Saturday, March 15, 2008

Caps beat Thrashers, 4-1

Capitals 4, Thrashers 1

On the outside of the playoff picture and looking in, the Capitals needed to pick up two points against an inferior (and reeling) Atlanta team last night. The Capitals were up to the challenge, outshooting Atlanta 13-2 in the first period, 16-4 in the second period and 37-12 overall en route to a convincing 4-1 win, picking up a crucial two points on the Carolina Hurricanes, who lost to the Sabres, in the process.

The box score and even the detailed stat sheets don't tell the whole story for this game - were it not for solid goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and the Capitals hitting posts three or four times, this could have been the March 3rd Bruins game all over again. Can the Capitals carry that momentum into Sunday's game against Boston? Let's put it this way - I wouldn't bet against them.

One last thing - quick show of hands: Who still thinks the Peter Bondra for Brooks Laich and a second round pick trade was a bad idea?

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Brooks Laich - 2 goals, +2, 3 hits
(2) Matt Cooke - 1 goal, 1 assist, +1
(3) Alex Ovechkin - 1 goal, 1 assist

Quick Hits

  • The Thrashers telecast kept commenting on how great Tobias Enstrom is and how he doesn't get any Calder buzz because he's a defenseman. Enstrom's line last night: -3, zero shots, zero hits, zero takeaways, zero blocked shots, 2 shot attempts blocked.

  • Thrashers' defenseman Garnet Excelby was credited with eight shot blocks

  • In addition to his two goals, Brooks Laich led the Capitals in hits with three.

  • Sami Lepisto seems good for about one hard hit every game, doesn't he? Not too bad for a player listed at 176 pounds.

  • The Capitals had 18 shot attemps blocked - 50% more than the numbers of shots the Thrashers got on net.

  • It would have been nice if Milan Jurcina had followed up his physical performance against the Flames with another one against Atlanta, although he didn't play poorly by any means.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wizards Get Juice Back for Tonight's Tough Test

Cleveland Cavaliers (37-28) at
Washington Wizards (31-32)

Thursday, March 13 - 8pm

Verizon Center

Barring any unforeseen discomfort before tonight's tip-off against the Cavs at the Phone Booth, the Wizards expect to have two-thirds of their big three on the floor together for the first time in 17 games. After watching helplessly as his team slowly slipped down the Eastern Conference playoff standings while he rested his strained-then-torn hip flexor for the last month, Caron Butler is probable for tonight's game against Cleveland.

Tough Juice turned 28 today and his teammates would like nothing more than to celebrate his birth and his return with a victory over a team that has managed to beat them in every way possible over the last three seasons.
Washington is looking to build on a strong performance Monday night in a 105-97 win over Milwaukee that was highlighted by a career night for rookie Nick Young.

The City/The Bean Burrito (anyone know what he settled on?) scored a career-high 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting in 27 minutes. He also pulled down five boards, tallied three steals and threw down several
vicious dunks - including one on Andrew Bogut's head that resulted in Young's first NBA technical after he insisted on letting Bogut know that it was indeed the rookie who had just posterized him. Young's effort helped the Wiz avoid another big-time let-down in a game they desperately needed. Washington - which shot at even 50 percent on the night - came out firing early and took a 57-44 lead into the break. But the Bucks out-scored their hosts by 11 in the third to get themselves right back in it. Young responded with two key three-point plays in the final quarter to give the Wizards their sixth win in their last nine, although with Philadelphia hot on their heels, each win is crucial.

The high shooting percentage reflects the team's ability to get high quality looks in the lane and knock them down. The Wiz scored a ridiculous 66 points in the paint with man-sized efforts from Brendan Haywood (15 points, 6 boards and 5 blocks), Andray Blatche (15 and 7) and Darius Songaila (11, 5 and 5 assists). And that Antawn Jamison character had another 23-point, 8-rebound effort...yawn.

What does it all mean? Not a whole lot if the Wizards continue to lack the consistent play needed to make a playoff run - OR - Everything if the young guns can produce off the bench night in and night out to help the starters as they wait for their top dogs to get back to 100 percent.


