Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sittin' at the End of the Bar


Stuff that caught our eye this morning...

- On New Year’s Eve, the St. Louis Blues were 14-20-3 and looking like they might be renting space in Lotteryville. Since then, the Blues are 23-10-6, have won five in a row to close March, and have climbed over Anaheim into eighth in the West.

- Bill Guerin gets pulled from the lineup in anticipation of a trade, then finally gets sent to Pittsburgh. The Islanders are 7-5-2 since and could pass Colorado for 29th place in the league (they are five points behind with seven to play).

- Speaking of Colorado…26th in league attendance? This was a team that sold out seasons not long ago. Since 2001, their ranking has gone: 10th, 10th, 10th, 10th, 11th (those five years all being 100 percent of capacity), 13th, 17th, 26th.

- Menawhile, Washington (14th) is the only team in the Southeast Division ranked higher than 20th in attendance. It is the only team playing to better than 85 percent capacity (96.8 percent).

- A Tale of Two Marches…Before St. Patrick’s Day: 7-7-14, -1 in eight games. After St. Patrick’s Day: 1-3-4, -5 in seven games. That would be Jarome Iginla.

- Has anyone put together a quieter scoring season than Nicklas Backstrom? Since February 1st, he is 9-21-30, +6 in 26 games. He’s failed to register a point in only five of those games.

- 75 games, 30-46-76, +22, seven game winning goals
75 games, 18-57-75, +19, six game winning goals
Yes, Daniel and Henrik Sedin are twins.

- Miikka Kiprusoff and Marty Turco each have played in 71 games. They are the only goalies with more than 4,000 minutes played this year. Kiprusoff is 43-21-5, but his GAA and save percentage are ordinary (2.85, .903). Turco doesn’t appear as if he’ll make the playoffs, and his GAA and save percentage are wallowing in the same region of the rankings as Kiprusoff (2.84, .897). Without looking it up, can you name their backup goalies? Are Curtis McElhinney and Tobias Stephan really that bad? Well, McElhinney hasn’t won a game this year (0-6-1), and Stephan has one win (1-3-1). We don’t like either team’s chances (should Dallas get into the playoffs) to last past the first round.

- Three of the top five, four of the top ten, five of the top 15, and six of the top 20 players in plus-minus hail from Boston. Meanwhile, Brendan Witt is last, at -31, although he was even for March.

- A guy with a $942,000 cap hit who has 32 goals in 65 games this year, 59 goals in his last 127 games, and who was named “Mule” by none other than Steve Yzerman is going to get a nice payday coming when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. And, he’s a center. And no, I don’t think Johan Franzen will be a Cap…but it’s nice to think about.

- Once upon a time, the Flyers’ Jeff Carter was leading Alex Ovechkin in the goal scoring race. Carter has nine goals in his last 29 games, only two against teams currently in the playoff mix (New Jersey, Washington).

- Chris Osgood shut out St. Louis to open the month. After that, the Red Wings allowed 37 goals in 12 games (3.08/game). The over/under on the Wings seems to be “two” for March. When allowing two or fewer, they were 7-1-0. When allowing three or more, they were 1-3-1. They also allowed five or more goals three times in their last 11 games of the month. Last year, they allowed five or more goals three time – total – in 30 games after February 1st. Something’s not right there.

The Good, the Bad, the March

March – when spring announces itself and playoff contenders emerge from a long winter’s hibernation --- has come and gone. The Caps had a fair month, all in all, with a 6-5-2 record. But within, there was the good, the bad, and…well, the ugly.

The Record:

The Good…The Caps finished March on a 6-2-2 run to propel them to the second spot in the Eastern conference. It helped that New Jersey’s run led by Martin Brodeur’s return has run its course, the Devils finishing the month 0-4-1 to remain one point behind Washington.

The Bad…[caution…we used this same sentence to lead off last month’s GBU] The Caps again showed a tendency to play down to the level of their opponent when not playing a top-notch team. The Caps were 3-3-1 against teams that today are not in the top eight of their respective conferences. Thank heavens for Tampa Bay, which the Caps defeated twice in the month, scoring ten goals in the process.

The Ugly…Four losses by at least three goals, two of them to potential playoff opponent Carolina and the other two to Southeast Division also rans Florida and Atlanta. All of a sudden, the Caps can’t compete in their own division (4-4-0 for the month, not what you’d expect of the runaway division leader).

Special Teams:

The Good…The power play was 26.1 percent for the month (12 for 46). The Caps had at least one power play goal in eight of 12 games. On the other side, the penalty killers faced fewer shorthanded situations per game (4.3) than was the case in February (5.4).

The Bad…While the power play was efficient, it might not have been “effective.” Why? Because the Caps enjoyed fewer power play opportunities per game (3.8) in March than they did in February (4.1). Perhaps this is a case of referees getting into the spring thing of putting their whistles in their pockets. We’ll see.

The Ugly…In that same vein, the Caps had only one game in March where they had more than four power play opportunities in a game, that being the last game of the month in which they had nine such opportunities. Again, thank heavens for Tampa Bay.

The Record II:

The Good…Once again, the Caps were road warriors of sorts. They were 4-2-1 on the road in March, including a shutout win in Florida.

The Bad…They lost their last two road games for the month (one of which was a Gimmick).

The ugly…0-3-1 at home to start the month in which they were outscored 16-8.

The Players – Goaltender Edition:

The Good…Jose Theodore ended the month 5-2-1, 2.33, .910, with one shutout.

The Bad…Theodore started the month 0-2-1, 3.79, .845

The Ugly…Theodore getting pulled twice, both times against Southeast Division opponents (March 1st against Florida and March 16th against Atlanta).

The Players – Skaters Edition:

The Good…The “Young Guns” – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green – combined for 22 goals, 38 assists, ten power play goals, and three of the five game-winners for the month (the other win was in a Gimmick).

The Bad…The rest of the team had 11 goals among 23 skaters who dressed, and Brooks Laich had four of those.

The ugly…Only four players for the month were on the “plus” side of the ledger: Brooks Laich, Keith Aucoin, Shaone Morrisonn, and Quintin Laing. You’ll note that only two of those players played more than three games in March.

Hershey Call Up Edition…

The Good…Six skaters: Aucoin, Laing, Chris Bourque, Staffan Kronwall, Oskar Osala, and Jay Beagle were called up in March and dressed for games.

The Bad…They had a combined two points, both from Aucoin (assists).

The Ugly…Quintin Laing going down to a torn spleen, which ends his season.

Some other good, bads, and uglies…

The Good…Semyon Varlamov was 1-0-0, 2.07, .912 in two appearances.

The Bad… The play of the skaters in front of the goaltenders in too many games.

The Ugly…Michal Neuvirth allowed a penalty shot goal, two short-handed goals, a power play goal, and an even strength goal in a 5-2 loss to Carolina (the club played a gruesome game in front of him). Welcome to the NHL, kid.

The Good…Brooks Laich had a solid month – 4-6-10, +3, with a power play, shorthanded, and game winning goal on his record. He had only two “minus” games for the month.

The Bad…Eric Fehr was 7-4-11, +6, with a game winning goal in 13 games in February. March? That’s another story: 1-0-1, even in 13 games.

The Ugly…Tomas Fleischmann – 0-0-0, -4, in 13 games. And on top of it there is the bad luck, having a couple of goals disallowed and another changed from his record to that of Nicklas Backstrom. April can’t get here fast enough for young Mr. Fleischmann.

The Good…Shaone Morrisonn built on a pretty solid month of February by having another in March – just in time after struggling much of the year. In the last two months he is 2-6-8, +4.

The Bad…Tom Poti failed to register a single point in the month. In fact, he is 0-3-3 in 26 games in the 2009 portion of the year. While it’s true that the “offensive defenseman” and “power play” quarterback duties have fallen to Mike Green, the absence of any offense from the blue line is troubling.

The Ugly…Jeff Schultz seems to be hearing the boos. He was 0-0-0, -4 in 12 games for the month and was a healthy scratch in the last game of March.

The Good…The Caps have clinched a playoff spot

The Bad…Pittsburgh seems about to.

The Ugly…



Once again, thanks for coming, and don't forget to tip your waitress.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Not even God had this Frozen Four in His bracket

Yeah, tell The Peerless you had Bemidji State. Tell The Peerless you even know where Bemidji State is.*


bracket prepared by gwsportsalliance.com

For the record, we managed only to have one correct entry in the Final Four -- Boston University. Out bracket was pretty much blown up in round one, when we only had four of the eight games picked correctly.

What is amazing about this Frozen Four, though, is that of 12 games played thus far in the tournament, three have gone to overtime, and four games featured goals scored in the last 20 seconds of regulation to win or tie the contest, two of those with less than one second remaining.

Based on the pair-wise rankings of the clubs, numbers two through eight are gone (Boston University being the only ranked club remaining).

The longest winning streak remaining? Five games -- Boston University and Bemidji State.

If you have tickets for the Frozen Four at Verizon Center, be prepared to pay the babysitter overtime. It could be a couple of long evenings.

* Bemidji State is located on the western shore of Lake Bemidji in Minnesota, which happens to be the northern most lake feeding the Mississippi River.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why Guantanamo Should Stay Open

"...it is tantamount to state-sanctioned terrorism."

