Saturday, January 22, 2011

Matt Hendricks is the man!

I forgot to mention that I love Matt Hendricks. He's a hard working contributor night in and night out. Tonight, he escaped the Toronto defensemen and undressed Jean-Sebestian Giguere and potted a goal worthy of a highlight reel. Maybe Coach Boudreau should think about him for the next shootout the Caps have.

I hope I see him in a Caps jersey for a long time.

Let's go Caps!

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Toronto ran into hot goalie Braden Holtby

Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor from laughing at the quotes from Maple Leafs Coach Ron Wilson and the Toronto media about the hot goalie they faced tonight. For once, it was the Caps that had the hot goalie in net, Braden Holtby, a fourth round pick for the Capitals in the 2008 entry draft. I'm laughing because, as any long time Caps fan knows, the Caps are notorious for making rookie goalies and mediocre goalies look like Vezina trophy winners, so it's nice when the tables are turned.

I'm also laughing because, the "hot goalie" excuse is used far too often by the Caps coaches and management when the Caps don't perform. I hate the "hot goalie" excuse. Okay, back to a glorious hockey game.

Why was it a glorious game? Number one, because Braden Holtby is a competitor and played a stellar and acrobatic game in net. He received the first star of the night, which he deserved. I've heard good things about this young goalie's play in Hershey and it was nice to see him rise to the occasion. Holtby struggled in his last call up to the show, but he's played two very poised games in a row. And, can I help it if I get excited when I hear rumors that he has a temper like Olie :) . I like emotional net minders.

Second star, Alex Ovechkin, made the game even more enjoyable. Ovie scored a hat trick after 8,000 fans watched him during the morning skate in Toronto. I tend to forget, particularly when Ovie's struggling, that I get the privilege of watching him play all 82 games during each season. People in other hockey cities, like Toronto, appreciate Ovie's talents and can only see him one or two times per season so it's no surprise they go to watch him skate. Jeff and I met plenty of Ovie fans in Canada last February.

I'm glad Ovie gave the crowd a show and I'm also glad he looked like his old self. I'm liking Jason Chimera on the line with Ovie and Nicklas Backstrom. Ovie netted himself a hat trick and that line got six points tonight and five points in their last game. Keep them together for a while Coach Boudreau.

No bitching tonight, I enjoyed the game.

Rangers up on Monday.

Let's go Caps!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"We played a very good game last night" - really Ted?

I wish you would enlighten me more on how you determined that the Caps played a good game last night Ted. Was it the absolutely atrocious passing throughout the game, the 39% faceoff win percentage, the overall team minus-4 statistic or the fact that your hockey players decided to show up and play the last twelve minutes of the game and your typical top liners all got a point? Finally showing up to play in the 3rd period is a really bad habit and the Caps do it far too often, including last night against the Flyers and Sunday night against Ottawa. If the Caps continue to play like they have lately with a ton of road games coming up on their schedule, they could miss the playoffs.

This team isn't very good right now and they are definitely the most frustrating Caps team I've watched since Alex Ovechkin has been here. I miss the early years of Ovie's career when the team worked really hard and Ovie was the most fun player to watch in the NHL. Neither situation applies today - the team doesn't work hard and Ovie hasn't figured out how to take it to the next level, maybe because there is no one to show him the way.

Besides Ovie, I don't know what is wrong with this team because I'm not a hockey expert. Is it the coach, the defensive first system the coach is trying to teach, or is it the players? All I do know is that something is dreadfully wrong when your super star sniper may not even hit 30 goals this year (his lowest total to date was 46 goals in his sophomore season), your super star playmaker, Nicklas Backstrom, is on a .89 points per game (PPG) pace (versus 1.23 and 1.073 PPG in his last two years) and your fans wish you could decline penalties because your power play is about as effective as Metro is at running the subway.

No, it's not about individual hardware anymore and I agree with Ovie on that. But, it's supposed to be about a Stanley Cup and this team seems to be going backwards in that regard. That is a travesty with the talent on this team. Something needs to change. It's a Washington sports team, though, so I'm not holding my breath.

Let's go Caps!

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Maybe I'll care about the Caps again

When the Caps start caring again or

When Alex Ovechkin starts scoring again or

When Nicklas Backstrom wakes up out of the coma he's been in this season or

When the Caps start crashing the net, doing the dirty work, winning the board battles and throwing guys out of their crease or

When their power play isn't known as the power kill by the fans for its complete ineffectiveness and when the coaches figure out what to do about it or

When Coach Boudreau stops putting John Erskine in the press box for an injury riddled Tom Poti who didn't even make it out in the 2nd period in that crap game against Tampa Bay tonight or

When Boudreau figures out how to hold these professional hockey players accountable for their putrid play or

When Boudreau can get this team to show up for a game that decides the division lead.

