Saturday, August 30, 2008

How they're made

This Labor Day weekend, as we're anticipating hurricanes and hockey season, we'll leave you with a couple of how-do-they-make-that videos...

This being Labor Day weekend here in the U.S., remember...someone has to make those pucks, sticks, masks, and skates. See you in a couple of days...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Empty Headers?

The Boss takes note of a blog entry at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that is a thinly-veiled slap at Caps fans and their “devotion” to their team. On the matter of the likelihood that Verizon Center will once more, as the line of argument goes, be a “home game” for the Penguins when they visit, blogger Seth Rorabaugh opines that fans of the Penguins will be able to get tickets without having to pay the $15 premium added to the price for that game…

“…getting those tickets might be a little tougher than they have been the past three seasons. But considering how many tickets were available on StubHub and other ticket broker sites for the March 9 game, Capitals season ticket holders will probably be more than willing to help you again in 2008-09.”

Ted chose to take the “high road” in his blog by reminding folks, via photograph, of the sea of red that was the norm as last season was hurtling to its exciting finish. We do not feel so encumbered. So, here’s a tip from your Uncle Peerless, Pens fans…

Get over yourselves, already.

The Capitals, in the throes of the meltdown of a season that was 2003-2004, having underachieved, overpaid, and ultimately cratered as a franchise under the weight of bad contracts and bad play, still managed to average almost 15,000 a game while earning 59 standings points. That attendance figure was good, if such a term could be used, for 25th in the league

Meanwhile, up at the confluence, the Penguins, themselves enduring a season of woe – finishing with 58 standings points – couldn’t manage that. 11,877 fans, on average, trudged their way to Mellon “Arena” to suffer an insufferable season…dead last in the league in attendance. They were 28th in the league in capacity filled (the Caps were 25th).

The Penguins and the Capitals have been teams joined at the hip in a lot of ways over the last two decades, the Penguins enjoying the upper hand on the scoreboard in most years. In one of the ways the Penguins and Capitals have shared a struggle is in the matter of filling seats. The Penguins went to the Eastern Conference finals in the 2000-2001 season, one in which they also drew more than 16,000 fans a game, almost 99 percent of capacity. Not coincidentally, that happened to be the last year in which Jaromir Jagr skated for the Penguins.

And there is something in that. The Penguins, having had the blessings of a Mario Lemieux, a Jagr, and now a Sidney Crosby, might be said to be a “star-dependent” franchise. Truth is, from 2001-2002 through 2003-2004, the Penguins – without a Lemieux (at least the one fans knew from years past), a Jagr, or a Crosby – averaged 14,091 fans a game (including that 30th-in-the-league in 2004). And that included one last hurrah for Lemieux in 2002-2003 when he had 91 points in 67 games. Over those same three years, in two of which the Caps failed to make the playoffs, Washington averaged 15,949 a game, although those years did include the presence of Jagr. Jagr, though, was largely reviled for his lackluster effort as those years wore on.

The point here is that the insufferable look-down-their-noses attitude of Penguin fans toward Capitals fans is largely hollow. Pittsburgh is every bit as much a front-runner, star-dependent town when it comes to hockey as is Washington (and let’s face it Caps fans…Washington is, too). Pittsburgh hockey is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. It has its star into which fans can pour their hopes and dreams, the club is getting a new arena shortly, and the team is winning. In Washington, which seems to have been a year behind Pittsburgh’s curve in their respective rebuilding efforts, fans also have their star. They have a superb arena in which to watch him play. And, most important to the Caps’ success at the gate, the team is winning and showing signs of becoming a perennial contender.

As for this notion of whether the Penguins take over Verizon Center with “40 percent” of the crowd has always, in my mind, been overstated. Sure, the Penguins have enjoyed success at the Caps’ expense in their own building – a sore point among Caps fans, including this one. And that leads to a more enthusiastic response. The Penguins have represented themselves well over the years at Verizon, to their credit. But conversely, who’d want to invest the five hours each way to Pittsburgh and back to watch a game in a decrepit arena such as Mellon?

Pittsburgh is doing well, these days. Good for them. Last year, the Caps gave every indication of following in those footsteps – a marketable star, a talented and successful team being built around him, and full houses in the latter stages of the season that could well carry over into 2008-2009.

Sadly, such things do not generally last for any hockey club not calling Canada its home. Hockey just doesn’t have that kind of foothold in the States. Even in Detroit – “Hockeytown” itself – seats were left empty during last year’s playoffs as Michiganders dealt with a slumping economy.

So enjoy it while it lasts, Penguin fans. And when the Caps host Pittsburgh next February and March, do have a good time watching the game...on TV. Tickets won’t be easy to come by.

