Monday, December 31, 2012

A Not So Merry Virtual Week -- Caps Go 2-3-0

While we were away, the Washington Capitals – well, the virtual version of them, anyway – spent Christmas week marking time.  In five games Washington went 2-3-0 and finished the week tied with Carolina for first place in the Southeast Division with 45 points on a 21-13-3 record.  Here is how it went for the good guys…

December 22, Game 33: Boston 3 – Washington 2

Boston broke on top just 78 seconds into the game on a give-and-go between Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton, Seguin finishing the play for his 12th goal of the season.  Washington tied it late in the first on Nicklas Backstrom’s 10th goal of the year, but Boston notched single goals in the second and third periods to give them a lead and insurance.  It was insurance they would need when Mike Green scored his sixth of the year with the Caps’ net empty in the last minute.  However, the Caps could get no closer, and Boston gained some measure of revenge for their Game 7 loss at TD Garden last spring.

December 23, Game 34: Washington 4 – Carolina 3 (OT)

It was the Brothers Staal Show early in this one as Eric and Jordan staked the Hurricanes to a 2-0 lead in the first period.  The visitors made it 3-0 just before the second intermission when Alexander Semin notched his 14th goal of the season, finishing  on a curl-and-drag around Dmitry Orlov.  It looked as if the Caps would head into the Christmas break on a down note, especially when the Caps were unable to solve Carolina goalie Brian Boucher in the first half of the final period.  All of that changed when Mike Ribeiro wristed one in from the high slot after a Brooks Laich shot rebounded away from Boucher.  Troy Brouwer scored at the 15:33 mark, and the Caps came all the way back when Ribeiro scored again with 26.8 seconds left in regulation when Boucher could not find a loose puck lying at the doorstep.  The Caps secured the extra standings point when Alex Ovechkin cut inside of the Carolina defense and wristed the puck past Boucher at 4:22 of the extra period.

December 26, Game 35: Buffalo 4 – Washington 2

The Caps faced the Sabres for the first of their four games this season, and it did not end well.  It was a thoroughly sluggish effort by the Caps, who fell behind in the first on a goal by Tyler Ennis and an early second period goal by Thomas Vanek.  The Caps cut the Buffalo lead in half when Brooks Laich scored his ninth of the year on a power play at the 9:12 mark of the second period.  The Caps could not get the equalizer, though, and the Sabres reclaimed a two-goal lead when Nathan Gerbe recorded his sixth goal of the season late in the period.  The Caps climbed back within one when Wojtek Wolski scored at 12:22 of the third period.  But that would be as close as the Caps would get.  Jason Pominville scored at 14:39 for the final margin.

December 27, Game 36: Capitals 3 – Islanders 2

The post-holiday sluggishness continued for the Caps when they returned to Verizon Center to host the New York Islanders.  Washington fell behind when Kyle Okposo muscled his way to the net and stuffed the puck behind Michal Neuvirth on an Islander power play at 12:54 of the first period.  That was one of the rare scoring opportunities either team had in the first period.  The second period was different.  Matt Hendricks was the unlikely spark plug, potting his third of the season just over a minute into the period to tie the game.  Nicklas Backstrom followed in short order, scoring his 11th of the season just 32 seconds after Hendricks’ tally.  It was Hendricks again at 4:12 to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.  It was all the Caps would need.  The Islanders made it close on a Matt Moulson goal (his 15th of the season) with 27 seconds left, but the Islanders would threaten no more, the Caps skating off with the 3-2 win.

December 29, Game 37: Nashville 2 – Washington 0

The best word to describe this game might have been “stifling”… as in Nashville’s stifling defense.  The Predators scored just 52 seconds into the game when Mike Fisher put back a David Legwand shot.  Pekka Rinne and the Nashville defense took over from there.  Nashville held the Caps to a combined 14 shots over the first 40 minutes, and that seemed to take the fight out of the Caps.  Fisher would pot an empty net goal with 3.7 seconds left in the contest to provide the final margin, wasting a fine 27 saves on 28 shots effort by goalie Braden Holtby.

For the week Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with six points (2-4-6) with Alex Ovechkin (1-3-4) and Mike Green (1-3-4) close behind.  In goal, Michal Neuvirth finished the week 1-2-0, 3.00, .900; while Braden Holtby finished 1-1-0, 1.93, .936.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Five Stages of Writing the "Take It or Leave It" Labor Agreement

Comedian Larry Miller once came up with a brilliant bit that described the "five stages of drinking."  Turns out there are five stages to a lot of things, not the least of which is writing the "take it or leave it" proposal for a labor agreement.  Sort of like the "take it or leave it" agreements (note: plural) the NHL has offered up during this God-forsaken lockout. 

Here then, with apologies to Larry Miller, is how those stages unfold...

It's 11:00 on a September weeknight, you've got crumpled paper from labor proposals littering the floor of your office. You get up to leave because you’re sick of this stuff and besides, one of your friends wants to buy you a round. Here at level one you think to yourself, "Oh come on, this is silly, as long as I just pass this off as a ‘take it or leave it’ deal (snap fingers), I'm cool."

