Thursday, September 30, 2010

2010-2011 Previews: Forwards -- Brooks Laich

Brooks Laich

Theme: “The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”

-- Oliver Wendell Holmes

It might be easy to look at Brooks Laich’s style of hockey and pigeon-hole him as a grinding, third-liner sort of player, one who applies a certain amount of grit and tenacity to his effort, mixing in the odd goal here and there. But look a bit deeper. Laich was obtained in The Great Sell-Off of 2004 and played in four games for the Capitals in that season. Then came the lockout. But starting with the 2005-2006 season, he has shown almost unbroken progress in a number of statistical categories.

Goals: 7, 8, 21, 23, 25
Assists: 14, 10, 16, 30, 34
Points: 21, 18, 37, 53, 59
Power Play Goals: 1, 2, 8, 9, 12

He has become a reliably consistent secondary scorer, replacing the goals that the departed Chris Clark provided before injuries cut short his tenure with the Caps and providing an extra boost on the power play – his 12 goals last year tied for 13th in the NHL with Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Marleau, among others.

Laich’s power play numbers are especially noteworthy in that among forwards playing in at least 50 games and skating at least one minute of power play ice time a game, he finished 14th in goals scored per 60 minutes. That ranking is higher than Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, and even Alex Ovechkin.

His 5-on-5 numbers were a bit murkier, though. Looked at in a league-wide context, they look rather good. For instance, among forwards playing in at least 50 games last season, Laich ranked 21st (out of 351 forwards) is goals-on ice/goals-off ice differential at 5-on-5. But he ranked only seventh among Caps forwards in that measure. That seven Caps forwards rank in the top 21 in this measure is a product of the Caps’ overall ability to score goals. Among those same 351 forwards Laich ranked only 173rd in goals against on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.

If there is a word to describe Laich, it might be “versatile.” Looking at the Caps forwards, he ranks rather highly on a number of lists:

Goals: 5th
Points: 4th
Power Play Goals: 2nd
Shorthanded Goals: T-2nd
Game-Winning Goals: T-5th
Shots on Goal: T-3rd
Time on Ice: 4th
Power Play Time on Ice/Game: 4th
Shorthanded Time on Ice/Game: 3rd
Hits: 4th
Blocked Shots: 2nd
Face-Offs Taken: 5th

He was also 1-for-3 in shootouts, scoring on his only attempt at Verizon Center. He can play any forward position, score, defend, take faceoffs, and apply a physical edge. In the odd emergency, he also can play on the blue line. And, he has shown himself to be durable, having played in 257 consecutive games with the Caps until taking a puck in the face off the stick of John Carlson after a formal practice session had ended (ok, it was off Carlson’s stick, then off the crossbar, then off Laich’s face).

Laich was a productive performer against quality competition last season. In 26 games against Eastern Conference teams that would make the playoffs last season Laich finished 10-10-20, plus-5 (including 4-2-6 on the power play).

Fearless: Those numbers against Eastern Conference playoff teams were bolstered quite a bit by his going 3-2-5, plus-2 against Montreal in four games.

Cheerless: And in seven playoff games against Montreal he was 2-1-3, minus-2, and did not have a power play point in more than 32 minutes of man-advantage ice time.

In the end…

Bruce Boudreau once said of Laich:

“He doesn't want to miss anything, ever. To me he is the consummate hockey player. To me, if you had to put a picture in the dictionary of what is a hockey player, Brook is it. He loves it, he lives it, he competes hard at it and he improves and gets better at it all the time.” He certainly gives that impression, and his improvement over his first five full seasons with the Capitals has been plain to see, both in the tangible aspects of the numbers he put up and in the intangibles as he emerges as a leader on this club."

In fact, his playoff production looked to be on a similar arc, having gone 1-4-6 in seven games in the 2008 opening round loss to the Flyers, then 3-4-7 in 14 games in 2009. But in the opening round loss to Montreal this past spring, Laich fell silent for the most part. It was part of a larger problem that Caps had, especially on the power play (1-for-33 in the series). If anything, Laich’s lack of production was a perverse indicator of his importance to the team. The absence of the secondary scoring he provides was a critical element in the Caps falling in seven games to the Canadiens. In the four losses the Caps recorded in the series, Laich was 1-0-1, minus-2 (parenthetically, those four games also happened to be the ones in which he recorded his four highest ice time results), games in which the Caps scored a total of five goals.

Laich’s role on this club is not well-defined. That is not a bad thing; it is a product of his versatility. He is likely to lineup opposite Alexander Semin on the Caps’ second line on most nights. He will get second unit power play time, and he will get a healthy dose of penalty killing time. It might be a stretch to think he will improve much, if at all, in his goal scoring numbers, owing to the uncertainty at center on the second line (although it is worth noting that during the Caps 14-game winning streak last season, much of which featured Tomas Fleischmann – this season’s front runner to center the second line – Laich was 6-3-9 in those games).

