Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The agony of defeat

The Caps went to 4-0-0 last night with a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils in Newark, the game-winner coming on a shorthanded goal by Alex Ovechkin early in the third period. Michael Nylander added two assists as eight different Caps showed up on the score sheet.

But while the players round into regular season form in the usual ways, there are other role players who look like they're just about there. Donald Brashear and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (PL3, for short) introduced themselves to one another last night. Brashear is, of course, well known among Caps fans. PL3 is a newcomer, but his coach, Brent Sutter says of him, "He's a battler. He's certainly willing. When he stays within the dimensions of his game, he's a pretty effective player. But I've said that since Day One – the first day – that we were happy with him. We're happy with what he brings here." We're guessing that the "dimensions of his game" are rather limited. PL3 might be a battler, but he appears to have gotten the worse of this matchup...

The thing is, though, after this fight, the Devils scored two goals to cut the Caps' lead from 3-0 to 3-2 (the second goal featured an assist by Fedor Fedorov, Sergei's younger brother). It was almost a case of losing the battle and winning the war, from the Devils' point of view.

(images: Bill Kostroun/AP, Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Morning at Kettler

Just passing the time over in Ballston this morning...

...and after practice, the Caps sent John Carlson and Mathieu Perreault to junior and to Hershey, respectively.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A TWO-point Night: Caps 5 - Hurricanes 2

Well…as pre-season games go, tonight’s 5-2 Capitals win over the Carolina Hurricanes was entertaining. But let’s not delude ourselves that this was either: a) indicative of the relative strengths of these two teams, or b) that the Caps played well. But, it was a chance to look at some youngsters, a chance to put a few vets in roles they don’t normally play, and a chance to reminisce about the sort of crowd that would frequent (for lack of a better verb) games last December. Some thoughts on the game…

- Official attendance: 13,266. Uh-huh…a lot of season ticket holders didn’t brave the weather. There might have been 8,000 actual bodies.

- We could sit here and type that Michal Neuvirth had a difficult game (which would be true in many respects), but we’ll give him credit. He gave up two goals on the Hurricanes’ first seven shots, and he was fighting the puck for most of the 40 minutes he played. But he dug his heels in after the second goal and kept the Hurricanes from scoring again. Yeah, if Rod Brind’Amour or Eric Staal were out there, and this was January? Neuvirth would have been lit up like the Las Vegas strip. But this night, against these opponents, he stuck it out. We’ll give him marks for that.

- Chris Bourque is light years better – if this night was any indication – than he was in previous stints here. In visits past, he’d skate around like a water bug, full of energy, but with no discernible purpose. Tonight, he was a lot more in control of his game, finding the open spaces to get shots off. And for someone of such short stature, he took a hit well with his low center of gravity. Only Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green had more power play time.

- Tim Conboy…three minor penalties for roughing. If it wasn’t for his being utterly obnoxious, you’d never have known he dressed.

- OK, so you’re Daniel Manzato. You’re a young goalie coming into the game mid-way through the second period. You’ve played only one game above the ECHL level in your career. And the first shot you face from an NHL player is a penalty shot…and it’s Alex Ovechkin doing the shooting. Wes Craven can’t gin up a plot as horrifying. And the results were just as predictable.

- Speaking of Ovechkin, having notched the penalty shot goal and an assist on the first goal of two by Michael Nylander, he was trying to set up anyone wearing a red jersey, passing on a number of open shots. Failing to get anyone to finish his passes, one could almost hear him say, “enough of this crap (or whatever the Russian equivalent is),” and just fired the puck in himself on a set play from a faceoff.

- Was it me, or did Chris Clark look like he played with a smile on his face all night (except when he was staring over at Conboy with a look that said, “what the #@$& is your PROBLEM, pal?”)

- I don’t think you could get Daren Machesney to settle down if you bolted him to the ice. He was a bundle of perpetual motion out there. Given that he faced only three shots in 20 minutes, he probably needed to do something to keep himself occupied.

- In the NHL scoresheet, it’s “Joshua” Godfrey, in case you were wondering.

- It is entirely possible that the Hurricanes started only one forward who will start on opening night (Patrick Eaves).

- Carolina had only three shots on goal in the last 23:30 of the game.

- Alexander Semin had several puck-handling displays that might be SportsCenter-worthy…none of them resulted in a goal; few of them resulted in a chance. He looked like he was holding onto the puck too much and too long.

- We sat there for most of the game fretting…”Mike Green could easily get into bad habits with the sort of game he had tonight.”

