Saturday, April 23, 2011

Brief Game 5 Recap

They actually did it, they finished a series in under seven games. For now the Caps can take a breather and watch how things play out Easter Sunday before they gear up for another series. Five thoughts:
  1. Told you that line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Laich would produce a bit of magic. Ovi and Laich led the game with two points apiece, a goal and an assist for the captain and two helpers for Laich. 
  2. After blocking yet another shot with his ear, Green is reportedly fine. Good to hear, since he was the only player on the team to have a point in every game of the series, ending it with a goal and four assists. Not too shabby for a guy who missed 26 out of 28 games leading up to the playoffs.
  3. Fehr play a non-injured team low 10:16 in minutes, including 1:58 on the powerplay. I don't know what he did to get on Boudreau's S-list, but it must have been bad. Maybe he got the Verizon Center's ice cream vendors to stop serving Bruce.
  4. Another big-hitting game, with the Rangers barely edging out the Capitals 32-31 in the game. This was quite the rough and tumble series. Luckily everyone has some time to recover. The Caps get a few days rest before they play their next series, and Avery and the Rangers will get some sun and fresh air out on the links.
  5. Last thought? Enjoy your Easter Sunday and Monday!

Uber-Quick Game 5 Preview

Caps are up in the series 3-1. They were in this situation a year ago, and we all remember how that ended. Unless you were able to repress that, in which case kudos to you. Under Boudreau, the Capitals have never finished a series, win or lose, in less than seven games, despite being the higher seed in every single series. They have the chance to do so today, to beat the Rangers in five games, to get one of many loud screaming monkeys off their backs.

I actually think they can do it. With Knuble still out, expect more line changes. There is a good chance Laich will move up to the top line, and this should produce some magic. I'm expecting a high scoring game for the home crowd. The hard hits will continue, and oh yes, there will be blood. 6-3, Red over Blue.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Game 4 Recap

Dirty. That is the only word that can describe this game, and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. As my good friend told me when the score was 3-2:

"You are not allowed to be happy. I've learned that when you're
pessimistic, we win. I demand you to proclaim you expect a letdown."

On a side note, I've learned that same theory applies to me and the dice tables. If you're ever with me and it is my first roll, bet heavily on craps. My pregame prediction was close, but Ovi and Fehr gave us no goals (although Fehr was tied for a team-high +3 with Johansson). The Capitals will continue their struggle to find discipline and not test out the amazing penalty killers, but they got a win and are up 3-1, handing a loss to a Rangers team that had not lost all season when leading after two periods. Five thoughts on the game

  1. As I said, dirty. Dirty goals are what wins against guys like Lundqvist, those goalies who can single-handedly steal an entire series let alone a game. Semin not quitting, Johansson being in the right place for a lucky bounce, Carlson railing a shot off MoJo, and Chimera sticking around behind King Henrik hoping for a bit of luck: dirty, and at the same time beautiful hockey. The same can be said for the Rangers. This is a rough series, and the players have all bought into the notion that no puck is dead until it is in the net.

  2. A new take on the old "How many
    hockey players can you fit into a Geo Metro?"
    (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Speaking of Semin's goal, that's a fantastic job by the ref. There is a reason these guys have to prove themselves to earn a spot in the playoffs, too. No TV camera angle was going to see that Lundqvist never actually covered or had control of the puck, only a human ref staring at the puck would be able to tell that quickly.

  3. Carlson and Alzner: what happened to these guys? They're young, I know. They're being tasked with shutting down the top players, I know. But Carlson in particular is showing some rookie mistakes, Alzner is not always making the right decisions, either, and that is new territory for both of them. If the kids can shake it off and bounce back strong for Game 5 in front of what is sure to be one of the greatest crowds in their young careers, I would hate to be in their way. At the same time, they do have to step up their game. Two of my favorite players, and two guys I hope will be with this team for as long as possible.

  4. Another day of deucing on Chimera, another game-winning goal. He definitely showed he has no business being on the top line, with none of those guys getting points and being on ice for a couple goals against, but he came out with grit again, and it earned the team a win. I may not like it, but he is producing. The same cannot be said for Marco Sturm, who after four games is pointless and a +1 (which he earned in tonight's game). This despite playing (inexplicably) on the second line with Arnott and Semin, who each have three points in this uber-tight series.  If Knuble comes back healthy, Sturm is my pick to ride the pine. Fehr put up a hell of an effort tonight, and while he may not have showed up on the score sheet like I hoped, people knew he was on the ice.

