Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fun in Philly

I'm still stunned at the Caps "shock and awe" 5-2 performance against the Flyers in Philly last night.  With two goals in 1:08 to take the lead at the end of the first, after the Flyers scored first, and three goals in 2:25 at the beginning of the third period, it was a night of goals in bunches.

For two games in a row, the Caps have played hard for almost 60-minutes (that ridiculous last goal against being an exception to the playing hard theme) and that's a huge difference from last year, particularly, this early in the season.  Maybe it's the new guys, maybe it's the new "seriousness", maybe it's Tomas Vokoun standing on his head again, maybe it's Coach Bruce Boudreau matching lines when he can, maybe it's parking guys in front of the net, maybe it's Nicklas Backstrom (2nd star tonight) and Alex Ovechkin (1st star) starting to find their games again and maybe it's all of the above.  I don't care what it is, I just hope they keep it up. 

Any game the Caps play in the state of Pennsylvania that makes the fans leave early, like tonight, puts a big grin on my face.  But, I can't get too excited because it's way too early and the second season (the only one that counts in hockey) is months away. 

Players I'd like to call out with an emphasis on the 4th line:
  • Matt Hendricks - loved his game against Florida and tonight (assisted on Hamrlik's goal, played +2 hockey).  That guy his hustling, as is the whole fourth line...which leads to...
  • Mathieu Perreault - scored an unassisted goal and played +2 hockey.  He played a great game tonight.
  • Jeff Halpern - good to see him back in a Caps uniform, especially, when he's 86% in the faceoff circle on 7 attempts, like he was tonight.  Caps faceoff win percentage is ranked 20th in the league...ugh, this is a problem that needs to be fixed.
  • Ovie - loved that vintage first period goal.  More, more, more, please. 
  • Tomas Vokoun - I'm so much happier seeing him a Caps uniform, than a Florida one since he burned the Caps so many times.  His laser focus on the pucks tonight was awesome.  Vokoun is playing great in net.
Detroit's coming to town for Saturday night's game.  Since my friend and fellow hockey fanatic, Steve, is a Detroit fan and is attending the game, I'm pleading for the Caps to bring some more shock and awe.   Sorry Steve :)

Let's go Caps!

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Third Line and the Maddening Caps

Joel Ward impressed me in the playoffs last year for Nashville because he had 13 points - 7 goals, 6 assist in his 12 playoff games and played +4 hockey.  In 80 games during the regular season, Ward garnered 29 points and played -1 hockey.  Clearly, this is a guy that picks up his intensity in the playoffs.  He's a hard working forward that battles for pucks along the boards and I was excited that GMGM picked him up this summer.

Now, he's joined with Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich as part of the Caps checking line and the chemistry is evident based on how well this line has performed while playing against the top lines of their opponents.  That line had 2 goals and 1 assist against Carolina and Chimera got the 3rd star.  Then, Chimera had 2 goals and that line had 4 points against Tampa Bay while keeping their top line of Ryan Malone-Steven Stamkos-Martin St. Louis to 1 point. Malone got the lone point for an assist without Stamkos and St. Louis. awarded Chimera the second star for his play and he was the first star for the game. 

I'm liking that line.  They weren't as impressive against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but I think that line is going to be key for the Caps if they can manage to do other things right, which remains to be seen.

So, why are the Caps maddening, part 1?  How about because their passing looks like the Mites on Ice and they look disorganized way too often.  In the Pittsburgh game, the Caps looked downright horrible in the first period, played better in the second, but trailed off in the third.  They managed a paltry 19 shots on net compared to the Crosby-less Penguins 41 shots.  They're not going to win too many playoff games playing that way.

Why are the Caps maddening, part 2? Yes, they're 3-0, but they've given away 3 standing points to 2 division rivals and 1 Eastern conference rival by not being capable of closing out a game in regulation.   That doesn't matter now, but it will in April.

Other notes...
  • Thankfully, Boudreau has paired Mike Green with Roman Hamrlik instead of Jeff Schultz.  Game over Green, with the overtime winner against Carolina, is starting to look like his old self again and Hamrlik seems to helping that.  I like Hamrlik's game, too.  He's faster than Scott Hannan, even at age 37, and still throws his body out there to block shots.
  • After a rocky start against Tampa Bay, Tomas Vokoun stood on his head in overtime and the shootout.  He looked strong against Pittsburgh, too, stopping 39 of those 41 shots.
  • Nicklas Backstrom is starting to look like his old self again, too, and that pass to Dennis Wideman for the game winning goal against Pittsburgh was sweet indeed.  Backstrom needs to be successful this season or the Caps won't make it very far in the second season.
The Ottawa Senators are in town for tonight's game.

Let's go Caps!

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Monday, October 03, 2011

Questions for the 2011-2012 Caps season

Like most, I think GMGM picked up some good players this summer in forwards Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern and Roman Hamrlik on defense.  I watched all of them, except Halpern, at the last pre-season game yesterday against the Chicago Blackhawks and I liked what I saw.  Brouwer and Ward bring desperately needed grit to the team and I like how they battled for the puck along the boards and how they set up plays. And, Hamrlik looked good paired with Mike Green.  It's easy to see that he's faster than Scott Hannan.

After last year's epic playoff flameout, GMGM had to have a good offseason.  Time will tell if those players will help the team.  Regardless, huge questions remain about the Caps and their elusive quest for the Stanley Cup.  And, here they are:

  • Will Coach Bruce Boudreau learn how to adjust his game strategies in a seven game series to effectively compete in the playoffs?
  • Will Boudreau instill discipline in his players during practice and during games? Will the country club atmosphere be replaced with more seriousness this year?  Many of the players came in earlier than they did last year and in better shape, but I'm not convinced the players will listen to the same voice any better than in years past.
  • Will the players police their own locker room and call out other players, when necessary?
  • Will Ovie elevate his game to the next level and realize he can't do it all himself?  I was pleased to see he didn't try his signature move once yesterday, the one that every defender in the NHL has figured out. 
  • Will Nicklas Backstrom return to form this year?  This is an especially important question as the Caps are thin at experience down the middle and Stanley Cup winners are typically strong at center.
  • Will the power play ever improve?  Yesterday, the power play continued to look disorganized and ineffective with the Caps having to chase down pucks far too often. 
  • Will Mike Green stay healthy and will Boudreau please pair him with Hamrlik and not Jeff Schultz?  Japer's Rink excellent post, with numerous video clips, shows why Green's partner is crucial to his health.
  • Will all the Caps, yes, including Alexander Semin, play like they care and with heart on a consistent basis? Will they care enough to leave everything they've got out on the ice in April, May and June?
There are too many unanswered questions for me to get overly excited about this season.  And, the important ones don't matter until April.

Changing topics....kudos to Michal Neuvirth for a spectacular game in net yesterday.  My other half, Jeff, pointed out to me that it appeared like Neuvy was anticipating where the puck was going.  He was in the zone.  Yes, he's now the #1B goalie because there is no way GMGM could pass up Tomas Vokoun.  Neuvirth will learn a lot from Vokoun and I like his attitude about Vokoun coming in, but I also hope Neuvy gets lots of playing time, too.

Congrats also to Mathieu Perreault for a great pre-season with the most points of anyone on the team.

Let's go Caps!

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