Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Russian scoring contest

Watching Evgeny Kuznetsov skate circles around the opposing goalie’s net without losing the puck or getting touched by defenders as he dishes to Dmitry Orlov for the game winner against the Jets shows the wait for his presence in the Caps lineup was worth it. Former General Manager George McPhee knew the skill Kuznetsov would bring to the Caps.  It makes the loss of Filip Forsberg, a bad and desperate GMGM move, a tiny bit less painful. Also, Forsberg is a winger while Kuznetsov is the second line center the Caps have needed since Alex Ovechkin entered the league ten years ago.

Kuznetsov’s first full season with the Caps came as Coach Barry Trotz installed his new system and taught team accountability. It is probably a good thing that he did not spend too much time in Washington before that. His full potential started shining in the playoffs last season with his 5G-2A-7P and plus-14 in his 14 playoff games. This season he started as the Caps first line center, while NIcklas Backstrom recovered from offseason hip surgery, in between Alex Ovechkin and new Capital, T. J. Oshie. Kuznetsov flourished on the first line, capped by his 3 assist night in Calgary and 5 point night in Edmonton within three days. He plays smart, poised hockey, beyond his 23-years.

In 23 games this season, Kuznetsov has 8G-18A-26P and is plus-14. His 18 assists and 26 points puts him at 6th place in the NHL, while his plus/minus is good for 4th. The other half of the Russian scoring contest, Alex Ovechkin, in 22 games, has 12G-10A-22P and is plus-12, good for 5th in the NHL with his goal scoring is also 5th in the NHL. Last season in the playoffs, Ovie generated 5G-4A-9P, 2 assists better than Kuznetsov, but was a minus-3. This contest should be fun to watch all season and Kuznetsov can push Ovie. Ovie, the Capitals leading point generator throughout the majority of his tenure, is currently behind his Russian teammate by four points. That should keep Ovie focused and that can only be good for the Caps.

Throw in the offensive minded Russian defenseman, Dmitry Orlov, part of the Russian troika, with Ovie and Kuznetsov, that won the overtime versus the Florida Panthers on a Kuznetsov goal with assists from the other two, and there is lots of scoring potential from the Russian Capitals. Let’s hope Russian scoring continues, in droves, throughout the season, and way past April.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Chimera's Contribution

In 77 games last season, winger Jason Chimera generated 7 goals and 12 assists and ended with a minus-1. In 17 games this season, Chimera has 5 goals and 2 assist with a minus-4. This includes a 2 goal, 1 assist night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Both of his goals came on the power play, an area where the Caps needed traffic in front of the net. They got that with Chimera parked in front of goalie Steve Mason.  He netted two goals on the power play in that game, the most he has ever had in one season.

Chimera’s shined in his first star performance that night. He is always on the hard working line for the Caps. During regular shifts, he has been paired with the sneaky, but effective winger Justin Williams and the hard working center Jay Beagle. Chimera spent much of his time, prior to this season, skating with Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer so it was tough to know how he would adjust. That coupled with Chimera’s struggle last season with Coach Barry Trotz’s system, as noted in an earlier Washington Post article, seemed to indicate that this season might continue to be a struggle for him. From the low of sitting in the press box last season to his performance, so far, Chimera is getting better and better since he became a Cap in December 2009.

This season, he has almost as many goals as last season. At 36, Chimera flies down the ice like a younger man. He does not look like he has lost a step and he still has the ability to skate around defenders, like he did versus the Flyers. He is another all effort all the time type of player. The Caps finally have more than one player focused on playing the right way throughout the season and, more importantly, for the playoffs. Chimera is a critical component for the Caps success.

The Caps are back in Detroit for another game versus the Red Wings. Caps need more traffic in front of the net and goalie Petr Mrazek. Let’s go Chimera.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, November 09, 2015

The Fedorov versus Ovechkin discussion

Alex Ovechkin lands in Detroit tied with his Russisan countryman Sergei Fedorov as the most prolific Russian goal scorer in the NHL. Ovie scored his 483 goal against the Toronto Maples Leafs. The amazing thing is that he scored those goals in 772 games while it took Fedorov 1,248 games to reach the same mark. Think about that. Ovie nets goals in an era when goaltenders are far stingier than they used to be and it took him 476 less games to hit the mark. Fedorov is rooting for Ovechkin.

To be fair to Fedorov, he played center, not winger so it is no surprise that he has more assists than Ovie, at this point, with 696 to Ovie’s 428 assists. Ovie’s assist numbers would be much higher today if was passing to wingers who actually shot the puck instead of fumbling his pass. Working with a talent like T.J. Oshie on Ovie’s right wing helps with that challenge. Fedorov never had that challenge passing to his Russian Five teammates, Igor Larionov and Vyacheslav Kozloz.

Ovie and Fedorov are very different players. Ovie is the pure goal scorer in an era where it is difficult to score goals. Goalies are trained and coached like all players today, which was not true in the Wayne Gretzky days. Ovie plays smash mouth hockey. He is not a finesse hockey player, but he is a blast to watch. His highlight reel goals show his skill and effort to get that puck off his stick, even if he is falling to the ice or being harassed by a defender, and past the goalie in a flash before the goalie knows what happens. This is Alex Ovechkin’s gift.   

Fedorov was the two-way complete player that won two Selke trophies and three Stanley Cups. His line mates and defensemen, Vladimir Konstantinov and Viacheslav Fetisov made up Coach Scotty Bowman’s innovation, the Russian Five, that teams did not know how to defend. That line focused on puck control, as it seems, the Red Wings still do today. The Russian Five contributed to Detroit’s first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

Both players won the Hart and the Lester B. Pearson, but the bottom line is they are different. Smash mouth sniper Ovechkin versus elite two-way player Fedorov. The NHL will never forget either of them because Alex Ovechkin will follow Sergei Fedorov into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Let’s go Caps!

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Monday, November 02, 2015

A worker on every line

Coach Barry Trotz’s stated strategy to beat the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, after a sluggish start by the Caps, was to “put a worker on every line.” The Caps looked like they were skating in quicksand after playing the Columbus Blue Jackets the prior night.

To create a spark, Trotz broke up his hardest working trio of Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera and spread them among the top three lines. Those are not the only line changes he made as that spark happened early in the 3rd period when Beagle tied the game assisted by Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams. The Caps won that game in overtime, thanks to the continued magic and hard work of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s offense, assisted by his fellow Russians Ovie and Dmitry Orlov. The Caps responded to their coach and won the game. That is encouraging.

Trotz is all about accountability and effort and that has been evident since he arrived in Washington last summer. He increases ice time when players play well and sends them to the press box when they are not playing the game the right way. That is polar opposite of the Coach Bruce Boudreau country club atmosphere days when the Caps players were more concerned about their activities off the ice.

The additions of T.J. Oshie and Williams this season and Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen last season show how serious General Manager Brian MacLellan is about fixing the problems the Caps have had getting past the 2nd round of the playoffs in the Ovechkin era. He has brought players to Washington that understand how team effort and team play are the most important qualities for winning championships in any professional sport. This group did not bring just their offensive and defensive skill to the Caps, which was also sorely needed, but they brought the leadership intangibles that teams need.

These recently acquired Caps, along with homegrown prospects like Tom Wilson, who is already exhibiting leadership qualities in his play and the words he says, and Kuznetsov, who is so humble in his interviews bodes well for the Caps. It take all of these parts, in addition to the highly skilled players, to make it work. With a couple of exceptions, it has also made the Caps fun to watch.

Let's go Caps!

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