Sunday, March 02, 2008

Attendance watch

In calendar 2008, the Caps are averaging 16,526 for 15 home dates. In those 15 games they are 9-4-2.

Nothing sells like winning.

Sittin' at the end of the bar...

Is the coach turning back into a pumpkin for Pittsburgh goaltender Ty Conklin? 1-2-2 in his last five games, 3.32, .906 (including being pulled once). Marc-Andre Fleury gets the call today against Atlanta.

Much is made of the prowess of the Edmonton Oilers in shootouts. But, they have more wins in regulation (16) than do the Atlanta Thrashers (15). Both teams have 14 wins in extra time games this year.

And what is it with overtime and Northwest Division teams? Edmonton is tied for first in overtime wins; Colorado and Vancouver are tied for third. Combined, they've played a total of 53 extra time games this season.

Jason Spezza had a hand in all six goals (3-3-6) in a 6-3 Ottawa win against Montreal on February 9th. Since then...2-2-4, -3 in ten games. It's not like his running mates are doing any better. Dany Heatley is 3-1-4, -5, while Daniel Alfredsson is 3-2-5, -8 (and he needed a three-point game last night to reach that level). Any wonder why Ottawa is 3-5-2 in their last ten games?

23-8-3, 2.10, .916, four shutouts...19-8-3, 2.10, .903, four shutouts. Does it really matter at this point whether Mike Babcock puts Chris Osgood or Dominik Hasek in goal for the Red Wings?

Jeremy Roenick has ten goals this year. Seven are game-winners. We don't know if that's clutch or being in the right place at the right time.

Consider this 21-game stretch for a player of note...3-8-11, -13. Meet Daniel Briere, who has had one multi-point game in those 21 and hasn't had a "plus" game in calendar 2008.

Meanwhile, if you're wondering about the other two free agents from last summer's big forward trifecta -- Chris Drury and Scott Gomez -- Drury has points in 11 of his last 13 games (9-6-15, +8), while Gomez has points in 11 of his last 14 games (3-12-15, +8).

Jaromir Jagr option watch...17-39-56, +6. That's a pace for 21-49-70, +8. Nope, that option's not looking good, no matter whether Sean Avery dedicates the rest of the season to Jagr or not.

Jiri Fischer Skating

More than two years ago, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jiri Fischer collapsed on the bench at Joe Louis Arena during a game against the Nashville Predators. Fischer suffered cardiac arrest and was taken from the ice on a stretcher. What caused Fischer's seizure was -- and remains -- something of a mystery. The game was halted, the first time in NHL history that a game had been suspended due to injury.

Fast forward to Wendler Arena in Saginaw, MI, last night. For the first time since Fischer's collapse, Fischer took the ice to play in a hockey game. The event was the "Shocks and Saves" charity game at Wendler Arena, where a crowd of 1,000 or so came out for Fischer's Healthy Hope Foundation. Proceeds helped raise funds for devices such at that which revived Fischer during his incident in 2005.

Still only 27 years old, the chances of Fischer returning to competitive hockey remain slim, but he will not rule it out completely...

"There's always chances on anything. Right now everything is hypothetical so I just enjoy every day. I just take it as it goes and I work towards getting healthy, and hopefully I can achieve that."

It is cliche to say that whether he skates in the NHL again is unimportant compared to the life given back to him. But for one night he had the chance to lace 'em up again, and that was cause for smiles all around.

A no-point night: Maple Leafs 3 - Caps 2


The Caps can put together a pair of dominating performances – those in which they imposed their will at both ends of the ice – then they put up an iffy effort such as the one that earned them a 3-2 loss at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night.

Make no mistake, the Caps’ superior skill was on display for long stretches of the game, especially in the first and third periods of the game. But once more, the second period was their bugaboo, as the Leafs took the lead they would not relinquish. The problem was that while the Caps were putting on displays of skating and passing skill (and at times it was quite entertaining to watch), all those pyrotechnics weren’t sufficient to solve the goaltending stylings of Vesa Toskala, who had a superb game in earning the game’s first star. Unable to beat Toskala with superior skill, the Caps weren’t in a working mood last night and failed to do the little, grimier things that one must often do to win hockey games this time of year.

