Archive for the ‘Capitals’ Category

I don’t think there are enough words to describe how excited I am to see the Capitals doing so well this season.  Say what you want about Alex Ovechkin being a dirty player, but with or without him in the line up, the Capitals are scary team that you do not want to play against right now.  The Caps are riding a 6 game win streak into tonight’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, who have lost their last two games.  Two of those Capitals wins have been without the great eight, and oh yeah, the Caps scored a combined 14 goals without him in those 2 games.  With this team you can no longer only talk about Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin as the teams offense.  Throughout the season we have seen talented play makers emerge from the 3rd line, 4th line, and even from the AHL call ups from the Hershey Bears.  With that being said, Ovechkin, who has missed eight games this season, is still only one goal behind league leading Marian Gaborik with 21.  Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom are both tied for 5th in the league with 25 assists a piece.  The Capitals offense is still the best in the league, averaging 3.60 goals a game

The score sheet has grown accustom to adding the names Fleischmann, Fehr and Laich.  Brooks Laich and Fleischmann both have 10 goals and 25 and 17 points, respectively.   Eric Fehr is currently riding a 7 game scoring streak as he has collected a 15 points in 20 games this season, something the Caps have seen happen quite frequently as Mike Green has passed the 7 game scoring streak twice already this season.  Five other Caps players have put together scoring steaks of at least 4 games or more.  Eleven different players on the Capitals roster have tallied at least ten points through the first 30 games of the season.  And don’t think this team is strictly an offensive power house, The Caps defense is ranked 10th in the league, averaging 2.67 goals against, while rookie net minder Semyon Varlamov ranks 7th in both save percentage and goals against average.  Varlamov is also boasting a 12-1-2 record, which is good enough for tops amongst rookies.

The list of unbelievable stats for the Caps goes on and on, here are just a few for you to ponder…

– In the month of December, the Caps are averaging 5 goal a game while only allowing 1.5 goals against.

– Semyon Varlamov is leading the league with fewest regulation losses amongst starting goaltenders with 1 and Jose Theodore is tied for 4th with only 3 regulation losses.

– The Capitals power play unit ranks first in the league at 24.4 %, scoring 31 power play goals in 30 games.

– Brooks Laich is tied for 6th in the league with 6 power play goals, Ovechkin is next with 5 on the season.

– Mike Green has 12 power play assists on the season, which is good enough for 5th overall, and Backstrom is the next closest Capital with 10 power play assists.

– Mike Green is leading all defenders with 30 points (5 goals and 25 assists in only 29 games played).

– With 44 points, the Washington Capitals are 1 point ahead of the San Jose Sharks for most points in the league and 3 points ahead of the New Jersey Devils for tops in the Eastern Conference.

– With a 7-0 record against the Southeast Division, the Capitals are a comfortable 11 points ahead of the 2nd place Atlanta Thrashers in their Division.

– 22 games is the fastest it has taken Ovechkin to reach the 20 goal mark, 27 games was the next fewest in the 2007-08 season where Ovechkin finished with 65 goals.

– 9 players on the Capitals have had 2 goal games 22 different times this season.

– Ovechkin has been the first to score in 7 games this season for the Capitals, that is the most in the NHL.

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Who’s to blame in DC for the craziness that is sports in our Nation’s Capital?  As of November 10th, the Redskins and Wizards have a combined 4-12 record, both teams are in the midst of at least a 4 game losing streak, while on the other end of the thermometer, the Capitals are off to one of their hottest starts in franchise history with a 10-3-4 record.  While the Caps currently hold the top offense in the NHL, averaging 3.76 goals per game, both the Wizards and Skins hold the 24th and 29th best scoring offenses in their leagues respectively.

Its hard to say where each team went wrong, or right in the Caps situation, since all three teams entered this season with similar expectations but very different off seasons.  To start, we will have to take a look at the Redskins.  Entering the 2009 off season, Jim Zorn was coming off a 8-8 season as a first time head coach.  During the draft, the Redskins took defensive end Brian Orakpo with the the 13th overall pick, adding to an already talented defensive unit that finished 4th overall in the league.  That move was followed by the $100 million addition of pro bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.  These moves were heavily scrutinized by the media, suggesting that the team should have focused on improving their often injured and some what old offensive line.

