Saturday, March 29, 2008

Huet, Kozlov shine in Caps win

Capitals 3, Panthers 0

Coming into the final stretch the Washington Capitals are looking increasingly like a team of destiny (or an unstoppable force, for those more scientifically inclined fans) and last night's 3-0 over a Florida Panthers team that needed a win to keep any glimmer of playoff hope alive did nothing to diminish that feeling, as the Capitals emerged victorious behind stellar performances from Viktor Kozlov and Cristobal Huet.

With their win, Washington caps a 5-1 road trip that exceed the expectations of even the most optimistic fan but still leaves the Capitals on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, one point behind Philadelphia for the eight spot in the Eastern Conference and two points behind both Boston (for seventh in the Conference) and Carolina (for first in the Southeast Division)(note: all three teams have a game in hand on the Capitals). Who would have thought that even after picking up ten points in the six game swing the Caps would still be on the outside looking in? At least on the plus side for Caps fans, it was nice to have a game that didn't induce any gray hairs.

On the ice the Washington Capitals number one goal is to maintain focus, play smart and do their best to pick up every single point that's still available to them. In the front office of the Washington Capitals to number one goal should be finding a way to get newly acquired netminder Cristobal Huet under contract for next season. Speculation is that Huet would be looking for something in the range of an average salary of five million dollars for three or four years and if that's the case he's well worth the money. The Capitals are used to shelling out 5.45 million a year for Olaf Kolzig and although a number of players including Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Brooks Laich are going to get significant raises next year, you'd have to think that Ted Leonsis and George McPhee will find a way to devote a significant chuck of cash to the goaltending position, especially given how much this season illustrated the impact of mediocre goaltending on an otherwise very good team.

No doubt there are alarm bells going off for some Caps fans at the thought of signing a goalie to play the next three or four years for the the team given that Semen Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth are both pretty decent prospects. But the reality is that Neuvirth just turned 20 last week and Varlamov is only 19, so both are likely a ways from being capable NHL regulars. Like pitchers in baseball or quarterbacks in football, goalies tend to take long to develop; Kolzig didn't become the Capitals' starter until after his 25th birthday, Evgeni Nabokov was the same age when he became San Jose's number one and Jean-Sebastien Giguere wasn't a starter until he was 23. Even most highly-regarded netminders take a little while to get going: Roberto Luongo wasn't a clear cut starter until he was 22 and Rick DiPietro only really put everything together last year, at age 25. Some goalies establish themselves at a younger age, but in all likelihood it's going to take at least a couple seasons before either of the Capitals' goaltending prospects will be ready and Huet seems to be more than capable of holding down the fort until then.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Viktor Kozlov
- 1 goal, 2 assists, +3, 7 shots
(2) Cristobal Huet - saved all 32 shots sent his way
(3) Alex Ovechkin - 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 2 hits, 4 shots

Quick Hits

  • Even if Eric Fehr doesn't turn into the type of sniper the Capitals once hoped he should still be a valuable player as a big guy with decent hands who isn't afraid to throw his body around, as evidenced by his 3 hits and 3 shots last night.

  • I wonder how long that Ovechkin-to-Nicklas Backstrom play from behind the net is going to work before other teams catch on?

  • If Bruce Boudreau had been the coach of this team from the season's outset, I think we'd be talking about Ovechkin hitting 70.

  • The Panthers managed to shoot and miss the net 15 times.

  • The Capitals only had one player (Sergei Fedorov) who was over 50% on draws; not surprisingly the Panthers had only one player (Greg Campbell) who was below 50%.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Capitals sign Mathieu Perreault

As noted by Tarik El-Bashir in Capitals Insider and Mike Vogel in Dump 'n' Chase, the Capitals have signed prospect Mathieu Perreault to a three-year entry level contract.

The 20 year old Perreault is primarily a center and was a sixth round pick of the Capitals in 2006 and has torn up the QMJHL since then, registering 233 points (75+158) in 132 games and won the Jean Béliveau Trophy as the 'Q''s leading scorer this season, a feat that puts him in the company of players like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Radulov, Daniel Brière, Brad Richards and Mario well as Patrick Carrigan, Yanick Dubé, Patrick Poulin and Pavel Rosa (note: another Capitals prospect, François Bouchard, was the league's leading scorer last season). The point? As good as the 'Q' is, leading the league in scoring doesn't garuntee NHL success, especially if you win the trophy as an overage player. Making the transition to professional hockey will be even more difficult for Perreault who's listed at 5'9'', 166 by the QMJHL and at 5'9'', 151 by the Capitals. The league has changed post-lockout in a mannger that benefits smaller, skilled players and small players like Martin St. Louis, Steve Sullivan and Brian Gionta have been able to be productive as forwards in the NHL. He might not fulfill the promise the potential the last couple years suggest he has, but if he comes close Perreault's going to be a steal as a sixth-rounder.

