Saturday, February 9, 2008

Capitals lose game; division lead

Capitals 1, Hurricanes 2

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Less than 48 hours after taking over first place in the Southeast Division, the Capitals are once again in second place in their division and currently out of the playoff picture, after a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night at Verizon Center.

Sometimes a team can lose and there's not really anything for them to say except 'we were outplayed', rather than being able to point to specific areas that needed to be better. That wasn't the case last night for the Capitals, who outshot and outhit Carolina, and can look to two reasons for their loss. The first is relatively simple and one the Capitals couldn't have done much about: running into a hot goaltender in Cam Ward. Despite his less than stellar season totals the young 'Canes netminder had stopped 94% of the shots thrown his way over Carolina's last four games and was again in fine form against Washington, stopping 33 of 34 (97.1%) shots the Capitals got on net.

The second cause the loss can't be blamed on anyone but the Capitals - going 0-7 on powerplays against the league's worst penalty killing unit. Sure, Ward had some big saves, and the Hurricanes' penalty killers certainly didn't look like the league's worst but the Capitals powerplay didn't just fail to produce. It was, frankly, pathetic most of the night as the team couldn't control the puck in the offensive zone and get set up with any regularity and instead would turn the puck over to the 'Canes just over the blue line. All that aside, there's no excuse for going 0-7 on the powerplay against anyone. Period.

The final interesting subplot from last night's game I want to touch on is the Capitals' lone goal scorer, Alexander Semin, who once again took his team off the powerplay with a stupid, selfish and completely unnecessary penalty, leveling a vicious two-handed on Niclas Wallin with less than thirty seconds to go in the third period. I think Semin's in for some discipline from the coaching staff, having only made it through one game without taking his team off a powerplay after being called out by Bruce Boudreau. Given that Semin now has two powerplay goal on the season and has taken his team off the powerplay with unnecessary penalties at least five times, I have a pretty good idea what it could be: either a fine every time Semin costs his team the man advantage, a seat on the pine when the Capitals are on the PP or possibly even a game from the bird's eye view of the press box. And one final thought on the plat to close things out. Could Wallin have been called for interference for holding down Semin in the crease? Sure. Should he have been? Maybe. But Semin's lucky he didn't get a major or even the gate for the way he two-handed Wallin, and even more lucky that Wallin wasn't injured because in my opinion a two or three game suspension could have easily been warranted there.

It could have been worse though. True, the team lost the game, its division lead, Erskine was hurt in his first period fight, Semin's disciplinary issues continued, the team was 0-7 on the powerplay and couldn't get much going offensively, but the guys who looked the most inept last night weren't wearing red, white and blue. They were wearing white and black stripes.

Quick Hits

  • David Steckel is supposed to be a great defensive center and usually he is. But the Andrew Ladd goal isn't the first time the team has conceded a goal because Steckel's been nowhere to be found on the backcheck as an opposing player comes through the slot to pick up a rebound.

  • I'm a Capitals fan though-and-through, but Erik Cole's goal was a thing of beauty.

  • Two penalties on the same play, both stupid, both unnecessary and both in the offensive zone? Well played Mr. Brashear. Well played, indeed.

  • How often do you see an NHL game with 12 powerplays between the two teams yield zero powerplay goals?

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Capitals win; move into first in Southeast

Capitals 4, Flyers 3

After a brief heart attack when I thought the NHL Network was airing "Mario Lemieux's top 10 Goals" rather than the Capitals game, I settled in the see if the Capitals could carry over some momentum from last night's win and stake a claim to the top of the Southeast Division and the boys in the red, white and blue did not disappoint.

If the season were to end today, the Washington Capitals would be in the playoffs as a number three seed as the winner of the Southeast Division. Man, does it feel good to be able to say that.

What is just as important is how the Capitals did it, weathering a storm of physical play from a very physical team in the second of back-to-back road and games and getting some secondary scoring. The Capitals got four behind Martin Biron, but Alex Ovechkin only scored one and the goal was his only point as the Capitals got scoring from each of their four lines and Viktor Kozlov, Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich also managed to dent the twine. In all, nine different Capitals had points.

