Saturday, November 3, 2007

Redskins/Jets Preview

There's no position in sports that encompasses the hero/goat dichotomy as completely as the NFL quarterback and there's place in the world where it's easier to be scapegoated than New York. Just ask Chad Pennington. With his team sitting at 1-7 the five-year starter is going to be riding the bench this week against the Skins as second-year pro Kellen Clemens makes his second career start.

I've never been a fan of assigning win-loss records to individual players (pitchers, quarterbacks, goalies) in team sports and in my opinion to say the Jets struggles this year are the result of Pennington's play isn't fair. That's not to say Pennington is an ideal starter - his lack of arm strength lets teams put more guys in the box and makes it easier to stop the running game - but he has a 65.3 career completion percentage and has thrown 81 touchdowns to 53 interceptions. Plus it's not like Clemens (49% completion rate; 1 TD and 4 picks) have played so overwhelmingly well that he has to be given a chance.

The Jets offense really doesn't have much a chance to do anything of note in this game; despite their 52 points-allowed debacle last week the Redskins are still one of the best defensive teams in the NFL and a Jets offense that ranks 30th in the NFL in total yardage, 26th in points and has seen their running backs score exactly one touchdown to this point in the season won't give them too much trouble.

Of course it's not like the Redskins offense have been world-beaters so far this year, but this game should give them a chance to start getting things together. The Jets rank 29th in ranks allowed and 26th in points allowed and don't have anyone who can stop the Redskins receiving corps. Washington's offensive line is still beat up, but they should provide enough opportunity for a Skins offense that should be able to run a lot of plays as the defense shuts down the Jets pathetic offense.

Players to Watch:

Kellen Clemens. After several seasons of Jets fans bemoaning their horrible fate in having Pennington as their starting quarterback before finally seeing him benched could it be anyone else?
Redskins: Clinton Portis. Portis hasn't had a solid game on the ground since Week 5, averaging 3.2, 2.4 and 2.5 yards per carry in games after that. If the Skins want to compete for a playoff spot, especially playing Gibbs' style of football, Portis needs to get it going. He'll have the opportunity to against one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

Redskins 31, Jets 13 - and it won't even be as close as the score.


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Caps Fall to Flyers

Flyers 3, Capitals 2

What's left to say at this point? Again the Capitals controlled the first period of play but couldn't capitalize on the scoreboard, and again fell by just one goal. Unlike many of their other recent games, the Caps did not lose despite being the better team - on a whole the Flyers played better hockey from the second period on and for the game, and penalties especially killed the Capitals.

Any team is going to get outplayed some nights. It just wouldn't be as frustrating if the Capitals had managed to pull out wins in games where they had outplayed better than the opposition.

So the Caps now sit at 5-8, with 10 points through 13 games. They're not out of it by any stretch (who is this early in the season?), but they either need to starting picking up some points or get Poti, Clark and Semin back now. I still have faith the Caps will be a playoff caliber team with those guys in the lineup but they can't go digging themselves a hole they can't climb their way out of.

Quick Hits

  • Brooks Laich in a fight? Really? Brooks Laich? I don't think I can overstate how much I like this guy. Smart, hardworking, versatile. Exactly the type of role player a successful team needs.

  • Unbelievably stupid first period penalty by Matt Bradley to give up at PP chance for the Caps. The coaches and/or captain need to call him out on that.

  • I know it's his job to be tough guy, but does Riley Cote really think its a good job to challenge Brashear when he already has 2 black eyes?

  • There were a good number of altercation in the first period alone, either instigated or responded to effectively by the Caps: Pothier/Coburn, Bradley/Coburn, Bradley/Hartnell, Brash/Cote, Pettinger/Lupul, and of course the fight between Laich and Richards. Great to see the Caps playing with a snarl on their collective face. That's the kind of attitude it takes to be successful in the NHL, especially when you're not the most skilled team

  • Encouraging game out of Fleischmann. Not only did he score - he looked a lot more comfortable without the puck and was doing a pretty good job of getting into position. I think I even saw him throw a hit!
  • I wasn't exactly surprised to see Jeff Schultz standing in front of the net looking helpless after Briere's goal. Yesterday Tarik El-Bashir speculated that Steve Eminger is healthy and ready to play. If that's the case I really don't understand why Schultz is in the lineup at this point.

  • Does anyone get more of their shots blocked than John Erskine?
  • He may not be be a great goalie but does anyone have a cooler helmet than Antero Niittymaki?


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Friday, November 2, 2007

Caps/Flyers Preview

You'd think that a 5-7-0 team would have a lot of room for improvement after their first twelve games, especially one that made the kinds of significant additions the Capitals did in the offseason. In reality the Caps have for the most part outplayed their opposition and could be 9-3-0 (that three game stretch against the Isles, Rangers and Sabres should have resulted in three losses). That's not to blame the Capitals sub-par start entirely on bad luck, both in terms of injuries and on-ice bounces and bad calls. The team has still made bad plays at times, mainly turnovers and bad penalties. But the Capitals have lost three of their last four, while outplaying their opponents, and have been missing Tom Poti for all those games, Semin for almost all four and Clark for three. Those are hard losses to swallow. Especially when you see what happens when things go your way - a 7-1 win against the Leafs in Toronto. The Capitals need to realize that as a whole, as a team, they are playing well. They need to stop making costly mistakes, need to get a few bounces and need to bury their chances (Viktor Kozlov anyone?) and they will start winning if they play the way they have.

Tonight they'll need to do so against the revamped Philadelphia Flyers. Insert "I hope all our players survive the game clever and knowing reference to Randy Jones, Steve Downie and Jesse Boulrice here. I'll say this: given their track record thus far I would think about changing the 'Back With a Vengeance' introduction to the Flyers official website if I were working for them.

