Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday: Young Guns and an Old Coach

Tomorrow night, the Caps will visit the Anaheim Ducks in the midst of a 5-0-2 streak that has seen them leap to the head of the Southeast Division and the third spot in the Eastern Conference. Over those seven games, the Caps have scored 24 goals and allowed 14. The Young Guns – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green – have been the key parts on offense in crafting that streak:

Ovechkin: 5-8-13, +13
Semin: 5-6-11, +11
Backstrom: 2-10-12, +11
Green: 2-4-6, +10

But lost in all that is the 14 goals allowed in seven games. Jose Theodore is 1-0-1, 2.20, .924 in his three appearances in this streak. Good as that is, Brent Johnson has been lights (as in “red” lights) out – 4-0-1, 1.82, .949. And one could conclude it really has been goaltending, too, as the Johnson/Theodore tandem have had to face a somewhat higher number of shots per game in this streak (33.7) than they did in the previous ten games (27.2).

It is a case of what a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, the Caps were returning home on heels of what had been to that point a dismal November -- 1-6-1, scoring only 12 goals while allowing 24. The Young Guns were very much young, but not gunning so much:

Ovechkin: 5-1-6, even
Semin: did not play (injured)
Backstrom: 1-3-4, -1
Green: 0-1-1, -4

Then there were the 24 goals allowed in those eight games. Olaf Kolzig was 1-5-0 over that stretch, 3.05, .898. Johnson was backing him up and was 0-1-1, 2.64, .905. It wasn’t a matter of poor goaltending as much as it was mediocre. 24 goals in eight games is not great defense, but it isn’t a catastrophe, either. But getting shutout twice in those eight games, and scoring more than two goals only once (the only win) made life difficult for Kolzig and Johnson on a night-in, night-out basis.

When the Caps returned home a year ago tomorrow night, they would lose to Florida 4-3, seeing a furious third period rally fall short. But in the midst of falling to a record of 2-6-0 at home in that game, fans began voicing their displeasure in the second period by chanting, “Fire Han-lon” – a reference to head coach Glen Hanlon – as the Panthers were building a 4-1 lead.

Hanlon probably deserved better. He drew a bad hand when he took over as the Caps’ coach after 28 games of the 2003-2004 season. It was a team that had been bloated by payroll, demoralized by performance, and looking for purpose as the team was in the throes of a transition to a youth-centered rebuild.

Hanlon would be relieved of his duties after the second game of that late-November home stand last year, a 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. The rest is a fond memory for Caps fans. But as we’re getting along toward Thanksgiving week, it might pay to heed some lessons and give some thanks. First, thanks to Glen Hanlon, for if he wasn’t the right guy to bring the Caps all the way home, he was the right guy to get them started. That shouldn’t be forgotten. And the lesson is perhaps that just as fortunes can turn for the better in short order, so can they turn in the other direction as quickly. The Caps have shown themselves to be a very good team, not just the best of the lot in a weak division. But there is much work to be done by those precocious youngsters putting up those gaudy numbers this month…and all their teammates.

1 comment:

Mark Bonatucci said...

Great article. As usual, your comments are dead on.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!