From worst in the league to first in the division in less than half a season. Now that is what I call a feel good story.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Mike Green - 2 assists, 3 shots, +2
(2) Alex Ovechkin - 1 goal (game-winner), 4 hits
(3) Olaf Kolzig

Quick Hits

  • Only the Flyers would air a clip of the goalie laying a two-hander on the back of a player's leg as part of their highlight reel. Kind of shows you what their organization is all about, doesn't it? I mean would the Caps air Dale Hunter's cheap shot on Pierre Turgeon in a video tribute to him?

  • Was anyone else confused by the fact Ovechkin was booed every time he touched the puck? I though the color of envy was green, not orange/black.

  • Was it just me or did anyone else get a laugh out of Steve Downie mixing it up with John Erskine after the first whistle of the game. That's not a fight you want Steve, trust me.

  • The Flyers announcers (one of whom was Keith Jones) just about lost it when the Flyers had a goal waived off and repeatedly questioned why this could have happened. Because apparently when Jones played it was legal to push a goaltender who was covering the puck over the goal line to score (I don't know, you tell me).

  • It's too bad Matt Bradley's goal didn't stand as the game winner. Slap shot from the point, off the man in the front who's then greeted by his grinning, toothless teammate? Now that's hockey.

  • I know Randy Jones is defenseman who, coming into the game, had 7 goals in 146 NHL games, but that still doesn't mean you can let him walk through the slot. Especially not when he's already had five shots in the game.

  • The Comcast Philadelphia branch has an interesting definition of chances - after two periods the Flyers had 15 shots on goal and 16 "chances".

Around the (Inter)net
Dion Phaneuf has re-signed with Calgary, breaking my heart because he's never coming to Washington. Although given that he wasn't going to anyway I should mourn something that is truly lost - many more potential uses of my 'Wild Capitals-related fantasies that will never come true' label...What does it take to be a Stanley Cup winning goalie? Mike Vogel's got some idea...Just how good has Ovechkin been this year? James Mirtle takes a look (man do I link to his blog a lot)...Sometimes a parent just knows...More talk about NHL teams chasing Fabian Brunnstrom...Not hockey related, but it's always good to have another reason to dislike politicians.

All photos Getty

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Fourth Quarter Meltdown Gives Wiz Fourth Straight Loss

It might not be time to hit the panic button just yet, but the Wizards are in near-free-fall mode here, folks. Four straight losses is bad enough, but with the way Washington went down last night in Philly, Eddie Jordan has got to be concerned.

The Wiz had the Sixers on the ropes last night, up by 12 early in the fourth quarter and seemingly well on their way to victory. And then the wheels came off. Behind Andre Iguodala's 20-point effort, Philadelphia (19-30) went on a 17-0 run - aided by horrendous play from the Wiz that included 10 missed three-point attempts.

Without Caron Butler - who aggravated his strained hip flexor and left the game in the third - Washington shot just 5-for-20 in the final frame and committed seven of their 19 turnovers to
let the Sixers back in it. Philly roared back and Washington had no answer, falling 101-96.

Five players reached double-figures for the Wiz (24-23), who were led by DeShawn Stevenson's 19 (which included five threes). Antawn Jamison had 16 and 14 boards, Brendan Haywood had 18, Antonio Daniels scored 10 and Roger Mason chipped in 15 off the bench.
In truth, it wasn't a bad three-quarter effort from the guys in blue (maybe they should stick to the gold on the road from here on out?), but you aren't going to win too many when you get outscored 28-13 in the fourth.

Iguodala's 20 led the Sixers as they shot 56 percent from the floor and dominated the Wizards in the paint. Rookie forward Thaddeus Young (a freshman at Georgia Tech last year) put up 17 and Rodney Carney added 16.
Banged up or not, this Washington team is far better than they've shown of late. The defensive effort isn't there, the intensity isn't there and they're just not getting it done for a full 48 minutes.


