Friday, November 30, 2012

A TWO-point night -- Game 23: Capitals 4 - Panthers 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals took to the ice on Thursday night having lost Turkey Week – three losses in three tries, but the ice they were skating on for Thursday’s game happened to belong to the Florida Panthers, a team they had defeated twice in two matchups so far this season.  Florida lost those games on Washington ice, though, and they came into this game well-rested, having played their most recent game last Sunday.

Michal Neuvirth got his first start since suffering an ankle injury on November 14th in a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers.  The layoff did not appear to leave him having to scrape off any rust.  He was sharp early and needed to be, the Panthers jumping on the Caps with early pressure.  The Caps settled down in front of Neuvirth, though, and held the Panthers without a shot on goal over the last 9:22 of the period.

Meanwhile, the Caps would break the ice late in the period.  Mike Santorelli was sent off for goaltender interference at 16:40, a product of his getting tangled up with Neuvirth behind the Caps’ net as the goalie tried to play the puck around the boards.  Late in the ensuing power play John Carlson sent a drive toward the Florida net.  The puck hit defenseman Ed Jovanovski in front and caromed to Mike Ribeiro, to goalie Jose Theodore’s left.  Ribeiro snapped the loose puck over Theodore’s blocker on the short side at 18:22 to give the Caps the lead heading into the first intermission.

The second period started just fine for the visitors when Dmitry Orlov jumped into a hole in the Florida defense and one-timed a pass from Mathieu Perreault past Theodore to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.   The lead almost held up heading into the second intermission, but saw it halved late.  Sean Bergenheim was penalized for tripping at the 16:05 mark, but the Caps could do little with the man-advantage.  As the penalty expired, Panther defenseman Filip Kuba pitch-forked the puck up and out of the defensive zone, just as Bergenheim was exiting the penalty box.  He collected the puck behind the defense and skated in alone on Neuvirth, depositing the puck into the back of the net on a nicely played deke to his backhand.

The Caps restored their two-goal lead in the first minute of the third period when Ribeiro struck again, converting a pass sent by Brooks Laich from behind the Panther cage.  Florida stepped up the pressure, though, and the Caps eventually cracked.  Tomas Fleischmann sent a wrist shot past Neuvirth at 15:22 on a nice cross-ice feed by Peter Meuller.  Less than three minutes later Flieschmann set up Kris Versteeg for the equalizer that sent the game into an extra session.

In the overtime Florida pressed early, Fleischmann hitting a post behind Neuvirth, and Neuvirth having to make a fine save on Versteeg on the rebound of that shot.  It would be the only shot on goal that Florida would record, however. 

Midway through the extra period Alex Ovechkin slid the puck to Nicklas Backstrom in the neutral zone.  With the teams at 4-on-4 Backstrom had more open ice to work with and maneuvered himself into the middle of the ice as he crossed the Florida blue line.  The Panthers were keying on keeping Backstrom from feeding Ovechkin on his left, but Backstrom had other ideas.  He dropped the puck for Mike Green, and just as if he teed it up, the puck sat still for Green to wind up and fire a slap shot that beat Theodore cleanly over his glove for the game winner. 

Capitals 4 – Panthers 3 (OT)

The Dismal Cliff

The more I look at the NHL labor dispute, the more it starts to look like another dispute that has been unfolding before our eyes over the last year.  The term “fiscal cliff” is a term that refers to the potential economic effects of a series of laws that will either expire or have their provisions take effect starting on or about January 1, 2013.  It is a train wreck of items, but it boils down to tax increases and spending cuts, and the concept has pitted two groups, two worldviews – two sides – against one another. 
The same is true for what I will refer to as the “Dismal Cliff,” which refers to that date on which the National Hockey League will cancel its 2012-2013 season and the potential, and as yet unknowable, economic and structural effects on the professional game of hockey in North America.  The two concepts have much in common, perhaps none more so than having two very clearly defined sides, one a “mob,” the other an “insurgency."  How are these groups and these “cliffs” similar?  Well…

The Players…
The Leader of the Mob
In the Fiscal Cliff matter, the “Leader of the Mob” is clear.  John Boehner “governs,” for lack of a better term, an unruly caucus of 242 members, many of which are freshmen and many of them “Tea Party” members – the “hard line faction” of the group that wants severe cuts to spending on public programs.
In the “Dismal Cliff” situation, the “Leader of the Mob” might be a bit less clear, but it is still Gary Bettman, who governs, by virtue of by-laws, a group that has its own factions.  These factions include (reportedly) a “hard line” group of owners that are insisting on severe cuts to player compensation as a share of revenue and to restrict contract provisions that would have the effect of restricting movement and potential income.

The Leader of the Insurgency
Fiscal Cliff… Barack Obama, the President.  Although seemingly unsuited temperamentally to being the role of voice of the common man, he is it.  He is the champion of having the middle class wage earner protected in their comparatively meager ability to carve out a living in a roiling economy.
Dismal Cliff… Donald Fehr, the Executive Director.  Although seemingly unsuited temperamentally to being the voice of the worker, he is it.  He is the champion of having the rank-and-file hockey player protected in their comparatively meager ability to carve out a living in a short window of time in which they can make their living at playing hockey.

