Monday, November 28, 2011

Welcome back Dale

Most Caps fans felt like Christmas came early today as Dale Hunter took to the ice at Kettler for his first practice as the new head coach of the Caps.  Hunter is a legend to Caps fans and that is my biggest fear about him jumping from the OHL to the NHL as a head coach.  I don't want anything to tarnish his legend.  All day, I've alternated between insane excitement about Dale being here and that lingering fear about his place in Caps history if this goes awry.  That fear won't go away -- I am a Caps fan, after all -- until I see how this unfolds.

I think this is GM George McPhee's last stand with owner Ted Leonsis and it's clear from McPhee's comments that he had to convince Ted this was the right direction.  Either Dale works out or GMGM won't be GM for life anymore which, after thirteen years, is as it should be. It's far more patience than I would ever have had.

GMGM's been in contact with Dale, for years, while Dale amassed an impressive 451-189-23-24 (.691%) coaching record for the Ontario London Knights. His team made many playoff appearances, won one Memorial Cup and Dale won the Coach of the Year award.   Everything I've read and listened to today about his coaching career and through following his team when John Carlson played there, makes me think Dale's a good choice for the Caps. But coaching teenagers, even in the world of rough and tumble Canadian junior hockey, is not like coaching adult multi-millionaires.  They've got to want the Stanley Cup not think that they can win it on talent alone (cue Herb Brooks).  That's the biggest task for Dale.

Now I have a new set of questions for the rest of this Cap season:
  • Can Dale turn this team around and make them play hard-working, gritty, disciplined hockey like he did as a player?  He gave it all every night. It would be nice if the Caps gave 75% on a consistent basis.
  • Will he easily adapt to the NHL from the OHL?
  • Will the players respond positively?  Caps, just be warned, if you mess with Dale, you're going to face one angry fan base. 
  • Can Dale bring back Ovie's love of the game and competitive fire? Can he teach Ovie how to become a better and more mature player?  Will Ovie take those lessons to heart?
"It's my team," Dale said in his press conference before laughingly saying it was really Ted's team. But, I like that thinking.  And, getting his name on the Stanley Cup as the coach, since he was denied that honor as a player, would make all the misery of being a Caps fan go away in one game.

Let's go Caps!  

P.S.  Thank you Bruce Boudreau for a good ride for a while.  I enjoyed the romp to the playoffs, your first year here, and that last game against Florida to get there was unreal, rocking the red at the phone booth.  I've been hard on you, but I wish you luck in your future endeavors.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just pathetic

There's nothing positive to say about the Caps right now.  They got smacked around in Toronto 7-1 when the Leafs had seven players out and they just finished getting trounced by the AHL Buffalo Sabres, 5-1. The Sabres have nine players out.  GMGM talks about Mike Green's injury as if it's the only thing wrong with the Caps.  I'm so sick of excuses from this organization. If the Caps can't succeed without Mike Green, they're screwed and that's not what's wrong with them anyway. They've quit.  If GMGM and Ted can't see that, then they're blind.

The Caps continued their wonderful tradition tonight of allowing a rookie to score his first NHL goal against them.  They must lead in that statistic although I'm too lazy to figure that out.  It's optional, like the Caps players showing up for their last two games.

I'll say thank you Caps for winning one on Wed against Winnepeg 4-3, since my brother and his girlfriend, long-distance Caps fans were in town for the game.  And, whippee, Ovie even scored at home.

But, after these past two games, I'm embarrassed to be a Caps fan because of their unprofessional play.

I hope something changes soon.

Let's go Caps!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I like Nashville

They're sort of like the anti-Caps - consistent - hardworking - overachieving - battlers.  They leave it all out there on the ice every time I watch them play.  I watched many of their games during last season's playoffs and enjoyed seeing them overcome the Anaheim Ducks and push the Stanley Cup Champion finalist Vancouver Canucks to six games in round two.  All but one of those six games were one-goal games.  That says a lot for Nashville.

Maybe it's something about David Poile's teams since the last one I admired was that 1997-1998 overachieving Stanley Cup finalist Washington Capitals team led by stellar play in net from Godzilla, aka, Olaf Kolzig.  Pekka Rinne's played a similar role for Nashville with his performance during last season's playoffs. Poile's reputation is about creating hard-working teams that overachieve on small budgets and he's done it again in Nashville.  He had to do it for Abe Pollin, during his Washington years, because Pollin never really cared about the Caps.