"This is one we had to have. With the game we have [against the Spurs] and that trip coming up, it's only going to get more difficult from here. We have to find a way to get a win and stop this losing streak before it gets worse." - DeShawn Stevenson after the loss


  • Eddie Jordan needs to figure out what he wants to do with his bench. With Butler missing back to back games against the Raptors last week, we saw how Andray Blatche could produce in a starting role (19 points) and what an asset Dominic McGuire could be off the bench (10 boards). The key to those numbers was the fact that both got plenty of playing time. With Caron back in the lineup, Blatche's minutes inevitably go down and McGuire's almost disappear, but once you've seen the spark both can provide - and when you know your star is ailing - you've got to let the kids play.
    • At the same time, Blatche needs to do a better job when he comes off the bench. There's a tremendous drop-off in his productivity compared to the rare times he starts and it goes beyond a points-to-minutes correlation. As a starter, Blatche is averaging 15.5 points (50 percent shooting), 10.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in 35.3 minutes of action in four games. As a reserve he's managing just 5.9 points (45.7 percent shooting), 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 17.7 minutes. There's a certain comfort level that a starter has compared to a bench player who has to come into the game cold, but Blatche, who is now in his third season, has got to figure out a way to bring the same intensity and aggression every night no matter what because the Wizards desperately need him.
  • With the exception of his two-point dud against the Jazz last Friday, Mason has really been giving Jordan a lift off the bench lately. The sixth-year vet out of Virginia has scored at least 13 points in four of his last five. Mason's minutes are up to 26+ per game over than span and he's proven himself to be a reliable contributor.
  • The Wizards haven't won a game since Caron and Antawn were selected as reserves on the All-Star team. This is pretty irrelevant as Butler is injured and Jamison can't do it all himself. But neither has played particularly well in the last week and a half and they are the guys the team looks to for energy and inspiration.
Next Up
The Champs come to town tonight - possibly the team least likely to have an off night that lets Washington get back on track with a W before their west coast road swing. During their recent slump, the Wiz are scoring only 89.3 points per game and their average margin of defeat is a ridiculous 16+ points. It's not going to get any easier either. Tough Juice will likely be out again tonight after tweaking that hip flexor last night, which means Andray Blatche should get the starting nod.

The Spurs (30-16) are in the midst of a nine-game road trip. After their 116-89 rout of Indiana on Tuesday, they're an even 2-2 so far. Seven Spurs scored in double-figures in that contest, including newly signed free agent Damon Stoudamire who finished with 11 while helping fill in for injured starter Tony Parker. If there's a bright spot for the home team, it might be that San Antonio is a very un-Spur-like 10-11 away from the AT&T Center.

I don't expect Butler to play tonight and I didn't really like the Wizards' chances even with him in the lineup. This is not a get-well game and unless Washington really comes to play and gets an off-night from their opponents, they'll be riding a five-game slide on their plane to Denver. Washington needs a hurculean effort from Haywood and Blatche on the inside against Timmy and center Fabricio Oberto, coupled with big perimeter production from DeShawn, AD and Mason and mistake-free basketball. It's a tall order. That's why I'm taking the Spurs, 106-89.

All Photos AP/Getty Images

-- The Tar Heel

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Caps top Blue Jackets, 4-3

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT)

In the first period the Capitals were alarmingly reminiscent of the pre-Boudreau era version of the team, coming out strong, making and honest effort, forcing chances but failing to convert them and giving up goals off miscues by individual players, in this case a telegraphed pass by Nicklas Backstrom and a half-hearted effort to block a shot by Tomas Fleischmann. In the second period the Capitals looked like the team they've generally been since Boudreau took over, battling from behind and making the most of their chances. In the third period the Capitals looked like a team that had slept with Bill McCreary's wife, as the referee all but gift-wrapped a goal for Rick Nash by colliding with Shaone Morrisonn and then waived off Tom Poti's shot that tied the game at 3-3. But at the end of the night, the Capitals just looked like a team that had pulled off an impressive road win.

