Sunday, September 30, 2007
The defense was not bad, although it wasn't much tested. Olaf Kolzig had a gruesome half dozen minutes in the first period, giving up two very iffy goals, but otherwise had a solid effort.
The Caps took only one penalty (perhaps as much a product of hanging on to the puck for such long stretches....they never had much chance to take the usual NHL-brand of obstruction penalties).
Even the crowd wasn't bad (by Caps preseason standards). But this was the first chance for The Peerless to see the new mother ship...
These aren't artist's renditions...I took these pics (hence, the blurry images in the latter couple). Shoot, in that first one I can see the nose hairs in the Senator logo.
It's nice...really. And, for that matter, so was the Caps' play, except for that pesky final result.
"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't"
-- Hamlet (II, ii)
The Peerless believes that Donald Brashear is one of the practitioners of the hardest job in hockey, that of “enforcer.” That term – “enforcer” – carries with it certain connotations that non-fans of the sport relish in regurgitating about hockey…”thug,” “hooligan,” “neanderthal,” “unskilled.”
While fighting is a part of the job description, “enforcement” can take the form of mere presence. It takes a while for any of this breed of hockey player to develop a reputation sufficient to discourage opponents from taking liberties, and unfortunately, that reputation is purchased at the price of fighting – perhaps often. But Brashear is far enough along in years and experience that he does not have to resort to fighting to enforce order. Whether he picks his spots more these days, his mere presence can have the effect of keeping things quiet. And it’s not as if he was a shrinking violet last year, either. His 14 fighting majors tied for eighth in the NHL.
But, this being the new NHL, guys have to be able to do more than just fight. Brashear’s 13 points might not be indicative of a Ross Trophy any time soon, but it was 13th on the club last year. He was one of only three players on the club playing at least half the schedule on the “plus” side of the ledger (+1). His 101 hits was fourth on the club, although considering he was last on the club (again, among those playing half the schedule) in time-on-ice (7:58/game), that is a remarkable statistic.
Turning 36 this season, Brashear cannot be expected to be at the top of the enforcer heap, as he might have been a half-dozen years ago. But he will be effective in his role, and he will contribute to the Caps’ fourth line as the kind of energy forward who can cause quite a ruckus in his role. Whatever madness there be in fighting, there is a method in what Brashear practices.
"Can one desire too much of a good thing?"
-- As You Like It (IV, i)
Is there any better situation to find oneself that that in which Viktor Kozlov finds himself? This is Kozlov’s fifth stop in the NHL (San Jose, Florida, New Jersey, and the Islanders being his previous stops), and if one label has followed him around, it is that of “underachiever.” He has never had more than 25 goals in a season (last year, with the Islanders), only once has had more than 35 assists in a season (53, with Florida in 1999-2000), and has only once had more than 55 points (70, in that same Florida season). One watches him skate so smoothly and effortlessly for a big man, and one wonders, “what’s the problem?”
Part of it is that he’s played on some clubs that have struggled, part of it is inconsistency. But now, it appears that he will skate on opening night centering Alexander Ovechkin and Tomas Fleischmann. Ovechkin is precisely the kind of scorer who can benefit from Kozlov’s vision and creativity (which he certainly possesses when his game is in focus), and Fleischmann has both the puck-handling skill and passing talent to find Kozlov in spots where Kozlov can score, himself.
Even though Kozlov has been less effective at center than he has on the wing (and wing might be where he ends up in the long term), he is in what might be the perfect situation for his mix of skills. If there is one concern, it is being on the ice consistently. Only four times in 12 seasons has he played more than 70 games. But when he is out there, he can be effective. In addition to his 51 points (5th on the Islanders last year), he was +12 (5th), and had four game-winning goals (2nd). One thing that can’t be overlooked, given the Caps’ struggles in this department, is that Kozlov is 13-for-25 in shootouts over the past two years. The Caps, as a team, are 23-for-94 over the last two years, including 5-for-40 last year.
For Kozlov, coming to Washington could be a good thing, and there is not too much of that in the minds of the Caps and their fans.
"To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on"
-- Othello (I, iii).
Look at any team, any sport, and chance are you’ll find a player who is the vessel into which all the ills and ill feelings of fans are poured. For the Caps, that vessel appears to carry the name, “Steve Eminger.” Drafted 12th overall in 2002, much was expected of him. And he is another of those (like Brian Sutherby) who seem to have been here forever. The thing is, Eminger won’t be 24 until Hallowe’en, and he has only 192 games of experience. Lest one think we’re one of those folks who would give Eminger the eternal pass of “well, he’s only,” the apprenticeship is over. On this team, with expectations of challenging for a playoff spot, he has to show that he is a capable NHL defenseman.
