most teams.  I just hope this team has a healthy Ovie, Jason Arnott and Mike Green when the playoffs start.  With the way Ovie plays, he is always banged up this time of year so I'm glad he's recuperating.

The Caps took their battered lineup to Philadelphia and following the lead of 2nd star performer and 1st goal scorer, Nicklas Backstrom, they scored three goals by 1:22 in the second period.  Mike Knuble (more on him in my next post) and Dennis Wideman joined Backie in scoring.  But, the Caps let up on the gas with the 3-0 lead and the Flyers responded with four unanswered goals.   Ugh.  The Caps came back because of Marcus Johansson's one timer at 16:41 in the third period on a pass from Mike Knuble.

Heroes of the Evening:

  • Nicklas Backstrom who was everywhere on the ice.  He started the crucial scoring and netted one of the three in the shootout.
  • Mike Knuble with a 3-point, +2 night.
  • Marcus Johansson with the clutch 3rd period goal to force overtime.
  • Michal Neuvirth for hanging in there when the Caps got lazy. He played rough, at times, but kept them in it.
  • Matt Hendricks with his beauty of a goal in the shootout.  

Get healthy Caps.

The Ottawa Senators are up next.

Let's go Caps!


Monday, March 14, 2011

Go with Neuvirth as Tarik Says

I agree with everything Tarik El-Bashir says about committing to Michal Neuvirth now while the Caps have 12 games left in the regular season.  As Neuvy so often says, he's the type of goalie that plays better when he's in a groove and getting the majority of the starts.  So, please, play him.

Neuvirth has saved the Caps several times this season, particularly, when the rest of the team played awful.  Neuvy's record in 41 games is 22-10-4, a Caps rookie record, with a 2.47 GAA and .914 SV%.  His stats aren't going to wow anyone that watches the NHL this season, but his winning record has meant a lot of points for the Caps this season.  And, he'll continue to get better.

I'm not confident that Semyon Varlamov, the better goalie statistically & more acrobatic than Neuvirth, can stay healthy.  The acrobats may be exacerbating the groin injuries although he supposedly has something wrong with his knee now.  Varly's only played 24 games so far this year.  He also spent over two months in the minors last year recovering from an injury.  Yikes, the injury record is not encouraging and it started shortly before he left Russia.  He has the definite edge in NHL playoff experience since Neuvy has zero NHL playoff games to Varly's 19 NHL games over two seasons with a 10-9 record.

Neuvy, on the other hand, led the AHL Hershey Bears to two Calder Cup trophies.  Yes, I realize it's the minor league, but Neuvy played 22 playoff games in '08-'09 with a 16-6 record, .932 SV% and 1.92 GAA.  That 1.92 GAA is an AHL playoff record and certainly helped him win MVP honors that year.  In '09-'10, Neuvy played 18 games with a 14-4 record, .920 SV% and 2.07 GAA.

Finally, you've got the NHL number one star of the week, Braden Holtby, another rookie Caps net minder with a 8-2-2 record and a .931 SV% and an impressive 1.95 GAA.  He's going to be a very good  NHL net minder, especially, considering he's a fourth round draft pick, but I really don't want a goalie with 12 NHL games under his belt starting in the playoffs for the Caps this season.  I don't believe in playing the "hot hand" in this case as Coach Boudreau and others advocate because he's way too inexperienced.  It showed in his game yesterday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.  It'll show in the playoffs when the games are played at a whole new level of intensity.

Having goalie depth is a good problem to have, but I'm advocating for Michal Neuvirth.

Let's go Caps!

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Wow, that was impressive Caps

The Caps took their "A" game to the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks with a hard working, up tempo 3-2 win in overtime on a beautiful game winning goal by Mike Knuble.  Knuble stood in front of the goalie and moved the puck and his stick from one side to the other before twisting around and lifting it past the goalie's pad. That play illustrated how important veterans are to hockey teams as they progress through the playoffs.  He may have lost a step this year, but I'll take his experience and patience any day to mix in with the Caps younger players.

Marcus Johansson made the smart move to send the puck to Mike Knuble's waiting stick instead of trying to shove it into the net.  The young Swede is going to be an impressive hockey player in this league.  He's played well on the top line in the absence of injured Nicklas Backstrom.

