The Caps are back in action Friday night against the Colorado Avalanche, who were carried into the playoffs last season by current Washington goalie, Jose Theodore. Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post had a nice interview with #60 today about what happened in Colorado and about the process of leaving the Avs and coming to the Caps (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalsinsider/2009/02/theodore_looking_forward_to_fa.html#more). The game is at 7pm at the Verizon Center. Thursday night in the NHL saw the New Jersey Devils knock off the Tampa Bay Lightning in a shootout to tie the Caps with 79 points and second place in the Eastern Conference standings (although Washington has a game in hand on the Devils). Also, the Florida Panthers were blanked, 4-0, in Chicago and now trail the Caps by 13 points with 24 games to go in the Southeast Division race. I think it is safe to say the Caps will be hanging another Southeast Division Champions banner but if you polled the organization that is not the only one they would like to see go up at the Verizon Center.
I caught the encore presentation of Hockey Night in Canada Radio (Sirius Channel 122) this evening with host Jeff Marek and co-host Craig Simpson (a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Edmonton Oilers) and the topic of Wednesday night’s Caps-Habs game plus the Caps post season aspirations were discussed. Here is a synopsis of the conversation:
They both marveled at Ovechkin’s goal from Wednesday night. No surprise there.
Simpson says the Caps are the most exciting team in the NHL to watch. Marek said the passing, to include the behind the back ones, between Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Alexander Semin is fun to watch and takes amazing skill but he pointed out that they can get “too cute” at times. Simpson said he thought that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau would have to get the players to not do as much of that in the playoffs because teams adjust in a playoff series.
Marek then asked Simpson if he thought the Caps had a defense that was Stanley Cup worthy. This came after a brief discussion on Anaheim’s Chris Pronger, who Simpson thinks will be traded come March 4th since the Ducks are likely to be sellers given their current position in the Western Conference (they are in 9th place but have played more games than everyone around them). Simpson thought the Caps had some physical defensemen, he mentioned Shaone Morrisonn by name, but then he said his big concern was the goaltending and he didn’t think Theodore was a guy who could hold up for a seven game series or win the Cup.
So I thought about this and talked Thursday evening with former Capitals statistician Mike Herr (who I worked hundreds of Caps games with and was also a former Team Opthamologist) and we both concluded that whether people agree with Simpson or not, Theodore is the only option Washington has this year in net to take them to the Stanley Cup Finals and win. I happen to think that #60 can accomplish that, especially given the team in front of him, and the way he played in last year’s playoffs is proof that he CAN go seven games in a series as he carried the Avs to victory against the Minnesota Wild in round one. By the way, since the lockout ended the three Stanley Cup winning goaltenders are: Cam Ward (Carolina, 2006), J.J. Giguere (Anaheim, 2007), and Chris Osgood (Detroit, 2008). Certainly before the 2006 playoffs Ward would not have been a goalie one would expect to be able to win the Cup (he was #2 on the depth chart going into the playoffs, behind Martin Gerber) but he did. So why not Theodore?
I do, however, continue to maintain that Caps GM George McPhee needs to get another veteran goalie to backup Theodore in the event that #60 suffers even a minor injury. Young goalies Michal Neuvirth and Simeon Varlamov have very promising futures but they would benefit much more from a playoff run with Hershey. Also, those who follow Tarik’s blog know that Olie Kolzig mentioned in Tampa last week that after last season he had the same surgery that Brent Johnson had recently on his hip and Godzilla said that two months was not enough recovery time. So I am not convinced that Johnson is a viable option the rest of this hockey season. The NHL trading deadline is a week from Wednesday at 3pm on March 4th.
Speaking of others talking about the Caps, I thought the following quote from Montreal defenseman Mathieu Schneider was worth sharing (special thanks to the Caps great Media/HR department led by Nate Ewell and Paul Rovnak for providing these quotes):
“Those guys are probably one of the most exciting teams in hockey right now and very difficult to play against. It was a great up and down game. I thought we sat back, you could sense a little bit of nervousness from some of the guys in the first period but as we got into it, the guys started getting looser, starting to make plays. We got a lot of pucks to the net and I think we had a lot of chances 5-on-5 as well. We could have just as easily won that [game]. We hit the post there towards the end and it could have been a different story easily. It’s something to build on, we have to take that into tomorrow night and just build off that.”
By the way, Montreal was knocked off, 5-4, in Pittsburgh tonight so spots five through 10 in the Eastern Conference are as follows:
NY Rangers, 59 games, 68 points
Montreal, 59 games, 67 points
Florida, 58 games, 66 points
Buffalo, 59 games, 66 points
Carolina, 59 games, 63 points
Pittsburgh, 59 games, 62 points
I still think Pittsburgh finds a way to get in the playoffs. Florida’s fate totally rests with what they decide to do with defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Buffalo is missing leading scorer Tomas Vanek to a broken jaw so they will have a tough road.
Caps talk continues on the Left Coast: I’m watching the San Jose Sharks-Los Angeles Kings game right now and play by play man Randy Hahn and color analyst Drew Remenda are talking about Ovechkin and his goal last night. They are calling it the goal of the year and are commenting on how he is the most exciting player in the league and the one who sells the most tickets. I could not agree more.
For those hockey fans who are interested in what people who cover the Caps have to say about that experience, among other things, check out Rob Yunich’s Storming the Crease website (see http://www.stormingthecrease.com/). Rob’s latest interview is with former Caps and Flyers player Bill Clement.