Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Boy Oh Boyd, Halpern Returns to D.C.

Boyd Gordon notched his second of the season (a short-handed one I might add) in a 5-2 victory over Tampa on Wednesday night. Pettinger started the play by diving to hit the puck out of the Caps zone. Gordon hopped on the opportunity and made a nice breakaway with Brad Richards all over him, was more patient than Johan Holmqvist, and stuffed it top shelf. This by far was the prettiest goal of the night, and every Caps goal was a beauty. Even Alexander Ovechkin's empty netter. There's just something exciting about watching Ovy strip a defenseman of the puck and putting it home, even with Tampa's goalie watching from the bench. And how about Matt Pettinger. He is the complete reason for the Kris Beech and Boyd Gordon goals. 2nd star for him, deservingly so. Aside from all the goals being highlight reel and the Caps snapping their winless streak, what really is interesting is how Boyd Gordon has really come into his own.

In the first game of the season, Boyd Gordon only logged 7:18 in ice time. He got an injury in that game, and didn't return until late october. Wednesday night in Tampa, he logged a season high of 16:11 of ice time. The confidence that Hanlon has to play Boyd Gordon that many minutes for a defensive minded forward definately accounts for something. His confidence has seemed to be glaring ever since he tallied his first goal of the season (another highlight-reel goal) against the Rangers 18 days ago. In the last 3 games, Gordon has a goal and an assist, and is plus-1. He now has 2 goals and 4 assists on the season. He's on pace for around 10 goals and 20 assists on the season. Not bad at all for a 4th line defensive minded centerman who's in his first full season of the NHL. Certainly not worthy of the Calder, but for his role that's pretty good, especially considering he's best known for his faceoff and penalty killing abilities.

So Jeff Halpern returns to D.C. tonight with his new team, the Dallas Stars. A 10 million dollar, four year deal brought him there. I liked having Halpern on this team, but there had to be roster space made. I'd rather have Zednik on this team. I'd rather have Klepis develop in the big leagues. I'd rather have Boyd Gordon on the PK and in the faceoff circle. And I said about 1/3 of the way through last season, if Halpern leaving means Clark will be captain, I'm all for it. Nothing against Halpern, but I could see night in and night out, Clark just went out there and played his guts out, leading by example. I enjoyed watching him in the 03-04 finals, and he's been my favorite player since his first game as a Cap. He's the kind of captain I want on this Caps team. So I wish Halpern well, he didn't burn us and we didn't burn him. It just wasn't going to work. I think both Halpern and the Caps organization knew it right at the end of the season. I will not be booing Halpern seeing as he did not request a trade or "pull a Jagr". It frustrates me to hear people say "Let's boo Halpern!" Some of whom are the same ignorant fans who still cheered Witt after he said he didn't want to be on this team. And Witt wasn't even that good. Erskine is a thousand times better!

Anyways, my prediction for this game is the Caps take it 3-2. Regulation or OT. No shootout. Goals from Pettinger, Zubrus, and Brashear. Yes, Brashear. Welcome back Brash! Betteman doesn't know what the hockey world has been missing without you!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Best Game of the Season

The Washington Caps had the best game of their season last night. They blew a two goal lead and lost 4-2. So how could it have been the best game of their season? Simple. They showed that they weren't going to take crap from anybody. Since about mid-point last season, I had mentioned to some fellow fans that it seemed to me the Atlanta Thrashers were the dirtiest team in the league, and somehow got away with it all. They agreed. Maybe it was just us? No, Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig confirmed that in an interview and went on to say they hate that team. After Holik, Sutton, and other players continually getting away with slashes, elbows, and other various dirty plays, finally the last straw came with a little under two minutes left. Sutton purposefully (anyone who watches video of it cannot deny it was purposeful, if they would, they are a homer and a complete moron to the sport of hockey) hit 21 year old rookie defenseman Mike Green up high with an elbow. Ben Clymer decided it was the last straw and went after him. After the refs cleared it up, I was interested to see how Hanlon would handle this. On the ice for the now 3 on 3 play stepped Donald Brashear, Matt Bradley, and John Erskine.

From this point on, the Caps laid a physical beating, leaving Vitaly Vishnevsky bloody. Sutherby and Heward then got into fights of their own on the next two shifts. Dainius Zubrus looked as if he was ready to go. As he was talking to the official, Kovalchuk was talking trash from the bench. But oh, Kovalchuk is real tough. That can be proven. When Clymer came in to protect Green, Kovalchuck jumped in there for his team like any player should. Yet, Chris Clark came to pull him away. This is routine in a hockey pile-up. So Kovalchuck turns around and starts punching an injured Chris Clark (who is wearing a face protector that comes down around the jaws infront of the chin and mouth). This is the definition of toughness. Attacking an injured player. Clark was ready to fight back despite his injury, however things started getting separated by officials. Zubrus was furious and his face was red, as he and Kovalchuk screamed at each other, probably in Russian.