Around the (Inter)net
Hockey writers Ross McKeon and Kevin Dupont are both upset at the potential for an Ovechkin-less playoffs...Tarik had his weekly Caps Chat today...ESPN has some thoughts about Bruce Boudreau as a candidate for coach of the year...the Capitals have reassigned former first-rounder Sasha Pokulok to the ECHL, down from Hershey in the AHL.

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Misleading picture here

Capitals 4, Lightning 3 (OT)

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Tomas Fleischmann - game winning overtime goal, +1
(2) Sergei Fedorov - 2 assists, +1
(3) Brooks Laich - 1 goal (shorthanded), 1 assist, +1

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!
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Gotta Keep Winning

The Washington Capitals must win every game remaining on their schedule and hope the teams above them falter. They fell behind the 8-ball early this season and have been clawing back into contention ever since Bruce Boudreau took over.

The Washington Wizards are in a similar situation, although not nearly as dire. They've pretty much got a playoff spot locked up with the dismal state of most of the teams behind them in the Eastern Conference standings, but if they're looking to hold onto their current 5th seed, they can't let up. The Philadelphia 76ers are playing the role of the Caps to the Wizards' position as the Carolina Hurricanes (or Boston/Philadelphia). Once out of the race, they're now smack dab in the thick of it.

The Sixers (37-35) were a dreadful 16-28 on January 25th, well out of the playoff picture and talking about rebuilding. With the exception of the Houston Rockets, no team (not even the mighty Celtics) has put together a better mark since. With a 21-7 record since then, Philly has stormed back into contention and with just one-half game separating them and the 5th spot, they're breathing right down the Wizards' necks.

So the only solution for Washington (37-34) is to take care of what they can control and just keep winning.

The Road Trip So Far

The Wizards faltered on Monday in the first test of their current five-game West Coast road trip, suffering a 102-82 drubbing in Portland.

The Trail Blazers withstood the loss of leading scorer Brandon Roy to a groin injury at the end of the first quarter, and Washington was never really able to make it a competitive game. Portland shot near 50 percent (49.4) as the Wizards managed just 35.8 percent from the field. Caron Butler scored 19 but was just 6-for-20, Antonio Daniels had 14 to go along with 8 assists and Antawn Jamison finished with 9 on a terrible 3-of-13 shooting performance.

Maybe the Wizards' were a little tired from the cross-country flight, but when you consider that Portland had dropped an 97-84 contest to the lowly Seattle Sonics the night before, the excuse didn't carry much weight.

Eddie Jordan's troops bounced back two nights later against those same Sonics in a game that was much closer than it should have been.

With 5:47 left in the third, the Wiz found themselves trailing by 18 - 73-56 - but that's when they turned things around. Brendan Haywood jump-started a 10-0 Washington run with his put-back and with 8:25 left in the game, Roger Mason's triple gave the visitors their first lead of the second half at 84-83.

The Wizards relied heavily on their bench to get it done for them down the stretch and they were rewarded with a 104-99 victory.

Mason was fantastic, draining five of his career-high six threes in the fourth to lead Washington with 22 points. Darius Songaila was also huge down the stretch, scoring eight of his 10 points in the final frame.

Caron and Antawn were better offensively, combining for 38 points on 12-of-33 shooting and Haywood (13) and DeShawn Stevenson (11) also cracked double figures. The somehow managed to overcome a 32-49 rebounding disadvantage - a real sign of fatigue and a result of Nick Collison's 21-board night - and it certainly helped that they made 10 threes to Seattle's one.

Regardless, the big story here is the reserves coming through in the clutch. With weary legs and banged up bodies this kind of bench support is exactly what the Wizards need during this trip. If they can make it home with a 2-3 mark or somehow sneak a win in either Los Angeles or Utah to make it a winning trip, it would huge in the standings and also for morale.


