Friday, December 18, 2009

...Of 2009

People always do 'Best Of' lists to end the year, so I figured I'd add mine.

Favorite Albums of 2009 (in no order):
'Swoon' by Silversun Pickups
'(a)spera' by Mirah
'Glasvegas' by Glasvegas
'Dark Was The Night' by various artists
'Mean Everything To Nothing' by Manchester Orchestra
'Armistice' by MUTEMATH
'It's Blitz!' by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
'The Hazards of Love' by The Decemberists

I listen to these albums over and over again. I'm not saying they're the best, I just love them.

Favorite Songs of 2009:
'My Girls' by Animal Collective
'Help I'm Alive' by Metric
'Hearning Damage' by Thom Yorke
'Percussion Gun' by White Rabbits
'Osaka Loop Line' by Discovery
'Two Weeks' by Grizzly Bear
'Hell' by Tegan and Sara

I specifically went for my favorite songs that werent' on my favorite albums...I could easily add 2-3 songs from each of those albums. Interesting that quite a few of these songs are electronic...seems like everyone went in that direction this year.

Concert of the Year: (Tie) The Decemberists @ Merriweather Post Pavillion (6/8), Sunny Day Real Estate @ 9:30 Club (9/30)
The grand scale of The Decemberists show and the joy of seeing an entire concept album brought to life made for one hell of an evening. Seeing my favorite band of all time reunited after 10 years apart, playing as if they'd never left, would normally win every time. But I'm reasonable, so it's a tie.

NHL Player of 2009: Quintin Laing
Laing played in only 1 game for the Caps last season, was +1, lacerated his spleen and was expected to miss a ton of time. Instead, he came back quickly to help Hershey win a Calder Cup. Then he made the Caps out of camp, already has a career high for goals in a season, caught H1N1 (and only missed a few games), then broke his jaw blocking a shot. Q might not be anywhere near the best player in the league, but his 2009 is the stuff legends are made of.

Beer of 2009: Rogue Captain Sig's Deadliest Ale
Because I figure if I don't come up with something new, I'll keep repeating '(tie) Dogfish Head Alehouse 75, Rogue Dead Guy' every year.

Game of 2009: Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers, Game 7, 4/28
Having random, OBVIOUSLY non-hockey fans asking about that night's game while on the Metro, was surreal. The raw emotion after Sergei Fedorov's 3rd period goal is something I've never seen. 18000+ people screamed at the top of their lungs for the final 5 minutes and errupted at the final horn. 'Unleash The Fury' was the loudest singular moment of my life. The smile lasted for days.

Ok, fine...the real Game of 2009 was the Championship game of the NCAA Frozen 4. BU scores 2 goals in the final minute to tie the game, then scores in OT to win. Seriously!? It's THE BEST HOCKEY GAME I'VE EVER SEEN. I was sitting next to my buddy Greg, a Miami of Ohio was the first time I've ever witnessed a man's heart break right in front of me. I was worried for his safety after the game. I'm still not sure I'll ever see him smile again. It was that type of comeback game.

Weekend of 2009: May 15-17th
This was the weekend of the Lebatt Blue Adult Hockey Tournament at Laurel. It ended well, as we won all 4 games we played, including the championship game in which I managed to score the game-winner. It was the first tournament championship I'd even been a part of. But the wins paled in comparison to how the weekend started: having my wife deliver lunch to me at work and telling me that I'm going to be a dad. That smile still hasn't gone away.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Story of a Card

For the briefest of moments in early 1992, televisions in the US were tuned in to the Winter Olympics in Alberville, France. Bonnie Blair and Kristi Yamaguchi were on their way to winning gold medals for Team USA. And a little known, journeyman minor league goaltender named Ray LeBlanc was backstopping US Olympic hockey team to a 4th place finish. To quote his Wikipedia page: "At the 1992 Winter Olympics, LeBlanc appeared in all eight games for the United States, compiling a record of 5–2–1 with two shutouts. The Americans finished out of the medals, however, as they lost 6–1 to Czechoslovakia in the bronze medal game." This US team wasn't supposed to make the medal round. They were bad. Ray stole 4th place for them. As a reward, the Chicago Blackhawks put him in for one game later that season.

Later that spring, at a community card show, I happened across a booth selling hockey cards. Sitting there, for a whopping $3 was a 1990-91 Fort Wayne Komets IHL team set. The sticker on the box cover said "With 1992 US Olympic Hero Ray LeBlanc!" I stupidly bought the box. I was 13 years old, without a clue. LeBlanc played 1 NHL game and his 15 minutes of fame only lasted 8. The set quickly went into a box with all my other cards. It sat there.

For 17 years.

Then, something strange happened. A few years ago, another journeyman minor leaguer-turned coach made the jump to the NHL. In his first season as an NHL coach, he led his team to the playoffs and won the Jack Adams award as coach of the year. Fans of his team became rabid and his stature continued to grow. He's now an icon in the area; a regular guy who made it and who everyone loves. People he's never met call him by his nickname, Gabby. Coincidentally, when he wrote a book about his life, he chose his nickname as the title.

That man is Bruce Boudreau.

About a week ago, I was deep into reading that autobiography when I came across the chapter in which Bruce describes his final few minor league playing seasons. He talked about playing with his best friend, John Anderson, who is now the head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers. He talked about his last seasons in Fort Wayne, playing for the Komets.


Where do I know that team from?


I raced downstairs to the garage where my box old box of hockey cards sits, gathering dust. I rifled through the older cards and found that old Fort Wayne team set. Ray LeBlanc's card sat at the front of the stack. I quickly shuffled through the cards until I stopped at the two cards I was looking for. John Anderson...

and our own, Bruce 'Gabby' Boudreau.

I no longer collect cards. Sure, I'll buy the odd pack every now and then but I miss the days of bubblegum and cardboard-colored cards. I love my old cards: Bobby Orr, Cam Neely, Ken Dryden. But every so often, I'll find a reason to go digging into the big old box of cards and find a treasure.

Bruce never mentions poor Ray LeBlanc in his memoirs. I wonder if he even remembers him. He retired in 2000 with a career NHL record of 1-0-0, 1.00 GAA, .955 Save%. But if it wasn't for Ray LeBlanc, I wouldn't have these awesome Bruce Boudreau and John Anderson cards.

Thanks Ray!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I consider myself a student of the game. I grew up watching the Washington Capitals of the early 1980s. I collected hockey cards, and studied the statistics on the backs. I heard stories from my older cousins about some of the players they watched growing up: Hull, Orr, Howe, Sittler, Perreault, LeFleur, Bossy, Dionne. I learned as much about them as I could. It's helped me undertstand the game a little more.

It troubles me that many of my own peers, hockey players born from the late '70s-'90s, have absolutely no understanding of the history of this fine game of ours. It's hard to understand how far the game has come without understanding its past. Fortunately, in this world of the NHL Network, YouTube, and, we have all the tools we need to find out about everything 'Hockey'.

As I grew up watching videos and reading books on the subject, I think that's the best place to start. Below are a few of my recommendations, just in time to add them to your Christmas Wish-lists.

Putting A Roof On Winter
The history of hockey from the first indoor game to the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the USSR, this book is hands-down my favorite hockey history book. Finally, I have stories to go with the names on all the NHL trophies. An excellent read.