At the end, Mellanby purposefully went after Jaime Heward, who is not a fighter, instead of Matt Pettinger who willingly would fight a guy if needed, and has. Players know who the fighters in the league are. Mellanby is real tough for going after a non-fighter. What leadership. If you haven't detected my sarcasm, either you are an Atlanta fan who is blind, or you just never catch sarcasm. Coaches Hartley and Hanlon were yapping away at each other as well. Then in the post-game press conference, Hartley has the nerve to say he has no idea why the Washington Capitals would do what they did. Yet Hanlon stated the reason and said his team has tough players and he does not apologize for that. This Atlanta team has pulled BS like this before. They are dirty and dispicable. They got what they had coming, a physical beating. This was a night where you forget the score, and show them and the reast of the league that you don't f*** with this team. And I am onboard with Coach Hanlon. I am proud of them as well. Best game of this season for the Caps, as a team.

Watch out for when the Caps face the Thrashers next in Atlanta on December 15th.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gameday: Caps vs. Thrashers, Double Headache From Jerseys

Okay, let me start by saying that I'm a sucker for the old red, white & blue jerseys. I think the logo on the white home and black away jerseys were well done for the concept, but to me, if you play in the nations capital, your colors should be red, white & blue. Period. It doesn't make sense to me otherwise. My best friend (who I first took to a game at the close of the 03-04 season and since has come to many games and become a fan of the sport) loves the black jerseys. I think they're okay. To me though, the nameplates are hard to read, and sometimes gives me a headache. I know that other fans have stated it and many of the opposing teams announcers have as well. Then there are those who love the Blue away jerseys (the original second sweater) from when the Caps first changed jerseys. I like these better than the black. However, my favorite are the old red away jerseys. How I yearn for a Dino Ciccarelli or a Dale Hunter red Caps jersey.

So why a double headache tonight? Because the Thrashers logo and jersey are uglier than Brendan Witt's pornstar moustache from last season. I can't stand them. If I were born and raised in Atlanta, I don't know how I could be a fan. Their third jersey is their best, which has (if I recall correctly) become their new home jersey due to it's popularity with their fans. I don't know if any players would be like this, but if I were a player, money, location, the team, AND the jersey would be all factors in where I signed. And while we're on the topic, the new Ottawa jersey is way too cartoonish. And a suggestion for Buffalo, the new version of the vintage jersey should be your main one.

On to the gameday talk. Chris Clark, Dainius Zubrus, and Steve Eminger are all slated to return. You can see how important Clark and Zubrus are to the team. Alexander Semin is not going to return, seeing as he's on injured reserve. Alot of this is stuff most Caps fans already know. So here's my prediction. Caps win this one 4-3 with goals from Clark, Zednik, Heward, and Ovechkin. Kolzig makes 39 saves if he's in net.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tough Players Shall Now Go By The Name Chris Clark

Capitals captain Chris Clark (how's that for alliteration) lost some teeth from that puck to the face in the game against Boston last wednesday. Clark, having fallen to the ice from the blow, got right back up and worked with his mates to get the puck out of the zone. After it was cleared, he headed off to the locker room. This is why he's my favorite player, and has been since he first stepped on the ice in a Caps sweater. Catching my attention in the 03-04 playoffs with Calgary, he wasn't my favorite then due to limited ice time and the fact that I really just don't get to see that many western teams play. Oh how I yearn for direct TV with the hockey package.

Clark, having missed two games, will return tomorrow night, as I'm sure will two more points in the standings. It is obvious how critical he is to this team through his attitude of finishing a shift injured, and seeing as the Caps are 0-1-1 without him in the past two games. However, in Boston, they were also missing Dainius Zubrus and Alexander Semin. Had it not been for Jakub Klepis finding the twine to make the score 1-1 early, who knows if we would've even snagged a point on the road.

Some great quotes from Captain Clark (thanks to Mike Vogel):
-"I saw the puck going back to my point, I’m standing there and I’ve got to do something. I can’t just lay down; they’re not going to blow the whistle right away especially if [the Bruins] have control of the puck. There’s no sense in laying on the ice. My legs didn’t break; I could get up and skate."

