Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Panthers 6 - Capitals 5 (SO): Word of the Day...


The Capitals made a gallant effort last night after their 3rd ranked scorer, their injury-prone, yet savy vet and their #4 defenseman at the trade deadline.
Now team's 5th ranked scorer, #6 defenseman and still injury-prone vet.
Washington fell behind early, but then rallied back and tied the game at 5-5 to force the game into overtime. The game was still tied after 65 minutes of play. Then came the shootout.
Oh boy...
For those of you unaware, before last nights game, the Capitals were 1-8 in the shootouts this year. They had scored 4 goals on 27 shots and had the second worst save percentage of any team in the shootout (.444)
Wow, the odds are really against us aren't they?
But, miraculously, they were facing a team almost as bad as the Caps in that regard.
Florida was a puny 1-7 in the shootout, who had only scored 6 goals on 32 shots and a .541 save percentage.
It's like looking in a mirror, isn't it?
But alas, the Capitals once again fell short. They lost their 9th of 10 shootouts on the season. If these were real shootouts like those of the old West, the Capitals would be known as the "slowest hands in the West."
Alex Ovechkin is keeled over bleeding on that haystack.
The fact is that the Capitals have been bad in the shootout all year. Glen Hanlon has been having the team practice and juggling lineups to see who can score, but nothing seems to have worked. The fact is, the shootout is where our lack of talent is most evident. When you have Matt Pettinger and Chris Clark filling that third and crucial slot, you realize just how paper thin your team is. They cannot depend on Ovechkin and Semin to do all the scoring. This is where the need for a skilled center is most apparent.
Please be Backstrom...please be Backstrom.
Do you realize that if the Capitals had won even half of their shootouts (5 wins would actually be more than the league median, but they've had 10 shootouts) the Capitals would be a .500 team and within striking distance of that 8th spot in the East.
Shot in the foot by not shooting well? The irony!
This summer, the necessity for a skilled player who can give us a solid threesome in the shootout could bump us, if not over the edge, closer to it. We already have Ovechkin
Yeah I know he's only scored 1 goal in the shootout, don't get jumpy. It's a slump folks!
and Semin in the lineup. Those two are proven skill players. One more, and a better performance from our goaltending could lift us up into the top echelons of shootout teams. But George McPhee and Ted Leonsis have been reluctant to go out and get players that our team needs.
Like players who other teams would put on their NHL roster...
So this offseason, I know what's on my wish list.
1. Invisibility
2. #1 and #2 defensemen, #1 center, young goaltender
3. World peace
Most of all, I wanted a skilled player who can play the top line with Ovechkin, and has a quick trigger.
And that's the word of the day...

After a Long While Off, the JET is Back and Looking at the Trade Deadline Deals!

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No not Christmas! Trade Deadline Day! And the JET spent it watching the live TSN newscast of the many trades and signings that came about. While there were certainly big trades of high profile players being sent to contenders, all the JET cares about is who got dealt to and fro the Caps. So without further ado...

Trade #1: Richard Zednik to NYI for 2nd round Draft Pick
Now this year, the JET is not a big fan of trading for picks, especially because this draft is rumored to be one of the weakest in recent memory. Second round picks are usually fringe NHL talent and the Isle's pick figures to be around a mid-rounder (so somewhere in the late 40s-early 50s). Whoever the Caps use this pick on will, in all likelihood, not be a player who can step in immediately and probably won't be close to the NHL within 3 years (if ever).
That said, Zednik is a UFA who the Caps couldn't resign. He's been nagged with injury problems and has been inconsistent in scoring. I knew once the Caps traded for him in the offseason that he wouldn't be more than a secondary scoring threat who the Caps would try to use to get some more young assets later in the season. Most people thought Zednik would get traded for the 3rd round draft pick the Caps had previously sent to Montreal. But instead, George McPhee pulled off a 2nd rounder for Zednik. Big ups to McPhee who once again traded a player for a much higher draft pick than he was worth (see Witt for Beech and 1st rounder).

Overall Grade: B

Trade #2: Lawrence Nycholat to OTT for Andy Hedlund, 6th round pick
This is an even trade, in every sense. It's literally, one minor league defenseman for another. The only difference is the 6th round pick coming the Caps way which can be disregarded since even in very strong drafts (which I mentioned, this is not) there are not many NHL players or top AHL players that are drafted in the 6th round.
There is no TSN scouting report on Hedlund, so there is nothing to expect from him. All in all, this trade was probably made to allow the Caps to move Helbling with Zubrus to Buffalo. If you don't hear of Hedlund for a couple of years (unless you live in Hershey) I wouldn't be surprised.

