Archive for the ‘2009-2010 Washington Capitals’ Category

April 28th, 2010

Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Playoff Notebook: An Abrupt End

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Habs celebrate over the carcass of Washington’s season.

What else is there really left to say at this point?  Everyone who has been paying attention for the past two weeks knows the score: the Washington Capitals, the best team in hockey over the 2009-10 NHL regular season is going home, vanquished in seven games by the weakest team in the entire draw, the Montreal Canadiens.

At the start of this month, no one would have dared predict that it could happen.  At the start of this month, no one would have dared believe it could happen.  Hell, most of us sitting here in the press lounge still can’t quite believe it happened.

So what’s the why behind what now has to be considered the biggest disappointment in Caps postseason history?  I’ll try my best to recount the carnage:

His name is Halak.  Jaroslav Halak: Here in DC, plenty of folks know the name of Carey Price thanks to the role he played a couple of years ago in helping Hamilton to a Calder Cup Finals win over the Hershey Bears.  Fewer knew the name of Halak, the unheralded backup who won the job away from Price this season after toiling in the minors himself.  After getting chased after Washington’s Game Three win, Halak only yielded three goals on 134 shots.  That’s a save percentage of .978.

Habs Black Out Washington Power Play: Over the length of the series, Washington’s power play, which was the best in the NHL in the regular season, went 1 for 33 against Montreal.  Now, if you’ve watched hockey for any length of time, you know that plenty of broadcasters like to fall back on the old saw that your goalie is ultimately your best penalty killer, and Halak was certainly that for Montreal.

But Halak is only part of the story.  Witness the final power play of the season.  With time running out and goalie Semyon Varlamov pulled for an extra attacker, Washington still couldn’t hold the puck in the offensive zone.  For the entire series, the Caps looked lost with an extra attacker.  Shots from the point were blocked frequently and with ease.  The passing lanes were consistently clogged with Montreal sticks, and Washington never seemed to be able to hold the zone.  Perhaps most damning of all, the team couldn’t even manage to score on its only 5-on-3 advantage of the series that came in Game Six.  Meanwhile, Montreal’s power play was merely average, clocking in at a 20% success rate.  It was really all they would need.

The "Passengers": After Washington squandered a chance to put Montreal away at home in Game Five, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau went to pains to point out that not everyone on his roster was pulling their weight.  In particular, he said that there were "five or six passengers," on the roster who simply weren’t getting things done.  Well, Boudreau wasn’t afraid to call out some of those folks, but we ought to spell out just who he was talking about right now: Alexander Semin (0 goals on a  team-leading 44 shots); Mike Green (0 goals, 0 power play points, 12 costly PIMs and countless giveaways, including one that led to the insurance goal that put away Game Seven all while piling up more ice time than any other player on the roster); Tomas Fleischmann (0 goals, scratched in Game Seven); Brendan Morrison (0 goals, scratched twice); David Steckel (0 goals, scratched four times).

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Alexander Semin and Brendan Morrison might want to keep their bags packed.

If you were wondering if there were any hidden injuries, head coach Bruce Boudreau dispelled those rumors after the game, pointing out that the only member of the team who was injured was Tom Poti, who was lost for the series after suffering an eye injury in Game Six.

There’s more, plenty more, but to wrap things up, I think we ought to lay out what this franchise has achieved over the past three seasons to put it all into perspective.

Positive: 2007-08: Took the Southeast Division by one point after being left for dead in November, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2003.  2008-09: Won second straight Southeast Division title.  Won first playoff series (vs. Rangers) since 1998.  2009-10: Won third straight Southeast Division title.  Won first Eastern Conference title in team history.  Won first President’s Trophy in team history, qualifying for home ice throughout the playoffs.

Negative: Played four playoff series in three seasons.  Qualified as the higher seed each time (#3, #2 and #1).  Extended to seven games in every series by lower seeds. Lost Game Seven at home three times.

Conclusion: Despite enjoying incredible regular season success, it appears that the Washington Capitals, for whatever reason, are a team that isn’t built for postseason success.  So what comes next?  Even Boudreau admitted after tonight’s game that Game Seven is the last time this exact lineup is going to be together.  Sure, that might be a cliche of sorts in every sport when the season comes to an end, but after suffering what has to be considered the most crushing defeat in the history of the organization, one has to wonder out loud whether or not Ted Leonsis will come to General Manager George McPhee and Boudreau looking for some sort of action plan to right the ship.

It’s hard to overstate just what a first round defeat does to an organization.  While it’s easy to focus on the emotional damage right now, there are also practical business implications.  There’s the playoff revenue that was lost after failing to advance.  There are season ticket holders who would have renewed their plans who won’t now.  After a loss, it will be harder to sell tickets and sponsorships.  Television ratings, which have been trending upward for three seasons, could very well take a hit too.