The Game
Written by Hall Of Fame goalie and lawyer Ken Dryden during his last season on the Montreal Canadiens, it is possibly the best book ever written on the game. Introspective, funny and touching. Also, it provides excellent insight into hockey in the '70s and just how different today's NHL Players have it.

The Best Of Bobby Orr
There is a reason I consider Bobby Orr to be the best hockey player ever: I saw this on VHS when I was a young kid. You can probably find rare YouTube footage that rivals some of the video found here, but as a one-stop shop for greatness, this is it.

Ultimate Gretzky
For those who consider Wayne Gretzky to be the greatest who ever played, this DVD certainly won't sway your opinion. Some truely remarkable footage of the Great One, from his early days in Indy to Edmonton, LA and beyond. A great look at the speed of the game in the 1980s. Compare the game to that of Orr's day, and you'll be stunned at the differences.

A little self-flattering, but interesting none the less. Ok, honestly, this book marks my least favorite moment in hockey. Standing mere feet from The Great One at an book signing, Wayne decided to end the session with roughly 200 people still waiting. A few of us kids snuck past the ropeline and got to Wayne, politely asking to have our books signed. One kid in our group had an old wooden stick for Mr. Gretzky to sign. Gretz looked at him and said "I only sign Easton sticks" and walked away. It taught me that you can be a great hockey player, but still be a failure as a human being.

Legends of Hockey Seasons 1 & 2
This is pretty much the video version of Putting A Roof On Winter. Old archival photos and film footage of the early game, it does a fantastic job of putting faces to names and asking the question "who really was the greatest to every play?" You'll see names pop up on the screen and literally get goosebumps.

Hockey: A People's History
No one takes the game of hockey more seriously than Canada. From the title of the book, it's easy to figure out that this book reads like a love letter/thank you card to the game and all it's done for the country (and the country for it). To know hockey is to know Canada. The history of the country is reflected in the way the game has changed over the years.

Do You Believe In Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team
The moment that changed hockey in the US (and Russia, for that matter). Honestly, if you can find a copy of the original broadcast, it trumps this documentary. But as those copies are very rare, this is a great #2 resource.

Slap Shot
No hockey history lesson is complete without this gem. As funny and extreme as it is, it's also a great look at the minor leagues in the 1970s; a far cry from the modern AHL (or even the ECHL).

A great companion to Slap Shot (written by film extra, career minor leaguer, NHLer and current NHL head coach Bruce Boudreau), the book is a fantastic mix of funny and touching stories, interspection about lost potential and redemption as a coach. Plus, if you're a Caps fan, it's just cool.

The Physics of Hockey
Ok, more of a science book than a history book. But the concepts of friction, kinetics and momentum as they relate to hockey are awesome to read about.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Weekend

So, 2 games, 2 completely different efforts. I'll keep it quick...I missed the Devil's game because I have Fios so I'll have to stick with the highlights.

-For the record, the fact that the Washington Wizards are allowed to have any games televised, much less in place of Caps games, is insane. The product on the ice is obviously better than the product on the court. At this point, the only thing on two legs that shoots more than Alex Ovechkin is Gilbert Arenas and their shooting percentages (16.3% to 40.9%) are far too close by their respecive leagues' standards.

-For those who criticize Forty's tendency to give up weak goals, his lone goal-against vs. Minnesota showed me two things. 1) His angles are solid. He was square to the shooter and followed him all the way. 2) He is working on a few things. He's getting his pads to the ice quicker than before, but that's making his arms do some work to. On that goal, his blocker hand moved just slightly away from his body. That was all it took. In a few games, you'll see those mistakes go away.

-Also, keep in mind that over 117 minutes in his last 2 games (+OT and Shootout), Varly has stopped 64 of 67 shots (.955 Save %). And I know at least 11 of those were of the breakaway variety.

-I'm convinced we need a calming influence on the blueline. I'm also wondering if Brian Pothier might be just that influence. He's had a very solid week's worth of games and the defense as a whole has been better for it. They looked calmer with the puck, less likely to throw it away and more effiecient in moving it up the ice. Granted, that was against Minnesota. Against the Devils, obviously not the same.

-Or maybe it was just Jose Theodore.

-Please look at the standings right now. Have you noticed that Atlanta is actually quite good, and just finished a stretch without their superstar? 3 fewer games, 7 fewer points. A better PK and PP ranking. It's not going to be as easy as come people think to run away with the SE Division. Peverly is the real deal, Enstrom and Bogosian are studs, and Kovy is obviously awesome. Keep an eye on the rearview mirror.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Islanders, 11/11

It seems like everyone wants to write about Russians and Russia after last night's game. I think I'll mix it up a bit.

-Is it me, or does Tomas Fleischmann look like he finally gets it? He's going to the net hard, getting tons of quality chances and playing good defensive hockey. I know Backstrom did 90% of the work on Flash's goal, but he still had to be in position and get the shot off. The fact that he ended up in the crease after the goal speaks volumes to how his game has changed.

-I'm still thrilled with Perreault. He forechecks like a maniac and creates chances. Clark and Fehr are looking good again, thanks to his work at center. He's very calm with the puck, even when he's stickhandling around guys. Ovie is right; this kid has a very bright future.

-Theodore looked VERY weak last night. His rebound control was poor and his lateral movement was off. I can't tell if he's tired or whether his back is still bothering him, but it was clear he needed to be pulled after goal #3.

-If I said that I'd prefer we not re-sign Jurcina or Morisson, what would you think. Juice takes ill-timed penalties, is quite slow, and has been a defensive liability recently. Morisson simply thinks he's better than he is. He should not be rushing the puck up the ice, or trying 1-on-1 moves.

-While we're on the defense, I noticed 2 things last night. 1) Mike Green is getting pressured every time he touches the puck. 2) Mike Green doesn't know what to do when pressured. His passes are often very weak or of the no-look variety and he's been turning the puck over quite a bit lately. He's getting the assists, but with only 2 goals on the season, something is amiss.

-Ok, now for some Russians. Forty stood on his head. His rebound control was off on a few rising shots, but he stayed focused and played those rebounds well. Varly's been taking more shots to the chest these days, so his tendency to over-explode seems to be reined in by Irbe.

-For people who say Forty carries his glove too low: a proper butterfly for a goalie emphasizes keeping ones body square to the shot and as closed-up as possible. Carrying his glove high would lead to some more glove saves, but you'd see those 7-hole goals (above the pads & under the arms). On the one goal he allowed, the shot was perfectly placed...not many goalies have a chance at that.

-For the record, the most Heads-Up save I have ever seen occurred last night. During the shootout, Varly made a save but carried a lot of backward momentum towards the goal line. Had he not done something, he and the puck would have ended up in the net and the goal would have counted. Varly threw his arms in the air and accomplished two things: 1) his thrust upwards slowed his momentum enough that 2) when he got to the goal, he was able to push his arms against the crossbar to stop himself. Seriously, I'm sure goalie coaches everywhere will be teaching goalies that move from now on.

-Last Varly note: anyone who has questioned his focus in the past can put down their pitchforks. I think I speak for all Caps fans when I say that it was incredibly stressful watching turn after turn of saves, knowing that the next one against would mean a loss. Imagine the concentration it takes to not have the thought of 'don't mess up' repeat constantly in your head. The built up tension was released when Captain Clark seemed like a playoff OT goal rather than a simple regular season shootout goal.

