Saturday, November 10, 2007

Week 10: Redskins vs. Eagles

While this is a very winnable game for the Redskins, their recent inability to win back to back games has red flags popping up everywhere. A fan can only hope that almost losing last week to a very weak Jets team tricked the cosmos into thinking the Redskins actually lost and therefore deserve to win this week.

This week will focus around Jason Campbell and Donovan McNabb. With the re-emergence of Clinton Portis as the dominant playmaker of the Redskins' offense it will be Campbell's responsibility to recognize how and when to utilize the play action pass. This has always been the big picture strategy of Joe Gibbs and should finally fall into place against a banged up Eagles’ secondary. Safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Lito Sheppard have seen limited playing time this season and their lack of game strength can be exploited. The Redskins will look to take advantage of these two positions early in the game before they can regain their timing. In last week's game against the Cowboys this secondary gave up 324 yards and the defensive unit as a whole didn't record a sack. Campbell needs to recognize one on one match ups, utilize the speed of Moss and Randle El and complete deep passes in order to build a lead.

Normally at this point in the game I would suggest they turn the ball over to Portis, pound the rock and sit on the lead, but we've all seen how that turns out. The second half needs to be the same aggressive ball movement with Campbell orchestrating short passes and reliable check downs. After throwing deep passes throughout the first half he will need to dump it off in the second. Hit guys coming out of the back field. Hit Cooley on 8 yard curl routes. Get the defensive on their heels and roll over them.

This is a telling game for how far Campbell has come as a leader and how far the Skins will be able to go in this year’s Playoffs with him at the helm. The Eagles are still a dangerous team and know how to win so the Redskins have to be careful. However, the Redskins have to and will win to put pressure on the Giants (a team they should have beaten) and the Cowboys (a team they play next week). Look for the Redskins team to show up this week and put some hurt on the Eagles.

Redskins 27, Eagles 16

- The Hokie
Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Caps Over Sens 4-1

Capitals 4, Senators 1

The Capitals came into Ottawa Thursday night in last place in the Eastern Conference and beat the NHL-leading Senators (now 13-2-0) in a 4-1 game at Scotiabank Place.

Going into this game I don't think anyone could have said they expected the Capitals to win, but I had a sneaking suspicion the team stood a better chance than most gave them. My logic? Everything has gone right for the Senators so far this season and nothing had gone right for the Capitals. Given that it just seemed like things were going to have to turn around a bit.

The struggling offense picked up four goals and in honor of a decent offensive output I'm going to break down each goal:

  1. 12:10 in Period 2. Kozlov from Ovechkin; Morrisonn. You could tell Kozlov was relieved after his goal - the look on his face just said "finally". By his reaction I immediately thought to myself 'This could be the play that gets him back on track'.
  2. 14:27 in Period 2. Backstrom from Kozlov; Nylander. Hats off to Backstrom for getting his first NHL goal. And speaking of reactions, how about his? First career NHL goal, out of midair, off the goalie's back, to put his struggling team ahead 2-0 and he gets up and skates off the ice like nothing happened. This is the same kid who's played with more poise than most veterans and who when asked if he'd seen the monuments in the D.C. responded "I came here to play hockey. I want to see the rink." He's going to be something special. He was at least a little happy about things though - I saw him crack a smile on the bench afterwards.
  3. 17:55 in Period 2. Fleischmann from Kozlov. Flash's goal was beautiful, as was the pass from Kozlov to set it up. What was interested was how the Sens broadcast highlighted Fleischmann's play leading up to his goal. He came off the bench, streaked into the play and called for the puck. That's a kind of confidence he simply didn't have at the season's outset.
  4. 16:14 of Period 3. Ovechkin from Laich. In terms of this game it was just icing on the cake. But Ovechkin had only one point in the previous four games coming into tonight; hopefully this gets him going again.
It's not like the game was a shootout though. The Caps held the potent (even without
Jason Spezza) Senators offense to just one goal on 28 shots. The Sens were also 0-5 on the powerplay. Kolzig was solid through the first two frames but really shined in the third period.