  5. Both goalies deserve a lot of respect and will need the rest. The Caps took 53 shots to the Rangers' 39, with both goaltenders putting up better than a 92% save percentage through 92 minutes and 36 seconds of game time. Through nearly five full games worth of ice time in only four games, Neuvirth has a save percentage of 94.2% to best Lundqvist's 92.2%.

Saturday at 3:00 is your next chance to rock the red. If I can do it here in Pittsburgh, then you can do it wherever you are. Huge game, huge opportunity for the Caps to win only their second series out of five chances with Boudreau, and the first one to go less than seven games. And now your game highlights:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Quick Game 4 Preview, or Why Boudreau Makes Me See Red

First off, I know I'm not crazy. Second, I'm pretty sure Boudreau is. Despite what some may be saying, quotes from Caps players (see the second link) indicate that Knuble probably will not be in the lineup tonight. This almost certainly means that Fehr will finally see ice time. Going back to my previous posts and the first link in this post, it would seem logical that Fehr, a right winger who creates and capitalizes on chances, would slide into Knuble's spot on the top line. Maybe Semin, a right winger with superstar skills, would move up from the second line and Fehr would fit into his spot. If nothing else, a right winger would take Knuble's spot on the top line, seeing as that spot is in fact at right wing.

Boudreau, ever playing mind games, must wake up each morning and say to himself "Chimera is awesome. Chimera is awesome. Chimera is awesome." How else would you explain Chimera, a left-wing grinder, a guy whose best in-game attribute is "grit," being moved to fill Knuble's roll on the top line? At various points throughout the season, Chimera was on the top line. There were times when the line clicked, but more often than not Chimera over-skated a play, or misread a pass, or otherwise looked uncomfortable and out of place playing with Ovi and Backstrom. Their skills are not matched up for offensive success, something this team desperately needs against the Rangers. Ovi-Backstrom-Fehr, however, saw great success, albeit only appearing in eight games as of 1/12/11. There are days when I watch the Caps play, and I see them win, and I think "Maybe I'm wrong, maybe Boudreau has it right." But then I realize that is crazy talk, and the team only wins because it has superb players, and they should be winning much more easily against these teams, and why the hell are they getting outshot, and... okay, maybe I'm a little crazy, but Bruce drove me there.

Are you not entertained?!
So for the actual preview of tonight. With the game starting with Chimera on the top line, and Fehr presumably on the third, I doubt the Capitals will start the game with an offensive burst. After Boudreau's comments regarding MSG and Ranger's fans, I'm sure the place will be roaring tonight. Luckily for the boys in red, that just fires Ovechkin up. Against my better judgment, I will again predict a Caps win, 4-2. Girardi and Staal did well the last two games holding Ovechkin back, but he has also dealt out a punishing 17 hits over three games, and he still leads the team in points. They are not enough to stop the Russian Machine, and better have tried to break him. Expect Ovi to lead the way again tonight, and Fehr to pot an insurance goal.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Game 3 Recap

Well that's my bad. I made the ballsy move of actually having faith in my team for the first time in 11 months, and was rewarded by having half of my predicted score come true. Unfortunately, the other half did not, and the Capitals lose 3-2 in regulation to the Rangers. Five thoughts on the game:
  1. Neuvirth has to stop that first goal. This has been an issue of his all season. The kid routinely fails to close off the posts, particularly the three-hole. It is not the first time a terrible shot has gone in against him  on a penalty kill. The announcers on NBC rightfully spent a good portion of the game tearing him apart for letting that goal in, among other mistakes of a rookie goalie. He gave up far too many juicy rebounds, as he did when he first came into the NHL. Normally, I would expect to see Varlamov in net next game, but knowing Boudreau, Neuvirth will not have lost his chance.

  2. It is refreshing to see that the special teams are getting the job done. The penalty kill only allowed one goal on seven penalties, including both an extended 5-on-3 and a very brief one. The only goal against cannot be attributed to the skaters, as, again, Neuvy absolutely has to stop a shot from that angle. The powerplay was a refreshing one for three tonight, courtesy of another hard working effort from Knuble.

  3. I know, buddy. I know.
    Speaking of penalties, Boudreau certainly seemed to have a valid complaint with the "ticky-tack" goals, given that this was a crucial Game 3. The Caps took eight penalties to the Rangers four, including offsetting minors at the end of the game. Some of them you can't avoid calling, like Knuble's delay of game. The holding against Hannan, though? That's a call that the refs need to let slide, and in fact usually do even during the regular season.