Before you think we've lost our minds and have been recruited to write a political blog for Rush Limbaugh or Daily Kos, let us assure you...this is hockey related.

The statement above was penned in all seriousness by our favorite spewer of parochial crap, Larry Brooks. Was he recruited by Rush Limbaugh or Daily Kos? No. The esteemed Professor Brooks penned an essay in constitutional law in this morning's New York Post, arguing that Sean Avery (the party of the first part), forward for the New York Rangers, suffered "unequal treatment under the law" at the hands of Dave Jackson (the party of the second part) and Steve Kozari (the party of the third part), referees both.

Brooks submitted his evidence...

"Avery was slammed into the boards away from the puck early in the first; crosschecked in the slot at a whistle soon after that; run in the neutral zone without the puck by Hal Gill in the second; and, hit upside the head by Gill later in the period."

It might be the first time in a legal brief that the phrase, "hit upside the head" was offered as testimony, but Brooks is nothing if not innovative in his turn of phrase when waxing indignant on the treatment of his beloved Rangers. He grieved for the future of the NHL, if not civiliation itself when he pleaded...

"...the refusal of the officials to call infractions committed in plain sight against the Rangers' winger not only casts doubt on the integrity of the NHL, it is tantamount to state-sanctioned terrorism."

It was worthy of a rant on a team message board. All that was missing was, "we wuz robbed" as closing argument.

The Rangers lost to Pittsburgh, 4-3. Avery failed to register a shot on goal.

A Big Hit in Hershey

This is an interesting weekend for the Hershey Bears. They came into it facing the three teams immediately below them in the East Division standings -- Binghamton, Bridgeport, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The Bears dispatched Binghamton on Friday night, sweeping the Senators out of Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, 4-0 -- a magnificent 47-save shutout by Michal Neuvirth. But that was a mere appetizer compared to what went on at Giant Center in Hershey on Saturday. Bridgeport visited the Bears with the aim of closing their deficit to one point behind Hershey. They left beaten and beat up...and five points out of the top spot.

Alexandre Giroux established a Bears franchise record for goal in a season by netting his 53rd and 54th in a 7-2 rout of the Sound Tigers. Giroux' record-setting performance as part of a four-point night wasn't the only highlight of the evening. Keith Aucoin had a five-point night -- a pair of goals and three assists. Graham Mink had a goal to set a career record of 32 goals. Chris Bourque had a goal and a pair of assists. Semyon Varlamov stopped 38 of 40 shots. But there might not have been a bigger "wow" moment than this one...



Staffan Kronwall registered 11 hits in three games with the Caps, but none like this one. You'll note that Kronwall was jumped and had his nose bloodied in fight with Micheal Haley -- the latest installment of players getting jumped after landing a big hit. Kronwall is no fighter, unless you think three (this one being his third) fights in almost 200 regular season games in the AHL and NHL is evidence of pugilistic tendencies. But Haley was made to pay, in a manner of speaking, having to drop the gloves against a tougher customer later in the evening -- Graham Mink...



Should Hamilton defeat Manitoba on Sunday, and Hershey complete the weekend sweep by beating the Penguins, the Bears would take over the top spot in the AHL with six games left to play. Seems the Bears are getting their game faces (snouts?) on as the playoffs approach. Seeing as how the Caps are 6-2-2 in their last ten, maybe they are, too.

It's that time of year. And, for the rest of the highlights...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Lightning 3


The cliché du jour is, “it wasn’t pretty.” And, in fact, the second period – again – was down right ugly. But, to use another cliché, a win is a win, and the Caps get two points for one whether they beat Detroit in the last game of January or Tampa Bay in the last game of March.

The Caps beat the Lightning 5-3, but it was a lot more exciting than it needed to be…

-- The Caps scored three goals in the first period by pounding the net relentlessly, then they…stopped. The score sheet will duly record that the Caps had 16 shots on goal in the first period and 13 in the third – what seems to be little difference – but only three of the 13 shots in the second period were from within 30 feet. Compare that to the first period, when all three of the Caps’ goals were scored from inside that perimeter.

- Evgeny Artyukhin is one big man who can skate (in a straight line, anyway). Geez, he’s a load. But kudos to Mike Green who made the effort to stand him up a couple of times.

- And speaking of Green, he looks more and more like a basketball point guard bringing the puck up the ice – he controls the speed and the pace of the play. But where the analogy breaks down is, point guards can drive to the hoop and create something. When Green takes it all the way in and into the corner or behind the net, nothing generally happens, and he is way out of the play going the other way.

- Matt Smaby had a rough time the last time these teams met, going minus-4 and being on the ice for every even strength goal scored by the Caps. Last night he had as rough a time, although it didn’t show up on the score sheet. It seemed like every Cap was taking a run at the guy. Even Sergei Fedorov recorded both of his hits on Smaby.

- Funniest scene of the evening – Keith Aucoin barking at Artyukhin as the players were going off for a shift change. Artyukhin is 6’5”, 254…Aucoin is 5’9” (maybe), 187.

- What happened to Vincent Lecavalier? That might have been the quietest game he’s played against the Caps since he was a rookie.

- Martin St. Louis was anything but quiet. Nine shots on goal (to lead all players), three takeaways, a goal, and generally being the pest everyone wants to see smeared on the glass.

- Nicklas Backstrom had those two goals, but 14 of 16 in the circle?! Including 5-of-6 against former Cap Jeff Halpern??

- Speaking of that, take away Aucoin’s gaze-averting 1-for-8, and the Caps were 36 up and 18 down on faceoffs.

- Tomas Fleischmann can’t get a break. He was credited with the Caps’ second goal (reviewed to see if it was kicked in), then had it changed to Nicklas Backstrom’s at the intermission. If he’s not having goals disallowed (like on March 12th against the Flyers, for instance), he’s seeing them go to teammates.

- Lost in all this, perhaps, is that Brooks Laich had a three-assist night. That’s his best assist total for any game he’s played with Washington, and he scored more points only once – a two-goal, two-assist night against Minnesota on February 26, 2008.

- Tampa Bay played hard, if really unintelligently. Five minor penalties in the first period almost took them out of the game (the Caps conveniently decided not to play in the second period to let them back in it). Giving a team like the Caps nine power plays is a recipe for catastrophe, and that the Lighting “held” the Caps to four goals with a goalie in net is evidence of their at least competing.

- Brian Pothier…14 minutes, a takeaway, a blocked shot, a goal. This is probably his comfort zone as far as time on ice, and he looked very comfortable in it.

- And from the “you don’t see this in other sports,” Tampa goalie Mike McKenna apologized to Alex Ovechkin after the game for remarks critical of Ovechkin in his 50th goal celebration the last time these teams met. Imagine a situation where the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills meet, and Terrell Owens meets Tony Romo at midfield after the game and apologizes for accusing Romo of getting together with Jason Witten to draw up secret plays. Yeah, we’ll wait.

- Matt Pettinger – you remember him – dressed last night. You’d hardly know it. He got a gift assist when Martin St. Louis did a spin and shoot move that ricocheted off Tom Poti and past Jose Theodore, but other than that Pettinger’s score sheet was lily white, with nary a mark on it in almost 13 minutes of ice time.

- We look at Oskar Osala and think that this guy is going to be a regular 25-goal scorer in the NHL. It might be that not even Ovechkin has a faster release on his shot than this kid. We didn’t see that in training camp, but he had a couple of opportunities last night when the puck got to him and it was gone in less than the blink of an eye.

- The one time Michael Nylander sticks his nose in there, he’s standing in the paint when a goal is scored (it was disallowed for that reason).

- That makes ten in a row against the Lightning -- Bruce Boudreau has never lost to Tampa Bay – but double that, and it doesn’t make up for blowing a 2-0 lead in the 2003 playoffs. Over those ten games, the Caps have outscored the Lightning 43-22 and have scored at least five goals in each of the last four games in the series.

This one wasn’t one for the scrapbook – except perhaps it being the game in which Ovechkin registered his 100th point for the third time in his career and Brian Pothier scoring his first goal since December 27th, 2007 (against Pittsburgh) – but (another cliché coming) two points is two points. And, it allowed the Caps to crawl over New Jersey into second place in the Eastern Conference only three points behind Boston. All in all, a productive night.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Continuity

Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines the word, “continuity,” as “uninterupted connection or succession; close union of parts; cohesion.”

With the calling up of Keith Aucoin and Oskar Osala, we’re reminded of how important “continuity” is in the evolution of the Capitals as a perennial contender. Fourteen skaters and two goaltenders appearing with the Capitals this year have spent significant time with the Hershey Bears (this number does not include Brian Pothier, who played for the Bears on a rehabilitation assignment, or Steve Pinizzotto, who was called up but did not play). You could include in that number quite a few players who can legitimately be considered players who will draw a steady NHL paycheck in the future (you may add or subtract from this list, but it does not obscure the point we're making):

Simeon Varlamov
Michal Neuvirth
Karl Alzner
Chris Bourque
Andrew Gordon
Oskar Osala
Jay Beagle

And to that you find the kind of depth players necessary to keep a team running when injury or circumstance dictate the need – Keith Aucoin, Quintin Laing, Staffan Kronwall, Graham Mink, Alexandre Giroux, and others.

