Saturday, March 22, 2008

Caps battle back to earn two points in Atlanta

Capitals 5, Thrashers 3

For better than fifty minutes last night it seemed like the word of the day for Capitals fans would be 'almost' and the Capitals seemed to be on the verge of almost picking up a vital road win, almost keeping themselves in the playoffs race, creating chances that were almost goals and almost catching a break as the Ranger almost did the Caps a favor by (almost) beating the Flyers with a third period comeback of their own. But by the time the final buzzer had sounded, it was clear Caps fans would have a very different word on their minds: resilient.

In the first two games of their road trip the Capitals combined to play one good period - the opening frame in Nashville. The recent mini-slump, while distressing, wasn't particularly surprising given that this team has spent most of this season clawing its way back into contention after it's horrible start to the season. Given the adversity the team has faced while climbing up the standings over the last several months under Bruce Boudreau and the way things had started to go recently it would have been easy for them to come out in the third with a defeatist attitude, accepting that while they had done well to even get in playoff contention they were up against too much this season. Instead the Capitals came out and made a statement, dominating play for the final frame and outshooting the Thrashers 23-2, and in the process sending a message to the rest of the Eastern Conference that they're not ready to give up on this season yet.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Alexander Ovechkin - 2 goals, 2 assists, nine shots, +4
(2) Nicklas Backstrom - 2 goals, 1 assist, +3
(3) Mike Green - 2 assists, +3, 7 shots

Picture of the Night
The shot chart for the third period of last night's game:

Quick Hits

  • I hated to see it, but that Eric Perrin pass to Jim Slater that lead to his shorthanded goal was beautiful.

  • Jeff Schultz made a great play at one point with Ilya Kovalchuk bearing down on him on a one-on-one, an indication of how much he's improved this season.

  • Steve Eminger wants in the lineup bad. He seems like he's always looking to make a big and tonight he was forechecking harder than some of the forwards during the third period.

  • The Thrashers laid 20 hits on the Caps last night, a number that probably would have been lower had Donald Brashear and/or John Erskine been in the lineup.

  • The Capitals racked up 45 shots on the night, led by Ovechkin (9), Viktor Kozlov (8) and Mike Green (7).

  • The Thrashers commentators were criticizing Kari Lehtonen for being upset with the end of the game and, to a certain extent, calling out his teammates in the post game interview but I can't say I blame him. There's no way you should see 23 shots in a one period when your team is defending a lead.

  • That said, Lehtonen should have been called for an unsportsmanlike conduct minor for throwing his stick after the Capitals fourth goal (and an added ten minutes misconduct would have been appropriate as well, although since Lehtonen is a goalie it wouldn't have had an impact).

  • Alex Ovechkin wasn't credited with a hit.

  • Boyd Gordon's goal was his sixth this season...and his third empty netter.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Caps travel to Atlanta to take on downtrodden Thrashers

Washington Capitals at Atlanta Thrashers
Friday, March 20th, 2008, 7:00 PM
Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia

Last Meeting: 3/14/2008, Caps win 4-1

For a post that covers similar ground, see A View From the Cheap Seats' "Know Thy Enemy".

After the Capitals' last game it was apparent that the team was tired, likely both mentally and physically and Bruce Boudreau gave the team Thursday off from practice in an effort to help them clear their heads and come back focused. Having a day away from the rink to collect their thoughts should help the team move on after getting dismantled against Chicago. A win against a struggling Atlanta team would help even more.

There's no reason the Capitals can't win against the Thrashers who, frankly, are a bad team. Really bad. Like, getting national attention for how bad they are. Here's a look at what the Caps' Friday night opponent has done in their last ten games:

  • March 2nd, 3-2 overtime loss to Pittsburgh. At the time this was Atlanta 7th consecutive loss.

  • March 5th, 6-3 loss to Carolina. Atrlanta put the Hurricanes on gthe powerplay seven time, contributing to the 37 shots against.

  • March 7th, 3-2 win against Minnesota in the gimmick shootout. Atlanta was outshot 39-26, but did go 2-4 on the powerplay.