- But speaking of Green, he logged 5:49 of penalty-killing time tonight. That would be about 20 percent of all the time he got short-handed last year. Alex Ovechkin had 4:48 on the penalty kill…he had a total of 13:09 last year. Enjoy it now boys…

- In the first intermission, with the Caps trailing 2-0, the Caps ran a text-message ticker on the big screen. One message said, “it’s not over until Brooks Laich says it’s over”…guess that person knew what they were talking about.

…Brooks sez, it’s over.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In case you haven't been at training camp..."lines"

The Peerless does not spend an inordinate amount of time fretting about forward "lines," thinking the concept of fixed lines is a bit of an anachronism. They get mixed up with some frequency these days, unlike the days of yore when lines had signature names. But if you've been at training camp this week, you might know that as night follows day, the comparatively settled nature of the forwards part of the roster is being followed by some indicators of what the forward lines will be -- and perhaps who is sitting on bubbles...


These lines have been getting a fair amount of work together. That leaves Donald Brashear, Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Eric Fehr, and Matt Bradley to fight for fourth line spots (assuming the Caps carry 14 forwards and there are no displacements by youngsters like Chris Bourque, Quintin Laing, Francois Bouchard, or Mathieu Perreault).


It happens, but it doesn't look right

This picture was referenced yesterday on The Official*...

It happens in sports, but it doesn't make it any easier to reconcile for many Caps fans, any more than these...

Never forget...it might be sports, but it's business first.
Thanks to sfwinter on The Official for the link.

Now, if John Facenda was doing this...

Today is the championship game in the quest for the Gaetan Duchesne Challenge Cup. The contest pits the "Group A" squad, led by Alex Ovechkin and the rookie goaltenders, Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, against the "Group B" team, led by Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Semin, and Jose Theodore.

We cannot be there in person for this climactic encounter, but we can imagine if "The Voice of God," John Facenda was introducing us to the contest...

On the frozen tundra of Kettler Capitals Iceplex, two squads with dogged determination take the ice in an epic stuggle to become the first winner of the Gaetan Duchesne Challenge Cup. Like the man for whom the trophy is named, every player taking the ice today will leave his all on the ice-covered field of battle.

The names resonate with character…

Alex Ovechkin, what some refer to as the “whole package,” who is re-writing the dictionary entry under “all-everything forward.”

Sergei Fedorov, equal parts artist and assassin, with Stanley Cups and individual awards, and for whom the Duchesne Cup will be the last step, perhaps, before winning the ultimate prize for his new team.

Alexander Semin, the enigmatic one…economical with his words off the ice, he is Mozart on it. The deft deke, followed by his signature quick release, and all that is left is for the beleaguered goaltender to turn and scrape the puck from the back of his net.

Nicklas Backstrom – The “Professor” – he might have the baby-faced look of a youngster, but to watch him processing the play as it unfolds on the ice, it is as if he has been doing this for Cheliosian decades.

Milan Jurcina…the name glides over the lips, but the man punishes opponents relentlessly.

Tom Poti, whose well-traveled career has left him with a sense of stability, of being a player who plays within himself, a man whose contributions on this day will be indispensible to his teammates of “Group A.”

Hockey honors its goal scorers that bring people out of their seats. It bequeaths accolades on those who can make the no-look pass through defenders for the tap-in goal. But it also reveres what it calls its “grinders” – those men who wear hard hats and carry lunch pails, who do the difficult work in the corners and in the trenches, who suffer the abuse of sticks and body checks to emerge with the puck and make it possible for the passers and the scorers to thrill their fans. Gaetan Duchesne was such a player. Those who know the game speak his name with a certain reverence, for he was the epitome of what it meant to play “Capitals Hockey.” Those who would triumph today and carry the trophy named for him will have to exhibit the quiet, relentless skills Duchesne exhibited over the more than 1,100 regular season and playoff games for which he dressed. Those who would triumph today will have to play the sort of game that would make him proud.

Clarks work for kids

In yesterday's Capitals Insider, Tarik El-Bashir wrote about an effort by Chris Clark and his wife, Kim, to raise funds for a playground in their summer home in Henderson, NY. As Tarik quoted from the team's web site...
The centerpiece of the Clarks' fundraising efforts is a raffle in which the winner will enjoy a one-of-a-kind Capitals experience at a 2008-09 home game. The package includes a two-night stay at the Westin Arlington Gateway Hotel and two tickets to the winner's choice of three games: Nov. 8 against the N.Y. Rangers, Jan. 3 against the N.Y. Rangers or Jan. 17 against Boston. After the game the winner and their guest will be escorted to Verizon Center's event level to meet Chris and get autographs from the Capitals' captain and his teammates.