“Roger Mason really bailed us out tonight,” -- Eddie Jordan after the win in Seattle

"We just came with some energy. Obviously, Roger got hot and hit some shots and then we got some stops on defense and that turned the game around."
-- Darius Songaila


  • As has been the word out of the Phone Booth all season, the Wizards sound like they're committed to bringing the core of this year's team back next season in its entirety. That means upcoming free agents Jamison and Gilbert Arenas included. Today Washington Post beat writer Ivan Carter reported that Eddie Jordan, President Ernie Grunfield and owner Abe Pollin all expect to re-sign both All-Stars this summer. The NBA has announced that the Wiz will be playing preseason exhibition games in Berlin and Barcelona as part of the NBA's Europe Live Tour - and the Commish is expecting them to showcase a healthy Big Three.
    • "We've said all along that our intention is to have those guys here over the long haul and that hasn't changed at all," Grunfeld said. "Even with Gilbert injured this season, we've shown that we can beat some of the best teams in the league, we like the development we are seeing from our young players and we feel that when we are healthy, we can compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference."
  • After missing back-to-back games with a bruised thigh, rookie guard Nick Young played in both of the Wizards' first two road games. He scored four points in 16 minutes in Portland and scored one basket in six minutes against Seattle. The Bean Burrito hasn't been able to maintain a consistent level of offense off the bench this season - often showing flashes of his ability to put the ball in the cup for stretches and then losing his aggressiveness for games at a time. Youth, inexperience and inconsistency go hand-in-hand, but the more Young can give the Wiz off the bench on a nightly basis, the more confidence Jordan will have in him this postseason.
  • The most entertaining saga involving the Wizards lately is the war of words between Stevenson and LeBron James. In case you missed it, here's a bit of a recap.
Next Up

Washington Wizards (37-34)
at Sacramento Kings (32-39)
Friday, March 28 - 10pm
Arco Arena

Friday's tilt in Sacramento is a game the Wizards must win if they want to make this a winning road trip. The Kings had dropped three straight before a 107-106 home win over Memphis on Wednesday. They always play well at home, so by no means will it be a cake-walk for Washington, but if they can shoot a respectable percentage and contain point guard Kevin Martin, they should have the upper hand.

The Wizards have had their way with the Kings in recent years. They haven't lost to Sacramento, regardless of venue, since Feb. 27, 2005. Washington won their first matchup 92-79 on Dec. 15.

Seven players average double-figures in scoring for the Kings, including Martin (23.2), Ron Artest (20.2) and Brad Miller (13.7) and at a 101.9 points per game clip, they certainly like to get up and down the floor. Normally that style plays to the Wizards' advantage, but if fatigue continues to be a problem, Sacramento could run away with this one.

It should be an exciting matchup between two teams that like to run and gun and also get to the rim. The Sixers host Phoenix tonight, which means it could be a great opportunity for the Wiz to get a little breathing room in the standings. With that said, Philly already knocked off the Suns 119-114 in Phoenix earlier this month and in the last two weeks they've picked up impressive wins against San Antonio, Denver and at Detroit and Boston. But the Wizards can't waste time watching the standings, they simply have to keep winning.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel
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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Capitals/Lightning Preview

Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning
Thursday, March 27th, 2008, 7:30 PM
St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Bay, Florida

Last Meeting: 2/16/08, Caps win 3-2

About the Opponent

Tampa Bay Lightning: 30-38-8, 68 points, 5th in the Southeast Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference

Team Leaders
Goals: Vincent Lecavalier (40)
Assists: Martin St. Louis (56)
Points: Vincent Lecavalier (89)
Plus/Minus: Michel Ouellet (+12)
Penalty Minutes: Shane O'Brien (154)
Fights: Andre Roy (12)

Keys to the Game

Avoid mistakes. The Capitals are a far better team that Tampa Bay and one with much more to play for. They ought to significantly outplay the Lightning and the only way that won't be reflected on the scoreboard is if the Caps give the Lightning chances to get back in the game with turnovers, soft goals, bad penalties or the like.

Slow down the game. Just as an inferior basketball team can keep themselves in the game by running down the shot clock and limiting possessions, an inferior hockey team can keep themselves in the game by mucking up play in the neutral zone and avoiding trading chances at each end.

Players to Watch

Alex Ovechkin - not exactly a bold prediction but Ovechkin's had three goals, 2 assists and 20 shots in the two games since the Caps collapse in Chicago and seemed poised to will his team into the postseason.

Jeff Halpern - the former Caps captain and 20 goal scorer has rediscovered his offensive touch since being traded to Tampa, where he has put up 15 points (7+8) in 13 games with the Lightning.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

United Sees First Real Test in Season Opener

It's now three days until DC United begins its 2008 campaign against the Kansas City Wizards and it looks like, even more so than in years past, they are ready to step beyond the MLS elite. As I wrote in my article two weeks ago, this year’s United team has seen a complete transformation from the team two years ago and has become one that can not only dominate the MLS but also begin a routine of successful performances in international cups. Obviously, however, the team must show complete cohesion before any amount of success can be had and the first several games of 2008 will be telling of how the rest of the year will shape up.

