Saturday, March 8, 2008

Boys in red, white and blue fall to the boys in black and gold; boys in black and white stripes

Capitals 1, Bruins 2

Anyone know any Bruins fans? And if so, care to ask them what the going rate is for a referee these days?

If the Capitals miss the playoffs this year there will plenty of people who are scapegoated. Glen Hanlon, for the way the team started the season. Olaf Kolzig for his prolonged slump and for failing to live up to the standards his better years have set. Karma for the injuries to Chris Clark and Alexander Semin. George McPhee and Ted Leonsis because...well there's always someone who tries to blame it on them. But if the Capitals miss qualifying for the playoffs by just a point or two, there are two more names to remember: Chris Rooney and Rob Martell.

As a hockey fan, coach or player you have to accept that referees aren't perfect; refs who are too lenient or too harsh are just a fact of life. Inconsistency is harder to swallow but it too is just a fact of life, as the reality is that the game moves incredibly fast, especially at the NHL level, and two pairs of eyes aren't going to catch everything. But to intimidated as a referee, which is seemed pretty clear Martell and Rooney were in Saturday's game.

They looked intimidated by the crowd at the game's outset, and in the game's opening six or seven minutes they missed a hit from behind on Mike Green, a hit up high on Green when he didn't have the puck, an interference call where Zdeno Chara played Alex Ovechkin instead of the puck and a play when a Bruins player had Nicklas Backstrom bent over the Bruins bench and gave him several punches to the back of the head. To let those penalties go and then call Tom Poti for knocking the net off when it wasn't clearly intentional doesn't make any sense to me.

Later the duo looked intimidated by the fact that one of the league's star players had just been hit hard, calling a cheap penalty on the Bruins after Shane Hnidy got in a solid check on Alexander Ovechkin.

They looked intimidated by the crowd, Matt Cooke's reputation, the sight of Bruins' Bobby Allen defenseman laying on the ice and the fear that they would be perceived as not taking enough action and gave Cooke the gate for what should have been a minor penalty.

Again bowing to the mercy of the crowd, there was no call on Hnidy for going up high on Brashear late in the game.

Yet again bowing to the crowd (and perhaps player reputation), the referees called John Erskine for a hook when a Bruins player lost his balance. Either that or "being in he vicinity of a falling player" is a two minute minor these days.

At least they got those minors on Nicklas Backstrom and Chara as time expired though. That'll sure show the boys!

This is not to say the Capitals didn't screw up late in the game. Brashear's four minutes for high-sticking were bad and although Hnidy should have been called for roughing or unsportsmanlike conduct, Brashear should have known better than to take a swing at matter how much the B's defenseman deserved it. Similarly Tom Poti's two-time two-hander to break a Bruins player's stick was an unacceptable penalty to take. It's telling when it's a tied game, with less than two minutes left and the two players sitting in the box are two of the wearing 'A''s.

The Caps got some boneheaded plays out of guys who were supposed to be their leaders, but I still think the referees who were more concerned with pandering to the crowd or to the league office were the ones who made the difference in this one.

Quick Hits

  • During the first intermission the Bruins asked Milan Jurcina what I think is a very pertinent question for Capitals fans: "You concerned at all Ovechkin, in a goal celebration, will hurt himself or one of his teammates?"

  • It's funny to watch games broadcast by the opposition - right before the Capitals first goal the Bruins commentators were saying that the Bruins had done a great job generating momentum to start the game. When the Capitals scored their first goal, they had six shots and the Bruins had none. The Capitals would go on to register nine shots before Boston puck a puck on Cristobal Huet. Also becuase you get to hear things like 'If I can just do the math quickly in my head, the Bruins have outshot the Capitals 13-4 in this period' followed by, 'Just to show you how good I am at quick math - the Bruins outshot Washington 10-9 in that period'.

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For DC United, More Latin Flavor Might do the Trick

This is the first article of the new year devoted to DC United and though every soccer loving part of me demands I get straight to all the excitement surrounding this year's team, I must defer for a moment to make a brief point. With each Washington spring comes a flood of sporting indulgence, an overdose of massive sports stimulus if you will. The Wizards and Capitals are sprinting to what we all hope are playoff berths. The Nationals are testing recently mended limbs and making sure they'll be ready for what should be an incredible year in a beautiful new park. The media frenzy of NFL free agency and the college draft is, even if the Redskins are remaining unusually quiet throughout, seducing the masses with disgustingly large contracts and sub-4.4 40 times. It’s understandable that amidst the spring sports euphoria a few major stories (or sports) might slip under your radar. This is particularly unfortunate because, even if you’re not a soccer fanatic, there has never been a better time to follow DC United.