Even if he does improve on his regular season numbers, it is his playoff production as much as any other Capital that will bear watching. If he can chip in the kind of secondary scoring that has characterized his regular season play, a deep run will be in the cards for the Caps. And playing in May and June sure beats changing tires.  Maybe next time, if he sees a stranded motorist, he could use the Stanley Cup as a jack.


79 games, 24-36-60, plus-15

Saturday, September 25, 2010

2010-2011 Previews: Forwards -- D.J. King

D.J. King

Theme: "This is ill-advised my friend, ill-advised."

The quote comes from Mike Rowe, the host of a television show, “Dirty Jobs,” and it might be what one thinks if any opponent takes liberties with any of the Caps on nights when D.J. King is dressed. This is the mantle D.J. King inherits as he comes to the Caps, holder of the “Dirty Jobs” portfolio. King performs one of the most difficult jobs in any sport. He fights. In four NHL seasons and 101 games played, King has spent 553 minutes on the ice. He also has spent 135 minutes in the penalty box as a result of having engaged in 27 fights. And it isn’t as if he takes on lesser mortals. Of the five fights he had last year, none of his opponents had fewer than nine fights of their own last season.

It is a hard way to make a living.

In King’s case, it has been a harder way to make a living in that he has played in more than 27 games once in four seasons (61 games in 2007-2008 with St. Louis). He has had to contend with some major injury issues in his brief NHL career, losing 39 games to a right hand injury last season, losing 81 games to wrist and a shoulder injuries in 2008-2009.

It is a bit hard to tell just what the Caps have here in terms of the player as he plays within the rules. He hasn’t scored a goal in the NHL since March 23, 2008. He doesn’t have a point since October 16, 2008. He hasn’t played as many as ten minutes in a game since April 1, 2008 (one of only two career games in which he topped that mark). The odd fact is that he has more fighting majors in his career (27) than he has minor penalties (25).

Fearless: What the Caps did, cousin, was trade up when they obtained King. They swapped out an “agitator” (Stefan Della Rovere) for an “enforcer.” And they swapped out “someday” (Rovere would likely have spent another year or two – at least – in the farm system) for “now.”

Cheerless: If he can stay upright, cuz. In the last three seasons he dressed for 74 of 246 games. That works out to about 25 games a year. How much enforcing is going on if he’s not on the ice?

In the end: One of the problems the Caps have had since the lockout (more early on than now) is that players have played at one rung too high on the position ladder than their comfort or talent level would suggest. Defensemen better suited to a third pairing pushed into first or second pair minutes and responsibilities, third line forwards asked to score. The acquisition of King repairs a similar situation in the policing function. Matt Bradley is a tough, gutsy individual. He has shown often enough his willingness to stick his nose into situations in defense of a teammate. But he is ill suited to the task on a regular basis. He just cannot compete with the heavyweights in the league, and even when paired off against “players” who take liberties, he has taken a lot of punishment.

Upon getting the news of King’s acquisition, Bradley said:

"He's obviously in a way higher weight class than I'm in, so it's great to have a guy like him here. He's a great character guy and definitely one of the toughest guys in the league, so hopefully he can put some fear in the other teams, where we didn't really have a lot of that the last couple of years."

That’s not a declaration of surrender, but a sigh of relief and a statement of fact. Bradley can do what he does without having to take on enforcement responsibilities, and King can take care of the policing function. At least that’s the theory. In practice King isn’t a sure bet to win a sweater every night. Bradley, David Steckel, and Boyd Gordon appear likely to start the season as the fourth line. King’s talents might be used intermittently, depending on the opponent. But he does bring a dimension to the Caps that was not on the roster last year. Whether that will translate into wins, or at least keeping other teams honest (and keeping his teammates healthy and upright) is the question.


44 games, 1-4-5, even

Friday, September 24, 2010

2010-2011 Previews: Forwards -- Boyd Gordon

Boyd Gordon

Theme: “Fire up the ovens, Muffin Man! We've got a big order to fill!”

OK, so the Gingerbread Man in "Shrek" wasn’t talking about hockey, but Boyd “Muffins” Gordon has a big order to fill nonetheless.  It is just not one that Caps fans spend a lot of time thinking about, except in the broadest of terms.

It starts with two sets of three numbers: 80.5, 80.6, 78.8; and 25, 17, 25.  Those happen to be: a) the penalty killing success rates in each of the three previous seasons, and b) the league rank the Capitals had in penalty killing over that time.  You can talk all you want about the goaltender having to be the team’s best penalty killer, but a lot of the heavy lifting is done by the guys in front, too.  And this is Boyd Gordon’s workshop.  Gordon does not have the offensive punch to make many contributions at that end of the ice, so his ability to play defense, help kill penalties, and win faceoffs is where he is going to earn his salary.

The trouble is, Gordon lost 41 games last year spread across three different trips to the sideline due to injury (all of it back-related).  He missed 16 games to injury the previous season and 16 games to injury in the season before that.  Clearly, his durability is a question, and given the stress a defense-centric, penalty-killing focused kind of play places on a player, that is going to continue to be a question, especially given his repeated bouts with back trouble.

