Sunday, October 04, 2009

Special Special Teams

As if setting up power plays wasn't enough, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green tried their hands -- well, feet -- at placekicking before the Redskins-Buccaneers game this afternoon...

I'm thinking that Shaun Suisham doesn't have to worry about losing his job this week. You can see the "tryouts" at the Comcast Sports Net site on the Coach Boudreau on Redskins Pre-Game segment.

The Early Measuring Stick

Well, we're going to get an idea of where the Caps stand with respect to the elite of the league early.

The Caps have gotten off to a fine 2-0-0 start with ten goals for and five against. But the first seven games for the Caps are quite a test. There are six playoff teams from last year in the mix (last night's opponent -- Toronto -- being the only one not to make the playoffs last year):

at Boston: W, 4-1
Toronto: W, 6-4
at Philadelphia
NY Rangers
at Detroit
New Jersey
San Jose

Including Toronto, these seven teams averaged 47 wins and 104 standings points last year. Of the six that made the playoffs last year, only perhaps the Rangers could be said to have slipped a notch from last year.

Yes, we're going to get an idea early just how good this group is.

Braden Holtby Gets His First

It was a good night all around for the organ-eye-zation. Braden Holtby stopped 23 of 24 shots as the Hershey Bears kicked off the 2009-2010 season with a Calder Cup banner raising and a 3-1 win over the Norfolk Admirals at Giant Center.

Andrew Gordon took care of the scoring, netting a hat trick for the hosts, all three goals coming on the power play that was 3-for-6 tonight.

A TWO-point night: Caps 6 - Maple Leafs 4

Well, tonight we saw the complete “Capitals” – the sublime and the confounding – all in one 60 minute segment. For those of you who keep score, the game ended in a 6-4 Capitals win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. For those of you who prefer Olympic scoring, it was probably a 9.3 under the old Olympic gymnastics scoring scheme.

For 40 minutes, the Caps were their dominating, intimidating, leaving opponents standing around with mouths agape best. You couldn’t script it any better than the way it unfolded. Alex Ovechkin scored on his signature “snap a wrister past the defenseman’s leg and watch the goalie wave at it in futility” shot 1:17 into the game to give the Caps the lead.

Then, Mike Knuble did that Kvoodoo that Knuble do -- pick up the garbage lying to the side of Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala, off a shot from Chris Clark, and flip it into the net for a 2-0 lead. Kanoobie was at his Ugly Goal Rally Mutt best in celebrating the first goal as a Cap for Knuble.

Brooks Laich took a stretch pass from Milan Jurcina and sped past the last of the Leafs’ defense to score a breakaway goal for a 3-1 lead after one. It was Laich’s third of the season. For those of you who compare such things, Laich scored his third goal of the season last year on November 8th, in the Caps’ 13th game. The year before, he scored his third goal on November 16th, in his 19th game. We’re guessing he’ll score his third goal in the 2010-2011 season on about Labor Day.

The Leafs got one back early in the second after goalie Semyon Varlamov got a bit tangled up with defenseman Mike Green, leaving a virtually open net for Lee Stempniak to deposit the puck. But that only seemed to remind the Caps that they were, well, the Caps, and the Leafs, well… suck. Barely a minute after the Stempniak goal, Alexander Semin played “pull my finger” with the puck, backing off a sprawled Jonas Gustavsson (in relief of Toskala) to give himself room to rifle the puck into the roof of the net.

Brendan Morrison got his first goal as a Caps with a break of his own, taking a pass from Mike Green at the Toronto line, skating in, and lifting a backhand over The Monster for a 5-1 lead. The Caps closed their portion of the scoring when luck shined on Alexander Semin, who skated in from the right wing faceoff circle, and as he was trying to stickhandle the puck into position to swat it into the net, had it roll off his stick and spin into the net of its own momentum.

It was 6-1, and we were wondering where Toronto coach Ron Wilson had his third goalie stashed after Toskala gave up three goals on eight shots, and Gustavsson gave up three on 12 shots.