The Basic Issues
Fiscal Cliff… Taxes and spending.  One side – the mob – emphasizes the need to cut spending and preserve income for all, even the most well-to-do, through lower tax rates.  The other side – the insurgency – emphasizes the need for the most well-to-do to pay their “fair share” of taxes to preserve benefits that accrue to the middle class through public programs.
Dismal Cliff… Revenue and compensation.  One side – the mob – emphasizes the need to define revenue narrowly, even for the “big market” teams (although they have backed off this aim), while retaining a larger share of revenue by spending less on player compensation.  The other side – the insurgency – believes that existing contract provisions should be honored and that revenue share should be maintained, or lowered slightly and gradually.

The Strategy
Fiscal Cliff… Miles and miles apart.  One side – the mob – offers up a budget that cuts spending, terminates certain benefits, extends existing tax cuts, and proposes new tax cuts that preserve and protect the “one percent.”  It does not accept the concept of tax increases, even if it meant accepting one dollar of tax increases for every ten dollars of spending cuts.  The other side – the insurgency – opens with the gambit that doesn’t even pretend to negotiate off the other side’s initial offer… they propose ending tax cuts for the “one percent,” proposing more spending (“stimulus”), and preserving and protecting programs for the “middle class.”  The sides have adopted a position of talking past one another and speaking right to the media.
Dismal Cliff… Miles and miles apart.  One side – the mob -- offers up a proposal to increase ownership share of revenue from 43 to 54 percent, limit contract length, eliminate salary arbitration, extend the term of entry-level contracts.  The other side – the insurgency – doesn’t even pretend to be negotiating off the other side’s initial offer and opens up by proposing de-linking the salary cap from revenue and preserving contract rights for players.  The sides have adopted a position of talking past one another and speaking right to the media.

The Side Shows
Fiscal Cliff… Simpson-Bowles Commission, Domenici-Rivlin Debt Reduction Task Force
Dismal Cliff… Federal mediators

Monkey Wrench in the “Grand Bargain”
Fiscal Cliff… One side – the insurgency – proposed more taxes as part of a final deal, killing an agreement that seemed close at hand.
Dismal Cliff… One side – the mob – proposed a “make whole” provision on existing contracts that had players paying other players, killing an agreement that seemed close at hand.

The Idea Out of Left Field
Fiscal Cliff… End to debt limit votes.
Dismal Cliff… Players and owners negotiating without league or union heads and staff present.

The Sad Truth
Fiscal Cliff… Reasonable people know where this is going in the end.  Taxes will go up for high-end wage earners, some deductions will be pared back, and eligibility requirements for certain entitlement programs will be changed to rein in spending.  Reasonable people, however, do not seem to be doing the negotiating.
Dismal Cliff… Reasonable people know where this is going to end.  Owners and players will define hockey-related revenue pretty much as they do now, and they will split it 50-50.  There will be some changes in things like salary arbitration, contract length, and how “back-diving” contracts are handled.  Reasonable people, however, do not seem to be doing the negotiating.

Finding Fault
Fiscal Cliff… Who cares whose fault it is for negotiations to bog down?  Do your jobs!
Dismal Cliff… Who cares whose fault it is for negotiations to bog down?  Do your jobs!

Public Response
Fiscal Cliff… Well, we could vote all the bums out, but what’s the chance of that happening?
Dismal Cliff… Well, fans could cancel their season tickets and not buy any merchandise, but what’s the chance of that happening?

The “Cliff”
Fiscal Cliff… January 2nd. The day after tax cuts enacted in the early 2000’s expire, spending cuts go into effect as well as new taxes under health care legislation enacted in 2009.
Dismal Cliff… Who knows?  But it’s out there.  It could be in early-January; it could be later in the month.  But it’s out there, the cancellation of the 2012-2013 season and suspension of play until an agreement is reached.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

1984 Redux

"They're putting a Mickey-Mouse operation on the ice.  It's ruining hockey." reported the following after Federal mediators were dismissed upon completing two (as in, "more than one, but less than three") days of effort at bringing the NHL and NHL Players Association closer to an agreement...

"Sources confirm that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is awaiting response from NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr on a proposal that owners and players have a bargaining session without any NHL or NHLPA leaders or staff in the room."

OK, now they're just screwing around.  This isn't even serious anymore; they're just coming up with lame, hare-brained schemes to mark the time until they cancel the season.

In 1984, Wayne Gretzky called the New Jersey Devils a "Mickey Mouse operation" after his Edmonton Oilers beat the Devils, 13-4.  Today, the NHL became a "Mickey Mouse operation."


"Mediation?" The Lockout in 50 Other Words Ending in "ation"


...makes you want to take a...


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A NO point night -- Game 22: Sharks 4 - Capitals 2

Once upon a time, the Washington Capitals owned the San Jose Sharks.  The Caps won the first five games in the series between the two clubs.  How long ago was that fifth win?  The goal scorers for the Caps were Peter Bondra, Craig Berube, Mike Ridley, and Keith Jones.  Rick Tabaracci was the winning goaltender.  Arturs Irbe, former Caps goaltending coach, was the losing netminder for the Sharks.  It was October 30, 1993.

