Wednesday, April 23, 2008
- obviously i didnt like the call on kapanen's goal much. i understand the nhl's rationale and justification of the call, but the play looks awfully similar to one that went against the caps in the last regular season game of the season where fleishman hit a tampa defender into ramo. if the right call was made according to the rulebook, i think the rule book needs to be at least revisited with respect to two issues. 1) a player has to make an effort to not to make contact with an opposing goalie, so shouldnt a player have to make an effort to not make contact with an opposing player when such contact will reasonably, if not obviously, create contact with an opposing goalie? isnt this at least something we need to think about? is there that much of a practical difference from thoresen running over huet in that context and thoresen running over mossison who, thoresen knows, will then hit huet? 2) this is the kind of play that probably needs to be reviewable. i am hell bent against expanding video review to penalties or offsides or icings, etc, an idea that is so preposterously dumb that even the good folks at the nhl are not likely to consider it. but when we're talking about whether or not a goal was scored, im not sure i see a distinction between revieweing whether or not the puck crossed the line (or was kicked in or knocked in with a highstick, etc) and reviewing whether or not goalie interference occurred on the play.
- you cant complain too much on the poti call. obv the refs put away the whistle in the third (a move i agree with) and once the caps got away with the erskine non-call, they almost had to call poti. i think both plays were trips, the difference being that erskine did what he did to prevent a 2 on 1. poti had no reason to get so aggressive there, he was in good position, the caps were in no danger. but poti played great all year and all series, so what can you do. tough break for a seemingly good guy.
- caps came out and dominated early which they needed to do. 5 on 3 goal, long stretches of domination in the phi zone, including a mammoth shift by the fourth line against the richards and timonen group. that was a huge shift, one of those where it's only a matter of time before the flyers take a penalty. wash was able to change forwards with the puck still in the zone. boudreau would have done well to get ov's line out against a tired phi group. instead, as he never seems to do clever li'l matchup things like that, he put backstrom and semin out there. semin ends up taking a very lazy and stupid hooking penalty as the puck exits the offensive zone, and the flyers, of course, score on the ensuing pp. the game changed from that point. fucking semin. gotta take the good with the bad i guess.
- ovechkin must have had nightmares of that glorious chance he had in the slot before dishing off to an unlooking federov. wow, that's a great place to shoot when you're the best sniper in the game.
- one has to imagine that slava bykov has already called ov begging him to be on the national team for the world championships next month. ov's gotta be pretty spent at this point, but i imagine it'll be tough to say no, especially given the number of quality russians ruled ineligible to play.
- interesting decisions remain regarding some of the team's ufa's (huet and federov) and rfa's (green and eminger), as well as what the deal with varlamov is. should be a fairly busy offseason for mcphee and the team, but one that at least can justifiably be viewed with optimism for the future.
Monday, April 21, 2008
What a game, what a comeback. Caps special teams failed them for the first half of the night, and it wasn’t looking particularly good. If as of around 8pm EST Caps fans had their tomorrow evening reservations at "drinking alone and crying into their collective glasses" city, no one could have blamed them for overreacting. But everything changed when the much maligned Steve Eminger threw a 90 foot breakout pass from deep in his own zone on the tape to a streaking Brooks Laich: Brooksie (how good does that Bondra for Laich trade look now?) entered the Flyers zone with speed on a 3-on-2 and dropped it back to initiate as pretty a play as you’ll ever see in the Stanly Cup Playoffs circa 2008. Semin one-touched it cross ice to Nik Backstrom, who one-touched it back to Semin, who amazingly didn’t let the puck linger on his stick for more than a fraction of what seemed like a nanosecond, firing it back to Backstrom, and calmly rifling it above the shoulder of the heretofore unbeatable Martin Biron. It was the kind of goal that not only got the Caps back into the contest, but put the bad guys on their heels and let both teams know that the good guys were, indeed, very good. Much will be said about OV’s two third-period goals, both undeniably brilliant, and the Caps D and Huet weathering the storm early in the final frame, and it should be so, but it was that insane passing and finishing play, off a great effort from Eminger mind you, that started it all and gave Washington life. Anything can happen tomorrow, but you’ve gotta like what has transpired thus far and they way things are going now. Should be a great one. Go Caps.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