This is an important game for the Caps to win, both because of their ongoing struggles to pick up 'W''s and because they head out for three more on the road after this.

The Capitals are going to need to worry about the Flyers scoring depth. With Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul it's not like you can shut down one guy, or even one line, and expect to win. I expect two things from the Cpitals - (1) to see Morrisonn and Jurcina against Briere's line because Briere is the biggest threat and (2) to see the Capitals break up their checking line forwards again since there isn't just one line they'll need to shut down. That means we could see Boyd Gordon skating with Kozlov and Ovechkin again. The somewhat unlikely line had a good night in New York and if Kozlov had buried any of his eight shots they would have looked even better (as an aside, if Kozlov could bury even half of his great scoring chances he'd have seven or eight goals by this point, rather than the two he does).

I'd like to see the Caps run a true top line out there, give Ovechkin the chance to play with a great playmaker (Nylander), which would result in something like this:


Let's see the Flyer's less-than-stellar defense which will be missing Hatcher, Rathje and Jones stop that first line. If everyone's healthy I wouldn't advocate playing Nylander with Ovechkin - I'd want Clark and Kozlov with him and Nylander with Semin, but if you're missing two of your top six forwards, the lines are going to have to be shuffled a bit. Defense is Philly's weakness, especially tonight with the injuries/suspension. And Biron has been good but he really isn't that great. He's played six-plus seasons in the NHL with a .910 save percentage, the fact that he's at .940 this year doesn't mean anything other that he's been off to a good start and is due for a bad game. It might even be worse to face Antero Niittymaki who has got to feel like he has something to prove at this point.

Oh, if I were a betting man I would bet on Sutherby getting into a scrap tonight. He's frustrated that he's not playing he he's going to be playing a physical team. He's not a heavyweight like Brash but he's fought some big boys and looked like he wanted to go with Hollweg last night. Actually on that note can't we find a way to get Suts in the lineup on an everyday basis? I know he only plays left wing and center and not the right but wouldn't it be possible to put him on the left and Brash on the right on the fourth line? Suts is still viewed as a leader and is still an assistant captain and still a valuable third/fourth line grinder and agitator; I think he's better than Bradley or Fleischmann to have in the lineup.

Other Previews:,


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Caps Lose in MSG; Blanked by Lundqvist

Rangers 2, Capitals 0

I'm beginning to think the Capitals are cursed. They again outplayed their opposition, winning more faceoffs, getting more shots and scoring chances and controlling the play much more than their opponents, and again wound up losing. That's what a great goalie like Henrik Lundqvist can do for your team - let you win games you don't deserve to win.

Even when the team had played well in previous games they had more trouble that they should have getting the puck out of their zone; tonight they made great first passes and were responsible in their own end but ran into a great goalie having a great game. This team just can't catch a break

What's been particularly frustrating as of late is that the Caps keep losing close games, playing without Clark, Semin and Poti. It's not like those three are alone good enough to ensure a win but in close games they could easily be the difference. It's unfortunate the Caps are 5-7-0 at this point because they have played well enough to be deserving of a better record. As a fan you just have to hope they can keep playing well and start getting their share of the bounces and picking up some wins.

Quick Hits:
  • The Rangers didn't register their first shot on goal until more than nine minutes into the game.

  • Getting shutout, obviously the Caps didn't register a powerplay tally but the powerplay did look solid, registering seven shots during the double minor to Fedor Tyutin.

  • I'm not saying Chris Drury did anything wrong on the play where Olaf Kolzig was shaken up, but the Capitals need to do a better job of letting the opposition know it's not okay to drive their net let that. Especially when Erskine is on the ice.

  • The Capitals looked like they were on the powerplay for most of the first period. The controlled the puck, kept it in the Rangers zone and did a great job of forechecking. The Rangers were lucky that Lundquist was good enough that they were able to go into the first intermission tied 0-0.

  • If Mike Green (6'2'', 201 pounds) can hit guys every game why can't Jeff Schultz (6'6'', 221)?

"It was an intense game. It felt like they were all over us a little bit."

-Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Detroit out, St. Paul in as Hockeytown, U.S.A.

Interesting article. This doesn't fit neatly in with our D.C. sports theme but I can't help pointing out how stupid the classification of Tampa Bay is.

For those interested, Washington falls into the following category:

They are what they are: Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York City, Washington. All big metro centers where there's strong competition for disposable income. Hard to carve out a niche and claim to be No. 1 compared to everything else that's going on.

My main issue is with Tampa Bay's classification:

Nice try, but this doesn't really work: Florida, Phoenix, Tampa Bay. Non-traditional markets that might join the endangered list after attention is diverted from Nashville.

Tampa Bay's attendance rankings:

2005-2006: 2nd (20,509)
2006-2007: 3rd (19,876)
2007-2008: 6th (19,175)

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Caps visit MSG Tonight

Apologies ladies an gentlemen but real life has intruded on my blogging the form of my graduate course in econometrics. For today I turn you over the capable hands of JP at Japers' Rink and recommend this little bit of reading.

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Wizards Go Down to Pacers in OT

Boy, did I ever botch this one. First, Jermaine O’Neal and Troy Murphy show up in street clothes, and then the Wizards go down in overtime 119-110. Not a good start for Washington with a date in Boston – one of the teams the Wiz should be battling for Eastern Conference supremacy – looming on Friday. As it turned out, Mike Dunleavy was part of the key match up, and all he did was drop 25 on 7-of-17 from the floor and pick up 12 boards in nearly 46 minutes of action. Then there was Jamaal Tinsley, who consistently beat Gilbert Arenas and Antonio Daniels down the stretch and in overtime. The shifty, if not always slim, Tinsley put up 20 points and eight assists and connected on 2-of-5 treys. The Pacers as a team shot 45 percent from beyond the arc, hitting 13-of-29.