I could say more, but to tell you the truth, I’m out of answers right now.  And, as it turns out, so is the team captain:

 
April 28th, 2010

SEMIN HITS THE CROSSBAR!

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Oh. So. Close.

The story here thus far has been more of the same: Caps pressure but fail to score, Canadiens take a 1-0 lead on a power play goal, this time my Marc-Andre Bergeron.  But the most frustrating moment of the night came in the first period, when the snake-bit Alexander Semin beat Jaroslav Halak only to see his shot rattle off the crossbar.

 
April 27th, 2010

Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Playoff Notebook: Seventh Heaven or Seventh Circle of Hell?

As I drove home from my girlfriend’s apartment last night after witnessing Jaroslav Halak’s 53-save performance against the Washington Capitals in a 4-1 Montreal Canadiens victory which forced a seventh game in their first round playoff series, I couldn’t help but think about a boilerplate statement that business and financial writers are awfully familiar with …

This release contains information about management’s view of future expectations, plans and prospects that constitute forward-looking statements for purposes of the safe harbor provisions under The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Actual results may differ materially from those indicated by these forward-looking statements, as a result of a variety of factors including, but not limited to …

In the business, that’s known as the "Safe Harbor Statement." Put simply, it’s a warning from a public company that despite how well things might seem to be going at the moment financially, it’s no guarantee of future performance.  It’s also a bit of legal CYA that companies can point to when things go wrong as long as their original projections were made in good faith. Put simply, while things are going great now, your money is still at risk. Caveat emptor.

In a way, it’s a lot like that in hockey too, it’s just that instead of your money, it’s your heart and soul that’s at risk. Then again, did we really need a warning that finishing the regular season as champions of the Southeast Division and the Eastern Conference, as well as the winner of the President’s Trophy for the league’s best overall record in no way guarantees victory in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

But there are other ways we need to keep that statement in mind when it comes to what might happen tomorrow night on the ice at Verizon Center, where the Caps will once again try to put away the pesky Canadiens. Because whatever might have happened in the past, whether the goalie in question was Billy Smith, Ron Hextall, Tom Barasso, Ken Wregget, Johan Hedberg, Nik Khabibulin, Martin Biron or Marc-Andre Fleury, it’s still just one game. And in the very basic world of statistical analysis, there are only two possible outcomes: you win or you lose. It’s the proverbial coin flip, and thanks to the greatest regular season performance in team history, the Caps will get to play that game at home.

Granted, if the coin comes up tails tomorrow night, there will be more than enough time for recriminations. As Caps owner Ted Leonsis has said many times before, there isn’t any person in his organization — and that goes from General Manager George McPhee to the lowliest prospect skating in South Carolna — who won’t have to endure some sort of performance review once the season is done.

If they lose, the series will have to go down as one of the most heartbreaking in franchise history, even for a franchise that has experienced other epic playoff collapses. Safe to say, it will also go down as one of the biggest upsets in league history. But all will be forgotten and forgiven if the team simply wins tomorrow night. So keep an open mind and concentrate on the positive, as hard as that might be at the moment. In the end, and we all knew this going in, there are no guarantees in life, or in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 
April 23rd, 2010

Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Notebook: Day 10

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Ovie scored once, but a second goal eluded him and his teammates tonight.

If there was any word to take away from the postgame locker room or press conference tonight, it had to be frustration.  Before the playoffs even began, this team had identified disposing of their first round opponent in four or five games as a must if they were to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.  But here we are after five games, and we’re headed back to Montreal for Game 6 after a 2-1 decision that was essentially lost in the game’s first 10 minutes.

The big mystery here is why a team that was so dominant in the regular season couldn’t seem to get their heads together in time for the drop of the puck, forgot how to execute on the power play, and lacked the sort of mental discipline you need to avoid taking stupid penalties that can hamstring any hope of coming back from an early two-goal deficit.

Not that Montreal doesn’t deserve some credit.  The Caps came out flat in the first period, just like they have all series long, and they took advantage twice on goals by Mike Cammalleri and Travis Moen.  As for Jaroslav Halak, he made the 37 saves he was supposed to make, but if you talked to Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau, there were more than a few opportunities his players should have buried.

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Halak made the saves he had to, but Washington’s scorers didn’t bury their chances.

For Boudreau, there was a pretty easy answer as to why this team his headed back to Montreal instead of resting up to get ready for the Philadelphia Flyers, and that’s because everyone isn’t giving a maximum effort.  Boudreau went to pains to point out that out of his 20 players, there were "five or six passengers," on the Washington bench who weren’t pulling their weight.  When asked about the play of Alexander Semin, who has been held without a goal this series, Boudreau, while acknowledging that Semin’s effort was better than it was earlier in the series, simply asked a reporter how many goals or assists Semin had on Friday night.