There was, not panic per say, but a number of held breaths following United’s 1-1 away draw against Harbour View. Excuses were quickly tossed about that Harbour View’s fitness was better, the field conditions were poor, and United players were still adjusting to one another. Well no excuse was needed after the home leg of the two-match round when United absolutely dominated, with 2 goals by Luciano Emilio and one by Devon McTavish coming within a 5 minute span in the second half. The 5-0 win pointed directly towards a team that is starting to gel, and particularly emphasized the development of McTavish who played superbly in the series against the Jamaican side.

Though the I have the utmost respect for Harbour View, the Saturday season opening match against Kansas City will be a far better litmus test for the new United squad. The Wizards are coming into 2008 with a slightly remodelled team and, like DC, are featuring the addition of their first Designated Player, also an Argentinean international. Like DC’s Marcelo Gallardo, the Wizards’ Claudio Lopez has also represented Argentina in world cup play and played for both a top Argentinean and European club. Lopez, a winger/forward, and Colombian forward Ivan Trujillo were brought in to improve a team that generated little offense during the second half of the 2007 season and finished with an uninspiring league record of 11-12-7. Unlike United who was able to make specific improvements in a bid for more international hardware, the Wizards are looking to just improve their position within the MLS. The loss of Eddie Johnson to Fulham at the beginning of 2008 meant the loss of their leading goal scorer from 2007 and Kansas City hopes that Lopez can be the offense spark that he was for his previous clubs Valencia, Lazio, and Club America. DC United is placing similar pressure on Gallardo, asking him to improve upon the role that Christian Gomez had fashioned for himself as the offense’s handler. The dynamics of two Argentinean Designated Players will be a lot of fun to watch as they both play their first MLS league match.

It’s no secret that United should be a clear favorite to win this match. They fashioned the best league record last year and, on paper at least, it looks they have only improved. With all their success last year, United only managed to win one of three games against the Wizards, losing one and drawing the other. In fact, United played their first home game of the 2007 season against the Wizards and found themselves on the losing end of a 4-2 finish. The ’07 season also began with three straight loses, which can be partly blamed on United still figuring out how to incorporate Emilio and Fred. I’m confident, however, that there is less reason to be nervous about the newest batch of acquired players and their ability to fit into United’s system. When the two Brazilians arrived last year, there was obvious uncertainty about how they would fit into Tom Soehn’s scheme. Fred in particular was asked to move to an outside midfield role after primarily playing forward and central midfield for his previous team. This time around the incoming players were selected to fill specific positions so the only learning curve will be in becoming familiar with Soehn’s coaching and the other players.

With all my hyping up of the team I would still make a conservative prediction of a 1-0 win for United. While United is, in my opinion, clearly the better team, Kansas City has armed themselves with players capable of making an impact and that must be considered. The Wizards also have a very good defensive core in defenders Jimmy Conrad and Jack Jewsbury. Conrad has captained the US National team in 2007 and will provide an excellent test for Gallardo, Emilio, and the rest of the United attack.

There is plenty of question over what the starting lineup will look like, particularly with the team having to travel to Mexico for the CONCACAF semifinals immediately after the game against the Wizards. Soehn said on the two upcoming games that "it's difficult enough to play back-to-back games when you are in full fitness midway through the season, and we've only been together for a short time," which suggests he could fiddle with lineups, especially for the Kansas City match. I expect that we will see a very similar starting XI to the one sent out against Harbour View in the home match at RFK.

And so another season begins for DC United with the usual pomp and fanfare that this team rightly deserves. Time will certainly tell how far this team can go but, for right now at least, there is no ceiling in sight.

