Wednesday, May 7, 2008

State of the Capitals: Forwards

Top Performer: Alexander Ovechkin. He's going to win the league MVP, so naturally he was the Caps' best forward this year.

Underachiever: Tomas Fleischmann. Fleischmann was impressive enough in camp to win a spot across from Alex Ovechkin on the top line, but wound up only 10 goals and 30 points this year, and was scratched for several games in the playoffs.

Biggest Surprise: Brooks Laich. When Laich was acquired for Peter Bondra, he was pitched as a versatile depth forward with the potential to contribute more if everything came together. Given his attitude and work ethic, it isn't surprising Laich turned into a solid contributer. What is surprising is that he managed to do so at 24.

Underrated: Eric Fehr. Fehr's a player who's hard to evaluate objectively, with his career already marked by significant injury woes and the stigma of being selected one pick before Ryan Getzlaf on him. Fehr was able to bring an important presence to the Capitals though, using his big frame to crash the net and create havoc in the opponent's end. He won't ever be Getzlaf, but once Fehr gets his hands back and finishes filling out his frame, he'll be a very solid forward.

One to watch: Eric Fehr. I think Fehr, more than any other Capitals forward, is poised for a breakout year in 2008-09.

Under Contract for 2008-09: Nicklas Backstrom, Donald Brashear, Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov, Quintin Laing, Michael Nylander, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, David Steckel.
Restricted Free Agents: Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich

Unrestricted Free Agents: Matt Bradley, Matt Cooke, Sergei Fedorov

Depth Charts

Left Wing
(1) Alexander Ovechkin
(2) Alexander Semin
(3) Chris Bourque
(4) Donald Brashear
(5) Quintin Laing

(1) Nicklas Backstrom
(2) Michael Nylander
(3) Brooks Laich
(4) Boyd Gordon
(5) David Steckel
(6) Kyle Wilson
(7) Mathieu Perreault

Right Wing
(1) Viktor Kozlov
(2) Chris Clark
(3) Eric Fehr
(4) Tomas Fleischmann
(5) Andrew Gordon
(6) Ben Clymer
(7) Francois Bouchard

The Good: The Capitals are one player with breakout season away from having a very impressive first two lines with Backstrom, Ovechkin, Kozlov, Nylander and Semin all being legitimate top six players at the NHL level. Fortunately, the Capitals now have enough forward depth that at least one of Eric Fehr, Books Laich, Chris Clark and Tomas Fleischmann should be to pull top six duty next season. The Capitals depth also shows in two other, oft underrated areas: defense and versatility. Boyd Gordon, Chris Clark, David Steckel, Brooks Laich and Quintin Laing are all good defensive forwards, even if none are Selke-worthy; in terms of versatility, Capitals have at least six forwards who spent significant time in the NHL who are capable of playing center and nearly all the Caps' forwards can play more than one position. The key player here is Brooks Laich who is capable of providing a solid defensive presence and the ability to chip in on offense from any of the three forward positions.

The Bad: While the Capitals have a number of good defensive forwards, the checkers could stand to chip in more on offense (Steckel, Gordon and Laing had a combined 13 goals, including several empty netters, in a combined 173 games). Other than Ovechkin, none of the Capitals top five forwards play a very physical game.

2008-09 Outlook: With five of their top six spots filled, a versatile forward corps and plenty of high-potential players in the mix, the Capitals' outlook for next season is excellent. The potential of having Chris Clark, Alexander Semin and Michael Nylander for the entire season and the continued development of Backstrom, Fehr and Fleischmann, means the Capitals have a legitimate shot at leading the league in scoring in 2008-09 (if you think that's crazy, consider that the Capitals averaged 3.13 goals per game under Boudreau, a rate that would have them tied for second in the league this season). In terms of defense, the Capitals should look to add one or two more players, someone who can agitate opponents, someone who can play a physical game and back it up by dropping the gloves and someone who can kill penalties. These roles could be filled by re-signing Matt Cooke and Matt Bradley. If they chose to leave Washington there will be other options in the free agent market - I personally favor Adam Hall and Aaron Asham; if the Capitals want to avoid bidding on free agents, Chris Bourque is likely ready to step in to a grinder role. Given that the team only has this one need at the forward position, McPhee should not have too much difficulty filling it.
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Monday, April 28, 2008

Capitals Prospects Update

Well, the season's over, so it's only natural to look ahead to next year. In that spirit, here's how some of the Capitals' best prospects fared in 2007-08.

Karl Alzner (Defense, Calgary Hitmen, WHL)- The statistics for Alzner were impressive: 36 points in 60 regular season games, a +26 rating in the regular season and six goals in the 16 playoffs games the Hitmen played before being swept out of the playoffs in the WHL's semi-final round. But Alzner's talens go beyond what can represented via statistics: he captained both the WHL's Eastern Conference Hitmen and the gold medal winning Canadian team at the World Juniors. Nothing is set in stone, but there's a very good chance that Alzner could break camp with the Capitals next season.

Francois Bouchard (Right Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Bouchard finished up his QMJHL career with Baie-Comeau Drakkar quite well, finishing eight in the 'Q' with 92 points and sixth in assists with 56, and has since joined the Bears for their playoff run. Although the Capitals are a little unsettled on the right wing after Viktor Kozlov and Chris Clark, the organization is likely going to want Bouchard to get at least one season of professional experience under his belt before they call him up for any extended period of time.

Chris Bourque (Right Wing/Left Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Bourque had a solid season in 2007-08, highlighted by his NHL debut in Atlanta and a four goal night in Hershey. Like Bouchard, Bourque will probably get a look because the Capitals depth chart gets muddled on the wing after the first couple lines. Unlike Bouchard, Bourque has the attitude and experience to be a legitimate option as a depth player for the Capitals. His odds are probably largely dependent on whether or not Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke re-sign.

Joe Finley (Defense, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, WCHA) - In between a couple controversial incidents, Finley picked up 15 points (including four goals) for the Fighting Sioux while leading the team with a +24 rating. Finley hasn't said whether or not he plans to forgo his final season at North Dakota and turn pro, but even if he does the towering defenseman is likely to need 50-100 games of NHL experience before he's NHL ready.

Josh Godfrey (Defense, Hershey Bears) - The 2007 second rounder with the big shot lit the lamp 17 times this season for his OHL Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, and scored 41 goals over his last two years in the league, a span of 128 games. Like Alzner, Godfrey was a member of Canada's gold medal winning team at the World Juniors. It's very unlikely Godfrey would make the Capitals out of camp, but it's possible he could get a callup at some point in 2008-09, if for nothing other than to primarily man the point on the second powerplay unit.

Sami Lepisto (Defense, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Lepisto got his first taste of NHL action this year, playing in seven games for the Capitals. The callup was well deserved: Lepisto had four goals and 41 assists in 55 games for the Bears and his +29 rating led the Bears and was third in the AHL. Lepisto's future depends in large part on Brian Pothier. If Pothier ends up having to retire due to his concussion-related issues, there's a good chance the Capitals will keep Lepisto on their roster to fill his spot. If Pothier is able to come back, Lepisto still stands a very good chance at making the Caps, but it's likely his playing time won't be as significant.