Raffle tickets are just $20 and entry forms can be found online at http://www.aplacetoplayhenderson.com/. Entries are due Oct. 15, with the winning ticket drawn Oct. 19.

See the team's web site for more details.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Did I do good, Coach?

This is the time of year when players on the margin are looking to make a point, to impress their coaches. Well, in Tampa this evening, Zenon Konopka was making a point for the Lightning brain trust, if the scoresheet can be believed...

Three fighting majors and a game misconduct, his evening ended 4:12 into the third. He had a total of 6:54 in actual on-ice playing time. David Koci did his part, too, with a couple of fighting majors, a slash, and a game misconduct. Less than five minutes of playing time, 22 minutes in penalties.

And their counterpart on the Penguins, Paul Bissonnette, ended his evening with two fighting majors and a game misconduct...all in 6:21 of on-ice playing time.

Dancing with the Stars will be calling on these guys soon.

Training Camp -- Day 3

Well, we couldn't stay for the scrimmage -- Game 2 of the Duchesne Cup tournament -- but we did pop in for the morning workout...some images:

OK...so that's the Redskins' Monday special with pepperoni, sausage, onions, peppers
...no, wait...let me start over...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Training Camp -- Day 2

If yesterday was Skating Day, today was Scrimmage Day as Groups B and C faced off against one another in the second half of the day’s action. The first half of the day’s proceedings – staring at 10:00 – featured Group A going through drills for almost 90 minutes. Just as was the case yesterday, there was an emphasis on skating, but the session included more offensive zone sets sprinkled in. There seemed to be a marked drop in the intensity level after the first 60 minutes. Maybe the guys were saving themselves for the board-to-board version of the Herbies that ended the morning.

Things of note:

Nicklas Backstrom skated the entire session (he left early yesterday), although it looked from here as if there was just the trace of favoring an ankle at the end of the skate.

Alex Ovechkin, who apparently doesn’t like to lose at anything, finished first in his group in each phase of the Herbies at the end of the morning.

Michal Neuvirth took a puck high near his mask, and it seemed to faze him. He took a few seconds on all fours in the crease and spent the next few minutes shaking it off, but he recovered to look pretty sharp by the end of the morning.

Morning images…

Oh, to be young with a half dozen pucks and the rink all to yourself...

The man behind the pillar...Alexander Semin, practicing his "puck toss"
(points if you get the reference)

Shot by white...

Viktor...tell Simeon not to commit so early on shots.
(Kozlov)..."Coach says, the blue in your jersey sets off your eyes."

...shot by blue.

Even the breaks are filled with imparting advice...

In the afternoon, it was time for the first scrimmage – Group B against Group C in Game One of the Duchesne Cup round robin. The top goalies started for their respective groups – Jose Theodore for Group B (in blue) and Brent Johnson for Group C (in white). Braden Holtby and Daren Machesney relieved for the last two “periods” of the scrimmage (which looked to follow a 30-20-10 minute running time format).

Things of note:

We were paying special attention to Chris Clark, and he came through the scrimmage looking as if the injury suffered last year was giving him no trouble.

Gotta give Mathieu Perreault credit – he was sticking his nose in where the big trees live on a few occasions.

Michael Dubuc had a couple of fine chances, one on a nice set up from Dmitri Kugryshev, but was unable to convert.

Alexandre Giroux and Tomas Fleischmann scored on similar plays, not giving up on the puck moving across the crease, finally potting the puck when the goalie was down and out.


For the uninitiated, this is called a "faceoff."

Jose Theodore getting set

Machesney... "Please don't tell me it went in."

These guys are getting younger every year.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Training Camp -- Day 1

Let it be known that Matt Bradley was the first Capital to take the ice on Day One of Training Camp 2008...

It was two sheets and all hockey, all the time today, as the Caps cracked open the 2008-2009 season with three groups taking the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Today, for lack of a better term, was Skating Day, as the coaching staff put the groups through a high-tempo workout that emphasized skating…a lot of end-to-end work that got the legs used to what’s coming over the next couple of weeks.

Perhaps the best single thing to come out of today’s work was this…

Chris Clark and Michael Nylander taking the ice in Group III in the afternoon (matched with Tomas Fleischmann as the “red” forward line). Both looked rather smooth in drills.

There were a couple of dicey moments, both of which occurred in the Group III session, as Tom Maxwell took a puck to the leg that left him in a heap, crawling on all fours to the bench, where he was worked on. We didn’t see him return. There was also the matter of Quintin Laing dinging a shot off the side of Brent Johnson’s noggin, hitting him flush in the side of the mask. Johnson didn’t look the worse for wear, though, as he and Laing stood together at the next rinkside huddle smiling about it.

