Monday, October 08, 2007

While we're at it...

In Dump and Chase, Mike Vogel notes that the Caps' win this afternoon was accomplished with the fewest shots ever recorded in a Caps' win (12).

While we're at it, the two goals allowed in the first three games is the fewest allowed in the first three games in the history of the franchise. Twice (in 1995-96 and 1997-98) the Caps allowed as few as four goals in their first three regular season games. It is only the fourth time in the history of the franchise that the club has gotten off to a 3-0 start.

A TWO Point Night -- Caps vs. Islanders, October 8th

Today’s word, boys and girls, is “opportunistic.”

The Caps defeated the Islanders 2-1 this afternoon to spoil “Kids’ Opening Day” at Nassau Veterans Memorial Colisseum in what was the kind of game you look at and think, “there’s one we coulda-woulda-shoulda lost.” How many times would you think there would be games in which Alexander Ovechkin was held without a shot, and the Caps would still win?

The Caps started slow (six shots in the first period) and got slower (six over the last two periods). But when opportunities were presented, they took advantage. Viktor Kozlov managed to solve Islander goalie Rick DiPietro for the tying goal in the second period (Ovechkin recorded the lone assist on a fine pass to Kozlov in the high slot for his third point in three games), and Brooks Laich pounced on a rebound that trickled just out of the reach of DiPietro, sweeping the puck past the sprawled goalie and diving defenseman Radek Martinek for the lead the Caps would not relinquish.

At the other end, Olaf Kolzig offered another effort to suggest that pre-season numbers (2-2, 3.59, .853) probably doesn’t mean much one way or another for veterans. Kolzig stopped 30 of 31 shots (that’s 53 of 54 in two games). His stop of a Bill Guerin re-direction on an Islander 5-on-3 was perhaps the stop of the game.

It was one of those games where the Caps had to get down and root around in the muck, because that’s the Islanders’ style, and it is one that isn’t going to give much life to the Caps’ advantage in skill. The Caps – to their credit – held their own, and the tale is in the numbers...

– Last year, the Islanders had the look of the more physical team when playing the Caps. Today, however, the Islanders weren’t so dominating. The Caps had 22 hits to 21 for the home team.

– Ovechkin had that goose egg on the shot counter, but he had five of those hits. Maybe he’ll take Pettinger’s spot on the checking line. Well, maybe not.

– The Caps won the turnover battle (takeways-plus-opponents’ giveaways) 19-16. The remarkable number here was “four.” That is how many giveaways the Caps had – the other side of puck possession being that you keep possession of the puck.

– Once more, the Caps won the battles in the circles, 29-24. Boyd Gordon won 13 of 20 draws. Only Michael Nylander found himself on the losing end of a majority of draws.

– Mike Comrie, who came into the game 4-2-6, +3, finished the game 0-0-0, -1, with four giveaways, 8-for-18 on draws, and two minor penalties to show for his effort.

– It was the third straight game in which the Caps took four minor penalties, and it was the third straight game in which they killed them all. The 12-for-12 is worth noting in that last year after three games, the Caps were 15-of-18. Cutting the times shorthanded by a third can be a key ingredient to their success this year.

In other areas...Brian Pothier actually getting the puck on net – a problem for the defensemen last year – allowed for the rebound that Laich collected and curled around DiPietro for the game winner...Tom Poti’s sweep-away check on a Trent Hunter breakaway was the play-of-the-game for the the moment, only Nashville has allowed fewer goals than have the Caps (one in two games, compared to two in three for the Caps).

There are things one would like to see work more effectively – the power play and getting some more crooked numbers on the score sheet from Tomas Fleischmann come to mind. But right now, the Caps are 3-0. Say it slowly, let it roll off the lips...thr-r-r-r-r-r-ee and oh.

Thr-r-r-r-r-r-r-ree and oh.

Is Glen Hanlon Sleeping Better?

James Mirtle, whose blog is a never-ending font of interesting stuff, asked the question, "who is a coach's worst nightmare?" By that, he meant to begin to address the matter of the league's worst defensive players -- defenseman and forward. Caps fans will not like the lists (click for larger images):

You'll note that the leaders are not with or are not currently in the lineup for the Caps (and folks in Calgary might take note of #3 among the defensemen). He is quick to point out that these are not lists of the worst defensive players, that more factors need to be incorporated into the analysis. But it still can't be an honor to find oneself on such a list.

Thanks, Desmond...