The story for the Caps going into this game was the lack of scoring beyond the top line and especially Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. While Ovechkin again led the team's offensive effort with two goals, the team did spread out the scoring a bit more getting a goal from the second line (Alex Semin) and defense (Tom Poti) and eleven Capitals players had at least one point.

The goals sources were interesting individually as well. Poti's situation is a little more straightforward - brought in to bolster the Capitals offense from the blue line and help run the powerplay, Poti had not registered a goal until last night against Columbus, the 45th game he's played in this season.

Semin's situation is a bit more complex. For much of this season Semin has been more often frustrating than impressive, stickhandling too often, taking bad penalties and not producing as much as the Capitals had hoped and he was finally called out by Boudreau after yet again taking the Capitals off the powerplay with a needless stick foul. No one was quite such how the enigmatic Russian would respond; whether he would become frustrated and allow himself to become invisible or whether he would respond by playing a harder, smarter game. As it turned out it was the latter and Semin played what was probably his best all-around game this season, playing smart when he needed to, not trying to do too much and getting back in the defensive end better than he has been in my memory. Then again, having Viktor Kozlov playing on the line certainly seemed to help.

It was also good to see that the first line look good with Eric Fehr replacing Kozlov on the right wing. Fehr both looked good with Backstrom and Ovechkin on his own, using his big body down low and looking hungry for goals...and man his reach is something else, isn't it?

Oh, and Carolina and Atlanta both lost. One point out of first, two games in hand. This team is going to be hungry tomorrow, Philly.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Alexander Ovechkin
- 2 goals (including the overtime game-winner), +1, 10 shots on goal, 3 hits
(2) Tom Poti - 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 5 blocked shots
(3) Brent Johnson


"This win just shows heart"

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Banged Up Wiz in Need of a Win

The road is about to get very tough for the Washington Wizards and as they head into tonight's game at Philadelphia looking to halt a three-game skid, they know nothing short of a win is acceptable.

Caron Butler returned to the lineup Sunday against the Lakers after sitting out three games with a strained hip flexor but his presence wasn't enough to overcome a 30-point showing from Kobe Bryant and the Lakers handed their hosts a 103-91 loss. The Wizards will need a better showing, particularly defensively where they have let up over the last week, when they face Andre Iguodala and the Sixers (18-30) tonight.

Last season the Wizards were 27-18 heading into February but finished the month with a disappointing 4-7 mark. At 24-22 the Wiz are still in control of the sixth seed in the East, but with San Antonio coming to town and a four-game road trip out West on the docket, Eddie Jordan's squad needs to pick it up.


"We're not playing real good basketball right now but the key is that we can't allow this to turn into a long losing streak or a real bad stretch where we dig ourselves into a hole. It's important that we get back to playing the way we were defensively because that has been the thing keeping us in games all season." - DeShawn Stevenson on the recent skid

The Last Meeting

The teams split their first two meetings with the Wizards taking the first in a 116-101 victory at the Phone Booth on November 20. Andray Blatche exploded for a career-high 26 (including a Gilbert-esque first half buzzer beating 3) to lead all scorers and Antawn Jamison and DeShawn Stevenson each had 19.

Ten days later, the Sixers overcome a wretched shooting night in which they missed all 14 of their three-point attempts to set a new team record for futility beyond the arc, to nip the Wizards in Philly, 85-84. Samuel Dalembert had 19 points and 11 boards for the Sixers who outrebounded Washington by 2 (42-40) and forced the Wiz into 18 turnovers.


There is no question the Wizards know how much they need this game. With no guaranteed wins on the horizon (v. Spurs, at Denver, at Phoenix, at Golden State, at LA Clips), Butler and the boys need to get back to their winning ways and pronto. The 76ers present a great opportunity for the Wiz to get it done, but they've been playing pretty well of late. They've lost three of five but dropped a 106-108 decision at home to Orlando following a 112-69 thrashing of the Bucks. They're also averaging 104+ points over their last four.