-"I could have played the last two games. If it was the playoffs, I wouldn’t have missed any time."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Caps Take On Canes, Clark & Zuby Questionable

In a 3-2 shootout loss to the Bruins, Caps Captain Chris Clark, and Alternate Captain Dainius Zubrus, each left the game early with injuries. Clark had a mouthful of blood which looked to be from what I thought was the puck hitting him in the face, but it could've been the stick. Zubrus, although I didn't see what actually caused it, looked to be experiencing some pain in his knee. Hopefully, and it's been said to be likely, Zednik will be back tonight from his injury. And I especially hope he is if one or both of the aforementioned are too injured to play. Losing Clark and Zubrus even for a game is going to be rough on this hockey club, especially seeing as things are going pretty well for them right now. There hasn't been anything stated yet, only observations. Washington does not disclose anything.

A fellow blogger of the Caps (DCCapsChick) has brought up something that I thought was interesting. It just so happens that at the Boston game, a few of us were thinking the same thing. DCCapsChick is rallying the Caps fans to write in Zubrus on the AllStar Ballot. Check it out here. Also on Random Reality Thoughts.

So the Caps take on the Canes tonight at the Verizon Center. I will be there in section 100 as always, most likely with one of my good luck hats (beret or winter hat) and my good luck scarf (which hasn't been busted out since last seasons last home game victory over Atlanta). Yes, I wear a scarf when it's cold. Despite what a friend of mine says, I think men can wear scarves. The Caps are one spot behind the Canes in Eastern Conference standings. They are 2 points behind, and have played in 2 less games. It seems to me that winning this game would be such a huge morale booster for this young Caps team. It's always good to take away points from a division opponent. I would say rival, but there really is no reason to lie about it. As usual, I'll guess the score and who will score for the Caps. I'll probably be way off as usual (I did get Zuby on the scoreboard for the Boston game though), but here goes. I'm going to say that the Caps take this one 3-2. Caps goals from Zednik, Pettinger, and Ovy. If Zednik doesn't play then Pettinger, Ovy, and Bradley. Let's go Caps!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Freeze-Frame, Beantown & Betteman Visit

The Washington Capitals picked up their fourth win in five games in a 4-1 road victory over the Florida Panthers on Monday night, extending the season series between them to 2-0-0. Kolzig continued his stellar performance from Saturday night making 44 saves. Matt Pettinger had netted his third of the season (second in two games) in the last minutes of the third on a rush with two defenders on him. His foot got the rebound. This is the second game in a row for the Caps that a goal has gone to review. The last game, it was the Caps who wanted to see if an Ovechkin shot was in or not. Having taped the game and watching it again later, I could see clearly that it was not a goal within the first replay of an overhead view. Watching the game on Monday night, I could see within seconds of a side angle that the Pettinger effort was a goal because the puck bounced and there was no distinct kicking motion. So my question is, why the hell does it take so long for these hockey experts to make the call? Why do they have to call Toronto? Why is there even guys sitting upstairs if they are always going to call Toronto?

The NHL wants to speed up the game, yet they have been doing a horrible job. The rule changes help, but it's everything else that is killing them. And it wasn't just these past two games. There has been other incidents this season. I don't mind goals being challenged, but when it's obvious like these past two games, don't call Toronto! What are you paying these other guys for? If it's highly questionable and hard to make sure, then call Toronto. I understand that they want to make sure, but when it's obvious, it's obvious.

What else is killing them are these extended intermissions. Intermissions have been extended by 2 minutes. More commercial time I'm sure is the main reason. 15 minutes was pushing it, now they've made it longer and more drawn out. I get so bored during these intermissions now, I actually start talking to myself. And not like I usually do. I'm not that crazy!

So tonight I will be watching the Bruins come in to town from section 100. Talk about a team that has had rediculous trouble this season. Their roster on paper makes you wonder why, and it seems like they shouldn't be having trouble. Obviously though it's not about how it looks on paper. Personally, I think it's Dave Lewis. Yeah, he had a hard time living up to Scotty Bowman in Detroit, however to me it seems that he's just not head coach material. Either that, or Chara isn't a good captain. Take your pick. Personally, I'd rather have a Dale Hunter, Chris Clark or a Keith Primeau on my team as captain. The latter of the three to me have been the closest to a Dale Hunter since Dale Hunter. It's possible someone is slipping my mind though, I didn't get alot of sleep last night.