This screed is not aimed at the rookie blue liners, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, the goal tending duo of Semyon Valamov or Michal Neuvirth, who get hung out to dry way more than they should, John Erskine, Matt Hendricks, the defensive play of the Mike Green/Scott Hannan pairing or the Hershey boys, Matthieu Perreault and Jay Beagle (gee, he was pushing guys out of the crease tonight).

Let's go Caps and see if you can get your heads out of your rear ends although, right now, I'm not hopeful about that. The only thing I am is one very frustrated Washington Capitals fan. Some things never change.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The state of the Capitals

After losing all hope for my hockey team during that abysmal 16 days in December when the Caps pretended to play hockey, they seem to be regaining their footing with some notable exceptions. More on that later. They’re playing much better hockey during this 5-0-1 stretch, including their 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Winter Classic.

“Losing all hope” may seem like an extreme statement in January midway through an 82 game hockey season, but I’ve been watching this team since the beginning and have had my heart broken by them more times than I care to remember. This particular version of the team wasn’t making any adjustments to their game after three years of deplorable playoff appearances culminating in a beat down of the number one seed Caps by the number eight seed Montreal Canadiens last year. This season, so far, looked to me like a good prescription for another early playoff exit in April.

But, finally, finally, they’re making the adjustments that they need to make before April. Coach Boudreau, for the first time, introduced the concept of playing a modified trap defensive system after the 7-0 shellacking by the New York Rangers on December 12th. He’s also matching lines against the opposition more instead of just rolling his four forward lines. As always, it remains to be seen whether or not the system changes will stick. I hope they do. It also remains to be seen whether or not the Caps players really want the Stanley Cup because they are far too many times when they don’t act like they do. No team wins the Stanley Cup on talent alone. It also takes heart, grit and effort.

The bright spots since the losing streak:

Mike Green's play alongside Scott Hannan. Green has been a defense focused, shot blocking machine since being paired with Hannan on the blue line. Hannan played rough in his first several starts with the Capitals, but has since gotten into a groove and is performing like the sound veteran defenseman I thought GMGG finally found.

Green called Hannan “vocal” and said he liked that he talked a lot. Whatever works to hopefully get Green to reach his potential is fine by me. Coach Boudreau paired Green with Hannan when Jeff Schultz went out with injury and has kept them paired even though Schultz is back. I’ve always thought Green could benefit from the wisdom of a veteran defenseman that has a Stanley Cup ring. The question remains though…will Green play like it in April?

The blue line pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner. The rookie pairing that played together last year in Hershey keeps improving with every NHL game they play. They both still make rookie mistakes, but that’s to be expected and they have plenty of time to tighten up their mistakes before April. This pair shut down Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic and they have great chemistry together. Alzner plays a solid positional game, which allows Carlson the freedom to roam a little more and chip in on offense.

The role players and Hershey Boys. Guys like Matt Hendricks, David Steckel and Matt Bradley work their tails off game in and game out. Steckel is killer in the dot with a faceoff win percentage of 63.4%. Hendricks brings it to every game and wins the little battles. The Hershey call ups Matthieu Perreault and Jay Beagle both brought much needed energy and goal scoring during the last month since they were called up. Beagle’s smile upon netting his first NHL goal, the game winner, against New Jersey lit up the rink. Perreault started out his recent call up with two goals against Toronto on Dec 6th during the horrid losing streak and has made it hard to say he doesn’t belong in the NHL since then.

The not so bright spots:

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The sniper and playmaker offensive threats for the Caps have been more like offensive gnats this season, easily swatted aside by everyone they play. Ovie clearly needs help in figuring out how to keep scoring with three players hanging on him and shutting down his normal scoring lanes. According to Tarek El-Bashir’s column today the coaches are giving Ovie advice, but he has yet to embrace it. Please work on it Ovie and find your joy in the game again. I miss watching you jump into the glass after scoring a beautiful goal.

Backstrom just needs to wake up. I have no doubt the fact that both are struggling is hurting both of them, but they have to turn it around if the Caps are to have any hope in the playoffs. I’d like to see Coach Boudreau hold them both more accountable by making them attend optional practices. Practices shouldn’t be an option for the stars if they aren’t producing.

Alexander Semin. Semin hasn’t scored since November 28th starting one of his disappearing acts that are familiar to anyone that has watched him since he’s been in the league. Maybe playing against Tampa Bay tonight where he recorded his last two hat tricks will bring him alive.

The power play. It’s ugly, even though they netted one in the Winter Classic. At the end of last season, the Caps had the number one power play in the NHL with 25.2% effectiveness. This season they rank 12th with an 18.9% effectiveness. There’s a reason many Caps fan call the power play the power kill and want their team to be able to decline penalties and it’s because they’re downright horrible with the extra man. Ovie on the point is ineffective and, at times, the Caps looks like they’re playing the penalty kill by losing the puck so often to their opponents.

Tonight starts four games for the Caps against their Southeast Division rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. Tampa Bay and the Caps are tied for the division lead right now so now is the time to bring it on boys and gain some points in the division.

Let’s go Caps!

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