  4. The Caps were again out-shot, this time pretty badly. Team good guys took 25 shots, while team bad guys took 35. Lundqvist is not a rookie or a fluky goalie. Washington needs to shoot the puck more, crash the net more, and shoot the puck some more. Getting out-shout by an undeniably less offensively gifted team cannot be accepted in the playoffs. Still a big blip on my S-list radar: Jason Chimera. Friday's game-winning goal scorer had a whopping zero shots on net tonight, played the third-lowest ice time on the team, and was incredibly invisible all night. Again, I would like to think that Fehr would see some ice in Game 4, but sadly I do not really think it will happen.
    And while Semin took a team-leading six shots on goal without being rewarded with a point, at least his luck wasn't as bad as that of the Rangers' Brian Boyle, who took a game-high nine shots on goal, had no points, and finished a -1.

  5. Line-juggling is "in" again with Boudreau. Semin, Laich, and Sturm were playing on all kinds of lines today, with all kinds of linemates. Team chemistry, in theory, has been Boudreau's goal all season, but looking back on the relatively static lines in the team's wins compared with the more fluid lines in tonight's loss and those from last year's series, I still cannot agree with BB's preferred method of searching for chemistry.
And for your amusement.

Quick Game 3 Preview

I have neither the time nor the energy nor the financial motivation to have in-depth pre-game analyses of each playoff game, at least in Round 1. This is the second season, and to base predictions of what a team will do on the regular season or a minuscule sample of Round 1 games is not enough. If you need any proof of that statement, I want you to look at my previous posts and what I had to say about Michal Neuvirth and Jason Chimera. These are the two players that I assured everyone around me would be the cause of the Capitals' first round playoff loss.

Arnott likes to tempt fate: Not wearing a helmet and expecting
no concussions; Joining the Capitals for a deep playoff run, etc.
Neuvirth, I said, was the Caps' worst goalie, that his AHL Calder Cup wins could not hope to compare to the Stanley Cup playoffs, that he could not win a game without offensive support because of his tendency to allow an early goal and put his team behind so quickly in a game. Instead, Neuvirth is the kid that has allowed one goal across 138+ minutes of hockey while his team has scored only four in that same timespan. He may not have had to make the flashiest plays of all time (see, i.e. Varlamov's save on Crosby in '09), but he has come up huge for the team. Nothing will change the fact that I and many others believe him to be the team's worst option in net, but he is getting it done, and while he is statistically our weakest goaltender, he is still a hell of a lot better than many other teams' best options.

Jason Chimera, I said, was only good for over-skating the play, whiffing on goals, and being on ice when the bad guys score. After Game 1 I thought I had been prove correct. In Game 2, however, it was as though he had read my criticism and decided that was the day he would score the game winner on a beautiful play that made Lundqvist's head spin. He may have had a lot of support from Laich and Johansson, but Chimera was in the right spot, took the right shot, and earned the second star of the game. If he keeps up that kind of play, then I will be rooting to see Marco Sturm sit for Eric Fehr instead of Chimera. Again, nothing will change the fact that I believe Fehr to be a better player than Chimera. But if he performs to his potential, or above his potential, then whoever is not doing so needs to see some bench time for F16, and right now that looks to be Marco Sturm, who is inexplicably on the second line with Arnott and Semin.

Gaborik is preparing to pop, lock, and
drop it... five feet wide of the net
If the Capitals can win the Cup, and I have to eat my words during the  whole run, so be it, I will be happy to do so. Because while these guys were the ones I was most disappointed to see on ice again and again during the regular season, I know that in the second season that play means almost nothing. The Capitals are experts at disappointing their fans after superb regular seasons, especially with Boudreau as coach. They have a record of 3-5 when leading a series 2-0, with the most recent soul-crushing series loss coming at home at the hands of the Penguins in 2009. Tonight, though, I expect a 3-0 lead for the boys in red and white, a 4-3 win with goals from Arnott, Semin, Green, and Gordon on the Capitals, and two from Gaborik and one from Drury on the Rangers. This is pure speculation by me, much like sitting at a roulette table and putting your chips down on numbers you happen to like that night. All while chanting C-A-P-S CAPS CAPS CAPS CAPS CAPS!!!!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoughts on Defending Poor Play

Late this morning, there emerged something of a minor twittle battle between Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), Senior Writer for and reporter for Caps365, and a couple of Caps fans who want to see some change in the lineup. The issues arose over Vogel's praise of Neuvirth and Chimera. It all appeared to start with his tweet saying "I believe we will see Fehr at some point. We won't tonight. No sense in changing anything after team's Game 1 performance."