The Predators signed Rinne to a long-term deal recently, 7-years and $49 million.  For a 29 year-old goalie, this deal could turn out to be a disaster for Nashville, but he played in the goalie zone during last season's playoffs and there's no reason to believe he won't again.  Keeping defensemen Shea Weber (Norris trophy finalist) and Ryan Suter is still an issue for this team.  They need those three to stay competitive.

But, right now, I enjoy watching the Preds, even when they play my Caps.  To give the Caps credit tonight, they battled well, for once, didn't leave Nashville much offensive space and paid attention to their transition game and defense -- until the last five minutes of the game.  That's an improvement over their play in New Jersey.  They didn't, however, crash the net, even after they knew only a garbage goal might get past Rinne.  He tracked the puck perfectly and didn't leave any rebounds. Rinne stopped 39 of 40 shots from the Capitals.

Tom Vokoun played equally strong in net for the Caps, stopping 28 of 30 shots he faced.  He left a few more rebounds out there than Rinne did, but he played solid overall.  Both goalies got lucky bounces.

Troy Brouwer broke the scoring drought at 15:14 in the third period, with a pretty goal shot above Rinne's head, off of a perfectly placed pass by Marcus Johansson.  Then, LESS THAN 30 SECONDS LATER, the Caps let the Predators score.  This is so typical of this team that it makes me want to scream.  Nichlas Backstrom should have been back sooner, John Carlson needed to stop that pass from Weber to Martin Erat and Jeff Schultz should have pushed Weber out of the way.  The checking line should have been out there anyway, holding on to a fragile one goal lead, late in the third period.  It was obvious the Predators were going to press after the Caps goal.

The 4th line gets my star of the night for the Caps.  Mike Knuble hustled all game, like it was his last chance to play hockey, and he tried, unsuccessfully, to bat a puck over Rinne's head from the back of the net.  Matt Hendricks and Jeff Halpern played just as gritty as Knuble for that line.

Even though my heart is with the Caps, I like the Predators and Coach Barry Trotz.  He gets the most out his players.  Most importantly, they're not the - inconsistent - overly talented - underachieving - non-battling Washington Capitals that drive Caps fans, like me, insane.

Other Brief Notes:

  • Much has been said in the press recently about Alex Ovechkin's play this year and the fact that he needs to change his game with Coach Bruce Boudreau agreeing.  I also agree he needs to change his game, but I don't agree it's all on him to figure it out. I think he needs someone to help show him the way and a team system that puts him in the best position to succeed.  Then, it's all on Ovie to practice his "new" game so it's as natural as his "old" one used to be.  He needs to commit to it.  That's all on him, too.  I always think of the Scotty Bowman/Steve Yzerman duo when I think of Ovie as it's still my dream that Ovie turns into a late blooming Yzerman type.  I'm the Capsdreamer for a reason though.  I keep dreaming and things never change.
  • Florida shutout Dallas tonight 6-0.  The Caps got shellacked by Dallas 5-2 last week.  Are there any Caps fans out there that think the Caps are a shoo-in for the playoffs this season?  Hmmm.
The Caps continue their road trip against the Winnepeg Jets on Thursday.

Let's go Caps!

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Accountability...not so much

I've heard and read encouraging signs from the Caps this young season that they're taking more accountability as they try to overcome their history of playoff debacles.  Things like no more optional practices, practices that last longer than 30-minutes, admitting they need to play 60-minutes of hockey, and no more post-game quotes about "hot goalie" excuses. The Caps must not think accountability counts when they play West Coast teams (or the New York Islanders) or their struggles against these teams happen for some other reason.  It's certainly not a lack of talent.  So what is it?  It is accountability and the Caps, all of them, aren't playing like they give a damn when they're on the ice.  Mike Knuble's quote tonight, "Of late, I don't know if we're all committed" tells me everything I need to know about this team.  

The Dallas Stars whipped the Caps 5-2 in a pathetic display of hockey, by the Caps, at least.  Your Washington Capitals did not even show up for tonight's game.  The Caps have played one complete game, against the Carolina Hurricanes which the Caps won 5-1, in their last six games.  Do you think this style of play will get them very far in the playoffs?  Nope, it will get them another first or second round playoff exit, assuming, of course, they make the playoffs since nothing is guaranteed.