Coming into Tuesday night’s contest against San Jose, though, the Caps had won only four of the previous 26 games in the series (4-20-1-1) and were 1-15-1 in the last 17 meetings dating back to a 3-2 loss on October 16, 1999 at MCI (now Verizon) Center.  Making things worse for the Caps, the Sharks were on a roll.  San Jose brought a 17-5-1 record into Verizon Center, while the Caps had lost their last two contests, each by a 2-1 margin, to Dallas and St. Louis.

San Jose opened the scoring at the 6:22 mark of the first period when Michal Handzus redirected a Ryan Clowe centering feed under Caps goalie Braden Holtby.  San Jose kept the pressure on, but Holtby was up to the challenge, keeping the Caps in the game despite facing 15 shots on goal in the first 15 minutes of the period.  His heroics were rewarded late in the period when Marcus Johansson returned the favor, knocking a centering pass from Mathieu Perreault past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi at the 15:33 mark of the period.  That would be the extent of the scoring, although the Caps did tighten up late, allowing no San Jose shots on goal after the 15-minute mark.

The Caps came out strong in the second period, peppering Niemi with an early flurry of shots, but were unable to push a puck behind him to take the lead.  The Sharks were the ones to break the tie 8:12 into the period when Patrick Marleau one-timed a feed by Logan Couture from behind the Capitals’ net past Holtby.  The goal stopped whatever momentum the Caps generated with their early pressure, but a penalty to defenseman Mark Stuart late in the period gave the Caps a new life.  Troy Brouwer converted the power play opportunity when he pounced on a rebound of a Mike Green shot and roofed it over Niemi to tie the game at two apiece going into the second intermission.

The teams played cat-and-mouse with each other over the first half of the third period, but San Jose started tilting the ice to the Caps’ end as the clock passed the ten-minute mark.  Effective forechecking pressure yielded dividends for the Sharks in the 15th minute when Joe Pavelski snapped a loose puck from between the hash marks past Holtby to give San Jose a late lead.

The Caps opened up their offense in the last five minutes in search of the equalizer but had difficulty putting their shots on net.  A wrist shot by Alex Ovechkin in the last minute missed wide on the long side and skittered out of the offensive zone, where Pavelski picked it up.  With all the Caps pressing in the offensive zone, there was no one back to defend as Pavelski skated to the empty net and flipped the puck in to give the Sharks a 4-2 win.

Notes:  Joey Crabb took a shot off his left hand in the second period and did not return; he is listed as day-to-day…

Sharks 4 – Capitals 2

Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Never Too Early to Think About... The Draft

With the National Hockey League in lockout/lockdown mode and the league and its players association having been joined by a mediator to help push the process along, it is just about time to bid hope for a 2012-2013 – or rather a “2013” – NHL season goodbye and start focusing on the NHL draft to be held…well, whenever.  And that brings us to the rules that will govern the lottery to determine the number of ping pong balls each team will received in the lottery to come.  Sort of the NHL’s version of Powerball… “Puckyball,” if you will.

Let us recall the rules that governed the last lottery back in 2005, the “Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes:”

1.  All 30 NHL teams start with three ping pong balls.

2.  For every playoff appearance in the previous three seasons, a team loses one ball.  Teams left with three balls:

Buffalo Sabres
Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Rangers
Pittsburgh Penguins
Atlanta Thrashers
Florida Panthers

3.  Teams with a number one overall draft pick in any of the previous four years lose one ball.  Since Atlanta and Florida had number one draft picks in that window (Atlanta picked Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001, and Florida had the number one overall pick in 2003 but traded it to Pittsburgh), they dropped out, leaving four teams with three balls:

Buffalo Sabres
Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Rangers
Pittsburgh Penguins

Of course, every thoughtful hockey fan knows that the league and Buffalo had a deal for the Sabres to host the first Winter Classic in exchange for their balls being “lost” before they went into the tumbler for selection.  And please, who takes Columbus being in that group seriously?

So, miracles of miracles, the two teams with the only legitimate chance of getting the rights to speak the words “Sidney Crosby” at the top of the 2005 draft were the league’s biggest market and its favorite pet of a team.  It was a win-win for the league!

It begs the question, what machinations will be involved to rig the Puckyball rules to get to the result the league wants this time?  Well, our special ops forces at Peerless Central managed to obtain the secret documents that set forth the rules that will govern the 2013 draft lottery…

Step 1… All 30 teams start with three ping pong balls
Step 2… Teams lose a ping pong ball for each playoff appearance in the last three years to a maximum of two balls lost (to ensure that every team still has one ball).

Remaining teams with three balls…

NY Islanders

Step 3… Teams lose a ping pong ball for each top overall pick in the last four years to a maximum of two, but in no case shall any team be left with no ping pong balls.