-I'm going to put my coaching hat on and talk to Semin now. I'm going to focus on a few little things at a time...too much might cause some overload. First, I always coach what I call the '3 Foot Rule', which mandates that within 3 feet of either blueline, your goal is to make sure the puck either gets deep or gets out. Last night, while Alex was outstanding below the face-off circles, he turned the puck over a few times in this space (one time leading to the Islander's 3rd goal). Dancing around in that magical 3' is dangerous because your whole team is heading into the offensive zone (or out of the defensive zone, at that end). One turn-over, and it's an instant odd-man rush or breakaway.

-Semin has also said that he prefers to skate the puck rather than dump it if there's a lane or if it's a 1-on-1 situation. With his hands and shot, I'll agree with that. Recently, however, Semin has been skating the puck in when he's one-on-two or has no skating lane. I like to emphasize that a great player shows creativity within the team's system. In this case, Semin is using his creativity too much and the system breaks down.

-Finally, Semin's stick penalty woes are an easy fix. Semin has other-worldly puck handling skills and is way above average at taking pucks off opponents' sticks. His issue is he looks for the take-away every time the puck is near him. If he used his body a bit more (angling, tieing an opponent up along the boards), he'd create just as many take-aways while keeping his puck closer to his body. Semin's penalties come from reaching for pucks, so staying more compact would help quite a bit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

No Nyls. Now What?

With word dropping this afternoon that Michael Nylander is most likely going to Russia, the big question is "What does that really mean?" Well, it's two fold. 1) We get to use the roster spot he's been occupying to carry another player that could actually, potentially, play for us. 2) With his cap hit gone, there is the ability to go after another player in a trade, claim someone off waivers or sign a free agent. In the long term, Nylander's departure opens up space to sign Backstrom and Semin to extensions this off-season.

So, again, what does that mean? Chris Chelios at the league minimum? Brendan Shanahan? PETER FORSBERG? Sorry, probably not. Going after an unrestricted free agent around the trading deadline? Possibly. Opening up the possibility of bringing an Alzner or Carlson type up for a cup of coffee? More likely.

Honestly, I'm not sure you notice any real changes now that Nyls is gone. It opens up possibilities, but I doubt anything happens of substance.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Florida, 11/7

Ok, so I'm super late is posting this and it's short. Sue me.

-Go Go Perreault! Not only did the kid get his first NHL goal, but he executed a perfect 'knee-down, fist pump' celebration that Ovie would be proud of (if I recall, that's the same celebration Alex pulled after his first goal). Many more young man. Many more.

-I read on Japer's Rink that Q "blocked a shot with his ribs in the 1st, broke his nose in the 2nd and scored in the 3rd." Urge to buy a toddler-sized #53 jersey growing...

-Once again, WTFD, at least through 2 periods. I guess I must be missing something about Bruce's system...I can't understand why, with the lack of speed on defense and the opponent's tendency to forecheck us them hard, the Caps' forwards start the breakout at the red line. It seems inevitable that our D will bobble the puck and either lose it or simply throw it hard-around. Unfortunately, when they do, there is never anyone on our side of the blueline to get it. A simple '1 deep, 2 high' forecheck and it's an instant 3-2 in the defensive zone.

-Semin: please do something. I know you're hurting. But you are way better than this. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

-Fleischmann has found 'it', and it certainly doesn't look like some 'taking advantage of Ovie's absence' production. Bruce has always put more faith in him than I thought he deserved. This season, Tomas has shown why Bruce is so very good at what he does.

-Finally, this went along with another Japer's Rink post about Caps Forward Prospects. Learn the name Marcus Johansson (and watch the videos!!!). If he keeps progressing, he could be very similar to Backstrom soon...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Varly and Karl

So last year, two crazy kids from MD decided to get Caps jerseys. They deliberated hard and settled on a #27 and a #40: Alzner and Varlamov. The decision was based on a trip that summer to the Capitals' Development Camp and the realization that "these guys are really, really good." The jerseys arrived sometime in January of last season; late Christmas presents for them both.

Then the jerseys made their way to Verizon Center. Over a string of 4 games, the jerseys proved to be a curse: if the player on the jersey didn't play, the team lost. Toronto, Colorado...the worst teams in the league were beating us at home, all thanks to our new jerseys (I'm being tongue-in-cheek here people...we obviously have nothing to do with the product on the ice and I know it).

Then came the 2009 Playoffs. After a terrible Game 1 against the Rangers, I showed up to the game in a Caps sweatshirt only to find that Varly would be starting Game 2. NOOOO! A 2-1 loss later, and Superstitious Me was convinced I was at fault. I wore my jersey for every game from then out. A game 5 shutout. An amazing Game 7 win. After the game, one fan 4 rows behind us piped up: "VARLY!!!" I turned around. "I saw you with that jersey at Game 1! You KNEW SOMETHING! YOU'RE AWESOME!" I'd never stopped a puck, but I got "Dude, nice jersey" and "WHERE DID YOU GET THAT"'s from dozens of fans.

Meanwhile, my poor wife's #27 sat quietly in the closet. Karl had been called up for the playoffs just to sit in the press box. Upon his return to Hershey, he got a concussion and missed several games. Fortunately enough, we got tickets to a Calder Cup Final's game and she got the chance to break out the Alzner jersey and have it on for a critical game Game 4 victory. As Hershey went on to win the Calder Cup, we both knew that our jerseys had both seen wins for our players and the Curse was over. A pre-season win reinforced that belief.

Since then, Varly has started a few early Caps games to mixed results, but Karl has been down in Hershey, unable to break the Caps logjam at defense. We're both eager for the two teammates to reunite in DC and prove our jersey decisions correct. For those of you looking for the next 'cool' jerseys, my I recommend the following names: Carlson and Perreault. Maybe a Wilson or Della Rovere.

Or maybe an Alzner or Varlamov...they're still cool.

Thoughts on the Game: NJ, 11/4

Well, I missed last night's game thanks to a totally worthless informative meeting down at the rink last night (if you say '6:30', don't mean '8:30'). I will comment on a couple things I read from the game.

-The Toe Drag Monster was out last night. 3 minor penalties and a benching for Afinogenov Semin? He's in a contract year...given the opportunity, if they charge the same $, would you pay Kovalchuk over Semin? (The correct answer is 'YES!')

-Reader Scott Tweeted yesterday "You know I love the short guys" in response to Perreault being called up. First game for the kid, 2 assists. Said J.P. in his post-game write-up: "His saucer pass to Tyler Sloan was a thing of beauty, and his effort on the six-on-five goal (in Semin's place, to boot), was stellar." Mark my words: this guy's hands, speed, hockey-sense and vision have all the markings of a St. Louis-type player. He's gonna be really, really good, and sooner than I thought.

-Hats off to Varly: Last night was his first loss in regulation. Looking at my handy 'Varly Tracker', that drops him to a .76 career regulation winning % (.66 overall).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


There is perhaps no greater enigma in the NHL today than Washington's own Alexander Semin. Originally selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Semin's early career showed promise before being derailed by a series of questionable decisions off the ice (a missed flight, failure to report to Hershey, missing a year due to 'military obligations'). Since then, while the product on the ice has often been a display of stunning offense, it has been interspersed with periods of 'bonehead-itis'. With Ovechkin on the mend for a while, many are looking to Semin to show his true potential.