Vinny Cerrato, the teams Vice President of Football Operations, assured everyone that the roster he provided Coach Zorn with was more than adequate to make the playoffs this season.  After all it was the same team that started 6-2, produced 4 pro bowlers in Chris Samuels, Clinton Portis, Mike Sellers and Chris Cooley.  This team was destined to make it the playoffs and compete for the division title right?  Boy were we all wrong.  This team as seen its fair share of injures this season, including all pro left tackle Chris Samuels and right guard Randy Thomas.  Against Denver this week, the Redskins will be starting their 5th different offensive line alignment this season.  That’s five different combination’s in nine games, talk about consistency.  The team also suffered several blow s when tight end Chris Cooley broke his ankle against the Eagles, Clinton Portis suffered a concussion against the Falcons, and just yesterday, safety Chris Horton was placed on IR with an ankle injury.  But still who is to blame?  I don’t think you can put all the blame on owner Dan Snyder, the players still have to play. Last weekend, the Redskins gave up 31 points to the Falcons and only managed to score 17 points.  I think the team has given up on each other and the media has caused such a stir that at this point, the players can point their finger in any direction for an excuse and get away with it.

Now, moving on to the Washington Wizards, who were coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history, boasting a 19-63 record last year.  Now with that said, last year’s team was without some of its most important players, losing several starters to injury, including All Star point guard Gilbert Arenas.  So this off season, the Wizards brought in a well respected coach in Flip Saunders, who has brought every team he as coached into the playoffs in all but 2 seasons he has coached.  The team also opted to trade away its 5th overall draft pick to at depth in the back court, acquiring Mike Miller and Randy Foye from Minnesota.  With the return of a healthy line up and the addition of a proven coach, the Wizards were bound to return to playoff form this season…

Well, once again DC was let down with a poor start to the season.  In the preseason the Wizards saw their most reliable player, Antawn Jamison go down with a separated shoulder.  He has yet to return to action and his return date is still in question.  To make matters worse, Mike Miller suffered a shoulder injury last week in a loss against the Heat, he is expected to make his return within the next week or two.  Even though the team’s most important star, Arenas has started every game this season, the Wizards still don’t look in sync.   In last night’s loss to the Heat, Arenas turned the ball over a career high 12 times and allowed Heat star Dwyane Wade to put up 41 points.  Wade outscored the entire Wizards in the second half 29-27.  Oh yea, not to mention Randy Foye went down in that game with an ankle injury, his status is still uncertain.  Things cannot possibly get worse right?  But who is to blame for the Wizards poor start?  Is Gilbert past his prime? can anyone play defense on this team?

Ok, now we can look at that lone bright spot in DC, the Washington Capitals.  The team entered the off season after a disappointing game seven loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs.  The off season buzz was whether or not the team could keep two of their valuable Russian veterans in Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Federov.  The team was also in need of a strong defender, but due to salary cap restraints, the team only managed to find replacements for Kozlov and Federov in Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison, and hope that the teams farm system could help provided the team with depth when called upon.  This is where the Caps differ from both the Wizards and Redskins, with their ability to scout young talent and successfully develop them in Hershey.  This off season we saw both the Skins and Wiz pass up on bringing in younger guys and instead, went for the some-what proven veterans in hopes of filling the missing pieces of talented, but aging roster.

With the Caps already a month into their season, the ride hasn’t exactly been smooth, the biggest bump coming when two time MVP Alex Ovechkin went out with an upper body injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 1st.  When he first went down he was listed as day to day, but after missing a week and a half with his unspecified injury, there is no specific return date in site.  But thanks to Capitals General Manager George McPhee, the team hasnt missed a beat since Ovechkin was taken out of the line up.  The team has gone 2-1 in three games without him and audiences have gotten a taste of that youth movement that Caps have been quietly developing in Hershey.  The most surprising addition came from young Mathieu Perreault, who in the three games Ovechkin has missed, has tallied 1 goal and 2 assists.  Although Ovechkin is still leading the league with 14 goals through 14 games, the team is averaging 4.67 goals in the three games without him, and one more then, Alex Semin was held without a point in two of those games.

So as the winter rolls on in DC, you can say what you want about the three main sports teams in our area, but as of right now, it has been proven that building a team through the draft and developing your  young talent will help you, regardless of injuries.  The front office may be the ones who take the bulk of the blame, but it ultimately comes down to the players, those who are willing to step up and fill in the voids, proving that they belong in the professional level and that they want to win.

