Sunday, December 30, 2007

Wild One in Ottawa: Caps Beat Sens 8-6

Capitals 8, Senators 6

On one hand the Capitals scored eight times against the best team in the Eastern Conference, held the Senators to just two shots (!) in the first period and dominated the play for much of the game. On the other hand they also let the Senators get a number of good scoring chances, gave up two short-handed goals and nearly squandered the three-goal lead they have going into the third. Incidentally, the officiating was terrible.

Offensively the Capitals eight goal output speaks for itself, but the question as to why this offensive outburst is relevant and I think it's because of the way the top two lines are put together; that right now the Ovechkin/Backstrom/Kozlov and Fleischmann/Nylander/Semin combinations are ideal.

Obviously first line discussion begins with Ovechkin. Backstrom looks like a better center for him because he plays the type of game Ovechkin does (fast moving, looking to jump on opponent's mistakes) better than Nylander, who is more inclined to play a puck-control game and wait for something to open up. Viktor Kozlov seems to play a better game and have more energy and confidence when he plays with Ovechkin and since Fleischmann and Semin don't seem to be able to click with the Great Eight the Caps aren't missing much by having those guys on line two. Plus, Semin and Nylander seem to work pretty well together as Nylander is content to hold the puck and wait for Semin to find a seam in the opposition's defense. And once Semin gets the puck with a little time and space in the slot, look out.

Defensively the Capitals were all over the place, oftentimes dominant but also unsettlingly easy to break. That's not to take anything away from the Senators - the plays by Fisher and Alfredsson to get shorthanded breakaways were great plays, as were Fischer's deflections and Spezza's slapshot (though Kolzig should have that one). It might be tempting for Caps fans to do some hand-wringing over it but I, for one, am not too concerned because these goals aren't going to happen all that often. Kolzig has looked pretty solid the last few games and I think he's done allowing really soft goals on a regular basis, Tom Poti's not going to put one in his own net off his hand very often, the opposition isn't generally going to get two goals off great deflections and the Caps have generally been solid enough defensively they won't allow as many odd-man rushes as they did last night. The Caps had an off-night defensively against a very good offensive team. It happens to every team and until it happens at least in consecutive games I won't worry about it.

Speaking of off-nights, the referees didn't have their best night either (to say the least). They missed at least one too-many-men call for each team, missed Brashear getting Gerber behind the Sens net, called Fleischmann for hooking a Senators player but not a Senators player for hooking Fleischmann only a second earlier (which caused the turnover and led to the hook by Flash), got Morrisonn for interference but not the Senators playing for holding onto Morrisonn's jersey on the way down (see picture) and let Kozlov get run into the boards, from behind, without the puck, after the whistle by Chris Phillips. The only consolation is that it didn't seem to affect the outcome of the game - the Capitals were the better team and won.

The Caps picked up one point relative to the last playoff spot in the East and are now only five out.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Alex Ovechkin
- 4 goals, 1 assist, +2...who else could it be?
(2) Alex Semin - 1 goal, 2 assists
(3) Nicklas Backstrom - 1 goal, 2 assists, +1

Quick Hits

  • Poti's play to control the puck with his skates and make a quick pass to Ovechkin for Ovechkin's second goal could easily became the overlooked play of the game.
  • I mocked Chris Neil after his fight with Brashear but I have to hand it to the guy - apparently getting the crap kicked out of you is great way to fire up your team.
  • The only Capitals player who wasn't either positive or even in +/- was David Steckel.
  • I've really been wanting to have Ovechkin have a big game so I could say that the fire eye'd boy gave 'em all the slip. So...there's my ultra-smooth way to include indie music in my writeup.
All photos AP
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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Caps/Penguins Recap

Capitals 3, Penguins 4 (OT)

It's funny how the Capitals seem to manage to find a way to make fairly successful games feel like soul-crushing losses. It happened in Detroit, it happened on Long Island and it happened again last night as the Capitals picked up a point in the second game of a back-to-back set in different cities, in which their struggling goaltender had to come off the bench (and not even the Caps' bench, the special Visiting Backup Goalie bench) due to injury, without their best player for the last ten minutes and in front of a hostile sell out crowd. Picking up a point on the road almost always deserves to be called a success and the Capitals were able to do so last night, pulling out of sole possession of the Eastern Conference basement.

That's not to say the team should be completely happy with pick up only one point in a game where they could have picked up two but not being shut out on the road is, at the very least, acceptable.

I think it'd be hard to overstate how well Olaf Kolzig played or the importance of seeing him play as well as he did. Aside of making several impressive saves Kolzig looked sharp, positionally and technically sound and confident. For the first time in months he looked like he was ready to be the backbone of the team again. I've already seen some Caps fans who want to blame Kolzig for the Penguins overtime goal, but it wasn't his fault. Sidney Crosby was driving to slot with the puck and made a great pass to send the puck over to a wide open Sergei Gonchar, who in turn took a great shot. For Kolzig to have made that save would have been quite impressive and you can't fault him for letting it get past.

Kolzig was solid against the Lightning and very good against the Pens, especially when you consider he had played the previous night and had to come in cold, and again it'd be hard to overstate how encouraging his recent play is. Even at his best Kolzig isn't going to be a dominant keeper or steal a lot of games but if he can play like he did last night every night the Capitals aren't going to have to worry about their goaltending.

It's still hard not to be a bit disappointed with the way this night played out. Going into the game a win, combined with favorable results around the league, could have put the Capitals just four points out of the Eastern Conference's last playoff spot. At the moment the Caps are still six out, having neither gained nor lost any ground last night.

One final note: the Pens resurgence that allowed them to come from behind started when Shaone Morrisonn was called for roughing with less than five minutes left. I didn't see the whole play since the cameras focused on the play but it looked like he was called for going into the boards with Evgeni Malkin and if that's the case it was a bad call. Morrisonn was going to play another Penguins player who had the puck (I believe it was Crosby) and Malkin stepped in, essentially setting a moving pick. Regardless of whether Morrisonn gave him more than he should have and earned the two for roughing it sure looked like Malkin should have been called for interference.

Quick Hits

  • Ovechkin's goal was made possible by a nice play by Backstrom - his decision to not play the puck.
  • Quite a nice night for Brashear - a goal, a fight and four hits (all of which came in the first period).
  • European players are often accused of being soft, but both Alexander Semin and Malkin both play with reckless abandon, get knocked around, get up and don't complain, as evidence by last night's game.
  • The shot Brian Pothier scored was a bomb.
  • I miss Mark Tinordi.
  • Early indications are that Brent Johnson will have to miss 2-4 weeks with the injury he suffered last night. Word is that Ovechkin's injury was a cut, so he shouldn't miss any more time.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Eric Fehr Update

It could have easily and understandably been missed, a short paragraph in the notes section at the end of Tarik's Washington Post writeup from last night's game, but it potentially has significant ramifications for the Capitals:

Prospect Eric Fehr, who has been out since February because of a mysterious hip ailment, recently has begun ramping up his rehabilitation with Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League. General Manager George McPhee said last night that Fehr, a 2003 first-round draft pick, could play as soon as next month, though he likely would play in Hershey first. . . .

