Tag Archive | "boudreau"

Defensive Zone Breakdowns Cost Caps in Loss to Ducks

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Defensive Zone Breakdowns Cost Caps in Loss to Ducks

Posted on 24 December 2013 by Ed Frankovic

After back to back dismal efforts against mediocore teams that saw the Caps fortuitously pull out three of a possible four points last weekend, Washington was back in action on Monday night against the number one team in the NHL: Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks, who came in with an eight game winning streak.

The Capitals played much harder in this one and actually had a 2-0 early lead, but defensive mistakes at critical times ultimately did them in once again, and they were defeated, 3-2, to drop their record to 19-14-4 heading into the Christmas break.

This was a very close game, as evidenced by the shot attempt totals, which were 57-54 in favor of the Ducks. Washington was much better than last weekend in the puck possession department but Anaheim did a superior job of getting their attempts on net, winning that battle 29-19. The Caps did a lot of good things in this game and both Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin hit iron in the third frame in what is a tough loss to a very good hockey team.

After Saturday’s overtime loss to the Devils I blogged that things needed to change and it was on Coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee to figure out whether it was the players or the system that were causing the issues. Following tonight’s game, it appears to me that effort and also focus, on the part of the players, and not the system, is the major problem. Washington was motivated on Monday and brought a passion to get and own the puck. But the Ducks are a veteran and skilled team, and going against number one isn’t all about effort and passion, it’s about playing the right way and paying attention to detail.

That is where this Capitals team is falling down, attention to detail, especially in their own end. The Caps gave up the tying tally with just 27 seconds remaining in period two. Then they gave up the game winner with 5:36 left in regulation. Both goals were the result of poor reads that led to bad defensive zone coverage. Oates confirmed that after the game. On the game winner, the forwards all got caught too low on the back check allowing defenseman Hampus Lindholm to fire a shot through a maze of bodies past Philipp Grubauer. There was a lack of communication on the part of the Washington forwards on the ice and it resulted in a lot of space and time for the Ducks defenseman to shoot and score.

Anaheim’s second tally, however, is the one that is the most upsetting and disappointing. The five guys on the ice were out for a long shift and each one can shoulder their share of the blame. We won’t point out the names, but let’s just say there were a lot of contract dollars on the ice for the home club. The initial rush by Ben Lovejoy wasn’t played properly by the Capitals defensemen, who simply stopped moving his feet. But even still, Lovejoy was just looking to center the puck and if the other defenseman and the three forwards don’t puck watch and instead cover Anaheim players, there is no quality chance or goal. That did not happen as the Caps d-man went to the wrong post and the forwards allowed Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano to have a clear and uncovered path to the front of the cage. The result was an easy goal for Koivu that Grubauer had no chance on.

Simply put, it was a lack of effort at the end of a long shift and poor communication, as well. In his post game presser Oates said that communication should be going on at all times on the ice and he also said that at this point in the season, the reads and positioning should be automatic. It was not on the tying tally, as well as the game winner.

Those type of mistakes not only cost a squad points in the standings, but in the bigger picture, those are the type of errors that prevent a hockey team from being one of the better clubs in the league. Washington is in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference for this exact reason, they have too many breakdowns in their own end that are costing them hockey games.

Reading Oates’ answers, expression and demeanor afterwards, I got the feeling that he’s been pointing out these things over and over to his players. These aren’t hard hockey concepts but they require a mental toughness to continue to execute when you are tired or not in a position to score a goal. Everyone loves offense, but playing proper defense is the key to winning hockey games and a Stanley Cup. The Cup winner each season knows how to do the things that allow a club to transition from offense to defense. They play their positions well, they communicate on defense, and they focus even when they are tired at the end of a shift.

It’s the things you need to do to win hockey games and ultimately a championship.

Until this Caps team is ready to commit to that, they’ll do exactly what I said after Saturday’s loss to New Jersey: they will qualify for the playoffs and then find themselves out in either round one or two.

The talent is mostly there for the Caps to go where the players say they want to go, but saying it and then doing it requires a whole different level of focus and commitment.

Right now, I question that level of commitment from several of the players on this team.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 43-25…the Caps were 1 for 5 on the power play while the Ducks went 0 for 4 with the man advantage…Brooks Laich returned to the lineup and played 13:23…Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom had the two goals for Washington…next up, on Friday night at the Verizon Center, for the Caps is an improving Rangers team that has won two games in a row.

 

 

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Ovechkin Deserves Much of the Blame for Caps Bad Start

Posted on 25 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

Michal Neuvirth was stellar in net on Friday night as the Capitals rallied from a 2-0 third period deficit to force overtime before losing to the New Jersey Devils, 3-2.

Sure it was nice to finally get a point, and the Capitals were the last team in the league to do so, but this team needs wins in a short 48 game season.

Washington is now 0-3-1 and you can criticize the bad penalty killing and complain about a system change due to the new coach, but to me the single biggest problem with this team is the terrible play of Alexander Ovechkin.

In 92:29 of ice time in the four games he has 0 goals, 1 assist, 13 shots on goal, and just 8 hits. At $9M a year, that production just doesn’t cut it.

Ovechkin continues to struggle on the point on the power play and he is not getting his shots through and on net. With all of the power play time Washington had on Friday, if the team captain is producing there then maybe the Caps win in regulation or don’t need Mike Green’s late game tying tally?

I’ve written this several times before but Ovechkin would be a better fit down low on the power play. His size and strength would force opponents to focus more on him and that would open things up for his teammates. Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter both did that, at times, but it didn’t seem to last long, for whatever reason. However, there were several times when that move was very effective.

Much was made of Hunter sitting Ovechkin in the post season last spring due to his defensive deficiencies. Those problems continue this year. Oates tried him on the PK but after he was caught standing like a statue on the second Winnipeg goal on Tuesday night, that experiment seems to have ended.

Alex can be very guilty of trying to do things on his own too much and not use his teammates effectively. His turnover in overtime that led to the winning goal on Friday was an example of that. In addition, after turning the puck over Ovechkin was late coming back on defense. As a result he over reacted to the play and got caught down low, which opened up the Washington defense for an easy goal. Oates will not like what he sees of #8 on the sequence that led to the Devils winning tally.

I am not sure what is going on with a guy who should be one of, if not the best player in the NHL? Given that he played in the KHL during the lockout, you can’t blame his poor play on a lack of conditioning.

Whatever the problem is, it is up to Oates to figure it out and stop Ovechkin from performing so poorly. Like a quarterback in football, it is tough to win when your top player is not scoring and Ovechkin still has a big donut hole on the stat sheet in the goals column.

The bottom line is the Caps can’t win consistently without Ovechkin playing well and until they get him untracked, this team will have trouble winning games.

So fair or not, he deserves much of the blame for Washington’s terrible start to this season.