Remaining teams with three balls…


Step 4… Each team having been selected to host a draft in any year since the “schedule interruption” of 2004-2005 will lose a ping pong ball.

Remaining teams with three balls…


Step 5… Each team having hosted an NHL all-star game in any year since the “schedule interruption” of 2004-2005 will lose a ping pong ball (and just because you moved, don’t think you get a pass… Winniplanta).

Remaining teams with three balls…


Step 6… Each team whose arena was renamed since the “schedule interruption” of 2004-2005 will lose a ping pong ball.

Remaining teams with three balls…


Step 7… Teams having replaced their coach at least once last season will lose a ping pong ball for every time the coach was replaced.

Remaining teams with three ping pong balls…



Step 8… Each team having opened a new arena in any of the past three seasons will have all ping pong balls lost restored for their contributions to the game.

Teams with three ping pong balls:

And there you have it.  The Pittsburgh Penguins will be the team with the best chance of landing a Nathan MacKinnon or a Seth Jones in next June’s NHL entry draft, should the 2012-2013 season be cancelled.  You will find no more deserving team in the 412 area code.  Well, no more deserving NHL hockey team in the 412 area code... maybe.

For the rest of you, there is the chance of drafting the next Alex Bourret or Sasha Pokulok.  Good luck.

A Turkey Week Trifecta of Games... The Caps Go 1-2-0

A fantasy season comes with a fantasy Turkey Week and a fantasy hiatus from game summaries.  We just wish the fantasy turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie, and all the trimmings only required a fantasy unbuttoning of the slacks after dinner.  But we’re stuffed, and the Caps had a full plate of Turkey Week games as well.

Game 19…  Capitals 3 – Jets 2

A team in the midst of a long road trip – this would be the third game of a six-game roadie for the Jets, their longest of the season – does not want to fall behind early.  That’s just what the Jets did, though, when Nicklas Backstrom put back a rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot just 77 seconds into the game.  That could have been the start of something big for the home team, but the Caps frittered away the momentum early in the second period when they took minor penalties 22 seconds apart to give the Jets a 5-on-3 advantage.

Winnipeg made good on both ends of the power play, Evander Kane striking off a scramble in front at 4:19 and Dustin Byfuglien giving the Jets the lead 14 seconds later on a rocket from the point through Caps goalie Braden Holtby.

The Caps settled down after that, Holtby being steadfast in goal for the rest of the middle frame and into the third period.  Unfortunately for the Caps, Ondrej Pavelec was up to the task of keeping the Caps off the scoreboard after the early Backstrom goal.  There was not much he could do, though, when Joey Crabb knotted the contest at two-apiece with less than five minutes left.  Crabb was left all alone at the right post to backhand the puck into an open net after Pavelec blocked away a close-in chance by Matt Hendricks. 

The Caps took the lead just over two minutes later when Brooks Laich scored from almost the same place from which Crabb scored, this one being the product of a slick cross-ice pass from the edge of the right wing circle by Mike Ribeiro.  Holtby did the rest, turning away a good chance by Blake Wheeler in the last half minute to preserve the 3-2 come-from-behind win.

Game 20… Stars 2 – Capitals 1

The Caps took to the road on the day after Thanksgiving, visiting Dallas to take on the Stars.  The Caps won their earlier meeting on November 4th in Washington, defeating the Stars by a 3-2 score.

Washington got off to a fast start once more, Alex Ovechkin scoring off a one-man rush just 33 seconds into the game.  Ovechkin picked up a loose puck along the left wing wall in the Caps’ end and skated out with Trevor Daley back.  Ovechkin pushed Daley back with speed and before Eric Nystrom could get back to close off a detour through the middle, Ovechkin snapped a wrist shot past Daley and over goalie Kari Lehtonen’s glove.

Dallas would strike back and strike back quickly.  Michael Ryder notched his fifth of the season and first since scoring against the Caps on November 4th at the 1:01 mark when he collected a rebound of a Stephane Robidas shot and curled it past goalie Braden Holtby’s glove as Holtby dove to try to cover the puck.  Former Capital and Capital nemesis Jaromir Jagr got his fourth of the year just 50 seconds later when he stepped out from the right wing wall and rifled a wrist shot into the top corner over Holtby’s glove.

That would end the scoring for the first period and, in fact, for the game.  The game settled into a lethargic affair that featured few shots, fewer scoring opportunities, and no flow.  Dallas was happy to play that kind of game, and it left the Caps on the short end of a 2-1 decision, ending the Caps short two-game winning streak.

Game 21… Blues 2 – Capitals 1

Different city, same result.  The Caps scored early once more.  Joel Ward won a fight for a loose puck in the corner to St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak.  Ward threw the puck to the front of the net where Brooks Laich was waiting.  The puck never arrived, though.  Halak tried to blade the puck away from Laich but managed only to have it hit the heel of his stick and deflect through his legs into the back of the net.  The goal at 45 seconds was the second straight game in which the Caps scored in the first minute.