In the standings this is only two points but in the larger scheme of things it could be a lot more than that for the Capitals. The Caps were able to beat the best team in the NHL, on the road, without two of their top six forwards. And it isn't like the Caps barely managed to squeeze out a victory - they outshot the Senators and were the better team (see quote below). What this does is serve as proof to the Capitals that they can beat anybody in the NHL, and the way things have gone this team needs that confidence boost.

The key now is going to be taking that confidence and the solid effort in this game and using it build momentum. The Caps may only be 6-9-1, but they're also two points out of the eight spot in the East and four points out of the fifth spot. If the team is able to pick up momentum and go on a run, winning several games in a row, five out of six, seven out of nine or something like that they'll be in a nice spot. Obviously in any case there's a lot of hockey left in the 2007-08 season but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be nice to be sitting at a playoff spot after 25 or 30 games.

Next up? Tampa Bay (1-7 -0 on the road), Saturday night, in D.C.

The Senators' television announcers were full of good points about the Capitals tonight:
  • "I don't think it's fair to judge this team without their captain Chris Clark and Alexander Semin."
  • "You have to feel like this is a better team that their record indicates."
  • "If just one or two bounces go the Capitals way in close games this season, they're looking a lot better."
I wish some Capitals fans (particularly those calling for the heads of Hanlon and McPhee) could realize this. However I think my favorite Sens' announcers quote was this:
The Capitals [fully] deserved the win. They were the better team tonight.

Quick Hits
  • A number of the Caps younger players who I thought had looked shaky are looking better every game, particularly Schultz and Fleischmann. I'm willing to bet it has a lot to do with Glen Hanlon.
  • Chris Bourque has looked real solid so far. He can obviously skate, looks like he has a good skill set, seems like a smart player and doesn't shy away from contact. It's not like he came out of nowhere though - he was picked 34th overall despite being only 5'6'' or 5'7'' before people realized just how much the game would change to make size less important after the lockout. I don't know that he's ready for full time NHL duty yet once Semin and Clark come back but he sure doesn't seem far away.
  • Anton Volchenkov left in the first with a leg injury after being hit by an Ovechkin shot. While it didn't go in the net at least this time Ovechkin manged to injure someone on the other team.

Click Here For Expanded Analysis

DC Notebook:

Gilbert Arenas had his
knee drained yesterday in preparation for tonight's Nets game. After an 0-3 start this is a little disconcerting. The Wiz need Arenas to be at full speed to compete against top tier teams - such as the Nets - as even without health concerns he has historically struggled against good defensive guards.

After his breakout 196 yard game against the Jets, Clinton Portis has also broken out of his shell with
"Choo Choo". Keeping a light atmosphere can only help the Redskins who have looked very uptight and burdened this entire season. Not to mention, in years past, it has been the emergence of Portis' characters that has sparked a winning attitude and all around better play for this squad. With everything that is swirling around Philly right now I can't think of a better way to stay loose against what will be an Eagles team in disarray.

The Caps take on the 13-1-0 Senators who are riding the best 14-game start in league history. It doesn't look good for the Caps as they are 2-9-1 with one tie in the last 13 meetings against the boys from Ottawa.

The Nationals brass has said they are exploring a multitude of possibilities this winter regarding both trades and free agency. However, as they are exploring this multitude of possibilities in center field, if their past record is indicative of anything, I doubt they will sign any of the big names. More talk is being thrown around about Rocco Baldelli and I expect a trade that would send Chad Cordero or Felipe Lopez to the Rays much sooner than a free agent signing which would force them to actually spend money.
Baldelli certainly has the highest ceiling of the other center field options as his combination of power and speed could allow him to flourish into a star outfielder, but hamstring injuries over the past few years bring serious doubts about even reaching mediocrity. He can't have an impact if he isn't in the lineup and if Baldelli busts again in 2008 the Nationals would immediately regret passing on the consistency of a Hunter or a Rowand. Baldelli wouldn't be worse than Nook Logan or a Ryan Church, but winning baseball games isn't just about not being a bad ball player. At some point as a general manager, don't you want the best?
The Nats also seem to be leaning heavily on their farm system to provide a front end of the rotation starting pitcher. Looking to add a Tom Glavine or bringing back Livan Hernandez shows that they are confident with their draft choices and expect them to immediately contribute to the team. There aren't a lot of good young pitchers on the market this winter so it does make sense to take this approach, but there is no point in spending money on an old guy who isn't going to make his starts. We don't want another Brian Lawrence debacle.