 

 

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Will Donald Fehr Wreck the Caps Off Season?

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Will Donald Fehr Wreck the Caps Off Season?

Posted on 17 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one.”

“We were too slow. We were soft. We weren’t making the smart plays, helping each other get open. If you’re not working hard for each other you’re not going to be successful.”

Those are some really telling quotes there, aren’t they? While doing some end of season spring cleaning, I stumbled upon the quote sheet that the Caps super PR department distributes after games and the above were from November 25, 2011 after the Caps lost, 6-3, to the New York Rangers. Those two quotes were from the always honest and straight forward Karl Alzner.

The night after that contest Washington would get blown out, 5-1, in Buffalo and that would spell the end of the Bruce Boudreau era and bring Dale Hunter into the fold.

We all know what happened from there in a roller coaster season that nearly put the Capitals into the Eastern Conference Finals before a tough end in New York last Saturday night.

Unfortunately, Hunter announced on Monday that he is heading back to Ontario to be with his family and to work with his London Knights franchise. Selfishly I would have loved for Dale to stay here and coach this team because I felt that when he took over he was the right guy for the job and I still believe that. It is clear that this team came together under ole number 32 like they haven’t done in recent years. Reading those two quotes above from Alzner should remind EVERYONE just how far this hockey team came in the nearly six months Hunter was behind the bench.

The Caps no longer were mentally weak and found ways to come back from some crushing defeats (see late season loss to Buffalo, games one, three, and six to Boston, as well as games three and five to the Rangers). They also became a tougher team to play against and the word soft could only be used to describe perhaps a couple of players instead of most of the team. Washington’s players certainly learned to stick together and play for one another and at the end of the season I will say that this club overall became greater than the sum of their parts, which in the past often didn’t seem to be the case.

But the season is over and Hunter is gone. There were lessons learned that should be carried forward and that locker room unity we saw hopefully continues next fall, if there is a 2012-13 hockey season, but more on that in a minute.

Every season hockey rosters turn over and with free agency coming on July 1st, the Caps will no doubt undergo some changes. I would bet my last dollar that both Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman won’t be back. Add goalie Tomas Vokoun to that list too. Right there that is over $11M in salary cap room for General Manager George McPhee to work with. There will be other changes too and it is well documented in this blog that McPhee’s number one player issue is improving the middle of the ice. We all saw how inconsistent the Caps were when Nicklas Backstrom went down for 40 games. They nearly missed the playoffs because they had a hole at the number one and two center positions. Finding a true second line center isn’t easy and many Caps fans were hoping that 2010 first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov might be the answer to that next fall, or at the very least he could come over and play on one of the top two lines as a winger. That isn’t happening. Kuznetsov, who turns 20 on Saturday, is staying in Russia. He can make more money there in the KHL and the uncertain NHL labor situation (the CBA expires on 9/15/2012) definitely didn’t help the Capitals cause.

The importance of quality centers cannot be overstated. There is no doubt that good centers help puck possession and other fancy stats. The Caps struggled in that area simply because they had pivots who could not break the puck out of their own zone very well, especially when #19 was injured. Hunter knew he had issues there and I firmly believe he put in place a strategy that gave him the best chance to win with the absence of strong centers. That was to focus on their own end and try to generate scoring chances via transition. He nearly pulled it off and if Alex Ovechkin or Troy Brouwer score from in tight in overtime in game three or they survive the last 25 seconds of game five they defeat the Rangers and instead they are the ones facing the New Jersey Devils.

Just look at the difference Brad Richards has made for a Rangers team that Washington manhandled in the first round in the spring of 2011! The bad news is there are no players like Richards on the free agent market this year, so McPhee has his work cut out for him.

Speaking of the market, does anyone have any idea how that will shake out this summer? After all, the head of the NHL players union is game killer Donald Fehr (see 1994 MLB strike and World Series cancellation) so you can bet that the NHL owners won’t be giving their GM’s a whole lot of rope to play with in the summer given the economic uncertainty facing the league with no collective bargaining agreement in place after September 15th.

So Fehr alone could wreck McPhee’s chances of retooling the Capitals this summer and getting them ready for a Stanley Cup run in 2013. It will not be a fun NHL offseason from that standpoint alone. McPhee does have two first round draft picks in this June’s NHL Entry draft so he needs to use those to help re-stock the prospect pipeline. He could package one of the picks in a trade to obtain a top six forward, but that seems to be a less likely scenario.

But given all of that, there are still places where this Caps team can improve on over the summer and it starts with each individual player. Regardless of who the next coach will be, every guy who wore a red sweater this past season needs to remember what brought them post season success: hard work, sticking together, and defensive hockey. The days of wide open play are over. The Caps kept doing that towards the end of the Boudreau era and all it led to was what I call “Odd Man Rush City” for the opponents. You can’t win that way in the NHL and even the Edmonton Oilers learned to play the right way before winning their first Cup in 1984. Defense wins championships, plain and simple.

You do need offense though and one way to improve that is by GMGM finding another top center. Washington needs two scoring lines and they didn’t have that this season. The result is it makes it much easier to defend Alexander Ovechkin. Hunter tried putting Backstrom with Semin on the second line to try and balance things out. It was a move that Boudreau smartly used in 2008 and 2009, but he had Sergei Fedorov to center the Gr8.

Ovechkin is at the top of my list of who can definitely improve next year. Better personnel will help him right off of the bat, if those moves can be made. But the Gr8 also can help himself by applying what Hunter was trying to teach him: good defense leads to more offense. Ovechkin needs to work on his defensive game regardless of the system implemented by the new coach. Pavel Datsyuk and Fedorov are great offensive talents but they both are/were very good defensively too. There is no reason why Alex can’t get better in his own zone. If he gets rid of the straight legged and gliding posture, bears down more, and does extra film study of opposing defenders to learn their tendencies, I am willing to bet that the Gr8 could score 10 more goals next season just by going from defense to offense more efficiently. His size and speed are some of his greatest assets and if he used them better in his own zone he could become the most dominant player in the league, once again. But Ovie has to want to do that and put the work in, plain and simple. Maybe he should give Ray Lewis a call to learn about work ethic and the benefits of film study?

Marcus Johansson is next on my list. MJ90 had a rough playoffs and was moved off of the puck too easily by the Rangers. Given that he was on one of the top two lines, that really hurt Washington’s chances to win the series. I’d much prefer him on the third line where he could really be effective and not have so much pressure on him, but with the lack of talent in the top six forward area, Marcus was forced to play up. He’s only 21 and he has great speed, but he needs to build strength and be stronger on the puck. The playoffs are all about winning the battles on the wall and he was not equipped to do that this spring.