one other thing i'd like to mention re the pp debacle, i was watching the caps tv interview with boudreau from after the game (an awesome feature, too bad the players almost never have anything interesting to say), and he was asked about incorporating laich's net presence on the first pp. bruce's response, not fully understanding the question, was a good one: he basically said that those players are who they are and they werent going to change, that they were a good pp during the last part of the season doing what they do. i think that's right. if you ask semin and backs and feds to do what laich does on the pp, then you shouldnt be an nhl coach. that's not who they are and it's too late to change their abilities (similarly, if you ask laich to do what either of those 3 do, youre even dumber). the reporter rephrased his question to get to the point: what about putting laich on that unit? bruce gave the first terse response i've seen from him all year: he's on the 2nd unit already, theyre out there. now this answer is disingenuous at best and idiotic at worse. he knows that 1) the 2nd unit has been out there for around 20 secs if at all lately, and 2) it's the first unit that needs the net presence; theyre the guys that are going to get the zone time and create the chances that require screening biron or a body to get to the rebound. just a terrible, terrible utterance from boudreau and i'm guessing by his pained delivery and his actions the next day, he knew he had fucked up and that he had been doing so for a while. there's a difference between being reactive and proactive, and though nhl coaches love to use the words, i'm not sure they know what they mean.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Saturday, April 12, 2008
what a game. it really doesn't get much better than that. some quick thoughts:
- ovechkin was an absolute beast. obviously the game winner was ridiculous, but he was flying all night and hitting everything that moved. he lived up to the expectations in his playoff debut.
- the power play needs to be better. the first unit does not create any traffic in front of the net, and i'm not sure the current personnel is capable of doing it. the power play in the second was abysmal, with semin stickhandling along the boards and no one even near biron. that poor power play led directly to brier's goal and a subsequent dominating stretch by the flyers that almost decided the game.
- semin was pretty invisible, his assist on green's first goal was on a busted play. he needs to be better.
- what a pass by fedorov to green. he's so good away from the puck too, another great game from sergei.
- without a doubt this was huet's worst game as a cap. encouraging that they managed to win, but he has to be better obviously.
- what a comeback. it's beginning to look like this may be some kind of team of destiny.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Did someone say Playoffs? You can almost taste the excitement. Big news is that it looks like both Morrison and Schultz will suit up. Morrison back is huge, and though Schultz has played quite well lately, I actually wouldn’t mind seeing Eminger get in there, especially if Schultzy is less than 100%. For the bad guys, it looks like Briere is in, and Smith is back too. These are the line combos I expect to see tomorrow for the Caps:
Ovechkin – Backstrom – Kozlov
Cooke – Fedorov – Semin
Fleishman – Laich – Gordon
Brashear – Steckel – Bradley
Morrison – Green
Schultz – Poti
Jurcina – Erskine
I think the Flyer lines will shake out like this:
Thoresen – Richards – Lupul
Prospal – Briere – Hartnell
Upshall – Carter – Knuble
Timonen – Coburn
Smith – Jones (or Parent)
Kukkonen – Modry
Line match ups could play an important role in the series, and as the home squad for games 1 and 2, the Caps need to take advantage of the last change. I imagine Stevens is going to want Richards line (along with Timonen and Coburn) out against Ovechkin. I’m not wholly bothered by this, but I’d like to see Boudreau avoid that match up if he can and get Ovechkin’s troika out against the Briere line, making Briere and Prospal play in their own zone, something they definitely don’t want to do (the Rangers used Jagr’s line against Briere last year in the playoffs and Briere got nothing done). Then throw Laich’s line against Richards ideally, and let Fedorov’s unit eat up Upshall, Carfter, and Knuble. However, if Richards and Co. get going (Lupul has had some playoff success), Coach Bruce will probably need to play Fedorov against those guys. As great as Richards has been and is going to be, I still think the 38 year old Russian can utilize his decades of high level and high stakes experience and put the snot nosed kid in his back pocket. These two coaches know each other from the AHL days, and I think you can expect significant in-game maneuvering and line matching (expect Boudreau to be trying his best to get Ovechkin out against Philly’s third defensive pair). Whoever wins the matching games could go a long way in determining the series winner.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
My recent descent to a luftmensch has seen its share of flailings, not the least of which is the sporadic and unfocused nature of postings here. Hopefully, that will now change as I begin what I expect to be a long series of posts on the Washington Capitals’ run in the NHL playoffs. The Caps have been getting a lot of attention around the league and in the media recently, so let me first fend off any allegations of fairweatherism that may be lobbed at me. A long time hockey fan, I have no hometown team that I root for. Originally an LA Kings fan, I followed Gretzky to the Rangers before Neil Smith ruined the Great One’s last chance at greatness (or even the playoffs) by refusing to part with Manny Malhotra for Pavel Bure. I subsequently discarded any particular allegiance, while still adoring the game and more importantly its players, until the Penguins fired overreacting ogre Kevin Constantine in 2000 and hired Herb Brooks, who promised to employ a run-and-gun, free-flowing attack, which seemed perfectly suited to a team full of European, offensive dynamos. The Pens rolled out some of my favorite players (Kovalev, Straka, Morozov, Kasparitis) and some others I learned to appreciate (Jagr, Lang, Titov). I had finally found my team. The team hired a Euro coach, Lemieux returned the next season, they used five forwards on the powerplay (basically for the two full minutes), and I fell deeper into the throes of fandom. Then, it turned out the coach (Ivan Hlinka, RIP) didn’t know how to coach in the NHL, Jagr, after being asked to be traded twice in-season, finally was traded, Lemieux’s hip went bum, and the firesale was in full force (whatever happened to Sergei Anshakov?). There was little point in continuing to root for a team that bore no resemblance (outside of Morozov still getting no love from Penguin fans) to the one I had fallen for.