-The Hokie
Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Wizards-Nets Preview

By no means is this a do-or-die game for Washington. The 2007-2008 season is still just three games old, meaning there are 79 left to play. But tonight in Jersey, the Wizards desperately need to turn things around. Their once potent offense has put up enough bricks to build a new stadium...if you could build an arena with 173 maybe a small arena. Seriously, though, the Wiz are shooting a dismal 35.4% from the field and a woeful 20.3% from long range.
The Nets (3-1) are no cakewalk and have proven to be especially pesky for the Wizards - they swept Washington in the team's four meetings last season. However, if Gilbert Arenas & co. are gonna get their act together, this is a defense that can be exploited - particularly beyond the arc. The Nets are allowing opponents to shoot just 41.9% from the field, but they're giving up 39.7% from deep. Not great, but significantly better than what the Wiz have been able to muster so far.

Through the Nets first four games it's been high-flying forward Richard Jefferson - not superstar Vince Carter - who has led the team in scoring. Jefferson is averaging 25.8 points per contest to go along with 5.8 boards. No one expects Antawn Jamison to keep Jefferson in check, cause let's face it - AJ is far from a lockdown defender - but the Wiz will need to limit Jefferson with a rotation of quick, tall defenders (see Andray Blatche) to keep this game as close as it should be.

Key Match-Up

  • Jason Kidd v. Arenas/DeShawn Stevenson -- J-Kidd is a triple-double machine. His scoring isn't what it once was - he's averaging just 8.5ppg - but he still controls the flow of a game as well as anyone in the league. Like the Wiz, the Nets can run and gun with their long, athletic lineup featuring Jefferson, Carter, Antoine Wright and Jason Collins. But Kidd remains the key to Corvette. The main question here is not whether Stevenson (who should be matched up with Kidd on the defensive end) can lock down the seven-time All-Star, but if he can frustrate him enough to force the rest of the Nets to make plays. On the offensive side of the ball, the Hibachi needs to get it going pronto. After getting his knee drained yet again, Gil says he feels ready to go but only the nets (on the baskets) will show for sure if he's back to the Agent Zero that wreaks havoc on opposing defenses. Gilbert is shooting just 33% from the field and is 1-of-17 from three. That's got to change tonight for the Wizards to snap their three-game losing streak and put a crooked number in the win column.


  • "We need one. It's time for us to play like we know we can." - Caron Butler


The Nets are cruising and the Wiz are reeling, the perfect recipe for an 0-4 start in the District. But look for another solid game from Brendan Haywood - the lone bright spot thusfar for the Wiz with his 10 points and 13.7 boards per game - on the inside and improved shooting on the perimeter. Honestly, the percentages have to go up sometime, right?

Washington also needs better production from its bench. I said this would be the key to the season (see Wizards season preview) and thusfar, the young guns aren't gunning. Blatche and Antonio Daniels are averaging fewer than three points between them and while they should be getting more minutes (Blatche is averaging 9.7 and Daniels 15.7), they need to make better use of their time on the floor. Darius Songaila is doing his part - 8.3 points and 4 boards in 23 minutes a night - but the rest of the bench is really lagging. Expect Eddie Jordan to try a few more combinations tonight to keep the Big Three fresh and try to find a spark from one of his young role players.

I'll play the odds and take the Wiz by 4 in a close one.

-- The Tar Heel

Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Caps Fall to Atlanta in OT, 2-1

Capitals 1, Thrashers 2 (OT)

As far as I could tell lines and defense pairings were:



Jurcina and Erskine were scratched.