  • March 8th, 3-2 overtime loss to Florida. Were it not for Kari Lehtonen this one would have been close; the Thrashers were outshot 43-27.

  • March 11th, 5-2 loss to Colorado. Johan Hedberg allows five goals on 23 shots.

  • March 13th, 6-4 win against Calgary. The Thrashers rally from a three-goal deficit to send a tired Calgary team home with a loss.

  • March 14th, 4-1 loss to Washington. The Caps dominated the Thrashers, outshooting them 37-12. Only Kari Lehtonen's stellar play kept this from being a complete blowout.

  • March 16th, 3-1 loss to Florida. The Thrashers learned two things the Capitals know all to well: (1) the NHL's referees aren't very consistent and (2) Tomas Vokoun is really good.

  • March 18th, 3-2 loss to Philadelphia. The score may have been 3-2, but the shots were 47-19 in favor of the Flyers.

  • March 19th, 5-3 loss to Carolina. A Slava Kozlov goal with 39 seconds left made this one look a little better on paper and although the Thrashers played one of their stronger games of this stretch, actually out shooting the Hurricanes 34-33, this game was over at the first intermission when Carolina took a 3-0 lead to the locker room.

During this ten game stretch the Thrashers:

  • Won one game in regulation, won one game in a shootout, lost twice in overtime and lost six times in regulation.

  • Allowed an average of 35.6 shots per game against and averaged 26.1 shots for.

  • Were outshot six times, outshot their opposition three times and matched their opponents once.

  • Went 6 for 35 on the powerplay (17.1%), but scored powerplay goals in only three games.

  • Killed just 29 of 40 shorthanded situations (72.5%).

  • Saw their goalies post a combined .896 save percentage.

Simply put, the Capitals should not lose this game. In fact, it shouldn't even be close.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Defensive Lapses Doom Banged Up Wiz

Just when you thought the Wizards had figured out how to beat the teams they're supposed to beat, they go and lose to another sub-.500 club, and they have the nerve to do it at home.

I'll admit it, the guys had me going there after coming back to beat the Clippers over the weekend. But then they go and lose to the Atlanta Hawks 96-105 on Monday and now those pesky Philadelphia 76ers are just a half game back of Washington for the 6th spot in the East.

If you're looking for an explanation for the letdown, the first stat that jumps out to you is Atlanta's field goal percentage. The Hawks shot a blistering 55.4 percent from the field. Translation: very poor defense from the home team. Atlanta also shot 53 percent from long-range thanks to new addition Mike Bibby who was 5-for-6.

Next, take a look at the bench production. After a string of very strong performances from role players - especially Nick Young and Darius Songaila - the Wizards got zilch from their reserves save for Roger Mason's 14. The Hawks bench out-scored Washington's 28-22 as Young and Songaila combined for only eight points. And what is going on with Andray Blatche? He was a real spark off the bench after Songaila replaced him in the starting lineup, but recently he's just disappeared. Sure, Eddie Jordan only gave him five minutes on Monday, but the guy has to do something in the minutes he's allotted if he wants that number to increase. Blatche would've been the perfect counter to Atlanta's slew of lanky forwards.

Next Up

Washington Wizards (33-33) at
Orlando Magic (45-24)
Wednesday, March 19 - 7pm
Amway Arena

The Wizards now must travel to Orlando to face one of the league's hottest team, and one they have yet to defeat in two meetings so far this season. The most recent matchup turned into a blowout very quickly as the Magic hammered Washington on its home floor, 122-92 on March 5.

Orlando has won 11 of its last 13 including a 104-90 rout of Cleveland on Monday. And while the Wizards would love to prove that they can play with Dwight Howard and company - if the season ended today the two teams would be matched up in the first round - their biggest concern right now might be to just get healthy.

Caron Butler returned for Thursday's win against Cleveland, but his wrist is banged up and the same goes for Antonio Daniels. Meanwhile Brendan Haywood just returned after missing one game due to a strained left patella tendon and Antawn Jamison has been playing with back pain for several weeks now.

But with the Sixers licking their chops as they close in on Washington's sixth seed, the Wiz have got to come together and continue to pick up wins. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening tonight against the Magic.