There was a brief flirtation with the Ottawa Senators, but I was mostly without a team coming out of the lockout (not including the century-anniversary AK Bars Kazan). Alexander Ovechkin’s dynamic abilities and vivacious personality seemed like an obvious starting point to favor a team, and the following year he was matched (and surpassed in some ways) in slickness and flair by countrymen Alexander Semin. So far, so good. The offseason acquisition of one of my favorite players, Michael Nylander, only sweetened the deal (Nylander would tear his rotator cuff early in the year, apparently from tapping his stick on the ice demanding the puck so frequently). Captain Chris Clark is a warrior and Shaone Morrison is as steady as they come. However, there’s a difference between loving a team and living and dying with them every period, every goal, every wasted 5-3. The Caps had a bunch of players I liked, but they were not a team I loved. That changed with the hiring of career minor leaguer and Slapshot extra, coach Bruce Boudreau. A lot of how much you can cheer for a team, for me at least, has to do with the coaching. Obviously, I can’t put myself in the skates of any NHL player and realistically consider what I would do in their position. It’s easier, however, to imagine oneself behind the bench, juggling line combinations, motivating the troops, charming the media, configuring the powerplay, etc. It’s the coach who sets the tone for the team, and as much as I think Glen Hanlon is probably a good guy, by the end of it he looked like he badly needed a drink and to get canned, in reverse order. Boudreau came in and totally changed the way they played, both for the aesthetic betterment of myself (Mike Green free reign to rush the puck up the ice like a madman, Ovechkin staying on the point for the full powerplay, etc), and the success of the team. He’s as affable and as humble as they come, and I can’t imagine a nicer success story to come out of the NHL coaching ranks in years and years. Add in the classiness of Sergei Fedorov and the hilarity of Brooks Laich, and this is a team that I’m rooting for with whatever’s left of my jaded, alcohol-soaked, cholesterol-filled heart.
So, the good guys had to go on an insane streak just to get in the playoffs: won 7 in a row, 11 out of their last 12, 30-something out of their last 60-something. This is a very good team playing as well as they’ve ever played together. Yet, I’m very concerned how they’ll fair against a pretty good Philadelphia team. Here’s why:
Starting Friday. I hate this late start. The Caps were on an absolute roll with those 3 last home wins. It would have been great to keep that momentum going with Game 1 either Wed or Thurs. Yes, the extra days give Morrison and Schultz a chance to get ready, but they also do the same for Briere, Smith, and Hatcher for the bad guys. The Caps were playing so damn well for so long, this artificial break in their routine can only hurt them.
Health. Yes it appears that the Caps D are getting healthy, but we’ll see how effective they are. I have no idea what Schultz’s injury is, but it’s pretty clear that Morrison separated his right shoulder. Game 1 would be about 10 days since it happened, and it seems to me that’s a pretty short amount of time to get back at it, especially against a physically punishing (read: dirty as hell) team like the Flyers. Morrison is so key to this team: hitting people, clearing the front of the net, covering for crazy legs Green, if he misses significant time in the series, or is significantly hampered, it could spell disaster for Washington.