United posted another great regular season in 2007, capturing the Supporter's Shield for best regular season record (16-7-7) and first-year forward Luciano Emilio was named league MVP. Though they were riding high from regular season success, United found only disappointment in the MLS Cup playoffs as the Chicago Fire handed United an early exit in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The loss in the MLS Cup only added to a building frustration in Cup matches. United had been dismissed from both the CONCACAF Cup and the Copa Nissan Sudamericana Cup by Mexican side CD Guadalajara, defeated in the U.S. Open Cup by Harrisburg City of the USL and saw their chance of winning the inaugural Superliga Cup come to an end after a 2-0 loss to the LA Galaxy. For a team that has built a tradition around winning these major tournaments, reaching the semifinals (3 of 5 Cups) could not fulfill the team’s or fan’s expectations.

What’s the fix for a team with such potential and league success but who faltered in critical matches?

One of DC United's most endearing qualities and a main reason for their continuing success is their ability to bring in and develop talent. The current air of excitement and the promise for an even more exciting 2008 is staked on the potentially incredible talent that have been amassed this offseason. The team, in a move that Dan Snyder would certainly applaud, has performed a complete overhaul from their team of two years ago, with only four players remaining from the 2006 starting eleven.

Last year's acquisitions were highlighted by two sensational Brazilians, Emilio and Fred. This year, spurred the departure of starting goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who was sold to Valerenga I.F. of the Norwegian top flight league, and looking to upgrade several other positions, United has opened the door to another influx of impressive new players. Parting ways with long-time playmaker and DC fan favorite Christian Gomez, starting center back Greg Vanney, and starting midfielder Josh Gros, United made a beeline for the soccer goldmines of South America looking for both talented youth and tested ability that could make immediate impacts for the Black and Red.

The first South American acquired was Argentinean forward Franco Niell, on loan from Argentinos Jaguars. Niell, a player with speed and a good finishing touch, is expected to pair with Emilio up front in coach Tom Soehn's 4-4-2 formation.

With the next wave of Sough American signees United hoped to both improve and add depth to its defense core. Colombian defender Gonzalo Martinez and Argentinean defender Gonzalo Peralta were both signed by United as big, skilled defenders with Martinez most likely getting a starting role. Jose Carvallo, a 22 year old goalkeeper from Peru, comes on loan to DC as a highly touted player already with international experience and is expected to challenge newly-acquired Zach Wells for the starting role.

The marquee signing of 2008 is without a doubt Marcello Gallardo, who comes to DC with a weight of expectation as United’s first Designated Player. The Argentinean midfielder joins the Black and Red from Paris-Saint Germain, of the French Champions league, where he spent 2007. Prior to his short stint for PSG, Gallardo starred for French side Monaco and Argentinean power house River Plate. He has also earned 44 international caps, scoring 14 times, and being selected to the Argentinean team for World Cups in 1998 and 2002. Gallardo dons the number 10 jersey, replacing Christian Gomez as the team’s playmaking midfielder – a role that he has excelled in throughout his career.

United has also made several domestic acquisitions with the main addition to the senior team being keeper Zach Wells. Wells transferred to DC from Houston at the end of December as the sale of Troy Perkins to Valerenga solidified. Primarily a backup with the Dynamo, Wells is expected to start for United though, as said earlier, he will be challenged by Carvallo.

With the beginning of the CONCACAF Cup only 4 days away and the beginning of the MLS season on the 29th of March, I will be updating soon on predicted starting lineups as well as status updates on new players. Look also for news on DC’s developmental players and what impact they could potentially make.

This is an interesting story about how Jamaica views the MLS - "H'View vs DC United Flasback"

Next: Outlook 2008 – How the new-look United stacks up in the MLS

- The Phoenix

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Caps Gameday - Caps/Bruins Preview

Boston Bruins at Washington Capitals
Saturday, March 8th, 2008, 1:00 PM
TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts

Last Meeting: 3/3/2008, Caps win 10-2.

Just five days after being embarrassed by the Capitals 10-2 on the Verizon Center's ice the Bruins will do their best to return the favor in Boston, as the Capitals try to keep pace with the Carolina Hurricanes in a Saturday matinée match up.

One quick note before I get to the gameday preview: James Mirtle has a great piece up on his blog about Olaf Kolzig that I'd encourage any Caps fan to read.

About the Opponent

Boston Bruins: 35-25-7, 77 points, 3rd in the Northeast Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference.

Team Leaders
Goals: Marco Sturm (23)
Assists: Marc Savard (60)
Points: Marc Savard (74)
Plus/Minus: tie - Dennis Wideman and Zdeno Chára (+11)
Penalty Minutes: Zdeno Chára (108)
Fights: Milan Lucic (12)

Random Bruins Fact
Former Bruins center Phil Esposito was the first player in NHL history to score 100 points in a season.

Random Bruins Statistic
In the 1970-71 season Bobby Orr had a plus/minus rating of +124.

Keys to the Game

Score first and score early. The Bruins have lost their last three games, giving up a combined 19 goals, including 10 to the Capitals on Tuesday. If the Capitals get a couple early on it might be hard for the Bruins to avoid a 'here we go again' feeling.