The Capitals have struggled to get offense from the right wing position all season as Viktor Kozlov (three goals) and Tomas Fleischmann (eleven points) have not been as productive as it was hoped and Chris Clark and Alexander Semin (who's a natural left wing) missed significant time due to injury, and Fehr is regarded as a skilled offensive player who's especially adept at scoring goals. If Fehr does continue to get healthy it wouldn't be surprising to see Fehr called up and contributing with the Capitals once he's in game shape.

That might sound silly given that Fehr has two goals and one assist in 25 NHL games. But consider this: last year Fehr put up 21 goals, 19 assists, an 18.33 shooting percentage and was +20 in 40 games with the Bears. For a young prospect like Fehr those numbers generally mean they're ready to contribute at the next level.

Now it's possible that Fehr might not play at all this season, in D.C. or in Hershey and it's possible he may play in Hershey and not quite be able to get back into the swing of things enough to warrant an NHL call up this season. But the best case scenario, given the numbers that Fehr had in Hershey last season and the way other former Bears have responded under Boudreau, is that Fehr could come up for the last 10-15 games with the Capitals and provide the same kind of impact a solid deadline deal could during the final stretch run...provided the Caps are still in it at that point, of course.

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Caps/Lightning Recap: Caps Win 3-2

Capitals 3, Lightning 2

It took overcoming a hot goaltender on a video-reviewed goal in the final minutes of the third, but when the final horn sounded Capitals fan were able to breathe a sigh of relief as their team came out on top in a game that at times looked like it could become yet another game in which the Capitals outplayed the opposition but were unable to pull out a win.

On the day Bruce Boudreau was rewarded with the removal of the "interim" tag from his title he proved his coaching mettle by juggling the lines to start the third period, which the Capitals in turn dominated. I don't mean to pick on Glen Hanlon but that really is the kind of adjustment that the Capitals didn't seem to be making when he was behind the bench this season.

While we're on the subject of coaches I thought I'd share a thought I had during the game: John Tortorella is sort of the NHL's version of Ozzie Guillen - he got lucky and won the championship one year because he was in the right place at the right time, not because he has any managerial talent and right now his most distinguishing characteristic is that he's a world-class blowhard.

The first period of this game was an example of what having a good goaltender versus an average goaltender can do for a team. In that period the Caps had twelve shots and three or four excellent scoring chances chances while the Lightning had nine shots and a one decent scoring chance, yet each team picked up one goal and they went into the intermission tied. That's what's great about having a guy play like Karri Ramo did that period - it takes a perfect play to beat and sometimes even that isn't enough (remember Ovechkin's chance on the powerplay?) That's why having a great goalie is such an advantage. As long as you score a decent number of goals and don't leave them out to dry six times a game, your team will win more than they'll lose.

In the Capitals net Olaf Kolzig had his first solid game in a while and while he wasn't spectacular, and I'm sure would have like to have the first goal back, his performance was a key part of the Capitals win. Even without making highlight-reel saves Kolzig gave his team enough confidence that they could play their game without having to be overly focused on their own end by correcting some of the mistakes he's made recently, specifically holding the post well and doing a better job with rebound control.

Final thought: this game wasn't nearly as close as the score and if Ramo hadn't made so many great saves the Capitals could have easily had six goals.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) David Steckel - 2 goals, 1 assist, +2
(2) Matt Bradley - 1 goal, 1 assist, +3
(3) Olaf Kolzig - 18 saves on 20 shots

Quick Hits

  • Kolzig didn't look very good on Vincent Lecavalier's goal, but that one is on Viktor Kozlov for first turning the puck over at the opponent's blue line and then failing to clear the puck out of the front of the net.
  • Pet peeve alert: people who yell "Shoot!" on the powerplay irritate me for oh so many reasons, the biggest being: the team has a much better chance of scoring by setting something up that by just shooting and when you're at the blue line and there's a 6'2'', 215 pound player bearing down on you and at least two of your teammates are open, what's the better play: to pass it off and to knock it into the opposition's skates and give them a shorthanded breakaway? It's especially bad when the team's powerplay is clicking (like the Caps was early last night) and generating shots (five in four minutes).
  • Alex Ovechkin is not playing his best game right now, registering no points against the Lightning while taking the Capitals only penalty and leading the team in giveaways with three and taking more than 59 minutes to register a shot against the Islanders on the 23rd.
  • Memo to last night's refs: it's still cross-checking even if it happens after the whistle. I'm all for letting players clear out the other team in front of the net with your hands, but cross-checking is a penalty because it's dangerous. It happening after the play doesn't make it any less so.
  • For most of the first two periods I kept thinking 'Geez, Pothier sure is shooting a lot for a guy coming off a broken thumb. I don't think that's such a good idea, if I were the coach I'd tell him to look for a pass'. This is why I am not a coach.
  • If the Capitals schedule consisted of playing the Lightning 82 times would Dave Steckel lead the league in goals?
  • If Steckel didn't, would Pothier?
  • Brooks Laich won 9 of 11 on faceoffs.
  • Tamp Bay had four minor penalties; the Capitals had one.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Week 16: Redskins vs. Vikings

In week 15 against the Giants, this Redskins team again proved me wrong and turned in their best game of the season. Clinton Portis was able to run the football, the offensive line was able to open up holes and protect the quarterback and the secondary was able to contain the explosive pass play of the Giants. More importantly, this team showed grit and determination that has been missing all season. The most important play of the game was LaRon Landry's late hit on Plaxico Burress. Yes, I know it resulted in a flag and eventually the Giants got some points during that specific drive, but it speaks volumes to your own team and to the other team about Landry's intensions and determination in the secondary. Plays like that are building him into a recognizable entity within the Redskins' defense and it gave Manning another player to worry about as he checked through his progression. It's something Sean Taylor would have done and I'm glad to see that Landry is hoping to fill his shoes.

This week the Redskins face the Vikings who in all respects are a lesser team. Yes, they have an explosive running back and a great run defense but they also have a weak secondary and a horrendous passing game.
They also struggled last week against a Bears team that the Redskins handled in Week 14. The Bears held Peterson under 100 yards, sacked Jackon twice and pulled down three INTs. The Redskins' defense is better than that and can take advantage of the young quarterback in the same way they attacked Eli Manning. I'm still not convinced that Todd Collins is a savior and after the horrendous completion percentage of last week, he's going to have to do a lot better to open up the passing game.

The Redskins have to run the football to win the game and, ideally, Clinton Portis goes over 100 yards. But this Minnesota defense is tough and that's going to be a struggle. Bottom line, this Redskins team has done the same thing week in and week out. Pound the rock, play physical defense and get a couple of passes inside the redzone to Cooley. The only difference between their wins and their losses is whether they execute or not. This game will come down to who wants it more and who steps up to take it. I think the Skins will take it this week. They are hungry and are finally putting their talent to use.