On the opposite end, the story of the night for the Wiz was the carry-over of their dismal shooting from the preseason. Washington shot just 36 percent from the field and was a woeful 6-of-20 from long range. The Big Three got their points, combining for 80 of the team’s 110, but they weren’t very efficient. And so much for bench production. Which leads us to the areas of concern and silver lining for Wednesday night’s loss.

Areas of Concern
-- Where was the bench? After an impressive preseason, third-year talent
Andray Blatche managed just two points on four shots in 13 minutes. Back-up big man Darius Songaila contributed six (2-for-8) and Antonio Daniels scored 4 (2-for-4) in 29 minutes on the floor. No other non-starter scored more than three and starting two-guard, DeShawn Stevenson managed only three of his own. Rookies Nick Young (7 minutes) and Dominic McGuire (2) saw limited action and only Young got on the board with a triple. Even when the Big Three are scoring they’re going to need a little more support. Wednesday night’s display just isn’t going to cut it.
-- So much for defense. Washington’s perimeter defenders wore down late in the game as Tinsley consistently drove past Arenas and Daniels for pull-up jumpers or kick-out threes. When he beat his man on out front, the Wizards help defense left
Danny Granger and others open around the arc. Granger hit two of his five threes in the extra period. Eddie Jordan stuck with Daniels late, rather than going back to Stevenson, who had been on the bench after hurting his knee earlier in the game. While Stevenson had been out for almost the entire second half – AD’s scoring ability usually makes him a good sub down the stretch – he could have provided a little more grit on the defensive end where Gil and Antonio faltered. If the guard’s can’t stop penetration from a middle-of-the-pack point guard in Tinsley, it doesn’t bode well for future match-ups with more dominant floor generals. Expect DeShawn to be in the lineup more in these types of situations.

Silver Lining
-- The Return of Agent Zero: The Hibachi was back on Wednesday night as Gil poured in 34 points – including 13-of-19 from the line. And while he only hit 10-of-25 shots from the floor, the 19 free throw attempts show that he’s got enough confidence in that surgically repaired knee to drive to the rim looking for contact. Gilbert was also back to his old tricks at the end of regulation. With the Wizards trailing and just seconds remaining, Gil dribbled patiently and the pulled back to get just enough separation to put up a 25-footer that tickled the twine as the buzzer sounded. HIBACHI!
-- With
Etan Thomas out indefinitely, the Wizards need big Brendan Haywood to put up starting center numbers night in and night out for the first time since he helped the Tar Heels to the 2000 Final Four. He took a solid first step against the Pacers with a 10-point, 13-rebound showing. Most impressive – and what the Wizards desperately need from him – were his 11 offensive boards. With the rest of the team jacking up jumpers every possession, Haywood has to get his hands on the long rebounds to give the Wiz second chances to score. If he’s around the basket and banging, it should also result in lots of easy buckets (see dunks) for him – which is good, because after six seasons in Washington, he still has no jump shot to speak of. Now if he could only get his hands on more than two balls of the defensive glass.

Next Up
The Wiz continue their two-game road trip to start the season Friday in Boston where the Big Three will get their first crack at that other threesome. And count on the new green tag team of
Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett looking to make a splash in their debut in front of the punch-drunk New Englanders. The bench will have to give the starters some support for the Wiz to have a shot at winning what should be another triple-digit affair.

-- The Tar Heel

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

United See Hope in Return Home

With the ending of his first regular season in the MLS, Luciano Emilio, and his recently awarded Golden Boot award for most regular season goals, has proven that he is the league’s premier goal scorer. All that he has accomplished this year however, - 20 goals and 16 United wins, both tops in the league - will mean nothing when the Chicago Fire come to RFK stadium, on November 1st, for the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Fire currently lead the two-game aggregate goal series 1-0 and look to continue what has been nothing less than dominance over the United side in their last 6 playoff meetings.

In their previous six meetings, which include five wins and one draw, the Fire have scored 11 goals while keeping United scoreless over that stretch. In the their first meeting of the 2007 semifinal match, the dynamic United squad, without leading scorer Emilio and veteran star Jamie Moreno, were unable to mount any sort of threat on a good Chicago defense. Only two shots were managed on goal, both coming off the foot of midfielder-playing-forward Christian Gomez. Gomez was repeatedly caught offsides and winger Ben Olsen and midfielder Clyde Simms were unable to help transition the ball effectively to forwards Gomez and Guy-Rolande Kpene. Fred, the exciting Brazilian newcomer, was also thoroughly contained. With the mediocre team effort behind them, Emilio and United looks to Thursday’s return to RFK as a chance to prove that they can win beyond the regular season.

Being one goal down going into Thursday’s second leg game means United have put themselves in a must win situation. Even with the pressure of having to win, the United squad and coach Tom Soehn feel a certain confidence that can only come from a healthy team and a home field advantage. Both Emilio and Moreno will be starting after being used as subs in the last game due to ankle injuries. This should greatly reduce the pressure on an aging Gomez and allow him to excel in his play-making role. The return of the two forwards should also distract the Chicago defense from keying in on wingers Fred and Olsen, allowing both these major impact players to feed balls and create more opportunities on goal. Moreno, no longer seen as a real scoring threat, plays a vital role in ball control, pacing the United attack and the general speed of the game. Look to Moreno, assuming he is fit, to control the ball in the middle as much as possible.

With United having a full side available for this game and RFK stadium being “blacked out” by its loud and boisterous fans, there is no reason why they should not come away with a win. This is a defining moment for a United side that has played excellent all season long and to walk away with anything less than a win would be a huge disappointment. Look for this game to be rough, hard-fought, and infused with energy not displayed by United this month.