The thing is, though, he is already. Eminger had his 2005-2006 season hijacked by an injury, and last year he got off to a poor start. But from New Years on last season, Eminger played some decent hockey (1-11-12, -3 in 33 games, while logging almost 20 minutes a game over that stretch). It is of little use to lament what some might think an unfulfilled potential for Eminger in his brief career. Better, perhaps, to compare him with another young defenseman who struggled early in his career, one who in his first 167 games over his first five seasons was 9-32-41, -20. Eminger, in his 192 games, is 6-35-41, -40. The defenseman who whom I’ve compared Eminger is Buffalo’s Brian Campbell, who would have to endure another season with a relatively poor plus-minus number (-14), before emerging last year as a critical element of the Sabres club.
Lingering over the past and picking over his performance, as some fans seem intent to do, is just a way of continuing to find fault with Eminger’s game. He is now at a point in his career where he can be (and should be) judged on his performance this year, not on his having to learn in what was a difficult situation. He has the skating talent, the size, and the well-roundedness to his game to rise to the next level. It will be important to the Caps’ success that he does so.
"Better three hours too soon than a minute too late"
-- Merry Wives of Windsor (II, ii)
Tom Poti has suffered a lot of “nots” over his career – “not physical enough”…”not good enough in his own end”…”not consistent enough”…and so on. It hasn’t been entirely unfair. But he has the size, the tools, and the experience to be a genuine first-pair defenseman for the Caps. And, he brings two things of paramount importance to the Caps – productivity on the power play and the ability to log a ton of minutes – that could ripple through the defense squad.
With regard to the first, Poti was 6-26-32 on the power play last year. By way of comparison, the returning defensemen for the Caps were a combined 2-21-23. And the Caps have more firepower on the power play (one would think) in Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Michael Nylander than he had on Long Island.
His ability to consume minutes should allow Brian Pothier, in particular, to settle into a better comfort level of 18-20 minutes a game, instead of the 24 minutes a game he logged last year. Poti has averaged 20-24 minutes a game in each of the last four seasons.
Although the Caps are likely to be a better team late than early, in The Peerless’ view, Poti is one of those players whose contributions can’t wait. He needs to hit the ice skating, as it were. This is a reasonable expectation – he and Pothier will be the only defensemen on this roster who are 30 years old (Poti being older by a little over a month). Better Poti start eating minutes and dishing on the power play early – too late, and it will be, well…too late.
“Boldness be my friend!”
-- Cymbeline (I, vi)
Since the lockout, Matt Pettinger has sort of been lost in the fog of the Alexes and the struggles surrounding the rest of the team. But he’s come out boldly in many phases of the game over the last two years. In 135 games since the lockout, Pettinger has 36 goals (that’s a 22-goals-per-82-games pace), he is 8-12-20 on the power play, he is 4-for-11 in shootouts, he has 140 hits, and he’s 8-3-11 in short-handed scoring. And, he has a rock-‘em, sock-‘em quality to his game that provides a lot of energy. He appears to have settled in as the left wing on the third line, and he can provide some offensive pop from that position that could make that line one that keeps opponents honest with their ability to score.
Pettinger has suffered some injury problems the past couple of years, missing a total of 29 games. It is a product of is style, one that also has made him something of a jack-of-all-trades these past two years. Finding a balance between boldness and discretion – when to go for it and when not to – might be a product of maturity (he won’t be 27 for another three weeks).
We’re not done, here. We’ll be back for a few more additions to the preview…only five days to the regular season.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
"Delays have dangerous ends"
-- King Henry the Sixth, Part I (I, iii)
Brian Sutherby seems to have been a Cap since they wore the star-spangled red-white-and-blue uniforms. It’s hard to imagine that he has barely 250 games of NHL experience (254, actually). But the former first rounder (2000), who had been spoken of in the past as potential captain material, is now finding himself as part of a much deeper roster, talent-wise, than has been the case earlier in his career. On the 2007-2008 squad, he is likely to start the year as a fourth-line forward, which is not the career trajectory foreseen for him.