Redskins 17, Vikings 10

- The Hokie

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Caps Goaltending Needs an Upgrade

It's a fact that's been beating down on Capitals fans for most of this season, and it was again underscored during
last night's 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens: you can't make the playoffs with a mediocre goalie. There are simply too many teams with good goaltenders for that to happen.

Let me explain. In my mind there are four classes of goaltenders in the NHL (please note the examples I use are how good the players are right now, not their career potential):

Tier I - "Dominant"

Dominant goaltenders have three distinct characteristics. One is that they have no obvious weaknesses. They are technically and positionally sound, control rebounds, play smart and are just as hard to beat up high as down low. The second is that they very rarely allow soft goals. The third characteristic is mental toughness: these netminders aren't going to get rattled when things don't go their way (which is going to happen sooner or later if you play in net).

Results-wise these goalies will virtually never cost their team the game and will in fact keep their team in games they have no business being in and will "steal" games for their team on a regular basis. I would estimate that there are between three and five such goalies in the NHL right now, the prototypical example being Roberto Luongo (pictured).

Tier II - "Very Good"

These goalies are generally solid and can be counted to play a good game the vast majority of the time, but are not quite at that dominant level because they aren't top-notch is every aspect of the game. They may have only average lateral movement, five-hole coverage, positioning or rebound control. They may allow too many soft goals, not make enough big saves or get rattled too easily.

Although goalies in this second tier are not dominant night in and night out they are difficult to beat and it usually takes a nice play, a rebound, a screen or sustained pressure to get one by them. While they won't steal games for their teams on a frequent basis it's not exactly a rare occurrence either. Although you could technically do better as a coach or general manager, any solid team should have success with a goalie of this caliber. Ryan Miller would be an example of a Tier II goalie.

Tier III - "Decent"

An average goalie is just that - average. They probably don't excel at any particular aspect and the areas where they are above average are offset by other areas where they are below average - or worse. Tier III goalies have clearly exploitable holes that they are unable to compensate for without making themselves even more vulnerable. Soft goals are not uncommon and if the goalie steals more than a game or two a season for his team he's outperformed expectations. These goalies are often "tweeners" - not quite good enough to be a starter for a contending team but better than most backups. Examples would include Marc Denis and Vesa Toskala.
Tier IV - "Mediocre"

Mediocre goals will very rarely steal a game for their team, will let in soft goals on a regular basis and have easily exploitable holes visible even to casual fans. While Tier IV goalies may make passable backups any team that is starting one is going to be in trouble, no matter how skilled the rest of their lineup is. For an example think of any unspectacular career backup, such as John Grahame or Curtis Sanford.

Goaltenders are not necessarily normally distributed and these tiers are based more on how difficult a goalie is to beat than how good they are compared to other goalies in the league. I believe that the distribution of goaltending tiers is significantly different than it has been in the past. When I was younger (and playing as a goalie myself) it seemed to me there were 2-4 dominant goalies and another5-8 very good goalies in the league at any given time and that most teams were starting decent (Tier III) goalies. Now I believe there are 3-5 dominant goalies, at least 10 more very good goalies* and as many as 30 decent goalies.

Why? Better coaching has lead to better technical ability, so fewer holes open up to shooters. Bigger equipment and bigger players at the position mean that when those holes do open up they're smaller than ever before.

That a team needs an above average goaltender to be a serious contender and, in most cases, to get into the playoffs has not changed. What has changed is what it means to be an average goalie in the NHL. Just as major league pitchers now throw more pitches and throw harder than in the past and just as NHL skaters are bigger, faster and have harder shots than their predecessors, goalies have gotten better.

So where is Kolzig in all this? In my opinion Kolzig borders between a Tier III and Tier IV goalie at this point in his career. Kolzig is not the kind of goalie a contending team would want - he has poor lateral movement and has let in far too many soft goals this season, mostly on wraparounds and through his five-hole. But at the same time he is not a clear-cut backup.

Regardless of whether Kolzig is a Tier III or Tier IV goalie, he is well below average for the league and ranks 34th in save percentage and goals against average (GAA). This is not a new trend for Kolzig. Last season he tied for 17th in save percentage and 33rd in GAA; the year before he was 33rd and 44th. Part of that is due to the fact that the Capitals were not a very good team (to say the least), but the numbers suggest what should have been apparent to anyone watching the games: Kolzig was now a average NHL goalie at best. This season having Kolzig be average would b
e an improvement. With so many talented goalies in the NHL right now a team has to have a guy who is at least on the border of Tier II and Tier III to be a playoff contender, unless the rest of their team is very talented.

So can the Capitals make playoffs with Kolzig? They can, but it will be difficult. What would be ideal for a team with so many young players (including the league's youngest defense corps) would be to have a solid netminder who's going to steal them some games - not one they'll have to bail out more often than he bails them out. But the Capitals are a dynamic, talented team that's getting better every day and they may soon be able to carry a mediocre goalie and still win with regularity.

If that sounds crazy, consider this: how much better are Mike Green, Jeff Schultz and Nicklas Backstrom playing right now than they were in October? With so much young talent this could be a significantly stronger team in less than a month. If the Capitals can have their key players continue to develop quickly they stand a very good chance at being a solid enough to carry a questionable goalie. Pittsburgh made the playoffs last year, didn't they?

Caps fans ought to hope the team can do so because General Manager George McPhee's hands are tied at this point in terms of trying to bring in a goalie to supplant Kolzig as the starter as such a player would be difficult to acquire and the inevitable rift in the clubhouse from Kolzig being forced to accept such a demotion would likely ruin any team chemistry. It's not that Olie isn't a team guy, he is. But he's also very competitive...and not very good at hiding it when he is upset.

The offseason is different story though. In fact, I think I heard Joe B. say Cristobal Huet would be a free agent after this season...

*Goalies who I think would clearly fit into either Tier I or Tier II include the ones listed below. There are several others who may or may not be in Tier II, such as Martin Gerber, Ray Emery and Carey Price.

Martin Brodeur
Ilya Bryzgalov
Rick DiPietro
Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Cristobal Huet
Miikka Kiprusoff
Pascal Leclaire
Henrik Lundqvist
Roberto Luongo
Ryan Miller
Evgeni Nabokov
Marty Turco
Tomas Vokoun

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Caps/Habs Recap

Canadiens 5, Capitals 2

How do you outshoot a team 37-21, have more than a 50% advantage over them in scoring chances and still lose? The answer: difference in the quality of netminding. If not for Cristobal Huet's performance last night the Canadiens, in all likelihood, don't win that game.

The Canadiens didn't have a high number of good scoring chances and when the Capitals defense was good it was very good. But when it was bad it was very bad. The Capitals held the Canadiens to only one shot in the first half of the first period (six for the period) and only three for the first nineteen minutes of the second (five in all in the period), but they also conceded the first two goals because they left men wide open in front of their own net.

