Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hockey played on cherry jello

Not was a case of the ice being dyed pink for "Pink in the Rink" breast cancer awareness night in Norfolk for an AHL game between the Admirals and the Hartford Wolfpack.

Photos: Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot

Thanks to HersheyBears on The Official for the heads up.


The Caps, as has been noted by many, are using a team-building strategy that emphasizes the draft. Think you can't build that way? Well, let's look at one example.

Although the Indianapolis Colts lost their divisional playoff game to San Diego this afternoon, they have won at least 12 games in five consecutive seasons, reaching two conference finals and winning a Super Bowl Championship over that period.

All 22 position starters on this year's Colts squad were either drafted or signed as undrafted free agents by the Colts.

Their starting lineup is entirely home-grown.

A no point afternoon: Flyers 6 - Caps 4

The next goal…

That’s what the Caps just couldn’t find in the third period of this afternoon’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers – the next goal.

Before succumbing, 6-4, to the Flyers this afternoon, the Caps fought back from a three-goal deficit to climb within a goal, gave up another goal, then scored to climb within a single goal once more before yielding an empty netter in the last minute for the final tally.

It was a singularly frustrating game on a lot of levels…

- The Flyers were coming off an overtime loss against the Bruins in Philadelphia yesterday, so the formula would have been to push them early. The Caps did, drawing first blood 82 seconds into the game. The Caps had the territorial advantage and were dictating the pace over the first five minutes, then…pffffft. They were the ones to stop skating.

- A team whose legs might not have three periods in them is a team you have to make skate to take the will out of them. Throw the puck in deep, make them turn and chase it, and pressure them. So, what did the Caps do?...they spent a lot of time being cute with the puck – overpassing, passing up shots for the “highlight” play, and not applying as much physical pressure as they might have in the offensive zone. On defense there was just too much reaching and poking, allowing the Flyers too much space.

- The Wizards might not grab as many rebounds as Caps goalies (and both played) and Flyer goalie Martin Biron gave up in this one. The difference was that the Flyers pounced on the ones Olaf Kolzig and Brent Johnson left, while the Caps weren’t crashing the net in sufficient numbers to take advantage of a very shaky Biron. First Flyer goal…Upshall shot, Knuble jumps in to poke the loose puck under Kolzig’s pads. Second goal…Timonen fires from almost the blue line as a power play is about to expire, Knuble stuffs the rebound from a sharp angle behind Kolzig. Third goal…Timonen again, carrying the puck all the way to the net on a shorthanded opportunity, Kolzig stops the stuff attempt, but Jim Dowd slams the puck in. Fifth goal…Downie fires a low shot from the edge of the left wing circle that Johnson gets a pad on, but Richards swats the rebound home. See a pattern? The fourth goal wasn’t a rebound, it was case of R.J. Umberger throwing a plain-looking shot at the net from the top of the left wing circle that Kolzig could have stopped with his mask on backwards…except it hit Milan Jurcina’s stick on the way in, and while Kolzig still managed to get a piece of it with his glove, he didn’t get enough to keep it from finding the net. That ended Kolzig’s day.

- For long stretches, the Caps looked like another team with red sweaters that play in a nation’s capital…and for other long stretches they looked like, well, November’s Caps. But one had the feeling that the Caps were the better team, that it was just a matter of time before they got that next goal to even things up and give themselves a chance to get that point or two they desperately need. But they never got that next goal.

It would be simple, and perhaps convenient to attribute this loss to goaltending, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Both starting goaltenders were shaky, Biron particularly. But the difference was that Philadelphia paid a price to collect and convert rebounds, the Caps didn’t. The final result might have been more lopsided than it was, but for some superb stops by both Caps goalies, especially Johnson. But even in those instances, the chances were largely a product of rebounds given.

The most important number for the Caps in this game might be these: one, 55. Those represent the number of shifts taken by Chris Clark in the third period and the number of seconds of ice time on that shift. Clark did not take the ice over the last 17:49 of the game.

Did the Caps dominate play?...they “out-attempted” the Flyers 72-51 and won the draws by 31-24. It was like watching a football team out-gain the opposition 350-200 and converting 60 percent of their third down situations to 40 percent for the other guys and losing the game…you feel like it was one that got away.

Tom Poti had a rough game in his return from injury…he was on the ice for four of the Flyers’ goals.

Somehow, it just seems odd that Viktor Kozlov had only 14 seconds of power play time this afternoon.

I just know I’m going to bolt upright in bed at three tomorrow morning shouting, “Alex!..How could you pass up that shot?” and scrunch my eyes together trying to figure out why Semin would pass up a free, unchallenged shot at Biron to try to leave a drop pass to…well, to who, exactly?