-- The Tar Heel
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Monday, March 17, 2008

Caps Gameday - Predators/Capitals Preview

The Capitals open a season-defining six game road trip against an opponent in a similar position. The Nashville Predators have taken a lot of people by surprise this season and like the Capitals they're just two points away from an unlikely playoff berth, so this game ought to be a good one as two deep and talent teams try to go on the type of season-ending run that will be needed to bolster them into the playoffs.

Washington Capitals at Nashville Predators
Tuesday, March 18th, 2008, 8:00 PM
Sommet Center in Nashville, Tennessee


About the Opponent

Nashville Predators: 36-29-8, 80 points, 2nd in the Central Division, 9th in the Western Conference

Team Leaders
Goals: J.P. Dumont (27)
Assists: Jason Arnott (42)
Points: Jason Arnott (67)
Plus/Minus: Alexander Radulov (+17)
Penalty Minutes: Jordin Tootoo (83)
Fights: Darcy Hordichuk (12)

Random Predators Fact
The Predators have a little bit of the Capitals in their history: Former Caps' general manager David Poile is the only GM the Predators have ever had and the franchise's first goal was scored by former Capitals Andrew Brunette.

Random team Statistic
Predators center David Legwand was it's first ever draft choice and leads the team in career scoring with 327 points (121+206).

Keys to the Game

Get solid games from all six defensemen. The Predators are 10th in the NHL in goals and it's not because of one player, or even one line: Nashville already has four players with more than 20 goals (and other with 15) and six players with more than 40 points. A loss of concentration against any Nashville's lines could mean the puck winds up in the Capitals' net.

Goaltending. Chris Mason was supposed to replace Tomas Vokoun, but he's been average at best. Dan Ellis has stepped up and has great numbers on the year but he's also been somewhat inconsistent. Nashville can skate, can play defense, can score and has great depth - when they get good goaltending they're really a tough team to face.

Players to Watch

Alexander Semin - for Washing to have a successful road swing they can't just rely on the Ovehckin-Backstrom-Kolov tandem to provide the vast majority of their offense and the second-best goal scorer on the Capitals Semin needs to step it up.

Alexander Radulov - the 15th overall pick in the 2004 draft has flown under the radar a little becuase he players in Nashville, but Radulov is immensely talented and already has 24 goals and 31 assists this season to go along with his stellar +17 rating, leading a very defensively responsible Nashville team.

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Huet leads Caps to shootout win

Capitals 2, Bruins 1 (SO)

Don't look now Caps fans, but with their third consecutive win the boys in red, white and blue are just two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the eighth seed and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference after a shootout victory over the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

While at this point the team (and its fans) will take a two point night just about any way they can get one, the Capitals showed cause for concern on two fronts. One was their inability to take over the game physically. The Capitals are one of the biggest teams in the NHL (despite that they seem to have a tendency to exaggerate their player's size), have a myriad of skilled players and were playing at home against a Bruins team that had played an overtime game less than 24 hours earlier. Simply put, the third period should have belonged to the Capitals, yet the Bruins got the better of the shot count, putting up 17 to the Capitals' nine.

The reasons were twofold. The Capitals were partly outshot and outchanced in the game's second half because they were too tentative, a fact noted by Bruce Boudreau, who said of his team's play, “It looked like we were afraid to make a mistake instead of, ‘Let’s go get them,’ and play the way we can.” In addition to being tentative the Capitals were also stymied by a relatively simple (and extremely boring conservative) Boston defensive strategy. The Capitals have too much speed, too much skill and too much size to allow themselves to be contained by a team just dropping players back into the neutral zone.

But why dwell on the negatives, especially when they don't exactly set off any alarms? The Capitals did play pretty well, Alexander Semin and Cristobal Huet both looked great and the team showed not just how good they are, but how mentally tough they are as well, picking up three wins in a row after last weekend's heartbreaking losses. The important of the confidence (and the points) the Caps picked up in their last three games cannot be overestimated.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Cristobal Huet - 39 saves on 40 shots (.975 save percentage); 2-for-2 in the shootout
(2) Sergei Fedorov - 1 goal, 12-20 (60%) on faceoffs
(3) Alexander Semin


"Like I always said, coaches hate the shootout when you lose, and it's okay when you win"

-Bruce Boudreau

Quick Hits

  • I'm starting to wonder if Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom switched brains - now it seems like Semin is passing up good shooting chances to try and dish to someone else and Backstrom is stickhandling a bit too much, especially crossing the blue line.