Semin seems to be a quiet person. He prefers to play the ‘Teller’ to Ovechkin’s ‘Penn’. He’s been more accessible recently, with the influx of Russian-speaking media members assigned to the Caps (Dmitry Chesnokov), and made some news last season with his opinion of Sidney Crosby. His opinions, like his game, are distinctly Russian. His style is a hybrid of Alexander Mogilny and the Pavels, Datsyuk and Bure. His hands are super-soft, his skating is effortless, and his shot…well, we’ll get to that.

In his rookie year, it seemed like Semin would be a player in the mold of Peter Bondra; not the best passer but certainly an exceptional shooter. His second and third seasons did little to sway that opinion. But a funny thing happened last season: Semin’s passing ability went through the roof. His vision seemed to come into focus and suddenly the passes he rarely ever attempted in previous seasons were not only going tape-to-tape, but we getting him assists. His game was beginning to round out. Semin also started getting time on the Penalty Kill and showed his above average defensive skills. His knack for the well-executed take-away led to scoring chances that would normally have vanished into the defensive zone.

While Alex was enjoying a career season in all areas of his game, he was also on his way to a slightly less appealing career high: Penalty minutes per game. Late in shifts, Semin became prone to using his take-away skills more and his skating ability less. The stick penalties increased, putting the Caps down a man. Like Ovechkin, Semin started taking long shifts that his body simply wasn’t able to handle if a defensive situation arose. So far this season, those penalties have taken a noticeable drop (1.24 to .5 PIMs-per-game). Semin is currently on pace to set career highs in goals and assists and career lows in PIMs.

One other frustrating aspect to Semin’s game quietly crept up as the season progressed: his tendency to attempt One-on-One moves to get around defenders. His signature toe drag, one of the most sublime of any player in the NHL, began to be used on what seemed like every other rush down the ice. Rather than continue in a skating lane or dump the puck into the corners and fight for it, Semin began seeking out defenders and attempted to deke them. Rather than creating time and space for his teammates, Semin was being more and more selfish with the puck, even as his assist totals increased. So far this season, Semin’s take-aways are down but his give-aways are up. While he’s no longer reaching for pucks and taking penalties, he is using his toe-drag more and more frequently to mixed results.

The thing to remember about Semin’s toe drag is that it can be used for good or for evil. It is not a high-percentage move in attempting to make a defender commit. A well-timed poke check easily leads to odd-man breaks back up the ice and scoring chances against. When used to create space and separation for Semin’s uniquely amazing shot, it is a thing of pure gold.

Alex Semin almost always shoots his modified wrist shot off the wrong foot (the right foot for a right-handed shot) but the torque he generates by kicking his left foot is immense. Directly following his toe drag, Semin seems to be almost vertical, leaning to his right as if to get his stick parallel to his body. Only the toe of his stick is touching the ice and the puck is generally no more than a foot or so behind his right foot. It’s generally right at the height of the toe drag that Semin unleashes his shot: totally unexpected, incredibly hard and usually quite high. I’ve never seen a simple wrist shot break NHL glass, but Semin has done it on numerous occasions. The only problem with the shot is its tendency (since it comes directly off the toe) to fly high of the net.

Yet, with all that talent in his possession, something has been missing. Whether it’s the constant oneupsmanship of Semin, Ovechkin, and Backstrom or a general philosophy about offense, it needs to change. In the already linked article, Semin has this to say about offense:

And in Russia people like beautiful hockey, and not dump and chase. I just don't get it, why when a player is skating up the ice and no one is attacking him, he dumps the puck into the offensive zone and then chases it? Why would you do this if there is no one forechecking you? I understand that if there is someone coming at you and you don't know whether you can get past that player, then you can dump the puck, pass it or shoot. But if not, then hold on to the puck, skate forward, create a chance.
Why would you want to dump the puck and then chase after it and crash into the boards? I don't know. But that's just my opinion.
Hopefully Semin will realize that with the teammates he has, sometimes dumping the puck in and gaining numbers will lead to more scoring chances than taking the skating lane and ending up 1-on-3. In my opinion, Semin has the potential to equal, if not surpass, Alex Ovechkin. Oddly enough, all it seems is missing is the ability to simplify his game and exercise a small amount of restraint.

Will we see Super Semin, or the Toe Drag Monster?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ovie Who?

Ok, so reports are that Alex Ovechkin is 'week-to-week' with an 'upper body strain', whatever that means. DC Puckheads are fretting about what we'll do in his absence. Fear not Caps Fans, we're set. Look at the line combos from after Ovie left the Columbus game:

Laich & Laing/Steckel/Bradley

We're obviously missing someone for that 4th line (or 3rd line, if you'd rather have Laing down there), so insert Sloan or a Hershey call-up. (Update: or replace Aucoin with Perreault)

I like Flash's defensive ability (and, apparently, his offensive upside) on that top line. If Semin can do an Ovechkin impersonation and put shots on/in the net, everything will be fine.

For the Second line, I LOVE the toughness of Knuble and Laich (mark my words, in 5 years Brooks will be looked at in the same was as Knuble). They're all the same speed and tough to keep out of the slot.

The Third and Fourth lines are solid defensively. The PP will be hurt a bit without Ovie's shot, sure, but with Semin and Knuble out there, we'll be fine.

The Caps have built a team that has enough talent and leadership to succeed without Ovechkin. I think a .600 winning percentage is in the cards during Ovie's absence.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Columbus, 11/1

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ovie's 'hurt' and everyone is worries it's serious. Serious would be if he didn't get up after he fell, or if he was slumped over on his way back to the bench. Serious is not coming back to the bench, waving both arms like a bird and wearing a suit after the game. Ovie will miss MAYBE 1 game. My bet is we see him in all his Ovieness on Wednesday.

To the notes!

-I'm not sure I've heard the Phone Booth go from 'Fedorov scores in Game 7' loud to 'Pittsburgh goes up 4-0' quiet so quickly.

-The Knuble/Laing "I bet I can keep the puck pinned to the boards behind your goalie for 2 minutes" PK was a thing of beauty. Caps fans are smart enough to know when they see hard work and rewarded the PK unit with a deserved ovation.

-Q was his typical Q: nice layed-out shot block and a prettier 'putting in the garbage' goal that SHOULD have been the game winner. No, he's not blocking shots like in previous seasons. But if you notice, teams are moving the puck away from the point side that he's playing. His shot blocking is so well known that he's dictating the direction the puck is going. Caps, take note of this and you can eliminate the harder point shots just by putting Q on that side.

-Having Flash back opens things up to interesting line combos. It was nice to see the Bradley/Steckel/Laich line back together, and Semin/Backstrom/Fleischmann put on a passing clinic early on. When Laich moved up to Ovie's spot with Morrison and Knuble, that line became the best.

-A penalty at the end of regulation? A penalty in OT? Same M.O. on the power play and same goal scored twice? Great teams just don't do these things. We're a good team, but not a great one.

-How can you let the puck get to the far side man on the PK? The Caps' defense does a poor job getting into obvious passing lanes, and an even worse job letting the D know when they have a man behind them.