- The Phoenix
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Wizards Season Opener @ Indiana

The Wizards open their 2007-08 campaign Wednesday at Indiana in a game that should reveal a lot about the health and improvement of this team from a year ago. Last season, Washington opened the season the same way they ended the previous one – with a narrow loss to the Cavs in Cleveland. They stumbled to a 4-9 start and went winless in their first eight road contests. With 10 of their first 16 games scheduled away from Verizon Center this season, the Wiz need a much better start out of the blocks.

Larry Bird’s dismal Pacers should be easy pickins. Their only true scorer is the ever-disgruntled Jermaine O’Neal, who spent last spring and the off-season whining about wanting to be traded only to find out that no team was willing to part with much of anything for the oft-injured six-time all-star. Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy – two guys the Pacers got in return for dealing Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington to the Warriors last season (I wonder who won that deal) – fill out a lineup that also features Danny Granger at the 2 and Jamaal Tinsley at point.

If the Big Three are on – meaning their shooting percentage is over the Mendoza line, which it wasn’t for much of the preseason – this should be a romp. But it’s rarely that easy. As noted, the Wiz are far from a consistent road team, plus there’s that whole defense thing. If O’Neal goes off on Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison in the middle (which would surprise no one) and Tinsley and Murphy knock down some threes, it’ll be a close one. It might take a little while for Washington's shooters to get back into the flow of the game, but this is definitely a game they should and need to win with a date against the new Big Three and Boston looming on Friday.

I like the Wiz by 8.

Keys to the game

  • The Wizards need to control the tempo from the outset, they are one of the quickest teams top to bottom in the league and if they can get out and run on the Pacers, this one could turn into a track meet.
  • O’Neal and Murphy are great at crashing the boards. Haywood is not. With Antawn, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler still getting into their shooting rhythm, offensive rebounding could vital. If reserves Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila can provide some defense and a few put-backs on the offensive end, it will give the starters a tremendous boost.

Match-up to watch

  • Butler v. Dunleavy: This really isn’t much of one at all, but it will factor heavily into the game’s outcome. This could’ve been “O’Neal v. whoever the Wiz put on him,” but Jermaine is going to get his regardless. This Butler match-up gives the Wiz a chance to make up for their disadvantage down low. Caron is too big and strong to let the former Dookie alter his game. Look for hard drives to the basket followed by pull up jumpers once Mike starts backing off to defend the dribble. On defense Butler – one of the few Wizards who has shown a desire to scrap on both ends – should dominate his man.


  • "It's like going back to school. You can't sleep that night; you've got all of your clothes ready to go." – Arenas on the excitement leading up to opening night

Injury Report

  • Ukranian superstar/Wizard rookie reserve (yeah it’s his second year but last year he played in the DL), Oleksiy Pecherov (sprained right ankle) won’t be making his debut just yet. Pech, who was seen hobbling around Verizon Center and promising to get in the weight room, is expected to miss up to two weeks. He wasn’t going to be a major part of the rotation, but this leaves the Wiz one more big body short of having any depth in the middle.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Caps Crush Leafs

Capitals 7, Maple Leafs 1

It appears reports of the Washington Capitals demise have been greatly exaggerated. On the strength of two Alexander Ovechkin goals, as well as tallies from Matt Bradley, Brian Sutherby, Jeff Schultz and Matt Pettinger (the first of the year for each) the Capitals were able to rout the Maple Leafs 7-1, despite playing without two of their top six forwards (Clark, Semin) and their top defenseman (Poti). Olaf Kolzig rebounded from allowing a goal on the first Toronto shot to stop 32 of 33, holding one of the NHL's most potent offenses to just one score.

There's really not a lot of in-depth analysis you can do after a 7-1 game most of the time. The Caps exploited the Leafs weaknesses (bad turnovers, slow defensemen, sieve-like goalies) and didn't miss their chances to put the puck in the net.

I would guess the players-only meeting in St. Louis helped a lot. There's only so much a coach can do on his one. In terms of what he sees about what to change or what needs improvement, he's only one guy. Yes, he's paid to be the go-to guy for that sort of thing but there are a lot more players than there are members of the coaching staff. Aside of that players can call one another out. Coaches can too of course, but it's classes for a coach to single a guy out in front of the whole team. On the other hand veteran players can say much worse without creating an us-versus-them mentality. Great decision by the veterans to hold the meeting at that time.

The important thing to get from a win like this is momentum. The Caps came into one of the loudest, most packed buildings in the NHL and dominated the opposition, despite being without three of the most important players - that's the type of game that can lead to big-time winning streak or a great run. Hopefully the Caps can take some momentum from the Leafs game and building on it when they face the Rangers on Thursday.

A few quick hits:

  • Sutherby was wearing a 'A', an interesting decision given that he's only played this year because of injuries.

  • Maybe it's unfair to criticize a guy who stopped 32 of 33 shots by the goal Kolzig let in was a softie. If you took away the goals that have made if by him by either going through the five-hole or slipping under the leg pads you could cut his GAA in half.

  • Jeff Schultz's goal was his first in the NHL

Wayward Sports Sons Three Stars:

(1) Alex Ovechkin (2 goals, 7 shots, +1)
(2) Matt Bradley (1 goal, 2 assists, +3)
(3) Michael Nylander (3 assists, +1)


"It's really important for our [checking line forwards] to shut the other team down. We didn't want them thinking they had to score, but it gets to a certain point where they have to contribute something down the line offensively."

-Glen Hanlon

"I think we deserved tonight's win."

