Friday, November 07, 2008

Lighten up...

In our last preview of the season, we wrote this of Alex Ovechkin...

"We do not want to argue for an Ovechkin becoming a 35-55-80 point player. The Caps won’t win with that player... And what we’re looking for is not necessarily Ovechkin suspending his aggressiveness in the offensive zone. We think it is a case of more people getting more opportunities. Instead of Ovechkin having to carry the offense with 422 shots (his career 82-game average), it might be an Alexander Semin, a Nicklas Backstrom, or someone else and taking more advantage of the opportunities presented to them."

Semin has, in fact, taken advantage of those opportunities in a rather big way. And as for Ovechkin, his 2-6-8, +6, in ten games played is not so far removed from his history (total scoring that is). Here is his first ten-game history over four years:

2005-2006: 6-5-11, +1 (2-3-5 on PP)
2006-2007: 6-4-10, -3 (3-1-4 on PP)
2007-2008: 6-7-13, +2 (3-1-4 on PP)
2008-2009: 2-6-8, +6 (0-1-1 on PP)

At even strength, he's very close to his production of the previous three years. It appears that the power play -- right now a team-wide problem -- is where some of the difficulty lies.

So maybe lighten up...when the power play shakes off its slumber, those numbers should improve dramatically.


Darren Dreger spreads the rumor that...
"Tampa Bay is eager to shed salary and Lightning general manager Brian Lawton is fielding interest in any number of players, including veteran goaltender Olaf Kolzig and forward Radim Vrbata. Kolzig makes $1.5 million this season and may soon become an affordable option for those teams in need of a goaltender."

And if you're thinking


Mike Knobler writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution...

"...the Thrashers rank last in the NHL standings. Their general manager suggests the best way to get the team out of last place is to leave the roster the way it is."

Got that "91" jersey ready to go, eh?


Spector is linking to stories about a number of goalies possibly heading to New Jersey... Nikolai Khabibulin, Dwayne Roloson (the Oilers are carrying three goalies at the moment), Martin Gerber. Funny... no talk of Kolzig.


We thought Mats Sundin was linked to a bunch of teams... well, we have another player in the running for prom queen -- Brendan Shanahan is linked to six teams.

And if you're thinking


Speaking of Sundin, Bruce Garrioch has him as the apple of the eye of nine teams.

No...don't even think it.



We don't think there is anyone out there reading this who seriously thinks that the Caps have put together a streak of dominating games so far this season. In fact, one could reasonably argue that the only complete game they've played this year was a 5-1 win over Vancouver on October 13th. But, despite...

-- Two goals from Alex Ovechkin in 12 games

-- Goaltending from Jose Theodore that fairly defines the term "hot and cold"

-- No even strength points from Nicklas Backstrom

-- One point from Chris Clark

-- Viktor Kozlov puttering around at 1-2-3

-- Mike Green having the third highest number of giveaways in the league

-- A power play featuring Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, Alexander Semin, and Sergei Fedorov that ranks 26th -- 26th! -- in the league

-- The fourth highest number of goals allowed in the first period

-- Having allowed eight goals in the first or last minute of a period

-- Having allowed a goal on the first opponent's shot of a game four times

-- The second worst record in the league (tied with Toronto) when scoring first

-- The worst record in the league (tied with Pittsburgh) when leading after two periods

Despite all that, the Caps are still on a pace for 96 points, which last year would have been good enough for sixth in the Eastern Conference.

When -- and we do mean "when" -- this team finally gets the engine running smoothly, it's going to be a sight to behold.

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Hurricanes 2

For 57 minutes, you wanted to rush down to the ice and scream at the top of your lungs, “what the $%& are you guys doing out there?” And in three minutes, all was forgiven.

That was the sum of the evening as the Caps came from behind in the dying minutes of the game to wrestle a 3-2 victory from the clutches of the Carolina Hurricanes. It came with a price though, as defenseman Shaone Morrisonn left after one four-second shift in the second period (Carolina scored a goal with Morrisonn on the ice) with a groin injury.

The watch word for tonight was “frustration,” as in the Caps frustrating their fans with a propensity for wanting to make that last beauty of a pass that ended up getting tipped away by a Hurricane stick…or frustration at ringing iron on several occasions (Sergei Fedorov and the game’s ultimate hero – Alexander Semin – finding the pipe)…as in frustration over Alexander Ovechkin suffering his career high eighth consecutive game without a in the frustration of a power play pulling an oh-fer for the third straight game (0-for-3 tonight and four for their last 39 dating back to October 16th).