And then, right off the top of his head, Boudreau said that Semin had now been held without a goal for 12 straight playoff games.  "He did put in a better effort I thought than the last three or four games.  If we don’t get him scoring, then it is too easy to check certain guys.  He just has to come through," said Boudreau.

Now we get to wait two days for Game Six.  And the Philadelphia Flyers get two more days to rest.  Here at Verizon Center, they always seem to play the same clip of Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday in the third period, that locker room speech where he talks about how the inches a team needs to win are all around us.

Those inches were all around the Caps tonight.  And they left them all on the ice.

 
April 18th, 2010

Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Playoff Notebook: Day 5

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The biggest postseason comeback since Dale Hunter?

By nature, I’m a "hope for the best," but "prepare for the worst," sort of person.  So when somebody asked me last night what I thought about Washington’s chances to force overtime heading into the third period down two goals, my first reaction was to ask in reply how often an average team rallies in the third period to do the same.

Of course, after last night’s thrilling finish, we know that the Caps aren’t that sort of team at all.  They are not average.  They’re not even like the children of Lake Wobegon, where everyone is "above average."  Instead, they are the sort of team that rallies from a two-goal deficit to tie the game, then yields a goal to give back the lead, only to tie the game on the stick of a rookie who is developing a "Jeter-like" reputation in the world of hockey.

Then, once that’s all over with, and the paramedics have packed the defibrillator and wiped the gel off your quivering chest, they’ll put the game away barely 30 seconds into overtime, this time courtesy of a young Swede who seems determined to play Peter Forsberg in tandem with Alex Ovechkin’s portrayal of Joe Sakic.

No, that’s not at all average.  Shame on me for not factoring in all of the other comebacks I’ve seen this team author in the past three seasons.  Shame on me for preparing for the average and not expecting the extraordinary.

 
April 17th, 2010

Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Playoff Notebook: Day 4

Jose Theodore was not the problem on Thursday night.
While some questioned Jose Theodore before, he wasn’t the problem Thursday.

I’ll be back watching and tweeting during Game Two with the Canadiens.  Like most folks in town, I’m not exactly panicking after watching the heavily favored Caps drop Game One to Montreal.  As I’ve written before, there are few teams that win a Stanley Cup without having to endure some sort of trouble or strife along the way, and I don’t see any reason why the Caps should be any different.  In fact, we ought to recall that it was only four years ago that this same Canadiens team stole two games on home ice in an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes.

So what has to improve tonight for Washington to win. At this point, it shouldn’t be any mystery.  After all, just about everyone has identified the fact that Alex Ovechkin needs to find a way to pierce Montreal’s defense — at least enough to get a single shot through the maze of bodies that seem willing to sacrifice themselves to help defend Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Back in a bit.

All eyes will be on Alex Ovechkin tonight.
All eyes will be on Alex tonight.

UPDATE: Just witnessed a wild end to the second period, one that saw the Caps fall behind by a score of 4-1 before getting a goal back courtesy of Nicklas Backstrom.  In short, the Caps are getting outworked and outhustled by Montreal, and it hasn’t helped that their goaltending has deserted them at the worst moment possible.

The big news in the first period was Jose Theodore getting pulled after yielding two goals on the first two and only shots he faced.  Semyon Varlamov seemed to get things under control in the second, but would up yielding a pair of goals of his own before the end of the period.  And while the crowd was cheered by Backstrom’s late goal, a two-goal deficit has hardly ever looked this daunting.

 
April 17th, 2010

Capstronaut Revealed

For a while now, folks have been wondering about the indentity of the Capstronaut, a fan who has been showing up at games this season dressed in a space suit.  Over at The Daily Caller, Jonathan Strong has a short feature on Mark Handwerger, who is apparently the man behind the mask:

The man who mysteriously wears an astronaut suit to nearly every home game of the Washington Capitals is Geoff Dawson, a local bar mogul who co-owns a spaceship-themed bar in Chinatown, the Daily Caller has determined.

Dawson and business partner Mark Handwerger own Bedrock Management Group, which owns and operates four Buffalo Billiards locations, Atomic Billiards, Aroma, two Carpool locations, two Mackey’s and the space-themed Rocket Bar, among others.  

Then again, the identity of the Capstronaut hasn’t exactly been much of a secret. After all, if you had been paying attention to my Twitter feed all the way back in January, you had all the information you needed to know to track this story down.

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Credit to Strong for putting in the work to get the confirmation.

 
April 16th, 2010

Not The Best Washington Has To Offer

I’m sure I’m late to the party on this clip, but I felt the need to share:

Like my friend Lyle Richardson said, calm down, it’s only Game One.