Monday, August 25, 2008

On this day in Caps history...August 25th

In 2005...the Caps signed David Steckel as a free agent.

After a four-year career at The Ohio State University (those folks insist on putting "The" in front) -- 50-55-105, +29, in 146 games -- during which he was selected 30th overall in the 2001 entry draft by Los Angeles, he played for a year splitting time with Reading in the ECHL and the Kings' AHL farm club in Manchester. After that 2004-2005 season, he was signed (three years ago on this date) by the Caps.

Steckel has shown himself to be an adept faceoff man a penalty killing/defensive specialist. However, he did have a 30-goal, 61-point campaign (in 71 games) at Hershey in 2006-2007 as the Bears went to the Calder Cup final. Improving on his five-goal output last year certainly doesn't seem out of the question.

Anyway, that's what happened on this day...

The Goaltender's Journey

There will be a lot of eyes focused on the nets this year -- not the ones into which Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin are shooting pucks, but the one defended by Jose Theodore. His is not an enviable position, taking over for as close to a sports icon as hockey has ever produced in the Washington community -- Olaf Kolzig. No pressure, eh?

Well, this got us to thinking about goaltenders for Stanley Cup winners in the post-Gretzky, four-in-five-years era. We were wondering about their respective journeys in getting to hoist the chalice. Did they dance with who brung 'em (drafted them, that is)? If not, were they seasoned with a long resume before arriving at their opportunity? Were they successful with that club in the first year they arrived? Well, here's the tale-of-the-tape...

Eight of 19 Stanley Cup winners in this era were backstopped by goaltenders drafted by that team; nine if you count Chris Osgood's second tour with Detroit. In that respect, the goalie having been drafted by the club winning a Cups doesn't appear to be much of a factor.

Of the 10 instances in which the Stanley Cup winner had an "import," only two -- Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy -- won in their first year with their respective clubs. It is worth noting that in nine of those 10 cases in which a goalie not drafted by the winner was in the nets, the goaltender played at least 266 games with other teams before finding ultimate success.

For those of you wondering where Theodore falls out on this...

It doesn't speak to necessarily winning a Cup this year (chances are, the Caps will not be top-of-the-heap favorites), but there is history in goaltenders taking a long and winding road before finally having their names on the Cup. It bears watching.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thank you Terry Frei

For leaving me with this disturbing mental image...

...I won't sleep for a week.

And now...predictions (no, not ours)

It's August, which is to hockey what the Sahara is to moisture. It's a pretty dry month. That being the case, some folks just can't resist jumping the gun on predictions, even though we have six teams above the opening night cap (leaving them some personnel moves to make) and another half dozen within $2.0 million of it (suggesting that they might be in the market for some salary relief).

But, we do have predictions, and they serve as good as any topic of conversation as the last slow crawl to training camp proceeds. For your argumentative enjoyment...

Built to Last

Back in the 1990’s, when the Dallas Cowboys were winning three Super Bowls in four years in the NFL, the Cowboys’ had their “big three” – quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. By the time the Cowboys had won that third Super Bowl in four years, neither Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, nor Michael Irvin had reached their 30th birthday. It was a reflection of the importance of having a core group of players (in this case, all on offense), a young group at that, and of keeping them together for a period of time. These players shared ten seasons together, from 1990-1999, and were among the most important cogs of what was arguably the most successful team in the NFL in the 1990’s.

It makes one wonder at what passes for the “big three” among NHL teams. During this agonizingly slow stretch of the hockey calendar, we were doodling with lineups and such, and wondered what the 30 teams might look like in terms of their “big threes.” Before we get too deep into this, this isn’t entirely science. One might split hairs over who plays what position among the forwards, or if one player or another is really “big three” caliber (and to extent they’re not, it might be an indicator of a club that is, or will struggle). However, we took a look at the clubs with only a few criteria in mind. The “big three” is comprised of a center, a winger, and a defenseman (goaltenders weren’t included, because they tend have longer lead times to establish themselves, and a goaltender would make “four”). To be a “big three,” the player had to be under 30 years of age, and the players had to be contributors (raw recruits of considerable promise generally aren’t in this group). See? I told you it wasn’t science. But if you’re looking for a theme to this, it is “built to last,” and part of that is how long the trio, under their current contracts (or extensions, if already signed), will be together.

So, with that, here they are, one fan’s look at the 30 “big three’s:”

And what do we glean from this? Well, for those of you paying attention, the Capitals’ big three is the most expensive of the lot, but you already suspected as much, didn’t you? That’s a product of two big-time extensions that will kick in this year.* The other leg of that triad – Nicklas Backstrom – represents some work to do down the road insofar as it is his contract that keeps the three together only through the 2009-2010 season.

