Quick Caps Update
The Caps are now 7-5-2 under Interim Coach Bruce Boudreau. The Caps play on Long Island on Saturday before taking three days off for the Christmas break.
Btw, the 10 Capitals pictured in the link below from left to right are:
Calle Johansson, Bengt Gustafsson, Dale Hunter, Michal Pivonka, Keith Jones, Alex Ovechkin, Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley, Ulf Dahlen, and Brendan Witt
Canadian Junior Hockey News
I spent last weekend up in the Great White North (that’s Canada for anyone not familiar with Getty Lee, Dave Thomas, and Rick Moranis) and on Friday traveled to Kitchener to see the Kitchener Rangers host the Sault Ste. Marie Soo Greyhounds, two of the best teams in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Kitchener, in fact, will be hosting the Memorial Cup this May. For those who don’t know the Memorial Cup is the championship trophy of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). Each year the champions from three CHL member leagues; the Western Hockey League (WHL), the OHL, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and the host CHL team, compete in the Memorial Cup Tournament for the top prize in Junior Men’s (Under 21) ice hockey. The Vancouver Giants are the current Memorial Cup Champions.
Kitchener, despite missing two of its top players who were preparing for the World Junior Championships that will take place in the Czech Republic starting next week, is clearly the class of the OHL and dominated the Soo in a 5-1 win (Sault Ste. Marie also had two players out preparing for the World Juniors). Since the Memorial Cup team is chosen in March of the prior year, it is no surprise that Kitchener was selected to host the tournament despite the fact that the building they play in (The Aud) is very old and only seats 6,500 people (there are no bad views in the house but the seats are packed close together). Kitchener has a rich tradition of providing top notch talent to the NHL as evidenced by the following names that hang from the banners in The Aud: Paul Coffey, Larry Robinson, and Bill Barber. Caps fans will recall that Scott Stevens also played a season in Kitchener before being drafted by Washington with the fourth overall pick in 1982. Just last weekend it was announced that on December 28th Stevens will be on hand as they raise a banner with his name on it.
As for the game itself, it was very entertaining with lots of skating, some really skilled players (there were two likely future #1 draft choices playing in the game according to a Western Conference scout), and a couple of good fights. One thing I noticed was the lack of hitting and physical play and penalties were called on what looked to me like clean hits on a few occasions. The Western Conference scout pointed out that the decline in body checking has been a trend in the OHL. Given that this season the NHL is making an effort to get physical play and hitting back into the game I couldn’t help but think that if I was an NHL GM or Director of Scouting I’d draft a WHL guy over an OHL guy if all things were considered equal just based on the fact that the OHL guy may not be used to physical contact.
Earlier in the season I talked about the Philadelphia Flyers fast start but pointed out that they routinely were outshot in games. This is typically an indicator that the team’s record is better than the team is actually playing (in the Flyers case the thanks goes primarily to goaltender Martin Biron). Recently the Flyers have gone into a freefall and are now sitting in 9th place in the Eastern Conference standings (just 3-6-1 in their last 10 games). Head Coach John Stevens, who received a one year contract extension yesterday, needs to find a way to get the Flyers playing better quickly in a very tight Eastern Conference playoff race. Getting Simon Gagne back would really help (concussion) but he has not played since November 7th.
Last season the Calgary Flames were 13-20-8 on the road but made the playoffs thanks to a 30-9-2 home record. Mike Keenan was brought in as coach this season to get the team to play with more grit (especially on the road) and as a result Calgary just won six straight road games to raise their overall road record to 10-6-1. Unfortunately the Flames have struggled at home and were only 7-7-4 heading into last night’s contest with Dallas at the Saddledome.
As many hockey fans know, Chris Simon was given a 30 game suspension by the league this week. With 5:54 left in New York’s 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday, Simon drew a match penalty when he pulled out Jarkko Ruutu’s leg with his, sending the forward to his knees between the benches. Simon then stomped on the skate of Ruutu, who wasn’t seriously injured. With the NHL trying to rebuild its image and fan base in the US the league does not need these types of incidents. Simon is a nice guy off the ice (I talked with him several times back when he was with the Caps) but he has a long history of snapping during games and that just cannot be tolerated anymore. He also hurts his team on a nightly basis by taking bad penalties.
Local cable subscribers may have noticed that the NHL Network has been added to their programming lineup. Down here in Howard County the channel is part of the optional sports package (includes the NFL Network) that must be requested and purchased by the subscriber. The best part of the NHL Network is their “On The Fly” show that recaps highlights of each game showing all goals and key plays. Former Rangers GM Neil Smith and former Caps Coach Gary Green are regulars on the program and starting next month former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button will join the lineup.
Minnesota forward Marian Gaborik had five goals and an assist in a Wild 6-3 win over the New York Rangers on Thursday night. The five goals by a player were the first in a game since Detroit’s Sergei Federov put up a five spot against the Caps and Jim Carey back in December of 1996 in Detroit in a 5-4 OT Red Wings victory (I remember watching that game at Rod Langway’s restaurant). Gaborik is a very talented and exciting player who is very valuable to the Wild. If he stays healthy they have a great chance to make the playoffs this year (they are currently first in the Northwest Division).
Anaheim and San Jose go at it Saturday night for the 3rd time this week. San Jose won game one in a shootout on Sunday before Anaheim won the second event in regulation on Tuesday. Both winners were victorious on the road (Saturday’s game is in San Jose). Tempers are flaring between these two teams so look for some more fisticuffs on Saturday night (Anaheim has the better fighters).
Can’t Miss Game of the Week: Carolina at Tampa Bay on Saturday at 730pm. The Hurricanes are in 1st place in the Southeast Division but just lost forward Justin Williams for four to six months. Tampa Bay is led by NHL leading scorer Vincent Lecavalier. I predict lots of goals in this one as Tampa’s goaltending is horrible. The Lightning are six points back of Carolina and badly need a win.