Chimera, making his "did you seriously
ask if I plan on scoring tonight?" face
This clearly made a few people frown while they were at home, thinking of Chimera's season-long inability to produce offensively, team-worst +/-, and being one of two "minus" skaters for Washington in Game 1. Soooo the fans began to say as much. In my opinion, Vogel began to dig himself deeper into a hole by responding with asinine and unfounded statements, which I imagine is simply the job of a team's beat writer. People who are paid by a given sports team are expected to defend the decisions of that team's management. Most fans expect and know this, aggravating as it may be. But an issue arises when fans call out a team's writer on his unsubstantiated claims, and the writer actually chooses to respond: "@VogsCaps: Thought 25 was v-good in Game 1. Physical presence. @jnestoriak: hate to disagree but after 25's performance in G1 i'd like 16 in tonight"

This is when a writer needs to avoid "poking the bear." Those of us who are not paid by the Capitals are free to look at the stats and watch the game and know that Chimera was a major liability on the ice, as he has been in most of the games this season. To say that a player like Eric Fehr, who has been a clutch player on the team and has been one of the league leaders in goals scored per 60 minutes the past couple seasons, should sit in favor of Chimera because 25 had a "physical presence," and that alone makes him a "v-good" player... that's a joke.

This is his serious face. That
is not even my attempt at humor.
The play of Michal Neuvirth also was pulled into the foray when a fan questioned coaches' decision making abilities: "@VogsCaps: Cup goes to team with 16 wins, not save % champ.@RajeevAnanda: coaches also think goalie wins are more important than even strength save %."  Vogel followed up that cheap-shot with this beauty: "@VogsCaps: Understand. Also know Niemi was 6th in ESSP in '10 playoffs. @RajeevAnanda: even strength sv% is how you reliably get those wins."  Yes, clearly 16 wins is the stat that matters in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Here's the problem with implying that save percentage doesn't matter: there are 16 teams in the playoffs. Pointing out that Niemi was 6th in that area means that he was in the top 25% of playoff goalies in that particular statistic - 27 goalies played in the 09-10 playoffs. All he did was confirm RajeevAnanda's point: that save percentage leads to wins. While I don't have the breakdown on even strength and special teams save percentages, I do know that of the 16 teams' starting playoff goalies, Neuvirth is tied for dead last in overall regular season save percentage with the Lightning's Dwayne Roloson. Of all goaltenders to play 25 or more games in the regular season, Varlamov is 6th overall, while Braden Holtby sits between Tim Thomas and Pekka Rinne when you include all goalies that played even one game.

Now I do not agree with the notion that Neuvirth should be pulled. He played very well in Game 1, and you have to go with the hot hand. That is how Niemi got his starting gig, and it's what you need to do to win. I do think Chimera needs to spend some time with Vogs in the press box, though.

Feel free to make baseless generalizations because it is your job, but don't insult the fans by getting defensive when they rightfully challenge you, and by extension, the Capitals. We want to see them in the Cup as much as anyone in the organization does, so we want our best players out there when it matters. Fehr, like it or not Boudreau and Vogel, is one of our best players. Don't say that save percentage is not as important as wins while ignoring that save percentage is one of the most crucial ways to win just because the team's worst goalie is inexplicably the starter for the third straight year. All that being said, Vogel is one of the best Caps writers (as you would expect based on his position), and this was a rare mis-step on his part. For a more in-depth comparison of Fehr and Chimera, see my earlier post on lines.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Caps vs Rangers Game 1 Recap

It's about time I put the official photo up
So I was expecting the Caps to get blown out based on previous games between these two big-market teams, Neuvirth's propensity to allow a ton of goals, and the Caps' recent history of shi... deucing the bed to open the playoffs under Boudreau. Instead we got a tight game with lots of defense, minimal scoring, and it was decided in OT. Neuvirth came into this game with a spectacular OT record. With 1:36 to go in the game, Semin rocketed the puck to the right of Lundqvist on a beautiful one-timer from veteran Arnott.

Thanks to blackout rules,  I was only able to watch the third period and OT... which is to say that I did not miss much other than having to eat a bit of crow. This is one of those times when I'm happy I was wrong. Five thoughts on the game:
  1. Neuvirth performed amiably, outlasting a guy who has been mentioned as a serious Vezina contender in a battle of goalies. A couple of good glove saves on hard angle shots, and it is hard to fault him for the one that got by, seeing as he never had a chance to see the puck. There were a few times when he was saved by luck and/or the post, but if he can keep playing like this, then I won't feel quite as nervous.

  2. One of the other big stories of this game was the return of Mike Green, and he did not miss a beat. Paired with Erskine for the majority of the game, Green finished with an assist on Ovechkin's first goal, 4 shots, and 4 blocked shots. He skated smoothly, was there on the offense, and showed why people were talking about his new defensive play. 52 is going to be a factor for as long as the Capitals are playing this Spring.