Michal Neuvirth (Goalie, Oshawa General, OHL) - Neuvirth played for three OHL teams this season, compiling an aggregate 17-7-5 record with a 3.11 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Barring some unforeseen set of circumstances, Neuvirth will start next season in either South Carolina (ECHL) or Hershey (AHL).

Mathieu Perreault (Center, Hershey Bears) - Perreault led the QMJHL in points (114) and assists (80) in 2007-08. The 2006 sixth rounder joined the Bears at the end of their playoff run, playing three games without registering a point. With Nicklas Backstrom, Michael Nylander, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon already firmly entrenched in D.C. (along with the fact the Capitals probably want to see Perreault add some bulk to his 166 pound frame), Perreault will likely spend 2008-09 in Hershey.

Sasha Pokulok (Defense, South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL) - Pokulok hasn't progressed the way the Capitals would have liked and he was sent down to South Carolina (ECHL) after 44 games with the Bears. Pokulok performed well in the East Coast League, notching six assists in five regular season games and four assists in ten playoff games. Still, questions remain about Pokulok's durability and mobility. Pokulok will most likely start next year with Hershey.

Keith Seabrook (Defense, Calgary Hitmen, WHL) - Seabrook struggled through a disappointing season for the Hitmen in 2007-08, notching only four goals and 13 assists in 59 games. On the plus side, Seabrook was a +4 on the season, although that number might not be where Caps fans would want to see it either, considering that the regular season Eastern Conference winning Hitmen had 15 player with better ratings.

Semen Varlamov (Goalie, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl , RSL) - Varlamov gained a great deal of valuable experience this past season, playing in 44 games for his Russian team, going 27-15-0 and posting a 2.45 GAA.
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Friday, April 25, 2008

Crank That White Out

Game 3: Washington 108, Cleveland 76

The Wizards finally put up a fight - on the floor as opposed to in the media - in Thursday's game three at the Phone Booth, giving the sold-out, white-out crowd the kind of performance fans have been waiting two years to witness.

Speaking of witnesses, all those who showed up wearing their No. 23 red or white or navy jerseys or those lame Nike ad campaign shirts got to witness a complete dud from the King.

It was a pretty spectacular turn-around from Monday's humbling defeat and one that, at least to this first-hand spectator, lacked a great deal of effort from the visiting team. I expect a much tougher test in Sunday's game four. But for one night at least, DeShawn Stevenson couldn't feel his mow hawk-crested face,
Andray Blatche could do the sprinkler with the really old guy in the stands, Caron Butler could pirouette his way to the rim and a sea of white could wave their towels in wild abandon.

It was quite a night in D.C. indeed.

I'll have more from game three and a preview for game four tomorrow so stay tuned.

-- The Tar Heel
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bleck! Wizards in 0-2 Hole

Game 2: Cleveland 116 - Washington 86

Forget not being able to feel their faces, the Wizards would rather not be able to see their faces in the mirror after yesterday's whooping. The whole "let's be physical against LeBron and not let him dunk on our heads" gameplan completely backfired with Brendan Haywood's ejection after a hard foul - maybe worthy of a flagrant 1, but certainly not a flagrant 2 with the accompanying ejection.

Gilbert Arenas was awful, Caron Butler was bad and Antawn Jamison wasn't much better. None of the starters showed any of the toughness, intensity and most importantly, the focus, that they displayed through three quarters of play on Saturday.

I'm much less excited about having tickets for Thursday's Game 3 at the Phone Booth than I was coming into the series, and it wouldn't shock me if this one is over in five or if it ends up to be another sweep.

And for crying out loud, now is the time to stop with the trash talking and the stupid "I can't feel my face" taunting and play basketball.

I think I'm too disenchanted and frustrated with this team at the moment to even throw up a decent breakdown of what went wrong last night and what needs to change before Thursday. Maybe I'll get it together by tomorrow. Until then, pardon me while I ralph in the rubbish bin to the left of my computer.

Thank goodness for the Caps. I'm glad I had Game 6 to watch last night instead of the massacre at the Q, and I'm even more excited to watch Game 7 tonight. Let's Go Caps!

-- The Tar Heel
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Monday, April 21, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

Game 1: Cleveland 93, Washington 86

After weeks of trash talk leading up to Game 1 between the Wizards and Cavaliers, it doesn't look like much has changed in the last two years. With a healthy big three on the floor for the Wiz and a few new faces here and there on both teams, the first game in this best of seven series played out true to the form set back in 2006.

The two teams battled back in forth in Cleveland in a competitive, physical playoff game. Washington appeared to have the upper hand early in the fourth quarter with a two-point lead and the Cavs in the penalty with 7:30 left. But that's when the best player on the floor took over, just as he did last April...and the April before that.

The Wizards - who could have (and should have) put themselves in a position to win by driving to the rim and getting to the free throw line - settled for outside shots. They missed
three-pointers and long jumpers from all over the floor and LeBron James took advantage. He drove to the rack on back-to-back possessions to give the Cavs the lead. Gilbert Arenas tried to do the same for the Wizards but turned the ball over in the lane and then threw up a wild shot that landed in a Cleveland rebounders' mits and pretty much sealed the game.

Before those final deciding minutes, Antawn
Jamison had more than outplayed James. He was getting to the basket for his patented flip shots and runners, rebounding like Ben Wallace circa 2000 and even picked up a technical for defending a teammate (and fellow Tar Heel) when Brendan Haywood and LeBron got in a brief scuffle at mid-court. Sadly, it was Jamison who started forcing shots in that critical stretch - including a long jumper followed by two bricked open threes on consecutive possessions - to let Cleveland take control.

The Wizards were right there, but as was the case in 2006, they just could not seal the deal.
Now they find themselves in a similar situation. Down 0-1 with a second game to come in Cleveland - one which they desperately need. It's not quite a must-win, but psychologically, with how inept the Wizards have been at winning at the 'Q', essentially it is just that.

Game 2
Washington Wizards at Cleveland Cavaliers
Tonight, Monday, April 21 - 7pm

Quicken Loans Arena

The game-plan was there on Saturday. The Wizards limited LeBron James early on, got scoring from Jamison (23), Caron Butler (14) and even Brendan Haywood (15). Gilbert Arenas was his old, flashy self, scoring 24 in just under 28 minutes and drilling a 30-footer just before the first quarter buzzer. They held the Cavs to under 40 percent shooting (39.5) and limited the damage behind the arc (5-19). With those stats, even factoring in LeBron's 32 points, you have to figure the Wizards come out on top.

But the areas where Cleveland edged Washington, proved key and costly. The Cavs out-rebounded the Wiz 43-42 (we know the Wizards almost never win when they lose the battle of the boards), had eight more assists (24-16) and most importantly, out-shot the boys in gold 37-17. You're never going to win a game with that kind of discrepancy at the line.

With a 20-free throw difference, you might think the referees were to blame. Hardly the case. With just under eight minutes remaining and the Wizards leading, the Cavs were already in the bonus - meaning any foul would result in two free throws for Washington. But after playing aggressive basketball all afternoon, it was then, at the worst time possible, that the Wizards got tentative and started settling for jump shots. Cleveland out-scored Washington 28-14 - more than enough to make up the seven point winning margin.

