Monday, April 30, 2012

The Caps got lucky

In staying with my "thinking positive" theme, I'm not going to talk about game 1 against the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs.  It's better that way.  Instead, I'll focus on what I liked about tonight's game, starting with the fact that the Caps got lucky tonight.  They don't often get lucky.

They got lucky when John Carlson's "what just happened here" moment, at the end of a power play, almost cost the Caps a goal as Carlson lost the puck to the rookie Chris Kreider (the one that got the GWG for the Rangers in game 1 coming out of the box.  Instead Braden Holtby made a great save and then the puck went back the other way.  Matt Hendricks got the puck, put it between his legs and tried to slide it past Henrik Lundqvist.  Lundqvist lost the puck, Jason Chimera shoved at it as he's draped around the goal post corner and it deflected off a Ranger's skate into the net.  That happens against the Caps not for the Caps.

The Caps got lucky because the Rangers hit a goal post and a crossbar.  On the last scoring chance near the end of the third period, the puck bounced off the underside of the crossbar and popped back out.  I watched that slow motion replay and thought, wow, that is usually a goal against for the Caps.

They also got lucky despite some early officiating that went against them.  How Marian Gaborik doesn't get a penalty for slamming Matt Hendricks into the boards headfirst by the team doors continues to make me shake my head. But, I'm getting used to this kind of officiating in the NHL.

Other efforts to applaud:

  • Old man Mike Knuble winning the foot race and stretching out his stick to prevent the icing very late in the third.
  • Mike Knuble/Joel Ward connecting again for the first goal on a pretty passing play by Ward.  He's earning more of his paycheck with every playoff game.  
  • Alex Ovechkin blasting a beautiful game winning power play goal past Lundqvist.  
  • Jay Beagle bringing it every night and getting rewarded by Dale Hunter with the highest forward TOI tonight.
  • Karl Alzner burning out time on the clock at the end of the third by trapping the puck during a scrum with the Rangers behind Holtby.  Awesome.
It's an interesting strategy Coach Dale Hunter is using, but I'm willing to see where it takes the Caps.

Game 3 returns to the phone booth on Wednesday.

Let's go Caps!

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How sweet it is

To watch the Caps win a game 7 in overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champions.  And, of course, it had to go to overtime.  But, it's over and the Caps prevailed to move on.  I decided to take Mike Wise's advice and think positive today.  All day, I kept telling myself that the Caps were going to win tonight.  That's tough to do that when you're a Caps fan and have seen more playoff misery than you care to remember.  Yes, there are highlights, like the current coach's game winner in overtime against the Flyers, but those moments are easily outnumbered by the failures.

Not tonight though.  Instead, Joel Ward earned his paycheck by cashing in on a Mike Knuble rebound in OT.  Knuble deserves tons of credit, too, for getting that puck to the net first.  I don't think he'll be watching any more playoff games from the press box.

The other player I have to commend is, of course, Matt Hendricks.  He potted his first playoff goal in this game 7 to put the Caps up 1-0.  He continued to play his gritty and aggressive game throughout the game.

Braden Holtby, the 22-year old rookie goalie, played a stellar series against the Bruins.  There may be something to the rumor that the youngster needed his next challenge.  He had his weak moments and scared me early on tonight, but he's got confidence and is withstanding the pressure of the playoffs, so far.

And, then there was Dale Hunter's series strategy.  He matched up against Claude Julien quite well.  Whatever anyone thinks about Alex Ovechkin's lack of playing time in a series where it's hard to get him space against Charo/Seidenberg, it worked.  I don't think it will necessarily be that way against other opponents, but I'm not going to question it now.

The Caps won't know their second round opponent until tomorrow.  Tonight, it doesn't matter anyway.  I'm a happy Caps fan, for once.

Let's go Caps!
p.s.  This was the first time in NHL history that a playoff series had all 1-goal games.  As a Caps fan, I hated it.  But, for fans of hockey, this was a great series.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Three words

Let's go Caps!

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Who are these Caps?

The Caps went ahead 3 games to 2 in the series against Boston today with a gritty, gutsy performance.  After giving up two goals at the end of the 2nd period to let Boston tie the game at 2-2, I worried that the Caps would fold mentally.  I'm a long-time Caps fan, that's why I think these things.  I like it when they prove me wrong like they did today.