  3. Blocked shots. The two teams put a combined 58 shots on net through almost 78 minutes of game time, but they combined for another 60 blocked. Caps had 32 blocked shots (33 on net) while the Rangers had 28 blocked and 25 on net. Only three blueshirts failed to register a blocked shot, while the good guys consolidated a bit more, with seven skaters failing to block a shot. Alzner and Schultz led the way for the game, with 8 and 6 blocked shots, respectively. This series will leave some serious bruises.

  4. Semin, a key player in the last playoff series between these guys, showed up huge in the end, finally scoring a goal a year after failing to light the lamp a single time against Montreal despite a career-best 40 goals in 09-10. The goal came as a result of a miscue on the part of Mark Staal, who attempted to clear the puck directly into trade deadline acquisition Jason Arnott. Arnott, now with 108 playoff games under his belt, picked up the clearing attempt and made a beauty of a pass to Sasha Minor for the late late game winner. Semin also assisted on Sasha Major's goal, and was the only player on the ice to finish +2 for the game. With that mention, Ovechkin is a man on a mission, and from the looks of thing, he'll be damned if an opposing player will get in his way. With a goal, game-highs in shots and hits at six apiece, Ovi showed the Rangers that Staal and Girardi will not be enough to hold him back from what he wants: Lord Stanley's Cup.

  5. The third line continues to be an issue for Washington. This, again, is the issue with having so many forwards. Chimera and Johansson were the only two players on the Caps to finish negative, combining for five hits, three shots on net, and two blocked shots. MJ90 slumped on the dot, as he has done all season, winning only two out of seven attempts, including some key losses in the offensive zone late in the game. Originally Laich appeared to be the other man on the line, going a stellar 13 for 18 in faceoffs, and being on ice for that first goal against along with the other two. Laich was paired with Arnott and Semin late in the game, and we all saw how that ended up. If Boudreau can find a way to make this line mesh (which in my ideal world means swapping MoJo for Perreault and Chimera for Fehr), then the Caps should see a lot more chances go their way and a lot less going against. Until three guys with complimentary styles are put together on this line, it will continue to big the team's biggest liability. As it stands, putting Sturm on a line with Johansson and Chimera makes me imagine putting three Luis Mendozas on a line together.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quick Prediction

Rather than publishing the 2000th series preview post, I will spare anyone who is actually reading this and just let you know my prediction for tonight's game. Based on my previous posts and feelings about the lines, the goalie, and the coach, you can probably guess.

Rangers will win, 5-2. Ovi and Laich will score for the good guys, while the Blueshirts will get two from Dubinsky, one from Gaborik, one from Drury, and one from a grinder.

Over the past three years, the Caps have not allowed less than 4 goals to open the playoffs. Huet allowed 4 in an opening win against the Flyers in 07-08, Theodore allowed 4 in a loss against the Rangers in 08-09, and Theodore allowed 6 goals in an overtime loss to the Canadiens last year. Neuvirth has nowhere near the experience these two guys had, past their prime as they may have been during their time with the Capitals. The Rangers have also decimated the Caps this season, outscoring the team 15-1 in their last three matchups (7-0, 6-0, 2-1). And again, Neuvirth is the worst goalie the team has (though better than many other starters in the league). Boudreau is also not putting forth our most offensively talented forwards (see my thoughts on benching Fehr in yesterday's post), and are without Dennis Wideman for at least the entire series against the Rangers. This is the Caps' hardest Eastern Conference opponent, and the line combos are simply not built for a win. Even without Callahan, Frolov, and Boogaard, the Rangers are still a potent threat with Marion Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Mark Staal, and Chris Drury.  Unless Semin wakes up, and Boudreau shuffles the lines into an arrangement with Laich playing alongside Arnott and Semin, I don't see a scenario where the Caps can win.

Series prediction: Rangers in 5.

Help me Ovi, you're my only hope.

Playoff lines


The Capitals are officially entering the post-season this week with their worst goalie as their starter, again, and you can read my previous post for my thoughts on that. They have had two practices with the same lines, so they have a good idea of who they are all going to be playing with for at least Game 1 (see link below). All the team's forwards are (at least believed to be) healthy. You have left wingers Ovechkin (8), Brooks Laich (21), Marco Sturm (18), Jason Chimera (25), and D.J. King (17); centers Backstrom (19), Jason Arnott (44), Marcus Johansson (90), and Boyd Gordon (15); right wingers Mike Knuble (22), Alexander Semin (28), Eric Fehr (16), Matt Bradley (10), and Jay Beagle (83); and everyman Matt Hendricks (26). That means 15 players for 12 spots. Another great quote is "A good problem to have is still a problem." This is an issue the Caps had last year, too. Who do you play? Who do you sit? I again am a big fan of playing who is the best with who they play best with. So with that, here are my ideal forward lines (ones I do not expect to see given the shuffling of players that BB has become so enamored with, and ones that are clearly in conflict with what we know they will be):
Hey Matt, you've got a little something in your eye