  • Not that I think it's going on, or even that it's really possible, but if you wanted to try and convince people there was a Juventus-style match fixing thing going on between the Bruins and the NHL officials, you'd probably be able to throw together a lot of evidence from the last two Washington/Boston games.

  • To their credit, the Caps did come out throwing the body around. The team was credit with 20 hits and seven players (Alex Ovechkin, Matt Bradley, Donald Brashear, Brooks Laich, Matt Cooke, Shaone Morrisonn and Sami Lepisto) had more than one. Morrisonn's four set the pace.

  • Because there were only two goals in the game and both were on the powerplay, every player in the game was an even +/-.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!
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Two Captains are Better than One

Atlanta Hawks (28-38) at
Washington Wizards (33-32)
Monday, March 17 - 7pm
Verizon Center

With Caron Butler back in the lineup over the weekend, the Wizards put together back-to-back wins - one big and one much, much bigger.

I imagine you'd say Thursday's 101-99 home win against LeBron James and the Cavs was the by far the better of the two. CB-3 gutted out a ridiculous 41 minutes in his first game back and Washington proved that they can in fact handle Cleveland every now and again.

Well, you'd be wrong.

Yes, that was a great win for the Wiz on national television, and a tremendous confidence boost for everyone fretting another possible Wiz-Cavs first-round playoff matchup. But the Wizards' have beaten good teams several times this season - Boston (twice), Dallas (twice), New Orleans (twice).

What really impressed me was their ability to avoid throwing away that win against Cleveland by storming back to beat the Los Angeles Clippers two nights later and get back above .500 for the first time since early February.

The Clips are not in the same class as the Cavs, and they shouldn't be discussed in the same breath as the Wizards, but they're exactly the kind of team that has plagued Washington all season long. The Wiz love to make statements by winning big time games but then they fall apart against the middlings and the bottom-feeders.
They tried to do it again on Saturday, too. But thankfully for the boys in white, their captain simply wouldn't let them.

Down four points with seven seconds left, Antawn Jamison nailed a three-pointer and after two Corey Maggette free throws pushed the margin back to three, he drew a foul on another attempt from beyond the arc and went to the free throw line, where he has missed several key free throws late in the fourth quarter.

This time AJ calmly sank all three, sending the game into overtime where he carried the Wizards on his back to 119-109 victory. The All-Star forward had 36 points and 11 boards in 45 minutes and Washington maintained its one-game lead over the surging Philadelphia 76ers.
That determination is just one of the reasons Jamison is a co-captain on this squad, and one of the many reasons Ernie Grunfield would rather not give him up when his contract expires this summer.


  • Washington was out-rebounded 51-36 by the Cavs but managed to pull out the win by outshooting Cleveland 48.6-to-42 percent from the field. The Wiz also had seven players in double-figures. (Stevenson, Daniels, Haywood, Butler, Jamison, Songaila and Young)
  • The Wiz again had seven in double-figures against the Clips. Jamison led the way with 36 while Butler, Daniels, Stevenson, Songaila, Young and Mason all had at least 10.
  • Steve Buckhantz got to pull out that infamous "DAGGER!" call late in the overtime period Saturday after Antonio Daniels nailed a trey from the corner with the shot-clock winding down to put the game on ice.
Up Next

Tonight the Wizards host another potential playoff team when the Atlanta Hawks come to town. Washington has won two of the team's three meetings this season including a 102-98 overtime victory on January 11 in Hot-lanta, but the Hawks (28-38) have won three straight and are playing much better ball since the addition of Mike Bibby just before the trade deadline.

Again, this is the kind of the team the Wizards have to beat to maintain and have any hopes of improving their playoff positioning down the stretch. The Hawks have an All-Star in Joe Johnson and heaps (about six first-round picks-worth) of power forwards to throw at the Wizards. Fortunately, Washington has Tough Juice back and it looks as though he and Jamison won't let their team fall apart like it did at the end of last season.