Although it was a little unclear. I'm pretty sure of the first two lines and the third was announced as the starting lineup so I compiled the fourth by process of elimination, though I didn't see Laich at center much.

Despite again outplaying their opponent for the majority of the game the Capitals fell 2-1 to the Thrashers Tuesday night at Philips Arena in Atlanta.

For all the problems the Caps have had this season they have consistently come out and been the better team in the first period and did so again against Atlanta, outshooting the Thrashers 16-6 in the opening frame. However, as has been the case all too often this year, they had nothing to show for it after the first period and went into the intermission tied 0-0. The Caps never really regained their stride after that point, beating rookie Ondrej Pavelec only once, although the didn't play poorly. The top two lines controlled the play well and produced a number of chances - more than I would have expected. The third line contained the Thrashers' top line of Kovalchuk/Holik/Hossa for the most part, the lone exception being Kovalchuk's beautiful goal. Hate to admit it but it was pretty - an inside-out move on Eminger and then top shelf over Brent Johnson's glove.

The story of the game really was penalties:

Penalty Summary
1st Period
Atlanta hooking - 2 min 2:49, P. Dupuis
Atlanta hooking - 2 min 11:28, K. Klee
Atlanta holding - 2 min 18:20, T. Enstrom

2nd Period
Washington hooking - 2 min 7:36, C. Bourque
Washington holding - 2 min 12:13, B. Pothier
Washington hooking - 2 min 14:22, B. Gordon
Washington holding - 2 min 17:41, S. Morrisonn

3rd Period
Atlanta boarding - 2 min 3:40, B. Holik
Washington hooking - 2 min 13:00, M. Nylander
Washington hooking - 2 min 18:14, M. Pettinger

OT Period

The only call on Atlanta after the first period was on an obvious hit from behind by Holik on Ovechkin. I understand that in the NHL these days it's possible to get called for a hook or hold the average person will miss, especially from the 400 level seats, so I'm not saying that most of what was called on the Caps were not penalties. But I am saying that after the first the refs missed several plays that should have been penalties for the Thrashers. It seemed pretty obvious they were making up for that first period.

I thought Chris Bourque looked pretty good. He is short, but he is definitely strong and wasn't getting pushed around by anyone and looked a pretty good skater to boot. He looked like he was playing with confidence, even playing in his first NHL game and on Ovechkin's line. Maybe it's inferring too much but he seemed to me like he was used to playing with having something to prove, which wouldn't be a shocker with him being Ray Bourque's son, a collegiate player and standing only 5'7''. At the same time he seemed to have enough faith in his skills to know that he can prove himself just by playing his game.

So the Caps pick up a point and now sit in the cellar in the Eastern Conference (yet simultaneously only five points away from the fifth spot).

Quick Hits
  • I can see why the Thrashers made Holik the captain. Not only can he hit the other team's start player from behind when he's defenseless three feet from the boards but he can also stand on top of the puck and halt play altogether as well as anyone in the business.
  • The Caps PK was 6-6; their powerplay was 1-4.
  • From missing the whole season to being on the top D pairing? How does this team feel about Eminger? And if they're going to let him play those kinds of minutes when he dresses why dress Schultz (who doesn't hit and looks lost in his own end) and Erskine (who hits, but has no offensive upside and isn't a good skater)?
  • Actually Shultz didn't look all that bad and I thought played especially well on the PK.
  • Dave Steckel played center on the second powerplay unit.
  • First Brian Sutherby gets bumped from the lineup by the emergence of Dave Steckel; now it's by a kid playing his first NHL game - Suts has got to be getting frustrated.