But I still like the Wizards to come out swinging, knowing what's on the line for them. I don't see AJ and Caron letting this one get away from them to go into their upcoming schedule with a four-game losing streak.
The Wizards get it done in Philly, 103-92.

All Photos AP/Getty Images

-- The Tar Heel

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Skins Coaching Roundtable

After watching Tom Brady and the Patriots get utterly dominated by the defensive line of the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, is it a bad thing to seriously consider coordinator Steve Spagnuolo for the job in Washington?

Things to remember: good & bad...

We are already a defensive oriented team and taking a talented coach away from a division rival is never a bad thing.

He is a rookie Head Coach with no previous track record putting the entire team on his shoulders.

He is better than Jim Fassel, Steve Mariucci and Ron Meeks.

Who knows if he even understands what the offensive unit is supposed to be doing on a weekly basis.

At this point, I'd give him a two year contract and see how he does. He has the highest upside of any of the candidates and his downside, a horrendous season, lurks behind anyone that takes the job.

- The Hokie
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Art Monk: The Man and the Legend

I would first like to congratulate on behalf of the sports clowns Art Monk and Darrell Green for their recent induction into the professional football Hall of Fame. Both men proved themselves on and off the field countless times, making them invaluable members to their teams and communities.

While the clowns witnessed Green, the fastest man in the NFL for many years, as he played through the 80s, 90s and into the 2000s. Art Monk's accomplishments have always been whispered through a thick layer of nostalgia. Leaving the skins after the 1993 season, well before my football consciousness was fully developed, his glory years, stats and accomplishments fall more into lore of golden years past. "The Fun Bunch" of the early 80s and "The Posse" of the late 80s both included this dynamic possession receiver and there is no doubt that his accomplishments make him a worthy addition to the receiving core of the football HoF.

Mike Wise, a man more acquainted with Monk than I, wrote a great editorial in the Washington Post that is definitely worth a gander.

- The Hokie
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Blue Jackets/Capitals Preview

Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets
Tuesday, February 5th, 2008, 7:00 PM
Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio

About the Opponent
Columbus Blue Jackets: 25-23-6, 3rd in the Central Division, 11th in the Western Conference

Team Leaders
Goals: Rick Nash (26)
Assists: Nikolai Zherdev (24)
Points: Nikolai Zherdev (45)
Plus/Minus: Jan Hejda (+7)
Penalty Minutes: Jared Boll (164)
Fights: Jared Boll (19)

Random Blue Jackets Fact
The Blue Jackets name was chosen with the goal of "celebrating patriotism, pride and the rich Civil War history in the state of Ohio and, city of Columbus" which (1) makes you wonder what was going on with this logo and (2) may or may not be a response to Don Cherry's statement "That's stupid! How can you name a thing after a fly?!" when the insect logo was pointed out to him.

Random Blue Jackets Statistic
In his second season in the league (2003-04) Rick Nash had 57 points, 41 of which were goals.

Keys to the Game

Secondary scoring. The Caps have five goals in their last three games; four were scored by Alex Ovechkin, on the other he had the primary assist. Ovechkin is a good enough player that he'll get his chances against any defense but he isn't going to outscore the opposition every night.

Secondary scoring. Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev 47 goals between them; the next seven highest goal scorers for the Blue Jackets have combined for 48.

Players to Watch

Alexander Semin - how Semin responds in this game will be important for two reasons. One is the aforementioned lack of secondary scoring the Capitals are getting right now. The other is Bruce Boudreau has finally called out Semin on his lack of discipline, saying of Semin's hooking penalties with his team one the man advantage: "I think they are lazy penalties. The hook - that's the fourth or fifth time that we've had a power play that it's happened. That can't happen. We'll have to address it." The Capitals have been generally willing accept Semin as a stereotypical Russian enigma thus far in his NHL career and have handled him with kid gloves to this point. It will be interesting to see how Semin responds to being challenged in this manner.

