Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sittin' at the end of the bar...

It's a little known fact...

-- That Jeremy Roenick has six goals... and five of them are game-winners.

-- That almost half of Patrick Sharp's goals (five of his 11) are of the short-handed variety.

-- That Jason Blake has two goals...on 102 shots (1.96 percent). There are guys in this league who could do better blindfolded.

-- That the top three scorers in intra-divisional play are all Tampa Bay Lightning (Vincent Lecavalier (29 points), Martin St. Louis (23), and Vaclav Prospal (21)). Small wonder that Tampa has earned 17 of their 22 points in the Southeast Division.

-- Sergei Gonchar leads the league in power play scoring (3-13-16). Bet you'd have gone through a lot of names before settling on Matt Cullen as the number two guy (4-11-15).

-- That the worst three players in terms of giveaways all hail from the Los Angeles Kings (Lubomir Visnovsky, Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov)...any wonder why they are 9-13-1?

-- That Brendan Shanahan has only seven goals on 117 shots...but he's 2-for-4 in shootouts, and both goals were game-deciding ones.

-- That Joe Sakic is -5...doesn't sound like much, but if he keeps that up, it will be his first minus season in more than ten years (1996-1997, when he was -10).

-- That Pascal Leclaire is on a pace for 20 shutouts. That would eclipse the post-expansion era record of 15 (Tony Esposito, 1969-1970) and would be within shouting distance of the all-time record of 22 (George Hainsworth, 1928-1929).

-- That Martin Brodeur is on a pace to lose 36 games, based on the share of Devils' games he's played so far and his current record. That was almost two years' worth (37) the back-to-back years the Devils went to the Stanley Cup Finals (1999-2000 and 2000-2001).

-- Two goalies on the same club...one is 5-5-1, 2.90, .864...the other is 10-1-1, 1.66, .930. One is Chris Osgood, the other is Dominik Hasek. Which is which?....wrong!

What's Up With This?

Minus-13?...tied for last in the league??

It isn't pretty, but it isn't entirely surprising, either. If there is one player on this roster for whom "chemistry" is not just a branch of the physical sciences, it is Nylander. Let's wind the clock back to 2005-2006, his first in New York. He would finish +31 for the season, but he was all of a +2 on Christmas. In his last 46 games after Christmas, he had only five "minus" games and was a +29.

He's off to a slower start here, but it would be folly to assume it will remain that bad. As the chemistry improves, so will that number.

Let's just hope it's soon.

21 is not just a number

Like a lot of sports fans, the only exposure I’ve ever had to Sean Taylor was watching him in pads and helmet, wearing his number '21' jersey and wreaking havoc on a gridiron. In the early morning hours on Tuesday, Taylor passed away from a gunshot wound suffered at his suburban Miami home on Monday.

Pads and a helmet often disguise the fact that these are flesh and blood people with families – Taylor was allegedly assaulted when he was investigating an intrusion into his home that he shared with his fiancée and baby daughter. For his immediate family and the extended family that is his collection of Redskin teammates, it is an unimaginable shock – that someone with the physical gifts Taylor possessed could be taken from their midst in the blink of an eye.

It is cliché to note that events like this put “sports” in their proper perspective, but there is truth, even in clichés. For families, friends, and fans alike, the clock will stop on the games, but only for a time. Taylor will be remembered, families and friends will grieve, and commentators will try to express “the meaning of it all.”

Maybe it has no larger meaning. Maybe it is what it is – a senseless, but all-too-common tragedy. A young man who lived in a city with a streak of violent characters, with his own brushes with the law and violence in his past, forfeiting his life because he couldn’t get far enough or fast enough away from that environment. Teammate Clinton Portis remarked, "It's hard to expect a man to grow up overnight. But ever since he had this child it was like a new Sean. And everybody around here knew it. He was always smiling, always happy, always talking about his child."

The irony here is that Taylor, who played a sport defined by a clock, ran out of time before he could finish growing up to enjoy life with his fiancée and daughter.