With the way goaltender Braden Holtby was playing, it seemed as if the Ward goal would hold up.  Holtby stopped the first 20 shots he faced from the home team and was steering rebounds safely out of harm’s way.  The 21st shot, however, tied the game.  Matt Hendricks went off for roughing at 16:04 to give the Blues a power play.  The Caps stymied the Blues, holding them without a shot on goal as the man advantage was about to expire.  The Caps got caught breaking formation, though, on their penalty kill, and T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund found themselves with a 2-on-1 deep, only Roman Hamrlik defending.  Oshie laid the puck off onto Berglund’s stick, and with Holtby unable to scramble across to defend, Berglund finished the play to tie the game.

Alex Steen jumped on a mistake just before the period ended to give the Blues a lead they would not relinquish.  Caps defenseman Jack Hillen misfired on an attempt to send the puck into the far corner and put the puck on the stick of Steen.  The Blues forward broke clean on a breakaway and finished the play with a deke and a backhand over Holtby's left pad for the score.

The third period passed without either incident or excitement, the Blues happy to put the clamps on the Caps, and the Caps unable to cast off the shackles of a stifling Blues defense.  The Blues limited the Caps to seven unsuccessful shots on goal and held on for a 2-1 win.

Notes… Nine different Caps had points for the week, but only Alex Ovechkin (1-1-2) and Jason Chimera (0-2-2) had more than one… Michal Neuvirth has been cleared to play after sustaining an ankle injury in the Caps’ 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on November 14th… Since taking over for Neuvirth in the November 14th contest, Braden Holtby is 2-2-1, 2.10, .927 in six appearances…

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A TWO-point night -- Game 18: Capitals 3 - Panthers 1

The Florida Panthers made their second visit to Verizon Center this season on Sunday hoping that it would end better than their first visit, a 6-1 whipping delivered by the Washington Capitals back on October 15th.  For the Panthers it was a chance to salvage a .500 road trip after dropping their last two road contests in Calgary and Edmonton.  The Caps were looking to get back on the winning track after dropping a pair of their own, losing a home-and-home set against the New York Rangers, even though they grabbed a point in an overtime loss on Friday.

Although one might have expected the Panthers to be sluggish after spending their last three games in western Canada, they scored on their first shot on goal when Tomas Kopecky blasted a slap shot between goalie Braden Holtby’s body and left arm at the 22-second mark of the first period.  Things got worse for the Caps as they started a march to the penalty box.  Jay Beagle went off at 2:28 for tripping.  Marcus Johansson followed him there at 5:08 on a hooking call.  At 11:56 it was Mike Ribeiro for tripping. 

The Panthers could not convert on any of their three first period power play opportunities, though.  Holtby kept the Caps in the game turning back all of the Panthers’ shots after that opening goal.  Unfortunately, the Caps could generate little offense of their own having spent six minutes killing penalties in the period.  The teams skated off with the Panthers holding a 13-5 edge in shots and a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard.

The second period did not start any better for the Caps.  Alex Ovechkin went off at 2:18 for elbowing to give the Panthers their fourth power play in less than 23 minutes.  Holtby and the Caps kept the Panthers off the scoreboard on this power play, too, earning them a standing ovation from the Verizon Center crowd as the final seconds of the penalty ticked off.

When the Caps received their first power play of the game at 5:01 of the second period, courtesy of an interference penalty by Filip Kuba, it looked as if the momentum might change.  It was not to be as the Caps failed to record a shot on goal over the two-minute man advantage.  Making it worse was the Caps finding that path to the penalty box once more.  Mathieu Perreault went off at 10:04 on a hooking call, and then Joel Ward was shown the gate on a holding call at 17:11.

Then the game took a turn toward the bizarre.  Tomas Fleischmann had an apparent goal overturned on a video review when the replay showed that his wrist shot hit both the post and crossbar without crossing the goal line.  Moments later Karl Alzner picked up a loose puck along the wall and sent it out of the Caps’ end.  On its way down the puck hit seam along the boards and changed direction.  Panther goalie Jose Theodore had already circled around his net to collect the puck and was now out of position as the puck darted toward the Panther net.  Theodore lunged out to try to get his stick on the puck, but was a moment too late to prevent the tying goal at 18:08 of the second period.  That was how the period ended, the Caps and Panthers tied, 1-1.

The late goal for the Caps seemed to change the momentum of the game, if only to stop their parade to the penalty box.  It was the Panthers who were whistled for an early penalty in the third period, Fleischmann going off at 2:01 for hooking.  The Caps could not solve Theodore on the power play, but the Panthers could not clear the puck out of their zone.  An attempted clear by Jack Skille was gloved down by John Carlson.  The defenseman wristed a shot that Theodore could not find through a screen, and the puck settled behind him to give the Caps their first lead of the game at 4:19 of the period.