Obnoxious Things About Going to a Game at Philips Area:
  • The way the color of the Thrashers' jerseys seems awful similar to that of the Philips corporate logo.
  • The Thrashers opening video is eerily reminiscent of the Franz Ferdinand video for "Take Me Out". I like the band, I like the video, I like the song. But to use that and pre-Lenin Soviet propaganda style graphics in the opening video? That's supposed to get fans pumped up? It's just weird, especially for a team promoting the idea of 'BlueLand' and that on game day 'A city becomes a nation'.
  • Guy who decided to yell "Thrashers!" through a bullhorn, while on the escalator above the Philips Arena main concourse.
  • Ushers who describe your seat as being "at the top bottom up".
  • Being surrounded by 15,000 people who like Ilya Kovalchuk.
  • Redneck fans yelling stereotypical redneck things including, but not limited to, "YEEAAAAAH!!" and "WHOOOOOOO".
  • Having such things yelled at improper times (again) including, but not limited to, during the National Anthem.
  • Having to hear the phrase "GO DAWGS!!!" yelled at a hockey game.
  • Having the people behind you mimic the National Anthem singer by singing in falsetto.
  • Having the people behind you decide maybe mimicking the National Anthem is inappropriate and instead try to sing it, with little success, either in melody or words. To be fair, I'm pretty sure they were Brazilian.
  • People who decide to sit on their duffs for an entire intermission and then decide that right as the puck is being dropped is the perfect time to take pictures of themselves at the game.
  • Being seated in front of someone who yells "WHOOAAA!" every time any of the following happen: a shot is attempted, players make contact with one another, the Thrashers attempt a pass in the other team's zone.
  • Being surrounded by 15,000 people who like Eric Boulton.
  • The legitimately scary guy wearing a red (?) Thrashers jersey standing up and screaming for the the Thrashers to nail the puck carrier every time a Caps player touched the puck. Scary because it wasn't a 'get in a good hard shot and steal the puck' kind of yelling but rather a 'I'm obviously trying-to-live vicariously and get out-my pent-up rage about the fact I hate my life' way.
  • People cheering every time an opposing player goes down. Even if it's because the Thrashers tripped/held them and there's going to be a powerplay for the visiting team.
  • Drunk girl after the on the MARTA train (MARTA:Atlanta::Metro:D.C.) using her bullhorn on the train.
  • The clapping rhythm people use before the "Let's Go Thrashers!" chant. They used the same one in D.C. that we use for "Let's Go Capitals!" - dunh-dunh-duh-nuh-nuh. That's too many syllables. Thrashers has two syllables and Capitals has three (I hope you understand what I'm getting at here....). What are people supposed to chant? Let's Go Thra-aaa-shers!"?
Cool Things About Going to Hockey Game at Philips Arena
Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Monday, November 5, 2007

Agent 0-for

The early results are in and they aren't pretty. The Wizards are 0-3 for the first time since 1992, Gilbert Areans is NOT back to full strength and that precision Princeton offense is looking more like Cornell's. Following a blowout loss at Boston - this shouldn't have been a real surprise to anyone - the Wiz dropped their home opener to the Orlando Magic on Saturday, 94-82.

Eighty-two points? That's it? Take a look at the box score and you'll realize they were lucky to get that many. The Wizards shot under 37 percent (34.8) for the third time in as many games and connected on just 6-of-23 three-point attempts. The Big Three are getting their points - Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are all averaging over 19 points per game - but it's taking them far too many shots to get those totals.

Stat Breakdown

  • Arenas - 21.7ppg --- 33.3% fg --- 5.9% 3-point fg
  • Butler - 20 --------- 45.1% ------ 20%
  • Jamison - 19 ------- 29.5% ------ 30%
  • TEAM - 91.7 ------- 35.4% ------ 20%

The only way for an offense that revolves entirely around jump shooting and perimeter play to prosper is if the shooters make their shots. It's pretty simple. So far, the Wizards aren't doing it.

The biggest concern here has to be Arenas, who was seem grimacing as he left the court following the loss to Orlando.

"It's stiff. It feels like a 5-pound weight is on it."

If the Wizards are going to turn it around - which they need to do before they slip any further behind the pack - it has to start with Arenas making shots. But since he relies so much on his legs as a jump shooter, consistency won't come as immediately as the Wiz would like.

Note - Gil is a deplorable 1-for-17 from downtown, with his sole triple coming to send the season opening overtime loss to Indiana into the extra period.