Eric Fehr - not only is Fehr back in the NHL after missing almost 10 months with a herniated disc, he's been practicing on the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom as well. Although Fehr's numbers at Hershey haven't been great this year (two goals and four assists in 10 games), he had 21 goals, 19 assists, an 18.33 shooting percentage and was +20 in 40 games with the Bears last season. As a natural goal-scorer, Fehr will hopefully be at target for Nicklas Backstrom and be able to provide a diversion for defenses looking to cover Ovechkin.

Pascal Leclaire - Nash and Zherdev may be the flashiest members of the Columbus team but Leclaire, the eight overall pick in 2001, is having the best season with a 2.11 GAA, .925 save percentage and an NHL-leading eight shutouts in 37 games. Neither Nash nor Zherdev is going to beat the Capitals on his own. Leclaire could.

Around the (Inter)net
Mike Vogel has the best writeup on Fehr's return to Washington...James Mirtle has part three of his "How the Game Has Changed" up and it's about what scouts are looking for...Very straightforward: What it feels like to take a puck off the face...Alex Ovechkin: worth the price of admission...An interview with Nicklas Backstrom...Mark makes a convincing case as to why the Capitals goaltending is better than you might think...Peerless has a 2008 draft overview.

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The Final Ballot

Last week the NBA coaches made their selections to fill out the All-Star reserve rosters. They did a respectable job, selecting players worthy of the honor and leaving out the standard few that get snubbed every year. But what about the one ballot that didn't get counted? The one that most fairly and accurately selected only the most deserving NBA stars to shine in New Orleans on February 17. That's right, mine.

Here's the Tar Heel's All-Star Squads for both Conferences and a brief mention of why they made the team. The guys in italics didn't make the real rosters. An asterisk(*) indicates a shift in their roster position (going from reserve to starter or vice versa) and a number sign (#) means this is their first selection.

Dwight Howard - Orlando - 21.7 points, 14.8 boards, 2.6 blocks per game. Leads the NBA with an absurd 43 double-doubles. I'm looking forward to seeing him in the dunk contest again either. He was robbed last year.
PF Kevin Garnett - Boston - 19.2 points, 9.9 boards, 3.8 assists. The biggest reason for the Celts turnaround and the main reason Danny Ainge still has a job.
F Caron Butler - Wizards* - 21.7, 6.9, 4.4 - The most valuable player in the East right now behind LeBron. And yes, I'm getting a little creative by moving King James to the 2 and D-Wade to the point to make room for Caronimo in the starting lineup, but CB3 is more deserving that J-Kidd (the real fifth starter) and maybe the East would be better served to go with a big lineup.
LeBron James - Cleveland - 30.1 (1st in the NBA), 7.9, 7.2. The best player in the game right now. Period.
Dwyane Wade - Miami - 24.5, 4.4, 6.7. He's playing hard, which is a lot more than can be said for the rest of the worst team in basketball.

F/C Chris Bosh - Toronto
- 22.7, 9.2, 1.3 blocks - A little Canadian flavor from the East to counter Steve Nash in the West.
F Antawn Jamison - Wizards - 21.3, 10.4 - Trying to do it all for the Wizards minus Gilbert and with Caron banged up.
F Paul Pierce - Boston - 20.3, 5.7, 4.9 - The luckiest guy in the NBA this seaso after adding two studs from the West to fuel a title run.
G Ray Allen - Boston - 18.2, 4.0, 2.9 - He's had to sacrifice more than the other two big three to make their offense work. Allen is used to being the go-to guy in all situations but he's gladly taken a secondary role while continuing to make the big shots when they count. (Except for that one against the Wiz). Boston is the beast in the East and I'm willing to award them for it with three All-Star roster spots.
G Chauncey Billups - Detroit - 17.6, 3.0, 7.0 - The leader on a perennial championship contender.
G Jose Calderon - Toronto# - Calderon has the Raptors running in T.J. Ford's absence. That's good enough for me, but apparently the coaches' thought Joe Johnson was more deserving. If you're gonna stick to the "bad teams don't get rewarded" trend, the Raptors (25-21) are good. The Hawks (19-24) not so much.
G Jason Kidd - New Jersey* - 11.1, 8.1, 10.4. Supposedly quit on his team. He wants out and although his scoring is way down, he's still putting up near-triple-double numbers on a nightly basis.