It's midnight on a weeknight in October. The other side rejected your deal, and you've just spent 20 minutes putting in a clause proposing realignment. You get up to leave again to meet your friend at the bar, but at level two, a little devil appears on your shoulder. And now you're thinking, "Hey! I'm out with my friends! What am I working for anyway? These are the good times! Besides, as long as I can pass THIS off as a ‘take it or leave it’ deal (snaps fingers), I'm cool."

One in the morning Hallowe’en night…uh, next morning. You've had your friend bring over a case of beer and a gallon of tequila. You've just spent 20 minutes writing a clause AGAINST realignment. And now you're thinking, "Don Fehr is the smartest guy I’ve ever gone up against." At level three, you respect the world. On the way to the bathroom you say hello to the custodian working the night shift because you like his face. You get fantasies. (Like, "Hey fellas, if we do this right, we could crush the union and have labor peace forever. We could do it.") But at level three, that devil is a little bit bigger....and he's not buying your schtick. And you're thinking, "Oh, come on, come on now.  As long as I can convince everyone that THIS is a ‘take it or leave it’ deal… and get more than ten minutes of sleep before we announce it (snaps fingers), I'm cool."

Two o’clock on Thanksgiving morning. And the devil is at the podium.  You hijacked a Budweiser delivery truck. You ARE realigned. This time on your way to the bathroom, you punch the custodian on the night shift ...just because you don't like his face. And now you're thinking, "Don Fehr is the dumbest $@#% I’ve ever sat down with." Your friend won’t come within a city block of you, but you don’t care… you can scare up another Budweiser delivery truck. And here, at level four, you actually think to yourself, "Well ... as long as I can pass this off as a ‘take it or leave it’ deal, I may as well ... STAY UP ALL NIGHT AND REALLY GET SH*T-FACED!!!! Yeah! That'd be good for me. I don't mind going to that press conference looking like Keith Richards. Yeah, I'll turn that around, make it work for me. And besides, as long as I get 31 hours sleep tomorrow"

Five in the morning the day after Christmas. After unsuccessfully trying to get your money back at the tattoo parlor ("But I don't even know anybody named Sidney!!!"), you wind up across the state line in a bar with guys who have been in prison as recently as ... that morning, trying to convince them that the Phoenix Coyotes really CAN make a go of it. It's the kind of place where even the devil is going, "Uh, I gotta turn in. I gotta be in Hell at nine. I've got that brunch with Hitler, I can't miss that." At this point, you're drinking some kind of thick blue liquor, like something from a Klingon wedding. A waitress with fresh stitches comes over, and you think to yourself, "Someday I'm gonna make that girl Commissioner!!" Bill Daly stands up and screams, "WE'RE DRIVIN' TO FLORIDA!!!!!" and passes out. You crawl outside for air, and then you hit the worst part of level five ~~ the sun. You weren't expecting that were you? You never do. You walk out of a bar in daylight, and you see people on their way to work, or jogging. And they look at you, and they know. And they say, "Who's Sidney?"

Let's be honest, if you're new at this job and you stay up all night, it's like a victory, like you've beat the night, but if you've done this lockout thing a few times, then that sun after you’ve spent the night trying to come up with a “take it or leave it” proposal is like God's flashlight. We all say the same prayer then, "I swear, I will never do this again… how long?... as long as I live!" And some of us have that little addition, "......and this time, I mean it!"

Friday, December 21, 2012

'Tis the Season... Today's Lockout Carol

O wretched league, the N-H-L,
Yet still we hear thee lie!
It makes you weep, that Bettman creep,
Will let this year go by.

Yet in the darkness shineth
The ever-dimming light.
The hope we have to save the year
And by the fans do right.

For Jonathan and Sidney, too,
For others gathered ‘round,
Career clocks are a’ticking
But they remain homebound.

O will they have a meeting
And figure these things out
Before it’s clear we have no year
And fans start to check out.

A TWO-point night -- Game 32: Capitals 6 - Canadiens 2

The five game home stand of the Washington Capitals came to an end on Thursday with a visit by the Montreal Canadiens. The visitors were fresh off a tough 3-2 overtime loss in Ottawa on Wednesday night and were playing their third game in four nights. 

The heavy load for the week seemed to affect the Canadiens early.  They had no offensive flow, and when they didn’t have the puck – which was often in the early going – they looked as if they were chasing it.  The lackluster play caught up with them when Colby Armstrong took a retaliatory cross-checking penalty against Jason Chimera at the 4:13 mark of the first period.  The Caps converted the power play opportunity 41 seconds later when Brooks Laich scored his eighth goal of the year, putting back a rebound of a Mike Ribeiro shot.

Montreal found themselves shorthanded again at the 11:28 mark when Yannick Weber was sent off for holding.  The Caps made it two-for-two on the man advantage when Alex Ovechkin ripped a wrist shot past Canadiens’ goalie Peter Budaj at 11:43.

That was all the scoring in the first period, the Caps taking a 2-0 lead to the dressing room and holding a 12-7 edge in shots on goal.

Things did not get any better for Montreal to start the second period.  Tomas Kaberle tried to use his stick to deflect a pass from Mathieu Perreault to Wojtek Wolski to the left of Budaj.  Kaberle missed and was not able to recover as Wolski stepped around him and fired a wrist shot high over Budaj’s glove to give the Caps a 3-0 lead at 3:32 of the period.