-Alex Ovechkin


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Monday, October 29, 2007

Running Up the Score, Opting Out and Demanding Trades

Three sure-fire ways to make yourself look like a tool, make SportsCenter and taint your legacy. Tom Brady, Alex Rodriguez and Kobe Bryant are the three best players in their respective leagues and in the last week have again made headlines more for their overwhelming ability to flaunt their good fortune than for their accolades on the field.
There is a reason people respect Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter and Tim Duncan more than those guys. There is a reason that Manning, Jeter and Duncan have been the cornerstone of championship caliber teams for a decade and that while doing have received the respect of their fans, opponents and teammates. When it comes down to strength character, those three guys recognize that their achievements on the field are trivial when compared with being good people and teammates first.
Those first three clowns have their fans, because they win ballgames and do it with style, but looking back over their careers you find an arrogant sense of personal entitlement that they possess more so than any team goal they have ever been a part of. Maybe that's what you need to be the best of the best. Maybe that arrogance has made them the greatest at their position. Maybe that aggressive determination drives them into the record books. But looking at all the other successful players at their positions and all the successful athletes in other sports, you can find that same greatness without the immaturity and without the disrespect.

The Colts won't do this, because they have more class and an actual shot at beating the Patriots. But I hope the next time the Pats play some scrub team, the opposing defensive coordinator stacks eight guys in the box, runs their outside linebacker around Brady's blindside and drives him into the dirt. When you get pushed, you push back and just like knocking someone down with a high and inside fastball you remind Tom Brady and Bill Belichick that this is a fragile game and that their perfect 16-0 season rests in the hands of Tom Brady health. You hit them where it hurts and the only things that's gonna do that, is to take away their chance at the trophy.
The other two clowns, A-Rod and Kobe, they've already eaten their just desserts. They can't win the big one and won't ever again. Kobe can't win without Shaq and A-Rod just can hit in the clutch. Heavy lies the crown upon their heads and I don't envy them for a second. When your teammates don't even care if you're around, that's when you've lost everything and I don't hear anybody begging and pleading them to stay in LA or NY.

-The Hokie
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World Series Wrap-up

Well, it didn't take five games and unfortunately we fans weren't able to see multiple dominant Josh Beckett performances. However, as expected, the Rockies as a team just couldn't compete against the Red Sox. At the plate they had no rhythm, batting .218 as a team, striking out 36 times and walking only 10. Their pitching also struggled to gain ground or challenge the Red Sox hitters posting a 7.68 ERA and a most telling 1.94 WHIP. That many base runners would spell defeat for any team.
When you look at the Red Sox team, every single player on their lineup stepped up their game. They made plays, hit the ball with authority and pitched at a level that dared the other team to beat them and the Rockies didn't.
After World Series sweeps like this, where one team is in total command of the game, we're left to ask ourselves if there was another team from the NL that could have challenged them. They were clearly the class of the AL, and are the undisputed best team of 2007, but did anyone fall through the cracks? Could the Phillies or Dbacks or Cubs have challenged them in ways the Rockies couldn't? I say no, looking at the rosters, I personally don't see a starting rotation that could've pushed the Red Sox hitters into a corner the way their staff did to a good hitting Rockies team. So that matter is put to bed. I guess I'm confident they didn't steal the World Series, although Cleveland will challenge them next year with the fire and gusto they lacked in this year's ALCS.

In a related note looking ahead at seasons to come, The DMG sent me a column on the designated hitter written by
ESPN's Howard Bryant in which he argues that the DH gives American League teams a distinct advantage in the World Series. I'm adamantly opposed to the DH and feel that any position player that only plays half the game shouldn't be eligible for MVP consideration no matter what their stats are. For me, they will never achieve the greatness that someone like a Matt Holliday or an Alex Rodriguez can, because their game has obvious holes. They would hurt their team if they were put onto the field which offsets their offensive value. After reading the article, which does shown a very good correlation between dollars and the designated hitter, it was not able to convince me that dollars impacted wins on the grand stage. Give it a whirl yourself though; this kind of debate will continue to rear its head every season and we should never shy way from lively debate.
The season is over, good day to you sir, let the winter meetings begin. All I want for Christmas is a starting rotation.

- The Hokie
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Redskins Totally Dominated

At no point during this game did the Redskins have any hope of winning or playing at the same level as the Patriots. By the time Jason Campbell hooked up with Chris Cooley most fans had already changed the channel. From the moment New England took control of the ball in the first quarter the Redskins were simply outclassed. The defensive playmakers who, before the game, had hoped to impose their will and claim ownership of the field faded into the background as Tom Brady sliced threw their efforts.
The bottom line is it's not the Patriots that are head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL, but Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Every play, every executed down is done to perfection. So much so, that even when Brady looked mortal he exploded with an efficiency that countered every effort the Redskins made. Tom Brady lost a fumble and threw a couple of balls into the dirt early in the ballgame, but finished with a 29/38, 306 yard day with 3 TDs, and 0 INTs. Oh, and he scrambled for 2 rushing TDs, just to show everyone how well-rounded he is.

But the Redskins weren't supposed to win this game anyway and regardless of the offensive juggernaut that is wrecking havoc on the NFL, the Skins lost again because of turnovers and their inability to compete at the line of scrimmage. Each fumble was caused by an assignment breakdown at the line or a botched pick up by the blocking back. The score of this game isn't the underlying issue for the Redskins who should not consider themselves ready to have an impact on the playoffs yet. They have a long way to go before they are able to compete at that kind of level. The personnel across their lineup are not getting the job done and after their third loss to a superior team, they need to re-evaluate how to utilize the players they have. The Patriots are as close to perfection as you can be right now and the Redskins should use this game to fix their flaws.

