Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Hey, it was just a thought...

Maybe it's the name...


Seems a couple of hockey players sharing that name had -- or at least are reported to have had -- less than sugary relationships with the coaches they left behind in being traded for one another.

On the one hand, we have Matt Cooke, late of the Vancouver Canucks and now wearing (well, soon to be wearing) the red, white, and blue of the Caps. Cooke is reported to have not quite seen eye-to-eye with his coach in Vancouver -- Alain Vigneault -- and traces this to two years ago. This is Vigneault's second season behind the Canucks' bench. There is at least a suggestion that Cooke did not fight well enough or often enough to suit management.

Then there is the matter of Matt Pettinger, who left Washington in the Cooke trade. Pettinger, who worked his way up the ranks of the organization as a high-energy "crash-and-bang" style of player, had his coming out year of sorts in 2005-2006, when he scored 20 goals in 71 games. He followed that up with a 16-goal effort in the 2006-2007 campaign. It appeared he was poised to provide oomph and offense from the left side of the checking line for the Caps.

Instead of "oomph," the Caps ended up with "oops." Pettinger, for reasons that will probably remain a mystery until the sun goes dark, started this season slowly (1-2-3, +3 in his first 11 games), then got slower (1-1-2, -9 in his next 21 games), before coming to a halt (0-2-2, -5 in his last 24 games). Upon arriving in Vancouver, he commented that "[He and head coach Bruce Boudreau] sort of butted heads a little bit and my ice time wasn't where it was the last few years. Some coaches get along with players and some coaches don't." He did go on to say that his performance was something for which he must accept the blame, but it doesn't sound like he was a happy camper leaving town, either.

We are reminded of the wise words of Mark Twain...

"When angry, count four...when very angry, swear."

Leave your coaches out of it.

It's expected...

OK, so the Caps trade a pick, a prospect, and a Pettinger for a goalie, a great (from the past), and a grinder.

Folks will be spending the next few days chewing on the particulars of the deals and asking if they were worth it…if Huet really is a #1 or #1A goalie, or if he is heading into a spring swoon…if Fedorov has anything left in the tank…if Cooke merely had a relationship-gone-sour with his coach or is just not the annoyance-slash-pest he’s been in years past.

Forget all that for the moment…let’s turn our focus away from the players obtained and onto the players still in the room.

A message has been sent…playoffs? It’s expected…

George McPhee did what horse-traders do at this time of year. He went out and filled needs for a stretch run, and he did it without giving up a lot (we’ll probably have more to say later about why it wasn’t a lot). Whether in fact these moves were the right ones will have a proper airing another time (like after the season). But right now, the deals have – or perhaps should have – the effect of delivering a message to the rest of the team…the lollygagging around .500 over the last 15 games is not what is expected from this point forward.

The team for the stretch run has been assembled. It would be nice to get Chris Clark and/or Brian Pothier back, but we shouldn’t count on that happening at this point. But if the club, “liked what they had” in the days leading up to the trade deadline, they should be thrilled with what they have now. And with that you’d have to think that the message is…

Playoffs?’s expected.

A TWO point night: Caps 4 - Wild 1


Websters defines it as “readiness to fight or continue against odds; dogged resolution.”

As the Caps entered last night’s action five points behind Carolina with 19 games to play, “pluck” was what was called for. They got it in the form of Brooks Laich, who led the Caps to a 4-1 win over the Minneosta Wild. Laich figured in all the scoring – two goals of his own and assists on goals by Shaone Morrisonn (his first goal of the year) and Eric Fehr (also his first of the year).

If the Caps are to win anything this year, they have to get that kind of performance from the whole roster, especially when A. Ovechkin is in what for him is a swoon (0-4-4, -5 in his last six games).

It was a pleasant way to end a hectic day, and the win served to inch the Caps to within three points of eighth-place Philadelphia in the East.

Laich’s first four-point game in the NHL wasn’t the only bright spot for the Caps last night...

- Tomas Fleischmann chipped in the primary assists on both Laich goals and matched Laich’s plus-4.

- Milan Jurcina, whose season has been a series of hills and valleys of inconsistency, was on the hill last night with a plus-2, three hits, and three blocked shots in 18 solid minutes.

- Olaf Kolzig’s play was a big shout of “hey! I’m still here,” with 34 saves on the 35 shots he faced. He held the Wild to one goal in the second period (it could have been much worse) when the Caps energy level dropped a notch, while Minnesota was ringing up 12 shots.

- Eric Fehr’s goal was of the sort one would expect from a guy who is said to have “soft hands.” His pass attempt from behind the goal line to Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom’s right was blocked, the puck bouncing back in his direction. He cradled the puck, pivoted and roofed it from inside of ten feet. Caps fans would like to see a dozen of so years of that kind of play.

And while we’re spreading the kudos, let’s hear it for the Hershey Alumni Association…Eric Fehr, David Steckel, Tomas Fleischmann, Quintin Laing, Chris Bourque, Jeff Schultz. All of these guys spent at least half of the season last year with the Bears, with Laing, Fehr, and Bourque being in-season call-ups this year. Add the “call-up” pacing behind the bench, and one might say that the returns from Hershey have been rather substantial this year.

The big number, though might not have been achieved on the ice. A weeknight game in Feburary against a Western Conference opponent has been a recipe for “empty seat night” at Verizon Center. But last night, the Caps drew 17,391. It was Family Night, as well as Hockey Is for Everyone and Autism Awareness Night, but over the past few years this was the sort of game you’d usually you’d have to bribe folks with trinkets to get them to the rink, and even then it would be a struggle to top 15,000.

Oh, by the way…Websters also defines “pluck” as “the heart, liver, lungs, and trachea of a slaughtered animal.” That might have described the Wild at the end of 60 minutes last night.