Washington made it 4-0 less than six minutes later when Nicklas Backstrom performed some sleight of hand.  Backstrom looked off the Montreal defense, giving the impression that he was going to send a cross-ice pass to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle.  Instead, he whipped a pass behind defenseman P.K. Subban to Troy Brouwer for a tap-in to the right of Budaj.

Monttreal got one back at the 16:08 mark when Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth had trouble corralling a Colby Armstron shot.  Travis Moen poked home the loose puck and ruined Neuvirth’s bid for his first shutout of the season.  The Caps took back their four-goal lead on the next shift, though.  After Nicklas Backstrom won the ensuing faceoff back to Karl Alzner, the Caps defenseman fed the puck up to Alex Ovechkin along the left wing boards.  Ovechkin stepped over the Montreal blue line and fired a shot at Budaj.  The puck ricocheted off the shin pads of defenseman Josh Gorges, but found its way onto the stick of Backstrom skating down the slot.  Backstrom snapped a shot low and past the blocker of Budaj to give the Caps a 5-1 lead just nine seconds after the Moen goal.

Joel Ward capped the scoring for the home team when he poked the puck through Budaj’s pads from the top of the Montreal crease.  Max Pacioretty made the final score a bit less one-sided when he wristed a shot through Neuvirth’s pads at the 17:22 mark, but the damage had long ago been done.  The Caps closed their five-game home stand with their fourth win, a 6-2 win over the Canadiens.

Capitals 6 – Canadiens 2

We will be hobnobbing and egg-nogging with our fellow wizards for the next week.  Have a happy holiday, and the cousins and I will be back next week.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

'Tis the Season... Today's Lockout Carol

(Sung to "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen")

God cannot help you, NHL
There are no games to play.
We hoped you’d end this labor mess
Before Columbus Day.
But here we are, from Bettman’s power
Your fans have gone away.
No tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
No tidings of comfort and joy.
To Russia and to Sweden,
So many players fled,
But none of us can know just when
They’ll call this season dead.

The Union and the League, they fight;
Fans have a sense of dread.
No tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
No tidings of comfort and joy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pondering a number

The National Hockey League canceled its entire 2004-2005 season and has canceled all games this season through December 30.  What that means is that since October 2004, the Washington Capitals could have played in 693 games over that eight-plus year span as they contemplated New Year’s Eve this year.  They did not.  When the ball drops in Times Square to usher in 2013, the Caps will have played in 574 regular season games out of those 693 contests that were on the schedule.

17 percent of those games, lost to stupidity.

Worse things can happen, though.  For example, Poland lost 17 percent of its population in World War II.  And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of American adults binge drink.

But maybe it’s not a coincidence that 17 percent of the games have been lost.  According to the “Jargon File” – a glossary of computer slang – “17” is the least “random” number (I’ll have to take their word for it…).

That number might be a bit mysterious, though, having a solution we cannot readily see.  The number “17” happens to be that corresponding to the smallest number of givens in a Sudoku puzzle that has a unique solution.

For fans feeling themselves imprisoned by the lockout, remember that “17” was part of the title of a famous movie of imprisonment… “Stalag 17.”  There is also the fact that the old television series, “The Prisoner,” had 17 episodes.  And if fans feel as though they have been robbed of the joys of hockey, “Number Seventeen” was an early film by Alfred Hitchcock.  It’s about a robbery.

The Number of the Beast – 666 – is derived by summing the squares of the first seven prime numbers, “17” being the last of them.

There are 17 species of Penguins, not including any you might find in Pittsburgh.

The next player to wear “17” for the Washington Capitals will be the 17th player in franchise history to do so.

But looking at it from the other side, there is this.  Of those 693 scheduled games since 2004, 83 percent of them will have been played when 2013 dawns.  If you score an “83” in the classroom, that works out to a “C+” grade.

Frankly, that would be an obscenely generous grade to give the NHL.

'Tis the Season... A Bonus Lockout Carol

Bettman we have heard on high
Speaking at the podium
And the press in sweet reply
Mumble softly, “uh, er, um..”
Gloria, in excelsis Gary!
Gloria, in excelsis Gary!
Owners sit by silently,
But their actions do prolong.
Without gladsome tidings be
They’re content to be headstrong.
Gloria, in excelsis Gary!
Gloria, in excelsis Gary!
Come down to New York and see
Whether we can end this thing;
Come and meet so secretly,
Stay two hours, and then take wing.
Gloria, in excelsis Gary!
Gloria, in excelsis Gary!
See the mess these suits have made
Gary, Don, and Proskauer Rose;
It’s enough, this sick charade
For fans to stay away in droves.
Gloria, in excelsis Gary!
Gloria, in excelsis Gary!