The Carlson goal seemed to take the wind out of the Florida sails.  Even though the Panthers were getting shots to the Capitals net, Holtby was getting good looks at them and turning pucks away without undue effort.  As time grew short the Panthers started taking more chances in an effort to get pucks deep and get Theodore off the ice for an extra attacker.  Theodore was at the hash marks ready to come off as the clock passed the 90 seconds remaining mark.  The Panthers failed to get the puck deep enough, though, to give Theodore the chance to get to the bench.  It gave Nicklas Backstrom a chance to break out with Alex Ovechkin.  Backstrom fed the puck up to Ovechkin, who slid it back to Backstrom as he entered the Florida zone.  Backstrom faked sending it back to Ovechkin one last time and wristed the puck on the short side over Theodore’s blocker to close the scoring and give the Caps a 3-1 win.

Notes:  Michal Neuvirth is expected to miss another week with a “lower body” injury… The 37 shots faced by Holtby in this game was topped just once in his regular season career, a 40 save/41 shot effort in a 2-1 win over Carolina on March 11, 2011… The shorthanded goal by Karl Alzner was his fifth career goal and first special teams score.

Capitals 3 – Panthers 1

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A ONE-point night -- Game 17: Rangers 4 - Capitals 3 (OT)

If familiarity breeds contempt, the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers have extra measures of contempt for one another.  Friday night’s second half of a home-and-home series was the ninth time the Caps have faced the Rangers in their last 24 games going back to the Eastern Conference semifinals in last spring’s Stanley Cup tournament.

The Caps were looking to even the score in this year’s series after dropping a 4-2 decision on Wednesday night.  On Friday the Caps would face Henrik Lundqvist in goal for the first time this season, the Caps countering with Braden Holtby in his second straight start.

The goalies were sharp to open the game, but neither team could get much flow going in their offensive games, either.  The uninspired play early was jolted to life when the Rangers had the puck deep in the Capitals’ end.  Former Cap Jeff Halpern won a battle against Matt Hendricks behind the Caps’ net and nudged the puck in front where Mike Rupp was fighting for position.  Rupp took several whacks at the puck, a couple of them coming after Holtby covered it.  For his efforts Rupp was treated to Holtby’s blocker to his face, and Rupp responded with a two-hander to Holtby’s pads.  Jason Chimera jumped in to challenge Rupp, and Taylor Pyatt joined in to try to pull Chimera off Rupp.  All four were whistled for minors – Rupp for slashing and the others for roughing – at 6:29 of the first period.

It would not be the end of the march to the penalty box, at least for the home team.  Mathieu Perreault was sent off at 12:23 for hooking, and Jack Hillen took a seat at 18:32 for the same offense.  The Rangers could convert neither opportunity, though, and the teams went off scoreless after 20 minutes.

It was more of the same in the second period in terms of offensive flow, or lack of it.  It did not lack for physical intensity, though, as each team got their licks in.  Troy Brouwer had a highlight reel hit on Bryan Boyle that dropped the larger forward in front of the players’ benches.  Ryan Callahan had a similar hit on Joey Crabb that had the Washington forward skating slowly to the bench.  It kept the Verizon Center crowd entertained, but it did nothing to turn on the red light behind either goaltender. The teams remained scoreless after two periods.

If the first forty minutes were lacking in offensive fireworks, they were set off quickly in the third period.  It started when John Carlson was sent to the penalty box for two minutes seventy seconds into the period.  Rick Nash converted for the Rangers when Mike Richards found him in the high slot with a pass from the goal line to Holtby’s left.  

Less than a minute later the Rangers struck again with Brian Boyle doing the dirty work in front and chipping a loose puck over Holtby, who was sprawled at the top of his crease trying to cover the biscuit.

It could have become a blowout after that, but the Caps came right back barely 20 seconds later.  Alex Ovechkin took a long lead pass from Nicklas Backstrom, and taking a page out of the early years of his career book rifled a wrist shot through Ryan McDonagh’s legs and past Lundqvist’s blocker to bring the Caps within a goal.

Mike Green got the Caps even 1:20 later after Dan Girardi took a holding penalty.  Green’s wrist shot from the top of the right wing circle hit Ranger defenseman Marc Staal in front and dipped though Lundqvist’s pads.

The goal seemed to shift the momentum in the Caps’ direction, but Lundqvist was up to the challenge, denying Brooks Laich on a point blank attempt at the 11 minute mark and Marcus Johansson on an attempted wrap-around a minute later.  Lundqvist’s ability to frustrate the Caps paid dividends late when Marian Gaborik wired a wrist shot over Braden Holtby’s blocker with less than two minutes remaining to give the Rangers the apparent winning margin.  However, with Holtby on the bench for an extra attacker Mike Green fired a shot into a scrum of players in front of Lundqvist.  The Caps converged at the top of the crease trying to poke the puck past the Ranger goalie.  It squirted out to a wide-open Alex Ovechkin at the edge of the left wing circle, and before Lundqvist could locate the puck it was in the back of his net off an Ovechkin snap shot with just 4.8 seconds left in regulation.

The teams went to overtime looking to end things early.  The Rangers put heavy pressure on Holtby to start the extra session, the Caps’ netminder making a big glove save on Gaborik in the first minute.  The Caps started to turn things around in the second half of the overtime, Mathieu Perreault getting a scoring opportunity to Lundqvist’s left that was turned aside.  But with the clock winding down under 30 seconds Ryan Callahan wound up and fired a slap shot that seemed to handcuff Holtby.  The Caps’ goaltender gave up a long rebound to his right that landed on the stick of Derek Stepan.  The Ranger forward had a lot of open net to shoot at, and he did not miss, sending the puck back in the direction from which it came and into the back of the net to give the Rangers their second straight win over the Caps, 4-3.