Trade #3: Dainus Zubrus, Timo Helbling to BUF for Jiri Novotny, 1st round pick
Losing Zubrus, to many Caps faithful, means losing a critical part of our team: the first line center. The only problem is that Zubrus is, by nature, a right wing! This trade makes sense and is, dare I say brilliant, for a number of reasons:
1) The loss of Zubrus will force management to go out and acquire a legitimate 1st line center. Seeing this team lose faceoff after faceoff, while watching Ovechkin skate around with no one to pass to him will, hopefully, show them the light to trade for or sign a top line center man and pay him the money he needs. Simply bringing back Zuby or saying that Nicklas Backstrom won't cut it either George. This team is weak down the middle and Zubrus was merely keeping our front line from looking pathetic. If he's brought back, it should be as a right wing (we're also pretty weak at that position). Backstrom, right now, is an AHLer in my mind. Maybe he can step in and be the 2nd line center, or maybe not. As of right now, there are two glaring holes in the middle of the ice.
2) We might just be getting something for nothing. I heard the reports on XM radio that Zubrus may be coming back to DC in the offseason and, quite frankly, I think that's the case. Once I heard he was traded to Buffalo, I rejoiced because I knew that the Sabres don't have the cap room to sign more than 1 center. That means Zubrus will be on the market again this summer and I'm sure he'd be willing to come back here to play with his buddy Ovechkin.
3) I feel that Zubrus' value has been inflated by playing with Ovechkin. He's had record years when he's played on the same line with Ovechkin, as has Chris Clark. A few years ago, no way Zubrus would be worth this much, so we're getting more than he's worth.
Another element is that Zubrus was asking for $3 million per year for 5 years. Zubrus may be overvalued, but he's not worth that much. I think McPhee recognizes that and also realizes that Zuby will only be on the 2nd or 3rd line in Buffalo. I believe his production will taper off in Buffalo and so, when he becomes a free agent, he'll be worth LESS than he is now. Therefore, the Caps might just be able to resign Zubrus in July for around $2-2.5 million a year (a salary range he should be in) because other teams will be offering him less after seeing just how dependent he is on Ovechkin's offense.
The only downside to this deal is what we got in return. I did say Zubrus was overvalued, and I do think we got more in return than we gave up in the first round draft pick, but I don't think Nvotony was the right guy in return. George McPhee described him as a "third line center" and TSN's analysis agrees. A third line center is the LAST thing we need. Along with Beech, Sutherby, Laich, and Gordon, this team would win the "third line of the year awards." McPhee should have either thrown in another defenseman (perhaps Eminger or Clymer) or relented on the 1st round pick for a 2nd or 3rd (since this a weak draft and that late 1st round pick is essentially equal to a mid-second in another year's draft) and gotten a young defenseman or forward. Among those McPhee could have swiped for Zubrus (in my opinion):
- Dmitri Kalinin
- Ales Kotalik
- Derek Roy
- Jochen Hecht
So while I don't feel that it was a BAD trade, it wasn't the BEST trade that could have been made.

Overall Grade: C

Trade #4: Jamie Heward to LAK for 5th Round Pick
This is just getting the most bang for your buck here. Jamie Heward was going to be a UFA this summer and is clearly the least valuable player to this rebuild. It hurts me to say this, but the 5th round pick from LA was probably the best offer out there. It just pains me that Muir didn't get shipped out as well.

Overall Grade: C+

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Caps Resign Donald Brashear for 1 Year

So we can expect more of this:

I'm glad that "The Don" will be back in DC next year. While he doesn't put up any numbers, he's the type of player that makes you think "damn, I'm glad he's on our team."

Well, that does it!

Tarik El Bashir has reported that Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig has suffered a "lower body injury" and will be out for about 3 weeks. Originally, El Bashir believed this to be a groin injury until General Manager George McPhee announced that Kolzig has a knee injury and will be out for at least 3 weeks.