'Tis the Season... Today's Lockout Carol

I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Couldn’t say “no”…to Europe’s dough
‘Cuz we don’t play for free
Christmas Eve will find me
Playing in my dream
I'll be home for Christmas
But just not for my team
I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Couldn’t say “no”…to Europe’s dough
‘Cuz we don’t play for free
Christmas Eve will find me
Playing in my dream
I'll be home for Christmas
But just not for my team

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

'Tis the Season... Today's Lockout Carol

I'm dreaming of a long lockout
Just like the one back in oh-four
Where the players grumble,
And owners mumble
While fans are getting mighty sore.
I'm dreaming of a long lockout
With every lawsuit threat they make
All their words to fans just seem fake
And it’s just too much for us to take.
I'm dreaming of a long lockout
With every lawsuit threat they make
All their words to fans just seem fake
And it’s just too much for us to take.

A TWO-point night -- Capitals 4 - Panthers 2

The Washington Capitals took to the ice on Monday night for the fourth game in their five-game home stand, this time hosting the Florida Panthers.  The Caps and Panthers met three times earlier this season, the Caps winning all three by a combined 13-5 margin.  The Panthers came into this game a different team than the one that won the Southeast Division in 2011-2012.  The problem was that so far this season the Panthers were not seeing their way to playing hockey in extra time.  Last season the Panthers earned 32 standings points in games that went past 60 minutes (7-18).  So far this season they had a meager 2-2 record in extra-time games, and the lack of the Bettman Point contributed to their last-place position in the Southeast Division.

The Panthers did not look like a struggling team in the first period, though.  Goalie Jose Theodore was sharp, denying Nicklas Backstrom from point-blank range and fighting off a Mathieu Perreault breakaway in the game’s sixth minute. 

The Panthers used Theodore’s early acrobatics as the basis for grabbing momentum as the period wore on to the half-way point, then to take the lead when Tomas Kopecky took advantage of a turnover in the Caps’ end, snapping a loose puck past goalie Michal Neuvirth’s blocker at 9:55 for his seventh goal of the season.

Florida doubled their lead less than four minutes later.  With Nicklas Backstrom in the penalty box serving two minutes for high-sticking, Tomas Fleischmann walked out from the left wing corner.  With the Caps looking for Fleischmann to pass, the ex-Capital kept coming and backhanded the puck high over Neuvirth’s blocker to make the score 2-0 at the 13:31 mark.

Florida could not add to that total in the last six minutes of the period, but the Caps could not make a dent in the lead, either, and the teams went to their locker rooms with the Panthers holding that 2-0 lead and holding an 8-7 edge in shots on goal.

In the first period the Panthers took two minor penalties, but did not suffer any damage as a result.  The third power play for the Caps, though, was the charm.  Shawn Matthias took a cross-checking penalty at the 1:46 mark of the second period, and the Caps made the Panthers pay half a minute later.  Nicklas Backstrom took his time surveying the defense from the right wing wall and took advantage of a hole in the Panther penalty-kill to find Alex Ovechkin on a one timer from the edge of the left wing circle to put the Caps on the board at 2:15.

The goal started a deluge for the Caps.  At 3:22 Mike Ribeiro tied the game when he converted a goal-mouth centering feed from Brooks Laich through Theodore’s pads.  Less than a minute later Ovechkin gave the Caps the lead when he circled out from the left wing circle and used Panther defenseman Ed Jovanovski as a screen to beat Theodore with a wrist shot at 4:22. 

Panther coach Kevin Dineen tried to stem the Caps’ momentum by switching out goaltenders, Scott Clemmensen in for Theodore.  Then, the Panthers caught a break when Brooks Laich went off 1:25 after the Ovechkin goal for an elbowing penalty.  But the Panthers not only could not convert the power play chance to tie the game, but allowed the Caps a shorthanded goal.  A loose puck along the boards eluded defenseman Brian Campbell and skittered into the neutral zone.  Jason Chimera beat everyone to the puck and skated in alone on Clemmensen.  Chimera did not choose to deke the goalie, opting for a low wrist shot that handcuffed Clemmensen on the blocker side.  The Caps had their fourth goal in a span of 3:29.

That led to the next bit of entertainment, a bout between Matthias and the Caps’ Troy Brouwer right after the ensuing face-off.  The fight might have blunted the Caps’ momentum, but the damage was done.  The Caps went to the locker room with a 4-2 edge.

Although both teams had good chances to score – Kris Versteeg hitting the crossbar early in the period and Ovechkin being denied a hat trick when he rang the pipe at the nine-minute mark, neither team could manage to score in the third period.  The period – and the game – ended as the period began, with the Caps maintaining their 4-2 lead and winning their third game in four tries on the five-game home stand.

Capitals 4 – Panthers 2

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Your Simulated Caps at the Simulated 30-Game Mark

With their simulated win over the simulated Tampa Bay Lightning last night, the simulated Washington Capitals wrapped up their first 30 games of this simulated 2012-2013 season.  The Caps hit the 30-game mark with a record of 17-10-3.  Their 37 standings points have them trailing Carolina by one point in the Southeast Division (17-11-4) and leave them fourth in the Eastern Conference.

To date, the Caps’ longest winning streak has been six games, from October 31st through November 10th.  Their longest losing streak has been four games (0-3-1) from October 20th through October 29th.  Special teams have been efficient, if in some respects not effective.  On the penalty kill the Caps rank fourth, killing off 87.2 percent of their shorthanded situations.  On the power play side the Caps rank second in power play efficiency at 21.1 percent.  However, they rank last in the league in power play opportunities (76).