What interests us here is that first group, the prospects. Those seven players have appeared in a total of 48 games this year, not an insignificant amount, since four of them – Alzner, Osala, Varlamov, and Neuvirth – are in their first year of professional hockey.

While their appearances have provided contributions in the here and now – Varlamov and Neuvirth have chipped in with important wins in goal, and Alzner had 30 games of solid play when the Caps were faced with health problems on the blue line – the experience gained this year might be viewed with next year in mind.

We can envision a roster next year that has Alzner and Varlamov as permanent residents, perhaps even Bourque and Osala, with Neuvirth getting more than a cup o’ coffee’s worth of games in the event of misfortune, and others filling the breach when the need arises.

Then, it will be the turn of guys like Francois Bouchard, or Matthieu Perreault, or even perhaps a Josh Godfrey to get a few games to get a feel for what it is they are working toward.

It is a position – a luxury, in fact – that the Caps have not experienced lately. But, if your long-term version of an operating plan is “draft-centric,” and you’re successful at it, then year-by-year, you’re going to get something like “preview” experience on the part of prospects working their way through the system. It is a way of providing for contributions in the here and now (it speaks to how talented the Caps' prospect pool is), but with one eye on the future as the kids grow into the roster spots they will occupy down the road.

It is one continuous process.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Lightning, March 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s “Son of Stick,” or is that “Son of Schtick,” as the Caps host the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first meeting of these teams since Alex Ovechkin touched off a furor across North America unseen since, well, maybe ever.

Ovechkin, as you know, celebrated scoring his 50th goal by laying his stick on the ice and “warming” his hands from the heat of the instrument, so hot it was to be the tool used to score that 50th goal. Some folks didn’t like it.

"I took it as an insult, personally…It's embarrassing, this isn't football."

-- Lightning forward Ryan Malone

"[Ovechkin]'s got a free ride. He runs at guys, does this stuff. I'm predicting somebody is going to get him and somebody is going to get him good."

-- Canadian hockey icon and professional grumpy old man, Don Cherry

"I wouldn't have any trouble with somebody [hitting] him right in the noggin. I would have no trouble with that.”

-- Hockey “analyst” and village idiot for hire, Mike Milbury

And those were the things that were fit to print. We have exclusive transcript of a meeting held at Tampa Bay Lightning offices in which feelings for what should happen to Ovechkin were aired. We caution you, the language is not for minor children…


“I want you to get this f*ck where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy Alex Ovechkin, I want him DEAD! I want his teammates DEAD! I want his locker burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!”

“I'm gonna tell you something. Somebody messes wit me, I'm gonna mess with wit him. Somebody taunts me, I'm gonna say you taunted. Not talk to him for spitting on the ice. Understand? Now, we have done nothing to harm these people but they are taunting us, and what do they do, show me up wit some stick, which dey should not do. To celebrate like a Canadian, no, to harass a peaceful team. I pray to God if I ever scored a goal I'd have a little more self respect. One more thing, you have an all out fight, you wait until the fight is over, one guy is left standing. And that's how you know who won.”

Sounds fairly serious. We had the privilege of witnessing a conversation between a member of the Caps staff and one of the preeminent authorities in law enforcement, Jimmy Malone, late of the Chicago police force. Here’s what transpired in their conversation about retaliation…

Malone: You said you wanted to get the Lightning if they jump Ovechkin. Do you really wanna get them? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do?

Caps representative: Anything within the rules.

Malone: And then what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way. Because they're not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead.

Caps representative: We want to beat the Lightning! We don't know how to do it.

Malone: You wanna know how to beat the Lightning? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way! And that's how you beat the Lightning. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?

Caps representative: We have sworn to beat that team with all the rule book powers at our disposal and we will do so.

Malone: Well, the Lord hates a coward. Do you know what a blood oath is?

Caps representative: Yes.

Malone: Good, 'cause you just took one.

It could be an interesting evening. These teams played just eight days ago, and little has changed since we put this together. The teams have played a total of five games between them since that night, and there is only one win in the bunch – Tampa Bay beat Columbus in overtime, 2-1, this past Tuesday. The Caps have lost a pair of games – 4-1 at Carolina and a 3-2 Gimmick loss to Toronto on Tuesday.

But it seems that the game is taking a back seat to the melodrama that is the après-celebration. Now, we learn that the Tampa Bay coaches were contacted by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau to discuss the matter and presumably put it to rest. Except the boys at TSN didn’t want to let it rest, and Boudreau went off on them.

You’d almost forget there is a game to be played here. What Tampa seems to have found in the three games since they played the Caps is defense. They’ve allowed only six goals in regulation in those games, and the tandem of Karri Romo and Mike McKenna have stopped 99 of 106 shots overall (.936 save percentage). That could spell difficulty for a Caps team that has averaged only 2.42 goals per game this month and has scored more than two goals only four times in 12 games.

On the other hand, Tampa isn’t scoring much either. Since losing to the Caps, 5-2, on 50th Goal Night, the Lightning have scored seven goals in three games, and they have gone to overtime in all of them. In fact, Tampa Bay has played in seven extra time games this month (2-5 record). Since thrashing (can Lightning “thrash,” or is that an Atlanta thing) Calgary 8-6 in the first game of the month, the Lightning have scored 28 goals in 11 games (2.55/game), so it’s not like these two teams are the 1984 Oilers and the 1978 Canadiens at the moment, at least offensively.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Steven Stamkos

The rookie is 2-2-4, +1 in three games since the Caps and Lighting last met. He is 8-7-15 in his last 14 games and has been held off the score sheet only three times in that span. He is becoming a, if not the go-to guy in the Lightning line-up as the season winds down. What he has not had is much success against Washington in his inaugural season. He is 1-0-1, -3 in four games.

Washington: Alexander Semin

Barrels of ink and millions of pixels will be devoted to one Alex in the run-up to this game, but how this Alex does is likely to have a bigger bearing on the outcome. Semin has only one goal in his last eight games (1-7-8, -3), that coming in a four-point effort against Carolina on March 14th. But if there is a team he can turn that around against, Tampa Bay is it. He has 13 goals against the Lightning in 22 career games (13-11-24), including five power play goals and two game winners. He is 1-2-4, +3 in three games against the Lightning this year.

In the end, though, it’s the time of year when a group of guys just has to come together as a team. It’s not just about Alex Ovechkin and his 50th goal and whatever celebration there might have been. It’s about coming together with a common purpose. As one guy put it…

“A man becomes preeminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms, enthusiasms... What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy? Hockey! In da Gimmick a man skates alone with the puck. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he skates alone. But in the real hockey game, what? Part.. of… a… team. Teamwork... Looks, skates, checks, hustles. Part of one big team. Shoots the puck himself the live-long day, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and so on. If his team don't play defense... what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I'm goin' out there for myself. But... I get nowhere unless the team wins."

WHACK!!!

Caps 5 – Lightning 2

Thursday, March 26, 2009

30 Years Ago...And 30 Years from Now


Thirty years ago this evening, sports fans were given a present that keeps on giving. A team led by a blue collar son of mid-Michigan led his basketball team against a rural-bred son of Indiana in, of all places, Salt Lake City, Utah, in what would be the most anticipated one-on-one matchup in college basketball that season – perhaps any season – and what would become the most watched matchup in the history of the sport.

As Michael Wilbon points out in this morning’s Washington Post, most people watching Michigan State play Indiana State for the championship of Division I men’s college basketball had never seen either Earvin “Magic” Johnson or Larry Bird play on live television.

Well, I did. In fact, from the time I saw Magic Johnson play his first game at Michigan State (an aesthetic disaster, by the way; none of his teammates seemed to appreciate the ways he could get them the basketball and ended up receiving most of his passes in the side of the head) until this national championship game, I saw just about every one of his home games at Jenison Field House in person.

I was a contemporary of Johnson at MSU in those years. I was one of those students whose clocks stopped on a spring morning in Johnson’s senior year at Lansing Everett High School when he was to make his long-awaited announcement as to whether he would attend Michigan State or Michigan. I can remember the feeling of the campus exploding when Johnson announced he would be staying home, so to speak, to enroll at State.

In that first year Johnson played for the Spartans, his teammates finally figured out that they had better be paying attention whenever they were near the basket, because Johnson would find them. They figured it out well enough to make it all the way to the Elite-8 in the NCAA tournament, falling to eventual national champion Kentucky in the Mideast Regional finals. No one in East Lansing who followed the team could wait for the next year.

And I’ll bet few of those folks knew anything about Larry Bird other that he was something of a curiosity. He was the guy the Boston Celtics drafted when Bird still had a year of eligibility left, rolling the dice that he might declare for the NBA draft under what was then referred to as the “junior eligible” rule, or if he didn’t that they could sign him before the next year’s college draft. Guess he must be pretty good.

Bird stayed at Indiana State, and as he embarked on his senior year and Johnson on his sophomore year, they would end up taking very different paths to that night 30 years ago. Bird’s Sycamores rolled through their schedule undefeated, putting up 33 wins in a row leading up to their meeting with MSU in Salt Lake (“33” was also the jersey number of Magic Johnson in one of those odd ironies one finds in sports).

