Saturday, December 29, 2007

Caps/Penguins Recap

Capitals 3, Penguins 4 (OT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Hits

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

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Eric Fehr Update

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps/Lightning Recap: Caps Win 3-2

Capitals 3, Lightning 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Hits

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

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Week 16: Redskins vs. Vikings

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

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

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

Redskins 17, Vikings 10

- The Hokie

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