Just Missed: Hedo Turkoglu (F, Orlando), Richard Hamilton (G, Detroit), Josh Smith (G, Atlanta)

C Yao Ming - Houston
- T-Mac has been in an out of the lineup all season with injuries but Yao has carried the load. He's shooting 50 percent from the field and 85 percent from the stripe (compare that to Shaq, Timmy or Howard) and keeping the Rockets (27-20) in the thick of the playoff race.
PF Tim Duncan - San Antonio - The Big Fundamental continues to get the job done with 19.2 and 11.6 a night. Yawn. He's boring, but he belongs here every season.
SF Carmelo Anthony - Denver - Melo is the closest thing the West has to LeBron. 25.5 points, 7.1 boards, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per night.
SG Kobe Bryant - LA Lakers - We knew Kobe was going to have to carry this team, but after the loss of Andrew Bynum and no big name offseason acquisitions, did anyone expect the Lakers to be 30-16 at this point?
PG Chris Paul - New Orleans*# - If the season ended today, CP3 would have a mighty strong case for the MVP. The Hornets lost only twice in the month of January and currently lead the NBA's toughest division, which includes the defending champion Spurs, the Mavs and the the Rockets. Paul is the biggest reason why with his 20.7 points and ridiculous 10.9 assists per game. Coming into the season would anyone have predicted the Southwest crown might go to a team not from the state of Texas? Paul bumps AI down to the reserves where he belongs.

Al Jefferson - Minnesota# - Sure he plays on the second-worst team in the league but how can you not give this guy a little love. He got dumped by the Celts in what many considered to be an insanely one-sided trade and all he's done is put up numbers. With 21.3 points, 12.2 boards and five 30+ scoring efforts, Jefferson gets the slight edge over Utah's Carlos Boozer (22, 10.6). His team is awful but this guy is having a phenomenal year. The Clips' Chris Kaman could also fit in here as a worthy player on a horrible team.
F Dirk Nowitzki - Dallas - 22.3, 8.7, 3.8 and he's even playing a little defense. Teammate Josh Howard (20.7, 7.5, 2.1) is just as deserving but Dirk has the star power and this is the All-Star game.
F David West - New Orleans# - His 19.4 points, 9.2 boards, 2.4 assists and 1.3 blocks per game are all career highs. Another huge reason the Hornets are shocking teams this season and a major contributor on the Tar Heel's second-place fantasy team.
F/C Amare Stoudamire - Phoenix - 22.6, 9.0, 59.4 percent shooting (yeah, they're mostly dunks). Fully recovered from the surgeries and simply impossible to defend on the inside.
G Brandon Roy - Portland# - 19.3 points, 4.6 boards, 5.7 assists for this super soph. Talk about surprises. The Trailblazers (27-19) are shaking things up without Greg Oden and Roy is a major reason why.
G Baron Davis - Golden State - There are just too many good players in this conference. Allen Iverson is having the most efficient season of his career (27 points, 45 percent shooting, +23.41 efficiency rating) and Deron Williams is also worthy (18.8 points, 2.75 assists/turnover ratio) but I'll give this spot to the best player on the most fun team to watch play. Among point guards, Davis ranks first in scoring (21.9), second in rebounding (4.8) and seventh in assists (8.1) with a 3.0 asst/to ratio. Any of these guys could start in the East, but unfortunately, only a few can make this roster.
G Steve Nash - Phoenix - 17.4 points, 3.5 boards, 11.8 assists, 2.2 3-pointers per game. Just another stellar season for the former MVP from Canada.