Scoring-wise, the Caps are fourth overall in the league, averaging 2.97 goals-per game.  Allowing 2.53 goals-per-game leaves the Caps 11th in scoring defense.

Goaltending has been consistent, if not spectacular.  Michal Neuvirth has appeared in 22 of the Caps first 30 games with a 2.45 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.  Braden Holtby has appeared in nine games thus far and has virtually identical statistics – a 2.44 GAA and .920 save percentage.  Neither has yet recorded a shutout.

As for the skaters, the leaders are as follows:

A TWO-point night -- Game 30: Capitals 4 - Lightning 3

Saturday night in Washington and another Southeast Division matchup.  The Washington Capitals were looking to get back on a winning track after their 3-2 loss to Philadelphia at home on Thursday night.  Saturday’s opponent was the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team the Caps defeated in Tampa in early November by a 4-2 score.  Saturday was Tampa Bay’s first visit of the season to Washington.

The Caps proved to be inhospitable in the early going.  Washington opened the scoring a little over three minutes in when Nicklas Backstrom collected the puck that ricocheted off the end wall from an Alex Ovechkin shot and whipped it into the Lightning net before goalie Mathieu Garon could cover the near post after defending the Ovechkin shot.

The goal served as a wake-up call for the Lightning, who managed to put consistent pressure on the Caps in their own end.  Goalie Michal Neuvirth was sharp, though, twice turning away Steven Stamkos one timers and a point-blank drive from Teddy Purcell in the first ten minutes.  Neuvirth’s play allowed the Caps to get out of the first period with their one-goal lead intact.

The second period started with more even play, neither team able to sustain any territorial advantage or engineer scoring chances.  That changed when Ryan Malone was sent off for boarding at the 7:08 mark of the period.  The Capitals took advantage of the power play opportunity when Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff to the right of Garon.  He pulled the puck back cleanly to Alex Ovechkin, who took a couple of strides to his right and sent a wrist shot over Garon’s glove to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.

Washington made it 3-0 later in the period off a Lightning turnover.  Defenseman Brian Lee tried to complete a stretch pass from his own goal line, but Nicklas Backstrom was jumping on for a line change as Lee released the puck.  Backstrom got in front of the pass at the Tampa Bay line, then found Troy Brouwer at Garon’s left with a pass.  Brouwer snapped the puck over Garon’s left pad at the 13:08 mark to give the Caps the three-goal lead.

Tampa Bay narrowed the gap late in the period.  Matt Carle gloved down a clearing attempt and walked down the blue line looking for a passing opportunity.  He sent the puck deep to Neuvirth’s left.  On its way through, the puck was deflected by Teddy Purcell through Neuvirth’s pads for his sixth goal of the season.  That would close out the scoring for the second period, the Caps holding a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes.

The third period opened with Tampa Bay renewing the pressure they were able to exert on the Caps early on.  The Caps complicated the problem when Mathieu Perreault was sent off for four minutes for high-sticking Benoit Pouliot.  The Caps killed off the first half of the double-minor penalty but could not wrap up the second half.  Stamkos recorded his 11th goal of the season when Martin St. Louis found him between two Caps defenders for a one-timer from the edge of the right wing circle.

Michal Neuvirth kept the Lightning from inflicting any more damage on the scoreboard, and the Caps took advantage of Neuvirth’s solid play at the 13:34 mark when Alex Ovechkin scored his second goal of the game and 14th of the season by ripping a wrist shot past Mathieu Garon’s blocker.  Nicklas Backstrom was credited with the primary assist, his third helper of the game and fourth point.

That might have ended the suspense as far as the outcome was concerned, but Dmitry Orlov was sent off for delay of game when he shot the puck off the rink with 2:57 left in regulation.  The Lightning would make it a 6-on-4 advantage when they pulled Garon for an extra attacker in the last 30 seconds of the power play.  Neuvirth was equal to the task, though, and kept the Lightning from finding the back of his net over those last 30 seconds of the power play.

The Lightning would get their goal just after the penalty expired, however.  The Caps were unable to clear the puck out of their own end, and as Orlov was trying to get into defensive position after serving his penalty, Vincent Lecavalier lifted a shot over Neuvirth’s glove to bring the visitors within a goal with 52 seconds left.

That was as close as the Lightning could get, though.  Washington skated off the last 52 seconds without allowing a Lightning shot on goal, and the Caps escaped with their 17th win of the season, 4-3.

Capitals 4 – Lightning 3

Friday, December 14, 2012

'Tis the Season...Today's Lockout Carol

Two suits meeting in a conference room
Fans a’waiting for results
Yuletide tweets being sent by the press,
Why is this so difficult?

Everybody knows that Bettman and his owner crowd,
Want to make those paychecks light.
Players grouse, getting angry and loud,
There won’t be any deal tonight.

They know that drop-dead’s on its way;
It means there won’t be any games coming our way.
And every hockey fan is going to cry,
Asking one last question, “why, oh why?”

And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To Don and Gary for their chats,
It’s true we all want a quick end to this fray,
We’re tir’d of being your…doormats.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yesterday's Labor Talks Made Simple

With apologies to Gary Larson...