Hampered by persistent injuries early in his career, he has arrived at the cruel crossroads of sports. He has to raise his performance level above the 8-11-19, -5, 82-game composite average he’s posted thus far in his short career. If not, the Caps are in a position to have others take his place in the lineup. There is much to like about his game. He plays with an edge, he is physical, and despite the plus-minus numbers (his being one of a number of minus-side numbers over the past few years) he gives evidence of being a defensively-responsible player.
He has not, however, shown anything more than glimpses of an offensive game. That will not be a requirement for his role as a third/fourth line player, but if he was truly a shut-down forward, he’d probably be showing up on the third line. For the moment, that group looks like Matt Pettinger, Boyd Gordon, and Chris Clark. Only Donald Brashear has a spot locked up on the fourth line. Sutherby is fighting with Matt Bradley, Ben Clymer, Jakub Klepis, Brooks Laich, and Dave Steckel for the other two slots or perhaps a healthy-scratch roster spot. Klepis, who does not have a contract, has to be thought of as a long-shot to make the roster at this point. If the Caps carry only 13 forwards, then four guys are essentially fighting for three spots (the two fourth line openings and the extra forward). Sutherby might not be the longest shot of that group (we’d have to think Matt Bradley is), but it is an uncomfortable situation for one to be in. Stepping up his game is at hand – a need borne out of the Caps improving the quality of their roster. Any delays are likely to have dangerous ends.
"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them"
-- Twelfth Night (II, v)
Last year at this time, Tomas Fleischmann was stuck among a clot of forwards – with Eric Fehr, Chris Bourque, Jakub Klepis – given a chance to make the big roster. None, including Fleischmann, were up to the task and spent large portions of the year in Hershey. Fleischmann had 29 games in the show, but had a somewhat nondescript 4-4-8, -6 for his efforts. He was starting to look like trade bait, perhaps part of a package to bring in a more seasoned right wing or a defenseman.
Then something happened in September. He was stuck on a line with Alexander Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov. He hardly embarrassed himself. In fact, having come to camp without a contract, he appears to have played himself onto the right side of one of the scoring lines. The talent has been there – he has dominated at the AHL level – but sometimes it appeared as though he lacked a certain confidence in his play on the ice. Having been thrust into a responsible role in the pre-season, he has made the most of his opportunity. No doubt there will be some growing pains along the way when the games are played for real, but Fleischmann is one of those players that gives rise to our prognostication that the Caps will be a much better team late in 2007-2008 than they will be early. His puck-handling ability and passing are already of NHL-caliber. Whether he can score with any consistency, and whether he can fulfill his defensive responsibilities are as yet unanswered questions. But, the tools are there…maybe he just needs not to be afraid of greatness.
"Men of few words are the best men"
-- King Henry V (III, ii)
If Boyd Gordon has uttered two dozen words for public consumption this month, it’d be news to us. That’s not a bad thing. Gordon, with quiet persistence, has risen through the ranks to become the apparent checking line center for opening night. His game is the thing. “Muffin” might not have the most fearsome shot in the league, but that’s not what his primary role is going to be, either. He led the club in plus-minus last year, led the club in draws taken (winning 52 percent of them), led all forwards in blocked shots. He does the little things the right way.
And it is not as if his game is entirely bereft of offense. He had 38 goals in 181 career AHL games and 77 goals in 260 games in junior. That he might become a 15-20 goal scorer in the mold of a Kelly Miller is not farfetched. It might not be this year, but there is no reason to expect he will not someday reach that level.
There is more an earnestness than a flash to Gordon’s game – a consistency of effort (for example, he had only 14 games on the minus side of the ledger in 71 games played last year) – and for his role that is entirely appropriate.
"The course of true love never did run smooth."
-- A Midsummer Night's Dream (I, i)
Nicklas Backstrom was the fourth pick overall in 2006 and anointed as the second coming of center and hall-of-famer-to-be Peter Forsberg before he ever set foot in North America. He is likely to start the season on the right wing of the “second” line. It’s not a bad place to start…honest. He will have a solid pro of a center in Michael Nylander to mentor him, and he’ll have a genuine sniper on the left side in Alexander Semin to feed pucks to. All things considered, it is probably where a youngster in his position is likely to flourish best.
It is all likely to be prelude to his becoming the top line center down the road (perhaps next year, more likely after that), which is to say that the course toward his ultimate destination might not be rocky, but neither will it be smooth. Talented though he is, he has much to learn in terms of the style and geometry of the North American game, and he has to do all this while learning the language and lifestyle off the ice in North America.