Offensively, this means a whole different game plan. I saw Jason Campbell continue to struggle with his accuracy down the field and I saw the running game hampered by a sluggish offensive line. These weaknesses feed off each other and allowed the Patriots to compact their coverage, ultimately resulting in the Redskins inability to move the football or break big plays. The coaching staff must find a way to move Campbell's line of sight to the next plane on the playing field and get the ball in the hands of Moss and Randle El on the fly. Both playmakers are getting the ball in open space but are stuck around the line of scrimmage as the coaching staff continues to call far too many quick-outs and screens.
Defensively, I saw just the opposite. I'm not sure what kind of coverage they were trying to use - cover 2? - but it allowed Brady to pick them apart with dink and dunk passes all the way down the field. Yes, the Skins were able to contain the big play threat of Randy Moss, but they instead allowed nine combined catches out of the backfield and another nine to slot receiver Wes Welker. They unnecessarily spread out their coverage and not only bent but broke six times. They've done a good job at minimizing an opposing team's primary weapon, but good teams have so many more ways of winning the game so these efforts are nullified.

Next week, the Skins battle the Jets and should bounce back against a team who has struggled mightily this year. I hope the Redskins uses the Jets as a statement game for themselves and the remaining teams on the schedule. In the following weeks, they run into Philly and get a first crack at Dallas and need to quickly right the ship that was just caught in the Patriot hurricane.

- The Hokie

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Caps Visit Leafs

The Capitals are facing a tough task in an important game as they travel to Toronto tonight to take on the Maple Leafs (5-4-3). According to Tarik Alexander Semin, Tom Poti and Chris Clark are all "doubtful/questionable" for the game. Given that Semin's injury has seemingly disappeared only to pop up twice already, Poti's nursing a groin strain (which are tricky for hockey players) and Clark hasn't been spotted with the team in Toronto I'd say there's not much chance of seeing any of them tonight, meaning the Caps will again be with out several key players.

Toronto is a talented team: Mats Sundin, Nik Antropov and Jason Blake provide the team with solid scoring and the defense is lead by two of the best in the game in Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe. The secondary/role players are solid too; most team would be happy to have either Hal Gill (who Jagr once said was the toughest defenseman to play against) or Pavel Kubina on their second pairing, let alone both. At the other end Antropov and Alexander Steen provide enough scoring depth that the Leafs won't have to rely on their first line.

But the Leafs have obvious holes too, the most obvious of which is goaltending. Neither Vesa Toskala nor Andrew Raycroft is good enough to be the type of goalie an NHL team would want to be their number one, something the Leafs 28th ranked 3.59 GAA suggests). The Capitals have been outshooting their opponents for the most part this season and they need to continue to do so against Toronto, especially against goalies like Raycroft and Toskala each of whom are both inconsistent and too small to be able to cover the whole net at once. If the Caps can get traffic in front they could easily see a shot or two get through from the outside or the point.

Kubina and Gill are both solid defensemen, especially in their own zone, but both are big, physical players who can be beaten by speedy forwards. Even without Semin and Clark the Caps have a lot of those guys: Ovechkin, Backstrom, Fleischmann and Nylander all posses some combination of speed, agility and puck control that will make them difficult for the Leafs bigger defensemen to control. Add that to the tendency McCabe, Ian White and Andy Wozniewski each have to make mistakes in their own end that to lead to chances for the opposition and the Capitals should have plenty of chance to put the biscuit in the basket (to borrow a phrase from Craig Laughlin).

Finally the Leafs simply take too many penalties (their 201 PIMs are third in the league thus far). McCabe, Gill, Kubina, Antropov and even Jason Blake are guys who will take frustration penalties and the Caps should be able to make a fairly slow defense take penalties to prevent good scoring chances.

There really is not such a thing as a must-win game and this point in the season, but the difference between a win and a loss is huge for the Capitals right now. A loss would take them to 4-7 and 1-7 since a 3-0 start; a win puts them one more win away from .500, gets out some of the frustration the team must be feeling after a pair of one-goal losses in which the Caps outplayed their opponents and would provide a boost for a team likely to be playing without its number one defenseman, number two scoring threat and captain. The team knows this and a players-only meeting was held after the last game. The team seems to know their situation: they're not in real hot water yet but there's no reason this ship can't be righted right now.

When it comes down to it, there is no doubt Toronto is a talent team but the Capitals, with their multiple scoring threats and solid checking line, match up well against them. Air Canada Centre is tough place to visit as an opposing player and if the injury-riddled Caps are able to pull one out it could provide some significant positive momentum.


"We just cleared the air about a few things. We're taking too many penalties right now. Whether they are in the offensive zone, or defensive zone. And just confidence. We had a swagger at the start of the year. We have to get that back. [The meeting] was good."

-Matt Pettinger on the players-only meeting the team held after their 4-3 loss in St. Louis.

"We definitely need those people, but it's an opportunity for other people to step forward. We have people who are fighting for their NHL lives here. If you give up that many minutes, someone's going to have an opportunity to step up and play."

-Glen Hanlon

From the Washington Post preview: The Maple Leafs find themselves in similarly sad shape [in terms of injuries]. They won't have forwards Darcy Tucker (right knee) and Kyle Wellwood (groin) or defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) and Bryan McCabe (groin)....The Leafs are third in the NHL in penalty minutes but tied for 14th (with seven other teams) in fighting majors... Toronto is 5-2-0 with one tie in its last eight home games against Washington.

Other Previews: (AP), Maple Leafs Official Site (AP), Washington Post


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Caps vs. Blues Recap

Blues 4, Caps 3

It was same song, different verse for the Capitals last night in St. Louis: the Caps (playing without Captain Chris Clark and Tom Poti) fell behind early, battled to get back into the game, scored a late goal to cut the deficit to one and ultimately came up short, falling to 4-6 in the process.