Johnson’s Spartans, meanwhile, took a more meandering path to Salt Lake. They very nearly didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament, in fact. There was no Big Ten conference tournament in those days, so you had to win the regular season title to gain an automatic bid. And since there were only 40 teams in the tournament in those days, at-large bids were hard to come by. State stumbled out of the gate in the conference portion of the season, splitting their first eight conference games. Their season almost ended in their ninth conference game, but they managed to beat Ohio State in overtime, after which they rolled off another nine straight wins to clinch the Big Ten title.

As the tournament began, Indiana State was selected as the top-seed in the Midwest Region and for the tournament. MSU, having lost its regular season finale to Wisconsin, was a number-two seed in the Mideast behind Notre Dame. And here, it was Indiana State’s turn to struggle. After winning their first two games handily over Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, they were nearly knocked off by Arkansas in the regional final before surviving with a 73-71 win. MSU, on the other hand, rolled through the Mideast, winning three games by double digits and an average of 20 points.

In the national semifinals Indiana State struggled once more, edging DePaul, 76-74. On the other side of the Final Four, MSU ended the competitive portion of the game early, racing to a 50-17 halftime lead over Penn before winning 101-67. That set up the matchup everyone was anticipating.

While MSU had the national reputation of what would later become with the Los Angeles Lakers, “showtime” – Magic Johnson leading fast breaks and lobbing passes to Greg Kelser for dunks – folks who saw a lot of MSU knew about the suffocating 2-3 matchup zone that they played exclusively on defense. Only five times in 23 games in the new year did MSU allow as many as 70 points in a game leading up to the championship. If any team was constructed to defend Larry Bird – the college player of the year – MSU was probably that team.

I don’t have first hand knowledge of it, but I’d wager that you couldn’t find five people walking on the sprawling campus of Michigan State on that Monday evening 30 years ago. Everyone was crammed around television sets in dorm rooms, bars, and homes for the Johnson-Bird, State-versus-State matchup. I was living off-campus at the time and was huddled around the TV with my housemates to watch and listen to Dick Enberg, Billy Packer, and Al McGuire call the game.

I can’t say that I remember a lot about the game, start to finish, only flashes of it…Larry Bird can’t get a shot off… Kelser’s in foul trouble… someone needs to defend Carl Nicks… Kelser’s fourth foul… they’re letting Indiana State hang around too long… Bird has to get hot sometime… when did Terry Donnelly get a jump shot?... Donnelly, again?... again??... another???... Johnson’s taking over… Johnson dunks and is fouled… no look homerun pass to Kelser… slam… we’re champs!

All of us in the house decided we were going to head into town – “town” being a half mile down Michigan Avenue – to celebrate. We were hardly alone. East Lansing was one big traffic jam as folks poured out of houses, dorms, and apartments to celebrate the win. I can remember hanging out of the car screaming myself hoarse joining in with a “Go Green, Go White” cheer that seemed to roll across the campus. We inched our way toward East Lansing’s “main street” – Grand River Avenue – and took what seemed like about an hour to get there. The rest of the night (and much of the following morning) was a blur, except I think we ended up at a place called “Lizard’s Underground.” It hardly mattered.

We – all of us in the Michigan State University community – were champs.

I can remember vaguely the parade that was held for the team in Lansing, but like everything else from that time and that basketball season, it all runs together -- the expectations surrounding the team early based on the previous year's success, the unexpected losses to inferior teams that almost ended the season prematurely, the steamrolling of opponents in the early rounds of the tournament, the beating of hated Notre Dame in the regional final (Kelly Tripucka was that generation's Sidney Crosby to Spartan fans), Penn not knowing what hit them in the national semi-final, the anxiety over facing an undefeated team with the player of the year in the finals, the exhilaration when the final horn sounded, the celebrations afterward. It still brings back a glow thinking about it, and it has relevance to hockey here and now.

Before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, March was just the third month in the rolling year. Those two gave us “Madness.” Here and now, June is just the first month of what is usually a lazy time of year in Washington – folks planning beach trips and government going on holiday. For hockey fans it’s meant looking at amateur players and waiting for the draft at the end of the month.

This year, though, there is a sense of anticipation – and uncertainty, to be sure – about just what these Capitals are capable of. They are talented, they are capable of great things, and there is more expected of them than in years past. They have a precocious youngster and an underrated supporting cast. It reminds me a little of a basketball team from 30 years ago. And just as that basketball team helped turned March “mad,” this team can turn June “joyful” for a generation of Caps fans who have never known the thrill.

A thrill you’ll remember thirty years from now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Dancing with the Stars" Meets "What Not to Wear"

OK, we were going to put one of these in the Caps Caption area, but really...they deserve their own place...





And Alex...nice plug for Don Cherry. Think it'll be on this week's 'Coach's Corner?"

A ONE-point night: Maple Leafs 3 - Caps 2 (OT/Gimmick)


“r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r….r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r…r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r…”

That is the sound of spinning wheels, which seems to be what the Caps are doing these days after they absorbed a 3-2 Gimmick loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre last night. Since February 1st, it’s been an odd waltz of wins and losses for the Caps…

2-1
2-1
2-1
2-1
1-2
1-2
2-1
2-1

…and then last night’s loss giving the Caps a 14-8-3 record since February 1st. Last night had elements of the good, bad, and ugly…

The good… The Caps fought back from deficits twice to tie the game.

The bad… They made Martin Gerber look like Martin Brodeur…again.

The ugly… They let a 41 year old goalie who had played two games in a month come in cold off the bench after sitting for 59 minutes and look like Patrick Roy in a playoff.

*****

The good… Alex Ovechkin got a goal, the other young guns (Semin, Green, Backstrom) all had assists.

The bad… Mike Green had ten shots on goal, and none of them found the back of the net.

The ugly… Tomas Fleischmann (we hate to pile on here) had not only just one shot on goal, but only one attempted shot on goal in 13 minutes and was on the ice for both Toronto goals.

*****

The good… Jose Theodore stopped 27 of 29 shots. That makes 73 saves in his last 78 shots faced over three games (1-1-1), a .936 save percentage.

The bad… Theodore looked like he had Jeff Hamilton figured out in the evening gown competition, but somehow left enough of a hole for the puck to slither through.

The ugly… Alex Ovechkin doesn’t seem to be hard to figure out on the shootout. Forehand. Curtis Joseph set him up beautifully, showing him the hole on the forehand side and taking it away as Ovechkin committed to going that way.

*****

The good… Brooks Laich sticking his nose in there at the end to shove the puck (ok, Martin Gerber and the puck) over the line to get the Caps a standings point.

The bad… Not enough of that kind of thing the first 59 minutes.

The ugly… Much will be made of the Caps outshooting the Leafs 8-0 in overtime. It’s not all that folks. The shots came from 43, 51, 31, 37, 42, 37, 39, and 42 feet. Goalies at this level stop those shots…even 41-year olds who don’t play much anymore.

*****

The good… Viktor Kozlov, six shot attempts… Eric Fehr, six shot attempts… Alexander Semin, six shot attempts

The bad… Viktor Kozlov, no goals… Eric Fehr, no goals… Alexander Semin, no goals

The ugly… 76 attempted shots…two goals. In 12 games this month, the Caps have scored more than two goals only four times and are averaging 2.33 a game.

*****

The good… every Capital center won the majority of faceoffs they took – Backstrom, 10-of-17… Steckel, 5-of-7… Fedorov, 9-of-15… Nylander, 5-of-9.

The bad… They didn’t do anything with the advantage winning 34 of 59 draws gave them.

The ugly… The Caps didn’t muster enough effort to win possession battles of the sort they had to win. Toronto took away the middle of the ice, forcing the Caps to move the puck up the sides and fight battles along the boards and in the corners. They just didn’t win enough of those battles to spring themselves free and get the puck to the net, despite the 45 shots on goal.

*****

The good… the Caps finished the five-game road trip 2-2-1. If you believe in the strategy of “break even on the road, win at home,” then the Caps did the minimally acceptable. They broke even.

The bad… they lost two games to teams – Atlanta and Toronto – they should have buried.

The ugly… the way they lost those games…ho-hum.

*****

The good… March is almost over.

The bad… the attitude the team seems to have, which suggests they’re just biding their time until the playoffs.

The ugly… the mood of the fans this morning.

*****

Ron Wilson hasn’t won almost 550 games as a head coach in the NHL because he’s an idiot. Toronto can’t match the Capitals’ skill level, even if the Caps are running a temperature the past few days. So, the Leafs played things simple. Clog the middle, force the Caps outside, make the Caps work for those last 50 feet of ice to get shots on goal. Toronto can – and did – compete on that basis. The Caps didn’t have an answer for it, and that’s disturbing.

It’s disturbing, because the playoffs aren’t the Autobahn, where they can wind up their Ferrari’s and their Lamborghini’s to 130 and skate up and down the ice. It’ll look a lot like what they saw last night…a rutted, potholed trail where they have to work their pickup truck over and across rocky terrain and take advantage of what opportunities they find.

They’d better get used to what they saw last night. It’s a long trail ahead, and they can’t afford to be spinning those wheels much longer.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Frozen Brackets

We would be remiss if we did not offer up our F-F-F-F-Frozen F-F-F-F-Four brackets. So, here they are...


