Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whew....a 2-point night

After that abomination of a game against the Flyers the other night (which, thankfully, I couldn't watch), long-time Caps fans began wondering.  Is this team just awful?  Will they ever be able to get it together, even under new coach Dale Hunter?  It seems like every season Caps teams are lacking in one way or the other - lack of talent, lack of heart or lack of coaching.  This has been the situation since 1974 and this current team is no exception.  It remains to be seen if this team can overcome its issues, such as, goaltending inconsistency, defensive breakdowns, lack of strength down the middle and high-priced talent that isn't scoring.

But, tonight, at least, the Caps accomplished what they were supposed to in beating the Jets 1-0.  Michal Neuvirth kept the Caps in the game during the first period making some beautiful saves on 14 shots on goal.  The rest of the team caught up and helped Neuvirth out in the last forty minutes, limiting them to 8 shots in the 2nd period and 3 shots in the 3rd.  It appeared like the players gained more confidence because Neuvirth bailed them out in the 1st period and they responded by shutting down the Jets the rest of the game.  Neurvirth got the first star of the game for his efforts.  It was great to see him pumping his fist and smiling under his helmet after getting the shutout.

Besides Neurvirth's performance, the highlight of the game was Marcus Johansson's drop pass to Alex Ovechkin with 1:14 left in the 3rd and watching Ovie blast the puck past Ondrej Pavelec for the game winner.  It's no secret that if Ovie isn't scoring, the Caps aren't going anywhere and he hasn't been doing much scoring lately, but he's getting a lot more shots on goal in the DH era, which is encouraging.  

It's getting easier to see Coach Hunter's system as the Caps get more adept at playing it. I like the other things Hunter is doing, too.  He rolls the appropriate personnel for the appropriate situation - no Alexander Semin out there on Ovie's line with under two minutes left in the game, no Jeff Schultz playing much, at all, lately, and no John Erskine when they need a goal to win the game (don't get me wrong, I adore Erskine for the role he's meant to play and plays well) .  Hunter hands out ice time based on performance, too, as evidenced by limiting the struggling Cody Eakin to 7:12 in the game tonight. 

Although my optimism and pessimism about this team swings wildly based on how they play on any given night, I'm happy with tonight's 1-0 win.  I'll be even happier if they make a repeat performance in Colorado on Saturday.

Let's go Caps!

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011


The Caps need confidence desperately. Hopefully, their 5-3 win in Ottawa will give them some of it back.  They scored on a power play, finally, after blowing a 5 on 3.  Alex Ovechkin scored a goal after turning away from the d-man, stopping in an instant, sending ice shavings into the air, and lifting a wrist shot past Craig Anderson.  Troy Brouwer scored 15-seconds later on a pretty pass from Marcus Johansson.  Brouwer got the Gordie Howe hat trick tonight - a goal, an assist and a fight (nice fight for Brouwer, too).  And, the Caps survived a late third period penalty to Joel Ward, after giving up a goal on an Alexander Semin hooking penalty.

There were times during this game that I still yelled at the TV and threw things around my room, like the hooking penalty to Semin and the goal five seconds later or the John Erskin/Tomas Vokoun out of position Ottawa goal.  But, this team appears to be getting better in the Dale Hunter era and, I guess, for right now, that's good enough.  It's either that or give up on this team and I'm not ready to do that yet.  Hunter hasn't had enough time.

Hunter's nine day era hasn't been easy. Caps lost two 2-1 games to St Louis and Pittsburgh, lost to Florida 5-4 (an ugly game), beat Ottawa 3-2 in OT and beat Ottawa tonight 5-2.  The Caps confidence has been visibly missing for a while and neither goalie is playing well enough to bail out the team, although Tomas Vokoun played a strong game in net tonight. But, there have been encouraging signs that the Caps are starting to turning things around like:

  • Ovie played a monster game tonight and is playing inspired hockey again.  Hunter's increasing Ovie's minutes and it's helping.  Ovie's getting more chances and more shots.  An added bonus is seeing Ovie pressuring in the d-zone.  That's never happened.
  • Hunter is implementing a 1-2-2 trap type system to cut down on goals against and it has done that, although Florida nailed the Caps for five goals.  The Caps are playing much more structured and disciplined hockey, in general, including using shorter passes in their transition game.  Those cross-ice, fifty-foot passes have mostly led to the puck going back to the d-zone so I'm happy to see less of those.
  • Jeff Schultz only played 3:55 because "he didn't fit the game," according to Hunter.  Hmmm, they were down a goal in the 3rd period and Hunter wanted his offensive d-men out there.  John Erskine wasn't out there either.  Interesting...
  • Although they don't consistently play sixty minutes of hockey yet, see first period against Florida and various times tonight, they're still playing more aggressively, winning puck battles, hustling, and hitting.
There is still a lot of work to do.  The Caps power play connected once tonight, but it's still dreadful.  The power play has sucked since before the 2010 Montreal playoff series so why is the power play coach, Dean Evason, still here when the other coaches are gone?  That's a mystery to me.

Toronto comes to town on Friday.

Let's go Caps!

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