The entire Caps team played a smart hockey game today.  It was one of their very few complete games of the season where they played the full sixty minutes and everyone was out there hustling.  It was a blast to watch.

The difference in this team with the addition of trade deadline acquisitions Jason Arnott and Dennis Wideman supported by the earlier season pick up of Scott Hannan is night and day.  This team has won their last 8 games, with 7 of those being one goal games and many of them being come from behind after giving up the first goal in the first period.  The younger players are clearly benefiting from veteran leadership, something they've needed for a long time.  So, I'll tip my hat to GMGM for once.  He made some good trades this year.  Still, nothing counts until the playoffs.

Braden Holtby played well enough in net again to get the win although, at times, his inexperience showed.  He won the first star of the week on so congrats Holtby. More on the goalies in my next post...

Caps begin a rough six game road trip tomorrow in Montreal.

Let's go Caps!

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Braden Holtby helps Caps eke out a win

After an inauspicious start to their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in in the SE division, the Caps won a shootout match on a beauty of a goal by Alex Ovechkin and a stand on his head performance from goalie Braden Holtby.  Holtby entered the game cold after Michal Neuvirth didn't come back in the 2nd period because a piece of metal went into his eye after the puck hit his mask on a Tampa shot early in the first period.  That's frightening to me and I can't believe he continued playing after the shot.  I'm glad he's okay.

The Caps would have lost the game in regulation if not for the heroics of Alexander Semin and his timely goal 14:28 in the third period to tie the game.  Semin's play on both ends of the ice during the last couple of games has been impressive.  He has the talent to be one of the sickest players in the NHL when he's on, but, unfortunately, Semin being "on" ebbs and flows throughout every season he's played.  I have no doubt having Jason Arnott playing center with him helps Semin as his centers have constantly changed during the Caps quest to find a true second line center.  Here's to hoping we see the back checking, goal scoring Semin in the playoffs.

There is slight optimism rising among Caps fans this morning about this team.  Although the dreadful power play must be fixed in this last month before the playoffs and the Caps need to score more goals and score in the first period, they are winning close games and staying defensively responsible.  The Caps have won five one goal games in a row after getting pasted by the New York Rangers, 6-0.  Still, I won't be optimistic about this team making a long playoff run until they show me they can actually win a playoff series.

Before closing, I want to talk more about the young net minder and first star on yesterday, Braden Holtby.  His last appearance in a Caps game came against the New York Rangers on January 24th and that game also ended in a shootout.  Holtby tanked badly in that shootout.  He overplayed every shot and was too jittery, which is not unexpected from a goalie that has only played a handful of games in the show.   Holtby dedicated himself to working on shootouts and breakaway when he went back to Hershey and it paid off.  I think that's awesome.

However, the real reason I love Braden Holtby is he's a typical quirky NHL goalie.  A lot of goalies are quirky or temperamental and it's just another reason I love the game.  Caps fans started hearing about his "holtbyisms" from those that get to watch him in Hershey. I enjoyed watching the Holtby shuffle and water bottle squirt routines the first time I saw him live.

Holtby's in net again tonight versus the Edmonton Oilers.  Michal Neuvirth is backing him up so I'm assuming his eye is okay.

This is a game this team should win even without Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom, but that doesn't mean a thing.

Let's go Caps!


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Friday, March 04, 2011

Upbeat hockey and a win

The Caps brought a spirited game tonight to the St. Louis Blues and won 3-2.  In fact, it was one of the most energetic games I've seen this team play in a long while except when they're playing the Pittsburgh Penguins.  All four lines played well, too, and the power play buzzed, which are both unusual this season.  Hmmm, do I think Jason Arnott is already making a difference?  It's obviously too early to tell, but the signs are encouraging.   Scott Hannan is getting more vocal, too, so the Caps finally have several veterans in the locker room, including Mike Knuble and Dennis Wideman, which is all good. Who knows if it'll translate to playoff success, but the pieces are there.  It's up to the coaches (still a huge worry) and the players to execute.