The plan for the Wizards tonight has got to be - get to the rim, get to the free throw line and get easy points. They've got to keep up the intensity, keep giving good hard fouls to any Cavaliers - particularly James - willing to drive to the basket, and keep crashing the boards.
I like the Wizards to win this game because they clearly have more talent on the floor and more scoring options.

The main question is can they play a full 48 minutes of aggressive, intelligent basketball and get over the psychological advantage that LeBron and the city of Cleveland continue to hold over their heads.

Now is the time. If they lose this game, I think you can pretty much kiss the series goodbye. Eddie Jordan knows this, and I think you'll see the inspired squad you saw for three and a half quarters on Saturday get it done tonight.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is the pressure now on the Flyers?

Capitals 3, Flyers 2

I've never really been one to believe that a young team needs to "learn" how to win playoffs games. After all, a team is playing the same sport they've played countless hours in their lives to that point and although playoffs games do have a different feel, one would expect the players to be prepared for them given how much the players do know about hockey. Yet it seems that almost every year a young, talented team fails to live up to its promise in the postseason.

Thus far this year it has been the Washington Capitals, who dropped three straight to the Philadelphia Flyers after a comeback victory in the first game of the series between the two teams. The Capitals do appear to be learning however: they played much better in Game 4 than in Game 3, and better in Game 5 than in Game 4. Given the Capitals' impressive run to end the season and the fact that they seem to be finding their groove the question is: is the pressure now on the Flyers?

After all, the orange and black missed their first opportunity to close out the series on Saturday afternoon when they let the Capitals come out and dictate the flow of play. Game 6 is going to be the Flyers best chance to close out the Capitals because if they lose the Capitals going in to a Game 7 at home, with momentum. While the Flyers do have the home ice advantage, the home ice advantage comes with pressure; pressure not just to win but to win in style and to please the crowd (especially in Philadelphia where fans can be...unforgiving to say the least). The Flyer faithful love their team's Broad Street Bullies persona and that, coupled with the fact that Capitals controlled the physical play on Saturday, means the Flyers have the potential to put themselves on the penalty kill both early and often. Playing against a Capitals team that's clicking on the powerplay for the first time this postseason the Flyers could be down and out if they succumb to the pressure of trying to close out the series at home and become undisciplined.
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Friday, April 18, 2008

Cavs - Wiz: Act Three

All season long there seemed to be a certain sense of inevitability about this matchup. I don't know what the record is for consecutive first round playoff meetings, but the way things have gone in recent years, I wouldn't be surprised if this pairing doesn't break it. But while the Eastern Conference might have lacked the on-court drama down the stretch of it's left-ward counterpart, there's certainly been no short of drama off the hardwood. And that, more than the fact that there will be five current or former all-stars going toe-to-toe, makes this one of the most intriguing first round series of 2008.

The Story So Far

Two years ago, LeBron James almost single-handedly knocked the Wizards out of the first round with multiple baseline drives for game-winning layups. Washington fans cried "Travel!" while Cleveland fans praised their monarch. And there was also that little whisper and pat on the chest from LeBron just before Gilbert Arenas stepped to the line for the second of two critical free throws. Of course Gilbert missed it long, Damon Jones sank the shot of his career and the rest is history.

Last season, the Wiz limped into the postseason sans Gilbert and Caron Butler and, not surprisingly, got swept, despite a tremendous effort from their captain, Antawn Jamison.

As if two tough first-round losses wasn't enough to get the Wizards amped up for a rematch, DeShawn Stevenson decided to stir the pot following Washington's 101-99 home win against Cleveland on March 13, calling LeBron "overrated." LeBron came back with his "It's almost like Jay-Z saying something bad about Soulja Boy" line. DeShawn responded with "I hope we play Cleveland. I'm going to get Soulja Boy courtside seats and have him wear a DeShawn Stevenson jersey. Maybe he can have Jay-Z there since LeBron's all on his (shorts) anyway." And then just in case he didn't get the message, "And tell LeBron to cut that beard off and stop copying me."

Then this week Mr. "I'm not talking to the media" Arenas throws this up on his blog:

"I think everybody wants Cleveland in that first round. They’ve been a .500 team ever since they made that trade and everybody wants a chance at that matchup. We want Cleveland for our own reasons, we don’t think they can beat us in the playoffs three years straight. It’s hard to beat a team three years straight. We want to try our luck."

Upon reading this, Charles "Soon to be the governor of Alabama if he can ditch the gambling addiction" Barkley called the Wizards "the dumbest team in the history of civilization."

Suffice it to say, there are plenty of story lines to watch in this series that go well beyond the play on the court. But while this little war of words is fun for the media, and those involved, ultimately, this series will come down to execution on the court. Surprise!

This Season

The two teams split their four-game season series with each winning twice at home and losing twice on the road. Gilbert Arenas missed all of the games and a couple other key players weren't in action in two more of the meetings.

Dec. 5 @ Washington - Wizards 105, Cavaliers 86
No LeBron James = a Wizards' walloping.

Jan. 23 @ Cleveland - Cavaliers 121, Wizards 85
This one was ugly from the start with the Wizards completely breaking down on the defensive end and allowing Zydrunas Ilgauskas to score 24 points on 10-for-10 shooting from the field...without even playing in the fourth quarter. The Cavs shot 56.6 percent from the field while Washington's starters combined to score just 42 points.

Feb 22 @ Cleveland - Cavaliers 90, Wizards 89
Even without Caron, Washington nearly dug this one out behind double-figure scoring from Jamison, Haywood, Stevenson, Blatche and Songaila off the bench. James scored 33 to lead all scorers and hit the game-winning free throws with 7.8 seconds left to lift the Cavs - who were without new additions Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Joe Smith.

Mar. 13 @ Washington - Wizards 101, Cavaliers 99
This was the one that started all the trash talking. Caron Butler returned to score 19 and DeShawn Stevenson drew a charge from James with 19.4 seconds left to preserve the victory and start the jawing.

The Matchups

Point Guard: Antonio Daniels (8.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.8 apg) v. Delonte West (8.3, 3.2, 3.8) -
AD has the most playoff experience of anyone on the Wizards' roster from his years in San Antonio (see his ring) and Seattle. His wrist has bothered him over the last couple months but he lives for the postseason and has proven his playoff worth many times in the past. Look for him to elevate his play, despite a decrease in minutes with the return of Arenas. This will be West's first trip to the postseason, but the former St. Joseph's star has the quickness to give Daniels trouble on the defensive end. Neither player is relied upon to score a great deal - and with Stevenson, Arenas and Butler for the Wiz and LeBron for the Cavs, both frequently lose their bringing the ball up responsibilities - but whoever can best dictate the tempo and limit his turnovers will give his team an important edge in the back-court. Edge: Wizards (barely)

Shooting Guard: DeShawn Stevenson (11.2, 2.9, 3.1) v. Devon Brown (7.5, 3.4, 2.2) - Defensively, the Locksmith has requested the assignment of taking on LeBron James - which would give him a chance to put his money where his mouth is. But on the offensive end, the Wiz will rely on Stevenson to make big buckets from the perimeter and take care of some of the ball-handling duties. He has taken a leadership role on this team in Gilbert's absence, delivering clutch shots down the stretch in close contests and he'll need to continue his hard-nosed play for the Wizards' to win this series. Brown is a spot up shooter who can also get to the rim but shouldn't be the type of factor Damon Jones was in the 2006 series - unless the Wizards decide to leave him open every time down the floor. They he could hurt them. Edge: Wizards