-I think I'm going to stop trashing the Defense. It's getting repeditive. From now on, I'm just going to type 'WTFD' when the defense:
  • Loses battles in the corner
  • Panics
  • Throws the puck away like a hot potato
  • Makes passes through the slot
  • Loses the race to nearly every loose puck
  • Takes dumb penalties
  • Skates the puck end to end just to turn it over (coughGreencough...)
-Jose, I understand you couldn't do anything about the bad bounce behind the net. It happens. But the fact that it happened earlier in the period and you just lucked out that the puck hit you instead of carroming in front means you should have known not to come out the way you did. Also, getting your stick stuck in the net? Ugh.

-It's come to the point where if Semin and Backstrom can't stop toe dragging and behind the back passing, and Green can't stop going end-to end and then turning the puck over in the corner, I'm going to lose it. Great teams make the simple play. Great teams don't try the highlight reel play.

-Rick Nash is the quietest superstar in the game. He has great hands, exceptional skating ability and a sick shot. And, unlike a lot of superstars, he's in the first PK unit fot the Jackets.

-Speaking of Nash, I'm not sure who looked worse on his goal: Green who looked like he'd forgotten how to transition from forward to backward or Theodore, who simply fell down.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Atlanta, 10/29

I have a special place in my heart for goalies and goaltending. It takes a special type of person to stand in front of pucks for a living. I played in net for a number of seasons and it still remains a passion of mine, even though I'm not al that good any longer. So it pains me every time a goalie stands on his head for a team, just to watch the team in front of him goof off, take penalties, let up breakaways and just forget how to play defense. Last night's Caps game should have been a 3-0 shutout. Instead, Mike Knuble's empty net goal ends up being the game winner and Varly takes the hit for 3 goals against.

To the notes.

-It's time to stop pooping on Jeff Schultz people. The guy is playing like a top 4 defender this season. His outlet passes, pokechecks, and corner work are all top-notch so far this season. Maybe it does take the super tall guys longer to learn their game.

-It's like watching replays of the same game: Caps get up 3-0 and all of a sudden, Ovie, Semin and Green are attempting risky toe-drags and blind passes, Backstrom is going too deep and isn't able to help on the backcheck, and the defense is letting guys get behind them. I get it, you're an offensive team. I just how you learn that 3-0 is an offensive victory the same as 6-0.

-Zach Bogosian is the Shea Weber of Atlanta. The kid has wheels, a nice phisical presence, and a ton of offensive ability. The more I see these guys, the more I understand why Mike Green didn't win the Norris last season...I'd put Bouwmeester, Weber, Bogosian and Chara above Green right now, and I haven't even seen a lot of other D so far this season.

-For his career, counting the playoffs, Varly's stats look like this: 16-4-3, 2.65 GAA, .913 SV% (counting those 2 OT losses to Pittsburgh in the 'OTL' category). If you drop those stats into this years leaders, he's right in that Lundqvist/Nabokov range (not quite to the Jose Theodore range though).

-Last night looked to me like Forty's best game yet. He seemed calmer and more controlled in his movements than before, his focus was there for 60 minutes (unlike his teammates), and he never gives up on a shot.

-Forty's one save, in the 2nd period I believe, where he came out about 20 feet and took a slap shot to the belly, is the definition of 'cutting down the angle'. People might say 'wow, he was completely out of position'. If you watch the replay, Varly moves out a good 10 feet AFTER the shot is taken and before the puck hits him. Yes, if that had been a pass, there is a wide open net. But Varly knew it wasn't a pass.

-If I were Varly, I'd have walked into the locker room (which was probably a happy one), smashed my stick on the wall (everyone stops, looks, and gets quiet) and said to the room, in my broken English "What the f*** is wrong with you!? In the playoffs, we lose that game 6-2!". Nothing says 'wake up call' more than a quiet, off-the-boat goalie calling you out after a win.

-Kids, take note: Backstrom's saucer passes are what you should be studying. If you can make the pass that broke Ovie for his second goal, you can play in the NHL.

-And I take back my comments about Flash. He had a ton of scoring chances, some solid forechecking, and one shot that would have been a goal if not for a ridiculous save. That line looked solid all night long.

-Still loving Keith Aucoin. Someone said 'backcheck or you're going back to Hershey' and he started backchecking.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

H1N1NHL (and beyond)

With yesterday's news that the Washington Capitals'(and JtG's favorite shot blocker) Quintin Laing has the Swine Flu (H1N1 virus), along with reports from various NHL cities about how the virus is infecting their players, I think it's time to ask the big question: What if this gets serious?

The majority of NHL players these days are in the 18-30 range that seems to be the most affected by this strain of flu. What happens if the majority of a team comes down with the flu and can't field a team? What happens to a Cup contender if its superstar or starting goalie misses a significant amount of time with H1N1 (in Laing's case, he's not allowed near the team until he's sympton free...often weeks in the case of the flu). It may be something the NHL (and likely, every other major professional sports league) will need to address.

The next question is 'What about the Olympics?' There will be various qualification events this fall to determine who makes the cut for the Winter Olympics. I'm almost guaranteeing that one 'favorite' is going to come down with the swine flu and miss his or her qualifier. Will Olympic teams make exceptions in these cases, or is the 'next best' athlete taking that person's place? In the case of hockey, someone is inevitably going to miss the Games because they've contracted the virus. The H1N1 could turn favorites into 'DNQ's and completely throw the Winter Sports scene on it's head.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Philly, 10/27

Before we begin, I just finished reading On Frozen Blog's article about Kevin 'Killer' Kaminski. Last night, after watching our guys get manhandled again and again, I turned to my fellow season ticket holders and said "We don't have an inforcer. There is no one to stick up for our guys right now." It's true. Bradley was supposed to be the 'New Brashear'; the guy who made you pay for the late/dirty/cheap hits. The Flyers don't need a standard 'enforcer', as they have Carcillo and Hartnell. We do.

-Once again, beating a dead horse here, we can't stop running around in the defensive zone. It all starts with puck posession, and we can never get it. When we do, there isn't a break out happening; it becomes the C-league dump out of the zone. Tom Poti was guilty of this EVERY TIME HE TOUCHED THE PUCK last night.

-Our breakout starts much, much to high. I don't mean the 'D behind the net, center looping past and up the ice' breakout; I mean the 'I have 2 Flyers within 6 feet of me and need to get this out under control' breakout. Our forwards bolt from the zone the second our D gets control of the puck, but our D can't make that pass. The Caps need to shorten their passes getting out of the defensive zone. Period.

-I love Keith Aucoin. I now use his 'built for a 6'2" player' stick. The last few games, he's either not backchecked or made a costly defensive blunder (see: pass to Kovalchuk). Last night, Aucoin backchecked like mad, made hits, had confidence with the puck, and was tenacious on the forecheck. Perfect.

-Speaking of backchecking, Backstrom FINALLY started playing some proactive defense and the chances against dropped dramatically.

-Jose Theodore STOOD ON HIS HEAD. A 4-2 win can be deceiving: we should have lost last night. Badly. The only reason we won was Jose. If he can continue that level of play, he's a Stanley Cup-level goalie.

-How would you feel about getting Theo Fleury for the league minimum? Just a thought.