Score first. With the Bruins having the difficulty they have had on defense recently and the 10 goal night the Capitals posted against them earlier this week the team that scores the first goal is going to have a huge advantage in this one.

Players to Watch

Boyd Gordon - David Steckel's injury is going to hurt the Capitals more than a lot of people might realize. Bruce Boudreau and the Caps will turn to Gordon to pick up some of the slack both in the faceoff circle on the penalty kill until Steckel can return.

Tim Thomas - The Bruins all-star netminder is 0-2-0 with a .744 save percentage and a 10.54 goals against average.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Searching for Dignity North of the Border

Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors
Friday, March 7 - 7pm
Air Canada Centre

The last time the Wizards played a game on international soil they suffered a humiliating 39-point defeat at the hands of some guy named Andrea.

All right, so he's European and he happens to be a former No. 1 draft selection, surname
Bargnani. He also happens to be the starting center on the Toronto Raptors, the team directly above them Washington in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.

It was a humbling, 122-83 defeat for the Wizards, who were playing without the services of Caron Butler for the second straight game since his hip flexor flare-up. In a perfect example of its Jekyll & Hyde tendencies in the last month, Washington had knocked off Toronto the night before in D.C., 108-104 in overtime.

Six Raps scored in double-figures, including former Wizard/Terp Juan Dixon - who outscored Antawn Jamison 12-11. Yes, it was
that bad.

It was Washington's worst defeat since a 111-67 loss at New Jersey on Jan. 16, 2002. Heading into tonight's m
atchup, the Wiz have dropped four straight at the Air Canada Centre.

The Numbers Game

Here are a couple of the key statistical differences between the Jan. 29 win at home and the Jan. 30 blowout loss in Toronto.

FG Percentage

In the win: Wiz -
.421, Raps - .425
In the loss: Wiz -
.366, Raps - .566

In the win: Wiz - 57, Raps - 44
In the loss: Wiz -
36, Raps - 38

Three-point shooting
In the win: Wiz - 10-30 (30%), Raps - 10-27 (37%)
In the loss: Wiz -
8-21 (38%), Raps - 13-18 (72%)

Bench Scoring
In the win: Wiz - 20, Raps - 26
In the loss: Wiz -
36, Raps - 56

Key Matchup

Wizards Bench v. Raptors Bench -
Just as Washington has been very up and down of late, so has the bench. Hmmmm, coincidence? And that's not a misprint in the bench scoring category above. The Raptors scrubs actually outscored Washington's starters by nine (56-47). For the Wizards to reverse their recent trend of ineptitude up north, they'll need a strong effort from the young guns off the bench. Nick Young and Oleksiy Pecherov were the lone bright spots in Wednesday's blowout loss to Orlando. Both finished with 15 points on very efficient shooting from the field (Young was 5-for-5 and Pesh was 6-for-8). If they can continue their hot shooting in more limited action (if the game is close they won't be on the floor for 18+ minutes) and Roger Mason and Andray Blatche can contributed in the scoring column, Washington should be right there with Toronto at the end.

That's assuming that
Brendan Haywood (and not his evil sister) comes to play and the Raps don't shoot 70 percent from three-point range.


Yeesh. The only thing more erratic than my predictions this season has been Washington's play in the last three weeks. Let's see...All-Star forward Chris Bosh scored 37 in the Jan. 29 win and just 16 in the loss the following night. So maybe the Wizards should let him go off and hope to contain his supporting cast? Oh wait, he's out with a knee injury, which means the Raps will be missing their top scorer and rebounder.

Even minus the other CB, with Toronto's propensity for the outside shot, DeShawn
Stevenson, AJ and Pesh are going to need to knock down some treys to keep pace. As always, keep an eye on the rebounding totals. I expect a much better night from Haywood following his no-show the other night, but Bargnani is difficult to guard because the seven-footer has a smooth touch on the long jumper.

With no Bosh, I'm going to give the edge to the Wiz here, provided they can take advantage of the gaping hole on the inside. Raso Nesterovic isn't a bad post defender, but he's a serious drop-off from Bosh. Also, I'd be shocked if Eddie Jordan's troops don't come out looking to prove their last meeting (and Wednesday's equally forgettable effort) was a fluke.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Orlando Drills Wizards and a Few Beard Clippings

The Orlando Magic currently sit third in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but from the looks of it, Dwight Howard and company are tops on Washington's "worst first round matchup nightmare" list.

The Magic came into Verizon Center last night and delivered
and old fashioned beat down on their hosts, winning their third straight game 122-92. It was a strong statement that they don't plan on letting the Wizards climb back into the Southeastern Division race. With the win Orlando (40-23) stretched their lead to 9.5 games.

Washington (29-31) was dominated in every facet of the game from the opening tip. They fell behind 10-2 in the first few minutes and were completely out of the game by the seco
nd half. The Magic had six players in double-figures including Keith Bogans and Carlos Arroyo - who I so astutely pointed out are not big scoring threats off the bench. Dwight Howard went for 20 and 11 and spent most of the evening dunking on the heads of Brendan Haywood, Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila.