Is there any science behind these picks? Not really, other than...

- There has been a Boston team in the Frozen Four in four of the last five years (Unfortunately for Terrier fans, it has always been Boston College).

- A team from Michigan has been in 14 of the last 18 Frozen Fours (and yes, Lake Superior State, the pride of Sault Ste. Marie, counts).

- In the last two years, the loser from the finals appeared in the finals again (both times, it was Boston College...we give that slot to Notre Dame).

- A WCHA team has reached the Frozen Four in each of the last nine years. Minnesota-Duluth, you're up. They also get our "Cinderella" slot -- they finished seventh in the WCHA in the regular season before winning the "play-in" game to the WCHA tournament, then winning it all over Denver in the final, who we see as a team they'll have to go through again to reach Washington.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Maple Leafs, March 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The penultimate road trip of the year comes to an end tonight in Toronto, where the Caps visit the Maple Leafs.

“You know, the name ‘Toronto’ comes from the Iroquois word tkaronto, meaning ‘place where trees stand in the water.’"

Fearless, where do you find this stuff?

“You think I spend my time reading your crap?”

“Don’t listen to him, cuz…’Toronto’ comes from the word for “Native American sidekick.”

“That’s ‘Tonto,” Cheerless, you putz!”

“Oh…well, then maybe it comes from the word for ‘movie about a 1970’s car.’”

Cheerless, I think you mean, “Gran Torino.”

“You sure about that?...hmm… maybe it comes from the word for ‘storm that eats mobile homes.’”

Uh, I think you mean, “tornado,” sport.

“Underwater missle”

Nope…that’s “torpedo.”

“Donut-shaped?”

Nope…that’s “toroidal.”

“Excuse me, cousin…”

Yeah, Fearless?

"I believe the word for “donut shaped” is, 'Koharski.'”

Oh…my mistake.

Well, while the cousins ponder “glazed” or “filled,” we’ll get on with the game. The Caps are visiting Toronto for the last time this year having won five of their last seven games. That’s not a misprint, although to hear some folks tell it, the Caps are challenging the Islanders for the rights to hog all the ping pong balls in the John Tavares Sweepstakes.

However, the Caps did lose to Toronto the last time these teams met, on March 5th – a 2-1 Leafs win. Since then, the Leafs have been utterly average… 4-4-0 in the eight games since. This should hardly be surprising, since the Leafs are 30-30-13 for the year. Their numbers are similarly middle-of-the-road… or worse:



In the eight games since the Leafs and Caps met, Toronto has had difficulty scoring. While they have been outscored by only 26-23 over that span, eight of their 23 goals scored came in a single game, an 8-6 win over Calgary on March 14th. Other than that, 15 goals in seven games is rather anemic. On the other hand, taking away the six goals they surrendered in that Calgary game leaves them with having given up 20 in seven games – a considerable improvement over their last-in-the-league goals against average.

What Toronto has had trouble doing lately is winning at home. Since February 1st, the Leafs have won only four times in 11 tries at Air Canada Centre (4-3-4). And, 14 of the 31 goals they scored in those 11 games came in two games – the 8-6 win over Calgary and a 6-2 win over Pittsburgh in Michel Therrien’s last game behind the Penguin bench. In only two other games did the Leafs score as many as three goals in regulation, and they lost both of those games in extra time. You’d have to think that if the Leafs are going to win, they’re going to have to keep the score down.

And keeping the score down starts in goal. Martin Gerber was claimed off waivers from Ottawa at the trading deadline and made his debut with the Leafs in the 2-1 win over the Caps on March 5th. He is 4-3-0. 3.05, .905 since joining the Maple Leafs. He’s had his adventures against the Caps, though, compiling a career record of 6-3-1, 3.35, .879 in 11 appearances. Goal support appears key for Gerber, the 2-1 win in March notwithstanding. Yes, that would seem to contradict the notion of keeping the score down, meaning that Gerber probably can't coast on the heels of a goal scoring binge by his mates to win -- he needs to pull another rabbit out of his mask (you thought we were going to say something else?) to win this game.

Since the last time the Leafs and Caps got together, Toronto has seen a couple of guys hit it off together. Alexei Ponikaraovsky and Mikhail Grabovski are 4-9-13 and 5-4-9, respectively, in the eight games since the meeting at Verizon Center. What’s more, both of them have figured in the scoring in five of the Leafs’ last 13 goals, and at least one of them have been involved in eight of the last 13 goals scored by the Leafs, dating back to the 8-6 win over Calgary. Grabovski doesn’t have much of a history against the Caps, only three games worth (0-1-1, -1). Ponikarovsky has had 17 games worth of experience against the Caps, posting seven goals and two assists in the process. Each has an assist against the Caps in three games this year.

If there is one Toronto statistic against the Caps that might cause Maple Leaf fans to shudder – that is, when they’re not shuddering over another year without a Cup – it would be this number… -33.

That would be the career plus-minus rating of Pavel Kubina against the Caps in 48 games. It’s not as bad as it looks, though. Since the lockout, Kubina is 2-7-9, +1 in 18 games against the Caps. He is, however, mired in something of a slump. After going 4-8-12, +4 in 13 games in February, he is 1-2-3, +2 in ten games in March, and he has only an assist on his score sheet in his last eight games.

March started slowly for Jason Blake – 0-1-1, -2, in his first four games of the month – but he’s come on since. In his last half dozen games, Blake is 3-3-6, +2. He has ten goals in 31 games against the Caps over his career, three of them game winners. He leads the Leafs in game-winners this year with five.

In the “if I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all” category, there is Jamal Mayers. He hasn’t had a “plus” game in more than a month (13 games). But his only goal of March was a game winner (so there is some good luck in there, after all), scored in the 8-6 win over Calgary.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Nikolai Kulemin

In the 8-6 win over Calgary on March 14th, Kulemin scored the Maple Leafs’ sixth goal of the contest, assisted by Alexei Ponikarovsky and Mikhail Grabovsky. Maybe that was the start of something. Last Saturday, Kulemin returned the favor, assisting on a pair of goals by Ponikarovsky, in addition to netting one himself with an assist from Ponikarovsky. Grabovski had a couple of assists in that mix, too. Kulemin is 2-2-4, +4 in his last three games.

Washington: Tomas Fleischmann

On February 11th, Fleischmann scored a goal on his way to a two-point night in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to the Rangers. Since then, Fleischmann has one goal in almost 285 minutes of ice time. OK, so he can make up for that by being a playmaker. Well, he has three assists in that time, none since February 20th. A top-six forward whose claim to a jersey rests on his ability to create offense failing to create offense is, to be charitable, a problem. Compounding the problem is the possibility that Alexander Semin will miss the game due to the flu. Oddly enough, Fleischmann has been a more productive point producer on the road this year, going 12-9-21 in 35 games. The Caps could use some of his road show production now to take the heat off the usual suspects.

Here is your odd statistic for tonight as the Caps embark on the last “ten percent” stretch of eight games of the regular season. Over the last five seasons, the eventual Stanley Cup winner posted combined records of 22-8-10 in their last eight games of the year. All of them played better than .500 hockey in terms of standings points earned. You don’t have to be on a roll, necessarily (the Devils finished 3-1-4 in 2003 before winning the Cup), but it can’t hurt. The Caps are 5-2-1 in their last eight. If they finish that way, they will have 107 points, matching a franchise record. It’s certainly doable with the schedule remaining, and it would help if they got off to a good start on a good finish against the Leafs.

Caps 4 – Leafs 2

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Peace in our time

"Peace is its own reward."

-- Mohandas K. Gandhi

"We make war that we may live in peace."

-- Aristotle

"Peace is not the absence of war; it is a virtue; a state of mind; a disposition for benevolence; confidence; and justice."

-- Baruch Spinoza

"Better than a thousand hollow words,Is one word that brings peace."

-- Buddha

"I can't wait 'til he says something about me."

-- Alex Ovechkin, anticipating Don Cherry's reaction to his celebration after scoring his 50th goal of the season.

"Ovechkin -- Alex, is that his name?"

-- Don Cherry, prefacing his lecture on hockey decorum on "Coach's Corner" last evening.

"They're not laughing with you...they're laughing at you, Alex."

-- Cherry





Say Don, how'd you like that nice Canadian boy, Rod Brind'Amour (Ottawa) planting Ovechkin's head into the end boards last night?

They're not laughing at you Don, they're laughing near you.

I guess we're done with this...

A NO-point night: Hurricanes 4 - Caps 1


One team was playing its third game in four nights and the second game of a back-to-back.

It was the other team that ran out of gas in the third period.

The Carolina Hurricanes turned a 1-1 second intermission contest into a 4-1 “leave ‘em in the dust” win over the Caps last night. And, as if to put a cherry on the sundae for the Hurricanes, it was their defense – playing offense…and the Caps’ defense – not playing defense…that was the difference.

Hurricane defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Anton Babchuk scored goals from in close, behind the Caps’ defense, to break the second intermission tie, then Joe Corvo (yes, a defenseman) scored from Greensboro in the last minute into an empty net, to account for the final margin.

There are games when the Caps are focused, engaged, and determined, and you think, “there is a parade route at the end of this.” Then there are games like last night when they allowed Carolina to exert their will on them, and you might think, “there are 18 holes at the end of this.”