As for Kolzig: it's hard to fault a goaltender when their defense leave men wide open in front of the net or let screened shots get through, but it's also hard to totally absolve a goalie who's stopped only eight of eleven shots through two periods. The Canadiens first and third goals were stoppable - the first wasn't a great shot, even though it was in close and the third was through a screen but also wasn't a great shot. You certainly can't blame Kolzig on either of those, but it would have been nice if he'd stopped one of them. The Canadiens second goal was one where Olie couldn't have done much - if your defense is going to let the other team have that opportunity you don't have much of a chance as a netminder. That said, Kozlig should have done something. He literally didn't have any of the net covered. Not one. Single. Inch. In fact, Tomas Plekanec had to miss the net to hit Kolzig with the puck (by the way, Merry Christmas, Tomas. If you can't even hit the net from four feet out with no one one you, you'd better believe it's a gift when you score.)

The score might give the impression that this way the type of game the team was accustomed to playing under Hanlon. It wasn't. The Capitals played well for the vast majority of the game, created chances for themselves in the offensive zone and held the Canadiens to 21 shots. This, along with Boudreau's attitude, gives me faith the Capitals will come out strong next time.

Quick Hits
*Al Koken reported during the third period that Brian Pothier had broken his thumb and is week-to-week. Now's your chance, Steve. Show us you shouldn't have been sitting all this time.
Interesting decision to Boudreau to play Ovechkin on the point with Pothier out and the team in need of goals. I like it.

*Ovechkin needs a new stickhandling move. He does the one he does, where he tries to put the puck through the opponent's legs and go through them, very well. But he tries it every time he's one-on-one with a defender. NHL advance scouts are going to pick up on that and NHL defenders are going to stop it when they know it's coming. Ovie either needs to get a new move or start getting rid of the puck, because all he's doing now is turning it over.

*Nicklas Backstrom's goal was a very nice play. Taking a bouncing puck at putting in the net from that angle, with the backhand takes a lot of skill.

*If I were Coach Boudreau I would consider calling Viktor Kozlov into my office and ask him why he thinks it's so funny that he can't score goals.

*Did anyone else raise any eyebrow when Craig Lauglin said "this period's just about over" when there was 8:30 remaining in the second? At that point (8:30) the period was 57.5% over. Does this mean the Capitals had "just about" as many points (70) as the Senators (112) and Red Wings (124) last year?

*While we're on the subject of Laughlin, he apparently thought his comment that the "teams must think the ice time over over at nine o'clock" was the funniest thing he's ever heard because he was giggling uncontrollably for a good ten seconds afterwards. What I thought was amusing was that Beninati's comment that "we'd better get them some orange wedges" that came right after was much better than Laughlin's.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bad Sports Journalism Mocked Here!

Thanks to (1) getting older and smarter (2) the internet as a means of fact-checking and (3) the genius that is, I have discovered the joys of bad sports journalism. And boy do we have a whopper today, in the form of a Hockey News blog entry by Mike Brophy that argues the Capitals should trade Alexander Ovechkin (or at least look into trading him).

Read what Peerless (The Peerless Prognosticator) and CapsChick (A View From the Cheap Seats) had to say.

The argument goes something like: The Capitals aren't winning with Ovechkin and he's not going to be happy there and Washington doesn't deserve him, thus they should trade him in a deal reminiscent of the Lindros-for-the-world swap.

Now for the fun part: picking apart this argument bit-by-bit.

Point #1: Ovechkin is/will be unhappy in Washington: But what if Ovechkin doesn’t want to play in Washington any longer?

Why Point #1 is stupid: Despite the fantasies of some bigger/older hockey markets Ovechkin hasn't said anything to indicate he is unhappy in Washington. He say he likes the team, likes the fans, likes the city, likes his teammates and likes the direction the franchise is headed. He has said he wished he played in front of bigger crowds, but I'm sure he know that when the Caps starting winning, the fans will come. Maybe writers in other hockey markets are hoping that if they keep saying Ovechkin wants out of D.C., Ovechkin will decide that's the case.

Point #2: Washington doesn't deserve Ovechkin. What if the young superstar tells the Caps he’d prefer to play someplace a little more cosmopolitan than Washington?

Why Point #2 is stupid: With its highly educated and highly skilled workforce, abundance of restaurants/bars and myriad of cultural opportunities (including many of the world's best museums, which are free), Washington clearly doesn't stack up in terms of cosmopolitan-ness, right? Naturally Ovechkin will want to go to some other cultural hotbed like Detroit, Buffalo, Edmonton or Raleigh. This statement by Brophy is one of those ones that's so stupid it makes the whole article lose credibility. If anything, the fact that Washington is so cosmopolitan hurts the Capitals because there's so much else to do.

Really though this just comes down to another point writers have been trying to make - Washington doesn't deserve Ovechkin. Why is that? Because the Capitals haven't won a Cup? Philly hasn't won one since 1975; Toronto since 1967, but I'd bet no one would complain they don't deserve Ovechkin. Because of low attendance? Over the last ten years the Capitals have outdrawn the Bruins six times, even though Washington has been terrible for several years. Yet, would anyone claim Boston is not enough of a hockey town to deserve a player like Ovechkin?

Just for the record here's my cosmopolitan-ness rankings for NHL cities:
(1) New York
(2) Washington
(3) Toronto

Point #3: The Capitals aren't going to win any time soon. Let’s face it, with Ovechkin in their lineup, the Capitals have shown no signs of being a playoff team.

Why Point #3 is stupid: The Capitals are five points out of a playoff spot and seven points out of the division lead and fifth spot in the East. They're 7-4-2 since Boudreau took over. They have this year beaten Ottawa and Detroit, in Ottawa and Detroit, when each team was the best in the league.

Point #4: The Caps don't have enough young talent/enough depth. Let’s face it, with Ovechkin in their lineup, the Capitals have shown no signs of being a playoff team...There are no guarantees re-signing Ovechkin will make the Capitals a successful franchise. In fact, if history has taught us anything, moving a young star just might be the best medicine for a struggling team...[discussion of Lindros trade]

Why Point #4 is stupid: No young talent? No depth on the team or in the farm system? Alexander Semin, Shaone Morrison, Boyd Gordon, Matt Pettinger, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, Josh Godfrey, Semen Varlamov, Michael Neuvirth, Chris Bourque, Francois Bouchard, Sasha Pokulok. Yeah, the Capitals need more young talent.

Point #5: The Capitals could get a haul similar to what the Nordiques got for Lindros. When the franchise was still located in Quebec, Eric Lindros put a gun to the team’s head, demanding a trade. The Nordiques considered a few options and ultimately traded Lindros for a package that included Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, a first round draft pick and $15 million.

Why Point #5 is stupid: The Nordiques got six players for Lindros, $15 million and two first round picks. The six players were: a sure-fire Hall of Famer and probably the most dominant player in the league in his prime (Forsberg), a very good goalie (Hextall), a tough guy with some skill (Simon), a great defensive player with good offensive upside (Ricci), a solid defenseman (Huffman) and a great offensive defenseman (Duchesne).