We find it interesting that 17 teams will have to reassemble or re-sign their groups after this coming season, since at least one member of the big three has an expiring contract. Only two clubs have groups whose contracts permit them to be together (barring trade or other departure) for more than three years. Curiously, those two are Edmonton, which is generally thought to have a pretty good prospect pool behind such players as Shawn Horcoff, Dustin Penner, and Tom Gilbert; and Tampa Bay, which has almost no one coming in behind the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, and Matthew Carle (well, there is that Stamkos kid…). Opposite poles, as it were.

We’re looking at a snapshot here, and salaries are a moving target. So, divining a relationship between dollars and playoffs is a bit of work. Let’s look at Washington, for example…Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom will represent a $17.2 million cap hit for the 2008-2009 season. The Caps made the playoffs last year when these three represented a $7.1 million cap hit.

Let’s cut to the happy ending…does it matter? We think it does. Continuity and talent are two important ingredients for success in a league where the salary cap and the possibility of large paydays through free agency make for a lot of player movement. However, looking at the group ranked in terms of cap burden suggests that there is a third element here as well. If you look at the list above, nine of the teams in the top half (in terms of cap burden this year) made the playoffs last year. Seven clubs in the lower half made it. Even accounting for the fact that some of these “big threes” include players not on the roster last year, there are eight teams in the top half of the cap rankings having made no changes to that top three that made the playoffs last year, five in the lower half. Money helps, to a point (and in some case, moving up in the rankings reflect rewards for and retention of core elements – Washington is a case in point), but one has to build a team around these guys, too.

Here’s the thing, though. The Capitals have the youngest of the young here. Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green – is the youngest of the 30 big threes. Seeing as how Ovechkin and Green will be together (barring trade or other departure) through the 2011-2012 season, and how Backstrom is on record as saying “I don’t want to play anywhere else in the NHL. Washington is my team,” this could be a group that will be together for quite a stretch. It just another way of showing that this is a club that is being “built to last.”

* The careful reader will note that the Caps’ being at the top of this list comes on something of a technicality – Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin is conspicuously missing from the Penguins’ big three, his being a center. If he was to be included, replacing Ruslan Fedotenko, Pittsburgh’s big three costs $21,400,000. They also stay together through the 2012-2013 season. And, Ottawa has the unsettled matter of defenseman Andrei Meszaros, which could push the Senators past the Capitals in replacing Anton Volchenkov as part of their “big three.”

The first to grab the ice cream cone will win

Code for winning a series-clinching game in the Stanley Cup playoffs? Uh, no (but it wouldn't be bad as such things go). It is the latest of an equal parts disturbing and hilarious offering of video clips from Tuvanhillbilly, for whom the Caps are "a new obsession." Although in the latest offering the combatants for the eagerly sought-after ice cream cone are likened to a certain ex-president and a current professional sports commissioner, we think they have a creepy resemblance to the big-head presidents at Nationals games.

If taking a turn down one of the odder alleys of Caps Nation is your thing, well...Tuvanhillbilly is your tour guide. It's becoming a "must see" destination.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hockey Town or Not a Hockey Town

OK, we've all seen the Ted vs. Ross posts on whether the Caps should be contracted (along with a few other teams, mostly from the Southeast). That led to this post from the source of the "5 ways I'd change the NHL" idea...

The blockbuster box office for the Capitals this summer speaks to two things: The bandwagon nature of the D.C. fan (indisputable) and the reaction from the hockey community to the current incarnation of the team. The guy who works at The Pentagon and cheered for Rod Gilbert as a young Rangers fan is buying the same season ticket as the kid who grew up in Arlington, Va. cheering for Peter Bondra -- they both love the game, and luckily have the means to watch Alexander Ovechkin 41 times a season.

Capitals fans are a proud group (to which my colleague Mr. McKeon can now attest). But what makes Washington an indispensible NHL city goes beyond the fortunes of the local team on or off the ice. For years, the naysayers have been saying D.C. will never be a Capitals town.

They miss the point: It is now, and always shall be, a hockey town.

Well, no, it's not. With all due respect to my fellow wizards, this strikes me as an over-romanticized view of what is happening here. Washington has not been, is not now, and chances are never will be a "hockey town" as the term is known with respect to, say, Toronto or Montreal or Detroit (which, despite a serious economic downturn that has largely been avoided by Washington, outdrew the Caps by almost 3,500 per game last season*).

Let's not let a couple of dozen games and a playoff round dull the memory. This is a club that couldn't draw much more than flies in December, struggled mightily with attendance the past few years, and has never been a consistent draw in the three-plus decades of its existence. It is a club that has not enjoyed a lot of success on the ice, either, with one Stanley Cup final to show for its history. It has only played in two conference finals.