We saw lots of promise out of Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov and both must avoid the sophomore slump. Alzner and John Carlson became a flat out dominant pair on the ice and they will be expected to do that and more next season. Carlson deserves first unit power play time, in my opinion. He has a great shot and isn’t afraid to use it. #74 was super in the playoffs and I see no reason why he can’t continue that level of play next season. Brooks Laich is a rock for this team but he needs to score more, hopefully the new coach gets him more power play time.

Right down the roster every player must find a way to improve while staying within the team structure. That brings us to the most important off-season decision that is non-player related, hiring the next head coach. The new bench boss must be a guy the players respect. Hunter certainly commanded it for his reputation as a player but also because every guy on the roster was held accountable, regardless of their contract or star power. That must continue.

McPhee smartly said he will take his time with the decision but there are some names out there that immediately bubble to the top of the list based on discussions I’ve had with people very familiar with the NHL coaching landscape: Craig Ramsay, Mike Sullivan, Jim Playfair, and Mike Eaves. Ramsay, Sullivan, and Playfair all have NHL head coaching experience while Eaves has been coaching at Wisconsin since 2002. Take a look at their respective coaching records yourself and you will be impressed with each candidate. McPhee certainly couldn’t go wrong picking any of those four, but perhaps he goes a different route and chooses someone with more ties to the Caps organization, such as a Terry Murray or Adam Oates?

It will be interesting to see what McPhee does, and this is a critical decision for him with this hockey team coming off of some positive playoff production.

There is a good vibe to this hockey team right now despite a disappointing end to the season, but the 2012 summer holds a lot for the Washington Capitals with so many important things on the agenda to address.

It is imperative they do the right things this summer. Let’s also hope that the NHL labor negotiations, and particularly Fehr, don’t wreck what is a very crucial off-season for the Caps.

 

 

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Can the Caps Shock the Defending Champs?

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Can the Caps Shock the Defending Champs?

Posted on 11 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

If you are a hockey fan this is the best time of the year, the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is a two month stretch like no other in sports and the reward is one of the most coveted trophies going. For Washington Capitals fans, this is also a traditional time of great hope typically followed by torment and frustration. You see those of us who have supported this team from its’ inception in the 1974-75 season are still waiting for the first visit from Lord Stanley to the local franchise.

The last few years have renewed the promise of a championship that Capitals fans started feeling back in the 1980′s and 90′s but unfortunately, the endings that came with it then have once again returned recently. Great regular seasons were abruplty ended by seemingly out of nowhere losing streaks in 2010 and 2011. This after the crushing game seven losses to the Flyers and Penguins in 2008 and 2009, respectively. New Capitals fans, and there are many of them and that is a good thing, can now understand what the long time sufferers have endured. The rite of spring around here for hockey fans often leads to group therapy sessions on the links after the first or second round of the playoffs.

Ironically, it has been some of the Capitals teams that have struggled in the regular season that have had the best playoff runs in team history. The 1990 Caps crew coached by Terry Murray finished two games under .500 but knocked off the Devils and Rangers before losing to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Then in 1998, the 4th seeded Caps beat Boston, Ottawa, and Buffalo before Ron Wilson’s club was swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Finals. Both Murray and Wilson were first year Capitals coaches in those seasons (Murray took over for his brother, Bryan).

This year, the Caps are a 7th seed after a rough regular season that saw Dale Hunter come in after just 22 games to replace Bruce Boudreau behind the bench. Washington, who were picked by many back in October to win the Eastern Conference, appears to be flying under the radar if you read most of the national and local series previews and predictions.

So can this crew of players, who underachieved in the first 82 games, find a way to knock off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins?

Let’s take a closer look.

My first reaction when the matchup was established was that I did not want the Caps to play the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The Bruins have experience at winning in the post season and they have two players who are among the best at their position in the entire league in defensemen Zdeno Chara and goalie Tim Thomas. However, Boston has been the hunted all season and they will have pressure to win again. The Caps have had a subpar regular season but outside of in net, they are finally healthy at the right time.

One would have to think the Capitals have yet to play their best hockey simply because they have had the key injuries. Boston’s best stretch came in November and December when they were nearly unbeatable. There are lots of good forwards on Boston but to me, the most important one is Patrice Bergeron. From a media standpoint he is an “under the radar” guy but everyone in the NHL knows how good this guy really is. #37 makes it happen for Boston and if Washington can find a way to slow him down then that could prove decisive. This series should be a very tight checking one and to me the team that takes care of the puck the best will win.

When it comes to series matchups, the one to watch is definitely Alexander Ovechkin vs. Zdeno Chara. There is no doubt that #33 loves playing against the Great 8 and he will use his stick and size to try and slow Ovechkin down. Alex has a major speed advantage so Hunter will need to try to find a way to get Ovechkin moving when he is approaching Chara. Alex also has to find a way to effectively use his teammates. His play away from the puck will be key to this matchup. If he plays strong in his own zone and creates some turnovers, he will get breakaways and/or odd man rushes. If he doesn’t bear down below the blue line then he will be easily neurtralized.

The difference, after turnovers, is going to be goaltending. If Braden Holtby remains composed and plays the way the whole organization knows he can play, then the Capitals have a chance to advance. #70 must be smart on when to be aggressive and help his defense by moving the puck. The Bruins are big and like to pound defensemen so Holtby’s stick handling could neutralize the forechecking ability of Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Tim Thomas runs hot and cold. It is vitally important that the Capitals get a lot of traffic on him. He can be rattled and guys like Matt Hendricks, Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, and Brooks Laich need to do that by crashing the crease.

The Capitals won three of the four regular season games and the one loss came with a depleted lineup (no Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, or Oveckhin plus Laich was injured in the middle frame). I’ve never been one to base playoff predictions off of regular season records, but statistics guru Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) tweeted that 77% of the time the team that won the regular season series is victorious in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So the Caps have that going for them….which is nice.

But surely Washington won’t be able to knock off a deep and experienced Bruins club, right? After the regular season Washington had, this should be easy pickings for the B’s, correct?

I say, not so fast. This is not a bad matchup for Washington and they should be able to use their speed guys like Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera to take advantage of Boston’s defense. As I said above, if Holtby holds up and the Caps limit their turnovers, they are right in it.

Call me crazy, call me a homer, call me whatever you want, but I say, yes, the Caps are gonna shock the NHL and knock off the defending champs in six games.

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Buy or Sell Decision Still Not Clear for Caps

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Buy or Sell Decision Still Not Clear for Caps

Posted on 22 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Buy or Sell decision, on paper, looks like an easy one right now for the Washington Capitals.

Sell.

With Nicklas Backstrom showing no signs of returning in the regular season from his concussion the holes up the middle of the ice appear to be too much for Washington to overcome. On Wednesday night that was apparent once again as the Ottawa Senators raced to an early 2-0 lead, extended it to 4-0 after 40 minutes, then fought off a late Caps rally to prevail 5-2 on an empty net goal.