If the Caps are going to be better on the penalty kill this year, Gordon has to be in the lineup, and he has to be better in that role.  Among the 176 forwards in the NHL last year who played in at least 30 games (Gordon played in 36 games) and skated at least one minute per game on the penalty kill, Gordon had the 27th highest goals against/on-ice per 60 minutes figure in the league.  And here is the context in which that might be placed – Gordon had the 29th highest average 4-on-5 ice time (per 60 minutes) among those same 176 forwards.  Gordon’s problem is not unique to him alone; the Caps, after all, finished 25th in the league in penalty killing efficiency last season.  But defense and penalty killing is Gordon’s bread and butter.  If the Caps are to improve on the penalty kill this season, Gordon is going to have to be a big part of that.

Fearless:  Of all forwards taking at least 200 draws last season, Gordon finished third in winning percentage (61.0 percent), up from 18th the previous year (56.1 percent).  And he played up to his competition in one respect.  Three of the four goals he recorded came against teams from the Eastern Conference that made the playoffs last season (3-1-4, plus-1, in 13 games).

Cheerless:  Hey cuz, you were on this kick for a while that Gordon was going to show some of that offense he had in juniors.  He’s never had more than seven goals in any single season in six years.  Don’t know if it’s going to happen, cuz.

In the end…

Boyd Gordon is now the Capital with the longest service on the club, dating back to October 2003, perhaps an odd thing for someone who is still only 26 years old.  He was on a pace to set a personal best in goals last year (he had four in 36 games, a nine-goal pace for the season), but you’re right Cheerless.  Gordon is not going to keep earning an NHL sweater with his offensive game.  Not that the Caps need it, but as we’ve noted ad nauseam here, he’s going to have to earn his keep with defense, penalty killing, and faceoffs.  The penalty killing we noted, but truth is that he was not much better at 5-on-5 defense, at least in term of the numbers.  Among the 409 forwards who played in at least 30 games last season, Gordon was 330th in goals allowed/on ice per 60 minutes (, and he was 343rd in quality of competition faced.

Part of the problem last year might very well have been a product of that balky back that put Gordon on the shelf on three separate occasions.  But durability is coming to an intersection with contract this year – Gordon is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and he is being pushed for a roster spot among the forwards by the likes of Andrew Gordon, Jay Beagle, and perhaps next season by Cody Eakin.  He is not likely to have the eye-popping statistics that make fans swoon, but if the Caps improve dramatically on their 25th ranked penalty kill from last year or improve their defensive team statistics, it would be a safe bet that Gordon had a significant role in that result.


61 games, 5-13-18, +8

Thursday, September 23, 2010

2010-2011 Previews: Forwards -- Eric Fehr

Eric Fehr

Theme: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

-- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

It has been a long time coming for Eric Fehr. A scoring machine in Canadian juniors (146 goals in four seasons with Brandon, including 50 or more in each of his last two seasons), the 18th overall pick from the 2003 draft stepped into a scorer’s role with the Hershey Bears in 2005-2006. In that season he put up another 25 goals in 70 regular season games, then added eight in 19 playoff games, one of which was the overtime game and series clinching winner in Game 7 of the Calder Cup semifinal against the Portland Pirates. In 2006-2007 he was on a pace to score 44 goals for the Bears when the injury bug hit.

After taking the ice on January 26, 2007 for a game against Norfolk it would be almost a year (January 9, 2008) until he would take the ice again (coincidentally, against Norfolk once more), the time lost to a back injury. Since then, things have gone slowly for Fehr. He was 3-4-7 in 11 games with the Bears in that 2007-2008 season and 1-5-6 in 23 games with the Caps. The following year he dressed for 61 games with the Caps, recording 12 goals and 25 points. Last season he topped 20 goals for the first time (21 in 69 games), but the most noteworthy aspect of his 130 games with the Caps over the past two years might be his relative lack of playing time. In those 130 games with the Caps he averaged less than 12 minutes a game and seemed to be in the dog house of Coach Bruce Boudreau as often as not.

What Fehr was last year, though, was extremely efficient as a goal scorer. Among forwards dressing for at least 50 games, only three averaged more than Fehr’s 1.48 goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 ( And that is a who’s who of scorers – Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Sidney Crosby. Among those same forwards dressing for at least 50 games he ranked in the top 20 percent in goals-allowed/on-ice per 60 minutes ( Fehr also was a respectable 8-6-14, plus-8 in 23 games against teams in the Eastern Conference that would make the playoffs.

The one thing that appeared to characterize Fehr’s goal scoring last year was his streakiness. He opened the season with three in his first 14 games, then followed that up with six in eight contests. Then it was an eight-game drought followed up by six in 12 games. One in 12 games was followed by a stretch in which he had six in nine games. He ended the regular season without a goal in his last eight games, but had three in the first six games of the opening round playoff series against Montreal.

Fearless: Fehr’s goal progression with Washington is starting to look like that which he had in juniors. In Brandon he had successive years of 11, 26, 50, and 59 goals. In his first three years in Washington he has had 1, 12, and 21 goals. It is not inconceivable that he could top 25 goals this season.