This is not to say that Washington is bereft of hockey fans -- of Caps or of other teams. In fact, we think Wyshynski is dead-on when he states that "Capitals fans are a proud group." That goes for the Fan in Charge, too, who rarely lets a slight to his club go unchallenged. The sight of so many visiting jerseys at Caps games attests to hockey fans from other places who call DC home. And there is certainly a significant blogging footprint in Caps Land, which is as good an indicator as any that there are folks who care, and care deeply about the club.

Washington is a town like a lot of towns in North America when it comes to sports. Fans show up when clubs win; they don't when they lose. That the baseball Nationals, in the inaugural year of their gleaming new facility, could draw barely 70 percent of capacity this season is as good an example as any of the "bandwagon" nature of the fans locally. Only the NFL's Redskins seem immune to this.

From my chair, a "hockey town" is not one that is "personality dependent" (see: Pittsburgh, which doesn't impress me as a hockey town, either). A "hockey town" doesn't watch attendance tank when the team is doing poorly, at least not to the degree it happened here the last few years, despite arguably the game's brightest young star playing here. A "hockey town" is one where the team is covered above the fold on the front page of the sports section when it isn't the last stretch run or the first round of the playoffs. A "hockey town" isn't a sometime thing, a term only to be invoked when things are going well.

I think the Caps are, and are being built for the long haul, to be competitive season-in and season-out. I think that will keep them from having to endure the lowest-of-lows that was the 2003-2004 season and the years right after the lockout. I think it will ultimately make them a top-half or top-third club in attendance, somewhere around maybe 17-17,500 in average attendance. They will probably enjoy more and better local media coverage, but never approaching that of the Redskins (even in the best times) and probably never as consistently good as what coverage the Wizards get in basketball or the Nationals in baseball.

But before one thinks that we're being too negative or contrarian, the Capitals have done wonders for hockey in the community, inspiring a lot of youngsters to take up the sport who would not have in their absence. And that has grown a whole new generation of hockey fans, a lasting contribution to the sport in this area.

There isn't anything wrong with a city that has a hockey team not being a "hockey town." Frankly, we think the whole thought of calling Washington such is part of the intoxication of last year's storybook finish. Washington is a city in which a hockey team -- and hockey -- can thrive. For that, fans and aspiring young hockey players have the Capitals to thank. It is a franchise that has struggled from time to time, and it is entirely possible it will do so again. That doesn't diminsh one iota the passion of the fans -- old and new -- who follow the club, or run it for that matter. Heaven knows, we would put ourselves in that group of passionate fans. It just doesn't convince us that Washington is a "hockey town."

* We realize this is not an entirely fair comparison, as Detroit (which had its own struggles in the 1980's) has enjoyed considerable success for some time now and has much more hockey tradition to draw on, but that serves to support the point, too -- Detroit is a "hockey town," Washington is not.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What is it about that number?

It is a number that means "wealth" or "prosperity" in Chinese culture.

It is the number of gold medals won by Michael Phelps (which would be as many as Australia, South Korea, and Japan)


Saturday, August 16, 2008

There's something about August....

...that makes you think it's January, and a couple of heavyweights are duking it out at center ice. Today's tilt (or more accurately, this week's) pairs off Ross McKeon, nominally the NHL editor for Yahoo (with an exclamation point)-dot-com, but really more of a Left Coast Larry Brooks with his provincialism, taking on the Caps' Supreme Leader, Ted Leonsis.

Earlier in the week, McKeon offered up five ways he'd change the NHL, one of which would involve folding up two teams that have won Stanley Cups in the last five seasons and another that drew in excess of 17,000 to its arena for its last 19 home games last year (including playoffs), selling out 11 of them.

The Caps would be that last team...the one with the attendance bump and, not insignificantly, with the player who won four individual trophies this year.

This prompted a response from The Boss...
"...we play in the Nation’s Capital, the sixth biggest media market in the US. We are the fastest growing team in the league. We have the reigning NHL MVP on our team. We are a team that is built to last. We have a great and growing fan base. We will be a perennial playoff team for a long, long time. We intend to win a Stanley Cup. We are part of the fabric of our community. We love our fans and they love us back. We have built a franchise that is worth a quarter of a billion dollars with blood, sweat, tears and a major cash investment...."

It was reminiscent of another short year ago...between the insufferably smug, yet adorably ignorant Steve Czaban of what is now ESPN980 sports radio and...yup, The Boss.

980's "The Sports Reporters" (an odd choice of show title, since they don't covey much about sports, and seem less like "reporters" than they do kids in a tree house talking about girls) apparently had disparaging things to say on their show regarding the rationality of DC United fans flocking to see mega-star David Beckham. Ted blogged about their not "getting it" with respect to sports coverage. Then he twisted the knife a bit...and a bit more...Steve Czaban took umbrage and decided to take it upon himself to take Ted to the woodshed, to which Ted pretty much responded, "it that all you got?"