The Caps played without Alexander Ovechkin, who was injured in Carolina on Tuesday in the second frame, but came back to play in the third period. The Gr8 missed practice yesterday and was scratched Wednesday with an undisclosed lower body injury. To say it has not been a good year, healthwise, for the Capitals is an understatement.

With Monday’s NHL trade deadline looming and just two games left for Washington before then, the Caps remain two points outside of the eighth and final playoff position. They are also only two points behind division leading Florida, who now have two games in hand on the Capitals. But this club has been unable to put together consistent efforts and if the two road games this week are any indication, the team has run out of gas with their most important player, #19, still out of the lineup.

Given that unrestricted free agents Tomas Vokoun, Dennis Wideman, Alexander Semin, and Mike Knuble might yield some good returns surely going the sell route is a no-brainer for general manager George McPhee, right?

Not so fast. The Capitals just announced that ticket prices for next season are going up, on an average of 8%, so for the club to conduct a mini sale and pack it in could significantly hurt season renewals. In addition, there is very likely pressure on McPhee from ownership to not only make the playoffs, but actually go deep into the them. So if the above are the deciding factors then shouldn’t Washington be buyers?

Again, not so easy to decipher and Washington’s salary cap predicament makes it hard for the GM to add assets without moving salary out. In addition, it is even more of a buyer’s market than normal this year, especially when a defenseman like Kyle Quincey goes for a first round draft pick (traded from Tampa to Detroit).

One thing is for certain, this team lacks confidence on the ice. They are not a hard team to play against at all, something that was expected to improve under coach Dale Hunter. At this point, it is clear coaching isn’t the main problem. Both Hunter and Bruce Boudreau have their strengths and weaknesses but the holes on the roster are making it too difficult for any bench boss to keep the team consistent once an injury or two hit.

The question now is can McPhee do something in the next four days to save the season? He has two first round picks in the this year’s draft available to bargain with, but again, he’d likely have to move salary with it in order to take on a top player in return. McPhee has been reluctant to trade 1st round picks in the past so why would this year be any different, especially in a season where the NHL entry draft is supposedly very good? The difference could be the job pressure he has to be feeling, but then again, who is to say that ownership may not give him full reign to make those short term yielding type of trades?

One thing is certain, the next four days are going to be very interesting because everything appears to be a possibility right now for the Caps, from buy to sell to simply standing pat.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on the WNST Morning Reaction with Drew Forrester at 7:35 am on Thursday talking Caps hockey. Listen on 1570 AM in Baltimore or live via WNST.NET

 

 

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Your Monday Reality Check-Now We’ve Officially Gone From Full Throttle to Neutral

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Your Monday Reality Check-Now We’ve Officially Gone From Full Throttle to Neutral

Posted on 06 February 2012 by Glenn Clark

As the confetti dropped Sunday night at LucasOil Stadium in Indianapolis to punctuate the New York Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI win over the New England Patriots, a harsh reality set in throughout Charm City.

While the Baltimore Ravens were eliminated some 14 days earlier, the immediate hangover effect of an AFC Championship Game loss lingered into Super Bowl week. The significance of the Super Bowl even without the Ravens’ involvement prevented the malaise of the football offseason from setting in too quickly.

It’s here now though, and it absolutely stings.

Just as we’ve finally had enough time to get over the Ravens’ heartbreaking defeat in Foxborough, we’ve been forced to accept the fact that there really isn’t anything on the sporting horizon that we can deflect our purple energy towards. After working ourselves into a frenzy over the course of the last two months, we have basically no choice but to sit on our collective hands for the better part of the next seven months while we wait for John Harbaugh’s team to take the field once more for real.

Sure, we’ll all drink some beer and tell our favorite Earl Weaver stories on Opening Day. Most of us will throw down a few shekels on the Kentucky Derby winner on Preakness Saturday in May. We’ll be gripped to any rumors related to the Purple Birds.

The moments of excitement will be fleeting and there will certainly be no outlet for us to channel any level of sporting fervor.

Here’s the rundown on the “Reality” of the situation:

-Much of the country will immediately shift their focus to College Basketball season. In past years, an exciting University of Maryland has provided a level of excitement after football season concluded. Barring a miracle it won’t be the case this season, as the Terps sit at 3-5 in ACC play with no significant victory and none likely to come. This was to be expected in Mark Turgeon’s first season but it won’t help anyone in the area shake themselves awake from an “end of football season coma.”

One small shining light is Loyola University basketball, as the Greyhounds find themselves tied with Iona for first place in the MAAC at 11-2. This year’s team is the best Jimmy Patsos has ever had, and has a legitimate shot at the NCAA Tournament. The only cloud for the Hounds’ chances is that the Gaels certainly have more overall talent. It doesn’t mean Loyola couldn’t figure a way to a MAAC Tournament title, it’s just reality.

Coppin State entered Monday with a respectable 7-3 MEAC record and a legitimate crop of talent. Morgan State’s season has been mired by a mid-season suspension of head coach Todd Bozeman and has lead to a disappointing 3-6 conference record entering Monday. The Eagles have a semi-realistic chance of winning the MEAC Tournament, the Bears can’t be completely ruled out but have struggled.

Towson and UMBC have basketball teams. One has a first year coach (the Tigers’ Pat Skerry), one has a coach who might be in his last season (the Retrievers’ Randy Monroe). Neither are even a little good.

Before I leave the topic, the University of Maryland women (who provided us a pleasant distraction with their 2006 NCAA Championship run) have a nice team again under Brenda Frese. They’re not liking a team that could make a Final Four run, but they weren’t supposed to be that year either.

-Other fans across the country will turn their attention to the NHL and NBA. With no team in either sport (and no arena for hope of a team relocating here in either sport) Baltimore isn’t afforded the opportunity to shift attention to such areas.

A handful of sports fans in Baltimore are interested in the Washington Capitals, who have made the NHL Playoffs in each of the last four seasons. After firing coach Bruce Boudreau earlier this season, the Caps find themselves sitting on the outside looking in at the playoff picture now under Dale Hunter and aren’t likely to make a run longer than last season’s advance to the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

There are less than a handful of Washington Wizards fans in Baltimore, which might be good news because the Wizards are unthinkably terrible.

-College Lacrosse season gets underway in the next 10 days, and both Johns Hopkins and Maryland find themselves in the Top 10 of preseason polls. A run to the Final Four from either the Blue Jays or Terrapins would be pleasant, but with the National Semifinals and Finals back in Foxborough Memorial Day weekend is not likely to register the same way for any local sports fan.