This means that I am sitting Jay Beagle, which can be expected as he is primarily a Hershey Bears player and an injury callup; D.J. King, which can also be expected based on the fact that he played left bench more often than left wing this season; and Jason Chimera. This last choice is the "problem" part of the "good problem to have," and really is the only debate in who should sit and who should play. Yes, having King in there to scare a Blueshirt or two might be nice for a game or two, but I'm talking about someone to have in for an entire series or Cup run.

Currently, it looks as though Fehr is not in the lineup for Game 1, and I feel that is a much larger problem than not having Chimera playing. Both players scored 10 goals this year. The difference is, Chimera played in 81 games and Fehr played in 52. On average, it takes 107 minutes and 22 seconds of ice time for Chimera to score a goal, and 67 minutes and 6 seconds to earn an assist. Fehr requires 65 minutes and 27 seconds to score a goal, and the same amount of time to earn an assist. Chimera was also a team-worst -10, with Tyler "Oh-my-God-the-puck-is-over-there-now" Sloan finishing second-worst with a -6 and Fehr finishing even. Chimera is also a good bit more familiar with the penalty box than F16, averaging .790 penalty minutes a game compared to Fehr's .308. Fehr is a player who scores more per game, assists teammates more per game, is on ice for fewer even strength and shorthanded goals, and takes less than half the penalties as Chimera. I don't see how this is a contest, but it again shows BB's weakness for certain players (Chimera, Steckel, Johansson) and utterly illogical disdain for others (Fehr, Fleischmann, Perreault). Chimera should probably get some ice time during the series, but I would prefer it was at the expense of someone who performs worse, not better, than he does.

Fleury and Boudreau were equally shocked to see Fehr on ice.
I also have Fehr on the top line. The Caps just inked Knuble, who now has eight-straight 20-goal seasons, to a one-year, $2 million extension. Knuble has been one of the more durable forwards, and while he has dry spells, he has been one of the more consistent guys, as well. However, he is set to turn 39 on Independence Day, while Fehr will only be turning 26 come September. One of these guys is probably going to be the team's top-line net crasher for the foreseeable future, and I think I'd put Knuble's new contract on Fehr being that guy. He is younger, faster, plays a similar style, and for the past two seasons has been one of the top goals-per-60 guys in the league. Why not give him the chance to make up for last year's disappointing outing in the playoffs with the best odds of doing so? He was a killer of flightless birds on New Year's, and still managed to hit 10 goals in an injury-plagued season (thanks Steckel).  On a team with so many skilled forwards, it is not a punishment for Knuble to play on the third line. A man with his skills should help youngster Johansson and speed demon Chimera put their skills together for a goal or two.


The defenders are a lot easier to set up than the forwards. Firstly, the Caps are decimated at the blueline by injuries. Green, Poti, and Wideman, all out. Green, at least, should be back for the first game. Don't be surprised if Poti makes a surprise showing by Game 2, either. Secondly, it is pretty easily apparent which guys, in a healthy world, are best set playing with the cushy chairs in the press box. In case you don't know who they all are, the Caps' D-men are Green (52), Schultz (55), Carlson (74), Alzner (27), Hannan (23), Wideman (6), Erskine (4), Poti (3), Sloan (89), and recent call-up Sean Collins (62).  That being said, here are my picks for the defensive pairings:


This setup may actually be a little controversial for the Caps faithful, so let me explain. Carlson and Alzner have put together a spectacular season, with Carlson getting some much-deserved Calder talk, even though the award will certainly go to a forward, and Carlson would be a surprise nomination. With Green having missed so many games, and Hannan being so lackluster offensively, there is no reason to take the two youngsters off top-pairing duties. They, in my opinion, are at the core of the new system. Green is one of the league's elite defensemen, a two-time Norris finalist, and Hannan has finally developed into the solid shutdown man the Caps thought they traded for in the first place. But as noted, missed games and no knack for the net delegate them to the second pairing, at least for now.