'Tis the Season... Today's Lockout Carol

It's beginning to look as if it’s canceled
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look at the Twitter feeds, web site and paper leads
They’re leaving hockey fans feeling so low.

It's beginning to look as if it’s canceled
And hockey fans are sore
But the ugliest sight to see is the image that will be
Bettman’s face once more.

A pair of CCM skates and hockey camp dates
Is the wish of Barney and Ben;
Quick as a blink, it's out to the rink
Is the hope of Janice and Jen.
And hockey fans can hardly wait for games to start again.

It's beginning to look as if it’s canceled
Ev'rywhere you go;
There's a kid standing by the glass, missing a day of class,
Waiting for games that set his cheeks a-glow.

It's beginning to look as if it’s canceled;
The talks, they fell apart,
And the thing that will make it sad is the year that we'd have had
Would make glad your heart.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

'Tis the Season... Today's Lockout Carol

Sing along, kids.  You know the tune...

Have a holly jolly meeting
It's ‘bout time you save the year
Well I don't know if chances grow
But that is what we hear

Have a holly jolly meeting
And when you walk in the room
Shake the hand of ev’ry man
And stop this talk of doom

Good grief, the legal brief
All you ever see
Somebody light a match
Burn ‘em up for me

Have a holly jolly meeting
And in case we didn’t say
Oh by golly have a holly jolly meeting

Have a holly jolly meeting
It's ‘bout time you save the year
Well I don't know if chances grow
But that is what we hear

Have a holly jolly meeting
And in case we didn’t say
Oh by golly have a holly jolly meeting

A TWO-point night -- Game 28: Captials 4 - Penguins 2

The Washington Capitals returned to the friendly confines of Verizon Center on Tuesday to take on their archrival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that was one of the surprises in the NHL in the early going, and not in a good way.  Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were as prolific as ever, but the Penguins were having trouble getting scoring from anyone else.  James Neal, who notched his fourth goal of the season in the last meeting of these teams on Hallowe’en, has had one goal since. Chris Kunitz came into this game working on a ten-game streak of his own without a goal.  Pascal Dupuis has had success chipping in on Crosby’s goals (Crosby entered this game with 12 goals, seven of them since these teams last met), but has had only one of his own over his last dozen games.

The game started with the Penguins trying to make a statement with early pressure on Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth.  They were not able to maneuver a puck around or through him, though, over the first half of the period.  It was as the period approached the midway point that the Penguins then committed an unforced error.  Paul Martin was penalized two minutes for interference when he held up Joel Ward trying to chase a puck he chipped into the corner in the Penguin end.  

The Caps made the Penguins pay for the mistake at the 9:22 mark when Alex Ovechkin faked a slap shot from the left wing circle and passed the puck to Nicklas Backstrom at the edge of the right wing circle.  With the Penguins positioning themselves to defend an Ovechkin drive, Backstrom was uncovered and redirected the slap-pass into the net behind Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Caps the early lead.  That would be the extent of the scoring in the first period, the Caps holding a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard and a 9-8 edge in shots on goal.

The second period unfolded as a replay of the first when the Penguins’ Brooks Orpik took a double-minor for high sticking Brooks Laich at the 3:48 mark of the period.  The Caps converted on the first-half of the four-minute man advantage when John Carlson fed a wrist shot from the top of the zone through a clot of bodies in front of Fleury to put the Caps up by a pair at 5:18.

Pittsburgh killed off the second half of the Caps’ man advantage, and it seemed to restore some momentum for the visitors.  The Penguins gradually tilted the ice toward the Caps’ end of the rink, and it paid off late.  Craig Adams forced Caps’ defenseman Dmitry Orlov into a turnover with hard forechecking pressure behind the Caps’ net.  Orlov coughed up the puck, which slid out to forward Joe Vitale who was skating in to support Adams.  Vitale found himself with the puck in open ice just to Neuvirth’s left, and Vitale banged it in before Neuvirth could prepare himself for the shot.

The goal seemed to wake the Capitals up, though.  Barely a minute later the Caps returned the favor of hard forechecking pressure in the Penguin end, and Joel Ward picked Matt Niskanen’s pocket, poking the puck along the end wall to Jason Chimera.  From behind the net to Fleury’s right Chimera took a hit from Ben Lovejoy as he was centering the puck for Brooks Laich.  The Capital forward did not get a clean whack at the puck, but got just enough of it to send it on net.  The pace of the shot handcuffed Fleury, and the puck slid between his pads, restoring the Caps to their two-goal lead just before the second intermission.

For the first half of the third period, it was the Caps’ turn to frustrate the Penguins with forechecking, and when the Pens were able to move the puck up ice Washington did a good job of preventing scoring opportunities.  Karl Alzner and John Carlson were especially effective in shutting down the Sidney Crosby-Chris Kunitz-Pascal Dupuis line, one that would not record a point in this game.  Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik were equally effective in containing Evgeni Malkin, who would also finish this game without a point.

The Caps’ efforts were rewarded in the 13th minute of the period when Mathieu Perreault knifed between two Penguins to flick a rebound of a Jack Hillen shot past Fleury for the Caps’ fourth goal.  That one seemed to take the remaining wind out of the Penguins’ sails, although the visitors would get one back with under three minutes left when Brandon Sutter wristed a puck past Neuvirth from between the hash marks to close out the scoring.