Whatever you think about the antagonists in these spats, you gotta agree...

...there's something about August.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Calendar Mind Tricks

One of the tricks I employ when I look at a calendar and wish a future date might arrive faster is to look back the same number of days, weeks, or months and think about what I was doing then.

Well, as of today, we have 30 days until rookie camp. 30 days...ok, so what were you doing on July 16th? Here are some of the highlights from around and around...

-- Atlanta re-signed Kari Lehtonen

-- Terry Murray was named the new coach of the Los Angeles Kings

-- The NHL announced that the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks would face off at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day, 2009

-- The Dauphin County (PA) Commissioners declared July 16, 2008, as Bruce Boudreau Day in Dauphin County

-- The Ottawa Sun reported a "hot" rumor that would have had goaltender Martin Gerber and defenseman Andrej Meszaros sent to Los Angeles, forward Anze Kopitar dealt to Chicago, and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and either defenseman Brent Seabrook or defenseman Cam Barker moved to Ottawa...still waiting on that one.

-- and Eklund was reporting a rumor that Eric Lindros was going to be returning to the NHL as a Dallas Star...we're still waiting on that one, too.

Just as we are waiting on the start of rookie camp and the first whiff of the new season.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

On this day in Caps history...August 10th

It was 2005. The Caps were coming out of the lockout. They already had their cornerstone in place to lead the offense. They needed those pillars of the blue line to anchor the defense. And on this date, they made their play for a pair of free agents to fill the bill...

Ivan Majesky...Mathieu Biron

The rest, as they say, is history.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Ten Games That Mattered

We’ve got one last (probably) look back at the 2007-2008 season, and the theme is “Ten Games That Mattered.” They aren’t from among those last dozen games down the stretch when the Caps went 11-1-0 to clinch a playoff spot (ok, one is). It would be too easy on one hand, too hard on the other to pick from among those games. Not all of the games we’re looking at are wins, either. Perhaps not all are obvious for their importance, but this is The Peerless’ take…

Game 3 – October 8, 2007: Washington 2 - at New York Islanders 1

Why did it matter?...12 shots, none for Alex Ovechkin. This would be the third win in a 3-0-0 start, but one had the feeling (certainly in hindsight) that something was amiss. The Islanders, after all, were not a strong team, and yet they outshot the Caps, 31-12. Ovechkin was held without a shot, the only time in the 2007-2008 season it would happen, and only the second time in his career. After three games, the Caps had a total of seven goals on 85 shots. And while the Caps also yielded only two goals on a total of 83 shots, they suddenly – in this Islanders games – were exposed as a team that seemed more fit for the pre-lockout style of hockey…play it close to the vest, don’t give up any chances, look for an opportunity. As one looks back, it was a win, but it also was an indicator that perhaps there was a lack of fit between the philosophy on the ice and the talents of the players being asked to fulfill it.

2. Game 7 – October 20, 2007: Pittsburgh 2 – at Washington 1

Why did it matter?...”I played a hunch.” That was what coach Glen Hanlon said after the game regarding the surprise start of backup goalie Brent Johnson. Johnson played well (20 saves on 22 shots faced), but for the seventh straight game, the Caps could not score more than three goals. They had a total of 14 through those seven games. The power play was 4-for-34. The new guys – Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, and Tom Poti – who were to have injected some offense – had combined for a total 4-6-10, -3. The Caps had now given up their three-win start and were 3-4-0. Even we said at the time it was a game that mattered. And what mattered was that the Caps’ season was disintegrating rapidly before our eyes.

3. Game 21 – November 21, 2007: Atlanta 5 – at Washington 1

Why did it matter?...because it was rock bottom. This was the low point of the Capitals’ season. The Caps defeated the Thrashers on opening night in Atlanta and lost in overtime on November 6th. But this…this was beating a whipped dog. Since the opening run of three wins, the Caps were 3-13-1 coming into this game. Atlanta had won six of seven coming in, and after a scoreless first period, hit the Caps with a two-by-four, scoring five goals in under 23 minutes of clock time. Two of the goals came from Ilya Kovalchuk. Tobias Enstrom had three assists. But there were the faintest glimmers of some themes that would emerge later…asked after the game if he thought the players could turn things around despite being last in the league in points, coach Glen Hanlon replied, “you never stop believing.” That sounded like the title of a song that would become an anthem for the Caps in the months to come, but alas, Hanlon would not be there to see it. This would be his last game behind the Caps bench.