-That of course brings us to baseball. The Baltimore Orioles play their first Spring Training games on March 5. They’ll hope to avoid being mathematically eliminated from the AL East race before their first game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards April 6. There’s no guarantee they’ll succeed.

That’s where we are. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s reality. I don’t write this to try to depress anyone. The good news (for you) is that you won’t have to talk about it for four hours a day. I’m not afforded the same opportunity. And it’s not as if I’m really telling you anything you didn’t know, I just felt as though Monday was the day everything sunk in.

We’ll still be here for you however…if for no other reason than to pass the time.

Flexing my mic muscles since 1983…

-G

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At Season’s Halfway Point, It’s Time to Grade the Caps

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At Season’s Halfway Point, It’s Time to Grade the Caps

Posted on 12 January 2012 by Ed Frankovic

With the Washington Capitals hitting their season midpoint, it is time for my fifth annual Caps mid-season grades and analysis. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Capitals in 2011-12. This Caps squad that added goalie Tomas Vokoun, defensemen Roman Hamrlik, and forwards Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern during the summer, shot out of the gate 7-0 but an injury to Mike Green coupled with some poor defensive zone play and shaky goaltending sent the team reeling for several weeks. That swoon ultimately led to the firing of Bruce Boudreau. Enter new coach Dale Hunter, who changed the defensive system switching from zone to man to man, and the Caps became a team that was better at keeping the biscuit out of their own cage but saw the offense struggle early on while the team focused on a defense first mentality. In Hunter’s scheme, the offense is created from defense, primarily from transition. Over the last couple of weeks the team has executed those tactics much more effectively and the result has been victories in five of the last seven games. The goals against average, which was 3.32 in 22 games under Boudreau, has declined to 2.47 in 19 games with Hunter.

Washington heads into the season’s second half at 22-17-2 (46 points) which is good for 8th place in the Eastern Conference and 16th overall in the NHL. For comparison’s sake, at the halfway point last season, the Caps were 23-12-6 (52 points) but there were some obvious holes on the roster, with second line center being the biggest. On trade deadline day in 2011 GM George McPhee would make some super deals adding defensemen Dennis Wideman and center Jason Arnott and the Caps went on a tear to seize the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. However, both Arnott and Wideman were injured down the stretch and Washington couldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs, getting swept by the Bolts in four games. There were some who felt that McPhee needed to make a coaching change immediately after the second round loss to Tampa Bay but the GM said late this fall, just after switching to Hunter behind the bench just 22 games into the season, that he didn’t want all of the blame for the postseason failure to fall on Boudreau. But clearly Boudreau’s message was falling on deaf ears as a team that played super defense in the second half of 2010-11 became irresponsible in their own zone in the early part of this season.

The old adage, “Defense Wins Championships,” is spot on and Hunter has this team more focused in this area but there are still issues, especially when the club goes on the road. Washington is 15-5-1 at the Verizon Center but a terrible 7-12-1 away. If this Caps team is going to make a second half push to climb up the overall standings, then the road record must improve. The Capitals have not looked the same away from DC and their play in their own zone has been atrocious at times, case in point being this past Monday night in Los Angeles. From the defensemen to the centers to the wingers, the Caps must do a better job with their breakouts because they are making far too many giveaways that lead to more shots, chances, and zone time for their opponents. This Capitals team used to pride itself on being a puck possession crew but due to their own zone struggles, they end up wasting lots of time and energy just trying to get past the blue and red lines. That zaps energy and the ability to use their size and skill in the offensive zone.

Injuries have been a factor in the struggles, Green has pretty much been out since the start of the year and as a result Dennis Wideman and John Carlson have had to take on more minutes. In addition, the absence of 52 exposed the lack of speed that Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Schultz, and John Erskine possess. The good news is that Hamrlik has turned his game around with the new man to man system under Hunter but the other two aren’t even getting a sweater with the recent recall of Tomas Kundratek from Hershey. Assistant coach Jim Johnson is clearly trying to find the right combination on the back end and I wouldn’t be surprised if McPhee adds a defensemen at the trade deadline. In addition, the second line center problem has risen to the spotlight again, especially with Nicklas Backstrom out of the lineup the last three games due to the cheap shot to the head he took from Calgary’s Rene Bourque. Once again, I look for GMGM to address the center position, and possibly another forward slot at the trade deadline. The Capitals have two first round draft picks this year so the GM could decide to use one of them to upgrade the current roster.

To sum up the first half of the year, the coaching change was necessary but it clearly hasn’t solved all of the team’s issues and the personnel will need some upgrades by February 27th. Several players also need to execute better than they did in the first 41 games.

Speaking of players, it is time to move on to the individual grades, which are based on the expectations for each at the start of the season (after the opening night roster was announced). They also take in to account each individual’s yearly salary cap hit:

Top of the Class

Jason Chimera (A) – 14 goals and 7 assists put #25 on pace for a career high in offensive production. In addition, his offense has not come with a drop in defensive zone play as he is +6. Chimera has been excellent using his speed to get around opposing defenders to create offense or simply wear down the other team.

Karl Alzner (A) – The defensive defensemen is a +10 with much of his ice time coming against opposing number one forward lines. Sure there have been nights when #27 has had a rough matchup, but all year long he has been the club’s steadiest blueliner. Add in the fact that King Karl is getting more involved offensively, his 1 goal and 11 assists give him 12 points, the same total he had all last season, and he has really amped up his game in just his second full year in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom (A-) – Arguably the team’s MVP so far because he is so valuable on a team that is weak up center ice after #19. 42 points in 38 games for a team that has shifted to a defense first mentality is impressive. It is clear that Nicky got himself in supreme shape this past offseason and his strength on the puck is back this season. It is a shame that he is out right now, for who knows how long, due to Bourque’s reckless cheap shot.

Honor Society

Dennis Wideman (B) – with Green out #6 has been asked to be the team’s ice time leader on most nights. He has picked up the offensive slack notching eight goals and 21 assists, which helped put him in the all star game. Wideman overall though, is a -3, and that needs to improve. He has a tendency to overplay opponents in his own zone which breaks down the entire defensive system when it happens.

Tomas Vokoun (B) – 17-10 with a .915 save percentage are good numbers. He’s had some great games, the two victories over Pittsburgh spring immediately to mind, and some poor outings, such as the night against the Flyers when he couldn’t stop a beach ball. #29 was plagued by the bad goal a night blues for a while in the middle of the first half but he seems to be snapping out of it. For the Caps to get where they want to be he needs to be at the top of his game down the stretch and in the post season.

Jeff Halpern (B) – #15 is 217-148 from the faceoff dot (59.4%) and is the team’s best drawman. Slated to play on the 4th line, the Potomac native has worked himself up the depth chart with solid two way play. He has 3 goals and 8 helpers but is a +4.