"Well hey there, little fella! I just
need to get on through here, don't mind me.
Normally, Schultz plays with Green. However, I've always believed that Schultz held Green back, and Green made Sarge look good. This year has shown a lot of that, with Green's diminished numbers and Schultz making a good number of mistakes in his own end. Green would benefit from Hannan's experience and vocal nature, especially when he is just returning from injury. Schultz, on the other hand, being the Cap's biggest player, would benefit from playing a bit more physical - a role more at place for a third-pairing guy, and a role Erskine knows well. Were Poti healthy again, I would swap him in for Erskine. Poti is a bit more offensive minded, but can play the physical game, too. Now, in a world where Wideman is healthy, the lines change a bit:


Putting two of the league's better puck-moving defensemen on the same line has the potential to yield quick offensive results, but Wideman's propensity for making mistakes in his own end brings up some serious risks. Luckily, Green has solidified his defensive game and can minimize that risk while maximizing the reward. The skill and experience of these guys demotes the young 'uns to the second pairing, leaving Schultz and Hannan as a big, defensive shutdown pairing. That third pairing is not going to produce a lot of points, but it will absorb a lot of shots and give out the occasional big hit.

Final note: Notice how you don't see Sloan or Collins? Good for you. Sloan is the rare player who has moved between forward and defense over his career, and the still-rarer one of those players that is 30 years old and cannot keep track of the play when he is (un)lucky enough to get ice time. Collins has shown himself to be fairly capable, and I would actually prefer to have him on ice instead of Sloan, or to give Erskine/Poti a rest. But unless there is a need for him, he can't quite crack the top-6 on the depth chart. Erskine, Poti, and Sloan should never again be in the top 4 on the Caps blueline, and after this season, probably not even on the top six.


Monday, April 11, 2011

So let's just try for the playoffs

Clearly I bailed on this blog early on. If you want to see a successful one, go to my good friend Meesh's blog:

So with it being the end of the season, I will at least try to do my own coverage for the last three games (and maybe tonight's), and then get into it for the playoffs. You can expect rants against certain players and coaches, as I am an angry fan. I am one of the fans that others complain about, because I do feel like I am owed a Stanley Cup. I expect the best from my team, and that means the best roster moves, the best lines, the best strategies, and the best effort from the best players. As the playoffs are nigh upon us, I will go into a lengthy rant against the person who is most on my Capitals Organization S-list: Bruce "Can-I-Get-Some-F***ing-Haagen-Dazs" Boudreau. A post discussing my picks for the best lines will be next.

"Holy f***ing sh**balls how the f*** could you
forget to bring me a snow cone you *******!?"
I don't know that there is another coach in the league who is this awful when it comes to picking goaltenders. I start with his first year coaching the Caps. He opened up the offense and let loose the dogs of war on the league, turning a sleeping giant into an epic offensive powerhouse, almost instantly upon his arrival. That was an amazing thing to witness. As was his mismanagement of his goalies come playoff time. Cristobal Huet had a fantastic streak of wins to end the season, largely without rest. So it wasn't really a big surprise when he allowed 16 goals in the first four games against the Flyers. What was a huge surprise was when Kolzig, who had played his entire professional career with the Caps, winning the Vezina one year and taking the Caps to the Stanley Cup finals in another, and through every other playoff series since the days of Jim Carey, did not get the start in Game 5. Or Game 6. Or Game 7. Or heck, even Game 3. So it was even less surprising when the Caps lost that series, although Game 7 was decided far far more by piss-poor officiating than anything else. And it was still less surprising when Kolzig, one of the game's all-time class acts, one of the most respected goaltenders and leaders in the league, ended his time with our beloved Caps by taking his name off his own locker after that series, and left the phone booth disgusted with the way he was treated. He was traded around a couple teams, barely playing in the NHL after that, and I can assure you that was the message he wanted to send: I know my time here is done, but as much as I love the nation's capital, I will not end my career with a coach who does not respect what I have given this team and will not play me in the playoffs in a scenario where the starter has been completely blasted by a lesser squad. Boudreau won the Jack Adams award for the league's best coach.

Fast forward another year to 08-09. The Capitals have a few goaltenders: the starter was former league MVP and Vezina winner Jose Theodore, primary backup Brent Johnson, first-round pick youngster Semyon/Semeon/Simeon/Simyon/You get the idea Varlamov, and fellow youngster Michal Neuvirth. Theodore picked up an impressive record of 32-17-5, but a far far less impressive GAA of 2.87 and a SV% of .900. His SV% put him at 37th best among teams' top-2 goalies in the league, and his GAA was not much better at 36th best. Johnson's and Neuvirth's stats were similar, while Varlamov posted impressive stats for a rookie in his 6 games. He posted a 4-0-1 record, 2.37 GAA and .918 SV%. Come playoffs, Theodore was the starter against the lower-ranked Rangers. He allowed 6 goals in his two starts for a loss in Game 1and being pulled in Game 2. Varlamov took over for the remainder of the postseason, playing more games during that span than he had in the regular season. After being pulled in a poor showing during Game 7 against the Penguins in the second round, Varlamov had a playoff record of 7-6-0, .918 SV%, 2.53 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Boudreau was hailed for his incredibly gutsy move of pulling his 30+ win starter and going with a largely untested kid who could not buy a beer to celebrate his first win. Though the playoffs ended in disappointment, the Caps had put on a good show and could walk away saying they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in an epic series.
Likely just the first of many that game.

