The Caps are now 9-5-4 under Coach Bruce Boudreau after a very exciting 8-6 win in Ottawa on Saturday night. If you missed the game you picked the wrong one to skip because Caps star Alexander Ovechkin was absolutely amazing pumping in four goals and adding an assist. Rookie Nicklas Backstrom turned in another very good performance with a goal and two assists and even Michael Nylander contributed scoring two goals in a game for the first time this season (he now has nine on the season – the team needs many more).
Fortunately Ovechkin’s injury in Pittsburgh was only a cut to his leg. Interestingly though, it was reported that the Penguins medical staff were slow in attending to Ovechkin in the third period on Thursday night and the great #8 never returned to the game. Had Ovechkin been stitched up quickly and returned to play in the 3rd period the Caps likely would have won that game so Penguins fans can thank their medical staff for the assist in the victory.
True story from my days as Caps statistician in the early 90’s: The Caps were playing Boston at Capital Centre and Randy Burridge of the Bruins got cut and needed immediate stitching. The head of the Caps statisticians was Dr. Michael Herr who also did double duty as a member of the game day medical staff. That day it was Dr. Herr’s job to perform the stitching and as he normally did, Mike went down and stitched up Burridge in a prompt and professional manner. Burridge would later score the tying goal in what ended a 2-2 tie. I still kid Mike about costing the Caps a point that day!
The Capitals are picking the right time to play Ottawa (the Senators play in DC on Tuesday) because that team is in a state of turmoil. Last year’s starting goalie Ray Emery, who led the team to the Stanley Cup finals but was injured early in the season, is causing a disruption in the locker room because he can’t get back in net partly due to the solid play of goalie Martin Gerber (at least until recently) and Emery’s own doing. The knock on Emery has been that he has been lazy in practice and not putting out the effort necessary to show that he deserves a start now that he is healthy again. Emery and Senators Coach John Paddock are having quite a battle and it is dividing the team.
Overall the Caps are now 15-19-5 and for the first time since October have moved out of the Eastern Conference basement (that now belongs to the goalie-less Tampa Bay Lightning). Washington is only five points out of a playoff spot but there are five teams between them and the 8th and last playoff spot (currently the NY Islanders). The Caps also have played a game or two more than most of those teams ahead of them so the gap could widen if the other teams play well.
One has to wonder how much more Leaf Nation can take the losing in Toronto. On Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada the Leafs were absolutely blasted, 6-1, by the New York Rangers. With Bryan McCabe out of the line-up with a broken wrist and starting goalie Vesa Toskala nursing a sore groin the playoff window is closing fast for the Maple Leafs. Today on ESPN, hockey analyst EJ Hradek’s New Year’s resolution for Toronto was to fire everyone. GM John Ferguson Jr. and Coach Paul Maurice will be lucky to make it through the rest of the season.
Flames goalie Mikka Kiprusoff finally played a decent game on Saturday helping Calgary defeat Anaheim 5-3 on the late game on Hockey Night in Canada. Kiprusoff has played poorly this year letting in several bad goals. As I mentioned last week Kiprusoff received a new long term contract but has not played up to it and Coach Mike Keenan is not happy about it. After last Thursday’s 5-3 loss to the Canucks, Keenan was quoted on the teams website, “I don’t talk to the goalies about the technical aspect of their games. I leave that to the goalie coach. I talk to them about their play and their rest and recovery.” Calgary’s goalie coach, David Marcoux, has been with the team for four years but you can bet that if Keenan or the organization loses faith in him he will be gone and I am hearing rumblings that the goalie coach may be a part of the problem.
Can’t Miss Game of the Week: Pittsburgh at Buffalo, New Years Day on NBC at 130 pm. They have sold over 70,000 tickets for this outdoor game at Ralph Wilson stadium (home of the Buffalo Bills). Tune in to watch the best player in the NHL, Sydney Crosby, as his Penguins go up against a steadily improving Sabres team. This is a great opportunity for the NHL to market the game in the US.
I like everyone else was stunned by today’s announcement that Brian Billick was fired. I’ve been around pro sports since I was nine years old and continue to be amazed at some of the moves the modern day sports owners make. It was shocking to hear Bisciotti say he made the move on a “gut” feeling. I also didn’t like the fact that Team President Dick Cass was sitting at the table for the press conference and was heavily involved in the situation. He is a lawyer, not a football guy! My gut tells me this is going to be a bad move, just like the one Abe Pollin made in 1997 when he fired a proven Caps GM (David Poile) because he was listening too much to the marketing person (Susan O’Malley).
Bisciotti made the comment today that the Ravens have missed the playoffs three of the last four years. Did he know that Bill Cowher missed the playoffs in years 7, 8, and 9 of his Pittsburgh Steelers coaching career? Cowher rebounded from those years to lead the Steelers to the playoffs in 4 of the next 6 years including a Super Bowl (because he finally found a good QB in year 14). Just two years ago Bisciotti mentioned that he saw Billick in the same light as Cowher, Mike Shanahan, and Jeff Fisher. So why the about face on Brian? Hopefully Nestor and Drew find out more of the facts. I’ll also have more on the Billick decision in my next blog.
Happy New Year Everyone!