4. Game 22 – November 23, 2007: Washington 4 – at Philadelphia 3 (OT)

Why did it matter?...a coach who had been a minor league lifer stepped behind the bench. At this point, it hardly seemed to matter that Bruce Boudreau, late of the Hershey Bears, has being asked to clean up a toxic dump of a season with a few sheets of paper towels. The Caps were 6-14-1, last in the NHL. Only three times had they managed more than three goals in a game. They’d given up four or more goals in four of the last five. Alex Ovechkin had five goals in the previous six games, but the rest of the club had a total of eight.

In fact, this game started as a microcosm of the season. The Caps got out to a 3-0 lead deep into the second period. But, the Flyers scored two goals late in that second period, then got a late tally from Mike Richards in the third to tie the game, and the “feel-good” story of a Boudreau win in his NHL coaching debut seemed destined to have an unhappy ending instead. But less than two minutes into overtime, Alex Ovechkin drove to the Flyer net, dragging two defenders with him. When Martin Biron made the initial save on Ovechkin’s shot, Nicklas Backstrom swooped into the void, curled the puck onto his forehand, and in one motion roofed it over the sprawled Biron to give Boudreau the win in his debut. It was Boudreau who had (as would often become the case) the money quote after the game…"I just think the mind-set sometimes has got to change, and the culture's got to change. They've got to believe that they're really good players." No one would believe it of a 7-14-1 team that they had “really good players.” They’d be proven wrong.

5. Game 34 – December 17, 2007: at Detroit 4 – Washington 3 (OT/SO)

Why did it matter?...The Caps went to Detroit 7-4-1 in the 12 games since Bruce Boudreau stepped behind the bench. But it couldn’t be said that the wins came against a lot of “quality” opponents. Only two of the seven wins were earned outside of what was thought to be a weak Southeast Division (against New Jersey and in overtime against the Rangers, both at home). On this night, they’d be facing the gold standard for yardstick purposes – the Red Wings, who came into the game 23-6-3 overall, and 14-2-1 at home (they had not lost at home to any team in regulation except Chicago). Perhaps it was the Red Wings taking the Caps lightly, but the Caps took advantage of the situation, withstanding a quick punch in the nose in the form of a Tomas Holmstrom goal at 3:57 of the first and scoring two of their own in the opening period, courtesy of Alex Ovechkin and Jeff Schultz (the latter in the last 30 seconds of the period). Detroit regained the lead with goals by Henrik Zetterbeg and Holmstrom, but the Caps would not relent. After Pavel Datsyuk took a seat in the penalty box after shooting the puck over the glass, Alexander Semin capitalized on the ensuing power play to tie the game. There was no scoring in the overtime session, leaving things to The Gimmick, which Detroit “won,” 2-1, to earn the extra standings point. But against a quality opponent, on their home ice, the Caps played them as evenly as one could expect…65 minutes, and both teams had three goals on 30 shots. It wasn’t a shout, perhaps, but maybe just a suggestion that this team wasn’t nearly as bad as its first 21 games.

6. Game 39 – December 29, 2007: Washington 8 – at Ottawa 6

Why did it matter?...The night before, the Caps lost in overtime at Pittsburgh, 4-3, on a goal by former Cap Sergei Gonchar. What’s more, Alex Ovechkin sustained a cut in his leg that required stitches. The Caps, 8-5-4 under Boudreau and within five games of .500, could have been a snack for the Senators, who usually seem to find a way to score often against the Caps. It was the Caps that got off fast, though, with an Alexander Semin goal 61 seconds into the game. After that, it was the Rocky and Apollo show. Rocky, in this case, was the stitched-up Ovechkin. He scored the next two Caps goals, sandwiched around a Daniel Alfredsson goal for the Senators. And when the Caps and Senators traded goals like haymakers into the third period, Ovechkin scored the hat trick at 13:46. After Mike Fisher scored to close the gap to 7-6, Ovechkin sealed the deal with a 180-foot empty netter for the win. Four goals (on five shots – he hit a post with the other) and an assist represented Ovechkin’s first five-point game of his career (it would not be his last of the season). But more to the point, the Caps did defeat what was (at least at the time) a quality opponent, on their ice, and in a fashion where they had to withstand several comebacks by the Senators. The Caps were still only 15-19-5, but they were now a team to be reckoned with.