I like the Laich-Arnott-Semin line.  Alexander Semin woke up for the game last night and seems to be benefiting from all that talking I see Arnott doing with him on the bench.  Brooks Laich has also picked up his game.  Arnott and this line clinched the game in the 3rd period with his goal off a beautiful pass by Semin.

Alex Ovechkin, two assists and 2nd star of the game behind Arnott, appears to be the Ovie that Caps fans love again.  Caps need him to be on top of his game now and into the playoffs.  His line mate, Nicklas "Bat-strom" as called the video of his swinging at the puck in mid-air for a goal, is finally playing much better hockey, too, even with a hurt thumb.  He's been more disappointing than Ovie this year and the Caps also need him to be on top of his game in the playoffs.

Other players that were fun to watch last night:
-Matt Bradley hitting hard, flying around taking the puck and winning his second fight in a row without bleeding.
-Dennis Wideman, 5 hits, 2 blocked shots and 1 takeaway in his 22+ minutes of work.  The guy plays effectively in every situation, PP, PK and ES.

The game wasn't all good last night.  The Caps didn't score in the first period again, the other team scored first again and some players like John Carlson and John Erskine struggled.  Carlson's been struggling a lot lately and is probably hitting his rookie wall and needs his minutes cut so he's ready to go in the playoffs.  Erskine's flub led to the second Blue goal.  He's a player that benefits when he doesn't play every game so it'd be nice to see him sit out a game or two.  

Finally, congratulations to Michal Neuvirth for his 21st win of the season, the most by a Caps rookie net minder in franchise history.  Neuvirth looked a little shaky on rebound control last night, but he hung in there and made some key saves.

Non-game topics:
-Apparently, there's still animosity in the Pittsburgh Penguin locker room towards David Steckel for his unintentional collision (not hit, collision, the word choice matters), on Sydney Crosby during the Winter Classic game on January 1st because Crosby is still out.  When are the Pittsburgh Penguins going to take responsibility for playing Crosby in their next game against Tampa Bay where he got hit in the head again?  No way should he have been playing in that game if the Steckel collision left him feeling woozy.

-The booing from Tuesday night in which I took part.  Some fans and, at least, one blog writer referenced in Ted's Take , think it's classless when fans boo. You're entitled to your opinion as I'm entitled to boo a team that's not putting any effort for 59 minutes into a game they're paid millions to play.  My boos were not directed at Michal Neuvirth or the new guys.  They were intended only to show my displeasure with the lack of effort from the rest of the players because lack of effort has been a problem far too often this season.  There is no excuse for it and it won't get this team very far in the playoffs.

Next up...another back-to-back set against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, starting with Florida on Sunday.

Let's go Caps!  

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Keep telling it like it is Jason Arnott

Jason Arnott calling out his new Caps teammates for a lackluster effort against the New York Islanders last night is fine by me and I hope he keeps it up.  The Caps need an asshole in the locker room since the coach won't hold his players accountable.  And that's exactly why I'm thrilled GMGM got him.  I don't know if it'll make a difference this season with Coach Boudreau still at the helm, but if Arnott teaches these players to grow up and play their game like they care, that's got to help.

In other notes:
-Michel Neuvirth played lights out in net again and he's the only reason the Caps won that game.  As talented as Semyon Varlamov is, I think Neuvirth will end up being the Caps number one because he's far more durable.  Neuvy deserved to be the first star instead of Alex Ovechkin since he played sixty minutes and Ovie didn't even come close to that, regardless of his heroics on his last two shifts with an assist and dramatic end-to-end overtime GWG that sealed the victory.

-I enjoyed watching Dennis Wideman, the defenseman GMGM picked up from the Florida Panthers on trade deadline day, and think he's going to be a good pick up for the Caps with his special team skills and playoff experience with the Bruins. The depth he brings is crucial with Mike Green still out.

-Left wing Marco Sturm, picked up off waivers from the LA Kings, played okay in his debut. He hasn't played much since coming back from injury so I think the jury will be out on him for a while.

After one game, I'm happy, so far, with the players that GMGM picked up this last week.  I'm still not happy with how the team is playing though, so I joined in with the "boos" at the phone booth last night because I'm tired of spending my hard-earned money watching multi-millionaires coast around on the ice.

Caps play the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

Let's go Caps!

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