Cheerless: Four things might have to happen for Fehr to top 25 goals. First, he has to be healthy. He had back and shoulder injuries that were pretty serious matters, part of that slow walk to 20 goals you hinted at. Second, he has to get some power play time. He had three power play goals last season, but he was eighth among Caps forwards last season in average power play ice time, seventh among returning forwards. Third, he’s going to need more than 12 minutes a night. That might be hard to do given how set the Caps are among their top-six forwards. Last, he might have to put up a few more multiple-goal games. Last year he had one, that against Montreal in November that is his only multiple goal game to date in his career.

In the end…

Eric Fehr might be Mike Knuble in waiting. He does not have the bulk that Knuble brings for getting in close and whacking away at loose pucks in the crease, but he has the hands and the size to be the designated big-body on either of the top two lines going forward. If he can find a bit more consistency, avoiding those lengthy stretches without a goal, he could find himself topping that 25-goal mark. The thing is, last year he seemed to put the injury bug behind him. He played in only six of the first 16 games of the season last year, a product of recuperation from shoulder surgery and a rib injury. After that he missed only three of the remaining 66 games of the year.

In July Fehr signed a two-year, $4.4 million deal with the Caps. That is as tangible an indication as any that the Caps have certain expectations for Fehr. He has been a goal-scorer at every stop so far – 146 goals in 279 games in juniors (43 per 82 games), 50 goals in 121 games in Hershey (34 per 82-games), 36 in 178 games in Washington (17 per 82 games). There is a lot of attention being paid to John Carlson as he begins his first full NHL season on the Caps’ blue line. There is a lot of angst being expended over the situation at center on the second line. But if the question is which of the Caps might enjoy a “breakout” season, we are thinking that Eric Fehr – finally – could be that player.


73 games, 26-25-51, +18

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

2010-2011 Previews: Forwards -- Jason Chimera

Jason Chimera

Theme: “Power and speed be hands and feet.”

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you were to look at a photo or perhaps a short video of Jason Chimera, you might be inclined to pigeon-hole him as a bruising sort, a six-two, 220-pound ball of ferocity. Maybe it’s the close-shaven head and square jaw. Well, he can be that. In 500 NHL games he has been in involved in 20 fights, he has recorded almost 100 penalty minutes per 82-games played, and he had a couple of memorable scrapes in Caps games last year, one as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets that made him Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of Caps fans, the other that endeared him to those same fans.

But what Chimera also possesses is speed. So much, in fact, that on a team that has more than a bit of flash he might be the fastest skater among the Capitals. It is a quality that serves him well barreling off the wing to put himself in a position to score. And, it keeps defensemen on their heels and goalies with a watchful eye toward his freight-training through the crease.

The combination of speed, a certain orneriness, and decent enough hands to record 15 goals (seven of them with the Caps) combined to provide the Caps will solid play from a third-line left wing, the sort they might have expected they would get from Matt Pettinger after Pettinger recorded a 20-18-38 line in the 2005-2006 season.

Pettinger, as Caps fans know, did have another decent season (16-16-32 in 64 games in 2006-2007), but then saw his numbers and, eventually, his playing time drop off dramatically after Bruce Boudreau took over as Caps coach. Chimera, on the other hand, possesses something Pettinger did not, that being his ability to get up and down the ice quickly, a quality that fits better in the Caps’ overall scheme of things.

The punch that Chimera provided from the left side might be seen better in comparison to a somewhat similar type of player on the squad. Comparing Chimera’s production at 5-on-5 with Brooks Laich, we find that Chimera had a higher goals-scored-per-60 minutes (0.89 to 0.67) and had comparable points-per-60 minutes production (2.09 to 2.12).* Laich has better numbers than Chimera as far as Corsi and GVT measures, but Laich also had superior quality of teammates, while the quality of competition they faced was roughly equivalent. We are not suggesting Chimera as a replacement for Laich down the road, just pointing out that Chimera does provide some offensive oomph from what is normally thought of as a “checking” line.

Overall in his 39 games with the Caps, Chimera was another of those players who seemed to have better results on the road than at Verizon Center. In 17 road games he was 5-6-11, plus-6, while going 2-4-6, even, in 22 games at Verizon Center. What he was not was especially impressive against the best in the East. In 12 games for the Caps against teams that would make the playoffs he was 1-2-3, plus-2.

Fearless: A third line of Chimera, Mathieu Perreault, and Eric Fehr seems to be lighting up camp rather well so far. It is a line that could – could, mind you – record 50 goals this year (watch it, cuz…we went down this road once before). It would not be a checking line in the usual sense of the word, but could put another level of pressure on defenses that would have to contend with the firepower on the top two lines provided by the likes of Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Knuble, and Laich.

Cheerless: Don’t get so far ahead of yourself, cuz. Chimera is a decent enough player, but one thing we found a bit surprising is that he ranked 171st among 579 forwards in hits, not bad, but his neighborhood included Rostislav Olesz and Anze Kopitar, not generally thought of as big boppers. Even Chris Clark, for whom Chimera was obtained from Columbus, registered more hits (90 to 80) in fewer games (74 to 78).

