Friday, October 05, 2007

New Colors, New Faces, New Beginnings

A new season begins for the Washington Capitals as they post a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. John Erskine scored the game winning goal 2 minutes after Michael Nylander's power play goal. Nylander, along with Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti are the fresh faces via free agency who have already shown a dramatic impact on this Caps team, and for the better. Other fresh faces who have cracked the line-up for the Washington Capitals out of training camp are David Steckle and Jeff Schultz. In order to do this while keeping Laich, Bradley, and Sutherby, Eminger was placed on injured reserve and Ben Clymer was sent to the minors.

Excuse me, but Jeff Schultz is not ready for this team. He wasn't as good as many claimed last season, and he was utterly horrendous in the preseason. He is not a "towering presence," he is tall, but lanky, and quite frankly extremely soft. Why he is on this roster is a complete mystery to me. Not saying that he was a first round bust. I'm not saying that at all. But it's obviously clear that he is just not ready for the NHL. He does not see the ice, he doesn't skate well, he just pretty much stands there. Come game time in the opener in Atlanta against the Thrash, Erskine is dressed over Schultz, and I'm sure some were wondering what Hanlon was thinking. It payed off with the game winning slap-shot goal.

Now that I've gotten my rant on Schultz not being ready out of the way, Eminger is another question mark. He's shown flashes of being solid, but he's not inconsistent. He just hasn't played well. I hope he will prove me wrong and show he is the first round draft pick he is. After all of this, there is a heap of optimism. Kozlov has simply been a beast all over the ice and will most likely add 20+ goals and 60+ points playing alongside Ovechkin. Nylander is back for another go round and will help the young 1st rounder Backstrom develop, while trying to match and beat a career-high previous season of 83 points. Tom Poti, the new #1 defenseman who had a career year on the New York Islanders last season as their #1 defenseman has shown signs of improvement defensively and still has his massive shot. In addition, Kolzig was at some of his best last season, and is said to be in his best shape now. My prediction, Caps will make the playoffs placed 2nd in the Southeast division, somewhere between 6 and 8 in the Easter Conference for their playoff berth. I also see them going into the second round, as long as they remain healthy.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Close 2nd, Caps Take On Lightning

Being 7-1-1 in your last nine games is definately something to boast about, especially when you were expected to be at the basement of the Eastern Conference. I had said before the season started that the Caps would make the playoffs this season, and they are proving me right. The Caps play the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, and as Mike Vogel points out, the Lightning have an opposite trend going of being 1-7-1 in their last nine games. With the Eastern Conference being grouped so tight right now, it's the perfect time for the Caps to grab hold of a secure spot in the East. Obviously you have to win and others have to lose for the ladder to work completely in your favor, but the odds of grabbing second in the conference are much better than expected. In addition, the Caps need to stake claim to the 2nd spot in their own division. The Southeast Division third place Carolina is one point behind the Caps for second in their division.

On to tonights game. Well, Zednik and Bradley are still out making it easier for Hanlon on who out of Klepis, Laich, and Beech gets dressed. Regardless, Brooks Laich has been playing great hockey. Ever since he got his first point on the season with a sweet spin-o-rama pass to Zednik, he's been playing with confidence and attitude. Even in games where he doesn't get on the board, he is one of the unsung heroes. I distinctly remember in the Ottawa game a couple of weeks ago how Laich and Boyd Gordon were two of the best players on the ice that game. Further more, two shorthanded goals in two straight games, both were pretty. I think that some expect too much of him right now. We see what he's capable of, and he is constantly improving. What more could you ask for? Still, Zednik and Bradley are missed. And now, I'm sure many fans are disappointed (as am I) because it looks as if for the first time this season since his call up, Erskine will not be dressed. Too bad, I was looking for another confrentation between he and Martin St. Louis. Oh well. I'm going to say Caps take this 4-1. Goals from Clark, Ovechkin, Heward, and Laich.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Let It Go, One Nation's Captial vs. Another

Okay, so the Caps played their best all around game this season against Buffalo on Saturday night, garnering them a 7-4 win. But they scored 4 goals? How is that great all around? Well, it's pretty hard to keep the Sabres off the scoreboard. So Ovechkin got fined $1000 for the late hit on Brier. That's that, no retribution will be sought, it's over. It's done. Let it go. It's been blown way out of proportion. Ovechkin is not a dirty player, and what he did was no dirtier than a defender giving a cross-check after the other team scores a goal, which happens all the time. If you actually know something about hockey, you would know that Ovechkin is not a dirty player, Brier didn't dive, and it's done with. Move on. What are you still doing here? Go! Move on! "It's over! Go home!" (To quote Ferris Bueller)

So tonight, it's one nation's capital vs. another. The Capitals and Senators go head to head, and both teams are on a streak. Some good news for the Caps is that Wade Redden will be out of the line-up tonight for Ottawa and that Dainius Zubrus is back in the line up for the Caps. I'm going to keep this semi-brief because there isn't all that much to say. I think Brent Johnson will be in goal tonight. Kolzig has played alot and I think it'd be smart to give him the night off to prepare for the Ducks on Friday. In addition, Brent Johnson has been stellar in his career against the Senators (3-0), including garnering a shutout last season in Ottawa. Will the Caps chase the starting goalie from the crease tonight for a fourth consecutive game. I think so, but I don't know if it will be their goalie or ours, seeing as what the trend has been the last few games, and how we started against the Senators last time. I'm going to go with a 4-2 Caps victory. Goals from Zubrus, Pettinger (great hot streak going for this guy), Bradley, and Ovechkin.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Time To Take a Leap, Who Will Step Up?