Small Forward: Caron Butler (20.3, 6.7, 4.9) v. LeBron James (30.0, 7.9, 7.2) -
In a huge matchup between two all-stars, the edge has to go to LeBron, simply because of how much he does for his team. Heck, he IS the team. Each year, James elevates his play and his ridiculous numbers in the playoffs, and expect the same from him this time around. He must play well for the Cavs to even have a chance...and if he does, they could easily win it. Butler has been dinged up lately but sat out the last couple games and will be ready to go. He competes like a lion every night and is really the pulse of the Washington team. The Wiz need him to do everything LeBron does - score, rebound, find the open man and get steals - but he doesn't have to do quite as much of it for the Wizards to be successful. Edge: Cavaliers

Power Forward: Antawn Jamison (21.4, 10.2, 1.5) v. Ben Wallace (4.8, 8.4, 1.5) -
This will be a very intriguing matchup with one of the best offensive and rebounding forwards in the game going up against one of the best defensive and rebounding forward/centers in the last decade. Big Ben should give Jamison some trouble when the Wizards have the ball, but with his unorthodox shots and his knack for getting his brand of flip-shots and runners up on the backboard, Antawn will get his points. Wallace isn't much of a threat on the offensive end, but Jamison has to box out the bigger man to prevent Cleveland from getting second-chance points. Edge: Wizards

Center: Brendan Haywood (10.6, 7.2, 0.9) v. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (14.1, 9.3, 1.4) -
Big Z killed the Wiz on the inside earlier this season and he could be the X-factor again in this series. Haywood has really raised his level of play on both ends since last season and he's going to have to play physical on the block with Ilgauskas and Wallace crashing the boards and James slashing to the hoop. If the Wizards can get double-digit rebounds and between 7 and 15 points from their big man, they'll be happy. Edge: Cavaliers

The Cavaliers restocked before the trade deadline, picking up Wallace, West, Wally Szczerbiak and Joe Smith. They also have Anderson Varejao on the inside and Damon Jones and Daniel "Boobie" Gibson to throw up threes on the perimeter. It's a nice group of guys but no one can match what the Wizards have coming off the pine pony in Gilbert Arenas. He changes the complexion of the game entirely with his speed and ability to pull up from outside or drive to the basket. He's looked great in the last week and a half and I expect him to play like the Gilbert of old in this series. But he still needs to play within himself and his new role. Arenas won't hold anything back, but the team chemistry has been great since his return and it would be a shame to throw that out so Gilbert can be the prime-time star he has been in the past. Washington also has very capable guys in Darius Songaila and Roger Mason (another potential X-factor) to go along with young-guns Andray Blatche and Nick Young. Edge: Wizards

Coaching: Eddie Jordan has done a tremendous job considering all the injuries this team has sustained to key players. He won't get coach of the year but should be up there on the ballot. Mike Brown has often struggled to find the best lineup and he hasn't really had to do much other than get the ball in his star's hands. Edge: Wizards

Series Prediction: I'm taking the Wizards in 6.
The series could very easily go 7 and it would probably be a fitting conclusion. Either way, it's going to be physical, the games are going to be close and I'm looking forward to all the trash talking and drama that comes with LeBron v. DeShawn/Gilbert. I'll be at Game 3 Thursday in D.C. and here's hoping Soulja Boy is court-side in a Locksmith jersey.

-- The Tar Heel

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wiz Close Out Regular Season in Orlando

Washington Wizards (43-38) at Orlando Magic (51-30)
Tonight, Wednesday, April 16 - 7pm
Amway Arena

The Wizards travel down to Disney World tonight to wrap up the regular season against the team that ran away with the Southeast Division title. Orlando (No. 3) and Washington (No. 5) are both locked into their playoff seeds so expect to see a lot of reserves getting plenty of court time in this one.

Speaking of bench players, Roger Mason went bonkers on Monday with 31 in Washington's 117-110 victory over Indiana in the home finale. Mason - who apparently has a new nickname - has been very productive for the Wiz off the bench this season, draining threes and playing a steady back up point role when Antonio Daniels was dinged up. I was a little concerned that Mason would be the main guy who lost minutes when Gilbert Arenas returned, but with performances like this, there's no doubt he'll find his way onto the floor in the playoffs. They guy is a savvy, smart veteran basketball player and whether he's the 6th man or the 10th man on the roster, he's going to give you quality minutes.

As for tonight's game, it's a toss up. The Wiz dropped both meetings at the Phone Booth and then smothered Dwight Howard to win in Orlando. I'm hoping the same doesn't happen this time because I could use some blocks and boards from Superman on the last day of fantasy basketball championship week, however, should Washington prevail, they would finish the season a perfect 8-0 on the road against divisional opponents.

-- The Tar Heel
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Monday, April 14, 2008

Hibachi Heating Up Just in Time for Playoffs

It was another adventure of a week for the Wizards as they knocked off the top seed in the East, got drilled in D-Town and then stormed back at home to beat Philly. This kind of up-way down-and way up again play has been the calling card of this team all season, but if you're a Wizards fan right now, you've got to feel good about the way this team is coming together with the postseason only two games away.

4/9 - Washington 109, Boston 95

First let's talk about the win against Boston on Wednesday. Oh, by the way, it was the third straight victory for the Wiz over the best team in basketball. Say what you will about Doc Rivers resting his troops - that's not what I'd call having KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all on the floor in the fourth quarter - but how intriguing would a second round matchup with the Celts be? Talk about star power!

In only the second game since Gilbert Arenas' return that the Wizards had their entire Big Three on the floor, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Agent Zero reminded fans why they were the highest scoring trio in the league last season before injuries struck. Jamison was stellar in his first game back from a sprained shoulder sustained in the loss to Milwaukee the night Gil returned.
AJ had 11 rebounds and a team-high 27 points including two on a vicious baseline dunk over Kevin Garnett. For a guy that would usually prefer to flip it in off the glass from his waist, dunking over one of the best defensive players in the game was a big-time statement.

This game had the feel of a playoff game - sell-out crowd, national television, and multiple all-stars on the floor including Arenas. The Hibachi had his best game back to that point with 13 points, three assists and four steals, giving the Wiz a big spark off the bench when Boston went to its reserves. He's not trying to do to much, which is very important because of his injury and the chemistry this team developed in his absence, but having someone with his motor and ability to catch fire out there has been big for Washington and will continue to be as they head into the playoffs.

4/11 - Detroit 102, Washington 74

In typical Wizards fashion, they followed up a big win with a complete stinker against the Pistons on Friday night. Jason Maxiell went nuts on a non-existent Washington post defense, dropping a career-high 28 on 11-of-13 shooting off the bench, and the Wizards shot a dismal 27.1 (23-85) percent from the field.

Somehow, Washington trailed by only five points at the break, but they were outscored 34-13 in the third quarter - including seven from Maxiell during that stretch.

After an impressive victory at home against the Pistons on March 23, this was a pretty troubling no-show for a team that had a lot more to play for than their hosts. The Wizards were flat and didn't show much fight in the second half, despite the fact that Detroit was giving plenty of time to its bench. Meanwhile, the Pistons - who had been sleep-walking through the final month of the season and had lost back-to-back contests to the Knicks and Sixers coming into this one - looked a lot more like the tough, defensive-minded Pistons we're used to seeing in April and May.