That’s the tragedy.

Photo: John McDonnell - The Washington Post

A no-point night...Sabres 3 - Caps 1

Sigmund Freud is said to have uttered the quote, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Whether he actually uttered those words is something of a mystery, but for our purposes here, sometimes a loss is just a loss. No more need be attributed to it.

Had this game been played while the Caps were, say, 11-11-1 it would be just a bad night. But these being the Caps, and Caps fans looking for meaning in every loss, last night’s 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres will no doubt be looked at as an indicator whether the Caps two-game winning streak was merely a detour on the trip over the cliff of a season.

Make no mistake, the Caps did not play especially well. 20 turnovers (giveaways plus Buffalo’s takeaways) – most of them of the sort that left Buffalo with excellent scoring chances – will do that. Michael Nylander was victimized on both the game-winning and the insurance goals, once having the puck taken away deep in the Capitals’ zone, resulting in a tap-in goal for Jochen Hecht (2-1-3 on the night) -- the other leaving a pass for Tomas Fleischmann that failed to connect that ended up being a two-on-one break for the Sabres, resulting in a goal.

It was a brutal night for several Caps…John Erskine was conspicuously in the area for two Sabre goals, once finding himself badly out of position and unable to right himself before Hecht rattled the puck into the net. On the second, Erskine was left to defend the Sabre’s two-on-one after the Nylander-Fleischmann turnover and could not break up the play before Olaf Kolzig was fishing the puck out of his net. That was his -2.

Steve Eminger was a -2 in his second game of the year, Nylander and Fleischmann likewise. Alexander Semin rounded out the -2 parade, prompting Bruce Boudreau to comment afterward that, "I've never seen him play…I have to believe he's going to be better."

Some observations…

-- Alexander Ovechkin scored another goal. That’s 17 for the season and eight in his last nine games; he also extended a points streak to nine games. That goal, though, was a return to the sort of Washington offense that has been present for much of the year. He picked up the puck from Steve Eminger at the Washington end of the rink…then he barreled down the left side, put a nifty little chip-and-skate-around on defenseman Brian Campbell, fired a shot at goalie Ryan Miller that was stopped, but he picked up his own rebound and in one motion buried it in the back of the net. It was a highlight goal to be sure – the only highlight of the night for the Caps.

-- Someone has to do something about that ice. It has to be the worst in the league. For most of the game, it looked as if the teams were playing on gravel. It is fair to say that both teams had to endure that nonsense, but that ice is going to be the cause of an injury at some point. Tom Poti put it best…“That’s how it is every game with this ice. The ice is pretty embarrassing to say the least. The puck bounces around like a rubber ball out there.”

-- Buffalo certainly didn’t dominate the game, but they made the most of their opportunities. Whenever the Caps would make a mistake, it seemed to end up in the back of the net.

-- Speaking of the Sabres, one can tell that they’ve played together for a while. Campbell, Jochen Hecht, Tim Connolly, Ales Kotalik, Maxim Afinogenov, and Henrik Tallinder have played together since the 2002-2003 season. It is worth noting that the Sabres were 27-37-10-8 in that season (72 points). Adding Derek Roy in 2003-2004; and Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Toni Lydman in 2005-2006 added to the core. They miss Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, but they have a formidable group that has considerable experience playing together. It shows, and the difference between the clubs in that regard might be reflected in an observation by coach Bruce Boudreau – "We played as hard as [Buffalo] and as good as them, just not as smart as them."

-- Boyd Gordon played only 9:50 last night and had only one shift in the third period.

-- In 24 games, the Caps have surrendered 29 goals in the second period. That is tied for 28th worst in the league. They gave up two more last night.

-- Dan Paille has the quietest +3 you’re ever going to see.

-- A hockey club is going to have games like this where it’s close, but they’re never really in it. Trouble is, the Caps can no longer afford too many of them, such is the hole they’ve dug for themselves. As Olaf Kolzig put it, "We have to put a streak together here to get ourselves out of this hole…"

It can’t start soon enough.