So?...

- You could say Cam Ward was good – excellent, in fact. But of the 32 shots on goal recorded by the Capitals, eight of them were from within 20 feet. 13 of them were from 50 or more feet away.

- Not that Ward didn’t have his moments. His save on a one-timer by Tomas Fleischmann a little more than five minutes into then a scoreless game foiled any attempt at establishing momentum for the Caps. He victimized Fleischmann once more when Fleischmann collected a pass deflected by a Carolina high-stick, then skate in on Ward with space. Fleischmann let fly with a wrister from the left wing hash marks, but Ward got a glove on it, denying the Caps the chance to tie the game at two in the third period.

- If you look at the numbers – and only at the numbers – you’d swear this game went to a shootout...

The Caps had 32 shots on goal, the Hurricanes had 30.
The Caps had 26 hits, the Hurricanes had 24.
The Caps had eight takeaways, the Hurricanes nine.
The Caps had 13 blocked shots, the Hurricanes ten.
The Caps and Hurricanes split 52 draws right down the middle, 26 apiece.


- The game turned on two plays. Joni Pitkanen carried the puck deep into the Caps zone, and as he was moving it behind the net was checked into the glass by John Erskine. Erskine followed the puck around, Pitkanen lagging behind. Chad LaRose picked up the puck and continued out from around the net, finding Eric Staal in front. Staal fed Pitkanen, cutting behind Michael Nylander and Mike Green, and all that was left for Pitkanen to do was wait until goalie Jose Theodore committed, then pop a backhander into the net.

- The second play, Ray Whitney carried the puck into the Caps’ zone on a 4-on-4, and Anton Babchuk drove to the net with Viktor Kozlov marking him. As Whitney curled off and fed Dennis Seidenberg, Kozlov drifted off toward the left wing faceoff circle, leaving Babchuk at the Theodore’s doorstep. Seidenberg sent a shot toward the goal with the apparent intention of having Babchuk redirect it. Babchuk succeeded, but Theodore foiled the try. However, in doing so, Theodore was down and not in position to prevent Babchuk from recovering the puck and flipping a backhand into the net before Mike Green or Shaone Morrisonn could get back to defend. It just seemed that Babchuk – who is 6’5 and 22 pounds – got lost behind the defense.

- Alex Ovechkin had seven shots on goal and 13 attempts in all, but one never got the feeling he was getting the puck in places where he is normally effective. Despite the attempts, the Hurricanes did a good job in defending him as a group.

- Since netting goals in three consecutive games in January, Fleischmann has two goals in his last 29 games. One wonders why he’s getting more ice time than a guy like, say, Eric Fehr (three shots on goal and seven attempts in barely ten minutes last night). But the reason might be that Fehr has more physical edge to his game and can fit the “energy” role on a fourth line more than can Fleischmann. It's the only reason we can think of.

- Last night marked the end of an 11-game points scoring streak for Alexander Semin against the Hurricanes. He had goals in the last eight games of that streak and was 10-11-21 overall in that 11-game streak.

- It was another case of the skaters letting Jose Theodore down (they spread it around – 12 of them were on the minus side of the ledger). It would be hard to fault Theodore for any of the three Hurricane goals scored when he was on the ice. Even the first – by Rod Brind’Amour – was a product of Mike Green getting pickpocketed behind the Caps’ net by Sergei Samsonov, who poked the puck across to Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen found Brind’Amour alone and from precisely the spot on the ice where Flesichmann was stoned by Ward, Brind’Amour buried the puck behind Theodore on a one-timer.

This might have been “game one” in a playoff series, since the Caps and Hurricanes occupy the third and sixth seeds at the moment and would meet in the first round if the standings hold this way. Carolina sent the message that it isn’t going to roll over, merely because they are 13 points behind the Caps in the standings (11 this morning). For the Caps, there is now other business. They do not play another playoff team for the rest of the regular season (based on this morning’s standings). For a team that seems to need motivation, that’s a bad mix heading into the playoffs…

…where Carolina could be waiting.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Hurricanes, March 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s the last visit of the season – the regular season – to Carolina as the Capitals take on the Carolina Hurricanes. The Capitals blow into town like a cyclone…

“Hurricanes are no laughing matter, sir."

Oh…and you are?

“Foone…Dr. Ty Foone, of the National Hurricane Center, and we’d appreciate your not making light of these deadly storms.”

Foone?...Nice name, bub. Do you have a brother named, “Buff?”

“Very funny, sir, but hurricanes are not to be trifled with.”

We know. They’re 6-1-2 in March.

“That’s not what I mean, sir.”

And you don’t want to have your weather system “Staal” over Raleigh tonight.

“haha…I get it. Meteorology joke.”

And then there is the matter of the “Cole” front that moved into Carolina around the trading deadline.

"You’d kill ‘em in Miami, sir.”

Oh, that’s ok…hockey’s already dead there.

But it’s not in Carolina, where the Hurricanes are, in fact, 6-1-2 in March and 1-0-1 against the Caps for the month. That 14-point month so far has catapulted the ‘Canes into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and to abuse the hypothetical you hear at this time of year, if the playoffs were to start today, the Caps and ‘Canes would be the first round matchup. And speaking of matchups, here are the number matchups...



In March, Carolina has outscored its opponents by 40-21 in nine games. Four of their six wins have been by at least three goals, including a 5-2 win over Washington in the first game of the month. They’ll be bringing a two-game winning streak into tonight’s game, a 4-2 win over Martin-Brodeur-less New Jersey on Wednesday and a 5-4 win over the Islanders last night.

Special teams have been key for the Hurricanes in two respects. First, the power play is 13-for-44 this month (29.6 percent). It’s a good thing, too, since the penalty killers are only 28-for-36 (77.8 percent). And in those numbers are the second key – the Hurricanes have enjoyed eight more power plays than they have suffered shorthanded situations. They have had more power play opportunities than their opponents in six of the nine games they’ve played this month, going 5-1-0 in such games. Given the Caps’ tendencies to wear a path to the penalty box on nights they’re not fully engaged, this bears watching.

Individually, Erik Cole has now played eight games for the Hurricanes since returning to Carolina from Edmonton. That the Hurricanes are 5-1-2 and Cole 2-8-10, +4, is probably not a coincidence. And he’s had salutary effects on the play of Eric Staal, who is 6-8-14, +9 in the eight games since Cole returned to the scene. Combined, the “Erick’s” have played 69 career games against the Caps, their production being 33-32-65, +4, with nine power play goals, a shorthanded goal, and three game-winners.

They haven’t been alone in lighting things up. Tuomo Ruutu is 5-5-10, +3, in nine games for the month. Ray Whitney is an astonishing 5-10-15, +8 in the same number of games. Matt Cullen, we kid you not, is 3-9-12, +7 in nine games. Rod Brind’Amour is 4-6-10, +3. Even Sergei Samsonov, who seems to have spent his post-rookie season career disappointing people, is 2-6-8, +1 in nine games.

On defense, the Hurricanes have gotten contributions from an unexpected place. Anton Babchuk has seven goals in his last 15 games, including the game-winner against the Devils last Wednesday. Perhaps more important, the goal scoring hasn’t come at the expense of defense (or at least his ability to be on the ice when good things happen). He is plus-12 in those 15 games. As a group, it has been solid. In 45 man games played by the top six defensemen this month, there are only six minus games in the bunch.

In goal, one has to wonder…Cam Ward has played in 20 consecutive games, including four back-to-backs, and 37 of the last 38. He’s allowed three or more goals in four of his last five games, including four to the lowly Islanders last night. Does this guy get a break tonight? If not, he’ll be bringing an 11-5-2, 2.62, .917, three shutout record against the Caps to the ice. He is 1-1-1, 2.93, .914 in three games against the Caps this year.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Patrick Eaves

While the Caps are pondering the “Erick’s,” Whitney, Brind’Amour, etc., consider Patrick Eaves. In 63 games against the rest of the league this year, he is 3-7-10, +6. Not exactly fear-inspiring. But in four games against the Caps he is 2-1-3, +2, doubling his production from previous years against the Caps to 4-2-6, +4 in 14 games. He could be an under the radar guy that could burn a team not paying attention.

Washington: Alexander Semin

The one kind of line you don’t like to see from Semin is this…0-0-0, even, three shots…and four PIMs. It’s not so much the points as the penalties, both for hooking in the first period against Tampa Bay in the Caps’ last contest. It suggests maybe a bit of a wandering focus, and taking the iffy penalty against the Hurricanes lately is playing with fire. Semin has really abused Carolina defenses – 19-15-34, +6, with eight power play goals and four game-winners in 23 career games. He is a mind-boggling 6-7-13, +3, with two game-winners in four games against Carolina this year. Which Semin shows up will probably be the key for the Caps.

Carolina hasn’t lost a home game in more than a month, winning seven in a row since taking a 5-1 loss at the hand of the Bruins. They are firing – quite literally – on all cylinders. If the Caps defense and goaltending needed a test, they are going to get one in this game. As the Caps end the regular season series against the Hurricanes, they catch Carolina in the midst of perhaps their hottest stretch this season. And heat feeds Hurricanes. The Caps have enough to weather the storm…

Caps 5 – Hurricanes 3

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's not how you start...