4/12 - Washington 109, Philadelphia 93

Gilbert Arenas might have returned to game action a week prior, but this game - against a team jockeying for playoff positioning with the Wizards - was Agent Zero's official "I'm baaaaaack" announcement to the rest of the league.

One night after getting throttled in the Rock City, Arenas had the sold-out Phone Booth rocking as he led the way in a 31-9 fourth quarter that saw the Wizards come-from-behind to secure the fifth seed (Toronto's loss yesterday made it official) and dash Philly's hopes of anything higher than the sixth spot.

With Caron Butler on the sideline with a bruised right knee, Arenas scored 12 of his 20 points in the final period including his own 7-0 run to give Washington the lead for good. Gil shot 7-for-14 from the field and orchestrated the offense brilliantly with five assists in 25 minutes of action. He looked sharp in all facets, nailing his patented long jumper (4-for-9 from three) and setting up teammates with precision passes. I think this is the Gilbert we're going to see from here on out this season (knock on wood). He's focused (still not talking to the media), motivated and accepting of his role as the best sixth man in the game.

The Sixers - one of the hottest teams in the league since the All-Star break - had no answer for Gil and Washington's efficient offense in the second half, falling apart from the perimeter because they couldn't force turnovers and missed shots to generate their fast-break offense.

Let's hope the Wiz can continue to get this kind of effort from Arenas and Jamison (just another ho hum 25 and 13) and rest Caron these last two games so he's ready to go for Game 1 of their series against...yup...Cleveland.


“It’s just letting the young fellows know I still got it. I joke with them all the time. For me, it was an aggressive move going to the basket, and I was able to find it.” -- Jamison on his dunk over KG

“He’s getting his mojo back. He’s pushing the ball up fast, doing his moves like he usually does. I was just glad to see him out there looking like the old Gilbert.” -- DeShawn Stevenson on Gilbert's performance against Philly

The Playoff Picture

With Washington's win against Philadelphia on Saturday and Toronto's loss to Detroit yesterday, the Wizards have locked up the fifth seed. That means for the third year in a row, they'll take on their buddies LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This was pretty much inevitable. Not just because the Wizards and Cavs failed to get their acts together all season and make a dent into the upper echelon of the conference, but also because of the drama, the recent history and the smack talk between King James and the Locksmith. With Gilbert and Caron back, this series will have all the star power that last season's sweep lacked, and all the drama of a playoff matchup between two teams that frankly hate each other's guys.

What's not to love?

The two teams split their season series with both winning twice at home. But don't forget, the Wiz were without Arenas four all four of those games, James missed the first meeting (a Wasington win at home) and Butler missed the third (a one-point loss in Cleveland).

Next Up

Indiana Pacers (35-45) at Washington Wizards (42-38)
Tonight, Monday, April 14 - 7pm
Verizon Center

The Wizards face a desperate Pacers team in need of two wins and serious help to steal the final playoff spot in the East in their home finale tonight at the Phone Booth.

You can bet Indiana will come out firing, knowing that they have to get this one to even have a chance. It should be another great, playoff-type atmosphere in D.C. and another opportunity for Eddie Jordan to work on fine-tuning his rotation and on-court pairings before the playoffs.

Caron Butler will probably sit this one out as he continues to rest that knee, but even though the Wiz have their spot locked up, I don't expect them to mail this one in. They've won four of five and want to keep playing solid basketball and carry this momentum into the Cleveland series.

The Wizards close out their regular season schedule Wednesday at Orlando.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel
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Flyers shut out Caps; tie series

Capitals 0, Flyers 2

After the Capitals' 5-4 comeback win in Game 1 of this series the Flyers were admonished for only playing forty minutes of a sixty minute game. While that is indeed not an admirable characteristic, it's not really much better to adopt logic that the Capitals seem to have: that it's okay to only play a good twenty minutes as long they're the last twenty. The Capitals didn't get anything going Sunday afternoon until the opening minutes of the third period and even then it wasn't nearly enough to pull out a win. However, despite this I don't think the Capitals' effort was as poor as it seemed on the surface.

The story of yesterday's game was individual efforts: the Capitals were done in by mistakes by defensemen John Erskine and Mike Green and stymied offensively by the individual effort of Martin Brion, who made 24 saves. Without Erskine getting caught in front of R.J. Umberger and Green making a bad turnover, the Flyers don't get to dictate the rest of the game and without the efforts of Biron, the Caps probably net a pair. It's not that there aren't adjustments needed and it's not as if the Capitals deserved to win this game. I just think it wasn't as one-sided as it looked.

Regardless of that the Capitals did lose which means, for now at least, they've squandered their home ice advantage. The upcoming game in Philadelphia on Tuesday could end up being the make-or-break one for the Capitals. On the one hand they've still only lost back-to-back games once under Bruce Boudreau and that took some poor officiating and Nicklas Backstrom scoring into his own net to happen and the last time the Capitals lost they responded by reeling off an eight game winning streak. On the other hand, none of the games they played during that stretch were as difficult as the one on Tuesday is likely to be.

Quick Hits

  • I usually like the NBC broadcast team but they were definitely off today: it only 13 seconds for someone to mispronounce Shaone Morrisonn's name, Pierre Mcguire estimated that half the fans in attendance were rooting for the Flyers and Ed Olczyk had a number of errors: calling Scott Hartnell's goaltender interference penalty "incidental contact" despite that Hartnell, who was not pushed, bowled over Cristobal Huet well into the blue paint, adamantly calling a phantom elbow on Backstom and saying the the Flyers exploited the the blocker of Huet on the Flyers' second goal, a play on which Huet had no chance.

  • Show me a Capitals fan who was surprised it was John Erskine who got beat on the Flyers first goal and I'll show you a fan who doesn't know who John Erskine is.

  • Mike Green's played six period of playoff hockey. One was stellar, five have been terrible.

  • Sunday's game wasn't nearly as physical as Friday's: total hits decreased from 76 to 57.

  • The Capitals had 18 giveaways. The Flyers had 7.

  • Of the Capitals 18 giveaways, nine were by defensemen. The only Washington defenseman who did not have a giveaway was Shaone Morrisonn.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!
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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nationals Stop Their Slide at 9

I must first apologize for my neglect of the Washington Nationals. My dereliction of duty has produced a back-log of much needed media and explanation of why and how the Washington Nationals are falling so far after starting the season 3-0. First, I will discuss their most recent win that took place on Sunday 13th, and why they were able to win despite their mistakes.
The Nationals got another strong start out of pitcher Tim Redding who has pitched very confidently in each of his three starts this year. Redding doesn't overpower anyone and rarely hits over 90 mph on the radar gun, but he mixes up his speeds very well and uses the defense behind him to get the job done. In this particular game, Redding escaped what would have been critical innings through a couple of key double plays.
The Bullpen took over and also played very well against a surprisingly potent Atlanta team. King, Ayala, Cordero and Rauch pitched four innings only giving up one run en route to the Nationals win. A stat that I do find disconcerting is the number of walks given up by the Nationals pitching staff. Combined they allowed seven base runners to get on base through walks. The Nationals are not a flawless team, and cannot rely on raw talent to overpower hitters. When they are putting this many free base runners on base it raises the potential for big innings.