I'm hoping that to some degree this can be chalked up to the guys the Caps were missing - Clark and Poti were out, Alexander Semin left early in the game after re-injuring his ankle and Olaf Kolzig was getting a night off. Maybe it sounds like an excuse; maybe it is, and the Capitals should still beat a team like St. Louis but the reality is that missing your top defenseman in terms of ice time, your captain, your number two scoring threat who potted 38 a year ago and your starting goalie is going to make any team significantly worse, and in the type of close game it was against the Blues those players could be the difference.

There's no doubt this has been a frustrating and disappointing start to the season for the Caps, but it's not the gloom-and-doom scenario some people out there are trying to make it. The team is currently only three points out of a playoff spot. The reality is that the Caps weren't a shoe-in going into the season. They were a borderline playoff team that was going to have to fight until April and hope to make it in by finishing in 6th-8th place in the conference. The team is one win away from being .500 (i.e. if they'd won one more to this point they'd be .500), has only had its intended lineup in for one game and has outplayed its opposition on a whole other than the horrid three game stretch in the very early going (Islanders, Rangers, Buffalo). It's okay to be a bit concerned but it's far from time to press the panic button at this point. If you don't feel better just remember that of the Caps remaining 72 games, 22 are against Atlanta, Tampa and Florida, who are a combined 12-18-1 (even though Tampa is over .500 and trust me, they're not that good). Ahh...that helps doesn't it?

Mike Green looked great, scoring the Caps first two goals, and has been the Caps best overall defenseman this season. I wanted to say this the other day but after his poor performance against Vancouver it seemed like an inappropriate time.

Okay, again, busy weekend so just some observations:

  • With Clark out the Caps had Donald Brashear wearing an 'A'.
  • Brashear also saw time in front of the net on the powerplay. Hanlon's been stressing getting big bodies in front and I guess Brash became an option for that after Clark was out. It seemed to work - Brash was screening Legace on Green's second goal.
  • The checking line looked really good in the offensive zone in the first period. Pettinger, Gordon and Laich seem to have meshed well and it provides further evidence that the checking line should still be effective even with Clark playing with Kozlov and Ovechkin.
  • Kozlov looked horrible for the most part, missing passes and great shooting opportunities. That's been his story his whole career - great talent but can't put it all together.
  • Johnson look lazy at times. He'd go down into the butterfly and just shuffle around the crease. C'mon Brent, you have to know NHL shooters are good enough to get the puck up high on you.
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After being unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs by the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers last season, it’s easy to forget that the Wizards were leading the Southeast Division and cruising right along as one of the top teams in the East before the injury plague knocked out all three of their big guns. First Caron Butler went down with a broken hand, then Antawn Jamison with a knee injury. When Gilbert Arenas tore his MCL with only eight games remaining, the Wizards had lost their entire nucleus and thus their hopes for making any noise in their third consecutive playoff appearance.

The Wizards finished an even 41-41, but were as many as nine games over .500 several throughout much of the middle of the season. With their depleted roster, they limped into the playoffs, losing 12 of their final 16 games. Washington led the Southeastern division for most of the season and was anchored by their big three of Arenas, Butler and Jamison. Butler put up career numbers across the board, averaging more than 19 points and 7 rebounds per game, in spite of a rash of injuries to his back, knee and eventually the broken hand.

Let’s take a look at how the Wizards stack up against the competition in an improved Eastern Conference that features several up-and-coming young teams (Chicago, Toronto, Orlando) and a few squads of wily vets desperate for a ring (Boston, Detroit, Miami).


  • The Big 3 – Arenas, Butler and Jamison are all back to full health as the Wiz return the league’s highest scoring trio and the core of their roster. With Agent Zero running the show and Antawn dropping his patented runners, Washington’s high-octane offense will return to form. But you know what you’re getting with those two. Jamison has provided instant offense since his days in Chapel Hill and Gil is one of the few NBA stars who can flat out take over a game – see the Lakers game last season. But it was Butler who really came into his own a year ago. His numbers have gone up in each of his five seasons in the league and when Caron is on, the Wizards are very tough to beat. Not only does Butler possess a silky smooth mid-range jumper and a potent post up game, but he, along with DeShawn Stevenson and Antonio Daniels provide that defensive spark that helps get the transition offense flowing. Butler is a beast on the boards, can get up to block shots, was second on the team in free throw percentage (86%), and finished second in the league with 2.1 steals per game. He should be back for his second straight All-Star appearance this season. As long as these three guys can stay healthy, the Wizards are as good offensively as anyone in the conference.

Also worth noting: Both Arenas and Jamison are in contract years.

  • Perimeter Depth – A lack of scoring off the bench has hurt the Wiz in the past, but GM Ernie Grunfield took care of that need in the draft, selecting sweet shooting two-guard Nick Young (USC) and a slasher who can get to the rim in Dominic McGuire (Fresno State). And while the Wizards lost Michael Jordan draft choice Jarvis Hayes to free agency (he’ll be happy in Detroit), they now have a couple of big bodies from the Eastern Bloc who can produce around the rim and on the perimeter. Darius Songaila – whose bad back kept him out for much of his first season in Washington – and second year stud Oleksiy Pecherov give Eddie Jordan depth on the front line with in the form of two guys who like to step out and shoot the jumper. If all four of these guys can be consistent contributors off the bench, it’ll ease the load on the Big Three and enable them to take a few more breathers during the course of the season. Not having to worry about going cold when Gil or Caron go out will give Eddie more combinations to work with on the floor and should help the starters avoid some of the wear and tear they experienced down the stretch.


