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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