But in the end, persistence and perseverance won out. The Caps were the better team all night (with one conspicuous exception, but we’ll get to that). Carolina scored on their first shot and then seemed content to sit on the lead. That’s not generally a recipe for success, but the frustrating play of the Caps seemed destined to allow the Hurricane lead to hold up.

But then Ovechkin found a whole new vein of gold to mine in the absence of his goal scoring. A nifty feed from the side boards to Sergei Fedorov was enough to spring Fedorov in alone on goalie Cam Ward, and he lifted the puck over Ward’s right pad to tie the game. After Carolina regained the lead on a goal from Tuomo Ruutu that Brent Johnson would appear to want back, it was Ovechkin again, leaving the puck for Semin behind the Carolina net and skating out to draw a Hurricane defender with him. Semin walked out in to the space that was vacated and snapped a no-look shot off Ward’s stick on the far side and into the net with only 2:43 left in regulation. Finally, it was Ovechkin barreling down the left side as the clock was winding to zero, forcing defenseman Joe Corvo to mark him. Upon crossing the Carolina blue line, he feinted to the right as if to cut to the middle, and this drew Rod Brind’Amour out of the middle to help on Ovechkin. All that was left was for Ovechkin to lay the puck across to Semin for a clear shot at Ward, which found the back of the net. On the play, Brind’Amour, in trying to get back across appeared to take the blade of Semin’s stick on the follow through in the face, and left a trail of blood as he left the ice while the Caps celebrated the go-ahead goal.

The result made coach Bruce Boudreau look like a genius for uniting the Russians – Ovechkin, Fedorov, and Semin on one line. All three figured in the scoring – Semin with two goals, Fedorov with a goal, and Ovechkin with three assists.

Some other points…

-- It was 57 minutes of sleepwalking followed by three minutes of turbocharged effort. That is not something one wants to depend on.

-- 0:00…that was the shorthanded ice time logged by Alex Ovechkin. OK, so the Hurricanes only had a total of 2:14 on the power play, but is this a sign that the experiment will be pared back?

-- Rod Brind’Amour won 12 of 18 draws. The rest of the Hurricanes won eight of 37. Not good.

-- If there was a momentum changer, it was Milan Jurcina’s hit on Scott Walker two minutes after Carolina scored their second goal. It was the most effective expenditure of energy by any Cap to that point and seemed to stop Carolina in its tracks.

-- About that conspicuous deficiency...We spent some time watching Cam Ward for long stretches, and there was one thing we noticed. Rarely it seemed in the first 57 minutes was there a Cap within ten feet of him. He simply got too much room and too many free looks at shots (even though the shot chart suggests a fair number of shots from between the hash marks in the first period). The Caps have to create more traffic in front. Tellingly, they seemed to do a better job of that late , and it might have contributed to Semin’s game-tying goal. Who was it in front crossing Ward’s line of sight?...Ovechkin.

-- The Hurricanes’ blog on the News and Observer called this game “brutally intense and physical.” Frankly, we didn’t see it, not for a game between two teams that are likely to be fighting for the top spot in the Southeast all year. Here is an example…the Caps were credited with 21 hits. Ovechkin and John Erskine had 12 of them, leaving nine for the other sixteen skaters. That doesn’t impress us as either brutal or physical.

-- That’s 15 goals in 20 games against the Hurricanes for Semin, including three game winners. Here is as staggering a stat…he’s done it on 55 shots (27.3 percent shooting percentage).

-- As good as the Fedvechmin line (or perhaps the "Las Vegas Line" -- zip code "89128") was in a lot of situations, that’s how bad the second and third lines were. The Flesichmann-Nylander-Clark line was reunited to start the game and managed two shots total. The Laich-Backstrom-Kozlov line looked like a new line with a lot of errant passes looking as if intended for no one in particular. They did have nine shots, but it seemed (especially in Backstrom’s case, with four shots) a matter of creating things on one’s own.

-- I’d have bet that on a night when John Erskine (three) and Boyd Gordon (three) outshot Alex Ovechkin (two) we’d be calling this a no-point night.

-- At the risk of being a jinx, the Caps are now the last team in the East undefeated in regulation at home (4-0-1).

-- Guess Johnny gets the start on Saturday against the Rangers.

This had all the look of one of those 20 games you’re going to lose in a season, no matter what. That the Caps were able to grab two points without yielding any to Carolina by virtue of an extra-time result is the kind of ending that might not mean a lot now, but could in April. Here’s to toughing one out. Well done, boys.