-I will say it till the day I die: Alex Semin has THE BEST WRIST SHOT I have ever seen. He shot it off the wrong foot, on the 'wrong side' of the ice, with a man on him and he put it top-shelf as hard as I've ever seen a wrist shot. Emery looked broken.

-I missed Q's presence on the PK. We looked confused.

-Why am I not all that excited about getting Flash back?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Job

Ok, for anyone that reads this: I have a job for you. For tonight's game, mark the location of each shot on goal. Take notes on how shots were taken (screens, tips, cross-ice passes, breakaways, odd-mad situations, etc) and which ones went in for whatever game you're watching. Use different colors for each team. I want to try to build a set for different goalies' tendencies. For anything longer than 3/4 ice, just put a generic marker of where it came from. (Click the link to see the large image) Have fun!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: NY Islanders, 10/24

Come from behind win! Awesome comeback! Tons of heart!

Um, what game were we watching again?

-Once again, the defense looks like headless chickens when the puck is in their end. They're proving, game in and game out, that the only way they can get the puck our when there's pressure is to throw it away.

-The Caps are TERRIBLE on faceoffs. TERRIBLE. I forget the stat, but it's something like 30% won in the defensive zone. Ugh.

-I know we dumped on Schultz last season and that he's better than people think. I also know he had a lot of points last week and he deserves an 'I'm sorry' for all the boos he gets. But can we please not turn this into a giant love-fest? His goal was very, very fluky. He's not Chara YET.

-For the first time since I can remember, I don't remember Ovechkin at all from this game. Well, other than hanging onto the crossbar during Aucoin's goal as if he were Stallone in the movie 'Cliffhanger'. Oh, and the slew foot.

-Ovie needs new sticks. Seriously, you'd think that CCM could make sticks that their #1 sponsor/most popular NHL player/superstar could actually use. When he borrowed Semin's Bauers, they didn't break. Just a thought.

-I've been dumping on Mike Green lately. I think his work ethic fluctuates and he acts like being a good hockey player is the same as winning a popularity contest. Oh, and he's stopped hitting. However, if he can somehow keep the fire and drive he showed after the hit to his knee last game, he'll do just fine. Do I think he's a 30 goal/80 point D? No. 15 goals and 60 points? Sure. Sorry I ever doubted you Mike.

-Oh, and I think I figured out Green's problem: His new sticks weren't bright blue! Last game, he had a new Easton stick that was obviously spraypainted the same shade of blue as his old Stealths. I guess if you can trick the mind into THINKING it's the same stick, it'll act like the same stick.

-Tavares is pretty good, but I don't think he's in the same class as the last few #1 overalls. Ovie and Crosby were better players at this stage of their careers.

-This Islanders team reminds me of the Caps a few years ago. Not much going in the wins column, but teams left DC feeling like they'd been beaten up. That's where winning starts. These Islanders will be good again soon.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Atlanta, 10/23

I'm going to keep writing this stuff, hoping that sooner or later someone might find it and make fun of it like it. If no one does, I may as well be writing this stuff in an email to Scott.

-I think the book is out on the Caps' defensive core. Every close game/late game collapse has been accompanied by a hard forecheck by the opposing team. The defense is quick to panic and throw the puck away. What doesn't help is the Caps' wingers’ tendency to start their breakout at the center red line.

-Not to keep kicking a dead horse, but with the exception of Green, our D is SLOW. They're losing races to pucks in the corners when they should be there 5 steps before the opposition. This is the only reason Atlanta had as much sustained pressure as they did. Teams are taking advantage of it in the 3rd because, if you can believe it, they slow down even more.

-What this team needs is a Jay Bouwmeester-type: great skating ability, a physical presence and decent offensive ability. I say, at the first chance possible, bring John Carlson up. He fits the bill.

-Green isn't off the hook though. Every time it's a close race to a puck, Green tails off or slows down when he smells contact. This is a far cry from the Mike Green that hit everything in sight a few seasons ago. I'm not sure whether he's still wary of his shoulder or what, but if he keeps this up, he's going to get himself injured.

-Last night, Joe Beninati of CSN called Maxim Afinogenov "A Pavel Bure clone". I'll challenge that with "Alexander Semin is a Maxim Afinogenov clone, if Semin lacked heart and a great shot." The problem with both is that they have an on/off switch and choose what type of game they're going to play. Last night, Maxim was 'on' (even thought his PP goal was junk...more on that in a bit).

-If we're comparing effort to switches, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk long ago flipped their switches to 'on', then promptly rip the switch out and threw it out the window. There is no 'off'.

-Tarik said today that Kovalchuk "has the hardest shot I've ever seen, or better yet, heard". You will hear no argument here. I swear, Warrior must put steel rods in his sticks to keep them from snapping. It sounds like a mortar going off when when he connects on one. Note to Ovie: your sticks break all the time...maybe you should ask Kovy why his don't.

-Secondary scoring? Here's secondary scoring right up your a**!

-On the flip, the Ovechkin/Morrison/Knuble line was dreadful last night. 4 penalties, no points, and while the official scoresheet says the only had 1 giveaway I lost out of the number of turn-overs/bad passes they committed. One of the few times all year we'll be able to say they were the worst line on the ice.

-Giroux and Aucoin were only on the ice for a little over 5 minutes last night. They were on the ice for 2 goals for and a goal against. Aucoin's 'here you go Kovy!' pass clearing attempt up the middle of the slot should have been followed by a bird flipping directed at Varly...the only reason to do it would be if he's mad at Forty.

-Varly played poorly last night. It's hard to say because I love the guy, but it's the truth. Afinogenov's PP goal was on a garbage backhand (not that Q shouldn't have slowed him down off the draw though) and Bogosian's SH goal was under the right pad (again, junk). Both of Kovalchuk's were unstoppable, but they should have been the only goals allowed.

-On the flip side, his effort in the last 5 minutes was why I think he's the goalie of the future for the Caps. He gave his all on every stop, made 3 HUGE stops while shorthanded with 20 seconds left and got his first assist in the NHL. Oh, and Forty has yet to lose a game in regulation in the regular season. If you figure in OT losses from the playoffs, Varly is now 14-4-3 in his young career.

-I've said for years that in the right situation, Eric Fehr is a 30 goal scorer. His shot on the breakaway, and overall game, last night proves that.

-I was happy to read that Bruce thought the ice was bad in ATL. I thought it was obvious on TV. With the type of game we play, do you think teams purposely tear up their ice in an effort to slow us down?

-I'm not even going to mention the horrible goal that opened the flood gates for poor Pavelec.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gnu Game Recap - 10/21

Because beer league hockey is just as important as the NHL, I'll also try to give recaps of the games I personally play in.

-The 3-0 loss was not representative of the crapfest that was out team game. Ron stood on his head while we continuously left him out to dry.

-Where do the Piranhas find all these fast, skilled, fat guys? Very few players on that team are in good shape, but they still play fast hockey, while throwing their bodies around.

-Ron really does have only one move against breakaways. A little hesitation and a wide angle and you'll be staring at an empty net 9 times out of 10.

-We always seem to put our defensive-minded line on the ice for the start of every PP.