"I’m tired of Brendan Haywood calling me a practice dunker and all kinds of stuff. So it was my way to kind of show them that I belong here—and I can jump a little bit." - Young on his aerial exhibition

"I'm going to be rugged and hard-nosed. That's my style and that's what the fans come to see. That's my niche. That's how I got my name in this league." - Butler on how he plans to play coming off the injury

The Last Time

Talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth. The way the Cavaliers have tormented the Wizards over the past three seasons, no amount of Listerine could possibly do the trick.

On February 22, in just another disappointing ending to a Cavs-Wiz matchup, LeBron James sank two free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining to give Cleveland a 90-89 win. James finished with 33 points, 15 boards and 8 assists to will the short-handed Cavs to victory. They didn't even need newly acquired Ben Wallace, Joe Smith and Wally Szczerbiak, not to mention the injured Anderson Varejao. In fact, it only took three Cavs (James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas - 15 and Devin Brown -10) to out-rebound the hapless Wizards 33-31.

Key Matchup

Anderson Varejao/Joe Smith v. Brendan Haywood/Andray Blatche/Darius Songaila
With 66 points in the paint Monday night against the Bucks, the Wizards showed that they are committed to getting good looks, rather than settling for jump shots every time down the floor. Not surprisingly, they shot a much-improved 50 percent from the field as a result.

Now Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva are not Ilgauskas and Wallace - the Cavs big free-agent pickup - but fortunately for the Wiz, neither guy is expected to play due to recent back injuries (phew!). Instead they'll bang with Varejao, Smith and Devin Brown on the block. Still, for Washington's bigs to put up anything close to that number tonight, they're going to have to work on every possession, battle for offensive rebounds and get to the free throw line.

Haywood has played with increased aggressiveness over the past few games and Blatche has really been coming on of late. If those two can keep the intensity up on both ends of the floor - they'll be asked to play help defense quite a bit when LeBron blows by his defender on the perimeter - and Songaila can step it up again - he had a season-high 19 in the last meeting - it'll give Jamison and Butler a big boost. Varejao isn't nearly as big of an offensive threat as Z, but he does bring a lot of energy to the floor and has a knack for getting offensive put-backs. Washington will need to keep him and Smith from getting open looks and easy boards, but the Wiz should definitely have an edge in the paint tonight.


It seems like Washington always has an advantage coming into this matchups, at least on paper. And yet LeBron and company always get the best of them. With it being Caron's birthday and this being their third of five straight home games, I don't know what more motivation the Wiz could possibly need. Basically it's going to come down to the question that every team going up against Cleveland must face: Can you stop the King? So far, Washington has answered that one with a resounding "Nope." But it's not so much that they need to shut James down as it is that they simply can't let him take over the game. Make Damon Jones beat you. Honestly, I won't be that upset if Daniel "Boobie" Gibson hits a game-winning triple. I'll be upset, but at least the Wiz will have found a new way to lose to these guys.

Just please, for the love of Abe Pollin, don't let LeBron drive to the hoop for the game-winning bucket tonight.

That said - and I don't want to jinx anyone - I've got a good feeling about this one (knock on wood).

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel

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Flames/Caps Recap

Capitals 3, Flames 2

I got a little lazy and a little busy and didn't put together a preview for this game, but if I had it essentially would have consisted of "Holy crap, Dion Phaneuf is good. Holy crap, Jarome Iginla is good. Holy crap, Miikka Kiprusoff is good. Man, oh man, is it going to take a lot to beat the Flames".

But then of course, there is what Capitals fans already knew: Holy crap, Alexander Ovechkin is good.

It was going to take an impressive effort for the Capitals to overcome a talented, deep and tough Calgary Flames and coming off one of the most heartbreaking regular season weekends a team could experience the Caps again proved themselves quite resilient as a potent powerplay, solid goaltending and a defense that stymied the Flames attack and allowed just two shots in the third period.