Rangers 4 – Capitals 3 (OT)

Friday, November 16, 2012

The REAL Brains Behind Bettman... Billy Ray Valentine

With no hockey to keep us occupied, we have partaken far too often of our favorite delicacy… pepperoni, anchovy, and marshmallow fluff pizza.  And doing it while watching a rerun of that classic comedy, “Trading Places,” had predictable effects.  Imagine the Duke Brothers – Randolph and Mortimer – replaced by Gary Bettman and Bill Daly, respectively, and you have the makings of the dream I had about who the real brains are behind the league…

Bill Daly: It's hit rock bottom. Come on, let's make a deal.  Tell the owners we’ll go for 50-50 in year 3... (on the intercom) call the owners; tell them we're prepared to make a deal with the union.  

Billy Ray: That's a big mistake, man.

Bill Daly: Valentine, this is very important, watch.

Billy Ray: You're going to get reamed on this one.

Gary Bettman: Why shouldn't we make the deal now, William?

Billy Ray: Players’ bank accounts are going to keep going down.

Bill Daly: Gary, this isn't Monopoly money we're playing with.

Gary Bettman: (on the intercom) This is Gary Bettman.  Hold that deal over a moment…  (turns to Billy Ray) Tell me why you think the price of the deal is going down.

Billy Ray: It's Christmas time. Everybody's uptight.

Bill Daly: Could we please make the deal now?

Billy Ray: If you want to lose money go ahead.

Gary Bettman: What are you trying to say?

Billy Ray: OK, players haven’t been paid in months.  So everybody's waiting for their bank accounts to hit rock bottom so they have to buy cheap stuff, like a Buick instead of a Ferrari.  The people with no money in their bank accounts are thinking, "Hey, we're losing all our money and Christmas is coming… I won't be able to buy my son the Sidney Crosby action figure the Kung Fu grip… And my wife won't make love to me ‘cos I ain't got no money.  They're panicking, screaming, “Make the deal! Make the Deal!”  They don't want to lose all their money.  They are panicking right now. I can feel it.  Look at them.

Gary Bettman: He's right, Bill, my God, look at them.

Billy Ray: I’d wait till you get to December 20th, then make the deal.  You'll have cleared out all the suckers by then.

Gary Bettman: Do you realize how much money he just saved us?

Bill Daly: Money isn't everything, Gary.

Gary Bettman: (back to the intercom) Advise the owners that we’ll offer our last and best proposal on December 20th.  Mr Valentine has set the terms. 

…Well done, William.

…Very well done.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Anthracite Triangle

Seems the "Phantoms" of the AHL, once of Philadelphia but currently of Glen Falls, NY, are going to return to the Keystone State in 2014.

It's roughly 75 miles from Hershey to Allentown, about 95 miles from Wilkes-Barre to Hershey, and about 65 miles from Allentown to Wilkes-Barre.

The Anthracite Triangle of the AHL (with Reading in the ECHL thrown in for us Caps fans)...

Pages on a Calendar

Dates shaded in green are those when the NHL and NHLPA met, or talked, or "touched base."*

* Source: "NHL Lockout Timeline" (USA Today)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A NO-point night -- Game 16: Rangers 4 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals entered their contest against the New York Rangers on Wednesday having won six straight games.  The bug in the punch bowl there was that the last four of those wins were obtained from teams that did not make the playoffs in 2011-2012.  Still, the Caps were making hay while the sun shined.  In those six games the Caps averaged 3.8 goals per game, while allowing just 2.3 goals per game.  The power play was 5-for-17 (29.4 percent), while the penalty kill was a perfect 16-for-16.

The Caps would move up in weight class with Wednesday’s contest, the first of a home-and-home set against the New York Rangers.  The Rangers eliminated the Caps in seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals, and they came into this season as a leading contender to represent the East in the Stanley Cup finals.  And this would not be exactly the team that eliminated the Caps last spring, either.  Rick Nash was signed to a contract in free agency last summer and would be a hoped-for counter-weight for goal-scoring on the left side to Marian Gaborik on the right side of the Rangers top line.

It would be the Caps stiffest defensive challenge since starting their six-game winning streak against Pittsburgh on October 31st.  And the Caps were up to the challenge early, the game taking on the style the two teams played last spring – a lot of skating around to little effect on the scoreboard.  The teams were scoreless through the first half of the period, despite the Capitals enjoying a four-minute power play when Anton Stralman cut Mike Green with a high stick.  It was the Rangers, though, who tilted the ice right after the power play.  That pressure was rewarded when Rick Nash drew both Caps defensemen to his side of the ice as he skated with the puck in the left faceoff circle.  It left Brad Richards alone at the post to the left of goalie Michal Neuvirth, and Nash slid the puck across for a tap-in to give the Rangers the lead.

