Friday, March 27, 2009


Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines the word, “continuity,” as “uninterupted connection or succession; close union of parts; cohesion.”

With the calling up of Keith Aucoin and Oskar Osala, we’re reminded of how important “continuity” is in the evolution of the Capitals as a perennial contender. Fourteen skaters and two goaltenders appearing with the Capitals this year have spent significant time with the Hershey Bears (this number does not include Brian Pothier, who played for the Bears on a rehabilitation assignment, or Steve Pinizzotto, who was called up but did not play). You could include in that number quite a few players who can legitimately be considered players who will draw a steady NHL paycheck in the future (you may add or subtract from this list, but it does not obscure the point we're making):

Simeon Varlamov
Michal Neuvirth
Karl Alzner
Chris Bourque
Andrew Gordon
Oskar Osala
Jay Beagle

And to that you find the kind of depth players necessary to keep a team running when injury or circumstance dictate the need – Keith Aucoin, Quintin Laing, Staffan Kronwall, Graham Mink, Alexandre Giroux, and others.

What interests us here is that first group, the prospects. Those seven players have appeared in a total of 48 games this year, not an insignificant amount, since four of them – Alzner, Osala, Varlamov, and Neuvirth – are in their first year of professional hockey.

While their appearances have provided contributions in the here and now – Varlamov and Neuvirth have chipped in with important wins in goal, and Alzner had 30 games of solid play when the Caps were faced with health problems on the blue line – the experience gained this year might be viewed with next year in mind.

We can envision a roster next year that has Alzner and Varlamov as permanent residents, perhaps even Bourque and Osala, with Neuvirth getting more than a cup o’ coffee’s worth of games in the event of misfortune, and others filling the breach when the need arises.

Then, it will be the turn of guys like Francois Bouchard, or Matthieu Perreault, or even perhaps a Josh Godfrey to get a few games to get a feel for what it is they are working toward.

It is a position – a luxury, in fact – that the Caps have not experienced lately. But, if your long-term version of an operating plan is “draft-centric,” and you’re successful at it, then year-by-year, you’re going to get something like “preview” experience on the part of prospects working their way through the system. It is a way of providing for contributions in the here and now (it speaks to how talented the Caps' prospect pool is), but with one eye on the future as the kids grow into the roster spots they will occupy down the road.

It is one continuous process.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Lightning, March 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s “Son of Stick,” or is that “Son of Schtick,” as the Caps host the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first meeting of these teams since Alex Ovechkin touched off a furor across North America unseen since, well, maybe ever.

Ovechkin, as you know, celebrated scoring his 50th goal by laying his stick on the ice and “warming” his hands from the heat of the instrument, so hot it was to be the tool used to score that 50th goal. Some folks didn’t like it.

"I took it as an insult, personally…It's embarrassing, this isn't football."

-- Lightning forward Ryan Malone

"[Ovechkin]'s got a free ride. He runs at guys, does this stuff. I'm predicting somebody is going to get him and somebody is going to get him good."

-- Canadian hockey icon and professional grumpy old man, Don Cherry

"I wouldn't have any trouble with somebody [hitting] him right in the noggin. I would have no trouble with that.”

-- Hockey “analyst” and village idiot for hire, Mike Milbury

And those were the things that were fit to print. We have exclusive transcript of a meeting held at Tampa Bay Lightning offices in which feelings for what should happen to Ovechkin were aired. We caution you, the language is not for minor children…

“I want you to get this f*ck where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy Alex Ovechkin, I want him DEAD! I want his teammates DEAD! I want his locker burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!”

“I'm gonna tell you something. Somebody messes wit me, I'm gonna mess with wit him. Somebody taunts me, I'm gonna say you taunted. Not talk to him for spitting on the ice. Understand? Now, we have done nothing to harm these people but they are taunting us, and what do they do, show me up wit some stick, which dey should not do. To celebrate like a Canadian, no, to harass a peaceful team. I pray to God if I ever scored a goal I'd have a little more self respect. One more thing, you have an all out fight, you wait until the fight is over, one guy is left standing. And that's how you know who won.”