No one looked to be laboring, even with the tempo of the drills – hopefully a reflection of an attitude of taking this year seriously from the get-go. No one was taking shortcuts…ok, there was that cutting short the lap Mike Green pulled off when he was late getting back to the huddle at rink-side.

From development camp, rookie camp, and now the first day of training camp, there is certainly an impression that Coach Boudreau and the Caps’ brain trust have it in their minds that they’re going to try to skate teams into dust. Guys who can’t skate are going to have a lot of trouble keeping up with the top-shelf players on this team.

Given that it is a gorgeous day here in the DC area, it was a well-attended session on both rinks. The stands on the Capitals rink looked about 90 percent full and the floor filled behind the glass for the morning Group I session (the one featuring Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who was dressed in the orange sweater today). The Group II session on the Arlington rink (the one featuring Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Jose Theodore, and Donald Brashear) was ringed a couple deep with the upstairs filled. The Group III session on the Capitals rink at 12:30 (with Clark, Nylander, and Mike Green) looked to be about as filled as the morning session.

As journeyman catcher Jake Taylor put it in the movie, “Major League,” they don’t cut anybody the first day. It was just a day to soak in four hours of hockey (even if it was drills). Here are some images of the first day…

Michal Neuvirth making a couple of early saves

Bruce Boudreau admiring his handiwork...

...and getting some teaching in

The obligatory Alex Ovechkin picture

Jose Theodore getting some work in

Defensemen in some offensive zone drills

Donald Brashear taking aim on Theodore

Looking back to look ahead

The Peerless hails from a part of the world that includes in it what are called the “Endless Mountains.” It is a beautiful part of the world where, as the name suggests, there are hilltops as far as the eye can see. This past week, we were reminded of that in a way in looking at the players the Capitals brought to rookie camp. Because, this past week was not about this year or next; it was about five years, ten years from now. And in that, the Capitals’ potential seems – for what might be the first time in the history of the franchise – endless.

Although it is tempting to look at the team one follows closely and see only the positives – to engage in Pollyanna-like thoughts of what might be – the group brought to rookie camp this week included a host of players who could be contributing NHL'ers, and in more than a few cases could include some who will make quite an impression in the decade to come.

If one looks only at the defense, the hopefuls at camp included such as: Josh Godfrey, Karl Alzner, and Viktor Dovgan who could crack an NHL roster down the road (or sooner). One could add that to the 25-and-under crowd of defensemen that is already on the Caps roster or who could be on it in the near future. That group, for sake of argument, might look like this:

Shaone Morrisonn
Mike Green
Jeff Schultz
Milan Jurcina
Sami Lepisto
Karl Alzner
Josh Godfrey
John Carlson
Viktor Dovgan

Five years from now, that group would still be 30 or younger to start the season. You'd have to think all of them are NHL-roster capable, and some of them major contributors. And Joe Finley hasn't shown up yet.

Then you have the forwards. Mathieu Perreault, Francois Bouchard, Oscar Osala, Dmitri Kugryshev, and Anton Gustafsson are among those who skated this week who might log time in the NHL (you might add a few to this list). Add that to the 25-and-under forward list (to which you might care to add a few names), and you might have something like…

Alex Ovechkin
Alexander Semin
Nicklas Backstrom
Eric Fehr
Boyd Gordon
Brooks Laich
Tomas Fleischmann
Chris Bourque
Mathieu Perreault
Francois Bouchard
Oscar Osala
Dmitri Kugryshev
Anton Gustafsson

Again, five years from now this group would still be 30 or younger. The goalies being counted on – Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth – are each only 20 years old.

The kids skating this past week are going to push some other guys hard and some of those right off the club in a few years. Although there are no guarantees of success in the future, for the first time, perhaps, in the history of this franchise there is depth of talent as far as the eye can see into the future. What was on display this week was the embodiment of the club’s strategy – to build a perennial contender using the draft and home-grown prospects as its core element. So, as the big club takes the ice this morning to ring in the 2008-2009 season, with all the promise that suggests, remember that the years to come look rather bright for the Caps and their fans, too.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Want to adopt a hockey team?

Nice team, semi-housebroken (ok, not housebroken), does not take to strangers easily, looking for new home.

That is the situation in which the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms find themselves. Since the Wachovia Spectrum is going to be torn down (if only 'twere true of the rest of Philly), the Phantoms need a home. According to this article in the Philadelphia Daily News, the Phantoms might have to leave Philly altogether.

Imagine...the Allentown Phantoms...

...the Camden Phantoms.