The Nationals also jumped on the Braves pitching mistakes early. Glavine was weak from the first pitch only hitting around 80 mph on the gun and the Nationals were able to pick up two runs in the first inning at his expense. The next Braves pitcher Jeff Bennett was also shaky walking two base runners home and hitting Lo Duca, who would later score. However, the Nationals were unable to put the game away. There were multiple times during the game where a key hit would have put the game out of reach instead of the 5-4 nail biter that it was. Much of the blame is put on Wily Mo Pena who with the bases loaded grounded into a double play, and struck out looking on consecutive at bats. However, it has been a consistent theme throughout the Nationals season that they become complacent and fade after the first couple of innings.

Startling Season Long Trends:

Bottom line the reason for the nine game skid was a lack of fundamental baseball.

Game 1 of the Skid = Ugly extra inning game in which the Nationals left 24 runners on base, struck out 7 times as a team and saw Colome walk in the winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning

Game 2 of the Skid = Against the rag tag relief core of the St. Louis Cardinals the Nationals again left 25 runners on base, failed to capitalize on 2 Cardinal errors and saw starting pitcher Odalis Perez throw only 56 of his 103 pitches for strikes.

Game 3 of the Skid = Ran into a very good outing from opposing ace Adam Wainwright who pitched 8 innings and scattered all 8 of the Nationals hits.

Game 4 of the Skid = Offensive futility leads the Nationals to only 5 hits and 0 runs against Kyle Lohse who sports a 4.77 era.

Game 5 of the Skid = Washington made two costly errors and wasted a good outing from Tim Redding, accounting for 6 unearned runs. They also left 20 runners on base and struck out 9 times.

Game 6 of the Skid = Marlins' first baseman Mike Jacobs hits two homeruns and pummels the Nationals 10-4

Game 7 of the Skid = The Nationals play solid baseball but come up short. Nationals' pitchers strike out 10, walk 1. Nationals' batters only leave 10 on base, get 7 hits and only strike out twice.
Game 8 of the Skid = Tim Hudson pitches an incredible game against the Nationals. Matt Chico tries to keep up but Hudson was too sharp.

Game 9 of the Skid = The Nationals leave 19 runners on base and starting pitcher John Lannan walked 4 after only throwing 48 of his 85 pitches for strikes.

When the Nationals win ball games they play solid defense and most importantly throw strikes. They are not offensive juggernauts but will need to produce at a better pace to compete against the offensive teams of the NL East. In their 9 game skid they certainly shouldn't have won all of them, but had the potential to win at least four of those nine games if they had taken care of who they are as a team. The Nationals pitchers currently sport a 4.96 ERA a 1.49 WHIP and a .275 BAA, while the Nationals hitters are only scoring 3.83 runs a game, hitting .230 and have struck out 28 more times then they have walked. (for you sabermetrics geeks, their OPS is .662, also not good)

Simply put, they are not very good right now across the board and will continue to lose while their players are playing mediocre. Good teams will take care of the games they should win and that is what the Nationals need to focus on. They shouldn't worry about the losses to stud aces like Tim Hudson or John Smoltz or the blow out games against the heavy hitting Marlins, but the games in which they are more than capable of winning they have to bear down and get the job done.

- The Hokie

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Caps battle back to take 1-0 series lead

Capitals 5, Flyers 4

The Capitals are capable of being an electric team, playing with grit and talent to spare, able to quickly strike in the offensive zone or bottle up the opposition in their own end and of being, quite possibly, the best team in the NHL on any given night. Why they have to be down and out, gasping for air and all but dead to rights for them to play that way is anyone's guess...but I guess there are worse characteristics for a team to have.

For forty minutes the Flyers executed their gameplan almost perfectly: they crashed the net of Cristobal Huet, played a physical game without getting burned by penalties and successfully controlled not only Alex Ovechkin and his linemates, but the secondary line of Alex Semin, Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke as well.

But then, NHL games go sixty minutes, not forty, and the Capitals completely controlled the final frame, outshooting the Flyers 12-3 and of course outscoring them 3-0.

It seemed only fitting that Ovechkin netted the game winning goal (and even more so on an individual effort play) but the story of 'The Great Eight''s first playoff game with another talented youngster, Mike Green. Green had, frankly, an awful first two periods. He failed to clear the net on the play that led to the Flyers first goal, giving Huet no chance because of the screen and failed to step up on Vinny Prospal, giving him a wide open path to the slot and the chance to score his second of the night. Then, to top things off, Green took a delay of game (puck over the glass) penalty in the second period's closing minutes forcing his teammates to finish off the frame a man down and try desperately not to allow the Flyers to pick up a three-goal lead.
Green was indeed picked up by his teammates and he returned the favor, notching two goals in 6:26 to tie the game in the third.

Of course, his teammates weren't the only people Green picked up with his stellar third period, as an already raucous crowd went into near bedlam when Green's slapshot hit twine to make the score 4-4. As someone who was at the Capitals last playoff game five years ago, one which was attended by a largely listless crowd of about 13,000 and described as having the "feel of a well-attended preseason game", it was great to see the whole building behind the home team. I don't think there's any doubt it helped the Caps win.

As excited as Washington fans and players are is about how concerned Philly fans and players should be. Sure, the Flyers went into the second intermission ahead 4-2 and it took a great comeback for the Capitals to come out with the win. But if my allegiances were to the orange and black I would still be a little worried because the Flyers executed their gameplan perfectly for most of the game and still wasn't enough to secure a win. That, plus that the Capitals now have momentum and confidence again and have experienced playoff hockey, means the Flyers are in for one hell of challenge Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Mike Green
- 2 goals, 1 hit, +1
(2) Alex Ovechkin - 1 goal (game winner), 8 hits, +1
(3) Matt Bradley - 2 assists, +1, 7 hits

Quick Hits

  • Everyone was predicting a physical series and, well, sometimes the majority is right: the two teams were credited for a combined 76 hits, 40 of which were doled out by Washington, led by Ovechkin (8), Matt Bradley (7), Matt Cooke (6) and Milan Jurcina (5).

  • Is it just me, or does it seem like interference is apparently not a penalty in the playoffs?

  • Bruce Boudreau's decision to put out the Fedorov-Semin-Cooke line after Ovechkin's goal was great. Man can those guys cycle the puck.

  • It would have been understandable for Caps' fans to have been concerned about the playoff readiness of their team, but that first game did a lot to calm my nerves. In addition to Green and Ovechkin I thought Tomas Fleischmann, Milan Jurcina, Alex Semin and Matt Bradley looked ready to go.

  • I have to admit I'd been wondering a bit how David Steckel was a 30 goal scorer in the AHL. His goal last night did a lot to help explain it to me.

  • Federov's pass that led to Green's first goal was beautiful both in concept and in execution. I guess that's why he leads all active players in playoff assists.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!
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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Capitals playoff music

A hat tip to my friend and fellow blogger, The Tar Heel for discovering a couple of music tributes to the Capitals. One is from a band that I honestly have never heard of called Pummeler (the song is called ''Ovechkin'') and the other is from D.C. hardcore pros (legends?) Darkest Hour and is called simply "Let's Go CAPS!!!".