Dmitry Orlov (B) – started the season in Hershey but because of the lack of mobility on the blue line, the 2009 2nd round pick was summoned to “The Show” and has acquitted himself so well that it is unlikely he goes back to the AHL. He has six assists, but is -3. He has great wheels and a surprising physical presence on the back end. If he can start hitting the net with his shot the Capitals offense would get a great boost.

Marcus Johansson (B-) – MJ90 has had an up and down first half but his numbers are decent: 9 goals and 15 assists. He is a -2 and surprisingly has had some rough nights in his own zone, something that was supposed to be a rarity for the normally solid defensive pivot. This kid will continue to get better and unfortunately he is forced to play center on one of the top two lines too often. In my book he is a third line center and would be one of the best in the NHL in that role, but he also has shown he can be a decent winger, with the right center (Backstrom).

John Carlson (B-) – #74 has been very inconsistent this season. At times he has been one of the best players on the ice and in other games he has looked lost in his own zone. The system change may have hurt him more than any other d-man because he is still learning how to take time and space away from opponents. Offensively though, he has been there with five goals and 17 assists. I’d like to see him get more power play time.

Cody Eakin (B-) – I didn’t expect the 2009 3rd round NHL pick to spend much time with the Caps this year but due to injuries, a friendly contract that allows him to go up and down without having to clear waivers, and his speed, he’s played in nearly half of the tilts. He has been most effective when using his speed to beat opponents and when he hasn’t done that he has looked overmatched and benched in some games, as a result. Personally I’d rather see him play 20+ minutes a night in the AHL to properly develop his game. He just isn’t physically big enough for the NHL, at this time.

Average Joe’s

Troy Brouwer (C+) – #20 has 11 goals and 20 points and has been a real solid net presence. He also has done a good job of being physical in the offensive zone.

Roman Hamrlik (C) – #44 really struggled under Boudreau and part of that was a lingering groin issue. However, with Hunter’s system he is in familiar territory and doesn’t look like he is skating in concrete, like he did early on.

John Erskine (C) – Started the season on IR due to a shoulder injury. Last year he was one of the best players in the first 41 games but when you can’t lift and work out in the offseason due to an injury it really sets you back. #4′s main role appears to be spot starts where his phyiscal presence is needed. His best games seem to always be against the Rangers.

Joel Ward (C) – Needs to score more than five goals in the second half. His skating is a little worrisome, not sure if he was out of shape or he had an injury but he doesn’t look as quick as he did in the 2011 playoffs when he was a Nashville Predator. His +5 rating saves him from a worse grade.

Michal Neuvirth (C-) – #30 really struggled in the first part of the year before improving once Hunter took over. At one point Neuvy was the #1 goalie but he let in a couple of bad ones in Buffalo the day after Christmas and it’s pretty much been the Vokoun show ever since. 5-7-2 with an .886 save percentage are not good numbers at all, although he is over 90% since number 32 took over.

Brooks Laich (C-) – Another guy, because of the holes up the middle of the ice, gets forced to play out of position. I see #21 as a 2nd or 3rd line winger where he can use his size and drive to help the Caps break out of their zone. As a pivot he just doesn’t have the hands to be effective coming out of his own end. You’ll never get a bad effort from the fan favorite but at the dollars he’s making the Caps need more than a point every other game and a -7 rating. More production please Brooksie.

Alex Ovechkin (C-) – 17 goals, 16 assists, -8. We’ve seen good Ovie and bad Ovie this year. Most of the bad came under Boudreau but he has 0 points in the last three games after 9 in the previous 6. The good news is he was all over the ice against the Penguins hitting and creating chances on Wednesday night. That is the Ovechkin the Caps need to win games. If he doesn’t have it, the Capitals usually lose. The Gr8 needs to continue to improve in his own zone, if he bears down more the breakaways and odd man rushes will come in bunches each night.

Not Making the Grade

Alexander Semin (D) – Was super in the first five games before becoming a penalty machine and a scapegoat for Boudreau. Under the new regime he seems more energized and had six really good games in a row before getting injured in Columbus. If he can get healthy again he can be dominant in this system where he is, in my mind, the best winger at getting the puck out of the Washington zone. But only 10 goals in 37 games is not cutting it, the Capitals need more from this supremely talented player who is making $6.7M.

Matt Hendricks (D) – 1 goal in 37 games is not good for this fourth liner. If he plays like he did against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night he’ll get more ice time and his production will improve. He has to play physical to be effective.

Mathieu Perreault (D) – 3 goals in 26 games is way under where I thought MP85 would be. He has not been the sparkplug that he had been in the past and perhaps his size is why he just isn’t going to be consistent at the NHL level?

Mike Knuble (D) – 3 goals in 41 games for the aging winger. #22 has definitely lost a step and that has cost him lots of ice time. Can he find the fountain of youth once again in the second half?

Whereabouts Unknown

Jeff Schultz (F) – Is this the same guy who was +50 just two years ago? #55 has lost foot speed and confidence. He looks clumsy and a step behind when he plays. I am not sure he is with this team much longer and at $2.75M against the salary cap he is an expensive scratch each night.

Incomplete: Mike Green, Jay Beagle, Sean Collins, DJ King, and Tomas Kundratek

Management Grades

Bruce Boudreau (D) - The likeable Gabby eventually ran out of things to tell his club and they tuned him out. He and assistant coach Bob Woods couldn’t get the defense to be better and as a result it cost them their jobs.

Dale Hunter (B) – Dale brought in a radical system change with arguably some personnel that aren’t exact fits. But when you see the turnaround a guy like Hamrlik had and the goals against dropping so significantly, even with some shaky goaltending early in his regime, it was definitely the right thing to do tactically. The team is becoming a harder club to play against but they still lack some sandpaper type grit. He has definitely turned Semin around and Ovechkin is buying in too. His success rides on Vokoun, the play of 8 and 28, and the personnel tweaks he works with McPhee on to upgrade the roster by the end of February. Another Hunter strength is he is a man of few words so his message is easy to receive. He also stays on an even keel, which is good for the players as they don’t waste energy on emotional issues.

General Manager George McPhee (B) – It is hard for GM’s to do anything in the first half of a season but he did the one thing he had to do, switch coaches. Going forward until trade deadline day are critical times for McPhee. He has to find a way to get some better fits for what Hunter wants to do to be successful in the spring. His off season moves are looking better after a rough first 22 games, especially with Hamrlik’s improved play and the fact that Vokoun has stolen some wins. Still, he has that nagging second line center issue that he will have to address again by the end of February.