This is the sort of cataclysmic blow that all of the Capitals faithful have feared since the beginning of the season. Obviously, any team losing their starting goaltender is a blow, but other teams have teams with defenses that cover up for their goaltenders inadaquicies (see Andrew Raycroft, Cam Ward, Ed Belfour; all of whom are in the top 30 in wins but have save percentages below .900).

The Capitals allow more shots than anyone (34.2 per game). Kolzig has been a huge reason for their inconsistent success. Kolzig has a .909 save percentage this year.

With this injury, backup Brent Johnson will have to take the reins. This year, he has a 4-7-3 record with a .885 save percentage and 3.86 save percentage (both worse than Kolzig). The Caps defense will have to step up now, if they want to keep their fading playoff hopes from disappearing.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Capitals vs. Kings: Word of the Day...


A combination of the words persistent and consistency, this what Washington must do tonight to win. They need to be persistent in attack the puck and get that consistency back on the powerplay.

They're already consitently bad on the power play, two guys with more than 10 power play goals?
But also, Alex Ovechkin needs to be persistent and consistent. He's riding a three game scoring drought.
Jakub Klepis says: "At least you're not riding the pine for that delay-of-game penalty!"
Ovechkin has fallen to 4th overall in points in the NHL with 70, that's 16 behind rival Sid "the Kid" Crosby.
Also Known As: "Poppa Floppa" and "Whiney Crosbaby"
But Ovechkin is not the only one who hasn't been consitent or persistent. Olaf Kolzig needs to step up his game and play with more intensity. He's only got 1 win in his last 5 starts and his last shutout was before the lockout.
That's roughly 230 years ago.
If Kolzig can play the way he did in his prime and keep the puck out of the net, the Caps will have a great chance to win. But he does have a 4-7-3-0 record against LA with a 3.33 GAA and .886 save percentage. But that could change tonight.
Because Elisha Cuthbert moved to NY with Sean Avery and no longer can distract him?
Los Angeles is the only team with a losing record when scoring first. Considering how bad Washington is when trailing first and how many goals they score in the first, this game could provide a comeback that could boost their spirits.
If they don't come back, they're gonna have a LOT of spirits.
Final note: Milan Jurcina has been hot for the Caps, averaging over 22 mins of ice time and recording a +1 rating.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bruins 3 - Capitals 2 (SO): Brought to You by the Letter...

Now many reading this might think the "O" is for Ovechkin, who was held scoreless last night against Boston. Last night made the third consecutive game in which Ovie did not register a point. Indeed,'s recap of the game focused entirely on Ovechkin's inability to score. They spoke of how Zdeno Chara held the Russian Phenom in check and about how frustrated Ovechkin seemed after the game.
But the "O" I'm referring to is "O" for offense! To pin this loss on Ovechkin's lack of scoring is ridiculous, considering that before the three-game scoreless streak, Ovechkin had scored in 13 straight games. Let's be honest folks, you can't put that kind of pressure on a young kid-expecting him to score every game--and have him consistenly meet it. Some games, Ovechkin's gonna not scores, so it's up to the rest of the team to step up.
Certainly in this game, some of the lesser heroes did step up to provide a boost for the Caps. Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr scored the two regulation goals for the Caps. Combined, the two have eight goals on the year. Laich's goal was unassisted while Fehr got help from Richard Zednik (15 points) and Mike Green (9 points). While the less likely heroes did chip in, the other players who were supposed to be helping Ovechkin carry the offensive load were silent.
Chris Clark, Dainus Zubrus, Alexander Semin and Matt Pettinger, who round out the Caps top 5 in scoring, were all scoreless last night. I'll give Semin a break because he was the only one who scored in the shootout, but Alex Ovechkin is supposed to be such an offensive dynamo that he should free up space for other players. That means on nights when Ovie's not scoring, Clark and Zubrus need to step up. Pettinger as well, has not been strong of late.
Putting the blame on Ovechkin for the teams offensive sputterings is preposterous. The offense got help from the "unusual suspects" but they couldn't get the firepower from their stars. If Ovechkin couldn't cash in, then the other big guns needed to step up. We needed some offense last night and #8 wasn't going to carry us there.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