Who even has that kind of talent in the NHL with the parity that exists? I'd say the best team in terms of young talent are Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. With that in mind I give you Mike Brophy's potential trade ideas:

Ovechkin to Los Angeles for Kopitar (Forsberg), Johnathon Bernier (Hextall), Jack Johnson and Brad Stuart (Huffman and Duchesne), Alexander Frolov (Ricci) and...someone else who's analogous to Simon. Oh yeah, and $15 million dollars, adjusted upwards for twenty years of inflation. And two first round draft picks.

Ovechkin to Pittsburgh for Malkin (Forsberg), Fleury (Hextall), Staal (Ricci), Orpik and Gonchar (Huffman and Duchesne), and again someone unknown who's analogous to Simon. Oh yeah, and $15 million dollars, adjusted upwards for twenty years of inflation. And two first round draft picks.

What do you think, guys? Would Pittsburgh or L.A. go for it? I bet they would! Because handing over money and cost-controlled skilled youngsters is a formula for success in the salary cap era of the NHL! Oh, wait....

Plus, I still don't think either of those trades would be as good as what Quebec got for Lindros.

Point #6: It would be a good idea for the Capitals. [whole article]

Why Point #6 is stupid: Washington's fans are already skeptical of management's commitment to win and whether the Capitals can achieve success and trading Ovechkin could deal a blow to the fan base that it may never recover from.

Conclusion: This article is stupid and Mike Brophy probably knows it. But it's getting people to talk about it, write about it, and visit The Hockey News website.

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Caps Fall in Shootout

Capitals 3, Red Wings 4 (SO)

Behind a strong game from Olaf Kolzig and a late goal from Alexander Semin the Capitals were able to pick a point against the best team in the NHL, in the league's toughest building to play in.

There might be a natural inclination to feel like last night's game was a loss since the the Red Wings picked up two point with their shootout victory, but it was a tie. That the Capitals couldn't pick up the extra point in the shootout is too bad, but the actual hockey game was a tie. And a tie is a good thing on the road, especially against a team like Detroit.

What the Capitals are starting to show at this point is consistency. Early in the season they showed, at times, what a good team they could be - winning their first two games of the season handily, beating Toronto 7-1, in Toronto, and taking a win from the Senators, in Ottawa, when the team was at its hottest. Despite their flashes of brilliance the team wasn't able to play well night in and night out and in fact had trouble even putting together solid efforts in consecutive games. I think that the fact that the Capitals have been playing more consistently is in large part due to Boudreau's attitude. The fact that he doesn't accept moral victories against any opponent, holds players accountable and wants the team to play aggressive hockey because he knows they can is key because it's going to help prevent the team from falling into lengthy losing streaks. Even the best teams are going to lose games. It's the ability to come back the next night, play hard again and avoid hanging your head that lets teams pick up point on a consistent basis and builds a winner.


"If you told me before the game that we would have gotten a point out of tonight, I think all of us would have pretty happy with that. ...I don't look at a shootout loss as a loss. I look at it as a tie."

Quick Hits
  • After the Caps' Saturday game I criticized the classlessness of the Tampa Bay Lightning's fans; tonight I will commend the class of Wings' fans for applauding when the injured linesman was able to get back to his feet after being hurt about a minute and a half into the game.
  • The referees called the game very tight all night, except when Mike Green was hauled down in the Wings' zone rushing the puck in. Why? Because the Wings already had a player in the box. The most important thing as a referee is being consistent and that means being consistent the whole game - even if a team is already short-handed.
  • I'm tickled pink the Capitals scored with less than two minutes remaining in the game to force overtime and pick up a point, but it's too bad it came on a powerplay that was the result of a puck over the glass delay of game penalty because that is really an awful rule.
  • I tend to view going to overtime and a shootout as a tie with the opportunity to get lucky and get an extra point, but it'd be nice if Kolzig were better in the shootout. He's now 5-12 in his career and has stopped fewer than 40% of shots. With the style he plays it's not surprising that he isn't a great shootout goalie, but it'd also be nice if he didn't get beat by the exact same move three times in a row.

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Another Man Down, Wiz Sign Wilks

For the past month the Wizards have proven that they can win without Gilbert Arenas. And Saturday night they showed they could do it without Antonio Daniels, who had been starting at the point in Gil’s absence.

Daniels sprained his right MCL against Miami last week and is expected to miss two to four weeks. He had filled in admirably for Gilbert, averaging 11 points and 6.6 assists in 14 games since joining the starting five. With a roster so depleted by injuries that they only dressed nine for Saturday’s tilt with the Sacramento Kings, the Wizards have shown tremendous resiliency in spite of their short bench. Following their 92-79 win over the struggling Kings (9-14), the Wiz are now 10-5 sans Agent Zero...and 1-0 without AD.

After standing pat following Arenas’ injury, GM Ernie Grunfield decided to make move with this latest hit to an already thin backcourt rotation. Monday the Wizards acquired six-year veteran guard and former Denver Nugget Mike Wilks. The eight-year veteran averaged 3.0 points and 0.8 assists in eight games for the Nuggets before he was cut last month. While Wilks likely won’t be able to make up for AD’s offense, he provides a steady veteran presence at the most important position on the team. If he can push the tempo and get the ball to Washington’s scorers, there shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off in the team’s play. If nothing else, he is a more proven ball-handler and distributor than Roger Mason Jr. and rookie Nick Young.

  • At just 5-foot-10, Wilks went undrafted out of Rice, but has played for seven different teams before Washington including the Spurs, Rockets and Cavs. Here’s hoping this tiny journeyman can put up Earl Boykins-like numbers while he’s with the Wiz.
    Washington started Young at the point Saturday against Sacramento but Eddie Jordan gave him the hook just four minutes in. The Bean Burrito scored seven points with just one assist in 14 minutes.

  • Grunfield did not give Wilks a guaranteed contract, enabling the Wiz to cut Wilks before Jan. 10 - should Daniels be ready to return then - without going over the luxury tax threshold ($67.86 million).

  • As Washington Post Wizards beat writer Ivan Carter reported today, the Wizards desperately needed another body just to practice. The Wiz, missing Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison due to an illness and with Andray Blatche excused from practice, were left with only six players at Monday's practice. Three-man weave anyone?

-- The Tar Heel

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Nationals' Players on the Hot Seat

Two recent additions to the Nationals are on the hot seat for very expected off field problems. Elijah Dukes has been charged again with domestic violence and Paul LoDuca faces obvious flack for his past involvement with steroids.

The Dukes matter is nothing new and occurred before he was introduced as a National, but is still disturbingly recent. This young man has anger issues that habitually appear when he is put into stressful personal situations. I very much like him as a player, and respect that he is participating in off-season workouts to acclimate himself with the team. I just hope that he is truly convinced and has internally decided to face these issues. The best way the Nationals can succeed in 2008 is for Dukes to be healthy and on the field. With stunts like this, he is not only jeopardizing his own future, but the future and success of the entire organization. Quite selfishly, because I want to see our team win, I want Dukes to pull himself together, stop making inappropriate angry off-field decisions and play baseball. If he can do that, and show fans a mutual respect for us and our passion to see the team win, then I'll have a more compassionate investment in him as a person.