That statistic is important for more than just this game because it indicates that the Capitals are doing something under Bruce Boudreau that they simply could not do under Glen Hanlon: making necessary adjustments. The Flames had a whopping 17 shots in the first period, but just eight in the second and the measly two in the third, a stark contrast to many of the games Hanlon had coached, where the Capitals would control the first period only to be totally outplayed in the second and third. It's not as if the Capitals are slow starters under Boudreau though - last night's game was the first time the Caps had been scored on in the first period since February 23rd, a span of eight games. Just another indication that Bruce Boudreau is the right coach for this team right now and that the future is bright in Washington, even if this season's playoff push comes up short.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Alexander Ovechkin - 2 goals (and the game winner), 11 shots, 1 hit, +1
(2) Olaf Kolzig - 23 saves on 24 shots (.923 save percentage)
(3) Mike Green - 2 assists, 1 hit, 2 blocked shots

Quick Hits

  • Olaf Kolzig's rebound control...not pretty.

  • On a night when all eyes would be one him, Alex Ovechkin certainly delivered with his two goals and 11 shots.

  • John Erskine logged just over five minutes of ice time and was rarely seen after his bout with Eric Godard. Could this be another fight-related injury?

  • At one point Joe Beninati said that Thermoblades hadn't drawn any rave reviews - Wayne Gretzky was asked to try them out and liked them so much be invested in the company. (Full disclosure: the author of this blog thinks that the concept of Thermoblades is really cool.)

  • The NHL keeps saying they want to cut down on hits to the head and that they players need to do a better job of respecting one another. That's a pretty hard line to have when their own officials won't call clotheslines to the head...and I think Matt Bradley would agree with me.

  • Speaking of officiating: when a player gets in the face of an opposing player after a penalty, like Jarome Iginla did to Mike Green when he was trying to draw Green into a bad penalty to take the Caps off the powerplay, shouldn't it be a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct?

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!
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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Milwaukee Bucks (23-40) at Washington Wizards (30-32)
Tuesday, March 11 - 7pm
Verizon Center

The Washington Wizards' grasp on the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference is slipping...and fast.

After a brutal stretch from January 30 to February 22 that saw the Wiz drop 10-of-11 games, the boys in blue appeared to right the ship with four wins in five games to begin the month. But a quick glance behind them in the standings reveals that that once-comfortable lead over the Philadelphia 76ers has been whittled down to a single game.

Before a loss to Boston on Monday, the Sixers (30-34) had reeled off four straight victories. They've quietly won 12-of-18 since Feb. 1st and don't show any signs of letting up behind the inspired play of Andre Iguodala (19.6 ppg), Samuel Dalembert (10.1 rpg) and Andre Miller (6.7 apg). Meanwhile the Wizards have gone in the opposite direction, dropping 12-of-18 since the start of last month.

Washington received some good news yesterday as Caron Butler returned to practice for the first time since the All-Star break. With CB and Gilbert Arenas - who returned to practice last week after three months on the sideline - getting back into game shape, the reinforcements are on their way. But with the race heating up, the Wizards can't afford to wait around for their big scorers to return to the floor. They need to win now to stave off Sixers and Hawks (26-37) and keep themselves in position to make a run at the Raptors for the fifth seed down the stretch.

Saturday's 97-100 home loss to the Bobcats - who, at 5-0 in March are one of the hottest teams in the league...but they're still the Bobcats - highlighted Washington's inability to put string together consistent performances both on the road at in the comfy confines of the Phone Booth.

One night after notching their first victory north of the border in a long, long time, they gave up 34 points to Jason Richardson and 23 to former D-League MVP Matt Carroll, wasting a 30-points, 10-board effort from Antawn Jamison.
The Wiz fell behind early, surrendering a season-high 35 first-quarter points to the Bobs and from they were forced to play catch-up the entire way.

Tonight the Milwaukee Bucks come to town, another team ripe for the picking, but with the way things have gone lately, who knows which Wizards we'll see on the floor.

The Last Time
Butler went off for a career-high 40 on Jan. 27 in Milwaukee but the Wizards still managed to lose 105-102 in overtime. Tough Juice - sorry but that moniker just doesn't roll off the tongue like it did earlier this season - has played only two games since.