 
April 16th, 2010

Photos From Caps-Habs

 
April 15th, 2010

Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Playoff Notebook: Day 2

Alex Ovechkin closes in on Jaroslav Halak.
Can Halak handle Ovie’s heat?

I’ll be in the press box at Verizon Center for Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal playoff series between the Caps and the Montreal Canadiens.  If you want to keep up with my observations in real time, please follow me on my Twitter feed.  After the game is over, I’ll leave some notes here, as well as any video I shoot in the locker room.

As for last night’s results (click here for my predictions), I had a hard time stifling a chuckle after watching every one of the higher seeds drop Game One on home ice.  And being a Washingtonian, it was hard not to smile after seeing the Ottawa Senators drop the Penguins in Pittsburgh by a score of 5-4.  As it turns out, the rumors are indeed true: defending the Cup can often be harder than winning it in the first place.

Here’s something that dropped in my email box earlier today that I wanted to share:

Eric, I don’t think I can go another playoff season without my own Caps jersey, but which player should I get? Everyone has Ovechkin, but there’s good reason for that. I like Backstrom, but he’s a free agent this summer, though I don’t see why he’d want to leave. Maybe Brooks Laich or similar? Who would you get?

Good question.  Indeed, Backstrom isn’t going anywhere. There’s no doubt that he’ll be re-signed over the Summer to at least a one-year extension if not a multi-year deal. If you want a jersey that’s going to be here for a long time, but might not be as well known, go for #74, John Carlson.  Here’s an interview I shot with him in Hershey a couple of weeks ago. He’s going to be a monster:

More later.

UPDATE: We’re tied 1-1 after two periods.  Safe to say, the Caps have been getting the better of the run of play, but they can’t seem to convert.  The one goal they did score, a wrist shot from just inside the blue line by defenseman Joe Corvo that found its way through a screen and into the back of the net, was a textbook example of a dirty playoff goal. The key here: Jason Chimera setting a very effective screen that prevented Halak from picking up the puck.

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Tomas Fleischmann prepares to let loose with a backhand shot on Jaroslav Halak.

All I know right now is that I’m smelling overtime.

OVERTIME UPDATE: It’s one thing to lose Game One of a playoff series in OT.  It’s another thing entirely to lose that game after the puck comes off the stick of the player who called out your goalie in the days before the game the way Tomas Plekanec did with Jose Theodore earlier this week.

The story tonight was a familiar one for folks who have watched a lot of playoff hockey.  Higher seed dominates play early on, but can’t translate that dominant play into many goals.  Other team withstands the early push and begins to think they can actually win. 

Here’s a dejected Ovechkin after the game:

More tomorrow.

 
April 12th, 2010

Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Playoff Notebook: Preface

Heading into yesterday’s regular season finale with the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals had little, if any, unfinished business.  For certain, the team was committed to helping Alex Ovechkin secure his 3rd straight Rocket Richard Trophy.  And there was little doubt in my mind that if the chance presented itself, the team would do everything it could to get Alex Semin his 40th goal and Mike Green his 20th.

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Mike Green failed to get his 20th goal, but there are bigger fish to fry this Spring in D.C.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, at this point in the organization’s development, individual goals count for little with everyone focused on bringing Washington its first Stanley Cup.  So yes, there was exaltation when Semin tallied his 40th goal in the first period.  But while it might be possible for somebody to have mixed feelings after Ovechkin and Green were kept scoreless during the balance of a 4-3 shootout loss, the overriding buzz in the locker room after the game was one of anticipation.

The preliminaries were over, and now the real business was at hand.

Standing in the locker room after the game, it was hard not to remember just how different the end of the regular season could look here in Washington, and just how far the organization has come in such a short amount of time.

For me, my mind wandered back to the scene following the regular season finale in 2007, the last year that the team failed to make the playoffs.  On April 7, 2007, the Caps went away quietly at home at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres by a score of 2-0.  Though it was only three years ago, and it was already apparent that Ovechkin was the sort of transcendent talent that would eventually catapult Washington back into playoff contention, the fans hadn’t come back yet.  Instead, the stands that day were filled with noisy Sabres fans, either folks from Western New York who decided to spend a long weekend in the nation’s capital, or just some of the many local residents who were transplants from the economically depressed Buffalo region.

In the bowels of Verizon Center after that game, the press gaggle around Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff was pretty deep — and why wouldn’t it be, with the team having just completed the regular season with the league’s best record.  That Sabres team was just one year removed from an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, and was one of the prohibitive favorites to win it all that Spring.

Unfortunately for those Sabres, the burden of increased expectations was too much for them to handle, and they went down meekly in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Ottawa Senators.