In the end…

On balance, Chimera was an offensive upgrade to Chris Clark. Of that there can be no doubt, especially given Clark’s slow recovery to form from injury. His speed afoot makes him a good fit with this club, and he is a reliable 15-or-so goal scorer (he averaged 14.5 over the last six seasons). He is not going to be a 20-goal scorer, not with his lack of power play ice time and third line responsibility that will provide him with 12 minutes or so of even strength ice time a night.

But Chimera is one of those players that a club needs underneath the top-flight guys whose names everyone knows. A team that has a Sidney Crosby needs a Tyler Kennedy. A team with a Patrick Kane needs a Troy Brouwer. A team with a Pavel Datsyuk needs a Dan Cleary to round out the talent and give opponents just a little bit more to think about. Chimera could be just such a player for the Caps this seaaon.


74 games, 15-20-35, +11

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Constructive Purpose of Anger In Five Steps

If there is an early watchword to the eve of a new Capitals season, it is "anger." The Caps are angry over losing early in last spring's playoffs. Fans are angry because, well, that's the natural state of Caps fans (when they're not wallowing in the team's misfortune). The team adopted a "Stay Angry -- Believe in Yourselves" motto. Even getting back to business involves staying angry.

Well, as to that last link, we posted a response but it bears repeating here, because anger can be pointless, or it can be constructive.  So with that, we bring you...

The Five Stages of Anger (Capitals Version)

1. Irritation… goober writes a book about star, gets bloggers and The Boss responding. Response — pfft…who reads Damien Cox, anyway?

2. Indignation…everybody with a keyboard is bringing up that whole “first round collapse” thing in every preview of the Caps. Response — t-shirts with pithy slogan.

3. Wrath… Run-up to Winter Classic features video after video of Sidney Crosby scoring winner in first WC in Buffalo, raising Cup in 2009, receiving gold medal in 2010… Alex Ovechkin’s sullen expression is about all he gets. Response — paste the Penguins 7-2 in WC game, go 10-1-1 in January.

4. Fury… Caps are in first-place in the NHL on February 1. No one puts them on their short list of contenders, citing swiss-cheese defense, questionable fortitude, and goaltenders who aren’t really “playoff ready.” Response — beat Montreal, Pittsburgh, and San Jose in the space of a week. How do you like our $#@%ing fortitude NOW?

5. Rage… Pre-playoff punditocracy talks about Vancouver’s chances, Pittsburgh’s chances, Philly’s chances, Chicago, San Jose, even Marty Brodeur finding that old black playoff magic. Caps? Can they escape the first round is about the only thing folks want to talk about. Response — no more slogans, no more thoughtful responses to media questions, no more t-shirts. Just rip a page from the old Jake Taylor quote book (parents, cover your children's ears)…

2010-2011 Previews: Forwards -- Matt Bradley

Matt Bradley

Theme: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."

-- Mark Twain

Matt Bradley has been a Capital for five seasons, during which he has compiled 33 goals and 85 points in 366 regular season games. He also has recorded 37 fights in that time. His win-loss record in those bouts isn’t as important as his willingness to engage in the practice. Bradley is what many might call an “energy” player, the sort who in a 45- second shift might get a couple of good hits, forecheck aggressively, and generally make a nuisance of himself. But he is not, by any definition of the term, an enforcer. But no one in the NHL seems more willing to sacrifice himself by stepping in for a teammate, often against players more practiced or talented in the pugilistic arts than he.

Last season Bradley found himself in five fights, including one noteworthy scrap against Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie when Downie and Alex Ovechkin were about to square off. Bradley was rather clinical in his description of his role in that affair:

"You don't let a guy like that go after your best player, and he's our best player. We can't have that happen."

Well, something else happened during the year that might have been overshadowed by Bradley’s willingness to stand up for his teammates in a physical sense. Bradley was something of a clutch scorer. Not only did he record a career high of ten goals, but five of them were game-winners. Bradley has had a knack for such things in his tenure as a Capital. More than one in four goals he has scored for Washington (10 of 36, regular season and playoffs) have been game-winners. If you need a benchmark for comparison, 44 of Alex Ovechkin’s 289 total career goals (regular season and playoffs) – about one in seven – have been game-winners.

Despite his willingness to drop his gloves when necessary and his reputation as a crash-bang sort of a player, he has made his living largely playing inside the rules. Over the last four seasons Bradley has amassed a total of 31 minor penalties in 292 regular season games. Need another comparison? Alexander Semin had 33 minors in 73 games last season.

It didn’t seem to matter whether he was playing in Verizon Center or on the road last season. He recorded the same 5-7-12 line at home (in 39 games) as he did while on the road (in 38 games). And against Eastern Conference teams that would make the playoffs last season he finished 2-6-8, plus-1 in 27 games.

Fearless: Bradley has been something of an unsung playoff performer. In 28 post season games with the Caps he is 3-8-11, a points pace that on an 82-game basis (32 points) would far eclipse any regular season total he has with the Caps.