In final analysis, over the first half of the sesason there were nights when the Caps looked like they can play with anyone in the league, but on other occassions they were run out of the barn. Those games came mostly under Boudreau but Monday’s loss in Los Angeles was a bit of a scare. Hopefully fatigue was to blame for that one. Going forward this team has a lot of work to be done to get where they want to be. The execution needs to be markedly better and personnel moves will be needed if they want to compete with the likes of Boston. If that doesn’t happen then the ownership will likely take some drastic measures after the season is over. I don’t think anyone wants that to happen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Caps Embracing Hunter’s Defensive System

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Caps Embracing Hunter’s Defensive System

Posted on 23 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

When Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee made the coaching switch to Dale Hunter on November 28th he stated that his team was not responding anymore to Bruce Boudreau. Specifically, McPhee talked about how poor the Caps were playing defensively and the GM knew that if he didn’t do something, his club was going to have little chance of competing in the post season this spring.

Enter Caps legend Dale Hunter, who not only brought a new voice and an unrivaled work ethic to the locker room, but a different defensive approach. Out went total zone coverage in the Capitals end and newly installed was a system focused on taking away gaps with man to man coverage down low. For most fans, this might not seem like a big deal to be able to implement. After all, we watch college basketball and see teams switching from zone to man and back again, many times in the same contest. But hockey is a different game and despite what one might think intuitively, this new system that Hunter has put in is quite a change. It is not a true man to man, because you’ll never see a defensemen following a forward out to the blue line, which would make a team easy to attack, but once the matchups are established down low the defensemen and third forward stick with their man while they are below the faceoff dots.

On the surface this is a Caps team that is 5-5 under Hunter and to those who are quick to resort to knee jerk reactions you’ll hear that “This is the same team just with a different coach.” But a closer look at the numbers shows that statement to be woefully incorrect. Through 22 games under Boudreau the Caps allowed 73 goals or 3.32 a tilt while scoring 3.18 per game (70 goals). In the 10 games under Hunter, the Caps have given up only 24 goals or 2.4 per game while scoring 2.5 per game (25 goals). In those 10 games, on seven occassions they’ve given up two goals or less. Keep in mind that the two teams that went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, the Canucks and the Bruins, were first and second, in goals allowed per game at 2.20 and 2.30, respectively. So those who like to throw around the old adage that “Defense Wins Championships” sure look to be right.

In order for the Capitals to be truly successful in Hunter’s coaching scheme, the players obviously have to buy into it, understand it, and then execute it. It is focused on taking away any gaps the opposition might have in the Washington zone and by being aggressive on a body it has the capability to create more offense via quick transitions.

“It’s not that much different than what I was playing in Montreal. Now that Huntsy is here we are more desperate and it is more man on man in our defensive zone. He’s looking for good defense creating good offense. From my experience it’s a good thing because everybody works hard in the defensive zone,” said 20 year NHL veteran Roman Hamrlik, who was on the 2010 Canadiens team that knocked off both the Capitals and Penguins in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

For others, like Karl Alzner and Mathieu Perreault, the approach Hunter has implemented is definitely different for them.

“It’s been a pretty big change, it’s tough to go from zone to man on man because you always go back to that zone coverage. When you don’t know where your man is you just kind of wait back and sometimes you lose that guy and if one person loses them then you can get in trouble. In the Colorado game, I thought Colorado did a good job of cycling and picking us and when you get picked it is tough. So it’s a different system to learn but I think once you get it it is really hard for teams to win against you. You have to make sure you battle hard and that is what Huntsy really likes is that guys being accountable and making sure they do their job. If everyone is doing their job I don’t think there is a better system than that,” started Alzner on the change, “I’ve played bits and pieces of it before, but never full out on man on man and so for me, still, I sometimes I forget off faceoffs to follow my guy and I just kind of just stay in front of the net. Which, if you’re gonna be out of position, be out of position in front of the net. But sometimes you forget about it but you have to just keep reminding yourself what to do.”

“For a centermen it’s quite a difference because once you get your man you have to stay with him instead of just being in good position and keeping an eye on your guy. You gotta be right on him. It took a few games to get used to but I think now guys are getting the system pretty good. Whoever is first back goes, so everybody has to be able to play down low. For me I’d rather always be down low but the guys I play with Hendy, Knubs, or Beags, those are all guys that can play down low, so it is no big deal. Whoever gets there first, just go down low and then we fill in the wing spot,” said Perreault on how it works in the defensive end.

One of the most important things in any team sport is communication. Hamrlik and Alzner both think that Hunter’s system puts a premium on talking on the ice.

“It’s all about communication and reading the play. You can just stay with your man or you can switch with the forward, you call switch and the forward takes the high guy. It’s simple but it’s all about communication. Talking is a big help,”  said Hamrlik on the importance of communication in the new scheme.

“It’s tons, you have to be talking the entire time, which is good though because you want to be talking, even if we’re playing zone, and I think this way it just forces you to do it a little bit more or else you are going to get scored on. So it’s good, it just helps everybody out and even when we do turn the puck over we are so used to talking and calling switches and stuff then you are going to be so used to calling for the puck and letting guys know who is open and then we are going to get out of the zone like last game,” added Alzner when asked if there is an increase in communication with Hunter’s system.

Clearly the players understand it and are buying into the new plan but the execution takes some time, which is a reason why Washington’s offense slowed down initially due to the increased focus on defense. Tuesday’s game against Nashville seemed to be an encouraging sign as the Caps dominated early on and created scoring chances off of their defense.

“It’s getting better, I don’t think it is going to change overnight, but it’s getting much better. There are still lots of things we can work on out on the ice to get better every day as a team. I think the defensive zone is much better. It’s all about communication, have good position, don’t lose too many battles, one on one in the corner. Trust, let’s say I play with [Dennis] Wideman then I have to trust that he is going to do his job or the goalie’s gonna stop the puck, stuff like that,” said Hamrlik when asked how far along the team is at executing the defensive system.

The execution will come with practice and repitition, especially if the players think it will work. With the goals against improving so rapidly, it looks like the players have bought in. But going forward teams will start having film to digest of the Caps playing the new system and will devise ways to try to defeat it. Will it still be effective?

“Yeah, it is good, there are some teams that are good at playing against it and then there are some teams that don’t really know what to do against it. I think you have to know who you are playing against and you can always play versions of the man on man, but personally I think it is pretty tough to play against,” finished Alzner.

It’s only been 10 games and despite the fact that the Caps are only .500 under Hunter, you can see a progression on the ice, especially on defense. The number of odd man rushes against is way down and there aren’t any more questions about effort. In this system, if you aren’t working hard you will be exposed pretty quickly and everyone will be able to see who made the mistake, because this style is predicated on winning the one on one battles. So far the Capitals have embraced Hunter’s system and if they keep that up, the desired results, lots of victories, will come.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Season Changing Goal for Ovechkin?

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A Season Changing Goal for Ovechkin?

Posted on 07 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

In the world of sports, often times we see plays made, typically by superstars, that change the course of a game or even a season.