Just missed: Josh Howard (F, Dallas), Deron Williams (PG, Utah), Allen Iverson (PG, Denver), Marcus Camby (F/C, Denver)

-- The Tar Heel

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Capitals 0, Thrashers 2

One of the big blogs tenants these days is "don't rant" because there are far too many people who use their blogs as an outlet for their daily frustrations. So you'll have to excuse me.

I hate the Atlanta Thrashers. There's really no other way to put it. I hate their baby blue corporate-sponsorship uniforms, their hellish-maze of an arena, that when I played at Philips Arena they told us they'd provide water bottles and didn't, the television commentators who are like slightly knowledgeable fans, their dirty play over the last several seasons and the fact that they haven't yet fired Don Waddell.

That's really what it comes down to - the management and Don Waddell first and foremost. What I mean is, there's not a lot of inherent hatred for the Thrashers. It's not like with the Flyers, where the Broad Street Bullies history and association with Philadelphia means there will always be a bad taste in your mouth when you see the orange black, or the Penguins where the years of playoff battles mean that any Capitals fan feels an unreasonable amount of animosity whenever they see that damn cutesy Penguins logo. With the Thrashers it starts at the top and extends to the players, whom Waddell acquires like a nine-year-old who was magically given the chance to employ the strategies he uses in his PlayStation game on a real live NHL team:

  • Bobby Holik is old, so he must be the best choice for captain! No, in reality he's cranky, unproductive, slow and cries like he's Sidney Crosby his rookie year. The Thrashers announcers were lauding him for his style of play and saying it was beginning to rub off on the team. Now that's leadership: you're starting to rub off on the team after only 55 games.

  • Ilya Kovalchuk is the stereotypical Russian offensive dynamo: superstar level talent who is easily taken off his game, going after other team's agitators or laying cheap shots when he gets frustrated.

  • Eric Boulton is the worst kind of "enforcer" - one who doesn't fight, doesn't protect his teammates, has no skill and throws cheap shots.

There are exceptions to this of course. I like and respect many of the Thrashers' players including Slava Kozlov, Tobias Enstrom and Marian Hossa. Maybe it's just frustration - Atlanta isn't a great sports city, but it does have some great hockey fans and they deserve better. In that sense it's a bit reminiscent of John Ferguson Jr.'s tenure in Toronto - I've never considered myself a Leafs fan, but I was happy when Ferguson was canned because the fans and the city deserve better.

As for the actual game: the Capitals outplayed the Thrashers in just about every sense: they were faster, sharper, smarter, generated more chances, had a better turnover ratio and won more faceoffs. But the Capitals just couldn't finish, even one time on their 36 shots, and that was what cost them two points. It's hard to win when all the other team has to do is finish one time, even if you only allow them 13 shots on net.

The upside, I guess, is that the Capitals really were the dominant team and if they outplay their opposition by that big a margin (or can outshoot teams three-to-one), they won't lose too many games.

"We have to get a work-ethic goal. Somebody's got to go to the net and maybe take one in the ankle or something to get those goals. In the last five or six games we haven't had guys doing that. It's like they're sitting back and going, 'Alex, you score a couple goals and we'll win the game.' That's not how you win a division, make the playoffs or win consistently."

-Bruce Boudreau

Quick Hits

  • I don't care how talented he is - if I'm Bruce Boudreau, the next time Alexander Semin takes the team off the powerplay with a needless penalty he's riding the pine for the rest of the period.

  • The Thrashers must have treated Alex Ovechkin really well at the All-Star Game because he gave them at least three or four gifts in the form of missed chances.

  • That Eric Boulton sure is a hell of an enforcer. I mean who else can shove someone from behind when they're already engaged with another player?

  • The diving call on Alexander Semin had more to do with reputation than anything else. I mean, when the defender has his forearm around your neck you're probably going down, dive or not.

  • The Thrashers had 13 shots on goal; the Capitals had 36 shots on goal, 17 attempts blocked and 13 attempts miss the net.

  • According to Tarik, attendance was 17,205. Not too shabby.

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