Speaking of Haywood, he was a complete no-show. Washington's starting center - who did a decent job matching Howard in their first meeting (10 points, 16 boards and 5 blocks) - finished with no points, one block, four fouls and two measly boards. Haywood had been playing some of his best basketball of late, so let's hope we're not seeing the re-emergence of Brenda.

On the positive side, Nick Young scored 15 points, showing his ability to contribute in games that are already well out of hand, and Oleksiy Pecherov poured in a career-high with 15 of his own in a career-high 23 minutes. It's nice to see him getting his feet wet but don't expect either guy to crack 15 minutes in a game that's even remotely close. Remember, this is Eddie "I work my starters down to the bone" Jordan we're talking about here.

With two matchups left with the Magic - both in Orlando - it might actually behoove the Wiz to tank a few near the end of the season so they can meet the second-seeded Pistons in the first round instead. Yeah, that's crazy talk, I know, but should the Wiz improve their position and finish fifth, we know how things go against the Cavaliers. From what I've seen, Washington simply can't match up with the Magic. And even with Gilbert and Caron - and maybe even Etan - back in the lineup (knock on wood) come playoff time, we're looking at another possibly riveting six or seven-game
losing series with the Cavs. So strictly looking at the matchups, big bad Detroit might be the lesser of three evils. We'll find out on national television when the Pistons come to town on March 23.

Barber Shop Talk

Earlier this season I mentioned
the infamous Beard Challenge '07 between DeShawn Stevenson and Drew Gooden. Essentially, it consisted of a no-holds-barred all-out grow-off between two outspoken players on Eastern conference rivals.

Last we heard, Gooden (now a member of the Bulls, thus making this whole thing slightly less intriguing but certainly no less hairy) was hell-bent on doubling up on DeShawn.
This from a November e-mail posted on the Bog.

  • "I already lost to him in a High School State Championship, but beat him in last year's Playoffs. This one would put me ahead 2-1 when I win!" - D Good 90
Well, it's been quite some time since the gauntlet was initially laid down. With six months of unbridled fertilizing and sun exposure behind us, it's about time for an update. Let's break things down with a couple visuals. As you can clearly see, DeShawn is going for length with the whole King Tut thing. I'd give it a good four-to-five inches off the face. Not too shabby but if you look closer, there's definitely evidence of serious sideburn grooming. It looks like the Locksmith is concentrating his effort on the chin area extended.

As for the Big Drizzle, this guy is growing strong. He looks like a complete and utter hobo and in this competition, that's a good thing. He's got the hallmarks of a good beard - length and the density. I'm going to give him a solid six inches with a bonus for significantly more hair mass than DeShawn.

Barring the use of BGH (beard growth hormone) or a serious shaving mishap on the part of Gooden, it looks like he's got this one in the bag. Here's hoping they both shave off their massive chin-straps when this is all over and donate them to a beard-weaver near you.

All this talk of bristles got me thinking, how much better would the NBA be if playoff teams adopted the NHL's beard-growing habits. Seriously, imagine Josh Childress going Mike Commodore or Dirk going with the all-out Lanny McDonald.

The NBA.
Where beards happen.

Not a sermon, just a thought.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel

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Nationals Face a Revolution Throughout Spring Training (Part 1)

There is one spot and one spot only on the Washington Nationals 2008 roster that is set in stone, expected and deserved. This is third baseman and number three hitter Ryan Zimmerman, who batted .266 with 24 homeruns 91 RBIs and 99 runs in 2007. However, this golden boy of an otherwise dismal offensive team was not without deficiencies of his own in 2007. Zimmerman also led the team with 125 strikeouts and produced a very mediocre .771 OPS. Regardless of the rest of the lineup, Zimmerman has to improve his plate discipline in order to demand respect from opposing pitchers. In his third year the overall success of the Nationals offense will rest on Zimmerman's ability to take the next step toward super-stardom.

There is an old saying that competition is healthy for a team, as it breeds excellence, and while that may be true to produce and sustain the best results, the Nationals' supposed position battles are not as fierce as many would have you believe.

First Base: This is Nick Johnson's position and he will play the majority of the Nationals games at first base. While there is always the risk of injury with this fragile giant, there is no doubt in my mind that he gives the Nationals the best chance to win playing first base. Not only does he bring a superior glove to the position over Dmitri Young, his power numbers are undeniable even in the limited action he saw in 2006 (23 homeruns). Johnson had a tremendous impact in the middle of the Nationals lineup in 2006 and his patience in the four spot (110 walks in 2006) will bring more to the table than Dmitri's previously unheard of .320 batting average in 2007.
It is important to mention that both players are injury prone and won't play more than 140 games in a good year, so it's vital that Acta can keep them fresh until the other one invariably goes down... oh yeah and Young had already tweaked something in spring training.