Click to play in browser or right-click and chose 'Save Link As' or 'Save Target As' to download:

"Ovechkin" by Pummeler (NSFW)
"Let's Go CAPS!!!" by Darkest Hour

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Flyers/Capitals Series Preview

(3) Washington Capitals vs (6) Philadelphia Flyers

About the Opponent

Philadelphia Flyers: 42-29-11, 95 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference.

Team Leaders
Goals: Vaclav Prospal (33: 29 with Tampa, 4 with Philadelphia)
Assists: Mike Richards (47)
Points: Mike Richards (75)
Plus/Minus: Braydon Coburn (+17)
Penalty Minutes: Riley Cote (202)
Fights: Riley Cote (24)

Keys to the Series

(1) Home ice advantage. Not a traditional strong point for the Capitals, but the Verizon Center has come alive as a sea of red in the last few weeks (how well this remains when the team isn't the NHL's darling and Cinderella story remains to be seen, but that's another issue). The reality is that a loud, noisy, red building is something that the Capitals can feed off of, even if it doesn't necessarily intimidate opponents.
(2) Start strong. The Capitals need to get a fast start, even faster than winning the first game. Like, they need to dominate the first five minutes and score the first goal. The Capitals had a ton of momentum to finish the regular season but that's going to diminished now because of the long layoff and the fact that, well, it's a whole new season now. Starting strong would help the Caps get some momentum back.
(3) Healthy defense corps. Both Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz were hurt in the season's closing games. It looks like (knock on wood) they're going to both be ready to go for Game 1. With how much scoring depth the Flyers have, plus their physical brand of hockey, having these two 100% in important.
(4) Stay out of the box. The Flyers are going to get physical and may even get a little dirty, but the Capitals need to avoid retaliation penalties against the team with the NHL's second-best powerplay. The key players to watch here are Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, John Erskine and Donald Brashear.

(1) Stay on the attack. The Capitals have played very well defensively lately but the defense is exploitable - only Tom Poti does not have questions about his health, experience or overall skill level. If the Flyers can keep their offensive players attacking and aggressive throughout the series they may just get the Capitals to cough up a puck or two that lead to goals, and that may just be enough to turn the series.
(2) Find a matchup that works. The Flyers have a lot of pretty good defensemen, but who can match up against Ovechkin? Derian Hatcher and Jason Smith are too slow and Lasse Kukkonen, Jaroslav Modry and Kimmo Timonen aren't physical enough. The Flyers best bet is probably their plus-minus leader from this past season, Braydon Coburn. As good as Coburn is, I don't think he can handle Ovechkin, especially not night after night. If they Flyers do figure out a way to shut down Ovechkin offensively, it will go a long way towards them winning the series. It's worth noting the the plan right now is to have Timonen mark Ovechkin.
(3) Controlled physicality. It's been said a thousand times this season but it's worth mentioning again: The Broad Street Bullies are back. While that might help the Flyers, it can also hurt them and ever since the cheap shots by, and subsequent suspensions of, Steve Downie and Jesse Boulrice the league's been watching the Flyers. Bringing physical play to the table could help the Flyers but it's a strategy that could backfire: a number of Capitals, including Ovechkin, Bradley, Morrisonn and Brooks Laich, seem to get more into the game as it becomes more physical. Plus constantly having to have a Semin-Backstrom-Fedorov-Green-Ovechkin powerplay isn't the way to win a series.
(4) A fast start. I mentioned earlier that I think the Capitals' momentum will have waned since the finish to their regular season. A hot start by Philly, say two goals in the series' first ten minutes, would extinguish it completely.

Players to Watch

Matt Cooke - The Flyers are going to bring attitude, physical play and maybe just a hint of dirtyness. Cooke can throw all of that right back at them.
Sergei Fedorov - Fedorov is important to the Capitals success for a number of reasons: he's their best penalty killing forward, he's a key component of the powerplay, he's a great defensive forward and he's playoff tested.
Cristobal Huet - Huet's 11-2 with a 1.63 GAA and .936 save percentage since coming to the Capitals. Play like that from you goaltending means that a team has confidence...and someone to fall back on when things don't go their way.
Alex Ovechkin - Every NHL fan on the planet has to be excited to see Ovechkin in the playoffs...except those with their allegiances to the orange and black.

Martin Biron - Biron had his best NHL season in 2007-08, but he's also never played an NHL playoff game. That, plus asking a 6'3'', 163 pound goalie who has a reputation of having stamina issues to play a physical series comprised of three games a week, means that Flyers fans probably aren't as comfortable as they'd want to be with their man in the net.
Jeff Carter - Carter had a nice season this year with 53 points (29 goals), but he looks like he could be even better. What should concern Caps fans is that he looks like he's going to turn a corner any day now.
Daniel Briere - Briere has been incredibly underwhelming for the Flyers this season, especially for a man pulling in ten million dollars. His 31 goals and 72 points are solid, but also represent declines from last season (32 goals, 95 points) and he posted a team worst -22 plus-minus rating. Of course, Briere still has talent and may use the playoffs to try and redeem himself.

Around the (Inter)net
Mike Vogel explains why the physical matchup might not be what you think it is...Apparently ESPN is getting in on the Caps love...The newest member of the crazy media corps is apparently named Don Brennan (move over Mike Brophy!)...CBC talks with the creator of Caps have at least one celebrity fan.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wizards Hit the Home Stretch

Boston Celtics at Washington Wizards
Tonight, April 9 - 7pm
Verizon Center

After three much-needed days of rest, the Wizards are back in action tonight when they take on the Boston Celtics at the Phone Booth. Antawn Jamison is expected to return after missing two games with a sprained right shoulder and Gilbert Arenas will be back on the floor after sitting out Saturday's win over Chicago as a precautionary measure.

Washington (40-37) currently sits in 5th place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, has a one-game lead on Philadelphia and trails Cleveland by two games for home-court advantage in the first round. It's crunch time for the Wiz as they take on some of the East's best over their final five contests. Yet, with Boston, Detroit and Orlando locked into the first three spots, they will likely be giving some of their starters a rest over the last week and a half of the season, giving Washington an opportunity to possibly overtake the struggling Cavs.

Most importantly, Eddie Jordan will be toying with his lineups to figure out how Agent Zero best fits into the rotation. Having an All-Star with 20+ ppg potential coming off the bench is a luxury most coaches in the East don't have. So finally, after enduring countless injuries to key contributors all season, the Wizards might actually have an edge in the personal department when it matters most.

The Celts (62-15) come into D.C. having won seven straight, but lately they've been giving the bulk of the playing time to their bench. In their 107-104 overtime win last night against the Bucks, none of the Big Three played more than 22 minutes. Doc Rivers has the right idea, resting his stars and giving his role players a chance to build some confidence heading into the post-season, but don't forget, the Wiz knocked off Boston in back-to-back games with the Big Three on the floor earlier this season and with a healthy Big Three for Eddie Jordan, they should be able to handle the C's tonight.