Cheerless: The Caps seem to have a lot of this kind of player in or coming through their system – a hard-working, chip in a goal here and there, earnest type. Bradley, Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Steve Pinizzotto, Cody Eakin, Trevor Bruess, Jay Beagle, Andrew Joudrey. What it means going forward is whether this coming season is Matt Bradley’s best chance to win a Stanley Cup. That $1 million a year contract he has expires at the conclusion of the season, and it is likely that the Caps can get equivalent production at a lower price tag (even with Steckel’s more expensive deal running two more years after this season, the Caps would not be doubling up on million dollar deals on the lower half of the forward lines). He is one of the guys you would like to see get that prize for sticking his nose into so many situations in which he might have been overmatched.

In the end…

The Caps have a number of players versatile enough to play either center or wing on the third or fourth line, a versatility that Bradley does not bring to the table. He also does not get much in the way of special teams ice time – less than eight minutes of total power play ice time last season and 1:18 a game in penalty killing ice time (fifth among forwards playing in at least 30 games). What he will provide is 10-12 minutes of honest effort and the occasional goal that is as likely as not to be important to the outcome of that game.

It is a mix of skills and attributes that any team might find valuable as a support role to be filled, but whether that role will merit a raise going forward is an issue that will lurk under the surface this season.  In the meantime, Bradley's contributions might be as much or more a matter of chemistry as statistics.  It's one thing The Professor should know something about...


76 games, 9-14-23, +5

Monday, September 20, 2010

Just thought we would ask...

What do the following players have in common?

Glen Metropolit
Michael Nylander
Jeff Friesen
Brent Johnson
John Erskine

Since 2001, all were obtained by the Caps between the opening of training camp and before the first full month of the season was in the books.*

OK, Jason Doig is in this group, too, but we're just sayin'...

* Metropolit -- October 20, 2001; Nylander -- November 1, 2002; Friesen -- September, 26, 2005; Johnson -- October 4, 2005; Erskine -- September 14, 2006. Oh, and Doig -- September 13, 2002.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yeah, well... @#%$ ‘em!

You can’t swing a dead cat these days without smacking a news story or an opinion column about the Capitals lacking the (choose one or more) defense, goaltending, intestinal fortitude, coaching, or leadership to win a Stanley Cup.

If Bruce Boudreau isn’t on the hot seat, then Alex Ovechkin is trying to wipe the stain of an “annus horrilibis” out of his memory or is the subject of a “project.”  If Mike Green isn’t being judged unworthy of being a Norris Trophy finalist forevermore, or as a defenseman who can’t play defense (or even offense when it matters), then Alexander Semin is being floated as trade bait (or is that Tomas Fleischmann?) for being a no-show in the playoffs.

Folks don’t seem to like Alex much these days, or Ted, or George, or Bruce, or anything wearing a stylized eagle in red and blue.

The Caps lack that certain attractive hook that recent Stanley Cup champs have had.  Detroit had the whole “elegant excellence” thing.  Chicago had the whole “original six team brought back to life” vibe.  And Pittsburgh had, well… Sidney (even if it was Geno’s post season).  The Caps have no history of winning, play in a city that even reasonable people can't stand these days, have players who might like to have too much fun for some.  They are too “rock star,” too millennial, maybe even too European (or maybe too much the wrong “European,” since it didn’t seem to hurt the Red Wings) for the old school types.  More than a few people seem beside themselves with glee over the stumbles – individual and as a group – that befell the Caps last season.

Well, if there is anything that should motivate a club, it is the sort of thing that puts a chip the size of a boulder on their shoulder.  Nothing beats having insults – subtle or explicit – shoved in one’s face as a motivator.  And the Caps certainly haven’t lacked for them in this off-season.

So enough of this nice guy horse hockey.  @#%$ ‘em!   Maybe read or listen to some of the commentary and take a page from the line Colonel Nathan Jessep spoke at the end of “A Few Good Men”…

“This is funny. That's what this is. This is... I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss into your dead skull! You f***ed with the wrong Capital!”

Or Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket”…

“You little scumbag! I got your name! I got your ass! You will not laugh! You will not cry! You will learn by the numbers. I will teach you! Now get up! Get on your feet! You had best unf**k yourself or I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck!”

Everybody's cranky.  Check out Twitter or Caps message boards, and you'd think the Caps were a lottery team in waiting.  Even the brain trust seems crankyAlex had a bad yearMike Green isn’t Rod LangwayAlexander Semin is missing in actionThe bloom is off Bruce Boudreau's roseMedia types taking their shots to sell a book?  Yeah, well, we got two words for those guys saying that, and maybe the Caps ought to be thinking it, too, every time they take the ice…

“@#%$ ‘em!”

2010 Capitals Training Camp -- Day 2

Day two at Capitals Training Camp 2010 featured a scrimmage between Groups B and C.  But before the “feature” item on the schedule, there was a Group A practice, and it seemed to be a much crisper, more energetic affair than was the case for the Group A squad on Saturday.