Who can forget Jack Nicklaus’ near ace on the 16th hole at Augusta in 1986 that led to his Masters win or Mario Lemieux’s goal against the North Stars in the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals?

Tonight Alexander Ovechkin may not have made a play that carries the significance of what Nicklaus or Lemieux did, but for the Gr8 and the Washington Capitals, his highlight reel tally in the third period, that broke a 2-2 tie to lead the Caps to a 5-3 victory in Ottawa, could be one that turns the whole season around for Ovechkin and his club. It was a vintage Ovechkin goal at a crucial time. The Caps were possibly on their way to their sixth straight road defeat, losing their fourth game in five contests under new coach Dale Hunter, and falling to .500 on the season. But as the saying goes, “Great players do great things at big times” and Alexander the Great delivered when his team needed him badly. It was Ovechkin’s first goal under Hunter and only his ninth of the year in 27 games.

What makes this goal even more special is that Ovechkin played perhaps his best contest of the season. He had numerous scoring chances but Senators goalie Craig Anderson repeatedly denied him, including twice in tight after the Gr8 had skated around Senators defensemen. The key words in that previous sentence were “skating around Senators defensemen.” You see the Gr8 has been criticized for trying the same move over and over that routinely has led to blocked shots or poke checks by opposing defensemen, which often send the puck back the other way. Hunter appears to be getting Ovechkin to buy into the idea of using his speed and size to go wide on opposing d-men. As a result, the Gr8 had seven shots on net in eight attempts, many of which came via going down the boards instead of cutting to the middle after crossing the blueline.

When you go back and watch some of Ovechkin’s best goals, many of them have come off of the rush via defensive zone turnovers. The ones against Montreal in 2008 and Buffalo in 2009 come quickly to mind. But something happened to the Gr8′s ability to go from defense to offense during the latter stages of Bruce Boudreau’s tenure in DC and everyone started wondering what has happened to the Gr8. But under Hunter, we are starting to see the Gr8 improve his defensive zone effort and create plays in transition. He still has a ways to go in that end but this is very encouraging.

Not to get lost in Ovechkin’s heroics on Wednesday night were several other comeback performances from the Caps and that to me shows that this club is working hard and more importantly, getting mentally tougher. When the Senators scored two late second period goals to go up 2-1, how many Capitals fans thought, “Here we go again?!” It was easy to think that way given how the team had fallen into a pattern of giving up goals in bunches to lose games over the last month or so.

But on Wednesday, this team took on the resolve of ole number 32 and kept battling. John Carlson didn’t let a poor play on the Senators second goal bother him (to be fair, Dennis Wideman was the primary culprit on that Sens tally) and he finished with a goal and two helpers. Tomas Vokoun (31 saves) had been really struggling and he was partially to blame on all three Ottawa tallies but when Joel Ward took a bad penalty late in regulation he and defensemen Karl Alzner played incredible while shorthanded to preserve the victory. Is this a game that #29 can build off of to get on a run in net? Hunter sure would like to see one of his goalies step up and take over.

Not to be lost due to all of the talk about rebound performances, though, is the play of Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) and Alzner (27:40 of ice time, +2). #19 and #27 have been the leaders from the Capitals this season from an effort and consistency standpoint and Hunter is smart to increase the number of shifts they get, because when you are trying to turn things around, you have to play the guys who are getting it done the most. Dale’s decision to put Alzner back with Carlson has helped #74 improve his game and they are once again Washington’s best defensive duo.

After a great first period by Washington that yielded no goals, the premise of another Caps disappointing road loss appeared on the horizon after 40 minutes with Ottawa up a puck. But a sweet goal by Backstrom off of a feed from Brooks Laich evened it up setting the stage for Ovechkin’s master piece that will make all of the highlights on television and the internet Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

It was a goal the Capitals had to have. It is also the kind of tally that can bring a struggling player new found confidence. It is the type of play that often changes the entire attitude for a team and provides them with a spark necessary to go on a winning streak.

Will this goal by Ovechkin against Otttawa be just that? Stay tuned.

 

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

Posted on 29 November 2011 by Glenn Clark

Honorable Mention: Auto Racing-NASCAR Awards Show (Friday 9pm from Las Vegas live on SPEED); Golf: PGA Tour Qualifying School (Saturday & Sunday 4pm, Monday 3:30pm from La Quinta, CA live on Golf Channel), PGA Tour Chevron World Challenge (Thursday & Friday 1pm live on Golf Channel Saturday & Sunday 12pm live on NBC. All golf from Thousand Oaks, CA); Women’s College Basketball: Big Ten/ACC Challenge-Michigan @ Maryland (Wednesday 7pm Comcast Center), Maryland @ American (Sunday 1pm Bender Arena); Tennis: ATP Tour Davis Cup Final (Friday 8am Saturday 10am Sunday 7am from Seville, Spain live on Tennis Channel)

10. Andrea Bocelli (Friday 8pm Verizon Center); Erykah Badu (Friday 7pm Rams Head Live); Dashboard Confessional (Saturday 7pm Recher Theatre); All Mighty Senators (Saturday 7pm 8×10 Club); Aaron Neville (Monday 8pm Rams Head On Stage); Robin Thicke (Wednesday 7pm 9:30 Club); String Cheese Incident (Wednesday 8pm Lyric Opera House), Ryan Adams (Sunday 7:30pm Lyric Opera House); J. Roddy Walston & The Business (Friday 9pm Ottobar); Mac Miller (Thursday 7pm Fillmore Silver Spring); Ra Ra Riot (Friday 7pm Ritchie Coliseum College Park); Tori Amos (Monday 8pm D.A.R. Constitution Hall); Adele Live at Royal Albert Hall available on CD/DVD/Blu-Ray/iTunes (Tuesday)

I really shouldn’t like Robin Thicke all that much. I just can’t help myself…

Dude, Ryan Adams has made so many great tunes but are any of them greater than this?

I feel like I should be a bigger J Roddy Walston fan than I am…http://wnst.net/wordpress/wp-admin/post.php?post=185164&action=edit

I don’t know if Adele sounds BETTER at Royal Albert Hall…but I know this much…no CHANCE she doesn’t sound amazing…

9. Washington Monument Lighting (Thursday 7pm from Mt. Vernon Place live on WBAL11), Mayor’s Christmas Parade (Sunday 2pm Hampden/Medfield); Gary Valentine (Thursday-Saturday Baltimore Comedy Factory); Steve-O (Thursday-Sunday DC Improv); Jim Norton (Thursday-Saturday Magooby’s Joke House)

Is there any chance that when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake flips on the lights at the monument the scene looks anything like this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ar-__ub0rc

And since I’ve already invoked Christmas Vacation, I think it’s only appropriate that we do this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mk74WprmZxY

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