So what is so awful about the Caps playing right now - here are some examples:

  • Battles along the boards - the Caps rarely win those. Stanley Cup winners win those battles more often than they lose them.
  • Getting out of their defensive zone and through the neutral zone - a theme I've discussed before, but if the Caps can't transition without the often injured Mike Green they're toast.
  • Passing - I can't begin to count how many times I've seen a Caps player pass the puck into the feet of their teammates. This is a problem that has been going on for years.  I've never seen the Caps consistently execute tape-to-tape passes, like other teams do, and like the Anaheim Ducks showed the night they visited the phone booth.
  • Playing the puck instead of the body - in the defensive zone, the Caps constantly look for the puck or try to play the puck instead of pushing the body out of the way.  This gets them into goal trouble often.
  • Third period goals - the Caps gave up three 3rd period goals playing against the Islanders, Vancouver and Dallas in their last five games.  That's atrocious.

I don't expect the Caps to "bring it" 60-minutes for all 82 regular season hockey games as I know that's unrealistic.  It's a long season.  But, I expect them to act like they're playing hockey and they haven't done that very well in 5 out of their past 6 games.

Let's see if they play better in their home/away series against the New Jersey Devils this weekend.

Let's go Caps! 

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Caps win in ugly fashion

In response to an awful 0-2 Canadian road trip against Edmonton and Vancouver where the Caps defense, penalty killing and transition game looked inept, Coach Bruce Boudreau made several changes to the line up against the Anaheim Ducks.  He brought up Cody Eakin from the Hershey Bears to man the wing on the 2nd line with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin while demoting Mike Knuble from that line to the 4th line with Matt Hendricks and Matthieu Perreault.  Jeff Halpern sat in the press box while Perreault played center on the 4th line.

The defensive pairing changes were even more dramatic since Boudreau broke up John Carlson and Karl Alzner. Not that they played that well in Canada together.  He paired Alzner with Jeff Schultz and put John Erskine (nice to have you back John!) with Carlson.  Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik played together again.

Not that all the lines stayed intact because...for the first 28:59 of the game the Ducks owned the Caps and put on a clinic on how to pass - shoot - score - forecheck - pressure - and keep the puck in their offensive zone.  On 11 shots during that time, the Ducks netted three goals, two from Teemu Selanne and one from Saku Koivou.  The first Selanne goal happened on an atrocious mistake by Wideman throwing the puck to Hamrlik right in front of Voukoun and Selanne took advantage.  That line pairing, with Hamrlik playing minus-3 hockey, stunk it up badly.

The Caps continued to look lost trying to get the puck out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone, just like in their last two games.  It's so obvious when Mike Green is out of the Caps lineup because he's their most effective defenseman at moving the puck up the ice.  How many times in this game did you watch the Caps passing around behind the net and in front of Voukoun because they couldn't get past the Ducks.  Ugh.

In the last half of the second period, the Caps woke up and flurried around the Ducks netminder, Jonas Hiller, and netted two goals in a little over three minutes.  Brooks Laich threw a great pass to Joel Ward and he got it past Hiller.  Wideman helped to make up for his atrocious play in the first period by blasting the second goal past Hiller.

In the 3rd period, the Caps 24th placed penalty killing unit got to work about eight minutes into the period on Voukoun's tripping penalty (he looked shaky tonight, too).  Corey Perry got a goal after stabbing at the puck in Voukoun's net about three or four times.  Once again, the Caps got caught looking around at the puck instead of moving bodies out of the net.  Another problem area for them.

Troy Brouwer got the Caps within one at 11:42 in the 3rd.  Nicklas Backstrom tied the game with a wicked wrister with 42-seconds left.  Boudreau left the Alexes - Ovechkin and Semin - on the bench while Backstrom played the extra man with Chimera, Laich and Ward.  Smart move on Boudreau's part to bench the Russians as I trust the third line more to get the job done, when needed.  With the Russians, not so much, particularly, with how Ovie played tonight.  He needs to step it up, become a better two-way player and realize he's getting nowhere with that barreling toward the net, curl and drag move, as he doesn't have enough space anymore to make that play.  He hasn't in a long time.

Backstrom netted the game winner halfway through the overtime period by signaling to Ovie to stay behind him instead of barreling in again.  Backie had an outstanding game and was awarded the first star.

So, Boudreau, for the first time in his tenure, sent a message to his star, by limiting his ice time.  I never thought I'd see the day.  I hope it motivates Ovie.  Regardless, all of the Caps need to play better and as a team.

Bottom line from tonight's game:

  • Caps got lucky, as they played an overall lousy game, and Hiller helped them out by letting in some softies.
  • Caps don't play well against teams with good forechecking pressure like Vancouver and Anaheim.  That's not going to fly in April, May and June just like it didn't last April against Tampa Bay.

The Caps head out for a two game road trip this weekend against the Hurricanes and Islanders.  I hope they play better than they did these last three games.

Let's go Caps!

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