I hate to give up on a team at any point during the season, but with that being said, I think the Redskins still have a lot to play for and by no means should they lose their next eight games.  The Wizards’ season is still young and hopefully they can get healthy and gain some consistency playing together and turn this season around and fight for one of the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.  And as for those Capitals, keep on playing and trying to get better, sure not having number eight in the lineup is concerning, but this is shining light on the rest of the players who have been hiding under Ovechkin’s shadow the past two seasons, proving that the Caps are a real team to be reckoned with.

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Despite nearly blowing a three goal lead last night against the Atlanta Thrashers, the Capitals are riding a 6 game winning streak into tonight’s game against the New York Islanders.  I know that earlier on I mentioned Ovechkin was on pace for a record breaking season, but since then Ovechkin has slowed down a bit.  And by Ovechkin’s standards, that means slowing down to 22 point through 12 games this season.  Ovechkin’s 13 goals are good enough for best in the league and he also is first in the plus/minus rating at 11.  Ovechkin’s line mates are not to be forgotten as well, both Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin rank in the top 25 in points this season with 16 and 13 points respectively.  Might I also remind you the Semin misses 2 games earlier in the season in which the Capitals scored a combined 8 goals.  Backstrom, known as a set up man, has already tallied 13 assists this season, which is good enough for 2nd place in the league, one assist behind Joe Thonton.

The Caps have built up a comfortable lead in the Southeast Division, putting themselves ahead of the second place Lightning by 7 points.  Their 18 points is good enough for second place overall in the Eastern Conference, just 2 points shy of the Penguins (Boo!).  The interesting thing about the Caps season so far is that they are just as good on the road as they are at home; the Caps have a 4-1-1 record for both home and away games.  Last season we saw Washington struggle on the road, losing 10 of their first 14 games away from Verizon Center.  And say what you want about the Capitals defense but the team’s two goaltenders have been playing out of their minds.  Young Semyon Varlamov has played in 6 of the team’s 12 games, and won all but one of those games.  His five victories is most amongst rookie goaltenders, and that 6th game, doesn’t go down as a loss for Varlamov because he was pulled after 2 periods against the Flyers on October 10th.  Theodore might not have as many wins as Varlamov, but he has kept the Caps in every single game he has played.  Theodore’s .922 save percentage is 4th in the league.

Tonight, the Capitals host the 2-4-5 New York Islanders at 7:00pm on Comcast SportsNet Plus.  One of the Islanders’ 5 overtime losses came against the Caps on October 24th in a 3-2 loss.  The Islanders had a surprising 2-0 lead through 2 periods in that game until a fire was lit under Capitals’ defenseman Mike Green’s stick.  Green scored the first goal and assisted the game winner in overtime last Saturday.  Green is currently riding a seven game point streak, where he has tallied 2 goals, 6 assists, and a +4 rating during that time.  Mike Green is currently tied for 6th in the league amongst defensemen with 10 points through 12 games this season.

This time around I don’t expect to wait until the third period to start scoring against the Islanders, you can expect a heavy dose of the team’s top line and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Capitals power play unit adding several goals.  Last time the Caps face the Islanders they were 0-4 on the power play and gave up a short handed goal.

Maple Leafs Capitals Hockey

I know I’m getting a little ahead of myself here but through two games, the Caps look like they could be one of the greatest teams in the NHL.  Their offense is averaging 5 goals a game and the defense has come up strong when they need it.  I know they gave up four goals against the Maple Leafs, but three of those goals came in “mop up” time after getting out to a 6-1 lead by the start of the 3rd period.

Reigning MVP and two time Rocket Richard Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin is leading the league in scoring with 3 goals and 3 assists through 2 games.  If you think about it, Ovechkin is on pace for a 246 point season, if he continues to put up the same numbers every night.  The current record for most goals in a single season was set by the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, when he netted 92 goals in the 1981-82 season for the Edmonton Oilers.  I don’t want to get carried away with the thoughts of the Great Eight scoring over 100 goals in a single season, but who’s to say he can’t do it?  We’ve seen Ovechkin score numerous goals that “shouldn’t have” gone in yet he has left us all in shock and disbelieve time and time again.

Ovechkin isn’t the only one getting things done for the caps,  the fifth year center Brooks Laich is keeping up pace with Alex as he already has 3 goals and 2 assists.   Nicklas Backstrom has proved that his passing skills rank amongst the best in the league as he already has five assists on the season.  The Capitals power play is picking up right where it left off last season, scoring 3 goals on 7 power plays through the first two games.  Washington’s penalty killing unit surprisingly ranks first in the league, successfully killing 8 penalties without surrendering a goal.