At Least...

  • The mighty Baby Bulls and Miami Heat are keeping the Wiz company in the 0-3 cellar.
  • Brendan Haywood is playing like a true starting center. Through three games the 7-foot Tar Heel has three double-doubles and is averaging just over 31 minutes per game. With 10 points in each game and 13, 12 and 16 boards respectively, Haywood has already put together the longest streak of double-doubles in his sever-year career. What's most impressive is his activity on the offensive glass. Haywood's 25 offensive boards lead the league. Then again, with all the bricks the rest of the team has been heaving, how can he not end up with a few of them?

Looking Ahead

  • Next up for the Wiz is a short trip north to take on the J-Kidd and the Nets (2-1) - against who they're 1-12 in their last 13 contests. They then return home to host Melo and the Denver Nuggets (2-1). Not an easy stretch but they've got to get things turned around to regain some footing in the division and the conference. Right now things don't look too good.

-- The Tar Heel

Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Key to a Successful Road Trip? Change the Lines

It's not too far fetched for the Capitals to pick up five, or even six points on their upcoming three game road trip (Carolina, Atlanta, Ottawa), and the team should pick up at least four.

The Capitals are sitting at 5-8-0 through their first 13 games of the season. On the down side they are 14th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. On the plus side they're still only two points out of a playoff spot (although this is held by a team with three games in hand on the Caps) and three points out of the 7th spot (on whom the Caps actually hold a game in hand).

The team has played better than it's record and if we were going to go by who who has played the all-around better game I would say the Caps should be 8-4-1, even with Clark, Semin and Poti missing the time they have.

The Capitals have allowed only 35 goals in 13 games - 2.69 per game. And that's including the 7-3 loss in Buffalo (without that it's 28 goals in 12 games; 2.33 GAA). Defense hasn't been the problem for the Capitals, scoring has, which has been exactly the opposite of what most people expected going into the season.

The Capitals generally outwork their opponents and control the play, and with the team playing like they have defensively if they can do a better job of putting the puck in the net, they'll start winning. But it's not going to happen with the lineup the Capitals have been putting on the ice the last few games.

The lines need to be changed. Now.

If everyone were healthy I could see the logic in playing Ovechkin with Kozlov and Clark, given that Ovechkin and Kozlov like playing with one another and Ovechkin and Clark have such great chemistry. But with Semin and Clark out of the lineup, Nylander needs to be on the top line.

By putting Nylander on the top line the Capitals will give Ovechkin a great playmaker to play with. It also allows Kozlov to play the wing, where he's had 18 shots in his last four games (how many have gone in? Zero, but it's still nice to get the shots on net). Since Steckel has been so good on draws and has been on the ice for, I believe, one even-strength goal against he should be fine playing on a checking line. Thus, Hanlon could move Gordon to the second line. This way Backstrom can stay on the wing if the coaching staff feels he isn't ready to move to center. Fleischmann can go on that line too, since he's the most offensively talented right wing left. Pettinger and Laich would play with Gordon/Steckel to form a respectable checking line. The result would be:


Backstrom/(Gordon or Steckel)/Fleischmann
Pettinger/(Gordon or Steckel)/Laich

Tell me that isn't top-to-bottom better than what the Caps have been throwing out recently.

I've always liked Hanlon. He's been positive with his players, stood behind them and helped the Caps establish a respected reputation as a team that works hard night in and night out. But I am starting to question his common sense and ability to throw together solid lines. He's an NHL caliber coach in my mind, no doubt. But if he can't see the writing on the wall and put together lines than make sense he may be better suited for an assistants role.

Here's the bottom line and the fearless prediction:

If the Capitals come out on the their road trip with these lines they will pick up at least five points

Unless of course they decide to get lazy or a goalie has a terrible game or something. So I guess I should say if they come out with these lines and otherwise play the way they have the last five games, they'll pick up at least five points.

The Caps need to have a successful road trip (at least four points). Let's just hope the coaching staff has the sense to put their forwards in a position to succeed.

Click Here For Expanded Analysis