The postgame presser with then-Caps coach Glen Hanlon wasn’t as well attended.  Back then, Hanlon’s postgame comments were always delivered in a small room just off the entrance to the hallway that leads to the Caps locker room.  Even though there were few of us in attendance, I’ll never know how we all managed to fit into that room.  The mood there, like it had been in the Caps locker room, was actually pretty hopeful.  Talking to Hanlon, Olie Kolzig and Chris Clark that day, it was more than clear that the team had turned a corner, and that better days were just ahead.  And all of them were looking forward to being part of the fun.

Of course, none of them are around now that the party is really getting started. 

Today, Bruce Boudreau’s postage press conferences are now held in an interview off the main press lounge, a room big enough to handle rows of chairs and more camera crews than I ever remember seeing crowd into the broom closet where Hanlon used to take questions.  A locker room that used to be easy to navigate is always crowded, and its about to get even more crowded once Montreal comes to town for Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs on Thursday night.

Today, it’s the Capitals who posted the best record in the regular season, and now it’s this team that needs to work under the burden of increased expectations.

What will the result be?  We all know that the same kind of pressure that breaks most substances also turns coal into diamonds.  But we also need to know that not every ride to the Stanley Cup is an uninterrupted escalator ride to success.  Even the best team of the post-Original Six era, the Edmonton Oilers, experienced a dramatic setback before winning five Cups in a seven-year stretch.  In the Spring of 1983, Gretzky, Messier, Kurri and all the rest were the favorites heading into the finals against an aging and battered Islanders squad.  But only four games later, the same team that would write its name in history was left battered at the hands of the dynastic Islanders in a four-game sweep.

But if you talk to those players now, to a man, they’ll tell you how that loss made possible all of the victories that came later on.  Sometimes you need to take one step back to get that extra step up to be successful.

Over the past three years, the Caps have made multiple incremental improvements in all aspects of their on-ice performance, incremental improvements that have culminated in the best regular season performance in the team’s history.  They are the favorite to win it all, and anyone who tells you they aren’t is stone cold crazy.

I don’t have any doubt that we will see Alex Ovechkin lift the Cup above his head as a Stanley Cup champion here in Washington.  Will they do it this year?  My heart says yes, but my head, filled with decades of memories of other clubs with broken dreams, isn’t so certain.  I guess I’ll just have to stick around to find out.

 
February 8th, 2010

What Did Mike Milbury Say Yesterday?

I’m sure by now most fans of the Washington Capitals have heard about an incident that occurred just off of press row yesterday afternoon in the immediate aftermath of a thrilling 5-4 OT victory by the Caps over the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The thumbnail sketch is that Mike Milbury of NBC Sports got into a confrontation with Phil Van Der Vossen, a blogger for Capitals Outsider and the owner of Gunaxin.com.

I’ve done some digging into the issue overnight, and I’ll have some thoughts on it later.  However, for now, I’m going to concentrate on exactly what Milbury said that kicked off the incident, and no doubt has some folks around town a little perturbed.

During the first intermission, after the Penguins had taken a 2-0 lead over Washington on a pair of goals by Sidney Crosby, NBC threw their coverage to the in-arena studio where Pierre McGuire and Milbury were reviewing the highlights from the first period — a period that was more or less dominated by Pittsburgh thanks to some sloppy defensive play by Washington.

In any case, here’s what Milbury said when he was narrating the video from the first period.  The following was obtained from a video monitoring service that I subscribe to. After I retrieved the transcript, I checked it against an actual clip, one that I can’t share with you because it would violate the terms of service:

What a play. What a move. Quick hands. 1-0, sets the tone. Watch the move there. Good head fake on a great pass by Malkin. Passing, shooting, scoring. He’s really matured into what everybody thought he was in the draft year, the complete player. To come here and say, hey, Ovie, I’m still your Daddy here. That’s special.

To say that Milbury is operating with a short leash with Caps fans is not an understatement.  Given his track record and the role he’s asked to play by his bosses at NBC Sports, the above crack is hardly out of the ordinary for him.  Still, when you add it all together, it’s not hard to understand that a significant slice of the fan base doesn’t exactly have warm feelings for Milbury.

Now, does that justify what apparently took place after the game?  That’s another question entirely.  More later.

 
February 2nd, 2010

Thank You, Comcast

Anyone who has been paying attention to my Twitter feed this season knows that I’ve been highly critical of CSNDC and their telecasts of Caps games on CSN+.  Well, because that’s been the case thus far this season, I only think it’s fair to say thanks now that the RSN has decided to flip Friday night’s Caps-Panthers game from CSN+ back to CSN-HD with Wizards-Magic.