Commisioner Gary Betteman will be in attendance tonight as well. It will be interesting to see how the game is called, and if checking will be allowed. I'm going to say caps take this 4-2. That was my prediction for the Florida game. I'm hoping Kolzig gets the start, he deserves it, and he is the starting goaltender. He's just been amazing so far this season, with the exception of two games. I'll say goals from Ovechkin, Clark, Sutherby, and Semin.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Caps Raid Rags, Boyd Breaks Drought

Donald Brashear and the Washington Capitals let the New York Rangers have it last night in a 3-1 victory. Less than three minutes in, Brashear got in his first official fight in a Caps sweater with Colton Orr of the Rags. Brashear let him have it, leaving Orr adjusting his jaw on the way to the penalty box. The Caps came out swinging from the start, beginning with the CBS (Clymer, Bradley, and Sutherby) line, a nice rush by Chris Clark, and Brashear laying a beat-down on Orr. It wasn't just Clark, Bradley, Ovechkin, and Zubrus finishing out their checks, but Morissonn, Pothier, and the rest of the Caps all racked up hits throughout the night. And speaking of Shaone Morissonn, what a great game he had. Shadowing Jaromir Jagr all night long, it was obvious by the end of the game, Jagr was just so frustrated and had no momentum. This was one of Morissonn's best games of his young career.

It also seems that defenseman Steve Eminger has found a new defensive partner. After veteran defenseman Jaime Heward was sidelined last game, the Caps recalled defenseman John Erskine from the Hershey Bears. Erskine played so well, they scratched Bryan Muir for the game against the Rangers last night, so that Erskine could play as Heward returned to the line-up. Earlier in the year, Eminger was being paired with Ben Clymer (forward moved back to D), yet Hanlon wanted to move Clymer back to re-unite the CBS line, which was one of the best decisions thus far this season. With Erskine playing so well, and playing defense his entire career, seems to make it easier on Eminger, and is less prone to make mistakes individually and together with his partner. It seems evident that partially it was being paired with Clymer that led to some of Eminger's poor play, however it was not the full reason. This combined with lack of confidence really hindered his game, leaving him to sit out three straight. It seems that Eminger's confidence has returned (as well as Clymer's now back as a forward), and his new partner Erskine makes it a pretty solid defensive pairing.

It's no suprise that Alex Ovechkin got the game winning goal in the third and Matt Pettinger had the insurance marker, however the first goal came from one of the most defensive-minded forwards on the team. Boyd Gordon, who's main role on this team is face-offs and penalty killing, intercepted a passing attempt by Sandis Ozolinsh using great forchecking skills, and slammed one home on his own rebound for the game's first goal. This unassisted goal was Boyd Gordon's first goal in over 70 NHL games, second of his young NHL career, ending his goal-scoring drought. A two point game for Boyd Gordon with an assist on Pettinger's second of the season garnered him the games second star. I've been wondering when he'd score his first of the season, especially after the game against the 'Canes having a few good opportunities. Perhaps it was some personal momentum left over from his scoring chances last game, seeing as for players like him, they don't come too often. After that goal went in, I was extremely happy for Gordon. When defensive players like Gordon get a goal, especially in a game coming off a big loss, it is highly deserved for all their hard work in keeping the other team off the scoreboard.

The number one star of the game, Olie Kolzig made 41 saves on the night in a stellar performance. The entire third period I was hoping for Kolzig to get his first shutout of the season, however Michael Nylander scored a 6 on 4 powerplay goal in the last five minutes of the game with Lundqvist pulled. It was a bit of a bummer as it was obvious that Kolzig truly deserved it. Next up, the Caps travel to the 12th placed Panthers down in Sunrise, Florida. The Caps are turning heads with a 7-5-4 record, who were claimed by many hockey "experts" to end at the Eastern Conference basement. At this point, I'm already wondering how expert they are.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

NHL All-Stars, Gimme What I Laich

I want to touch on the All-Star game. First of all, I don't like North America vs. World. I like the East vs. West all-star game concept much better. Then again, what do I know? I still think that every team should play each other at least once a season, the conferences should still go by Campbell and Wales, divisions should go by the oldschool names (i.e. Patrick Division), the instigator is one of the most rediculous rules ever implemented in the game, and Betteman is soft and ignorant. If I had my way, Dale Hunter would have his job.

Congratulations are in order to Alexander Ovechkin and Olie Kolzig of the Caps for being on the All-Star ballot. Kolzig is having a good season thusfar compared to probably what most predicted after a rough last season. Even though he's 4-3 in regulation, his save percentage is .904. Of course Ovechkin was going to make the all-star ballot. How could the most exciting player in hockey not?