-- The Tar Heel
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Monday, April 7, 2008

Ten defining moments in the Capitals 2007-08 regular season

10. October 5th, 2007 - Opening night. In the first game of the season the Capitals delivered on their offseason promise: the new uniforms were crisp and sharp, new acquisitions Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov each notched a goal and the Capitals ruined Atlanta's "2006-7 Southeast Champions" banner raising ceremony by peppering Kari Lehtonen with 40 shots en route to a 3-1 win. The Capitals would of course falter soon after, but the first game of the season gave a glimpse into how strong Washington could be.

9. October 12th, 2007 - Capitals lose to the Rangers, 3-1. The first loss of the season doesn't have to be a defining moment (after all no one is going to go 82-0). But the Capitals' first loss of this season foreshadowed the problems the team would not be able to solve under Hanlon: having the best offensive players stifled under the defensive system, looking disorganized and listless and being simply unprepared.

8. January 15th, 2008 - Capitals beat Ottawa to sweep season set. By this point everyone in the league knew the Capitals could match up against the Senators, having taken the season's previous three meetings. But the sweep of season series served as proof that the Capitals could play with anyone, and provided a boost that helped the Capitals win the next two games, resulting in a crucial 4-1 homestand.

7. November 21st, 2008 - Bruce Boudreau's first game as head coach. Boudreau had only had control of the Washington bench for a day when the Caps staggered into Philadelphia to take on a Flyers team that looked quite good after a myriad of offseason changes, but it showed. The Capitals were uncharacteristically (at that point) aggressive and jumped on the Flyers 3-0. Even though it took birthday boy (and temporary fourth liner) Nicklas Backstrom's overtime winner to hand the game to the Capitals, the change in coaching philosophy was apparent and those 61 minutes, 55 seconds at Wachovia Center gave Capitals fans a world of hope.

6. January 11th, 2008 - Alexander Ovechkin signs his 13 year contract extension. Given the Capitals amazing and improbable race to the postseason it may seem a little strange but when all is said and done this may end up being the defining moment of 2007-08 for the Capitals, as inking the NHL's most exciting player to such a long contract gives Washington a great focal point to build the team around, signals to fans that the team is serious about winning and has the potential to move the nation's capital up in the eyes of the hockey world, possibly even becoming a "hockey town".

5. March 21, 2008 - Capitals beat Atlanta After losing to the Blackhawks 5-0 in the their previous game and trailing 3-1 at the second intermission it looked like the long uphill battle had taken its toll on the Capitals. However the Capitals rallied back, scoring four third period goals to beat the Thrashers 5-3. The Capitals would carry the momentum of that period with them even after the final buzzer and haven't lost a game since.

4. February 26th, 2008 - Capitals active at trade deadline. The flurry of activity at the deadline (Washington was the most active team) caught Capitals fans and the NHL by surprise, as George McPhee had said several times that the Capitals would likely stand part for the most part. However, the Canadiens and Blue Jackets made Cristobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov available for reasonable prices. When the dust had cleared the Capitals had picked up picked up that duo plus Matt Cooke, all without sacrificing any key pieces of their current roster or blue-chip prospects. All three acquisitions played significant roles down the stretch for the Caps: Huet went 11-2 with a 1.63 GAA and .936 save percentage, Cooke notched 7 points (3+4) and brought an aggressive forechecking presence to the lineup while Fedorov tallied 13 points (2+11), including the playoff-clinching goal. In addition, the trio help to solidify a Washington penalty killing unit that was among the league's worst.

3. April 4th, 2008 - Florida beats Carolina. As a team you always want to be in a position to control your own destiny. Unfortunately when you start 6-14-1, that's not always an option. Along the same lines, you never want one of the defining moments of your season to be someone else picking up a big win but the truth is that if Florida hadn't pulled out this improbable win, the Capitals wouldn't be in the playoffs.

2. April 5th, 2008 - Capitals beat Florida 3-1 at home. The culmination of months of hard work, the once left-for-dead Capitals finished off Southeast Division rival Florida in front of a raucous "red out" crowd to secure the franchise's first postseason berth in five years (and the first of Alexander Ovechkin's career).

1. November 22nd, 2007 - Glen Hanlon fired; Bruce Boudreau promoted. It might not have had the same cathartic effect as the win against Florida to seal the playoff berth, but without the promotion of Boudreau the Capitals would have, in all likelihood, be on the outside looking in yet again when it came to playoff time. As an aside, it must be slightly vindicating for George McPhee and the rest of the Capitals brass to have Boudreau lead the Capitals to postseason on the last day of the season after being criticized in some corners for being classless for firing Glen Hanlon on Thanksgiving Day, usually with the added caveat "they should have waited until the end of the weekend, it's not like it would have made a difference."
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Capitals Round One playoff schedule

Per the NHL's website:

Fri., April 11, 2008 7:00 PM Philadelphia at Washington VERSUS, TSN
Sun., April 13, 2008 2:00 PM Philadelphia at Washington NBC, TSN
Tues., April 15, 2008 7:00 PM Washington at Philadelphia VERSUS, TSN
Thurs, April 17, 2008 7:00 PM Washington at Philadelphia VERSUS, TSN
Sat., April 19, 2008 1:00 PM Philadelphia at Washington NBC, TSN
Mon., April 21, 2008 TBD Washington at Philadelphia VERSUS, TSN
Tues., April 22, 2008 TBD Philadelphia at Washington TSN

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Playoff Bound

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Support the Red Out

Here's why everyone at the Capitals' next game should be supporting the Red Out:

If winning is everything, British anthropologists have some advice: Wear red.

Their survey of four sports at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens shows competitors were more likely to win their contests if they wore red uniforms or red body armor.

"Across a range of sports, we find that wearing red is consistently associated with a higher probability of winning," report Russell A. Hill and Robert A. Barton of the University of Durham in England. Their findings are in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Red coloration is associated with aggression in many animals. Often it is sexually selected so that scarlet markings signal male dominance.

Just think of the red stripes on the scowling face of the male Mandrill, Africa's largest monkey species. But red is not exclusively a male trait. It's the female black widow spider that is venomous and displays a menacing red dot on her abdomen.

Similarly, the color's effect also may subconsciously intimidate opponents in athletic contests, especially when the athletes are equal in skill and strength, the researchers suggest.

In their survey, the anthropologists analyzed the results of four one-on-one contact sports at the summer games: boxing, taekwondo, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling.

In those events, the athletes were randomly assigned red protective gear and other sportswear.

Athletes wearing red gear won more often in 16 of 21 rounds of competition in all four events.

The effect was the same regardless of weight classes, too: 19 of 29 classes had more red winners, and only four rounds had more blue winners.

The red effect also might come into play in team sports.

The anthropologists made a preliminary analysis of the Euro 2004 international soccer tournament, in which teams wore jerseys of different colors in different matches. They found that five teams scored more goals and won more often when they wore shirts that were predominantly red, as opposed to blue or white jerseys.

Scientists don't precisely known how wearing red might give athletes an advantage. But the color delivers implicit messages of vigor and danger. When people get angry, their faces turn red. It's also a reason why stop signs are red. So are most Ferraris.

A case can perhaps be made that most of the recent winners of U.S. sports championships have at least a touch of red on their uniforms: among pro teams, the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, the Detroit Pistons. And in college football, Southern California.

But it's the gracious sport of golf that offers the best example. Tiger Woods wears an iconic red shirt on Sundays, the final day of most tournaments.

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