Sunday, February 10, 2008

Russian vs. Russian

Each has played 18 games in 2008...

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin...if no one else dressed, that would have been a pretty good 2004 draft.

The Unkindest Cut

Above you see Richard Zednik and Olli Jokinen of the Florida Panthers celebrating one of Zednik's goals in a hat trick performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs last week.

Tonight, the feelings among the Panthers, their fans, and the world of hockey in general are a good deal more somber.

Richard Zednik was injured this evening as a result of a freakish tumble and swing of a skate by Jokinen, who was trying to fight off a check during the third period of the Buffalo Sabres' 5-3 win against the Panthers in Buffalo.

You can find the video of the incident without much trouble, if you are so inclined. It is not pretty to watch. It was uncomfortably reminiscent of another incident in Buffalo -- in March 1989 -- when Sabre goaltender Clint Malarchuk nearly lost his life to a skate blade slicing through his neck. Or that of Bengt Akerblom, who died as a result of an accident similar to Malarchuk's that occurred in an exhibition game between Swedish hockey teams Brynas and Mora in October 1995.

It is a reminder that hockey, for all its grace and power, is a game that is played quite literally "on the edge."

Caps fans -- perhaps peculiarly so -- have seemed always to have a soft spot for Zednik. You can find "Zed-heads" even today among the faithful. Perhaps it is a function of his having achieved a measure of success in the league despite having been drafted 249th overall in 1994. To accomplish what he has, having come from so far, is a reflection of the player and the person.

For both, we and all Caps fans wish a speedy recovery. Get well, and come back soon, Zed.

Sabre goaltender Ryan Miller, in front of whom the play unfolded, reacts:

Now THIS is a promotion!

Minor league franchises in all sports are legend in their imaginative use of promotions to bring fans to the stands. It is in this vein that we salute the AHL's Peoria Rivermen, who have a special treat for fans following their game against the Iowa Stars on March 22nd...


Whoa, buckos...not just "wrestling," and not even the WWE brand of the sport. We're talking a triple-header of "midget championship wrestling." Let's let Dave Eminian of tell it...

"There will be three bouts in a WWE-style ring, billed as regular; hardcore with trash cans; and everything-goes World Tag Team Midget Championship, with Little Kaeto.

I kid you not. There's a video sample of Little Kaeto and his cohorts on my blog, Cleve's World, at

"I think we're, um, tapping into what has been a strong professional-wrestling market in Peoria over the years," Rivermen president Bart Rogers said in his best deadpan. "These guys are, um, some of the best athletes in the world. We're going to have three big matches, something never done in Peoria.

"It's not often central Illinois is host of a world-championship bout."

Hardcore with trash cans...sounds like a hockey kinda night.

A TWO point afternoon: Caps 3 - Rangers 2 (OT)

The Caps are in first place once more, a product of a hard-fought, often-ugly, occasionally exhilarating 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers at Verizon Center this afternoon.

Hard-fought? bet. You might not think so looking at the hits recorded (22-12 in favor of the Caps), and there were no fisticuffs, but this was a game that was largely fought along the boards and in the corners. Given that the Rangers played (and won) a game in Philadelphia yesterday, such a game might have been expected to draw heavily from their depleted energy reserves.

For the longest time, the Caps seemed not to concern themselves with wearing down the Rangers, but in the last half of the third period, the Rangers' fatigue began to show, and the Caps were the club with the momentum at the end of regulation.

It didn't take the Caps long to record the bonus point in the extra session. While on the power play -- a four-on-three scenario in the extra time -- Mike Green took a feed from Alex Ovechkin, took a couple of strides toward the Ranger net in the additional open ice, and let fly with a slapshot that found its way through goalie Steve Valiquette's pads for the game-winner.

Until then, though, it was a contest of the Rangers held the advantage for over much of the contest. The Rangers tried to play an in-their-face, gritty road game, while the Caps were finding themselves unable to develop any momentum or flow. As it was, the Caps managed to get two goals in regulation the ugly way...a loose puck that found its way to Alex Ovechkin's stick and then found it heading past an Eric Fehr screen and into the net early in the first period, and a rebound that Boyd Gordon collected and swept past a diving Valiquette in the closing seconds of the second period.

The Rangers scored their two on a rebound that the Caps could not clear away before Chris Drury swept it under Olaf Kolzig and poor coverage by Shaone Morrison, who permitted Sean Avery to get inside position taking a feed from Scott Gomez to beat Kolzig under the crossbar.

Other than those bursts, there was a lot of mucking and grinding and huffing and puffing. As noted in the last entry, the Caps had some unfortunate "almosts" in goal-scoring, failing to take advantage of a sometimes-shaky Valiquette.

In the end, though...