Capitals 4 – Penguins 2

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Boarding the Shuttle

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
-- Albert Einstein

They have tried meetings involving the principals.  They have tried meetings involving seconds.  They have tried meetings involving principals and the seconds.  They have tried meetings involving no principals and just seconds with owners and players.  They tried bringing in the face of the league to participate in meetings, reported to have met with his agent and owner to try to figure out what might work.

And yet, here we are…Day 87 of the Great Lockout of 2012.

You see a pattern here?

Having people who clearly do not trust, like, or respect one another in the same room, expecting that something wonderful will bloom, might not be a working strategy here.  Perhaps it is time for something else.

“Shuttle Diplomacy”

Simply put, shuttle diplomacy introduces the notion of an “honest broker” to serve as an intermediary between two contentious parties, shuttling between them communicating offers and divining and documenting common ground between them.  It allows the parties to avoid, at least to some extent, the aspect of personality that in this instance seems to have poisoned the process.  The players don’t trust NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.  The owners don’t like NHL Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr.  One might opine that the principals themselves have a professional distance between them, but the relationship looks like something else that is fitting for this time of year – frosty.

This process might benefit from having a third party – that “honest broker” – communicate offers and proposals between the parties and document where the sides are in agreement.  One might argue that the principals are savvy veterans of labor wars, and it would be a fair comment.  That argues for a party with stature and an impeccable reputation for integrity and honesty, a party that both sides, including rank and file players and owners not on the NHL’s negotiating committee, would have faith in as a trustworthy and discrete arbiter while having no agenda in the outcome.

Thinking out loud, the sort of candidate one would prefer to assume this role would be someone who has experience both on the rink and in the front office.  It would be someone whose credentials as a spokesperson for the game are impeccable and who also has a familiarity with the business of sports management.  One would prefer that this individual have experience in high-stakes negotiation and that he or she has the skill to distill issues to their essential elements. 

The principals have not been able to do this for themselves.  Maybe they can do a better job of finding that person who can broker an agreement both sides can live with.

Get on with it.

Monday, December 10, 2012


The National Hockey League is expected to cancel another block of games early this week even as they struggle with when/whether to have further talks with the Players Association to arrive at an agreement on a new labor pact.  The schedule of cancellations so far looks like this...

The block of dates on the calendar for the next round of cancellations will be telling.  If the cancellations amount to a week or two, it might serve as evidence that the sides are still close, despite the histrionics following last Thursday's set of meetings, proposals, and rejections (although we did reset the "puck-in-play" condition back to PUCKCON 2).  If it is longer, it might be a signal as to what the league considers its "drop-dead" date to cancel the season.  This might be the last block of games cancelled before the league puts the season out of its misery.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A NO-point night -- Game 27: Red Wings 3 - Capitals 2

On Friday night the Washington Capitals looked to get back on the winning track with a visit to Detroit to take on the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.  The Caps, losers on Wednesday night to the New York Rangers by a 3-2 margin, would be facing a team that was in the midst of a seven-game home stand that saw them go 3-0-1 in their first four contests.

The teams started the game like prize fighters circling one another for an opening.  Neither team recorded a shot in the first five minutes.  The game opened up a little bit after that, though, and it was the Red Wings that scored first.  Valteri Filppula was the exclamation point on a tic-tac-toe passing play that started with Carl Colaiacovo at the top of the right wing circle.  His pass to Mikael Samuelsson was redirected onto the stick of Filppula, who shoveled the puck into the far side of the net from the edge of the left wing circle before goalie Michal Neuvirth could get across his crease.

Less than two minutes later the Caps tied the score.  Mike Ribeiro notched his sixth of the year after some gritty work by Brooks Laich in front to keep the puck from being covered by Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard.  Laich had several whacks at the puck, and although he could not find a hole in Howard’s pads, his last whack caromed to Howard’s right where Ribeiro was alone to stuff he puck inside the post at the 11:01 mark of the period.  That would be the last of the scoring in the first period, the reams tied at one goal apiece and the Red Wings having a 9-4 edge in shots on goal.

The second period looked a lot different from the first, at least for the home team.  The Red Wings came out of the locker room flying.  They recorded the first eight shots of the period, but none managed to find its way past Neuvirth, who was single-handedly keeping the Caps in the contest.  He could not keep his net entirely clean, though.  The Red Wings’ ability to control the puck in the offensive zone for long stretches paid dividends late in the period when Kyle Quincey threw a harmless looking shot toward the net that appeared to be going wide to Neuvirth’s right.  The puck struck Cory Emmerton’s left skate, however, and changed direction just enough to sneak through Neuvirth’s skates for the tie-breaking goal at 16:04.  It would be the only goal the Red Wings would record in the period, a surprising result given that the Wings would outshoot the Caps by a 19-6.