DC United @ Kansas City Wizards – 8:00 pm, 3/29/2008

Can be listened to on 1050 AM or watched at

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Capitals down Carolina in shootout

Capitals 3, Hurricanes 2 (SO)

The Washington Capitals are a team desperate to get into the playoffs, and it shows. One game after a stunning third period comeback in Atlanta sent Thrashers fans home unhappy the Capitals visited division-leading Carolina and outshot them 44-27 (including 6-0 in overtime) en route to a shootout win. It was less than ideal - going to overtime meant the Hurricanes picked up a point as well and rather than gaining ground the Capitals merely kept pace as Boston and Philadelphia also won, but with all of their remaining games against the very beatable Southeast Division the Capitals are a good weekend away from pulling into the eight (or even seventh) spot in the Eastern Conference.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Alex Ovechkin
- 1 goal, 11 shots, +4, 4 hits
(2) Nicklas Backstrom - 2 assists, 4 shots, +1, 4-6 on faceoffs
(3) Alex Semin - 1 goal

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Monday, March 24, 2008

On a Roll at the Right Time

Don't look now but the Washington Wizards are heating up. In the past 11 days the boys in white and blue have knocked off three of the four teams above them in the Eastern Conference playoff standings and are playing as well as they have at any stretch this season.

With Sunday night's nationally televised 95-83 victory over Detroit, the Wiz have won six of their last seven and are 8-3 in the month of March with five games to go. After two weeks of watching the Philadelphia 76ers creep up on their 6th spot, Washington continues to keep Andre Iguodala and company in its rear-view mirror and last week leap-frogged struggling Toronto to take control of 5th place.

The return of Caron Butler has helped kick-start the recent hot streak, but he's not the only reason the Wizards are putting things together just in time for the critical 5-week stretch before the playoffs. The Tar Heel made it over to the Phone Booth and got a first hand view - albeit from halfway up the stairs in section 404 - of a team that's really in a groove right now.

The Wizards (36-33) shot 52.8 percent against one of the league's best defensive teams, took the lead late in the first quarter and never gave it up. They out-scored the Pistons 50-20 in the paint and out-shot them by five at the stripe (17-12).

I saw several quotes from Pistons players after the game - like Tayshaun Prince saying “We didn’t even much at all run our normal plays,” - well, whatever. Sure, you've got a playoff spot locked up but don't give me that we're just experimenting with sets and coasting into April bullcorn. (Also, you wonder why so many people prefer college ball to 'The League' - teams don't have the luxury of taking nights off there).

Essentially, the Wiz out-played the Pistons in all facets of the game. Antawn Jamison had yet another double-double (24 & 12), Caron Butler looked the best his has in any game since his return with 17 points, 5 boards and 6 assists and Brendan Haywood came up big with 16 points. Darius Songaila gave the home team 10 points off the bench and Andray Blatche showed some toughness banging with Rasheed Wallace and baiting the Big Bald Spotted One into a technical - the 13,452nd of his career...or something like that.

Lettuce Ketchup

My apologies for abandoning you over the tail end of last week and through the weekend. I was a bit preoccupied entertaining three British imports and showing them all the best spots and things about our great city (including last night's prime time matchup). So let's re-hash a few noteworthy tidbits to get us ready for the up-coming five game road trip out west.

  • Wow! That was the first word that came out of my mouth when I saw the score from the Wiz-Magic game last Wednesday. Bouncing back from a 122-92 home loss with an 87-86 road win against the division leaders is one thing. But holding Dwight Howard to 3(!!!) points and 14 boards is just ridiculous. The guy is a walking double-double and yet the combination of Brendan Haywood and Andray Blatche transformed themselves into Kryptonite in Orlando. Their activity on the offense end was even more effective than their defense, as Howard was forced to ride the pine pony for much of the night after getting into early foul trouble. Great performance up and down the lineup and yet another credit to Randy Ayers' ability to coach defense.
  • Gilbert Arenas was nowhere to be found when last night's tilt tipped-off (I would know, I had the binoculars in hand). Well it turns out the Hibachi was expecting to make his triumphant return in front of ESPN's Sunday night hoops national audience until the team doctor checked out Gil's knee and determined he needed one more week of rest. Naturally, Agent Zero was a little miffed - apparently more than a little - and he stormed off, telling reporters, “I’m not coming back this year.”
    • The fact that he didn't have a sport coat to wear on the bench only added to his frustration (and was the reason he wasn't on the bench until midway through the half). It's a $10,000 fine if you show up in street clothes that don't include a coat and Gilbert has already shelled out for that one. Hard to say when/if we will in fact see him on the floor next week, but the good news is he did make the trip to Portland for tomorrow night's game - the first stop on a five-game road swing.
  • Nick Young missed his second straight game with a bruised right thigh, leaving the Wiz with only five reserves on the bench. This doesn't sound too serious though, so expect to see the Bean Burrito back on the court at some point in the next couple games.
  • One of the best moments from last night came as the Kiss Camera made its way around the Verizon Center during a timeout. After pausing on several couples, one brother & sister and a father and daughter (not everyone is into robbing the cradle), the camera locked in on former Wizard Jarvis Hayes - who had been booed all night - and a teammate sitting to his left. Hayes simply smiled and shook his head but the camera man didn't flinch. The fans continued to boo as the teammate turned away and put a towel over his head. At the last second, Hayes obliged and gave the teammate to his right a peck on the cheek. It was no Buckhantz-Chenier smooch, but good sport on his part nonetheless.
  • Another highlight: Whenever a Piston would step to the line, the jumbotron operator would flash a giant DOOK (sorry, that's how we spell it) logo on the screen. Naturally, people were already booing and trying to distract the shooter but this made them bring the noise about 50-fold. I know we're in Terps territory and the Devils had just lost to WVU the night before, but really? When it's not even a Dookie at the stripe? Sure. I'm all for it.
  • “Our big guys really took the challenge to make it difficult for him. Not to get him bouncing around and dunking and Supermanning and all that stuff. We really wanted to prevent as many points in the paint as possible and have them beat us from outside.” -- Jamison after the win in Orlando.
Up Next