On the other hand, Toronto did – exhibiting the characteristics of the more desperate team. And, the old man who wouldn’t accept a trade did his part on the offensive end to match what Toskala was doing on the defensive end. Mats Sundin was 1-2-3 for the evening to earn the second star of the contest. Sundin, who has been the most consistent point-per-game player of this era (averaging 1.01 points-per-game over his career spanning almost 1,300 games), is answering the call in the Leafs’ late drive. He is 7-7-14, +3 in his last dozen games, but 3-4-7, +4 in his last three after last night’s three-point performance.

For the Caps, it was an opportunity lost. This was the most winnable game they would probably see in the next two weeks. After last night, they play Boston (twice), Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Calgary – all teams with which the Caps have had problems, or which are just plain fine teams. And taking Toronto as lightly as the temptation was to do was what looked to be the case. They simply didn’t – or wouldn’t – pay the price in close to get the dirty goal that they would need on a night where Toskala wasn’t giving up anything soft.

The Caps’ goals were largely the part of superior efforts by Ovechkin, who finally got off the goal-scoring schneid with a drive that beat Toskala low on the blocker side from just above the top of the left wing circle. It was a goal of a type scored often by Ovechkin, where he collects a pass (this one from Tom Poti), skates in, and while using the backskating defenseman as a screen, snaps the puck just past the edge of the defenseman’s leg so that the goalie has a tough time picking the puck up. The other goal was scored when Ovechkin stepped out from Toskala’s right and tried to stuff the puck in. The puck squirted out to the low slot to Toskala’s left, where Viktor Kozlov pounced on it and buried it in the back of the net.

And that, as they say, was that. There were chances of the woulda-coulda-shoulda variety, such as Tomas Fleischmann having an almost open net in front of him while skating across the crease, but unable to lift his backhand shot, it bounced off Toskala’s pad. Alexander Semin had some dazzling displays of in-tight puck handling, but couldn’t manage that last move around a defender or to deke Toskala to the ice for the finish.

In what is probably going to be a game-by-game dissection of the goaltending battle between Olaf Kolziog and Crisotbal Huet, this was a night on which Kolzig lost some ground to Huet. Not that Kolzig played badly, necessarily. He did give up one goal one suspects he’d like to have back – Sundin’s goal from near the right wing boards that gave the Leaf’s the lead. But the first goal came on a Nik Antropov deflection of a Sundin shot, and the third was the product of what looked like Mites-on-Ice hockey played by the Caps in their own end. After the Leafs missed connecting on a stretch pass, the puck sailed all the way to Kolzig, who sent it off the boards to his left. Then, everything fell apart. Shaone Morrison could not control the puck, and it ricocheted back toward Kolzig. Mike Green tried to move it away, but could only poke it behind the net, slipping to the ice in the process. Sundin was there to pick up the puck, sending it out in front to a closing Alex Steen. Sergei Fedorov could not get back in time to lift Steen’s stick, and Steen snapped one off the pipe and behind Kolzig for what would end up being the game-winner.

Numbers-wise, there is a lot of blank space on the Caps’ scoresheet. Ovechkin, 1-1-2. Kozlov, 1-0-1. Poti, 0-1-1. That’s it on the scoring side. The Caps did outhit (20-17) and out-turnover (18-23) the Leafs, but that was deceptive. First, the power play was 0-for-5 against a team that came into the game 29th in the league in penalty killing (although they were 20th in road penalty-killing). To fail in five chances against that kind of performance is not what playoff teams do at this time of year.

What also looks disappointing is the four shots that the Semin-Fedorov-Fleischmann group had. That group needs to generate more activity than that (although it was Matt Cooke who opened on the second line tonight).

And, look at the shot pattern below. To the extent it is accurate, the Leafs had more opportunities – virtually every shot they had was in higher-probability scoring areas, while the Caps were pushed outside and exhibited a distinct left-handedness to their offense. That’s a function of work, or the absence of it, and that is what did in the Caps last night.

The loss qualifies as a lost opportunity. This was a team the Caps should have beaten. Perhaps they skated onto the ice thinking that, themselves. But instead of keeping pace with Carolina (which pasted Tampa Bay, 5-1), they fell five points back with two games in hand. And there are those next five games to consider. The Caps still have their own destiny in their hands, but it will take something much better than the recent 4-4-3 effort over their last 11 games to fulfill it.