7. Game 47 – January 19, 2008: at Washington 5 – Florida 3

Why did it matter?...because, as Bruce Boudreau put it, “we’ve officially reached mediocrity.” The Caps climbed back to .500 (21-21-5), doing so by going 15-7-4 under Boudreau since he took over. Getting there, though, was not pretty. The Caps rocketed out to a 3-0 lead on a pair of goals by Viktor Kozlov around a marker by John Erskine (yes…John Erskine). The three goals came on three consecutive shots. Perhaps feeling a bit fat and happy, the Caps let the Panthers get them all back. However, these being the Caps of January, and not those of October, the Caps regained the momentum and finished off the Panthers on goals by Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin. But there was something else, something captured by (of all people) Panther color analyst Denis Potvin on the Florida TV feed as Ovechkin was skating through the Panther zone as if the puck was velcroed to his stick…”The people here – I tell ya – the best crowd here I’ve ever seen here at the Verizon Center; they’re all on their feet. They’re just having a ball watching the great Alexander Ovechkin play, and they can watch him for another 13 years…they talk about highlight reel plays; that was a highlight reel shift by Alexander Ovechkin.” That kind of crowd would figure mightily in things down the road.

8. Game 52 – January 31, 2008: at Washington 5 – Montreal 4 (OT)

Why did it matter?...Good seasons can become great, for a team or a player, in a single game. In this one, the Caps were coming home to finish off a home-and-home against the Canadiens, who defeated the Caps 4-0 two nights earlier in Montreal. This is when stars have to step up, and the Caps’ star did so in a big way. Alex Ovechkin put his stamp on his own personal hat trick – four goals, a broken nose, and a slobberknocker hit on Steve Begin that sent him twirling in the air. Ovechkin also took stitches in his lip for good measure after getting hit with a puck. It was more than his second career five-point game (he added an assist on a goal by Viktor Kozlov), it was the sort of “knock-me-down, and-I’ll-come-back-for-more” performance that catapulted Ovechkin’s season from the very very good to the legendary status. He shot, he scored, he was hit in the boards, hit back, scored some more, and then scored the game-winner in overtime. You could find worse (and less believable) scripts in Hollywood. His second four-goal game of the season made him the first player to accomplish that feat since the 1995-1996 season, when it was done by Peter Bondra and Mario Lemieux. From here on out, Ovechkin would be the prohibitive favorite to win the Hart Trophy as league’s most valuable player. But more than that, it preserved the Caps’ tenuous foothold on .500 (24-23-5).

9. Game 65 – February 29, 2008: Washington 4 – at New Jersey 0

Why did it matter? guys, one in particular. This was the second game for the Caps after the trading deadline at which they acquired goaltender Cristobal Huet, and forwards Sergei Fedorov and and Matt Cooke. Huet and Fedorov dressed for the first time in this game. It would be against an opponent and a goaltender – Martin Brodeur – that historically gave the Caps fits. But Brodeur wasn’t the best goaltender on this night. That would be the new guy wearing ‘38’ at the other end of the ice. Despite the final score, Huet had to be sharp when it mattered, turning away Zach Parise on a breakaway and Jamie Langenbrunner on a point-blank rebound barely a minute apart when the game was scoreless in the second period. Mike Green scored a few minutes later, and the Caps added three in the third to slay Brodeur. For the Caps, it was a win, but one with significance considering the opponent. Not only was Jersey a persistent thorn in the side of the Caps in recent seasons, but it was the first time the Devils were shut out since December 18th. And, the loss in regulation was Jersey’s first in 10 games (7-1-2). It would be hard to quarrel with the opinion that the Caps were by now a pretty good team.

10. Game 71 – March 12, 2008: at Washington 3 – Calgary 2

Why did it matter?...This game from among the last dozen is included, not because it represents a beginning (the first win of the 11 the Caps would earn in the last stretch), but because it represents an ending. Three nights earlier, the Caps lost a second consecutive game in regulation – the first time it had happened under Bruce Boudreau. And, they lost it in especially ugly fashion. Losing to Pittsburgh is never pleasant, but in this instance a 2-2 tie was broken by…Nicklas Backstrom. That’s right, this was the “own goal” game in which Backstrom, trying to fire the puck off the end boards and out of danger from in front of his own net, backhanded the puck past Cristobal Huet and into his own net. Adding insult to the injury, Sidney Crosby was credited with the goal. Fast forward to March 12th, and Calgary came to town with their own star of stars, Jarome Iginla. It could have been the beginning of the end of a sweet story, and it looked like precisely that when Calgary took a 2-1 lead mid-way through the second period. But then, again, the Caps’ star took over. It was Alex Ovechkin scoring the tying goal on a power play late in the second period to tie the game, and scoring again on another power play with just under two minutes in regulation to provide the margin of victory. It also bears noting that this would be the 300th win for goaltender Olaf Kolzig, one that has to be regarded among the most important at a critical time. It was the 11th time in 12 games Kolzig had held a team to three goals or fewer. He would do so one more time in a 4-1 win against Atlanta, his last win in a Capitals uniform.