Today's game belonged to the heart and soul guys.  Mike Knuble and Jay Beagle scored and Troy Brouwer blasted the game winner against Tim Thomas.  Beagle deserved his first playoff goal for his constant hustling throughout this series.  And, it was great to see Knuble pot one.  Alexander Semin also contributed the first goal while displaying his otherworldly puck handling skills.

Like many Caps fans, I had my doubts about Dale Hunter's system because it appeared to have neutered the offense for long stretches of time.  Watching his game management, line matching and overall strategy in this series against Boston though, I'm becoming a believer.  The Caps are playing competitive playoff hockey, unlike in years past, and they're pushing the defending Stanley Cup champions hard.  Stellar goal tending from the 22-year old rookie Braden Holtby has helped the cause, too.

Other highlights and things I'm happy to see:
  • Alexander Semin appears to be one of the Caps that has benefitted most from Hunter's coaching.  The enigma is playing Selke winner like, blocking shots, making smart defensive plays and scoring three goals in the series.
  • Braden Holtby is a stud in net.  He lets softies in here and there, but he also makes the big saves when needed.  He made a smashing rebound save while sliding into the splits near the goal post to stop a Boston shot today.  Holtby also plays with fire in his eyes for anyone that gets near his crease.  He's fun to watch.
  • Karl Alzner and John Carlson are back together and playing stellar defense.  Carlson appears to have removed his head from his rear end, where it was stuck for most of the season.  And, GMGM needs to resign Alzner ASAP.
  • Hunter sat Jeff Schultz in favor of rugged defenseman John Erskine who hadn't played since February.  Schultz withers under playoff pressure where Erskine gets under the skin of his opponents and keeps players out of the crease.  Boston hasn't been crowding Holtby's crease and taking shots at him since #4 has been in the line up.  He makes mistakes, at times, but I'd rather have him out there than Schultz to play against the larger and more aggressive Boston players.  
  • Troy Brouwer is becoming one of my favorite Caps for his gritty playing.  He is, without a doubt, one of the best trades GMGM has made in the past few years. 
  • Alex Ovechkin gets the toughest assignment, of course, trying to make space for offense while fending off the Bruins defenders Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Ovie has 27 hits in 5 games and two of his hits against Seidenberg were featured in the Top 10 Playoff Hits review I saw today.  He has a goal, two assists and several blocked shots.  Ovie is playing a team game and that's what he needs to do.
I said I was numb to Caps playoff hockey in my last blog post.  I lied.  87 seconds left in the game today and my heart starts pounding.  Not to mention that I yelled at the TV when the Caps couldn't clear the defensive zone and starting giving up the neutral zone. 

Tomorrow is a huge game for the Caps.  Both teams look tired and they play another game 24-hours after the one today.  It's not going to be easy.  The team that can muster the most effort, after a grueling series, so far, will probably prevail.  I hope it's the Caps.

Let's go Caps!

p.s.  One of the things I'm not happy about - the awful officiating and inconsistent punishments being handed out during the playoffs.  The violence and shots to the head must be eliminated from the game, but that won't happen if the players don't understand what is, and isn't, a penalty.  When Shea Weber rubs out Henrik Zetterberg into the boards and gets fined $2500, but misses no games, and Nicklas Backstrom gets a 1-game suspension for a less egregious cross-check, there is something wrong. Those are just two examples. 

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

And, so it begins...with Caps down by 1 game

After the most tumultuous season of the Alex Ovechkin era, the Caps are in the playoffs, as the 7th seed, and playing the Boston Bruins.  As I watch the game, the Caps are playing Dale Hunter's defensive style of hockey, but they aren't generating any offense. 17 shots in a game is not going to win games in this series.

One thing that can win a series is a hot goaltender -- see Tim Thomas and Boston Bruins last year. The Caps have an untested, AHL, 22 year-old goalie minding the net in this series.  So far, Braden Holtby, has responded.   He played a great game tonight, even though he should have had the game winning goal.  I like his competitiveness and the way he defends his crease.  He reminds me of Olie, as many people have said.

So, what are my expectations for the Caps this playoff season?  I have none. None, none, none. The game tonight didn't even raise my blood pressure -- not even when the Bruins won. I'm numb when it comes to Caps playoff hockey.  It's better for my health that way.

Let's go Caps!

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