Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another "Shop Ovechkin" Moment

OK, this is past nuts. First it was Larry Brooks...then it was Ted Kulfan.

Now, it's Mike Brophy over at The Hockey News opining on the matter of Alex Ovechkin and whether or not he should be moved.

Brophy frames his argument with a question...

But what if Ovechkin doesn’t want to play in Washington any longer? What if the young superstar tells the Caps he’d prefer to play someplace a little more cosmopolitan than Washington? You know, it could happen.

Uh, Mike? With the possible exception of New York City, there might not be a more "cosmopolitan" city in North America than Washington. If you want to make the argument that there might be more "hockey-centric" cities, be my guest. There are probably scores of them.

He dips his toe into the waters of a trade discussion by suggesting that, "Caps GM George McPhee should, at the very least, explore the possibility of trading the 22-year-old sniper." But that is something of a red herring. He gets right to the point soon...

Let’s face it, with Ovechkin in their lineup, the Capitals have shown no signs of being a playoff team. There are no guarantees re-signing Ovechkin will make the Capitals a successful franchise.

It always comes down to that...Washington. It isn't enough of a hockey locale to suit the likes of Brooks, Kulfan, and now Brophy. There is a fair amount of window dressing in the form of dredging up the Lindros-for-the-world trade between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Quebec Nordiques that led (so the argument goes) to Stanley Cups for Colorado (after their move out of Canada) and "squat" for the Flyers. And, if Wayne Gretzky could be traded, anyone could. But the argument seems to boil down in some manner, shape, or form to "Washington doesn't deserve Ovechkin." We won't mention too loudly that the Nordiques also had a guy named "Sakic" who came in a deal wholly separate from the Lindros caper (Caps fans will certainly remember the particulars), not to mention some goalie that came from Montreal..."Roy," I believe his name was.

Hey, here's a thought. Pittsburgh is sitting two games over .500...they have a goalie on the shelf who was playing rather inconsistently (not to mention hasn't won anything of note in the playoffs as a pro at any level), and have a rather pedestrian defense. Think they ought to be sending out feelers for Sidney Crosby?

Larry...Ted...Mike. The NHL is a 30-team league. It isn't just New York, Detroit, and Canada, much as the TV types would wish it so. There are the Carolina's, Tampa Bay's, Calgary's, and Edmonton's that can and do reach a Stanley Cup final from time to time...even Washington has done it. So, please, stop trying to move Alex Ovechkin. And maybe look past Ovechkin when assessing the prospects of the Capitals...a couple of Calder Cup final teams in the AHL that have graduated the likes of Mike Green and Jeff Schultz...the emergence of a Nicklas Backstrom...guys like Karl Alzner waiting in the wings to join young guys like Alexander Semin and Boyd Gordon. The prospects for this franchise might not be as bleak -- with an Alex Ovechkin -- as your opinion suggests.


Perhaps Detroit wasn't expecting this kind of effort from a team it had a 21-point lead on in the league standings, but they paid their respects afterward...

"They got the puck going out of their zone in a hurry. I thought they played well; I was impressed. I really was. I thought it was a hard battle for us. There's not any teams that keep us off kilter all night long like they did tonight..."

-- Head Coach Mike Babcock

"They have a real good future, both of them. They're real mature for their age and they'll be big stars for a long time."

-- Henrik Zetterberg, speaking of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom

"He loves hockey and that's a fantastic thing. It's always great when superstars love the game because to me, that's contagious -- the enthusiasm -- and people like to watch people who love (playing) hockey. It reminds me of Pavel [Datsyuk] in that way. There's a stigma, a little bit that Russian guys don't [love the game]. Yet, both of them have a riot playing the game."

-- Babcock, on Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk

...thanks to the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News for the highlights.

A one-point night: Red Wings 4 - Caps 3 (OT/SO)

Step back…take a breath…and think of this number…


Those were the combined number of home wins for the Caps’ opponents on this abbreviated two-game road trip. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings ranked third and first in the league, respectively, in that category. And the Caps won three of four possible points in those hostile environments. It makes last night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Red Wings a little bit more palatable when looked at in the larger perspective.

Often – too often this year – we’ve noted points that the Caps have squandered. Well, last night they stole one. On paper – our prognostications notwithstanding – the Caps probably shouldn’t have been within three goals of the Red Wings, given their talent and ten-game points-earned streak. The Red Wings got to add a win to that streak, but it didn’t come easily, taking Bettman’s Gimmick to get it. In the hockey portion of the evening, the Caps played the Red Wings as even-steven as it gets, the teams splitting six goals, 60 shots, and 16 total turnovers right down the middle.

And, Alex Ovechkin had the game on his stick in the overtime when he took a nice feed from Mike Green and skated in alone on Detroit goalie Dominik Hasek. Ovechkin couldn’t nudge the biscuit across the line, though, and the decision was left to Bettman’s Gimmick.

Which brings us to the one discouraging word you’ll read here…Olaf Kolzig hasn’t been a very good shootout goaltender. In the hockey portion of the competition, he’s been dependable, superb at times. But in the three years of Bettman’s Gimmick, he’s stopped 44 of 75 shots (.587 save percentage). In the last two years, it’s 15 of 31 (.484). We’re sure there are theories – big goalies are at a disadvantage, shooters know the holes, blah-blah-blah…but shootouts have been a problem – scoring in them and defending them.

That said, Kolzig kept the Caps in it when the Red Wings were threatening on a couple of occasions to take command. His save in the last two minutes of the second period at the end of an almost-two-on-one with Jiri Hudler just stepping onto the ice in time to feed Tomas Kopecky in deep was highlight-reel quality. And one might keep in mind that the Red Wings hadn’t lost in regulation on Joe Louis Arena ice in eight consecutive games, averaging 4.1 goals a game in the process and notching five goals in three of the last four. All things considered, Kolzig had a solid game.

As for the rest of the numbers, there isn’t much to pick from that give hints of advantage one way or another – the teams were that even. A couple of them do stick out…

-- The Caps had no takeaways…none.

-- Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for 8:22 of the Caps’ total of 11:22 in power play time. That might not be especially unusual, but his 17:46 in even strength time was almost two-and-a-half minutes more than any other forward.

-- Quintin Laing led the team in hits with four. He hasn’t been just a guy to fill a sweater in his call-up from Hershey. He’s contributed the gritty sort of stuff – hits, blocked shots – that a club needs as much as scoring.

-- The Caps had only four giveaways – half the number the Red Wings had. Without that kind of discipline with the puck, this game probably doesn’t go to overtime.

-- David Steckel shook off some sub-par performances in the circle, winning 13 of 16 draws (81.3 percent). This game being even as it was, though, Johan Franzen had similar results for the Red Wings (12-of-15).

Losing isn’t fun, even if it comes as the result of a gimmick. But three points in the two road games is another brick in what the Caps have built over the last three weeks. Now 7-4-2 in their last 13 and 5-2-1 in December, the club might not be putting together a long unbeaten streak, but they are on a run of some solid hockey coming against good competition (the last seven games have been against playoff teams from last year).

We said at the top of the year that the Caps would likely struggle early, but be a much better team late. We didn’t think they’d struggle so much as to find themselves last in the league and playing for a new coach, but the team they are right now is looking more and more like the team we thought they’d be developing into. There is much more road to travel – 48 games worth – but Caps fans ought to be rather pleased with this team, right now.