I mention Paul LoDuca, but only as a preface to a larger steroid topic that has been ignored by most writers. Sally Jenkins in the Wash Post wrote about a double standard against Barry Bonds and Marion Jones. She cited underlying racial disdain as the cause of their perceived villainy, but I strongly believe that she misses the point entirely.

While Jones is an Olympic matter who are always very harsh with their punishments, Bonds' indictment stems from his greatness and majesty. It's not racially motivated or a comment on the continued bigotry of our times but a reaction against broken trust, shattered dreams and boyhood betrayal. Growing up as a young baseball player you look to the legends of the game with awe: Ruth, Mantle, Aaron. There are great pitchers, but for every envious fastball there are dozens of hitters that inspire our imaginations and draw us to the game. There is just something very special, very pure and innocent about hitting a baseball. So while there are many different players that we now look down on because they hurt themselves and the game, LoDuca, the reason Bonds holds a special place on baseball's blacklist is because he hurt us fans the most. He struck at the heart of what every boy wishes they could accomplish and while he broke the record I will never call him king. The reason punishment comes down so hard on these two is because they were the best, but in reality they weren't. If you don't deserve to wear the crown it's a long fall from the top of the mountain.

- The Hokie

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Capitals 3, Lightning 2

I'll start off by talking about what might have been the most controversial play of the game for Caps fans - Filip Kuba's high-sticking penalty on Alexander Ovechkin. Bottom line is this: the Lightning were very lucky they weren't down for more than four minutes, because there's no way a two-handed slash across a player's face should be a double minor. Kuba deserved a five minutes slashing major. For Caps fans there's that instinct to call for Kuba's head and say he should have been thrown out for an intent to injure play and suspended three games. I know, because I felt it. But looking at it from an objective point of view, I don't think Kuba meant to slash Ovechkin up high. It still should have been a major, no doubt, and perhaps even a misconduct because it was such a reckless play, but I honestly don't think Kuba's intent was to hit Ovechkin that hard or that high.

I will say this though: it's easy to make a case that it doesn't matter what the intention was. After all, Marty McSorley has vehemently denied that he intentionally hit Donald Brashear in the head with his stick but still received a year-long suspension that effectively ended his career, and I'd be willing to be that if the Kuba-on-Ovechkin play happens with Brashear, Sean Avery, George Parros or anyone in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform, it's five and a game, no question. As I said before, the bottom line is that as dangerous as that plays was for Kuba to only get four minutes was a mistake on the part of the referees.

I'd like to finish this section by talking about the class level of the Tampa Bay fans in attendance last night, which measures up to where it should be in about the same way Martin St. Louis measures up to the average NHL player (height-wise, not skill-wise). To boo Ovechkin from the outset just because he's Washington's best player is simply stupid, a bit classless and quite immature ("you're better than us! I'm gonna yell bad things at you 'cause I'm jealous!"), but to cheer when he goes down, boo when he gets up and boo when he touches the puck after being felled by an obviously illegal move (and borderline cheapshot) is classless. The constant moaning and yelling about penalties being called or allegedly missed, the booing of the other team's best player for no reason and when he's hurt, the general boorish classlessness... I guess those Tampa fans really take after coach. Or maybe Bettman just had a bunch of flunkies in the crowd tonight trying to build that Caps/Lightning rivalry.

Now, as for the rest of the game:

In what was perhaps an homage to teammate Olaf Kolzig, Brent Johnson started off the game for the Caps by allowing a goal on a shot that shouldn't have even been a challenge and then continued the theme by allowing a mediocre wrister from Vincent Lecavalier to get through his legs.

Between Friday night and last night, the Capitals scored six goals, surrendered one that was the fault of the skaters (non-goalies), one that was an empty netter and five that should have been stopped by the guys with the big pads and cool helmet decals. It's great that the Capitals' skaters have been playing well enough to either keep the game close or win when their goalies have been less than stellar, but the fact is you simply can't be a playoff team when any shot the opposition gets on net is a scoring chance (or, in the case of Buffalo's first goal on Friday, you create scoring chances for the other team).

So is the Caps goaltending in crisis? A fair question, but the short answer is "no". The long answer begins with Brent Johnson because it's quicker to address his situation. Brent Johnson is inconsistent, won't make a lot of great saves and will rarely, if ever, steal a game for his team. On the other hand, he is generally pretty solid and gives him team a fair chance to win every night. You can't ask for much more out of a backup goaltender, and as far as backups go Johnson is solid or better.

The situation is a bit more complicated for Kolzig. As I mentioned before, Kolzig looks like he is a mediocre goalie at this point in his career, and a borderline starter. At this point he may indeed be one. But no one works harder than Olie, no one is as competitive as Olie and no one is as hard on themselves as Olie. While ripping himself after the 5-3 loss to Buffalo Kolzig said he needed "to sit and stew [a while]". It wouldn't shock me to see Kolzig come back strong against Detroit and have a string of very good games. At the same time, it wouldn't shock me to see Kolzig struggles to keep his save percentage above .900 for the rest of the season.

Switching gears: a large part of the Caps success tonight came from their defense's ability to hang with Lightning players rather than be tricked by stickhandling moves or head fakes (Jeff Schultz was especially good about this). That, along with the success the Capitals had in cutting off the passing lanes, let the Capitals force Tampa Bay's attack to the outside. The results: only 25 shots against including a stretch of more than ten minutes where Tampa failed to register a shot. Those numbers are good any game, but against a team as offensively skilled as Tampa they're even more impressive.

I like what Boudreau did with the lines. I think Nicklas Backstrom is the best match for Ovechkin at center - Viktor Kozlov doesn't have enough skill and Michael Nylander's style of slowing the play down and waiting for it to develop doesn't mesh well with Ovechkin's constant all-out attack. Matt Pettinger has looked very good playing on Ovechkin's wing, always going at full speed (which is quite quick for Pettinger) and digging around the net. I like Kozlov centering Brooks Laich and Brashear as well. Kozlov and Brashear are two very big bodies for opponents to have to try to deal with, Laich is solid two-way grinder and Kozlov has quite a bit of skill. Plus it works really well for me in NHL 08.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Brian Pothier - 1 goal (game-winner), 1 assist, +1
(2) Tomas Fleischmann - 1 goal, 1 assist, +1
(3) David Steckel - 1 goal, +1

Quick Hits

  • I didn't see who but one of the Capitals defensemen failed to clear the puck during the penalty kill situation that came from Morrisson' slashing penalty, because he tried to clear up the middle of the ice. Another rookie mistake (and that's being generous). C'mon guys, remember the phrase "high and hard off the glass"?
  • To return to the Kuba/Ovechkin play: What's the point of dressing Donald Brashear if he's not going to make guys pay for hits like that?
  • I was a bit skeptical when I saw Fleischmann was dressed tonight as the lines scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Thanks for proving me wrong Flash.
  • Since being scratched Brian Pothier seems a lot more willing to take a hit, and I think that's helped him get more "in the game" and stay focused.
  • Lecalvier made a real stupid play at the end of the game when he drove the puck into the Capitals zone from his own blue line, resulting in an icing. That's just a frustration play, and you've got to give the Caps credit for frustrating Vinny and the Lightning like that.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Week 15: Redskins vs Giants

