Caps hockey returned to the Nation’s Capital on Wednesday night. Some folks – not many -- even showed up to watch it . . . So, what did it look like? Here’s your Peerless Prognosticator’s review . . . with grades!
Goaltending: Olaf Kolzig . . . it was one game, and early, but the volcanic temper was held in check. I thought he played a solid, if unspectacular game. But Buffalo is also offense-challenged, and despite having what seemed a dozen 5-on-3's, had trouble converting. Kolzig seemed not to suffer from the smaller pads and glove, but he did seem to have a problem with the lap dances he was given as defensemen got pushed into him. Grade: B
Forwards . . . a very uneven performance. The new rules clearly presented problems for this group – five minors for hooking or holding. As for the good points . . . Jared Aulin looked to be further along than most of the others in terms of having a clue where the play was going . . . Chris Bourque plays with a high motor, and his feisty streak emerged as the game progressed; much is being made of his perhaps earning a roster spot, but I think he’d be better off in Hershey . . . Chris Clark -- for my money, the best Cap on the ice tonight. He played like a guy trying to earn a job. A lot of hustle; I think fans are going to like this guy if tonight was representative of the effort he brings. Taking on the puffed up Andrew Peters after Peters boarded Miroslav Zalesak was a plus . . . Boyd Gordon -- almost invisible out there, and I don't know if that was a bad thing. If his game is to be "responsibility," then I don't suppose you want him to be conspicuous; a solid, workmanlike effort . . . Alexander Ovechkin -- no RoboVisor tonight, for those interested in fashion, he made two superb moves to draw a defenseman to the inside, then went wide, eventually getting in deep alone on Miller. His shootout goal was matter-of-fact efficient. Glide in, pull the puck from the forehand to the backhand, lift backhander over Miller's stick . . . Dave Steckel -- I get the feeling this is a guy who plays better than his skill level. I have to give him props for effort. He gave an honest one on every shift I saw. . . . Overall grade for the forwards: C-
Defense . . . Steve Eminger -- my goodness, did he really play tonight? The stat sheet says 15 minutes, but they were the quietest 15 minutes imaginable. Maybe that's a good thing; C. Johansson used to have a lot of games like that, but let's not yet confuse the two . . . Mike Green -- by the end of the game was probably the best defenseman on the ice for the Caps; just a solid looking guy out there . . . Jamie Heward -- another guy who I think will occasionally bring a smile to a fan's face for his effort, if tonight is an indication. He led the club in ice time and blocked shots . . . Jeff Schultz -- some folks will look at his performance and say, "passive;" I thought he acquitted himself quite well . . . Overall grade for the defense: C-
Other observations . . .
-- Hey, it wasn't as bad as it could have been, and it certainly wasn't as bad as the final score indicated. There was some decent effort out there, and you can see where down the road there might be something to smile about -- Ovechkin (of course), Green, Bourque. The whole was definitely less than the sum of its parts tonight, which I think is entirely to be expected at this stage.
-- For most of the night, the Caps were no legitimate threat to score when Ovechkin didn't have the puck. But there was a 5-minute or so stretch in the second period when Ryan Miller really bailed the Sabres out from some bad defense. I've seen Miller a few times in person, and this time was different. He seems to "get it." He was very economical in his movements and anticipated the play very well (that might be a reason the buffalo head on his jersey has bruises tonight). I compare that to the "frisky puppy" school of goaltending now played by Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh, who no doubt will learn his lesson down the road.
-- And whatta crowd! I've never seen so many purple seats attend a game in my life. You could have put the entire crowd into sections 121, 100, and 101. They were loud, though, when Ovechkin schooled Miller in the shootout. As the Post reports: "The team announced a crowd of 10,129, but the actual attendance was likely less than half that." . . . Maybe 25 percent of it, and that included the ushers and concessioneers.
-- Speaking of shootouts, it was every bit as lame and contrived as I remembered from watching it in the AHL. Guess it will give me an opportunity to get to the train early on some nights.
-- And where in heaven's name did the neutral zone go? It's tiny! My unscientific Peerless Measurement Standard (PMS) gave it about three Zamboni's wide. I think I can see pretty clearly what this means, and it ain't good. The effort to decrease the size of the neutral zone by moving both the goal line and blue line away from the boards will appear to provide more room in the offensive zone on power plays . . . but that seems to me a cheap (and ultimately ineffective) way to increase scoring. It's going to reduce the NHL to a "half-court" offense (with all that does for the NBA to slow the game down). Teams will gain the zone, then pass the puck around the perimeter looking for the "entry pass" . . . it really IS the Bettmanization/NBAification of the NHL. I think this is going to be a disaster. Hockey is skating, too, not just two guys in a tape-to-tape passing drill at the perimeter of the offensive zone.
OK . . .there's my windy take on things tonight. Aren't you glad you read this far?
-- The Peerless