From a note passed along by Paul Rovnak of Caps PR:

Comcast SportsNet has revised the programming schedule for their live game coverage of the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards on Friday, Feb. 5.

The Capitals game against the Atlanta Thrashers at Verizon Center (7pm) – previously scheduled for Comcast SportsNet Plus – will now air on Comcast SportsNet in HD.

The Wizards game against the Magic in Orlando (7pm) will now be available to viewers on Comcast SportsNet Plus.

Again, thank you.

 
January 20th, 2010

What’s It Like to Watch Alex Ovechkin Play Hockey?

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Apparently, it’s a lot like watching LeBron James play basketball.  Here’s Bill Simmons musing on the feeling he gets whenever he sees James playing in person:

If you were ever fortunate enough to have season tickets for a memorable athlete in his prime — Gretzky, Montana, Jordan, Magic, Bird, Pedro, Koufax, whomever — then you know exactly what this means. It’s not just about the winning. It’s about heading to the stadium or the park feeling like you won the lottery. It’s about the buzz in the crowd, the way everyone seems like they spent just a little more time getting ready. It’s about the ceiling being removed for the night. It’s about the chance that, 50 years later, your grandkid or your great-grandkid will ask you, "What was it like to see HIM play every night?" … and you’ll have an answer for him. It’s about the familiarity of excellence — constant exposure to someone who’s better at his job than you will ever be at anything — and how that superiority ebbs and flows from night to night.

Yeah, that’s pretty much on target.

 
January 4th, 2010

And Now You Know Why

If you ever wonder why Washington Capitals fans seem to have a collective chip on their shoulder concerning how the franchise and its players are treated by the rest of the hockey world, you might want to read this passage from Ted Leonsis that appeared this morning on his blog:

Then while the league was gearing up for the wonderful Winter Classic, we went out on a crazy two game West Coast swing over New Year’s break. We were as far away from Boston as possible, weren’t we? And Mike Green was left off the Canadian Olympic team which I think was the wrong decision by their team management. I believe Mike Green is a unique and spectacular talent and one of the top D men in the NHL. We have Mike’s back. We believe in him. I know this snub will motivate Mike for the rest of the season. We as a franchise sometimes don’t get the respect we have earned yet but the only way to right that wrong I believe is to win a Stanley Cup. We get the joke. We have collective chip on our shoulder. And I guess I will be rooting harder now for the USA team and for the Russian team to light up the Canadian team at this year’s Olympic Games.

He’s not the only one annoyed by the snubbing of Mike Green.  On one level, I can understand that of all the hockey-playing nations in the world, only Canada could afford to leave a player as talented as Green off of their Olympic roster.  Then again, it was hard not to notice over the weekend that when Don Cherry talked about the team on Saturday night, he went out of his way to point out that if any Canadian defenseman was injured between now and the start of the Games, that Jay Bouwmeester, and not Green, would be more likely to get a callup.

 
January 4th, 2010

The Caps Rap

Over the holidays, I got an email from Mike Shwedick asking for some help from OffWing Photo on a video project he was working on.  He was kind enough to give me and OWP‘s Allen Clark an early look at the video, and we came away incredibly impressed.  With that, Allen got to work digging through our photo archive on Flickr and provided some of the images that you see below in The Caps Rap.

Wow.  I think this might be a good time to remind everyone that all of the pictures at OffWing Photo are available for use for free by any independent blogger as long as you credit us and link back to the site. 

UPDATE: Puck Daddy talks to the man behind the video, Andrew Bowser.

 
January 2nd, 2010

A Look Back at Some Predictions

Before the start of the season, the good folks at the D.C. Pro Sports Report asked me to answer a couple of questions about the upcoming season.  Now that the Caps have hit the 41-game mark, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at that Q&A to see how those predictions held up against what has transpired thus far.  Click here for a look at things at full size.

DC Pro Sports Report
Looking back, this might deserve a C.
 
December 29th, 2009

Jeff Schultz is Worth More Than You Think

I was reading through yesterday’s transcript of an online chat hosted by WaPo NHL Editor Lindsay Applebaum when I came across this exchange about Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz.  As everyone knows by now, the Caps dealt winger Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to Columbus in exchange for left wing Jason Chimera.

schultz
 

The implication Applebaum is making here is pretty clear: that Jurcina is a better defenseman than Schultz, even if the numbers indicate that isn’t the case.

Here’s a better answer: trading Schultz rather than Jurcina would have made this trade a loser for Washington.  Instead of Chimera being the best player in what should be looked at as a trade of spare parts, Columbus would have been getting a solid young defenseman who hasn’t yet reached his 24th birthday, one whose best years in the NHL are still ahead of him.  Worse still, dealing Schultz instead of Jurcina wouldn’t have cleared nearly as much cap space ($660,000 less) — which even Applebaum concluded was the actual object of the deal anyway.