The Bucks managed to win that one even without the services of leading-scored Michael Redd and Charlie Villanueva as Mo Williams scored 25 and Charlie Bell chipped in 22 off the bench.

-- The Tar Heel

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Battle for National Supremecy

It's always interesting to see how a player develops over the course of his career. How they take their raw potential and progressively get better. In 2001 there were two shortstops at similar points in their careers. Both were young, talented and showed promise to combine a little bit of power, a good amount of speed with solid defense and eventual veteran leadership. Their stats in 2001 were respectively; 80 runs, 14 triples, 10 homeruns 51 RBIs, 25 SBs, .302 BA vs. 97 runs, 12 triples, 14 homeruns, 54 RBIs, 46 SBs, .274 BA. The later is 2007 National League MVP Jimmy Rollins, the other is Washington's Cristian Guzman. Guzman, simply put, was one of those guys on the cusp of becoming great, but never put everything together. However, there is no argument that he is the starting shortstop on the Nationals' 2008 squad. While he is no longer comparable to Rollins, before his injury in 2007 Guzman was putting up very respectable numbers. With most of his various maladies behind him, 2008 looks to be a career defining year. I do not expect him to play over 140 games, but as long as the abysmal .219 BA of his 2005 campaign is long gone, he's as good as any other spot holder for prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez. News about Gonzalez is hard to come by but he played 33 games last year for the Gulf Coast Nationals and batted .245 with 11 RBIs. Not really the production of a future stud so you'll just have to trust the Nationals' scouts that this kid can be the real deal.

While there are only three outfield positions, a successful team can platoon two developing or mediocre players in order to create the statistical equivalent of an above average outfielder. It is critical that the Nationals and Manny Acta manage their young outfielders with as much care and thought that they would a pitching staff.
Based on experience and the promise of a better season Austin Kearns will temporarily retain his starting job in right field. However, he needs to produce better numbers quickly or he'll find himself on the bench or headed out of town. Many have said that his "gap hitting" style of swing will greatly benefit from the new park's dimensions, turning a portion of 2007's 35 doubles into homeruns, but a ballpark has never been responsible for 106 strikeouts or a .332 OBP. With talented up and coming Outfielders Elijah Dukes and Justin Maxwell waiting in the wings, anything other than increased power numbers from Kearns won't justify keeping them off the field.

I never understood why or how Lastings Milledge suddenly lost playing time to Endy Chavez or Marlon Anderson while he played for the Mets. Milledge has very good bat speed and has expressed a desire to steal more bases. I don't ever see him hitting over 35 homeruns as his general body makeup (6 foot, 200 lbs.) doesn't demand that kind of swing, but an emerging gold glove center fielder that can consistently hit 25 homeruns and swipe 35 stolen bases is welcome on any team in the bigs.

I have been wildly critical of Wily Mo Pena since the day he put on a Nationals jersey and feel no different about him now. He is definitely a big guy (6' 3'', 245) and I've read and heard from multiple sources that he is certainly capable of hitting 40 homeruns in any ball park, but he has yet to put those physical talents together with plate discipline. He will get a big opportunity to play full time for the first time in his career and as long as he can wake up his bat before every game the Nationals will be able to overlook his lack of range in left. He's been in the league six years for three different teams, if he's got any more talent left up his sleeve this would be the time to pull it out. There are a lot of questions surrounding this perennial underachiever that can only be answered when his critics are silenced.

It's never a bad thing to have a deep outfield bench as these players are needed throughout the season as hitting streaks and hot bats come and go. I was very impressed last year when I saw Maxwell play. This kid has incredible power and a pure swing. I would even go as far as to compare his potential to a young Albert Pujols and have no doubt that he is the future right fielder of the Washington Nationals for years to come. He needs a little bit more time to develop and get better, but by the time he is ready, Kearns will be well into his implosive and the change will be obvious.
Dukes is in the same situation and will be breathing down both Pena's and Milledge's necks the entire season. Displaying power/speed/great defense, his talent alone will give him the opportunity to prove to the organization he's ready. With five players that all have something to prove the Nationals will reap the rewards even if two of them fail.

- The Hokie

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