Speed kills, and tonight the Caps will be trying to stay alive against the speedy Buffalo Sabres. After last season, I had stated that the Ducks and Sabres will be in the cup finals, and the Ducks will take it. We'll see if in the end I am right, however, if it were solely based on points and standings and at this particular moment in time, I would be correct. The Sabres, who started the season as the best, and now only trails Anaheim by two points to lead the NHL, have been a force to be reckoned with this season. They were tough enough, as it is, to beat last season. Having much difficulty with the Sabres a season ago, the Caps are looking to extend their win streak to three games. This game is extremely important for the confidence of this young team. Having beat the Lightning and the Stars, the Sabres are a real testament to how this team can pull together. So who will step up?

Brian Sutherby has one career fight and two goals against the Sabres in 9 career games. Matt Bradley has two fights against the Sabres in his career. Donald Brashear has four goals and one fight in 30 career games against the Sabres. Shaone Morrisonn had his first career regular season NHL fight against the Sabres last season. Ben Clymer and Chris Clark have never been in a fight against the Sabres. Dainius Zubrus and Richard Zednik have each played in 36 career games against the Sabres and account for 34 career points against Buffalo. Jamie Heward is obviously not playing tonight, and Zubrus is listed as day to day with the flu. Zubrus (according to Mike Vogel) will be a "morning skate decision."

Alexander Semin and Matt Pettinger are each on point streaks and look to continue them tonight. Klepis is said to be centering Pettinger and Semin tonight instead of Beech. Jakub Klepis had a great game against the stars, recording two assists while filling in on the top line for Zubrus. Another player who is on a role is Steve Eminger. I say this because he has been not shying away physically, and making smart defensive moves in the past couple of games. He seems to be getting his confidence back and finally clicking with a partner in John Erskine. These two create a pairing that clears the crease, physically gets in your face, carries the puck, and can potentially make break-out passes. I must say though, I am a little disappointed that it is guessed that Brooks Laich will not be in the line-up. He made by far the best play of the Dallas Stars game, setting up Richard Zednik for a goal. If Zubrus is unable to play tonight, I'd like to see Laich in the line-up.

So my prediction for tonight, well there will be two. I like to be optimistic, but I have an uneasy feeling of how we will fare against this speedy team. If the Caps win, it will be 4-3. If the Caps lose, it will be 6-4. Goals will come from Pettinger, Clark, Klepis, and Zednik.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Caps Burn-out Stars, Laich & Zednik Get It Started

Okay, so yesterday my prediction slated for Zubrus and Brashear scoring. Well Zubrus was scratched due to being under the weather, and Brashear didn't score. However, I was right in that Pettinger scored, and the Caps were going to win by one. I thought I was going to be proven wrong when the Caps were up 4-1 at the end of the second, however the Stars jammed 3 goals home in the third. The third goal should not have happened. The front of the net was crowded with almost every player that was on the ice, and Jussi Jokinen snagged a shot when the puck trickled out of the scrum. Too much traffic. By the second periods end, I was thinking to myself that it was a low shooting game. After two periods, the shots were 18-14 favoring Dallas. However, the Stars came out with 20 more shots in the third. Even though the Caps won this game, it shows they need to learn to play with a lead.

Matt Pettinger was all over the ice. He scored a goal to prove it. However, if one only saw the stat sheet, they wouldn't know what role he played in this victory. He created many rushes, alot of pressure on the Stars, and maintain defensively responsible the whole time. Pettinger was also camping out in front of the net ready for any blasts to come his way to try and redirect. Pettinger is my pick for the hardest working player of the game. Usually I see it as Clark, Zubrus, Kolzig, but Pettinger earned it last night. By far the prettiest play of the night came on the first goal the Caps scored. Brooks Laich took it from their zone, fighting to keep it along the boards, and carried it in with two men on him. He made a spin pass to Zednik who stuffed it home. Brooks Laich has had a rocky start, however I think that this will definately help his confidence. He's young, has lots of potential, and needs to see some production from himself to get more energy and confidence going within him.

I also want to touch a little more on Richard Zednik. He seems to get some flak from fans about how he hasn't been scoring alot, or that he is overrated. Someone once said to me that they thought I was rediculous for stating he's a proven 30 goal scorer. Well, he scored 30 goals in a season, therefore proving he could do it. The only time Zednik has not scored 20 or more goals are in seasons where he has played in only 69 games or less. In the 97-98 season where he played 65 games and scored 17 goals, he was on pace for 21.5 goals. In the 99-00 season, he played 69 games, he scored 19 goals and was on pace for 22.5 goals. In the 00-01 season where he played 62 games and scored 16 goals, he was on pace for 21 goals. Last season, he scored 16 goals in 67 games, and was on pace for 20. In the 02-03 season, Zednik scored 31 goals and 50 points. In the 03-04 seaons, he scored 26 goals and 50 points, achieving back to back 50 point seasons.

When playing healthy, he is a guarenteed 20 goal scorer. This year, he has been one of the most solid players when it comes to defensive responsibility, and could easily score 20 goals this season if he isn't sideined by a third injury. The second injury only sat him out one game if I remember correct. Zednik also has 8 assists thus far this season and is on pace for 32 assists. If he meets his pacings, and hits his usual hot streak stride, he will have another 50 point season. Not too shabby for a 10th round pick. Hopefully the Caps re-sign him, but with a little bit of an overall salary cut, but a boost in incentives. Obviosuly I'm glad he's back, and I think he fits in great with this team. He works hard and has created many opportunities.

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.