Last week's win against the Bears defied my expectations for this team, especially after the loss of Jason Campbell and the introduction of long time backup Todd Collins. The Skins performance was admirable but let’s not confuse the forest for the trees. The forest that is the Redskins is a 6-7 team struggling to claw their way into the playoffs, starting a back-up quarterback and playing against a very physically talented receiver in Plaxico Burress. Neither the Redskins nor the Giants are the same team that matched-up in week three and while the Redskins have been devastated by injuries, the Giants have grown stronger and more confident. I never trust the lesser Manning to get things done, but the Giants defensive line is a force to be reckoned with and could easily reach double digit sacks against the Redskins hodgepodge O-line. The Redskins will struggle to put up points and with a depleted secondary will give up big plays to either Burress or Shockey.

The Bears defense is not what is has been in past years and Collins' ability to read their coverage and execute will not be the same against this Giants team that is more experienced and much more formidable at the front of attack. Collins will have less time to make his selections and get rid of the ball and will have to utilize TE Chris Cooley as his main offense weapon to sustain drives and get into Giants territory.
It was disappointing after Campbell went down that running back Clinton Portis did not answer the call and step up his game. Portis finished with 17 carries and only 36 yards. Portis did turn a screen pass into a 54 yard pick up but his value has to be downhill, running the football. His strength lies in getting to the second level of a defense, opening up space and making people miss tackles. These are all things he has shown flashes of this year, but nothing more than glimpses of his past talent. Blame is shared with the offensive line, but as a squad they have been getting better and I don't see Portis making the same strides to work within their strengths and abilities. The Redskins have offensive playmakers. Sunday's question will be whether Collins can get them involved and get them into open space allowing their athleticism to take over.

Defensively, the Skins have been playing better. This squad is as unpredictable as the rest of the team but showed good signs last week from Shawn Springs. He still got beat on the touchdown to Berrian but had two INTs on good position plays. However, in addition to the defensive backs the linebackers will have to increase their role in coverage. The Skins routinely get destroyed by good tight ends and even though he is questionable, Jeremy Shockey will play in the game and could hurt the Skins. As a whole unit, coverage will be paramount while still containing the man-child of Brandon Jacobs. The Giants have the most offensive weapons the Skins have faced since Dallas, and the defense will have to be one step ahead on every play in order for the team to have a hope of winning.

This is a very important game on both sides. The Skins need it to stay in the playoff hunt, especially since the Giants are ahead of them in the charts and in tiebreaking categories at this point. The Giants need this win to dagger the clawing Redskins and quash doubts about their inconsistencies. Bottom line, the Skins struggle to win back-to-back games and are 2-4 on the road this year. I don't see good things happening on their trip to the Meadowlands.
Redskins 13, Giants 27
-The Hokie

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Kolzig's Rough Night: Caps lose 5-3

Capitals 3, Sabres 5

Going into this season a lot of things would have to had to have gone right for the Capitals to earn one of the Eastern Conference's eight playoffs spots; one of them was that Olaf Kolzig needed to steal some games for the team. So far this hasn't happened this season and last night against Buffalo Kolzig cost his team the game. Of the five goals the Sabres scored last night one was an empty netter and three were ones Kolzig should have had.

The Sabres first goal was the most frustrating because it was not only a physical mistake but a mental one. Physical mistakes like flubbed passes, missed rebounds or stumbling on the ice will happen to anyone sooner or later, and can only be helped so much. But there are no excuses for mental errors. Especially when you're a 37-year-old veteran who's supposed to be a leader on a young team, and Kolzig's mistake was a big one. Coming out to play the puck was not the problem; in fact it was probably the right decision. But the way he chose to play it was downright stupid. As a netminder, if you're going to play the puck you need to slide your blocker hand up to the top of the stick and play it like any other skater (for example), you cannot slap at it with the backhand like Kolzig did. I learned this within the first few months of playing goalie as a nine-year-old, just from common sense (rather than a coach) so I'm sure Kolzig knows better, and of course the end result of his bad decision was as bad as it gets. Kolzig was out of the net and put the puck right on Roy's stick. The only way he could have made things easier would have been if he'd picked the puck up and dropped it into his own net.

The second goal wasn't entirely Kozlig's fault (it rarely is when you have a guy like Maxim Afinogenov bearing down on you), but he should have had that particular puck. Yes, Mike Green tipped the puck and it probably threw Olie off a bit, but it didn't take a weird bounce or anything like that - it slid by Olie's leg on the ice and Kolzig needs to have the bottom portion of the net taken away so that a puck like that doesn't get in.

The Sabres' third goal (from Drew Stafford) was another than was Kolzig's fault. Behind the net is not generally a high-scoring area and it's not a priority for defensive players compared to the slot, the corner or the point because scoring opportunities don't come from behind the net very often unless the player is allowed to move through the area very quickly (or is Wayne Gretzky). Stafford was not moving particularly fast, didn't wheel his way into the slot and didn't get off a particularly good shot. Simply put, there's no reason that puck should have wound up in the Capitals net.

This isn't the first game Kolzig's had like this in the 2007-08 season. While he's been good on some nights and made some great saves, far too many shots have slipped under Kolzig's legs or through the five-hole. Save percentage is not a perfect indicator of a goaltender's ability and with the relatively inexperienced defense Kolzig probably faces tougher shots than the average netminder. That said, after last night's game Kolzig's save percentage is .896. Among qualified leaders the median is .907, and Kolzig ranks 34th out of 43 goalies who qualify. This is simply not getting the job done.

Even during his prime, Kolzig was not as good as he was often given credit for. I've always felt that, even at his best, many of Kolzig's goaltending attributes were average or slightly above average - his lateral movement, reflexes and ability to make the most difficult saves. None of this is surprising for a positional goalie, and as far as positional goalies go Kolzig was one of the best: huge, good on his angles, technically sound and great positionally. Given this, Kolzig was perfect for the Capitals in the 90's, when the Caps were a sound defensive team. With the rest of the team allowing very few shots Kolzig could play the angles, control rebounds and be very successful. Recently Kolzig has become vulnerable with a young team in front of him, especially in the post-lockout NHL because of his style of play.

What is comes down to at this point is: right now, Kolzig is a mediocre NHL goalie. I've been holding off on saying that, but the fact it is it's true. Since the lockout Kozlig's has a .902 save percentage and only two shutouts; this season he's had as many games (8) with a save percentage of .880 or worse as he's had with a save percentage of .910 or better. Since his last solid game on November 28th against Florida, Kolzig has stopped only 85.8% of shots against him.