Over at ESPN.com, Pierre LeBrun takes a look at how teams have done in the second half of the year (meaning, the second 41-games). It's an interesting little piece, but we don't think it goes far enough in what it means. First, let's break those standings down by conference. Teams in yellow are in their respective top-eight:


You can see that Montreal in the East is really sucking wind at this point, the worst team in the Conference in the second half of the season. Over in the west, you have to think the youngsters in Chicago have hit a wall. Parenthetically, the high-water mark of the Blackhawk season might have been the Winter Classic. Going into the home and home with Detroit that ended in the outdoor game, Chicago had a .712 winning percentage going into those games (20-6-7). They haven’t been that high since losing both games to Detroit.

But back to this second half thing. If you look at that spiffy color coded table, you can see that the West has followed comparatively true, first half and second, reflected in the fact that seven of the top-eight second half performers are also still in the playoff mix. Only those Blackhawks have fallen out. If you look at potential playoff seedings, as in “if the playoffs started today,” the West would look like this (second half ranking in parentheses):

Detroit (1) vs. Nashville (7)
San Jose (5) vs. Edmonton (8)
Calgary (6) vs. Columbus (4)
Vancouver (3) vs. Chicago (11)

Looking at those matchups, one might think Chicago is set up for a quick and quiet exit. They are slumping, and despite being a current #5 seed in the West, they would face a #4 seed that is actually playing higher than their seed indicated (Vancouver is third in the West in it second half record). Similarly, Calgary – the #3 seed at the moment – could be primed to be “upset” by the Blue Jackets – the #6 seed – based on their respective second half records. San Jose and Edmonton are both playing worse than their current seeds, while Detroit and Nashville have second half records that might be closest to their respective seeds (not good news for Nashville).

Things are more interesting in the East, where there is a real jumble. Ottawa, Atlanta, and Toronto are also-rans in the full-year standings, but which have pushed themselves up the charts in the second half. In addition to the Canadiens’ fall from grace, you’d have to be very concerned about the Hurricanes and the Rangers, their most recent records (6-2-2 and 6-3-1, respectively, in their last ten games) notwithstanding. The potential matchups would look like this (second half ranking in parentheses):

Boston (6) vs. Carolina (10)
Washington (4) vs. Montreal (15)
New Jersey (1) vs. New York Rangers (11)
Philadelphia (7) vs. Pittsburgh (2)

Clearly, you don’t want to be that team facing either Pittsburgh or New Jersey in the first round. Both teams are playing far above their full-year winning percentage levels. Philly and New York are in the potential bulls-eye there, and given their second half performances, you might not like their chances. Boston and Carolina looks like it might be a war of attrition or an aesthetic disaster, given their respective second half performances. And if you’re a Caps fan, you might be fairly drooling over the prospect of getting the Canadiens in the first round.

Quintin Laing Injured


Last night, Quintin Laing skated the last shift of the Caps' 5-2 win over Tampa Bay.

This morning, news came out that he tore his spleen and will be out for the season.

Laing, with his disregard-for-self penchant for throwing himself in front of shots, has impressed us as one of those guys who might always struggle to make an NHL roster, but who is really good to have in your system as an example of hard work and grit to other guys.

He is in the last year of his contract, so this might have been his last game as a Capital. We sure hope not. He's an inspiration.

A TWO-point night: Caps 5 - Lightning 2


Somewhere, Don Cherry is getting CPR.

Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season last night in the Capitals’ 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, joining Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as players to score 50 or more in three of their first four seasons. But it will be the aftermath that folks will be talking about. After stepping around Matt Pettinger at the Tampa Bay blue line and shooting around Lukas Krajicek and over goalie Mike McKenna’s glove to notch the 50th, Ovechkin laid his stick down in the corner and pantomimed warming himself from the heat of his hot stick.

It was not Ovechkin’s finest moment.

The one thing about Ovechkin’s goal celebrations – those resulting from his own and from teammates’ goals – has been their air of spontaneity. It is what sets his apart from those of touchdown-scorers and sack-masters in the NFL, where everything looks choreographed. They are even different from those in the soccer celebrations Don Cherry famously compared Ovechkin to in that the soccer celebrations have more than their own whiff of shirt discarding choreography to them.

That’s what makes this so disappointing. Ovechkin had been – to this moment – unique, despite Cherry’s rantings. But even Mike Green, who was invited to participate in this theater, declined – “He told me he was going to do it. He wanted me to join in, but there was no way I'd join in on that. I just kind of stood back and let him do what he does."

If one wants to chalk this up to a certain exuberance on the part of a 23-year old setting the bar a little higher on his career achievement track, fine. We can see giving the guy a pass (there are a lot of folks this morning, though, who won’t). But frankly, this one crossed the line. We’re hoping we don’t see anything like it again.

Other stuff…

While Ovechkin was blistering his fingers from the heat of his stick, Mike Green was inching in on a milestone of his own. His two goals gave him 27 for the year. Having reached this mark in 59 games, you’d have to like his chances to get to 30. If he does, he would become the eighth defenseman in league history to reach that mark. It hasn’t been done since the 1992-1993 season, when Capitals’ defenseman Kevin Hatcher netted 34.

It was the first time this season that the Caps failed to score three goals on the Lightning in the first period. They scored two.

Perhaps lost in this was Viktor Kozlov’s getting three assists. It was his first three-point game since December 18th (St. Louis).

And Shaone Morrisonn had a couple of assists. It was his first multi-point game of the year and his first since March 10, 2007 (New York Islanders).

18:43…that was Brian Pothier’s ice time. Any other considerations of statistics in his game are irrelevant.

Nicklas Backstrom won 10 of 13 draws. The 76.9 percent winning percentage was his second-highest of the year (January 27th, 7-of-9 – 77.8% -- against Boston).

With Boyd Gordon out, the other guys did pretty well in the dot…Backstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and David Steckel were a combined 26 up and 12 down (68.4%).

Mike Green led the Caps in hit in this one (four).

Matt Smaby had a tough game for the Lightning. He was on the ice for each of the Caps’ even strength goals.

Once more, every Cap got at least ten minutes of ice time; only three had more than 20.

Marty St. Louis gets the score sheet splatterage award…a goal, three shots, a shot blocked, a shot missed, a hit, a giveaway, a takeaway, a blocked shot, and he lost a faceoff. That’s the Sampler Platter at Red Lobster.

Rick Tocchet made good on his promise to Matt Lashoff, and Lashoff fulfilled it. Lashoff led the Lightning in ice time and in power play ice time. The Lightning did get a power play goal (Steven Stamkos) and Lashoff had a pair of assists.

If Evgeni Artyukhin and Paul Szczechura are going to have more shots on goal (two and three, respectively) than Ryan Malone (one), the Lightning are going to have trouble getting offense…like last night.

3-0, 1.74, .939. Steve who?

Since the Caps lost in regulation at Ottawa on January 20th, they are 8-1-2 on the road.

Boston is 3-5-1 in March. Two of their next three are against New Jersey and at Philadelphia. Maybe catching them isn’t impossible after all.

Jersey has the gauntlet of playing Minnesota, at Boston, at Philadelphia, at Chicago, Carolina, and at the Rangers (where Sean Avery can torment “Fatso”) in their next half dozen. Maybe holding them off isn’t impossible either.

With only nine games left, and only one of those against a team in the top-eight in the East, the struggle now is to stave off boredom. But now, the Capitals have some incentive to push through – they can finish at the head of the class in the East. It doesn’t have the same urgency as last year’s finish, but it could be interesting nonetheless.

In the meantime, this was pretty good, guys…except for that stick thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator Brings You Bracketological Prognostos

Every red-blooded American is taking off work today and is hunched over their bracket worksheets for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. We are no different. And so, we bring you the only bracket you'll ever need (assuming your bird cage needs to be relined)...


The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Lightning, March 19th


The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Thursday in Tampa, and the Caps are visiting the Lightning. For once, it’s not a desperate team the boys are playing…it’s not a good team…

The Caps are doomed.

Just kidding. It’s the Lightning, and as we were visiting their web site, we noticed, there isn’t any evidence of that whole “Hockey Bay, USA” campaign they trotted out to start the year. Nowhere to be found…

“Shhhhhh…not so loud.”

Excuse me…and you are?

“I don’t want to say…I was the genius who came up with that ‘Hockey Bay’ Idea, and I’d like to work in advertising again.”

Oh…I get it. But hey, one bad idea isn’t going to kill a career, is it?

“It’s not the first time.”

Oh?

“Yeah…ever hear of ‘New Coke?’”

Uh-huh…

“Yeah, that was me…and tht McDonalds ‘I’d hit it’ ads?

Uh, yeah?

“Me again…but I swear, I’m going to come up with an idea that’ll make ‘em take notice. Oh! Oh! This is great! I could find that dog…the one who did those Taco Bell commercials. Oh, this is so good…I could dress him in a little hockey helmet and a Marty St. Louis sweater. Oh, they’re gonna love this…I could get my old job back…”

Do you really think...

“…and he could pop up over the top of the bench…just like Marty! And he looks into the camera and says, “¡Yo quiero Lightning Hockeyl!”



Well…while our new friend, who lends a new meaning to “Mad Men” ponders the next great Lightning ad campaign...