-A certain defenseman had a +4 minute shift that looked aweful Turnover, clearing attempt that didn't make it out, following a player behind the net while someone was wide open in front. That was the first 2.5 minutes. We got called for a penalty and he stayed on the ice for another 1.5 minutes of the PK that looked similar, ending in a goal against. It was clear he was tired, but near the end of the shift, he could be seen carrying the puck up the ice in offensive-minded mode.

-We can't play a roller hockey game. Not enough passing ability, not enough team speed. We're grinders be we can't grind against a team that plays more physical than us.

We're missing something...our most offensive players are our defensemen and no one looks willing to stand in front of the net top put the garbage in. Something needs to change.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Defensive Zone Ratings for Goalies?

During the summer, like many of us, I'm an occasional fan of baseball (occasional because the area's teams only occasionally win). Baseball is renowned for it's statistical analysis of the game (see: Moneyball, SABRmetrics), affecting everything from draft strategy to stolen bases to intentional walks. One of the more recent developments in this statistical analysis are the various Defensive Rating systems.

In the past, attempting to quantify a certain player's defensive ability with respect to his peers was difficult at best: it required that you analyze every defensive chance for every player in every game played. You have to analyze starting position, distance traveled, whether the ball was caught for or turned into an out. In the end you could theoretically say that on a given play, a certain player should or shouldn't have gotten to a ball based on the performance of every one else at his position.

Could something like this work for NHL goalies? I say yes.

You'd have to anaylze every shot on goal on every goalie in the NHL for distance, angle, whether the goalie had to move laterally to react to the puck, whether the goalie was screened, whether the puck was deflected or any subsequent shots or goals resulted from rebounds. Then you'd have to group all shots of similar types together and determine the save percentage for each catergory. Then you could determine which goalies make saves they shouldn't, and which ones let in goals that most of their peers would stop.

This type of analysis would be more beneficial to goalies than a generic Save % number (which doesn't take into account the difficulty of certain saves or a goalie's performance in spite of his defense). It would identify areas for a particular goalie to work on to bring his ability up that that of his peers.

Now all I need is video of every shot on goal in the league...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Nashville, 10/17

I don’t work on the weekends, so here are my thoughts from last Saturday’s game against Nashville:
-Once again, I was impressed with Quintin Laing and his work ethic. He laid the game’s biggest hit behind the Nashville net in the 3rd and was excellent on the PK. His ice time continues to increase (up to over 17 minutes last game).

-On the flip side, the Aucoin/Fehr/Clark line looked terrible. No offensive pressure and no defensive presence. They were the bottom three in ice time and none of them skated more than 7:15 at even strength (and only Clark added any PP time to that number).

-My wife noted that Fehr was “falling all over himself” and that the last time she saw that much falling by a player, it was in C-league hockey at The Gardens. Yikes.

-Listen, I know I sport a #40 jersey to every home game I can make, but you honestly can’t fault Varly for either goal against on the night. The first goal was a nice drop pass to Shea Webber who, in case you forgot, shot the puck 103.4 mph at last year’s All-Star Game skills competition. From just below the top of the circles, with accuracy to put it just under the crossbar, I dare any NHL goalie to get apiece of it.

-Webber is a VERY underrated player. I, honestly, would put him in the top 5 among NHL defensemen for his all-around skill. Did you notice he took a slap shot on a breakaway in the 1st? He knows how hard he can shoot the puck. He’s really, really good.

-The second goal, from an incredibly poor angle, deflected off Pothier’s shin pad and through Varly. I take the blame away from Varly because had he not reacted to the initial shot/pass, and it hadn’t hit Pothier, it goes through the top of the crease instead of on goal. I guess no one noticed the Predator making his way to the far post for what would have been an easy tap in had Forty not reacted to the puck.

-The last two games, the Caps defense has been pressured in their own end and has had SEVERE problems getting the puck out of the defensive zone. The positioning seems to be there, but the puck is getting stuck in the corners. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of speed (Jurcina, Schultz, Poti and Morisson all look VERY slow this season) or the fact that the wings routinely start the breakout at the center red line but something needs to change.

-The two shorthanded break-aways in the 1st were about as bad as they looked. No far side point man, no real effort to get back. Varly stood his ground on both and it game the team confidence.
-You can tell Semin had a bad game by the following stats: 4 shots on goal, 4 missed shots, 0 take-aways, and 0 turn-overs.

-To the drunk excitable guy who sits in the back of section 412: Please, please, please STOP YELLING AT JEFF SCHULTZ. Telling us all how much he sucks does not make you suck any less.

-Ted: Thank you for stocking dog collars at the merch stands! Our dog has never looked so cool.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: San Jose, 10/15

-In all the warm and fuzzy pieces written about Q at the start of the season, they all call him something like ' shot blocker and PK specialist'. I'd like to add 'hardest forchecker', 'fastest player without the puck', and 'underrated checker' to the list. Q is routinely getting to loose pucks first, tiring down the opposition in the corners and creating turnovers. He's now a defensive specialist/sandpaper guy who happens to block lots of shots, which hopefully will lead to a steady NHL job for years to come. I love this guy more and more.

*(An aside: At the STH Party, I asked Q what type of shinpads he wears. After thinking about it, he answered "Reebok". When Reebok bought the CCM company (which included KOHO and Jofa), they put the RBK logo on everything that was formerly Jofa (which was the preferred shin, elbow and shoulder pad line in hockey). As I wear Jofa shinpads, my response to Q was "Great! I think that means I'm safe then!" If it's good enough for Q, it's good enough for me and probably every other beer-league player out there.)

-A thought on Theodore: his glove never moves. If pucks end up in it, it's because they're shot right at it. Last night's lone goal against went top shelf and the righty catcher just sat there about his pad. Varly gets grief for his glove hand, but it's very fast and gets to pucks. His problem is that when pucks are shot directly at it, they often catch the cuff rather than the webbing. Given the two gloves, I tend to lean towards the one that actually hits, if not necessarily traps, the puck. I just wish his rebound control off that cuff was a little better.

-I'm going to gloat a bit and say "Told you so" about that Ovechkin/Morrison/Knuble line that went out and dominated last night. I kinda called that back in August and actually had reasons other than "it worked for Morrison in Vancouver".

-On the PP, Joe Thornton stood uncontested directly in front of Theodore for what seemed like 10 seconds. A shot anywhere towards the net would have been a fairly easy scoring chance for San Jose, but they were tentative to fire the puck. No idea why.

-Credit to my buddy Stevo (SteveS86 on Twitter), for informing me that the bad ice at Verizon Center last season was due to under-inflated tires on the Zambonis (Olympia Ice Resurfacers for all you sticklers). Soft tires apparently cause the blade to bounce and leave a nice 'wave' in the ice surface. I haven't heard about any problems with the VC ice so far this season (granted, the Wizards have yet to start sucking begin playing yet) so stay tuned.

-The fan celebration at the end of last night's game was similar to the ones after last season's playoff wins. Loud, joyous and heartfelt. The Phone Booth is definitely the place to be these days. I do agree, however, that we're missing some red seats in the joint.

-AAW CRAP! I have Nabokov on my fantasy team. Happily, there goes my week...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

All-Short Team

With Theo Fleury back to his scoring/pest/short ways for the Calgary Flames, I got to wondering "Who are the best little men in the history of the game?" First, we'll qualify 'Little Man' and a player listed as 5'9" or less by Second, we're not going to consider the pre-Original Six players, since humans in general were smaller back then. Let's say 1950 onward for our sample size. Third, we're not looking for a full team here...there are very few <5'9" defensemen to have played the game. And obviously Darren Pang is our goalie (sorry Chris Terreri fans!).