As I said on a bloggers roundtable on 1500-AM a few weeks back, there are few players on this roster outside of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom who are untouchable.  Jeff Schultz certainly isn’t, but we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that he is an asset without value.  And if Columbus GM Scott Howson asked Caps GM George McPhee to include Schultz in the deal rather than Jurcina, I’m sure McPhee’s answer was no, not at the price you’re offering.

UPDATE: Lindsay just sent the following email that I thought was important to share:

Hey Eric,

Well, uh, thanks for linking to the Caps chat, though you did spell my first name wrong. Just to clear things up after reading your blog post, I was being entirely sarcastic and jokey about my Jeff Schultz comment. The tone of these chats and our own guidelines for them allows for that. Clearly, it came across as something different and unfunny, which is unfortunate and precisely why I am an editor as opposed to a writer.

Your post was fair and at all not off-base. As long as that stuff isn’t personal – which it often is – I can take it. Anyway, just wanted to let you know I’m reading.

Thanks (no, really),

Lindsay Applebaum

Sports | The Washington Post

First of all, sorry to Lindsay for getting her name wrong, which I’ve since corrected.  And no, this stuff isn’t personal, it’s opinion.  No harm, no foul and thanks for reading.

 
December 29th, 2009

Another ESPN.com Fail on the Washington Caps

Perhaps I’m getting too sensitive, but it was hard not to notice that ESPN.com misspelled Chris Clark’s name last night when it posted the following link.

Chris Clark Misspelled
Somebody call a copy editor.

And in case you missed it, here’s another one that J.P. dug up.

 
November 14th, 2009

Live Chat Tonight at CSNDC

The folks at CSNDC have kindly asked me to host a live chat during tonight’s Caps-Devils game.  Click here to join the chat at 7.  Hope to see you there.

 
November 2nd, 2009

Ovechkin’s Status is Week-to-Week

The Washington Capitals just issued the following statement regarding the status of left wing Alex Ovechkin:

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin suffered an upper-body strain in Sunday evening’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and his status is week-to-week, the team determined Monday.

Ovechkin, the NHL leader in points (23) and goals (14) and the league’s Second Star of the Month for October, is expected to miss the fifth game of his five-year career on Wednesday at New Jersey. He has only missed two games due to injury in his first four seasons.

“We have to buckle down,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said earlier Monday. “A goal a game he scores, so we got to play better defense and cannot allow four or five goals a game. You have to win 3-1 and 2-1 and if you get lucky sometimes make it a 4-2 game. I think we have enough character players who understand what we will have to do without Alex.”

Ovechkin played just 7:43 of Sunday’s overtime loss to Columbus and was held without a point for just the third time this year. He was examined and treated by the team’s medical staff and underwent an MRI exam on Monday.

The two-time reigning most valuable player will travel with the Capitals this week to continue to receive medical treatment.

 More later.

 
October 13th, 2009

Can You Find the Error in This Screengrab?

From the front page of the NYT’s hockey section:

Screen shot 2009 10 13 at 1 32 34 PM
Did we fire that copy editor in the last round of layoffs?
 
October 6th, 2009

How DirecTV and Versus Are Hurting Hockey

Those of you who were able to watch the Philadelphia Flyers defeat the Washington Capitals 6-5 in overtime earlier this evening know that you were treated to one barn burner of a hockey game. When we look back at this season next Spring, there’s little doubt in my mind that tonight’s game will be considered one of the most exciting matches of the 2009-10 NHL regular season.

It’s just too bad that millions of NHL hockey fans in the U.S. — and potential fans for that matter — didn’t get a chance to see the game because it wasn’t carried by DirecTV.

Up until this point, the cost of the dispute between DirecTV and Versus wasn’t completely evident.  But the fact of the matter is that the NHL has structured its contract with the fledgling sports network to give it a series of marquee matchups over the course of the season in order to boost its ratings.  It’s a schedule that’s loaded with the league’s best teams and biggest stars, and the NHL has done its level best to make sure that — at least in the lower 48 — there aren’t any other games competing with the Versus schedule.

On opening night, when the Caps easily handled the Bruins in a 4-1 victory, it didn’t seem like we were missing much.  That’s over now, and the cost the game is paying for this ridiculous dispute has become all the clearer.

As much as the league might not want to step into a dispute between two of its broadcast partners, I don’t think it has much choice anymore.  They need to broker a deal, and they need to get it done sooner rather than later.

 
September 24th, 2009

Olie Kolzig Retires

kolzig 2
Olie Kolzig snags one of his 18,233 saves.  Photo by Allen Clark.