Recently the Ducks put Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers, causing a debate to crop up amongst Capitals fans about whether the team should place a claim on him to replace Brent Johnson as the backup (I thought yes; others disagreed). Bryzgalov went on to be claimed by the Phoenix Coyotes, where he posted a .921 save percentage. Hindsight is of course 20/20, but perhaps the Capitals would have been well served to pluck Bryzgalov from the waiver wire to be their starter (or at least for a platoon role).

I appreciate all that Kolzig's done for the franchise over the years both on and off the ice and he will deservingly go down as one of the best to ever wear a Capitals uniform and will see his his number raised to the rafters. But this Capitals team isn't good enough to make the kind of run it needs to with a sub-par starting goaltender. If the Caps want to challenge for a playoff spot Kolzig is going to need to significantly step up his play.

Aside of Kolzig the team played decent, but not great. On the plus side the Caps put good pressure on the Sabres for the most part and moved the puck well in the offensive zone, especially on the powerplay. On the negative side the team struggled to get the puck out of their zone too often, let a man open in front to score the Sabres fourth goal and were called for six minor penalties, including one for too many men.

As frustrated as I was with Friday's loss, the Capitals had a very successful homestand, winning three of four from difficult opponents, getting their offense going, showing they can win close games and, perhaps most importantly, playing with confidence. It would be hard to overestimate the effect of the newfound confidence for the players - earlier in the season they would have folded in each of the last four games and picked up two points if they were lucky.

With that in mind, the Capitals play Saturday against Tampa Bay, a team they should beat. If they can do so they could be a little as six points out of a playoff spot and seven points out of the division lead. As we've seen, it could be much worse.


"It was a rookie mistake and was inexcusable with a minute left, especially with a one-goal lead and playing pretty good."
-Kolzig on his play that led to the Sabres first goal.
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Friday, December 14, 2007

Why the Wizards are Winning Without Agent Zero

Could it be that the Wiz are actually better off without their superstar? Their 9-5 record since Gil went back under the knife would seem to confirm that theory. The question of why they are back over .500 at 12-10 is much more intriguing, however. I've got my own ideas - The Battle of the Beards, the Gold Unis, the Bean Burrito, etc. - but NBA blogger Kelly Dwyer's got a few interesting thoughts of her own.

1. The Ewing Theory is absolute bollocks
2. Butler and Jamison are in their primes
3. DeShawn Stevenson can't shoot, but he can make threes
4. Brendan Haywood is playing
5. The defense. It's...not amongst the league's worst

All valid reasons...but I'm still going with the beards...

-- The Tar Heel
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Stevenson Drops 26 on Lukewarm Heat

There’s something magical about beards. Rip Van Winkle, ZZ Top, Stanley Cup Playoff beards, Merlin… Now you can add DeShawn Stevenson to that list of Grizzly Adams protégés. Thursday night in South Beach, Washington’s scratchy-faced shooting guard exploded for a season-high 26 points on 8-15 shooting to help the Wiz knock off the floundering Heat 104-91. Stevenson nailed six three-pointers as the Wizards shook off D-Wade and the Diesel to pick up their first win at American Airlines Arena in their last 11 trips to Miami.

Washington (12-10) sprinted out to a 28-16 first quarter lead behind 10 straight points from Stevenson in just over one minute. The Wizards led 59-49 at the break and despite their usual second half lapse – this one came midway through the fourth – controlled the game from tip-off to the final horn. For the third straight contest, five Wizards scored in double-figures as
Caron Butler (19), Antawn Jamison (16), Brendan Haywood (12) and Antonio Daniels (11) all pitched in on the offensive end. The suddenly sizzling Roger Mason Jr. and Andray Blatche each chipped in eight and played. Mason played 20 minutes while Blatche was on the floor for 13.

Shaquille O’Neal, limited by foul trouble in the first half, managed just seven points on 3-of-6 shooting and Dwyane Wade – who entered the game averaging over 30 in his previous three – was held to 17 on 5-of-11 from the field. Udonis Haslem scored 19 and pulled down 11 boards but it was former Notre Dame stand-out Chris Quinn who prevented the game from spiraling into a rout. The undrafted free agent scored a career-high 22 on 7-of-13 shooting including 6-for-10 from distance. His triple with 3:44 left pulled the Heat (6-16) within nine at 96-87, but they would never get within striking distance.


“It definitely feels good to get a win down here. It’s been so long and they’ve owned us for so long, it’s one of those things that’s good for you mentally.”Brendan Haywood on finally winning in Miami. Haywood and sidelined teammate
Etan Thomas had been the only two current Wizards to have won at American Airlines Arena as Wizards.

  • When the Wizards crash the boards they win. When they don’t, they come up short. It’s just that simple. Washington won the battle of the boards 48-36 and owned the offensive glass, pulling down 14 compared to Miami’s seven. Jamison, who notched yet another double-double led the way with 16 while Haywood and Butler each grabbed 10.

  • Rookie Nick Young rode the pine pony all night in Miami. After playing more than 18 minutes against Cleveland and Phoenix a week ago, the flashy scorer has been used sparingly of late. He tallied only four minutes against Minnesota on Tuesday and six Sunday against New Jersey before sitting out Thursday night. There’s no indication of an injury so it appears the publicized prankster may have recently fallen out of favor with Eddie Jordan. Young had been posting solid contributions off the bench and he will likely re-emerge as a key offensive spark-plug when the Wizards need him. As for now it appears Jordan is leaning heavily on his veterans. (Fellow rookie Dominic McGuire saw two minutes of action against the Heat.)

  • Forward Darius Songaila, returning from a mild left ankle sprain, fell awkwardly after driving to the hoop in the fourth quarter. He appeared to re-injure the same ankle and did not return. Songaila scored four points in 10 minutes.

  • No Gilbert, no problem? TNT color commentator and future Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller repeatedly noted the Wizards’ improved ball movement and balanced scoring since Gilbert Arenas re-injured his surgically repaired knee one month ago. And so far, so good. After stumbling to a 3-5 record out of the gate with Hibachi, the Wiz have gone 9-5 without him, restoring respectability and reclaiming second place in the Southeast behind Orlando (16-7).

  • In case you're curious about why DeShawn's chin has become one giant tuft of turf, check out Dan Steinberg's explanation of Stevenson's bet with fellow hairy-baller Drew Gooden of the Cleveland Cavaliers on the DC Sports Bog. Looks like Drew might be leading this contest by a hair.

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Washington hosts the deplorable Sacramento Kings on Saturday night at Verizon Center. Ron Artest and the rest of the purple-clad Kings (8-13) have struggled to find consistency this season and the loss of budding star Kevin Martin has really damaged their prospects for the season. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard was averaging 24.5 points and 4.9 boards through 17 games before straining his groin on December 4. Sacramento - already short-handed with guard Mike Bibby yet to play a game this season with a broken thumb and forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim recently shelved for the season after right knee surgery - has dropped three of four in his Martin’s absence.

-- The Tar Heel

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