If anything, Backstrom has shown a knack for rising to the occasion. His performance in rookie camp was uneven, as if we was merely feeling his way along. In early training camp he looked better, but he seems to have been saving better performances for games in the pre-season. Even in a game in which he, by his own admission, did not play especially well, he netted the game winning goal. If that attribute carries over into the regular season, then whether he plays at center or on the wing will hardly matter. He’ll be playing in the spring.
"Men at some time are masters of their fate"
-- Julius Caesar (I, ii)
Edmonton…Washington…Edmonton…Washington. Sorry, Kevin…Washington. The Rangers might have signed the marquee centers of the free agent period – Scott Gomez and Chris Drury – but the Caps might have signed the best fit. With two top goal scorers in the Alexes and a center-in-waiting in Nicklas Backstrom, Michael Nylander – by temperament and style – might have been the best fit for a center. Nylander is adept at the puck possession game the Caps long to play, he is a fine set-up man (113 assists the past two years), and is a capable power play element (led the Rangers and finished tied for 16th – with Alexander Ovechkin – in league power play scoring). All are attributes the Caps lacked last year, especially from the center position.
Although the presence of Jaromir Jagr added to his offensive numbers (no, really), he might benefit from a cleaner division of responsibility with the Capitals. In New York, the puck goes through Jagr. Nylander, being a puck-possession sort himself, had to play a support role in that aspect. In Washington, he’s going to have a pure goal scorer on his left side (one of the Alexes), and he is likely to have a youngster (Backstrom) on the wing learning a role that Nylander can teach. Nylander will be the conductor.
Nylander hasn’t had less than 50 points in a full season (at least 65 games) in a decade, and much of that was as part of teams that struggled. He should be a constant on the Caps this year, a team of his choosing to join.
“In such business, action is eloquence”
-- Coriolanus (III, ii)
Night after night last year, chances are that the top forwards on opposing teams were going to be met by Shaone Morrisonn. That he would be a plus-three on a club with as many defensive holes as the Caps had last year (he led all Caps defensemen who played at least half of the schedule) is testimony to his ability to defend in his own end. It is even more remarkable in that Morrisonn has less than three full seasons of NHL experience (202 games, coming into this season), and he has never been a minus player in any of the four NHL seasons he’s played in (shoot, going back to juniors, he’s had only two minus years in eight seasons).
Morrisonn is not a big hitter. He is more the rangy sort who can deny space, use his stick, and position himself to frustrate opponents (critics of Jeff Schultz, take note). But he does have an edge to his game, having dropped the mitts in bouts with Colton Orr and Raffi Torres last year, and accumulating 106 PIMS, second on the team to Donald Brashear (fans of Jeff Schultz, take note).
It’s hard to get a clear picture on what the defensive pairings will be for the Caps this year. Any of the blueliners could be paired with any other. But no matter where Morrisonn is paired, his action in his own end has been, and promises to continue to be, eloquence.
We have some more to cover, and we’ll try to get to that in the coming week, as well as the league and Caps prognostications for the year. In the meantime…
"The elements be kind to thee, and make thy spirits all of comfort: fare thee well!"
-- Antony and Cleopatra (III, ii)
Scoresh[ee]t – Media types around the league have been less than impressed (being kind here) with the NHL’s seemingly pointless decision to “fix” the official game scoresheets. Apparently, the new system is not without its glitches, either. For the second night in a row, we were told that computer issues prevented a full scoresheet with full stats at game’s end, or at the end of periods for that matter. If the league were to go back to the same scoresheet from the last two seasons with the same data, no one I know would complain about it.
Amen. We've been doing a slow burn here over the NHL's "improvement" to its scoresheets since their introduction in this preseason. They're awful. The scoresheets in the past were by no means perfect (for those who try to aggregate data, they could be a pain), but this new design is hard to follow and makes it nearly impossible to look at the results as one would look at data.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
"Repels" moisture...OK, so where does all this moisture go? Well, as we see in this article by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Dave Molinari, the moisture collects in the equipment -- most notably gloves and skates. As the Penguins' Mark Eaton pointed out...
"They do what they were designed to do, as far as repelling the water. But we've found, the last three or four days of wearing them, that, when the water's repelled, it has nowhere to go but into your skates and gloves. By the end of the second [period] or the start of the third, your skates are sloshing around and you have to change your gloves because they're [soaked]."
The league might look at this new performance system as a work in progress, but no amount of tweaking will end up looking like this...
Imagine this look on Zdeno Chara...