Second Base: While with Cincinnati Felipe Lopez put up pretty good power and speed numbers that will never be repeated in a Nationals uniform. Clearly helped by a hitter's park in the great state of Ohio he is one of many Nationals that could benefit from the new stadium. However, Lopez's true value as a base thief went unfulfilled as a member of the Nationals in 2007. Bottom line, Acta isn't a manager that likes to run all the time and with Lopez's true value on the diamond handcuffed it makes more sense to start Ronnie Belliard that Lopez. Belliard brings more pop to the lineup and a better sense for situational hitting.
Lopez will get his reps as a shortstop for the team, as Guzman tends to struggled for prolonged periods of time during every season, but looking at him to rebound into a player that hits .300, 20 HR, 75 RBIs and 40 SB will not happen.

I'll definitely break down the rest of the perceived position battles within the next few days and have a wrap up preview for the Washington Nationals 2008 season. I think you'll be surprised how high I rank the boys in Red, White and Blue.

-The Hokie

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Magic Come to Town in Potential 1st Round Preview

Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards
Wednesday, March 5 - 7pm
Verizon Center
TV: Comcast Sports Net

Asked about his team's matchup with Southeast division leading Orlando tonight, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan had this to say: "I just hope we have kryptonite somewhere in our lineup because Superman is pretty good."

Looks like Kenny Smith and the 18,000 in attendance for the All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest weren't the only people blown away by Dwight Howard's aerial showcase.

Tonight the Wizards play host to Clark Kent and his Magic, hoping to continue their recent stretch of solid play against the NBA's elite. Both teams have won two straight and Orlando has won seven-of-nine including a statement game of its own. The Magic came out on the winning end of a 103-85 blowout in Detroit on February 19.

The likelihood of the Wizards catching Orlando in the race for the division title is about as good as DeShawn Stevenson's of overtaking Drew Gooden in the Beard Challenge (More on this later). But a win tonight would be huge for Washington - every win is big for a team playing without two of it's top three scorers, but this would be really big - before a one-game road trip to Toronto followed by a five-game home-stand against beatable teams.

Orlando currently sits third in the Eastern Conference playoff race, meaning if the regular season ended today, they would match up with their division foes in the first round. Tonight could be a very intriguing preview to that potential series.


  • Gilbert Arenas was back on the practice floor yesterday, running through five-on-five drills with the team and beating out slow as molasses Darius Songaila in sprints after their team lost. Gil wasn't expected to speak with the media but per the request/forceful demand of PR guy Zack Bolno, he briefly addressed the 30+ member contingent, answering 21 questions by Dan Steinberg's count and reassured everyone that even through his rehabilitation, Hibachi hasn't let his cocky young tenant defeat the landlord. "C'mon. It IS Nick, you know. I know [I'm injured], but it's still Nick."
  • If anyone on the Wizards possesses the kryptonite Jordan is seeking, it might be Songaila. Not because he has the bulk or the quickness to contain Howard, but because the Lithuanian kind of looks like Michael Rosenbaum, Lex Luthor in that show about Clark Kent's youth, Smallville. Yeah? Maybe? OK, it could be a stretch.
  • Speaking of Songaila, the elder Eastern European on the Wizards' roster painted his likeness on a Wizard-themed plane that the team decorated yesterday after practice. Not too shabby, but it looks a little too much like Oleksiy Pecherov's namesake.

The Last Time
The Wizards had a 67-64 lead heading into the fourth quarter of their first meeting with the Magic on November 3 in D.C. and then All-Star snub Hedo Turkoglu took over. The Turkish sharpshooter scored 13 of his game-high 25 in the final frame, leading Orlando to a 94-82 victory and handing the Wiz their third straight loss to open the season.

Gilbert Arenas tweaked his knee on the way to a very un-Hibachi-like 10 points. Washington - which shot just 34.8 percent - got 23 points from Caron Butler and 20 from Antawn Jamison but it wasn't enough to match an 18-point effort from Orlando's massive free agent pick-up, Rashard Lewis, and a typical 17 and 15 performance from Howard. Arenas would suit up for five more contests before going back under the knife.

Key Match Up

Antawn Jamison v. Rashard Lewis - With their size and outside shooting ability, the Magic are a matchup nightmare up and down their starting lineup. At 6-foot-10, 230, Lewis can post you up or step out and hit the mid-range (or long-range) jumper. He's averaging 18.4 points, 5.4 boards and 2.4 assists per game and although his scoring is down from his days in Seattle, the 10-year vet has befitted tremendously from the presence of Howard and Turkoglu. With the big guy underneath and the shooter on the perimeter to spread the defense, Lewis can roam freely opposite Howard on the block or on the outside.