Line 1:
Marcel Dionne/Stan Mikita/Ted Lindsay

-This line has it all: speed, vision, grit, class and the ability to put the puck in the net. Three Hall of Famers in every sense. Three Art Ross winners here as well.

Line 2:
Henri Richard/Ivan Cournoyer/Bernie Geoffrion

-Well-rounded hockey played by this line. All three knew how to defend, pass and score. And Boom Boom invented the slap shot!

Line 3:
Joe Mullen/Pat Verbeek/Theo Fleury

-Joey from Hell's Kitchen, The Little Ball of Hate, and Toothless Theo. I dare any coach in the NHL today to produce a line that would beat the hell out of you, then score on you, as often as this one would. Also of note, Fleury is the shortest player (listed at 5'6") of all the forwards on this list. He was gone for so long, I'm not including him in the 'In Progress' section

Honorable Mention:
Rod Gilbert, Butch Goring, Dennis Maruk, Neil Broten, Cliff Ronning, Ray Ferraro

In Progress:
Martin St. Louis, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Steve Sullivan

What jumped out at me while compiling this list is the number of amazingly gifted, Hall of Fame-caliber players under 5'9". There have been few players of their stature to have played the game but of those who made it, most have been exceptional. Dionna, Mikita, Lindsay, Geoffrion and St. Louis combined to win 9 scoring titles.

What also jumped at me was the number of French Canadian players on this list. Not coincidentally, there are also quite a few Montreal Canadians who have been successful despite their size. Perhaps this season is an homage to the past for the Canadiens, when smaller players dominated the game.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Caps Rookie Camp - Day 1 Pictures

Well, looks like Varly decided not to stick with his new Bauer pads and has switched back to his Vaughns.

Here are the pictures from Monday's Rookie Camp
Caps Rookie Camp - Day 1 Pictures

Capitals Rookie Camp - Day 1

I'll have some pictures up later today from yesterday's Day 1 of Caps Rookie Camp. I always love seeing the differences in speed and skill between the rookies and the vets. With the vets, the drills are always crisper, the passes always tape-to tape. More interestingly, the moves are always less showy (far fewer toe-drags and between the legs moves) and are almost always power moves (speed, using the body, positioning). The rookies think showing off their hands is how to get Bruce's attention.

I love some of Bruce's drills. The warm-up drills in the neutral zone (6 players, all with pucks, skating in close quarters; two teams of 3 players, each with a puck, passing between themselves; 1-on-1 keep-away) include a couple drills I use (except I'm usually throwing 20 novices into the same space) and love. I honestly thought I came up with those drills 3 years ago. Apparently, I'm not Canadian.

Of all the players on the ice, once again John Carlson stood out. During the 1-on-1 drills, I think 75% of the opposing forwards ended up on their backs and I'm certain I didn't see one of them get a shot off. Granted, most of these players aren't showing NHL speed, but it was still impressive.

Varly looks like he's breaking in his pads. I saw quite a few 5-hole goals that would have been gobbled up last year. He also looks like he's trying to hold back on some of his power moves. Varly's lateral movement is off the charts, but he's often so powerful that he leaves himself out of position when he moves side-to-side. I think he's finally seen what the NHL has to offer and is tailoring his game to what his opponents bring. He looked like he didn't care much how he looked on Day he was just trying to learn his pads and work his way into game shape.

Irbe is a VERY active goalie coach. After almost every shot, he was in Varly's crease offering an opinion or advice. I didn't see him down at Holtby's net much though...favoritism?

I like Varly's pads (see: a ton of the pictures). What I don't like? The silver and a red that's closer to Maroon than Caps Red. I would have gone Caps Red and white and not even think of Maroon as an option.

Lastly, I love Herbies (suicides to some people). I especially loved seeing Kugryshev and Miskovic with that "I'm going to die" look on their faces.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Caps Lines?

I know popular opinion when creating lines for next year’s Caps squad always starts with “Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble” and works its way down. I’m wondering whether we might consider another option:


Followed by:


No? Give me a sec here…

If Morisson is back to being healthy (which his last 25 games with Dallas showed me to be true), he has the speed to keep up with Ovie. He has also shown that he plays his best with premier talent, as the Naslund-Morisson-Bertuzzi line in Vancouver was probably the league’s best for a few seasons. And I notice big similarities between that line of old and this proposed one: a speedy shooter on one side and a garbage goal grinder on the other. I think this could work.

As for line two, I think Semin’s game is aided by a great passing center. Ovie usually gets the puck at mid-ice and takes it in, using the D as a screen. Semin’s game is all about trickery and his amazing release. Having a center of Backstrom’s ability would allow Semin to move more freely in the neutral zone and, hopefully, avoid the contact that has caused him past injuries.

As for Bourque, I think all he needs to have a break-out year is solid complimentary players. I think he could be a 20-30-50 guy NEXT SEASON if you put him on a skilled line. Plus, he gives the line a tenacious pest to create turnovers. If you’re not sold on him playing here, I’d substitute him for Eric Fehr. I like Fehr’s size and shot on a skill line. I think, with time, he could become a Bertuzzi type. And having Knuble’s game to watch, I think he becomes more of a presence in front of the net.

Small Guys

Martin St. Louis. Mike Cammalleri. Brian Gionta. Steve Sullivan. Paul Kariya. Theo Fleury. Marcel Dionne. All these players have two things in common: their height (or lack thereof) and their skill. With the exception of Dionne (from another era), each of them experienced doubt that their skill could overcome their shortcomings. But given the chance, each became a consistent point-producer.

In order for a short guy to make it to pro hockey, he has to have some skill. Clearly a 5’7” physical player will probably be outplayed by a similar player over 6’. These small guys usually have tons of speed, very good hands and vision and a knack for the net. They create space, rarely place themselves in harm’s way and make their teammates better. But they can only do so much.

The Caps have a few good small guys. Keith Aucoin, Chris Bourque and Mathieu Perreault are all diminutive but packed with skill and hockey smarts. At the AHL level, they excel. Their offensive up-side would lead people to believe they can contribute at the NHL level. Eventually, they earn a call-up to the big team. Then they’re faced with a major obstacle.

AHL call-ups are rarely dropped on a top-two line. They’re relegated to third or forth line minutes, and more importantly, third or fourth line teammates. In the AHL, these players are teamed with skilled players who may have the size and hockey-sense, but a lack of defensive ability or some other trait preventing them from making the jump. These small guys are used to making passes to where teammates should be (or getting there themselves). Playing with 4th line guys in the NHL, that hockey sense in missing; they put up lackluster numbers and are sent back down.

Last year, there were 64 players 5’10” or shorter and who played a minimum 50 games last season in the NHL. Of those players, 34 (53%) had produced a +50 point season at some time in their careers. 11 players (17%) had produced at least 1 season in which their points exceeded their games played. The group also included two 50 goal scorers and three 100 point scorers. For the most part, these players took some time to catch on in the NHL (with some obvious exceptions…Paul Kariya anyone?). All they needed was a chance to play with similarly skilled players and log some quality ice time.