Desmond Bieler (a hockey name, if ever there was one) penned a "Throwing it Out There" piece in today's Washington Post. In, he talks about five things people like about the NHL -- a response to a perceived lack of notice that the regular season is now underway. The five he notes, and we'll let you read his piece to see the whys, are:

The Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Zamboni
The fighting
The Hockey Song
The contrarianism

We have no quarrel with any of those things. All are integral to what makes hockey, "hockey." But his having expressed the wish that, "We wanted to go in a different direction and find out what people actually like about the NHL, eh?"...well, we'll do just that, too (we'll even add one). In no particular order:

1. The pace.

We are not talking about just the speed -- the fact that you have players gliding at high velocities around a 200-by-85 sheet of ice. It is the fact that the sport encourages continuous action. Substitutions are made "in-play," the game is not divided into "plays" with a clear beginning and end (like baseball or football). And, with pace comes the violence of collisions. A well-executed hit in hockey is among the most exhillarating aspects of the game, and one that can energize fans and change the momentum of a contest.

2. The athleticism.

Perhaps no other team sport requires such a combination of strength, endurance, balance, dexterity, vision, speed, and quickness. That these men could perform all of those feats on two thin blades of steel is astonishing. The Peerless marvels at how they can make the simple act of skating look like a stroll down the lane, and how they can maintain their wits (not to mention their ability to remain upright) with very large men with malice in their hearts bearing down on them.

3. The access

It is always a source of wonder and happiness that hockey players seem the most accessible and accommodating to fans of any professional athlete. Even the stars seem more like just guys who happen to play hockey than the elite of their profession -- with the behavior that often accompanies it. It is one of the most underreported, if not underappreciated, aspects of the NHL. Guys...on behalf of fans everywhere, thanks. And that applies not only to players. Caps fans have the pleasure of perhaps the most accessible owner in all of team sports in Ted Leonsis. The Peerless cannot fathom George Steinbrenner either having a blog or responding personally to e-mails.

4. The uniforms

Leaving whatever opinion one might have of the new designs aside (and like in all things, some are great, some are....not so), hockey uniforms are simply the best. Sure, you have the occasional fashion faux-pas (the Caps white pants, and the Vancouver pajama tops come to mind), but are there any better uniforms or logos in all of sports than the Montreal "CH" or the winged wheel of Detroit, or the "B" with the spokes running into it signifying Boston as "the hub?"

5. The Goalies

They are among the most mysterious athletes in team sports, trussed up in pads and gloves and hidden behind a caged mask. No position in any other major team sport carries more naked responsibility (yes, we acknowledge soccer and lacrosse goalies having similar responsibilities). You are there to stop pucks. That is your job description. If you can start a play up ice like a Martin Brodeur, that's a bonus, but if he couldn't stop pucks, he'd be a defenseman in a beer league (well, maybe the AHL). And when you don't stop pucks, everyone knows it was you who failed. You've got to fish that puck out of your net. Ah, but when you do -- especially on a breakaway or with a glove darting out to foil a drive -- fans chant your name, and the energy ripples through the whole team.

6. The quirkiness

The Peerless remembers a television show from the not-so-distant past called "Northern Exposure." Set in Alaska (coincidentally), it was a show depicting a community of characters who were equal parts independent and unique. Well, that's hockey, too. Hockey has so much about it that you just don't find in other sports -- things that are enduring and endearing...the trophies, for example. Hockey fans know without having to think what the "Hart," the "Ross," and the "Conn Smythe" represent. What the heck is the "Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy?"

Then there are the nicknames. These days, a Brendan Witt becomes a "Witter," a Steve Konowalchuk becomes a "Kono," a Michael Nylander becomes a "Nyles." And when The Peerless hears the nickname for Alexander Ovechkin -- "Ovie" -- he starts conjuring the tune to "The Andy Griffith Show." But more than that, there are the nicknames of years gone by...Don "Grapes" Cherry, Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrrion, Harry "Apple Cheeks" Lumley, Ken "the Rat" Linseman, and the Richards -- Maurice and Henri -- the "Rocket" and the "Pocket Rocket." Hockey abounds with them.

The Peerless thinks hockey lost something when the NHL took away the division names associated with men of the sport -- Patrick, Norris, Adams, Smythe. It was part of what made hockey, "hockey," and we hope the NHL sees fit to restore that bit of history soon.

We could go on and on about what we like about hockey and the NHL, but we'll leave that to you, dear reader. Desmond asked what people like about the NHL...well, chime in. The NHL has taken a pasting in the media the last few years. Let 'em know that there are things to like, things that make the hockey and the NHL special.