Jamison, who played Lewis fairly even in the first meeting (he finished with 20 and five but shot just 6-for-21 from the floor), is far from Washington's most capable defender, but he should be able to assert himself on the boards. The All-Star reserve leads the team in rebounding with 10.4 per game. AJ needs to slow Lewis on the defensive end and find the openings only he can to get off those trademark flip shots, runners and layups because the Wiz certainly won't be able to contain Howard at the other post position (sorry Brendan).

I didn't expect the Wizards to beat the Hornets once, let alone twice - let's be honest, who outside of that locker room did? - just like I didn't expect them to beat Dallas or Boston twice. I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again. But I don't see them winning this one tonight. They're on a mini-roll and should be riding the energy of Agent Zero's return to practice yesterday into tonight's contest, but the Magic are also rolling and they've got a lot of weapons.

If there's one area where the Wiz have an advantage - and this might surprise you based on their injury situation - it's the bench. Washington's reserves have come on strong of late as Andray Blatche has readjusted nicely to his sixth-man role, averaging 14 points and 6.5 boards in his last two games since being replaced in the starting lineup by Songaila. Roger Mason is a consistent contributor in the back-court and the three rookies appear to finally be finding their roles on the team. The Magic have decent options in Keith Bogans and Carlos Arroyo, but no real scorers to give their starters a big boost. Fortunately for them, they haven't really needed much more than a few minutes for the big guys to get a breather here and there.

As is always the case, if the Wizards get an edge on the boards, get to the free throw line, take care of the ball and knock down timely outside shots, they can pick up a W. They can certainly run with the Magic, who average 104.3 points per game (6th most in the league). Maybe the Wiz will continue drop the games they should win and win the wons they're not supposed to. Either way, they're looking to get back to .500 tonight and with the way they've been playing of late, a win wouldn't be a shock.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel

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Caps/Sabres Preview

Washington Capitals at Buffalo Sabres
Wednesday, March 5th, 2008, 7:30 PM
HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York

Last Meeting: 12/14/07, Caps lose 5-3

About the Opponent

Buffalo Sabres, 32-26-9, 73 points, 4th in the Northeast Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference.

Team Leaders
Goals: Thomas Vanek (27)
Assists: Jason Pominville (40)
Points: Jason Pominville (62)
Plus/Minus: Jason Pominville (12)
Penalty Minutes: Andrew Peters (85)
Fights: Andrew Peters (11)

Random Sabres Fact
In 1996, before a game between the Sabres and the Boston Bruins, the scoreboard at HSBC Arena fell to the ice while it was being moved. There were no players on the ice at the time and no one was hurt.

Random Sabres Statistic
Sabres winger Thomas Vanek had a +47 plus/minus ratings last season. This season his is even (+0).

Keys to the Game

Keep the energy level high. The Capitals always play a much better game when they keep the energy level up and the Sabres played in Philadelphia last night.

Get out in front early. The Capitals are likely to be flying high coming off their 10-2 victory over Boston and if the Sabres can come out and get a quick goal or two it may throw things awry on the opposition's bench.

Players to Watch

Olaf Kolzig - Kolzig's been scapegoated plenty this season when he hasn't deserved it, but the last two times these teams met he cost the Capitals at least one point, plain and simple. With Huet playing well, you'd have to figure Kolzig will run out chances (eventually...) if he doesn't start showing something in net.

Thomas Vanek - the object of Kevin Lowe's offseason affection has started playing like he's worth $10 million, putting up 20 points (13+7) in 15 games in February.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Capitals 10, Bruins 2

Capitals 10, Bruins 2

In my original pregame post for last night's game between the Capitals and Bruins my original 'Key to the Game' for Boston was "Pray. The Capitals will be fuming after their loss to Toronto, playing Boudreau's aggressive system to 'T' and having acclimated their new players it's going to be a challenge for Boston to slow the Caps down, let alone stop them", but I discarded it thinking that it was too presumptuous (and out of fear of ending up looking stupid). Turns out I probably would have been right as the Capitals were ready from the opening faceoffs, racking up four goals before the Bruins tallied their second shot and finishing the first period with as many goals (six) as the Bruins had shots.*

Like everything else going on with the Capitals, it would be impossible to extradite this game from the team's current goaltending situation. I think you'd be a little off base to say the Capitals potted ten goals because Cristobal Huet was in net but I think there has been a pronounced difference in the way the rest of the team played in the games Huet started compared with the ones Olaf Kolzig has started. The cause is most likely rebound control - it's been a problem for Kolzig all season and it's a strength of Huet's game and so far it has looked like the team is much more confident with Huet in net, whereas with Kolzig they seem to feel the need to collapse around the net to try and protect against second chances. With Huet in net it looks like the team is able to get out of the zone a step quicker, a major advantage when you're trying to play up-tempo and control the play, the way Bruce Boudreau wants. Nothing's definite yet, but it's just a little something to chew on.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Alex Ovechkin - 3 goals, 2 assists, +3. And the chase for 60 is back on.
(2) Nicklas Backstrom - 1 goal, 3 assists, +3
(3a) Matt Bradley - 2 goals, 1 assist, +1
(3b) Brooks Laich - 2 goals
(3c) Matt Cooke - 1 goal, 2 assists, +2
(3d) Eric Fehr - 3 assists, +1
(3e) Donald Brashear - 1 goal, 2 fights, +1

Quick Hits

  • Fight fans would have to have been licking their chops at the prospect of a Donald Brashear/Zdeno Chara scrap, but man it could not have been more disappointing.