First off, Alex Ovechkin started off the session as if exploded from a cannon.  He was all over the ice in the morning session, shooting every puck he found at his feet and in a much more jovial mood than he seemed to be on Saturday.  Although he seemed to be a bit weary by the end of the session, it appeared to be more of a case of an unbridled expenditure of energy over the 75 or so minutes of the session.

It was not Semyon Varlamov’s day.  He not only had more on-ice time than did the skaters (he and Philip Grubauer were out early to take shots from the coaches), but he took a shot off the side of his mask from Ovechkin that dazed him.  Then, after the cobwebs seemed to be just about cleared up, he was run over in his crease by Nikita Kashirsky.

It’s early, but it seems as if the plan that is emerging is to have John Carlson and Karl Alzner skate as a defensive pair.  They certainly seem to have a rapport with one another.

It was a session that was more devoted to defensive matters than was the opening session.  One-on-one, two-on-two, and limited scrimmaging was focused on denying shooters opportunities.  Dylan Yeo drew the unfortunate duty of taking on Ovechkin in most of the one-on-one situations.

The next smile we see on Nicklas Backstrom’s face will be his first of this training camp.  He seemed a bit frustrated with his performance this morning, banging a puck off the boards after flubbing an opportunity and generally sporting a scowl for much of the session.

Brett Flemming had something of a highlight moment when he planted Ovechkin in the ice as Ovechkin was heading to the net in a two-on-two drill.

Zach Miskovic was on the ice skating for a couple of repetitions during the Group A session before heading off the ice.

In the end-of-session bag skate John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin were in the same group.  They were eyeing one another a few times to see who was ahead.  More often than not, it was Carlson, who seems to be a machine in these things.

After the formal session was over assistant coach Dean Evason was schooling Marcus Johansson, Nikita Kashirsky, and Stanislav Galiev on faceoffs.

From the “Who Are You Calling ‘Old?’” file, there was Mike Knuble out on the ice after the formal session ended, shooting pucks around with John Carlson, D.J. King and a few others while the youngsters on his line – Ovechkin and Backstrom – headed off to the locker room.  Age is just a number, folks.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

2010 Capitals Training Camp -- Day 1

Day One of Training Camp 2010 is in the books.  The Capitals opened their 2010 training camp with three groups taking the Kettler Capitals Iceplex ice in what was from our vantage a somewhat oddly understated morning and afternoon.   The crowd at KCI was surprisingly light, given that this was the first official day of skating among the veterans (the stands looked to be about half-filled).  And on the ice, there seemed to be an underlying lack of intensity, especially with the second group that took the ice (we were not able to see the third group – Group C).

Perhaps it was a product of what seemed to be abbreviated sessions (about 60 minutes apiece) and the players getting their skating legs under them (but they have been in informal skates for a few days now).  Perhaps it was just one of those days…

-- It didn’t seem to be an especially good day for the Captain.  Alex Ovechkin looked to be somewhat sluggish and was huffing and puffing pretty good by the end of the opening Group A session.  He might have expended a lot of energy early in the session, but it still seemed a bit odd for him to look gassed in the first hour.

-- Alexander Semin looks to be skating to his own muse.  He looked effortless on the ice (not meant as a bad thing), but he had the absent minded moment when he whipped the puck down the ice and hit Jake Hauswirth right in the belt buckle (or perhaps holding his stick at waist level prevented greater harm).

-- Can’t figure out what was going on with Group B.  It was as if Group A was spinning at 78 with a jazz tune, and Group B was spinning at 33 1/3 with a Perry Como ballad (no one under the age of 40 is going to understand that comparison).  There just didn’t seem to be much going on there.  But hey, there are days when we go to work and the energy just isn’t there, too.  Folks do have bad days.

-- Part of the reason for the tone of the first two sessions might have been that in Group A there were eight parent roster players, and in Group B there were nine.  These players have been through this before, in most cases multiple times.  They know the systems and, one would expect, they know how to get ready.  There will be three scrimmages constituting the competition for the Duchesne Cup, and there will be six preseason games.  Although the calendar is short (20 days to opening night), there is ample opportunity in that time span to get ready for opening night.

-- The rallying cry for the moment (at least as it shows up on t-shirts) appears to be “"Stay Angry -- Believe In Yourselves."  Not exactly sure what that means.  But hey, if it works, it’s good all around.

-- The best perspective, though, might have come from Mike Knuble who said, as Katie Carerra noted in the Post, "All we have to do come March and April is say, 'Here's where we were last year. Look what happened to us. Are we playing well? Are we doing the right things?' Not winning games, it doesn't matter. It matters if you're feeling good, and everybody's comfortable, and everybody's doing what they're supposed to. That's what going to be most important come April, not where we are in the standings."

-- Come to think of it, maybe it wasn't a very good day for us, either.  We just can't seem to recall anything especially noteworthy.  Maybe that's not a bad thing.

It would be too easy to read too much into the tea leaves of one day’s worth of practice, the first one at that.  The NHL season is a long one of many twists and turns, and it was just good to see the guys on the ice once more...