The Wizards kick-off their five-game road trip in Portland tomorrow night. On their last left-coast jaunt, they man
aged a single win in four games and it took a last-second tip-in against the Clips to avoid coming back with a bagel in the win column.

This time they're riding some momentum and they've got Tough Juice back in the lineup.

The two teams met way back on November 17 with the Wizards blowing out the visiting Blazers 109-90. Six Wizards scored in double-figures in that game, including AJ's 30 and 11 boards and Haywood's 17 and 10.

Portland (37-33) comes into this one having won three-of-four, beating the Clips back-to-back in a Friday-Saturday home-and-home series. And while they're record would be good enough for 5th in the East, they're 6.5 games back of Golden State for the 8th and final spot in the West.

Joel Pryzbilla had a career-high 25 points in Saturday's win and leading scorer Brandon Roy scored 23 for the Blazers.

After their stop in Portland, the Wiz head to Seattle, Sacramento and L.A. for a date with Kobe and the Lakers before finishing things up in Utah. It's a critical trip for Washington as they look to hold onto and potentially increase their 1.5 game lead on Toronto and Philly. The first three games are all very winnable and with the way these guys have been playing over the last week and a half, a victory in L.A. or Utah wouldn't be a shock either.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

John Patterson Gets Cut

No sooner did I expound on my optimism for Patterson's return, the Nationals let him go after what they have said was a very disappointing spring rehabilitation. Even in my previous post I cautioned against the vulnerability of Patterson and his history of injury, and it is now evident that his arm troubles have had a more lasting impact than originally expected.

Patterson was 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA in nine innings this spring. Most telling however was his fastball, or lack there of, which was clocked in the low to mid 80s. This move while a disappointing one for all involved was necessary for the organization. All parties involved have remained patient and optimistic for two years, but a lack of progress regardless of the reason can't be shouldered indefinitely. I'm sure Patterson feels more let down by his current physical limitations than by the Nationals and I hope that he can regain some of his vigor that we saw in 2005. Maybe resurface again down the line.

This leaves a hole in the rotation and after a shaky Spring Training start Odalis Perez has righted the ship and pitched his way into the top spot of the Nationals staff. He will be the opening day starter against the Atlanta Braves on March 30. Manager Manny Acta has said that only Perez, Bergmann and Redding have solidified spots in the rotation and that Matt Chico and John Lannan are fighting for the final spot in the four man rotation. Clearly, after last year's experiment with inexperienced pitching Acta is choosing to use the guys that have the most innings in the bigs. If awareness and composure dictates who gets the fourth spot, look for Lannan to have the edge over Chico as he has been praised by many in the organization for being mature beyond his years.

With the rotation and the lineup becoming clearer every day the Nationals appear to be putting together a very competitive team.
I expect their numbers to improve across the board in 2008 as Bowden has addressed a lot of their problem areas from last year. However, the only statistic that counts won't change as much in this first season. The Nationals are relying on a lot of potential which is good for a young team, but when each individual is a question mark, each player has less focus to devote to the team. In this first year they will look inward towards themselves in order to justify their position and their potential. This won't create selfish ballplayers, but it also won't create team chemistry needed for a playoff bound ball club. Teams that already know what they have to do and are consistent as individuals can devote more energy toward winning games. The Nationals will have to learn that over the course of the season. They will retain their fourth place finish in the division but look for them to push very close to the .500 mark all season.

- The Hokie

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