The Caps took advantage of Neuvirth’s stonewalling the Wings in the second period by tying the game just 68 seconds after the intermission.  Alex Ovechkin took a pass from Mike Green at his own blue line and started up ice with Jonathan Ericsson back for the Wings.  Ovechkin freight-trained his way up ice, pushing Ericsson back.  As he crossed the blue line he feinted a cut to the middle and slid the puck through Ericsson’s skates.  Picking it up on the other side of Ericsson in the left wing circle, Ovechkin rifled a wrist shot to the long side of Howard and inside the far post to tie the game.

That was the way the game stood for almost 16 minutes.  But with just over three minutes remaining the Wings broke the tie when Pavel Datsyuk got his stick in the way of a cross-ice pass from Mike Green to Roman Hamrlik.  Datsyuk split the defense and skated in alone on Neuvirth on a clean breakaway, finishing off the play with a deke that drew Neuvirth off balance enough to give Datsyuk an opening to slide the puck through and into the back of the net at 16:59.

The Caps could manage little pressure after that, recording only one shot on goal in the last 3:01, and the Red Wings extended their home streak of not losing in regulation to five games with a 3-2 win over the Caps.

Red Wings 3 – Capitals 2

Friday, December 07, 2012

A Man for the Moment

We find ourselves walking through the rubble this morning, the National Hockey League and its Players Association having nuked negotiations last evening.  As we stagger through the dust this morning, we are left to answer a question in the quiet of our own thoughts, “what…what can we do now?”

As always, one man stands alone as an answer to our prayers for hockey.  A man of vast wealth, star power, and great hair.

Yes, Donald Trump.  What professional hockey needs now, now that the league and its union have settled the matter of whether then can play nice, is someone to turn our glum to glitter, our melancholy to a mélange of bright lights and gaudy uniforms.  I propose to you…

The Trump Hockey League

Think of it.  There are a lot of cities out there with the size and perhaps the arena availability to make this work.  There could be 12 teams in two divisions…

Think of it… hockey on the rink, casinos in the concourses.  Not a “red light” to signal a goal, but explosions!  Fireworks!  Pulsating lights!  Referees, not in striped shirts with orange arm bands, but the full day-glo orange ensemble.  Goalies with pads that flash when a puck hits them.  Not the home team logo on every game puck, but a picture of The Donald, Commissioner and Grand Poobah of the THL.

Enough of this old school, staid hockey in the NHL.  Enough of the constant bickering between owners and players.  Play the game with style, with panache, with the sort of production it deserves, for the best fans on earth.

Donald Trump, your time has come.  Hockey needs you.

Giving 'til it theoretically hurts

“Good morning, and thanks for coming in today.”

My pleasure.

“Please, have a seat…
…the reason I called you in today is that we are reviewing our financial position, and we are realigning costs with a change in our business model.”

Which has been quite successful, if I might say.  Revenue is up, stock prices up, market cap is solid.  Looks like we’re doing very well.

“True…nevertheless, changing times mean changes in the workplace.  We are prepared to offer you a compensation package that is summarized by what you see on this fact sheet.  Please take a look at it.”

…but… if I understand the numbers here, I’d be taking a 24 percent pay cut, and that would be subject to another reduction after not more than five years.  That’s new.

“Like I said…changing time means changing…”

Yeah, I heard you.  Why is it that I’m having to take such a pay cut when business seems to be doing so well?

“Well, we think we are paying you too much, and besides, the improvements – the new health club, the day care center, the renovated offices – all cost money.”

I’m not sure I can agree to this offer.

“Well, perhaps we can sweeten it a skosh…”

I’m listening.

“Let’s say… a 19 percent cut instead of a 24 percent cut.”

While the company is earning more revenue in a bad economy and seeing its value increase year to year?  I might be agreeable to a five or six percent cut for the good of the franchise, but 19 percent?

“OK, how about this… a 14 percent cut.  And, you agree to a five-year package…”

After which you can cut me again.

“Changing times…”

Call for changes in the workplace, yeah, I get it.

“And we’d ask for a non-competition clause in your deal.  If you leave the firm, you can’t be employed by a competitor for at least three years.”

What?  Where does this come from?

“We’re going to have to hold firm on that.”

Let’s go back to the 14 percent cut.  You’re going to phase that in, right?

“Oh, no.  That goes into effect immediately.”

This isn’t going to work.  I’m still under the deal we made two years ago; how are you going to make good on your end of the bargain?

-- shrugs shoulders –

So, if I understand you, I have to take a 14 percent pay cut, today, and it’s only good for the next five years.  And, if I should leave the firm, I can’t take a job with a competitor for three years.

“We could perhaps bump  that period covering the deal from five to seven years, since you are part of the team, and maybe...maybe phase the pay cut over two years, half now and half next year.”

I still don’t think it’s such a good deal.

“How can you say that?  We’ve given up so much from our side of the table.  We bumped up our offer on compensation by nine percent.  We added two years to your deal.  Phased in the pay cut.  We’ve made real concessions here.”

That’s a change in your original offer.  You are getting real dollars out of my real pocket.  And my compensation package is still tied to your revenue model.  Meanwhile, you have all those stock options, and if you can show you cut labor cost – again, I might add, since you did this seven years ago, too – they will be worth a whole lot more money, none of which I’ll ever see.


When one side of the table talks about having given up so much, ask yourself, “given up based on what, what they have or what they want?”

You can only give up what you really have, not something based on a theory.