  • Defense – For all the weapons they have on offense, the Wizards still have yet to show a commitment to playing on the other end of the court. Memories of last possession defensive collapses against a certain King of Cleveland two years ago come to mind. Last season the Wiz ranked 28th in the league defensively which just doesn’t cut it when they’re trying to establish themselves as an Eastern Conference title contender. They were 8th in steals, but don’t let that stat fool you. While quick hands contributed to some pilfers here and there, many of those steals were the result of defensive gambles where the Wiz came up lucky. The improvement needs to come in the form of better communication, better footwork and a real desire to stop another team’s offense instead of simply trying to outscore them.

To help solve the Wizards’ woes on the defensive end, Eddie Jordan brought in former Philadelphia assistant Randy Ayers to teach his team a style of pressure defense that helped Larry Brown’s 76er teams to five consecutive playoff appearances and the 2001 NBA Finals. Ayers’ style emphasizes quickness on the ball, which fits Washington’s personnel, and – if they actually go along with the plan – will produce easy transition buckets at the other end. The blueprint is there, now Gilbert and company have to make it happen. I’m optimistic, but I have to remain skeptical. Can the Wizards play 48 minutes of defense? I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • Production from the Big Boys – When Ernie selected Chuck and Larry in last summer’s draft, he once again neglected to address the Wizards’ main area of need – center. It seems like Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas have been battling it out for the starting frontline job ever since the days of big George Muresan, but neither has ever put it a full season of consistent play. With Etan likely out for the season after open heart surgery, it’s now or never for the 7-foot Tar Heel. The Wizards don’t need Haywood to create his own offense, but they do need him to pull down rebounds on both ends – something he has struggled to do with any sort of regularity – throw down a few dunks each game and use his long arms to alter shots on the defensive end.

Behind Haywood, the Wizards are short on big bodies. Andray Blatche will see time at center and Songaila and Pech should also be able to spell Brendan when the Wiz elect to go with a smaller lineup. But all three play more of a perimeter game and don’t take up as much space in the paint. And without Mike Ruffin or Calvin Booth to turn to for some defense off the bench, the Wizards might be wishing they hadn’t cut old Tony Massenburg after all. Tiago Splitter or Jason Smith would look really nice on this roster right about now.


  • Andray Blatche – The Wizards have eased the 6-foot-11 22-year-old into the league, playing him sparingly each of his first two seasons. This year they’re hoping to reap the benefits of their investment into this talented (though occasionally not too street savvy) youngster. Blatche looked great in the preseason, averaging 10.5 points, 6.4 boards, 2 assists and one block in eight games. He looked comfortable at the 4 and the 5 – which he will be asked to alternate between depending on who he’s stepping in for. Andray can make it rain for 10 to 15 feet but still needs to improve his back-to-the-basket scoring touch. As long as he’s active around the rim, he’ll contribute some much needed post offense off the bench and a defensive spark with his shot-blocking ability. If Blatche can come into his own this season, he could easily put up double-doubles for the Wiz on a regular basis.
  • Antonio Daniels – This guy is the epitome of savvy vet and playoff performer. AD could easily be starting over Stevenson – he might be by midseason if DeShawn can’t consistently put up points – and he’s by far the most aggressive Wizard on both ends of the floor. The 10-year vet – who has been to the postseason eight times and picked up a ring with the Spurs in 99 – averaged 7 points and just over 2 assists per game last season but really stepped it up in the playoffs with Gilbert and Caron out of the lineup. In four games against the Cavs, AD put up 13 points and 11.8 assists. Word is he’s established a great chemistry with Songaila, and the two should provide a great 1-2 punch off the bench. Whenever Daniels is in the game you know you’re going to get gritty defense and he’s always a threat to drive to the hoop hard with one had and finish the and-1.

Key Questions

  • Can the Big Three stay healthy all season?
  • Will the team buy into Randy Ayers’ defensive philosophy and learn how to stop someone?
  • How many times will AD go to the rack hard and one handed for an and-1?
  • Who will step up off the bench to give the team some firepower when the Hibachi grill is cold?
  • How many times will the Wiz pull out their favorite gold & black attack jerseys?
  • Will Agent Zero ever get to make good on his promise to drop 100 points on Duke after Coach K cut him from Team USA?
  • How many buzzer-beaters will Gilbert hit?
  • Can the Wizards put it all together to challenge for the conference championship?

It seems like a lot of experts are sleeping on the Wizards this year. With all the hype surrounding Boston’s new star-studded veteran corps, Rashard Lewis’ overblown free agent deal with Orlando, the budding Bulls and the ever-present Pistons, where do the Wiz – who essentially stood pat in the off-season – fit in the conference?

Unlike many of these newly made-over squads, the Wizards are a known quantity. That may sound like a bad thing, but I can assure you it’s not. With the Big Three healthy last season, Washington was the class of the division and was in serious contention for a top two spot in the conference playoffs. All three are back and healthy to fill out a starting five that is familiar with one another and knows how to put points on the board. The keys again will be getting offensive production from the bench – which is a much better collection of ballers this season – and playing lockdown defense down the stretch in those close games that the Wiz love to play. You know, the ones that always end with the ball in Gil’s hands as the clock runs down. Then he drains a deep trey as the horn sounds and the Wiz win it. Look for several more of those kind of finishes in 07-08.

While Rashard Lewis gives Orlando a go-to perimeter/post-up scorer to balance the floor with Dwight Howard, I don’t think they have the full arsenal of weapons they need to win the watered down Southeast. Miami is always a challenger but Shaq is breaking down and D-Wade isn’t back to full health. If the Wizards can keep putting up 100+ points per game and compliment that with a little D, I like them to take the division and get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. This is the year they advance to the second round, shed the infamous Curse O Les Boulez and make a push for the conference finals.

47-35: 1st in the Southeast, 4th in the East (Behind the Pistons, Celts and Bulls)

- The Tar Heel
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