Alex Ovechkin finished 1-2-3, +1, using his 20th multi-point game of the year to recapture the scoring lead (76 points to 73 for Daniel Alfredsson and Evgeni Malkin, who had a four-point game against Philadelphia this afternoon) and lengthen his goal-scoring lead (47 to 39 for Ilya Kovalchuk)

Alexander Semin had a very quiet two-point game (assists on both the game-tying and game-winning goals)...that's not necessarily a bad thing

No Capital who took more than one faceoff won a majority of the draws they took. The team was 23 for 56 overall.

Jaromir Jagr...two shots, plus-one, no points...again (that's seven games and counting...still think he's more valuable than Marian Hossa or as attractive as Mats Sundin?)

The Caps killed off all six Ranger power's the first time the Caps have killed of so many power plays without allowing a goal since December 14th against Buffalo (a 5-2 loss)

Defensemen led both teams in shots -- Mike Green for the Caps (five) and Paul Mara for the Rangers (five)

Viktor Kozlov tied for the team lead in hits (three, with Ovechkin and Milan Jurcina)...maybe he thought he was still playing for the Islanders

Today marked Olaf Kolzig's 700th game with the Caps, and the win tied him in career victories with Ron Hextall (296)

The Caps play four of their next five games against Southeast Division foes over the next 13 days, all of them on the road. You could call this a pretty big fortnight coming up. But for now, things look like this...

Caps/Rangers, by the periods

1st period...

Two different games...the Caps strike first on the Ovechkin power play goal and control the territorial aspect...then Sean Avery slipped inside Shaone Morrisonn for a clear shot at Olaf Kolzig, who he beat high to the glove side. The Rangers had the best of things from there.

Don't know if the Caps had the puck for 30 seconds in the Ranger end in the last five minutes. Part of that was having to kill two penalties in the last 5:23, but the Caps never could seem to get a stick on the puck.

Caps were blistered in the circle, losing 12 of 18 (even Jagr's won a draw). Playing with fire. Giving the Rangers possession, and with most of that possession in the Caps' end, the Caps should feel fortunate they aren't down by at least a goal here.

Nigel Dawes has 2:52 in power play time on ice; Jaromir Jagr has 1:08. Such is Jagr's world these days.

Matt Pettinger can't buy a break. Lined one right off the crossbar at 1:19...would have been a great start to the game and maybe the spark Pettinger needs.

Steve Valiquette looks shaky in the Ranger net (first time in his NHL career he's playing back-to-backs), benefited from a quick whistle, or the Caps might have had a 2-0 lead. Avery scored 47 seconds later.

2nd period...

Ugly is good...note that both Caps goals came off traffic and getting shots to the net, not the pretty stuff.

But all in all, that was a gruesome period for the Caps. Three shots in the first 14-plus minutes...three sloppy minor penalties...a bad clear (or non-clear) on a rebound that led to the Ranger goal (and Kolzig's recovery wasn't especially pretty, either).

Morrisonn having about his worst game as a Cap...three minor penalties, was on the ice for the Avery goal (and was the defenseman beaten on that play), and looks a half-second slow in getting into position to defend. He usually rises to the Jagr challenge, but just isn't having a very good day.

The Caps are a bit snake-bit in this game...first it was Pettinger in the first clanging the crossbar, then it was Semin, after making a highlight reel move to spring himself free to Valiquette's right, had the puck slide of the end of his stick, preventing him from lifting the puck off a backhand over the sprawling goalie at 14:39.

Eric Fehr has 5:02 in playing time today. Let's look at the progression of TOI since his call up... 16:46 ... 14:57 ... 12:06... this is not the profile of a guy who can be expected to stick at the moment.

3rd period...

Much better than the second, but the Caps didn't really press like a team should against a club that is playing its second matinee in two days.

Seven shots on goal...another example of not setting a pace. The Rangers looked gassed in the last five minutes.

Kolzig kept the Caps in it with several top-notch saves from in close.

Hollweg took an exquisitely stupid penalty along the boards in tripping Mike Green at the end of regulation.


Green...shot...score, 23 seconds in. His third OT game-winner this year.

Why can't Ovechkin get gigs like this?

Brian Campbell, on "hyperhidrosis"...

Never let 'em see you making an ad about sweat.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Rangers, February 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

And today, it’s a matinee offering as the Caps host the New York Rangers at Verizon Center.

And, as the Caps note in the media advisory accompanying the game preview, there will be other doings in Chinatown that will mean Caps fans need to get an early start to the game (so leave right after you read this). There is a parade in Chinatown today to celebrate the Chinese New Year and the ushering in of the Year of the Rat. According to the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

“People born in the Year of the Rat are noted for their charm and attraction for the opposite sex. They work hard to achieve their goals, acquire possessions, and are likely to be perfectionists. They are basically thrifty with money. Rat people are easily angered and love to gossip. Their ambitions are big, and they are usually very successful. They are most compatible with people born in the years of the Dragon, Monkey, and Ox.”