  • Domination is four goals when your opponent only has one shot.

  • The pass/tip in for Ovechkin's fourth goal was absolutely perfect - it couldn't have been drawn up any better.

  • One thought on Mike Green's board on Chara - that's getting your two minutes worth.

  • Only two Capitals players (Milan Jurcina and Sergei Fedorov) didn't have at least one point.

  • With his three assists Eric Fehr more than doubled his NHL assist total and increased his NHL point total 60%.

  • I've ripped on them enough this season so credit where credit's due - the referees did a good job of keeping this game under control, without getting ridiculous.

*The official scoring changed after I wrote this, giving Boston credit for eight shots in the first.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!
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Monday, March 3, 2008

Winning Weekend for the Wiz

If only the Wizards could play all of their remaining games against the Celtics, Mavericks and Hornets...That's right, three of the best teams in the league, but three teams that would hate to see Washington in a seven-game playoff series. Baffling as it might be, the Wizards have managed to play their best basketball against two of the best teams in the vaunted Western conference and the biggest beast in the East.

With their 101-84 rout of New Orleans last night at the Phone Booth, the Wiz are 6-1 combined against those three opponents with the lone loss coming in Boston in the second game of the season.

Just seven days after DeShawn Stevenson carried his team to a victory in New Orleans with a career-high 33 points and a game-winning three-pointer, Washington got solid contributions from the usual suspects and a strong effort from its bench to sweep the season series with the Hornets.

After struggling from the field over the last several games, Antawn Jamison returned to form with a 28-point, 9-rebound performance. Stevenson added 16 for the Wizards who started the fourth quarter on a 19-0 run that broke open a close game. With 11 points from Andray Blatche, eight from Oleksiy Pecherov and six each from Nick Young and Roger Mason, the much-maligned Washington bench out-scored the Hornets' subs 35-23 to help the cause.

The Wiz (29-30) performed admirably on the boards against rebounding-machine Tyson Chandler, matching the Hornets with 44 boards, and they continued their recent trend of valuing the basketball. Washington committed just seven turnovers while New Orleans coughed it up 15 times.

The win came less than 48 hours after a big victory in Chicago on Friday night. In that game, the Wizards overcame an 18-point deficit and the early ejection of Stevenson to take out the new-look Bulls, 97-91. Washington went on a 22-1 run to start the third quarter and out-scored Chicago 35-14 in the period, turning the 18-point deficit into a three-point advantage.

Both wins over the weekend were huge for a team trying to build confidence and return to their winning ways without injured stars Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas. For a team that had made a recent habit of giving up leads late in games, these two come-from-behind victories could go a long way toward helping Washington's playoff run.


"It took a little bit of time because it was like shellshock. But it comes to a point where you say, 'This is who we are and where we are at right now' and guys have to step up. Over the last few games, we've been able to do that and we're playing well." -- Roger Mason on Washington's response to injuries this season.

“The way our roster has gone up and down in numbers—seven guys to practice with and nine guys to practice with—it’s been like that all year. And this team has stuck together.” -- Eddie Jordan

"We embarrassed the organization and the city of Chicago tonight. I apologize for that." -- Bulls interim coach Jim Boylan on Friday's loss to the Wiz.