Sounds fairly serious. We had the privilege of witnessing a conversation between a member of the Caps staff and one of the preeminent authorities in law enforcement, Jimmy Malone, late of the Chicago police force. Here’s what transpired in their conversation about retaliation…

Malone: You said you wanted to get the Lightning if they jump Ovechkin. Do you really wanna get them? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do?

Caps representative: Anything within the rules.

Malone: And then what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way. Because they're not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead.

Caps representative: We want to beat the Lightning! We don't know how to do it.

Malone: You wanna know how to beat the Lightning? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way! And that's how you beat the Lightning. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?

Caps representative: We have sworn to beat that team with all the rule book powers at our disposal and we will do so.

Malone: Well, the Lord hates a coward. Do you know what a blood oath is?

Caps representative: Yes.

Malone: Good, 'cause you just took one.

It could be an interesting evening. These teams played just eight days ago, and little has changed since we put this together. The teams have played a total of five games between them since that night, and there is only one win in the bunch – Tampa Bay beat Columbus in overtime, 2-1, this past Tuesday. The Caps have lost a pair of games – 4-1 at Carolina and a 3-2 Gimmick loss to Toronto on Tuesday.

But it seems that the game is taking a back seat to the melodrama that is the apr├Ęs-celebration. Now, we learn that the Tampa Bay coaches were contacted by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau to discuss the matter and presumably put it to rest. Except the boys at TSN didn’t want to let it rest, and Boudreau went off on them.

You’d almost forget there is a game to be played here. What Tampa seems to have found in the three games since they played the Caps is defense. They’ve allowed only six goals in regulation in those games, and the tandem of Karri Romo and Mike McKenna have stopped 99 of 106 shots overall (.936 save percentage). That could spell difficulty for a Caps team that has averaged only 2.42 goals per game this month and has scored more than two goals only four times in 12 games.

On the other hand, Tampa isn’t scoring much either. Since losing to the Caps, 5-2, on 50th Goal Night, the Lightning have scored seven goals in three games, and they have gone to overtime in all of them. In fact, Tampa Bay has played in seven extra time games this month (2-5 record). Since thrashing (can Lightning “thrash,” or is that an Atlanta thing) Calgary 8-6 in the first game of the month, the Lightning have scored 28 goals in 11 games (2.55/game), so it’s not like these two teams are the 1984 Oilers and the 1978 Canadiens at the moment, at least offensively.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Steven Stamkos

The rookie is 2-2-4, +1 in three games since the Caps and Lighting last met. He is 8-7-15 in his last 14 games and has been held off the score sheet only three times in that span. He is becoming a, if not the go-to guy in the Lightning line-up as the season winds down. What he has not had is much success against Washington in his inaugural season. He is 1-0-1, -3 in four games.

Washington: Alexander Semin

Barrels of ink and millions of pixels will be devoted to one Alex in the run-up to this game, but how this Alex does is likely to have a bigger bearing on the outcome. Semin has only one goal in his last eight games (1-7-8, -3), that coming in a four-point effort against Carolina on March 14th. But if there is a team he can turn that around against, Tampa Bay is it. He has 13 goals against the Lightning in 22 career games (13-11-24), including five power play goals and two game winners. He is 1-2-4, +3 in three games against the Lightning this year.

In the end, though, it’s the time of year when a group of guys just has to come together as a team. It’s not just about Alex Ovechkin and his 50th goal and whatever celebration there might have been. It’s about coming together with a common purpose. As one guy put it…

“A man becomes preeminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms, enthusiasms... What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy? Hockey! In da Gimmick a man skates alone with the puck. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he skates alone. But in the real hockey game, what? Part.. of… a… team. Teamwork... Looks, skates, checks, hustles. Part of one big team. Shoots the puck himself the live-long day, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and so on. If his team don't play defense... what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I'm goin' out there for myself. But... I get nowhere unless the team wins."


Caps 5 – Lightning 2