Next season saw Varlamov's chance to continue his postseason success and take the starting job away from Theodore. Unfortunately, Varly fell under the Verizon Center ice's spell, and was frequently sidetracked by groin injuries. Theodore remained the starter, even when Varlamov returned from injury. By this time, Theodore was referred to by fans with his new nickname, Three-or-more, as often as he was by his given name. He finished the season 30-7-7 with one shutout, a .911 SV%, and a 2.81 GAA. Varlamov's injury-plagued season ended with a 15-6-6 record with two shutouts, .909 SV%, and a 2.55 GAA. Theodore had the hotter hand by season's end, with a number of great games that boosted his stats above where they had been for the majority of the season. Then we entered the playoffs. Theodore was again the starter. He again faced a lesser team. He again lost Game 1. The score was 6-5 when the Canadiens won in OT. Boudreau again started him in Game 2, and again pulled him when he allowed two goals on the first two shots of the game. Varlamov was again put in net. Unfortunately, the goals had all been scored in Game 1, and the Caps lost in seven in quite possibly the greatest upset in NHL history. Varly posted consistent stats in the post-season, with a 3-3-0 record (he won Game 2), .908 SV% and 2.41 GAA.

It was at this point that fans (with me leading the charge in Pittsburgh) calling for Boudreau's head. For starting Theodore. For putting the lines in a blender and pouring out random assortments by the end of the series. For losing yet another 7-game series at home. For taking the most dominant team in the league and decimating their chemistry and putting on an amateur-hour showing in the playoffs. For throwing away the last game of the season, a game that affected the playoff standings and put the Caps up against the only team in the league to give them regular-season headaches. But Boudreau had posted a franchise-record setting season with 121 points, the Caps first-ever President's trophy, and a slew of other impressive stats. Leonsis and McPhee, logically, could not be brought to parting ways with BB.

"How many goals will a line with Chimera,
Gordon, and a fan wearing a Bondra jersey score ?"
We enter this season. The Caps parted ways with Theodore, who in time signed with the Wild, made questionable decisions in not seeking a second line center or top-4 defenseman, and decided to go with the young goaltending tandem of Varlamov and Neuvirth. Varlamov, who had shown what he can do in the NHL, and Neuvirth, who had lackluster NHL showings but had two Calder Cups and an AHL playoffs MVP under his belt. Varlamov had the same season as last year, set aside by injuries. Neuvirth took over Theodore's role as the beneficiary of the offense's better performances while putting up the worst SV% and GAA of the three goalies who played during the regular season. Varlamov, while posting stats placing him in the top 10 of the league's starters, finished with a losing record (since the dominant word in "overtime loss" for me is "loss"). Boudreau likes it when his goalies win, and doesn't care how they get there. He also was desperate to find a reason why the Caps lost to the Canadiens. He decided that the line shuffling was not a detriment to team chemistry, but was in fact the best way to make sure everyone was comfortable with anyone. I was reminded of a line from The Incredibles (I paraphrase here): "Everyone is special." "That's just another way of saying nobody is." While Boudreau was spinning the roulette wheel of line arrangements, players fell by the wayside, individual stats dropped, and offense dropped. BB did find great success with the penalty kill, however. By constantly shifting PK time and lines, the team was no longer dependent on last year's "top" killers of Dave Steckel and Tom Poti. Last year's squad had one of the league's worst PKs. Those two players logged the most ice time for a forward and defenseman, respectively, on the PK, and they both had above-average powerplay goals against while on ice. Shockingly to those who are not me, when their roles were lessened (or in Poti's case, removed by uinjury), the PK effectiveness became one of the league's best, consistently, for the entire season. However, the Capitals as a group suffered from Boudreau's Great Search for The Answer to The Playoffs. While the team finished tops in the Eastern Conference, this is largely because of the goaltending. I may complain about starting Neuvirth, but he has had a spectacular season - it just has not been as spectacular as Varlamov's or Braden Holtby's. I see no reason to take the worst goalie into the playoffs because he happened to play the most games. We tried this the last two seasons and went home losers.
"I'd prefer it if I didn't have to cry myself to sleep tonight because of you."