The goal got the Madison Square Garden crowd into the game, and it made things that much more difficult for Washington trying to get out of their own end under Ranger pressure.  Playing almost entirely in their end of the ice after the Richards goal yielded dividends when the Rangers crowded the Capital net.  Ryan Callahan notched his third goal of the season from a scrum in front of Neuvirth, and on the play Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov tumbled into Neuvirth.  The goalie was attended to by the training staff in what looked to be an injury to his right ankle or knee. 

Neuvirth remained in the game, but he was victimized barely two minutes later in the final minute of the first period when Michael Del Zotto wired a shot that Neuvirth whiffed on as he trying to glove the puck down.  The Rangers quick work in the last half of the second period gave them a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Neuvirth was relieved by Braden Holtby to start the second period in his first appearance since losing to Calgary on October 27th.  Holtby did not look as if he had much rust, keeping the Rangers from adding to their advantage to open the middle period.  Holtby’s efforts turned the momentum for the Caps, and they were rewarded late in the period when Mathieu Perreault circled around the Ranger net and attempted a wrap-around to Ranger goalie Martin Biron’s left.  Biron covered the post, but the puck squirted out to Marcus Johansson between the hash marks, and Johansson snapped the puck past Biron before he could square himself to the shooter.  The Caps could not parlay that goal into any further scoring, and the teams went off after 40 minutes with the Rangers holding a 3-1 lead.

Although the Caps kept up the pressure to start the third period, any hope they had of coming back was effectively halted at the 11:19 mark when Derek Stepan redirected a Dan Girardi shot over Holtby’s blocker to put the Rangers up 4-1. 

The Capitals made it closer when Dmitry Orlov scored his second goal of the season with a slap shot through a screen in front of Biron, but with just 1:42 left in the contest, there was not enough time for the Caps to mount any further comeback.  The Caps’ six-game winning streak went by the boards, 4-2.

Notes:  The loss dropped the Caps to 1-4-2 on the road… Washington successfully killed off three shorthanded situations, bringing them to 19-for-19 over their last seven games… Neuvirth is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Rangers 4 – Capitals 2

Monday, November 12, 2012

When There's 64

Someday, perhaps even this season, the National Hockey League will stop playing games and start playing games.  If there is to be a season this season, it will not be of the 82-game sort.  It could very well be a 64-game season.  That is a number that would make sense.  In each of the last four seasons NHL teams have played 64 games within conference, 18 in the other conference.  An abbreviated season would likely mean that each club would be restricted to an intra-conference schedule.

A 64-game intra-conference schedule then begs the questions for Caps fans, “is this a good thing, or is it a bad thing?”  Start with the face that the NHL has used the 64-18 conference split format for the last four seasons.  In each of the four seasons the Caps out-performed their overall record in their Eastern Conference schedule:

Over the last four seasons the Caps have averaged a record of 40-15-9, which works out to a 114-point pace over 82 games.  Only once in four seasons have the Caps had a record against the West of better than .500 (standings points).  Avoiding that west coast trip that always seems to stymie the Caps would have to be considered a good thing, at least for this regular season.  But is their record against the East any better than that of their Southeast Division counterparts?

Of the five teams in the Southeast the Caps are the only one to have averaged better than a standings point earned per game in all four seasons against Eastern Conference teams.  The down side of that is that the Caps have seen diminishing returns over the last three years (1.53, 1.41, and 1.19 standings points per game).  Fortunately, only Atlanta/Winnipeg has shown continuous improvement in that regard over the same three seasons (1.00, 1.03, 1.05).

One could argue that a lot of that record has been built by the Caps at the expense of the rest of the division in intra-divisional play.  In fact, the Caps have been successful in that regard.  They are the only team in the Southeast to average more than a standings point earned per game in intra-divisional play over the last four seasons and the only team to achieve at least ten wins in each of those four seasons.

However, the Caps have enjoyed broader success in the East outside of the division than have their Southeast competition.  They are, again, the only team in the Southeast to have averaged more than a standings point per game against Eastern Conference teams outside the division in each of the last four seasons.  And only one team in the Southeast averaged more standings points per game against other Eastern teams than did the Caps (Florida last season, 1.25 to 1.20).

Seven Capitals from the 2008-2009 team who appeared in at least 20 games are still with the club.  That says a lot about turnover.  But within that group is the core of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, and Karl Alzner.  The Caps have maintained an ability to outperform their divisional competition despite turning over two-thirds of the skaters and replacing both goaltenders.  That the Caps have been able to maintain an advantage in performance in the face of that turnover speaks to the ability of the core to perform at an effective level in the context of their division and conference in the regular season.

The effect of losing the production of an Alexander Semin, who has had an especially productive career against Southeast Division teams (87-76-163 in 157 career games against Southeast Division teams), especially when that player goes to the team that is likely to be the Caps stiffest competition in the Southeast in whatever season might be played this year.

Still, the Caps recent history of success in the East suggest that should that season be played, and should it be limited to intra-conference play, the Caps will do well enough to secure a playoff spot.