Tonight the Caps take on the New York Rangers at home for the first time this season. The Rangers just coming off a win over the booming Thrashers on the road are going to be in for what I hope will be a very physical game. After the Caps loss in Carolina where they were shutout 5-0, they should be looking to redeem themselves. The Caps cannot hold back anything now, after that embarrassing collapse in the third period against the Canes. Centers Brooks Laich and Kris Beech are yet again scratched. I don't have a problem with Kris Beech being scratched, especially when it means giving younger guys a shot and some NHL time to develop, however I have a problem with Laich being scratched. I think that if Beech and Klepis are each going to get around 10 games playing second line center, then Laich should get that opportunity as well. He really stepped up last season and showed that he can play in the NHL. Maybe a defensive minded centerman is what the second line needs. Maybe not. We won't know until it's tried.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Can't Stop Beechin', Zuby Fits Best

When Kris Beech made the Washington Capitals roster after training camp, I had many negative things to say about it. However, if Caps head coach Glen Hanlon thought it was worthwhile to give him another shot to prove himself then I wouldn't complain, and if things didn't start panning out, I had the right to "beech" about it! Kris Beech hasn't played in the last three games. In those last three games the Caps have been 1-1-1 with a regulation loss to the Atlanta Thrashers, a reulation win in Philadelphia against the struggling Flyers, and a stellar overtime comeback against the Senators. In the games he played, they were 4-3-4. The record is not much to argue on, however when I compared Beech's stats to Caps checking line centerman Brian Sutherby, that's where things got really interesting.

Brian Sutherby is a defensive minded forward with leadership qualities, ability to shut down opposing teams goal scorers, and a physical tempo player who can completely shift the momentum of a game. Beech has 1 goal and 5 assists, big deal. First off, three of those assists were secondary, not primary. A playmaking center should be the one making the play. Three secondary assists do not boast that. Suts (Sutherby) has the same stats and played in only three more games than Beech, but is not playing with "goal scorers" like Alexander Semin and is not seeing any time on the PP. In Beech's last three games his faceoff percentage was around 56, 26, and 66. Sutherby's last three games are around 64, 56, and 64. The reason I'm comparing these two is because Sutherby is doing the same thing in a checking role (putting up the same numbers with a slightly better faceoff percentage), but better because he's more physical and is a tempo player, while Beech is supposed to be this "playmaking 2nd line center". Brooks Laich, Jakub Klepis, and Tomas Fleischmann are all younger and have higher potential. Looking at it this way, to me it seems Beech is done for (hopefully at least in this organization) by the end of this year. You can't rule out Laich and Klepis over Beech, especially considering the amount of chances Beech has had. Beech is the oldest of the players trying to live up to potential. He's little better than he was, if at all, at age 25 than at age 18. Kris Beech has had chances to make rosters and stay in the NHL in Washington twice, Pittsburgh, and Nashville. If I were George McPhee, It'd try to pull one over and get a 3rd round pick for this guy. Maybe we could send him to Phoenix with a 3rd or 2nd round pick of ours for Derek Morris. The point is, Beech is not going to get any better or do anything. Klepis, Laich, and Fleischmann can and should get the ice time to develop, instead of postponing it by playing Beech. Caps head coach Glen Hanlon has found the right spot for Beech on this team, a healthy scratch.

Something else I want to tackle is Dainius Zubrus as the Caps first line center. I hear alot of people talk about how when Nicklas Backstrom comes over next season from Sweden, he's going to center the first line. No doubt this guy has talent. He is patient with the puck and makes slick passes that are tape to tape. But why put him on the first line? Why not put him on a second line with Semin? Is Zubrus not good enough. I think he is. Through 14 games thus far this season, Dainius Zubrus has 9 goals and 4 assists. He is an extremely solid two way player who draws penalties, passes extremely well, and isn't afraid to get physical. He might not be your typical first line center or what most would consider a first line center to be, however looking at the team and the playing style, he suits first line center for Caps hockey. Glen Hanlon was quoted in a Washington Post article by Tarik El-Bashir saying "Whenever someone says Zubie's not a number one center, I take offense to it. He allows any player who is not strong defensively to skate the extra minutes it takes to put up numbers. Ovie loves playing with Zubie." So why complain?

Everyone seems to think that every teams first line center has to be the classic offensive passing machine like Peter Forsberg or Adam Oates. I disagree. Zubrus is a first line center in a different style, and obviously it's working. For the same reason, I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want Chris Clark on that line, bringing physical play, mucking, and great outlet passes. This trio is one of the toughest and best all-around lines in the NHL. Zubrus truly is the perfect fit. They need to take care of a contract extension right away and lock this guy up.