And with that, The Peerless is going dark for a few days. Remember to visit all the bloggers, and while you're at it...floss.
Thanks to Direwolf on The Official for pointing the way to this issue.
Hockey is dangerous enough without having to worry about falling skates in locker rooms, but that is precisely what Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle had to deal with after last night's 2-1 loss to the Caps. As the St. Petersburg Times reports:
The skate, which apparently was not secured properly, fell about 2 feet and the blade sliced into Boyle's arm and through the abductor tendon.Boyle ran to the training room, his arm bleeding. Four stitches closed the wound, though they will be removed today when he undergoes surgery.
It is worth noting that in addition to the effects on the Lightning in terms of Boyle's presence and production -- a significant ingredient to the Lightning's success -- Boyle is also in a contract year. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
Division opponent he might be, but one wishes he gets back on the ice as soon as possible.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
It is heartening to see that Olaf Kolzig is in mid-season form in the "@#%&" department. Having been abused by Viktor Kozlov a couple of times on shots, Mt. Kolzig erupted in a display of expletive-laden commentary on his performance that made The Peerless really wish he had an audio recorder. It wasn’t Vesuvian, but it made for fine theater, nonetheless. Trouble is, Kozlov continued to send pucks flying past Kolzig, although Kolzig started to get the upper hand as the practice was winding down.
Kolzig also had some kind words – offered often – for Brooks Laich, who had a devil of a time trying to beat the goalie. After one frustrated effort on which Laich (who was paired with Kozlov on a 2-on-2 drill) failed to score, Kolzig shouted after him as he skated away that it might be helpful to “watch and learn,” perhaps a reference to what Kozlov was doing.
Even Daren Machesney got into the act with his own @$#! as a puck slithered through his pads. It wasn't of the sort of decibel level one would associate with Kolzig, but it was a fine effort, nonetheless. We gave it a "6" on the Kolzig "@#%$-o-meter."
Boyd Gordon had an especially nifty score that drew ooh’s and aah’s from the fans in the stands. And he had more luck than most in the tip drill getting pucks on net.
Vaclav Prospal-Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis
Jan Hlavac-Andreas Karlsson-Jason Ward
Mathieu Darche-Ryan Craig-Kyle Wanvig
Andre Roy-Craig MacDonald-Nick Tarnasky
Paul Ranger-Dan Boyle
Matt Smaby-Brad Lukowich
Dan Jancesvki-Doug Janik
First, we think this reflects progress for Pokulok, who has had a rough go of it, physically, since he was drafted by the club. His development has been stunted to a large degree, and one hopes that a full and healthy season in Hershey gets the youngster back on track. Although he's a first round pick, he's an underdog of sorts worth rooting for.
The second point is this...the Caps now have ten defensemen left in camp. One might conclude that nine of them have a legitimate shot at a roster spot (we would think that Jame Pollock will, at some point, be heading up to Hershey). It's likely that in this game of musical roster spots, one or two will find themselves on the outside, looking in. While there are options, in terms of who among this group could be sent to Hershey (Jeff Schultz, for example), there is quite a crowd looking to make the Caps' decisions difficult. This situation would have been hard to imagine just a couple of years ago.
Among the "locks" for spots, we see:
The other five are a mix of those who could be sent down or moved:
In any case, one or two of this quintet -- depending on how many defensemen the Caps choose to carry -- will not be with the Caps on opening night.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Pittsburgh is in the enviable position, though, of having a lot of buzz generated by their performance last year and having the Last Best Hope for the NHL wearing the black and Vegas gold. The Caps are, as any fan of the club knows, a team that has had a history of struggling at the gate.
Hockey might be the most fan-friendly sport there is when it comes to fan-player contact. Players seem to be especially willing to make themselves accessible to fans of the sport. To have players take the time to make a couple of dozen or so phone calls is a credit to them in terms of both their attitudes toward fans and the seriousness that they bring to making the franchise successful.
It is also a nice, as well as savvy, touch on the part of the Caps front office. Whatever one thinks of the pricing strategy the club might pursue (and we've been there, so we won't rehash that), this is a club that desperately needs to put fans in the stands. As Donald Brashear put it in Masisak's piece:
"We really need the fans' support. It's a big part of our success, and at times when we get down we could use a little pep, a little more from the stands."
So fair is fair...nice work, guys.
* Not so nice work by The Peerless, having failed to give Mr. Lemke credit for the article in the original version of this post. Our apologies to Tim and Corey for our foul up.