Matt Bradley sure has a way with people, doesn’t he?...he smears Sami Kapanen along the boards, then draws an instigator (to go with the misconduct and fighting accessories) from Jason Smith stepping into the fray. One might applaud the Flyers’ captain for stepping up for a guy who just got plastered, but it took him off the ice for 17 minutes and left his club a man short.

That sure was a slick through-Scott-Hartnell’s-legs pass by Michael Nylander to set up the goal Semin did score. And so was Viktor Kozlov's drop pass ( that worked) to Alex Ovechkin who lasered a wrister past Biron.

Did Daniel Briere dress for this game? shot, a giveaway, lost nine of 11 draws, and went -2 in 16 minutes. He ought to back up to the pay window for this one.

Alex Ovechkin might be A-O-Rod, in the wake of his new contract, but Mike Richards is “David Wright” (the Mets third-baseman…he’s a 30HR, 100RBI, top fielder at his position type…does everything well). Richards had a goal, played almost 23 minutes, attempted eight shots, had a couple of hits, a couple of take-aways, won 11 of 20 draws, and was +1.

Just when you think the club has turned a corner, they let an opportunity like this pass. These were two points the Caps really can’t afford to be letting slip through their fingers, especially with Ottawa – no doubt looking to avenge that 0-3 season series, so far – looming on Tuesday. But it also does no good to dwell on it. The game’s over, and it can’t be replayed. It's just time to get on with the next one.

Ya know what?....#@%& 'em!

A few days ago, the largest contract signing by a professional athlete in Washington history took place. It caused barely a ripple in these parts, the flagship local paper that once proclaimed, "if you don't get it, you don't get it" giving the story a back seat to an interview with a gentleman named "Schwartz" for a vacant coaching position with the local professional football team. What attention it did get in other markets was, if not uniformly negative, at least annoyingly dismissive, perhaps summed up by this quote from a Canadian outlet:

"...the NHL would have been far better off had [Alex] Ovechkin been allowed to bolt Washington as a restricted free agent this summer to join an NHL team in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or New York – cities where Ovechkin's talents would have been better used to help raise the NHL's profile."

It would not be fair to fail to recognize some positive coverage of the signing -- Pierre LeBrun in Canada and Thom Loverro in Washington among those who saw benefit in the deal. But in the run-up to the deal announced on Thursday by Ted Leonsis there was a persistent "Ovechkin is better than Washington" or "Ovechkin should play in a real hockey market" drumbeat that annoys Caps fans and management, alike. But it also seems to reflect a comfortable amnesia, too.

What made Colorado a hockey market before the Avalanche arrived? The Rockies failed in Denver amidst uncertain ownership (changing hands twice in four years), a revolving door behind the bench (eight coaches in their first seven years), financial problems, and a poor on-ice product.

Dallas?...what made Dallas a strong hockey market before the Stars arrived from Minnesota in 1993? Before the Stars arrived, not even winning (nine trips to the Central Hockey League finals and three championships in 14 seasons) could keep the Dallas Black Hawks from having the plug pulled on their operation a decade earlier by their parent club (largely due to financial considerations stemming from high travel costs).

New Jersey? The franchise that used to be those Colorado Rockies?...the one famously called a "Mickey Mouse organization" by none other than Wayne Gretzky? This was a strong hockey market?

Tampa Bay?...a standing joke in the league that had one winning season in their first decade and averaged 44 losses a year (even with a strike-shortened season) over that decade?

Winning made those markets strong (although New Jersey continued to struggle some at the gate); winning allowed them to get a foothold, to bring folks to the rink and keep them coming to the rink once they saw what hockey was when watched live.

If Washington wins -- and re-signing Alex Ovechkin is a big investment in winning -- folks will come. Just as they did in Denver, Dallas, New Jersey, and Tampa.

So for all those in New York, Detroit, Canada, and wherever who disparaged Washington as a hockey market and the value of having a star as bright as Alexander Ovechkin re-upping in such a backwater, here's what you can say, Caps fans...

#@%& 'em!

When Washington wins, crow will be served.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Flyers, January 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Sunday morning here in Washington, and that’s as good a time as any to catch up on the mail…


LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA…I can’t hear you. Ovechkin didn’t sign any contract…he’s gonna be a Ranger. LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.


Larry in the Apple


That’s OK…there’s always Dion.


Dear Peerless…

Do the Caps have a shot? Can they make the playoffs?


Caps Fans

Caps fans:

This morning, the Caps are in 13th place in the East, six points behind the eighth-place Islanders for a playoff spot. The points are not the problem as much as that 13th place and what it means. The Caps have five teams to climb over to get to that eighth spot. The “good news” here is that the East is so tightly bunched at this point (eight points separating third and 14th place, although that third place is really the seventh best point total in the conference) that if a team can get hot, if they can get on a ten game run where they win 16-18 points, they can either pass some clubs or get some separation. The Caps are 5-2-3 in their last ten games with four more left in this home stand. Getting at least six points over the rest of the home stand is critical. Even if they get them, they will not be enough to get into the top eight, but they will position the Caps to compete over the last 35 games. To answer your question, they can, but it remains a longshot.