I know a 6-4 win against the Maple Leafs doesn’t sound like a great defensive performance but, when your offense provides you with 6 goals, it gives your all-stars a chance to save their legs for later in the season and will also allow Coach Bruce Boudreau to dip down into the AHL and bring up the young prospects.  Boudreau would feel more comfortable bringing in the younger guys when the team has already gained a comfortable lead, providing the young talent with plenty of time to see the ice and see how they fare in the NHL.

Tonight the Capitals face off against the 2-0 Philadelphia Flyers, who look strong defensively as they went out in the off season bringing in veteran defenseman Chris Pronger and goaltender Ray Emery.  Emery’s .963 save percentage ranks 4th best in the league as he has only allowed 2 goals through the first two games of the season.  The Flyers have shown they can win games on both sides of the ice as their two wins have come in different styles.  Philly proved it can be an elite defensive team as they went on the road to shut out the Carolina Hurricanes in a 2-0 win.  Carolina averaged just a hair under three goals a game last season, which ranked 16th in the league.  In the Flyers’ second game, the offense got going as the Flyers scored 5 goals against future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, defeating the Devils 5-2.

This game should be an interesting match up as the two teams split their 4 game series last season, each team winning 2 apiece.  In the first meeting last year, the Capitals were embarrassed as they lost 1-7, despite the Capitals setting a franchise record for most shots in a single period when they tallied 25 in the first.  Look for the Caps to pick up right where they left off in Boston as veteran goaltender Jose Theodore will be making his second start of the season, defending his 0.950 save percentage and his 1-0 record.

The 2009-10 hockey season starts tonight as the Boston Bruins face off against the back-to-back defending Southeast Conference Champion Washington Capitals. And after a disappointing finish to the Capitals playoff push last season, I’m looking forward to seeing how the team can respond to yet another early exit in the playoffs. Last year the Caps finished the season with a record of 50-24-8 and finished third in the leauge in total offense, tallying 272 total goals.

Several things happened this off season that left me questioning the teams overall improvement. The team lost a lot in leadership by letting Sergei Fedorov return to Russia and play in the KHL. Both Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov provided a lot of leadership for the young Russians on the team. The team went out and got Mike Knuble from the Flyers to provide some veteran leadership and hopefully fill that missing piece on the first line with MVP Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Being known as a primarily offensive team, I felt the team was going to shore up the blue line by adding a big name free agent defender, but the team did exactly the opposite, it sent down two of their top young blue line prospects back to Hershey with the teams final cuts. Both Karl Alzner and John Carlson, who were this years talk of the town during training camp, were both sent down to Hershey for the start of the regular season. Alzner played in 30 games for the Caps last season averaging 19:25 minutes of ice time and scoring 1 goal and 4 assists, with a plus/minus rating of -1. There is no doubt in my mind that both young defenders will be called up at some point in the season, but do not expect to see them in uniform for more the 39 games unless the caps are willing to use a year of their contracts.

It was also disappointing to see Chris Bourqe claimed by the Penguins yesterday afternoon. I felt Bourqe, the son of hall of fame defenseman Ray Bourqe, would provide the team with a strong scrappy player who could help inspire the team with his heart and hustle. Basically I was expecting Bourqe to be the player Sean Avery thinks he is, but minus all the dumb penalties.

I think the goaltending is a year stronger as Jose Theodore was named the preseason starter by head coach Bruce Boudreau. Theodore is entering a contract season which means he better play like his job is on the line. If not, young Semyon Varlamov will step in in his first full season on the Capitals roster. Varlamov stepped in for Theodore in the first round of last years playoffs after falling to 0-3 against the Rangers, I would not be surprised if Varlamov replaces Theodore yet again mid way through the season and become the Caps full time starter.

None the less, I am expecting great things from this young Capitals team. They are still a threat to score at any moment in the game with All Star talents like Backstrom, Alex Semin, Mike Green, and of course Ovechkin. The Great 8 is easily the most exciting player to watch in the NHL today, creating a scoring chance almost every time he touches the puck. I look forward to another Southeast Division Championship and a trip to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in ten years, beating the Penguins all four times in the regular season along the way.