Then, as Alex Ovechkin put it in the post game, the Caps “stopped playing in the third period.” It was a team thing, too. The forwards weren’t pressing on offense, and they weren’t getting back on defense. Even when they did, they seemed to get tangled up with defensemen, leaving the Leafs with more scoring opportunities than is comfortable. Had the Leafs been able to get more pucks on net (they had only six shots on goal in the third period (they had 13 attempted shots in the first 12:19 of the period), they could have made things very interesting for the Caps.

But the Leafs did manage to get three goals on those six shots on net, a combination of disinterested play (planning some post-opening night celebrating?) and some juicy rebounds from goalie Semyon Varlamov.

But in the end, two points is two points, and the Caps find themselves unbeaten and leading the league with ten goals, as the clock ticks to midnight.

Other things we saw…

- OK, the Caps have new banners for their assorted lesser championship and for their retired numbers. They’re as big as parachutes, and now they hang out over the ice, instead of tucked up in the rafters with the Canadian flag. We thought there was some odd, subliminal banner envy going on here.

- Check this out one time…

…it won’t last, of course, but only because Brooks Laich isn’t likely to continue on a 205-point pace for the rest of the year. But the other three figure to be somewhere near the top of the rankings.

- Four Caps had four hits apiece – Alex Ovechkin, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, and Mike Green. The Caps, in an unlikely (but welcome) result, were credited with outhitting the Leafs, 24-22.

- As for Green, he still has the propensity to take the end-to-end rush, which often leaves teammates standing around, but Green already looks sturdier in his own end this year. He won’t score as many goals as last year – he doesn’t have to on this team – but he’ll be a better two way defenseman. Write… it… down.

- Jason Blake still fights along the walls, but he doesn’t look like he’s especially inclined to go into high-traffic scoring areas the way we remember him doing for the Islanders. Maybe it was just tonight.

- Chris Clark might have only an average of 11:29 in ice time in two games, but it’s a quality 11:29. He looks quicker out there than at any time in the last two years. Having health will do that, we suppose.

- John Erskine and sticks. Get the guy some resin or that stick-um that wide receivers used to use back in the day. He left a lot of composite on the ice tonight.

- The Monster will be good… someday. That day is not now. He had some fine saves. He also found himself out of position for a couple of goals.

- Toronto really lacks skill… except for Mikhail Grabovski. He was the quickest, most dangerous Leaf all night.

- Nights like this make me think that John Buccigross should give up the charade of being a sports journalist and just spin records at some club in Steubenville, where he can indulge his fetish for obscure song lyrics. Alexander Semin – 1-2-3, plus-1, four takeaways, some quality penalty killing time, and he won both faceoffs that he took.

- Speaking of penalty killing, that’s eight in a row to start the season. We’ll take it.

- And on the other side, that’s three goals in seven power play chances.

- Colton Orr looked like a guy who had no clue what he was supposed to do without Donald Brashear out there to pummel him senseless. He had 9:47 of ice time and not a single mark on the final score sheet – nothing. Shoot, even Boyd Kane had two shots on goal for the Caps.

- Quintin Laing is a warrior. We just thought we should say that.

- Tonight’s “Lunch Pail” player is Shaone Morrisonn, who played with some snarl in his game. Four hits, five blocked shots. He looks like the guy in the flannel coat at the feed store, but when he plays with a little bit of an edge, he’s a much more effective player.

It was the kind of both good and bad game the Caps are going to have from time to time, sort of like when the gifted student has finished all his assignments and is just doodling away the rest of the afternoon. But the Caps are so talented and so gifted, that they are likely to win most games like this (expecting as we do that they will be more engaged on a 60-minute basis for games against the Flyers, Red Wings, and Sharks, to name three teams coming up soon on the schedule).

All in all, it was a fine opening night. The right guys got off on the right foot at home, and the fans had a good time at the sold-out hall on Fun Street.

Nice job, boys.