If you were to look up the birthday of Ranger captain Jaromir Jagr, you would find that his birthday of February 15, 1972 makes him one day removed from being a rat (Feburary 16, 1972 was New Year’s Day on the Chinese calendar…it’s true, look it up!).

But we know better, don’t we Caps fans?

According to the Wikipedia entry for the zodiacal sign “Rat,” rat people “often carry heavy karma and at some point in life may face an identity crisis or some kind of feeling of guilt.”

Now there’s the Jagr we know and love. If anyone should feel guilty about the last half dozen years of hockey, it’s this guy…signs a huge contract, then ultimately gives up on his team, causing ownership to literally pay to have someone else take him off their hands. He has a couple of good years in his new home, then when it comes time to take the reins of leadership and lead the club to a long Stanley Cup run, his year is one big “where’s Jags?” moment.

It’s so bad, even Jagr’s one man fan club is calling him out…

But it’s not like the big guy to suffer publicly…much. Jagr through the years has often been of the “woe is me” school…

"I'm not complaining . . . it's the way it is," Jagr said about dealing with the rough treatment. "It's tough . . . it's not easy, but it's the way it is."

-- Jagr, on February 5th, commenting on the manner in which he is defended.

"I don't really look at how many shots they got, I look at how many goals we score - and we don't score many goals…"

-- Jagr, last Friday, after going a seventh straight game without a goal.

…and a selection found by perusing the results of searches on Jagr quotes…

“Most people have friends, but no money. I have the opposite.”

“To me, it doesn't matter if I have a 'C' or not. If the team is going to do good, I'm going to get a bigger reward than other guys on the team. But if the team's going to do bad, I'm going to be blamed…”

“Nothing happened. The coach put me out there for the last 20 seconds, but I didn't even try. I just stood there. That's not what we wanted to do, embarrass the team.”

Then, of course, there is the anonymous teammate reported to have uttered this memorable comment…

"When you're losing, Jaromir Jagr is the worst guy in the world to be around because he acts like a suck."

Unfortunately, the Rangers haven’t been losing a lot lately – 6-3-0 in their last nine games, including a 2-0 whitewash of the Philadelphia Flyers yesterday in Philly (the third shutout in their last nine gmes). The Rangers aren’t doing it with offense, either:

Record: 6-3-0
Goals for/against: 23/16
Power Play: 7/35 (20.0%)
Penalty killing: 23/28 (82.1%)
Games in which Jagr has not registerd a point: seven (including his last six)

For the Rangers, the investments in Chris Drury and Scott Gomez have paid recent dividends. Drury is 5-3-8, +2, in this 6-3-0 run (including a pair of game-winners), while Gomez is 2-5-7, +3. Fedor Tyutin leads the club in assists in this stretch with six and has a +6 to go along with it.

The key, though, is Henrik Lundqvist, who has slipped a bit in the win-loss record of late (4-3-0 in this nine-game stretch), but has a 2.28 GAA (better than his 2.37 season mark) and a .906 save percentage (same as his season mark). Since Steve Valiquette pitched the shutout in Philly yesterday (his second straight goose egg – both against the Flyers), Lundqvist would appear to be the one getting the call today.

But what about Jags, you ask? He’s 1-3-4, +3 in this stretch, which is pretty much what his season looks like so far. He is on a pace to finish the year 21-45-66, even, which would be his lowest goal of his career (he even had more – 32 – in the 48-game year of 1994-95). 66 points would be his lowest total since his rookie year (57). To give you an idea of what 21-45-66 looks like, those were the goals-assists-points put up by J.P. Dumont last year in Nashville. Dumont is a fine player…he also is not making $8.36 million this year. And Dumont was a +14.

Jagr has had more than his share of success against the Caps in his career (29-54-83, +11, in 65 career regular season games). He is 0-4-4, +1 in the three games the teams have played this year. But if you’re looking for a former Penguin to torment the Caps, you might cast a glance at Martin Straka (16-26-42, +12, in 44 career games). He is 3-0-3, +1 in two games against Washington this year.

Today’s object is to make Jagr “act like a suck,” and that means pounding the Rangers early and often, coming as they are off a tough intra-divisional game. And it is not as if the Caps lack for motivation. Carolina lost last night, denying themselves the opportunity to take a three-point lead on Washington, but the Atlanta Thrashers beat Tampa Bay in overtime to jump the Caps into a tie with the Hurricanes for the top spot in the Southeast. A win will put the Caps back in the top spot, all alone; a loss in extra time will vault them there by virtue of having played fewer games that either the Thrashers or Hurricanes, despite all three teams having 58 points.

It should be a hard-fought, low-scoring kind of game...the sort in which the Caps are going to depend on goaltender Olaf Kolzig for a solid game. Kolzig, though, has not given up fewer than three goals in consecutive appearances in 2008, and he’s allowed more than three on six occasions in his last 12 appearances. If the Rangers score more than three today, they win.

But, they won’t.

Caps 2 – Rangers 1