If I Were a Hockey Player

If I Were a Hockey Player:
Team: Washington Capitals
Uniform Number: 10
Position: Left Wing
Nickname: Josho (my real hockey nickname) or Thunder
Linemates: Backstrom and Ovechkin
Rounding out the PP: Bondra and Visnovsky
Job: Deflections and garbage goals. Defensive forward and penalty killer.
Signature Move: The snap shot
Strengths: Puck stealing and passing
Weaknessess: Hitting
Injury Problems? Lower body injuries
Equipment: CCM helmet, Easton Synergy stick (green), Bauer skates
Nemesis: Mario Lemieux
Scandal Involvement: Cheating on my girlfriend (who I hope to be Sophia Bush)
Who I'd face in the Stanley Cup Finals: Vancouver Canucks
What I'd do with the Stanley Cup after our victory: Baptize my children in it, bring it to my high school and parade it through the halls. Have a big freakin' barbecue
Would the media love me or hate me? They'd love my intensity, but despise me for not being more agressive.

Panthers 6 - Capitals 3: Brought to You by the Letter...

As in: how the hell do you lose to the Panthers...AGAIN?
Not only how do you lose to the Panthers, but how do you keep losing games that you HAD to win and were SUPPOSED to win.
6-14-0 in their last 20 games has basically knocked the Capitals out of the playoffs. 3 of those games were against the bottom feeding Panthers, 1 against the lowly Coyotes. Winnning those four games keeps them even during that last stretch and now 1 point behind Carolina for the #8 playoff spot.
Instead, the Capitals have played flat, struggled mightily on the power play and basically looked like a bad team. Not and inexperienced team--a BAD team. Some of the numbers from last nights Panthers game are a microcosm of what has happened to the Capitals in the last 20 games:
- 2 for 9 on the power play (including a boatload of wasted 5 on 3 time)
- 3 for 6 on the penalty kill
- Outshot 32-30
- Olie allows 6 goals on 32 shots (.813 save percentage)
- Capitals fell behind early (2-1 at the end of the first) and then fell further behind (5-1 at the end of the second).

So in a nutshell, bad defense, sloppy play, flat early, uninspired afterwards. So what's the reason?

Is it coaching? Well certainly when your team started out 15-10-7 and then loses 14 of 20 games following it, you've gotta hold some of the blame. The Capitals seem to be a team that comes out either unprepared or just flat most nights. Other teams take advantage of their early lull and put them behind the eight ball. That in turn disheartens the team who fall further downhill and by the time they pick themselves up and play well, its too late.
Thats the other thing: they still play well. If it were a matter of them getting outplayed when they hustled and worked hard, it would be one thing. But when the Caps show up to play, they are nearly unstoppable. If theres inconsitency, it has to be with the coach. I thought Hanlon was a good motivator; I guess I was wrong.

It is management? Well as I said earlier, they can play well so the talent's still there. But its just so few and far in between. I have never liked George McPhee and never supported the plan to rebuild through the draft. Why? George McPhee CANNOT draft. Let me give you an example, he had 3 first round picks in the 2001 NHL draft. He spent them on Boyd Gordon, Steve Eminger and Alexander Semin. Only one of those guys, Semin, has proven to be worth the first round pick spent on him. In that same year, McPhee passed on Marek Zidlicky and Marek Svatos as well as a bevy of young goaltenders who could be groomed as Kolzig's successor (Cam Ward, Peter Budaj and Cristobal Huet are in that list).
But this year specifically, the Caps got hot early. They had what looked like the opportunity to make the playoffs with, arguably, the least talent of anyone. What did McPhee do? Nothing. Did he really think that this team would survive into January and February when players started getting banged up? What if Ovechkin, Semin or Olie had gotten hurt? It could have knocked us to the bottom. But instead of reinforcing a young sparky team, he let injuries plague us and allowed our AHL guys to get NHL minutes. Not a bad idea in philosophy, but it hurt the Caps chances at the playoffs. The fact is, he should have been making deals like the Jurcina trade in December. He sat on his hands too long and allowed this to become the year that never was.

Is it the system? Well show me a team that dumps-and-chases on the power play. Has three players on one side of the ice when cycling the puck in the offensive zone. Has a goaltender who gives up huge rebounds with a defense in front of him who can't clear traffic. Basically doesn't realize that most of their goals come from rushes and won't spread the ice. A team that can't make a breakout pass, ices the puck than most other teams, cannot establish a semblance of a solid powerplay and is constanly out of position on defense.
Yes, the system is at fault. Whoever is in charge of drawing up the gameplan needs to be fired. This system was designed for the old NHL, as was this team. Now, you need speedy players, mobile defensemen (McPhee's still picking those 6'5 guys who can't keep up with the fast forwards) and solid young goaltending. The breakout pass, weaving into the zone and an agressive forcheck are all things that make a team successful now. No one has figured this out. The system needs to be revamped. The more you teach these young kids to do the bad things the Caps do now (like dump into the zone when your team is up a man), the harder it is for them to "unlearn" it.