I’m not sure anyone was shocked to hear the news yesterday that former Washington Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig had decided to retire after 14 seasons in the NHL.  As Kolzig admitted in an interview with Comcast SportsNet’s Russ Thaler yesterday, his body had begun to betray him, and it was simply time to face facts and move on to the next phase in his life.

At the end of the 2007-08 season over at The Sporting News, I tried to put together some thoughts over the end of Kolzig’ tenure with the club:

So now, after 19 years, a good relationship has finally gone bad. And like a lot of relationships, it was really over well before any official announcement. Did Kolzig deserve better? Was ownership insensitive? Did Kolzig, who is still one of the most respected professionals in the NHL, take the low road in the middle of the season when he should have sucked it up and been a team player? Is he letting his ego get in the way of him taking on a reduced role with the team just as it begins to enjoy the fruits of its rebuilding program? That same ego, mind you, helped him become a Vezina Trophy winner in the first place.

You could make any of those arguments and find a way to make them right. But in the end, only a few players get to say goodbye the way Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman bid farewell to the game.

And like a lot of relationships, I’m sure one day the resentment Kolzig feels for management will fade. There’s little doubt the night will come when Kolzig will stride to center ice with his family in tow to hear the Washington fans cheer for him one last time as his sweater is raised to the rafters beside Dale Hunter, Yvon Labre and Rod Langway.

But that day is not today. Today isn’t right or wrong. Today is just bad.

That sad day is now firmly in the rear view mirror for both Kolzig and Caps management, which means we’re that much closer to the night where Kolzig will get that one final ovation.  In the meantime, here’s hoping Godzilla enjoys the statr of a well-deserved retirement.

 
September 10th, 2009

Some Caps Q&A

The fine folks at the DC Pro Sports Report asked me to fill out a questionnaire on the upcoming Washington Capitals season, and I was happy to oblige.

1. Will the Capitals three-peat as Southeast Division Champs?  If not, will they make the NHL playoffs?

Barring significant injuries, the team will repeat as SE Division champs.

2.  Do you foresee a Washington Capitals Stanley Cup appearance this season?

The potential is there.  Pittsburgh and Philadelphia will be the major roadblocks.

3. If and when will youngster Semyon Varlamov wrestle the starting goalie spot from Jose Theodore?

Since he became head coach, Bruce Boudreau has always gone with the hot hand in net.  At the same time, he’s not just going to hand this job to Varlamov, the kid is going to have to win it.  If Theodore manages to keep the job out of camp, I can’t see Boudreau letting him have two bad games in a row before going back to Varlamov.  Theodore will have to play the best hockey since his MVP/Vezina season in Montreal to keep the job.

4. Seems each year there is a surprise offensive player?  Who would you project to be that player this season for the Caps?

If I already knew it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?  Then again, it would be nice to see Eric Fehr break out and justify the high pick that was spent on him.  Some of the stats I’ve seen on him based on production/ice time seem to indicate that the potential is there.

5.  What player or type of player do you think the Caps need to make the push to win the Stanley Cup? 

A lot of folks have bemoaned the loss of Donald Brashear, but every team in the NHL could use some more sandpaper along the boards and in front of the net.  Washington is no different.

6.  What impact do you think 2008 first rounder John Carlson will make this season with the Caps?

Washington is playing the long game in terms of player development.  They didn’t rush Karl Alzner last year, and they won’t rush Carlson this year.  He’ll see some time with the big club, show plenty of promise, but will probably top out somewhere around 25-30 games.

7.  Finally, predict the Southeast Division in order from top to bottom.

The rest of the teams in the division have show some incremental improvement, but not enough to upset the top two:

1. Washington
2. Carolina
3. Atlanta
4. Florida
5. Tampa Bay

 
August 27th, 2009

Leonsis Boosts DC United

Over the past few weeks, DC United has been running short videos from Washington-area sports figures urging folks to come out to RFK for the US Open Cup Final against the Seattle Sounders on September 2.  The latest personality to appear: Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis:

I have to admit I’m taken by this campaign, and how many of the local teams are actively working to establish a sense of community between their fan bases.  Of course, not only does it feel good, but as we’ve seen from more than a few appearances by Barra Brava at the Verizon Center, it helps to sell tickets too.

Fellowship aside, we need to realize that United has more on the line than just a championship. Out in Seattle, the MLS ownership group lobbied to host the Open Cup Final at Qwest Field, home ground of the Sounders.  Safe to say, with the way the franchise has been drawing in its inaugural season, I have to admit they made a great case.

After they lost out to DCU, some Sounders fans complained long and hard, and if the crowd at RFK next week is disappointing, US Soccer and DC United are going to have some explaining to do.

And speaking of tickets

UPDATE: The folks at GoSounders.com are spreading FUD about the whole process.