Philly Depth. I never think about this team except to mutter disgust for everything they stand for, but there are some pretty effective players over there. Incredibly deep down the middle (Richards, Briere, Carter), puck movers on the back end (Timonen, Coburn), physical presence (Smith, Hatcher, Hartnell). This is a pretty damn good team that ended the season with a pretty good run themselves (10-4-4 or something). Richards has turned into a great player at both ends, Briere and Prospal could be a tough combo to check, and Lupul is somehow falling ass backwards into goals.
Goon City. As evidenced by the roster of cheap shot artists and 78 different suspensions, the Broad Street Bullies have returned, and you can bet they’re going to try and make this series more about gratuitous violence than actually, you know, playing hockey. I expect them to go after Ovechkin and Backstrom, try to get them off their games; they’re going to hit Green hard, every time he goes back to get it, every time he rushes up the ice. There’ll be a lot of legal hits, and some illegal ones too. The onus is on the refs to keep it clean and call any of that bush league stuff the Flyers are known for.
Nevertheless, I have to believe the Capitals have gone too far to wilt here and now. Here’s why the Caps win.
Mike Green. There hasn’t been as swift and pretty a puck rushing defensemen in the league since Brian Leetch. This guy can skate for days and has some pretty sweet dangles to go with those insane legs of his. I expect him to blow by forwards like Hartnell and Carter and attack and attack the Philly D. If I could skate like Mike Green, I would never leave the rink. Negative points for homeboy sporting a Mohawk for the playoffs, but if it makes him clear the front of the net more aggressively, I’m all for it.
Brooks Laich. What a beauty of a player. I knew he could check, but who knew he had the moves and scoring touch. I’ve been championing for a while now (to nobody in particular) for Boudreau to put Laich on the first powerplay unit, the thinking being that he goes to the front of the net and creates screens and puts in rebounds. His PPP/60 (power play points per 60 minutes) has to be one of the highest on the team (I should just confirm that, for another day), especially in the last month or so. But, Fedorov has been doing a pretty good job with the first unit, he wins faceoffs, moves the puck well, and is always back to thwart any shorthanded rush. The first unit needs to get more bodies in front if Biron starts to look as if he’s feeling it.
Cristobal Huet. I’ve been a big fan for a while, and he’s played exceptional as a Cap. I have every reason to believe he’ll keep it going, and I think the series could come down to goaltending. Huet was great in his one playoff series with the Canadiens.
Alexander Ovechkin. Is it possible that he finds another gear for the playoffs? Would this involve him levitating above the ice and knocking the puck around out of the air?
In the end, Caps in 6, with some nail biting along the way for sure.
A quick look at the other series and predictions:
Detroit over Nashville in 5 – Detroit is the class of the league, they’re almost totally healthy, and shouldn’t have much of a problem here. If there was another league better than the NHL, Datsyuk, Zetterberh, and Lidstrom would be the best players in that league too. Kudos to the Preds for getting here.
San Jose over Calgary in 7 – This one’s going to be a battle and I look forward to some compelling OT action here. I guess it’ll come down to goaltending and I think Kiprusoff has a greater ability to steal more games than Nabokov. I’ll go with San Jose only because they have a little more depth and have been insanely hot getting here.
Minnesota over Colorado in 7 – Another pretty tough one to call. The prospect of Forsberg and Sakic and Foote back together (combined with a healthy team finally) makes me think the Aves will win. Add in Minnesota’s injuries on defense, and it really makes me think the Aves will win. But I’m usually wrong about these, so I’ll go with the Wild.
Anaheim over Dallas in 5 – The Ducks are built for this and the Stars without Zubov are a shell of themselves.
Montreal over Boston in 5 – If someone would have told me a few years ago that Alexei Kovalev had a DVD where he showed off sick stickhandling moves, I wouldn’t be able to rest until obtaining a copy. I’m still pretty excited about this, but let’s just say, I’ve taken a different view on resting.
Pittsburgh over Ottawa in 4 – Classless but smart move by the Penguins in obviously tanking their last game to avoid the Flyers and get the Sens. Sens were a horrible team for half the year, take away their best player, Daniel Alfredsson, and gritty Mike Fisher, and this one won’t be close. The Senators need to clean house and it starts with the cocaine train Ray Emery and his apologists.
New York over New Jersey in 7 – In what could be the longest and most boring of them all, Rangers win a goaltending yawn fest. These teams play equally boring games, but the Rangers have more firepower to close the deal. Ideally, both teams will suffer a rash of injuries and be forced to call up Artem Anisimov and Niklas Bergfors, could be the only way I’ll watch.