So basically all we have to do is suffer through another 30 games before more promises of "playoffs next year" come from Ted and George. The problem is, and I've said it before, it should have been this year.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Capitals Acquire D Milan Jurcina from Boston

The Capitals announced that they have acquired defenseman Milan Jurcina from the Boston Bruins for a conditional pick (rumored to be a 4th rounder).

Jurcina was drafted in the 8th round (241st overall) by Boston in the 2001 Draft and is going to be a restricted free agent this July. His carer stats: 91 career NHL games, 8 goals, 14 points, -2, 74 PIMs.

Said GM George McPhee:
''This acquisition is consistent with what we are trying to
accomplish,'' Capitals GM George McPhee said in a statement. ''Milan Jurcina is
a young guy with some growth potential. We expect that he will help our penalty
kill right away and we look forward to seeing how else he can help us in the
long term.''

My take: I think this is a low-risk/big-reward scenario. Jurcina could immediately step in and take a defensive slot and add much needed depth to the blue-line. Since he is young (he'll turn 24 in June) and not costing a lot, I see this as a nice move that could help us push toward the playoffs. The Caps may not be buyers in a few weeks, but they got something for not a lot here.

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Capitals (21-23-7) @ Panthers (19-23-10): Keys to the Game

#1. Score First, Score Early
Caps fans will basically be able to tell within the first 20 minutes of the game if the Capitals have a fighting shot. They've been outscored 31-16 in the first period during their 6-13-0 run since December 16. In those six wins they've amassed, they've scored first 4 times, but only trailed at the end of the first once. Getting an early jump on the Panthers could be key, since they have a .226 win percentage when trailing first (26th in the league) and have fallen behind first in 31 of their 52 games.
But if the Caps cannot strike early and first, they will be in for a bad night. They are, themselves, 5-19-4 when trailing first (.179 win percentage is 27th in the league) and they are only 2-16-3 when trailing after the first period (.095 win percentage is 3rd worst in the NHL).
The saving grace: Florida has only led after the first period in 14 games.

#2. Kolzig Is the Man
The Panthers and Caps have split the season series, 2-2. In the two games that the Capitals won, Olie Kolzig was the first star and has made a combined 78 saves on 81 shots in those wins. In the games they lost, 76 saves on 82 shots. So Kolzig has been solid in all the games against Florida. In fact, in his career, Kolzig has a 22-16-3-2 record against Florida, a 2.33 GAA and .924 save percentage.
The Caps have averaged about 41 shots against when playing Florida. They will have to keep that total down, but since they haven't been successful at all this year, Kolzig will have to be superb. The good news is that this year against Florida he has a .933 save percentage.

#3. A High Scoring Affair
In the games between the Caps and Cats, the winning team has averaged 5 goals while the losing team has averaged just under 2. The difference in how the teams play is critical in determining who wins those games. Typically, the teams that come out of the gate firing will win these games. Usually one team gets off to a good start while the other comes out flat. If the Caps can avoid coming out flat like they did against Ottawa, they can have a shot at success.

Players to Watch for...
Florida: Ed Belfour
Eddie "the Eagle" is responsible for both of Florida's wins over the Caps. He has 2 wins against the Caps this year, as well as a no-decision (the loss was credited to Alex Auld). In his career against Washington, he has a 20-8-2-0 record with a 2.46 GAA and a .898 save percentage. This year, he's allowed 5 goals on a mere 49 shots, but he still has the ability to backstop the Cats to a win.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
The Capitals are 2-7-0 in the 9 games that Ovechkin doesn't register a point. That's right, he's scored points in all but 9 games (thats 42 out of 51 games). Ovie has 12 points in 12 career games against Florida, including 4 goals. He is currently on a 3 game goal-scoring streak and a 12 game point-streak. Considering he's scored 1 goal and 3 assists in 4 games against Florida this year, its a safe bet that he'll add another point tonight.

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