-- The Tar Heel

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Healthy Pitching Proposes Perfection (Part 3)

For the Nationals, staying healthy is what it's all about. The pitching staff has, in the past, had a very difficult time making starts and putting up innings that would really capitalize on their talent. Patterson and Hill led this wounded army of throwers but could surprise a lot of people if they stay healthy.

John Patterson hasn't put together even 50 innings in a season since 2005 in which he posted a very good 198.1 IP. He does have the stuff when healthy to dominate, and has been encouraged by off-season surgery and workouts to pitch to his full potential. Thus far in spring training he's seen limited action, but in 5 innings he boasts a 1.80 era, with 5 strikeouts and 0 walks. I expect Patterson to put his ailments behind him and finally have the break out year that the Nationals and the fans are waiting for.
Projected: 15-9, 2.97 era, 175 Ks

Shawn Hill, whose 2007 season was very sharp if not statistically impressive will probably not make the opening day roster. Hill has experienced tightness and pain in his right forearm since January and if his history of illness is any indication of where he'll be and how effective he'll be this season, I don't think the Nationals will be able to rely on his consistent presence in the rotation. Expect him to throw around 90 innings in limited work.
Projected: 3-5, 3.88 era, 63 Ks

Matt Chico put together a very good rookie season with the Nationals last year and most importantly was counted on to make his starts; 31 games started. Chico had good speed and attacked the strike zone, but lacked effected control last year walking 74 batters. It's always important to have a left-handed innings eater on staff and Chico gives the Nationals just that. Regardless of the numbers he puts up, if this sophomore can anchor the third spot in the rotation the Nationals will be in a very good position to win series of games, not just one or two here and there.
Projected: 9-7, 4.22 era, 103 Ks

Jason Bergmann. I would love to see this guy make all of his starts. Behind Patterson he has the best stuff of the staff and a good idea of how to use it. A pitcher with an above average fastball and good breaking stuff he's the only member of the staff that has the potential to post double digit strikeout games. Injuries are again a factor with this young hurler, but thus far in spring training he has started three games for 11 innings. Pitching an entire season where he can capitalize on general momentum and consistency will iron out his era, but Bergmann will have to keep the ball in the ballpark to post a respectable record. Bergmann allowed 18 homeruns in 21 games and coupled with 42 walks produced his 6-6 record. The new stadium will only be more prone to the longball so Bergmann will have to get batter at pitching smart when he falls behind in the count.
Projected: 11-8, 3.55 era, 165 Ks

John Lannan was a late season call up after injuries took their toll on the staff last year. I was able to see one of his six starts and got a fairly good impression of his style. He's not going to strikeout a lot of guys, but he will throw strikes and get groundballs. He pitches to contact and relies on his defense. General Manager Bowden has said he like Lannan's mindset on the mound, but I think Lannan needs to focus more early in the count. Falling behind and letting runners get on base is never a good idea, and even if you are able to bare down and get guys out in those situations, a team will get beat more times than they win when you fall asleep and put runners on base. Lannan has a good shot at the rotation but will need to prove it by putting up numbers worthy of his spot.
Projected: 7-7, 4.15, 65 Ks

Because Hill is already a very precarious start for the regular season and both Patterson and Bergmann have a history of missing starts, the fifth spot in the rotation will be represented by a hodgepodge group of guys that include Tim Redding, Tyler Clippard, Michael O'Conner and Ross Detwiler. Both Redding and O'Conner saw a good amount of action on the mound in 2007, but didn't turn in stellar campaigns posteing a combined 6-14 record. They can be used as innings eaters and can stay competitive against weaker teams but should not be relied on. Clippard and Detwiler are the young studs of the organization and the sooner they are ready to compete the better. Both have electric pitches and will make an impact after the All-Star break if not before.
The pitching staff has a lot more upside that people think. They also appear to be the best the Nationals have ever had walking into the regular season. The end of the rotation usually takes care of itself, but to be a force in the NL east Patterson and Bergmann have to stay healthy.

- The Hokie

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