If you look up the word “slog” in the dictionary, you will find that it means, “a long, tiring walk or march.” You might add “skate” to that, and you might find a team picture of the Lightning, too. It’s been that kind of season for the Bolts. March has been just the latest installment of it. Tampa Bay is 3-2-3 for the month, and although it is probably early to be mentioning it, it represents their first “Over-.500” month of the season. As for the season, here is how their numbers play out…



It certainly has been a month of highs and lows. On their way to being outscored for March by 33-28, the Lightning have had a game in which they scored eight goals (an 8-6 win over Calgary to start the month), and they’ve had one in which they gave up nine (a 9-3 loss to Carolina). It has not been a team that has had an ability to win the close, low scoring game this month. In each of their three wins, the Lightning have scored at least four goals. In each of their five losses, they’ve scored three or fewer.

Special teams have been something of an adventure this month for Tampa Bay. While the power play has sped along at a 31.2 percent clip (10-for-32), the penalty killers have spent their time giving it all back by killing off only 24 of 33 shorthanded situations (72.7 percent).

The last time these teams met – on Valentine’s Day – the Caps’ Mike Green set a record for defensemen for consecutive games with at least one goal. In that 5-1 loss to Washington, Ryan Malone scored the only goal for Tampa Bay. Since then, Malone is 5-4-9, +1. It’s about what you’d expect, given the pace at which he’s scored goals and points over his career, but perhaps not exactly the production you’d expect for a guy pulling down $4.5 million this year (and every year through 2014-15). He’s had a similar rate of production against the Caps for his career – 5-7-12, +5, in 18 career games. He has a pair of goals in three games against the Caps as a member of the Lightning.

Steven Stamkos might be turning a corner and finally getting it. The number one overall pick in last summer’s entry draft has struggled for long stretches this year as he serves his apprenticeship rookie year, but in March he is 3-5-8, -3, in eight games. The plus-minus is still a problem (he is minus-12 for the year), but his offensive production does seem to have picked up. He has not, however, registered any points against the Caps in three games this year. And, yes, he is minus-3, too.

Jeff Halpern didn’t get traded, leaving him to toil in relative obscurity on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s been a difficult year for the former Cap. He missed the first 30 games of the season to a knee injury, and it hasn’t been a year for the ages since his return. At 4-8-13 through 40 games, he’s on a pace to roughly match his first year in Dallas, which wasn’t one for the yearbook, either (8-17-25). In five career games against his old team, he is 1-1-2, +4. That includes an assist and a minus-3 in two games this year with Tampa Bay.

On defense, Tampa Bay has dressed almost as many players as teams have dressed on their entire roster. 16 defensemen have dressed for the Lightning, and one thing can be said of the lot. There are no answers to the Lightning’s problems on defense in this group. Not in the near term, anyway. Defense? No defenseman who has played more than 20 games is better than a minus-3.
But the Lightning do have a defenseman with a plus-rating (two, actually). Richard Petiot, he of the Petiot-for-Kolzig-Heward-Rogers-a draft pick-a bushel of oranges-a case of sun screen-and four tickets to Saw VI (due out in May 2009) trade, has played four games for the Lightning and has compiled two assists and a plus-3 rating. That could change considerably this evening.

The Lightning also have dressed five goaltenders this year (do you get the feeling this year has been one long audition for extras in a “Saw” movie?). Mike Smith was the number one goalie for most of the year, but he’s been out since January 30th after a concussion caught up with him. Karri Ramo has assumed the duties of shooting gallery target number one goalie. He’s been the goalie of record in 13 of 20 games since Smith went out. He is described as uncommonly quick. Well, he hasn’t been quick enough to avoid a 3-6-4 record or allowing 3.42 goals-per-60 minutes with a .903 save percentage since taking over.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Matt Lashoff

Lashoff came to the Lightning from Boston in the Mark Recchi trade. Coach Rick Tocchet is on record as stating that the power play quarterbacking duties will be his. For his part, Lashoff says, "...it's an opportunity for me to step up and come to the table and bring what I can bring. It's a part of the game that is an asset to me, my offensive ability. I have to take advantage of it." Now that, dear reader, is a fine example of the Ebby Calvin LaLoosh school of clichés. Think he’s up to the task? He has one point in 17 games this year and eight points in 47 career games. And, he took a gash on the leg in a game on February 28th that took 30 stitches to close. You can cease to wonder why Tampa is not a contender this year.

Washington: Sergei Fedorov

Fedorov had a bug earlier in the month that kept him out of a couple of games, but he looked pretty good against Florida the other night. He seems always to look good against the Bolts. In 25 career games, he is 15-22-37, +9, with five power play goals. He’s been a part of the F Street or the F-Bomb, or the Fe-Fi-Fo, or whatever F-related name you want to call it line with Tomas Flesichmann and Eric Fehr. It isn’t a bad line in concept. Flesichmann is a playmaker, Fedorov can be a playmaker or a scorer, Fehr is (we hope) a finisher. Against this defense, they should get opportunities to pad Fedorov’s career stats against the Lightning.

Tampa Bay has four defensemen who are likely to be out: Paul Ranger, Andrej Meszaros, Marek Malik, and Cory Murphy. That’s 1,330 games of NHL experience on the bench. Guys like Lashoff and Petiot are being thrown into the deep end of the pool, and tonight they will be in the really deep water against the Caps. On paper, the Lightning shouldn’t be within three goals of the Caps, even playing at home. But Tampa can score – Vincent Lecavalier and professional irritant Martin St. Louis still toil for this team. It could be a high scoring game, which might not be to Coach Bruce Boudreau’s liking, but it could be entertaining for folks watching on TV.

Caps 7 – Lightning 4

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Panthers 0


Well…that was much better.

And that is what is so exasperating about the Capitals. On one night, they can look like the disinterested gifted student who gets an “F” as a result of his being bored by the assignment. On the very next night, they can look like “Team Lunch Pail,” punching the clock and tending to the job, grinding their opponent into dust.

Here is perhaps the most important single bit of information to take away from last night’s 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers. If you discount the empty net goal from Mike Green with 1:27 left, it is the first time the Capitals have won a game without the benefit of a goal from one of the “Young Guns” (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green) since December 6th, when they defeated Toronto, 2-1, on goals by Karl Alzner and Milan Jurcina. Last night’s goals scored with a Florida goalie on the ice were scored by Brooks Laich and Viktor Kozlov.

Some other stuff…

OK…no shots for Florida in the third period. None. Kids, that only tells the half of it. From the time Karlis Skrastins fired a shot wide of the net (5:23 of the period), the Panthers were not credited with so much as an attempted shot until Richard Zednik had a shot blocked at 17:40 of the period. 12 minutes and 17 seconds of nothing. If you’re of a mind that Florida was a desperate team coming into this game, playing at home, then you have to give credit to the Caps for a masterful effort at defense, even if the Panthers aren’t the 1984 Edmonton Oilers.

Think Sergei Fedorov being in the lineup makes a difference? He won 10 of 13 draws, including six of seven, combined, in the offensive and defensive zones. You can’t use that high-powered offense if you don’t have the puck, and winning the faceoff is instant possession.

Speaking of faceoffs, the Caps did a much better overall job. Of six players who took more than one draw, five of them won more than they lost on the way to winning 32 of 55 overall.

John Erskine didn’t get a star, but he sure seemed to deserve one. Two assists, two shots on goal, three hits, three blocked shots, and a plus-2.

Kozlov was more active in the offensive side of things than just merely lugging the puck. Yes, he had the goal on a nifty little move when he adjusted the angle of his shot ever so slightly to leave Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun misaligned just enough on the wrist shot that eluded him, but Kozlov also had four shots on goal and eight attempts in only 13:51 of ice time. If he is actually a shooting threat, it could open things up a crack for Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom when he’s on that line.

No one, perhaps, turned his game around more in the space of 24 hours than Tom Poti. Seven blocked shots, 5:20 of spotless penalty killing time (tops on the team), and no blemishes on his score sheet line.

Speaking of blocks, the Caps blocked more shots (20) than the Panthers had on goal (19). We get that Florida isn’t an especially gifted offensive team, but still, that’s paying a price. Ten different Caps had at least one.

Committing four minor penalties is probably in the acceptable range for this team (although all four of them being of the “obstruction” sort – two holding, two interference – isn’t), but drawing only one penalty? That really needs improvement.

Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann have a combined two points in their last ten games (both goals). Neither had a point last night, and neither had a shot on goal. That has to improve.

14 of 18 Florida skaters had one or no shots on goal.

Part of playing defense is not having to play defense. The Caps had only 11 turnovers (giveaways plus Florida takeaways).

With Donald Brashear not in the lineup, it seems that there was more balance in the ice time. No Cap had less than ten minutes. Only three had more than 20 minutes, all of them defensemen (Poti, Mike Green, and Jeff Schultz).

The Caps played as textbook a road game as you could draw up – keep things simple, work hard, take advantage of opportunities, get the crowd (such as it was) out of the game. Not every game has to be an effort to compile 60 minutes of SportsCenter highlights. In fact, chances are that in the playoffs, the Caps will be forced to play more games like last night’s than they will of the sort they played against Carolina last weekend.

See, guys?...you can do this.