The Duchesne Cup

Our long Capsnational nightmare if over.  Today the Caps take their first step on a long journey that we all hope ends in a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.  Today will see Groups A, B, and C take the ice for the first time to get their legs under them, but tomorrow, Kettler Capitals Iceplex will play host to the first contest in one of the storied intramural tournaments in the greater Washington metropolitan region – The Duchesne Cup.

The Duchesne Cup is the brainchild of Coach Bruce Boudreau, who conceived the award and the tournament to add a wrinkle to training camp in 2008.  The Cup is named for Gaetan Duchesne, who played for 14 seasons in the NHL, six of them with the Capitals.  In his six seasons in Washington, Duchesne played in 451 regular season (87-138-225, plus-68) and 33 playoff games (10-6-16, plus-7).  He played in a Stanley Cup final with Minnesota in 1991 in his next-to-last season in the NHL.  He left us far too early, a victim of a heart attack at the age of 44 in 2007.

This year’s tournament, as in years past, will be fought among three teams with the rather unexciting names of “Group A,” “Group B,” and Group C.”  Here are the rosters (parent roster players in yellow):

If one is handicapping these rosters, the clear favorite at the top of the round-robin play would have to be Group A, which features the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble.  It also features the whiz-kid pair on defense, John Carlson and Karl Alzner.  Backstopping this talented group is Semyon Varlamov.

Group B brings a certain flair to the proceedings with Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin at forward, Fleischmann presumably getting the nod as the top-line center for this group.  The grit will be provided by Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich.  Tom Poti and John Erskine lead the blueliners, while Michal Neuvirth is likely to be the featured goaltender.

Group C has a distinctly Hershey flavor to it with Keith Aucoin, Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, Francois Bouchard, Andrew Gordon, and Steve Pinizzotto at forward.  The Group C boys will have last year’s top defensive pair of Mike Green and Jeff Schultz skating for it, though.  The likely Hershey goaltending duo of Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin will skate for this group.

Among the intriguing stories here…

Group A might have a prospect line of Marcus Johansson, Anton Gustafsson, and Dmitry Kugryshev skating behind the Backstrom line.  For Johansson and Gustafsson this is an important camp, but for different reasons.  Johansson is battling for the second line center spot (perhaps the third line).  He and Mathieu Perreault are fighting for what could be the same roster spot in this camp.  Gustafsson is fighting for credibility.  He hasn’t really impressed in his Kettler ice time over the past two years, and this camp might be a means to demonstrate that he can be a fixture in Hershey this season and that he has a future in this organization.

Are Group A defensemen Carlson and Alzner an item?  As in, can these two be a pairing that goes further than training camp – to the pre-season games to follow and perhaps into the season?

Tomas Fleischmann has a bright light shining on his centerman play now.  He is apparently the front-runner for the second line center spot on this team, and while his play in this intramural tournament as the top line center for Group B won’t secure him that spot, it might be an early indicator if he has the complete game to handle the load at that position.

Cody Eakin is something of a dark horse to make the roster, but he has been impressive in his appearances at Kettler to date.  He has offensive skills, and he is fearless in skating in traffic, despite lacking size.  His chances of making the roster for opening night might not be great, but they cannot be discounted, either.

Michal Neuvirth comes into camp as the number two goalie, a position he has had relative to Semyon Varlamov since he was drafted.  But, he is arguably the more accomplished of the two in his tenure with the Caps to date.  Coming out of the blocks sharp as the Group B netminder could tighten up the goalie race.

Can Mathieu Perreault take the last step to a permanent roster spot with the Caps.  He has come a long way forward in the past couple of years and was impressive in his short stint with the Caps last season (21 games, 4-5-9, plus-4).  He and Johansson might be fighting for the same roster spot, and if he can help propel Group C to a Duchesne Cup, it only helps his chances.

Francois Bouchard is the forgotten prospect.  But in three seasons in Hershey he improved his goals, assists, points, and plus-minus in each season.  Last year he was fifth-leading scorer for the Bears (21-31-52, plus-21 in 77 games) and added five goals and ten points in the Bears’ Calder Cup run.  He is almost certainly not going to make the Caps roster to start the season, but this will be a good barometer to gauge how much he has improved.

Andrew Gordon might not be thought of generally as a lock, or even likely as a parent roster player on opening night.  But the Halifax, NS native turned into a scoring machine at Hershey last season (37 goals in 79 regular season games, 13 goals in 17 playoff games).  A big camp is going to give him a chance.  If nothing else, he might end up being the first among the call-ups during the season when circumstances dictate a replacement.

OK, the preseason games in which these players will participate are likely to go further in determining their chances for a roster spot this October.  But every player has a story at training camp, and the added incentive of a “trophy” to strive for gives each of them an opportunity to tell it.  And it gives fans a chance to see these hopefuls up close in a more competitive situation.  The Duchesne Cup is a lot of fun for those of us taking in training camp, which brings us to our first prognostication of the year…

Group A in a shootout over Group B on Tuesday.