  • Eddie Jordan has switched his starting lineup around the last two games, going with veteran Darius Songaila at power forward instead of Blatche. The third-year big man had been up and down in his 14 games as a starter, but has played since going back to his reserve role. Blatche had 11 points, 3 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals last night and finished with 17 points and 10 boards against the Bulls on Friday.
  • Apparently Jordan is caught up in the whole Hannah Montana craze. This from Yahoo!'s game notes: "Wizards coach Jordan, speaking pregame about his TV preferences: 'I either watch basketball or the news—or Hannah Montana with my daughter.' … More comedy from Jordan postgame: Accompanied by his young son, the coach put a small stuffed dog on Antonio Daniels' left shoulder while the guard was doing interviews in the locker room. 'Class project,' Jordan said before taking a picture. Said Daniels: 'It’s so hard to concentrate with a dog on my left shoulder.'"
  • Low Blows from Ernie Grunfield: Washington's general manager had his No. 22 jersey retired yesterday during Tennessee's game against Kentucky, and according to a Knoxville News-Sentinel story cited in the DC Sports Bog, he did more than score points as a member of the infamous "Ernie and Bernie Show."
    • "Everybody was tired,'' (teammate Mike) Jackson said, "and Phillips was really tired and bent over. Ernie bent down next to Phillips and made sure the official wasn't looking and he sucker-punched him up under the chin.''
  • And one more can't miss Steinberg Wiz bite from the Bog. Seriously, check this one out, for all that is sacred and holy in the names of Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier!
The Numbers Game
  • 18 - Number of seasons since the Wiz last swept their season series with the Hornets franchise.
  • 31-17 - Washington's advantage in free throw attempts against New Orleans.
  • 8.2 - Average turnovers per game for the Wiz in their last five games in which they are 4-1.
  • 12.7 - Average turnovers per game for the Wiz in their previous 11 games in which they were 1-10.
  • 6-9 - The Wizards' record without Caron Butler after starting 2-8 minus their All-Star forward.
  • 2.5 - Sixth-place Washington's game-lead over seventh-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. The Wiz are 3.5 games behind fifth-seed Toronto.
Up Next
Washington hosts Dwight "Superman" Howard and the division-leading Orlando Magic (38-23) on Wednesday at the Phone Booth in another true test for this patch-work rotation. The Wiz lost to the Magic 82-94 in D.C. the night after their loss in Boston in their only other meeting so far this season. Hedo Turkoglu scored 25 for Orlando as the Wizards fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1992 and Gilbert Arenas walked off the floor after a 10-point night saying of his knee, “It’s stiff. It feels like a 5-pound weight is on it.”

Needless to say, the Wizards look a lot different than they did that Saturday night in November. They've never been able to challenge the Magic at the top of the Southeast division as Orlando currently holds an eight-game lead and has a strangle-hold on the third seed for the playoffs.

It's not a game Washington is expected to win, but then again, they weren't supposed to sweep the Hornets last week either. So maybe they can keep this little hot streak going a little longer.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel
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Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Blame Game

Capitals 2, Maple Leafs 3

It's nice to beat the best team in the Conference in their own building, but it's hard to feel too good or build too much momentum when you come back and lose to the 12th ranked ream in your own building.

Capitals fans are of course keenly aware of this and the wake has led to a lot of scapegoating. Here's who's being blamed:

Olaf Kolzig. Who knew Capitals fans were of such a "what have you done for me lately" variety? Kolzig has become the number one scapegoat for the team this season and while I think that he certainly has not played all that well he deserves better than what some fans want, including one who wanted him sent to the AHL in order to "make a statement" (note: for Kolzig to be sent to the AHL he would have to clear waivers, which is unlikely to happen. Kolzig, a class act for many, many years would likely be lost on waivers to essentially punish him for being human and having his skills decline with age and would simply be a classless act, and a P.R. disaster, for the organization). The numbers suggest Kolzig can't play every night at his age - he put up save percentages of .860 or so in December and January when Bruce Boudreau was riding him heavily but had a .922 save percentage in February once Brent Johnson started to see more playing time. Kolzig is fine as a backup. As for last night - he wasn't exactly a sieve but the Mats Sundin goal should have been stopped - a shot with no traffic and from that angle always should be.

Bruce Boudreau. I've seen more than one person suggest Boudreau should have started Cristobal Huet last night rather than Kolzig. That criticism has some merit, but given how Olie had been playing of late and the fact that the Caps were playing on back-to-back days, in different cities, it was not unreasonable to play Kolzig last night.

George McPhee. Huh? Yeah, doesn't make enough sense, but I've seen people doing it, faulting McPhee for letting Kolzig play (not his decision), picking up Fedorov (who was fine) and failing to pick up a better defenseman at the trade deadline. I have to this: anyone who thinks McPhee is doing a poor job either (1) is taking their cues on the difficult of being a GM from a video game (2) is looking for reasons to be grumpy and be upset at McPhee because they've been scapegoating him for so long and/or (3) has no appreciation for how difficult it is to be a general manager in the NHL. I'm sure there are constructive arguments that can be made criticism McPhee's ability as a GM...but I haven't heard any yet.

Ted Leonsis. Another head-scratcher to me, but there are people faulting him for the fact that Olie got the start...because we all know it'd be better to have an over-involved Dan Snyder or Peter Angelos type owner, right?

Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin both missed good chances last night.

Team Effort. This seem to be the go-to excuse any time a team loses a hockey game, but the fact that it's the once Boudreau cited makes it carry a little more weight in my mind. Still, although I think the Capitals effort could have been better for portions of the second period, yet I don't think it cost them the game.

The Powerplay. The Caps were 0-5 with the man advantage and it seemed like the Leafs actually gained momentum by taking penalties and killing them off.

That there are many suggested causes (scapegoats?) for this loss leads me to think it was a case of "just not enough". The Capitals offense just couldn't quite convert on their chances, the defense just couldn't quite bottle the Leafs attack and Olaf Kolzig wasn't quite good enough to pick up his teammates. No one was terrible, but a lot of guys were mediocre and when no one steps up and carries the team on their shoulders, that's just not enough to win.
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