Dear Peerless:

Can Alex represent me when my next contract comes up?


Sid in Pee-Ay

Dear Sid:

We’ll ask his mom…


Dear Peerless,

Now that Ovechkin has signed, will anyone come to watch this team?



Dear Anonymous:

If the last two years are an indication, the Caps will do better in the second half of the year. In 2005-2006, the first year after the lockout, the Caps drew at least 15,000 five times before January 1st, 10 times after the new year. In 2006-2007, the numbers were four and 12. This year, the Caps drew at least 15,000 five times leading up to the new year. Ovechkin’s contract and the buzz it creates might generate some curiosity (although winning would be a better remedy), but the Caps would be expected to draw better in the second half in any case.


Dear Peerless,

What is the Caps best chance to make the playoffs, finishing in the top-eight or winning the Southeast?


Stormy in Carolina

Dear Pig:

Collar getting tight down there? Actually, the situation has the look of “six of one, half a dozen of the other.” The Caps are six points behind the Islanders for eighth in the East, seven behind the Hurricanes for the lead in the Southeast. The key might be the schedule. The Caps have 15 games remaining against Southeast teams (four against each of Carolina, Atlanta, and Florida; three against Tampa Bay). In one of the true quirks (you may read that as “abominations”) in the results, every SE team has an above-.500 record in the division:

Tampa Bay: 10-9-1 (21 pts.)

Atlanta: 9-7-1 (19)

Carolina: 9-8-1 (19)

Florida: 9-8-1 (19)

Washington: 8-7-2 (18)

Three points separate top and bottom in the intra-divisional records, and the Caps have at least a game in hand on everyone in the division. No one has shown an ability to break away. Here is the thing, though. Since getting pasted, 5-1 by Atlanta, in Glen Hanlon’s last game behind the Caps’ bench, the Caps are 5-1-1 in the division, winning their last four games and beating each of the other teams at least once. If the Caps can maintain that pace and win 23-24 of the remaining 30 points on the table in the division, it would not just go a long way to securing a playoff spot, it would go a long way to allowing the Caps to leap-frog the other teams in the division.

But before we do all of that, there are the Philadelphia Flyers to contend with this afternoon in a 1:00 pm start. And the Flyers are coming in on a roll. After going 0-4-2 in a six game stretch from December 13-22, they are visiting Washington in the midst of a 6-1-1 run in their last eight. The particulars:

Record: 6-1-1

Goals for/against: 25-15

Power play: 9/36 (25.0 percent)

Penalty killing: 35/41 (85.4 percent)

25 years…$193 million. Mike Richards…Alex Ovechkin. Just thought we’d mention that.

OK, as for the Flyers, it might not be surprising that Richards isn’t the leading scorer in the 6-1-1 run (he’s 1-4-5, +4), but it is that Scott Hartnell is. Hartnell is 6-3-9, +6, including a hat trick against the Rangers in a 6-2 win last Thursday. The other big contract player for the Flyers, and object of Caps fans’ affection Daniel Briere – is 2-5-7, +1 in these last eight games, but he remains a -9 on the year, despite scoring at about a point-per-game (17-26-43 in 42 games). The Flyers, though, are missing Joffrey Lupul, injured with a bruised spinal cord and concussion. When he went down, he had been on a 10-8-18, +2 run in his previous 12 games, with a couple of hat tricks for good measure.

Antero Niittymaki has been the man in goal for the orange and black. He’s earned the decision in five of the last six games, going 4-0-1 in the process (1.80 GAA, .954 SV, one shutout). He did, however, give up four goals in taking the overtime loss against the Bruins (4-3) yesterday, in Philadelphia.

Niittymaki has not played both ends of a back-to-back in his 14 appearances this year, so the task today might fall to Martin Biron. Biron has the other two wins in the recent eight-game run for the Flyers, and his only loss was in a shutout pitched by Martin Brodeur on January 4th. Biron has had a fair amount of success against the Caps, going 9-6-1-1, 2.54, .911 in 17 career games. He is 0-1-1 in his last two decisions against the Caps.

The Caps are on a roll of their own, going 5-1-1 in their last seven, their only regulation loss also coming in a shutout (against Boston, 2-0, on January 3). And this is a club Alex Ovechkin seems to like playing against (10 career games, 10-8-18, +3, two game-winning goals). He’s not the only one. Michael Nylander is 10-24-34, +7 in 34 career games against the Flyers. The additional entertainment might be provided by Donald Brashear, who has 97 penalty minutes in 21 career games against his old club.

This will be another in a series of challenges this week – one of the former Patrick Division rivals coming to town with a few wins under their belt. But the Caps have been up to the challenge lately, and this will be no different…

Caps 3 – Flyers 2