Even after this win against Calgary, the Caps would find themselves staring up out of a deep hole – seven points behind then-division leading Carolina and four points out of eighth-place and an at-large playoff spot. But the rest, as we know, is history. The Caps went on to win 10 of their last 11 games after the Calgary win, overtaking the Hurricanes to win the Southeast Division and gaining a third-seed for the playoffs. But along the way, there were games that mattered. If you have one that’s not included here, let us know what you think.

Friday, August 08, 2008


In this morning's New York Times, in a nod to today's date, illustrator Ben Schott takes a look at some "notable miscellaneous octads." Among them (click for a larger image)...

In these parts, Caps fans (and Caps' moms) have an appreciation for a more specific notable octad...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Happy Birthday...from a few friends

Tomorrow will be a day celebrated across the hockey firmament, a day when bells will peal, choirs of heavenly angels will raise their voices, when all who worship at the altar that is hockey will give thanks.

For it is Sidney Crosby's 21st birthday.

We have it on good word that a few of his friends and admirers from the sport have offered their gifts in appreciation and celebration...

"Happy Birthday, Sidney...If I could, I'd give you the sun, the moon, and the stars."


"Here's a pair of boxing gloves...learn to fight, ya putz."

-- Andy F.

"These'll be the best wings you have this year."

Many Happy Returns,

"Here...they're to your own place...please, get out!"


Dear Sidney,

I didn't want you to go blind from the glare of my four trophies and my world championship medal. Happy Birthday.

Your friend, Alex

P.S. I ordered you a pizza...and some chicken fingers...and some french fries...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Heroism...Valor...Thy Name is "Bettman"

You could go to the National Gallery of Art and take in a variety of works of French, Italian, and Dutch painters. Or, you could head to the Corcoran and view its collection of 19th century American art.


Why waste your time, when you could merely click your way here and immerse yourself in the complete collection of the "Bettman as Hero" exhibit of fine art? 231 of the finest examples of portraiture, capturing The Commish in a variety of heroic moments. Our contributions were duly recorded. Take a moment...or better yet, take would be hard to appreciate the full scope and grandeur of the effort in one viewing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Someone want to explain this to me?

Merchandise has become the life blood of sport franchises, the NHL included. Fans donning caps, jerseys, t-shirts, and other assorted paraphernalia make for another stream of income for the league and its clubs. But, sometimes things take a turn, as in some of the offerings of caps you'll find online...

Like this oddly Sharkish, Kingsish take on the Caps "weagle"

ok..."Senguins?"...or "Penators?"

We suspect Toe Blake is spinning in his grave at the sight of this...

...uh, chocolate mochap mint?...and in the old style, to boot

and of course, fans will want to express their loyalties to the St. Louis...Greens?


I'm sorry...I got nothin' for this one...

And finally, there is this Alex Ovechkin jersey we found on eBay
(apparently crossed with the Penguin outdoor game version)

No...we did not bid on it.

Friday, August 01, 2008

On this day in Caps history...August 1st


The big signing of the summer was, of course, Jaromir Jagr on July 11th. Things were quiet on the personnel front after that until this date, when the Caps signed Peter Ferraro as a free agent. By the time he inked a deal with Washington, Ferraro had been the property of four other franchises -- the Rangers (who drafted him 24th overall in 1992), Pittsburgh, the Rangers again, Boston, Atlanta, and Boston again.

Ferraro played only four games with the Capitals early in that 2001-2002 season, an otherwise frustrating one in which the Caps went 36-33-11-2, finishing two points out of a playoff spot. In those four games (over which the Caps went 2-1-1), Ferraro chipped in a lone assist. He remained in the system until he signed with Phoenix as a free agent on July 17, 2003.

In his 92 NHL games among four clubs, Ferraro was 9-15-24, -1. He played in two playoff games with the Rangers in 1996-1997, going without a point. He is a part of NHL history, though, joining his twin brother, Chris, to become the first set of identical twins to take the ice for the same team in the NHL. They would repeat that with the Caps, both brothers taking the ice against the Kings in Los Angeles on October 16, 2001. Peter was held off the score sheet, while Chris (playing in what would be his only game with the Caps) notched an assist on an Ulf Dahlen goal in a 3-2 overtime win. However, it would be with the Caps' farm club at the time, the Portland Pirates, that the brothers would would endure a pain that makes playing a game seem small by comparison.

Peter's last appearances in the NHL came with the Caps. He shuttled between the AHL and Europe over the next few seasons. Last year, he played for the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, where he led the Wranglers in scoring. Chris was there, too, to help Peter and the Wranglers to a 47-13-12 record, the Pacific Division title, and a berth in the ECHL Kelly Cup finals, where they lost in six games to Cincinnati.