Dougie, what do you think about the new statistics displays on NHL.com
Isn’t that a bit harsh?
“Yeah, yeah....but have you seen them? Take a look at the box score. 5v5 5v4 5v3 DN/SH AN/PP…it looks like the ticker from hell.”
But they are providing a much richer set of data.
“That they are, and we appreciate that. But visually, my eyes hurt. It looks like someone barfed up a grayscale Rubik’s Cube.”
What do you mean?
“Look, ‘box scores’ should be simple. They’re not a place to cram every slice of data you can think of.”
You mean like baseball box scores?
“Well, yeah…look at the box score on MLB.com”…nice and clean, except for that jibberish at the bottom that they could set side-to-side like they do everything else.”
So, what would you do to improve it?
“Well, let’s start right at the top…that scoring summary. Replace it with the period summary..first period, second period, third period, overtime, shootout, goals, shots. Just like the inning display in the baseball box score. Then that scoring summary?...they could break it apart into the team columns, side-by-side…”
But you’d lose that scoring sequence you get with the NHL display…
“No, you wouldn’t…here’s how it might look…go ahead, click on it…”
Well, it’s something to think about. What about the rest of the box score and the “Super Stats?”
“Hey, don’t you have prognostications to work on…”
OK, OK…we’ll talk about that another time…
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Phhht…who cares? Once upon a time, the NHL landscape was dotted with lines with catchy names and inspiring characters…the Dogs of War Line…The French Connection…the Kraut Line…the GAG Line…and perhaps our favorite, the Production Line, to name a few.
How does this concern the Caps? Well, there is much attention being given to the fact that Michael Nylander – nominally a “top line” center – is spending a lot of time paired with Alexander Semin, who is generally thought of as the “second line” left wing for the club. “Seems like a waste of a ‘top line’ center’s salary” is the implicit argument.
The Peerless thinks this line, so to speak, of argument is archaic. One of the things that makes hockey unique to team sports is substitution in time. “Changing on the fly” – making substitutions while play continues – is a phrase that can only be associated with this sport, and it provides a dynamic way for teams to adjust their attack. It means that playing time accumulates among players and lines in different ways from game to game.
This is a long way around the barn to get to this point. Think not about “first and second lines;” think about “minutes and pairs.” Michael Nylander might be paired with Alexander Semin; Viktor Kozlov might be paired with Alexander Ovechkin. Whether you think of one or the other as a pairing on the Capitals’ “top line,” you can bet that all four will be hauling at least 18-20 minutes a game in ice time. It makes no difference whether one or the other pair constitutes two-thirds of a “top line.” What matters is that the pairs work well together and present matchup problems for opponents that can be exploited. Those situations, as well as “who’s hot” and “who’s not,” will contribute to the ice time either of those pairs gets on any given night, not some rigid structure of “first line” or “second line,” despite what might have been suggested in someone’s idea of “benchmarks.”
Which brings us to the third member of the forward “lines.” The situation for the Caps on the right side what are traditionally thought of as the “scoring” lines is fluid. There are a host of players who could settle in either of those two spots – Chris Clark, Nicklas Backstrom, Tomas Fleischmann, for example. Perhaps someone will emerge to grab each of the spots on the scoring lines, but then again, it might be that this position is not manned on a permanent or semi-permanent basis by anyone, that who plays here will be a product of, of course, having demonstrated the ability to handle the responsibility, but also who might be a better match-up against opponents. Tonight’s Ovechkin-Kozlov-Fleischmann line might be tomorrow’s Ovechkin-Kozlov-Clark line…or maybe Ovechkin-Kozlov-Backstrom…or maybe…
"We put a real punishment on losing. I thought about it all summer. You can't create 15,000 fans in here so that pressure isn't on. There isn't a game on the line, so the only thing we can really do is not have it be a token skate. ... That's the only pressure we can have. It is the only realistic way. We are motivating by fear."
The Peerless doesn't think that is a throw-away line. Since the lockout, the Caps were about building. Now, it's about winning. That is a reflection of the expectations and the stakes involved. But if coach gets too caught up in the new mantra, "motivate by fear," well...just trot out this blast from the past...
We kid because we love.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Nineteen players were assigned to Hershey, where the Bears' training camp opens on Thursday.
Here's the list: Dean Arsene, Scott Barney, Jay Beagle, Sean Collins, Andrew Gordon, Marty Guerin, Jamie Hunt, Andrew Joudrey, Quintin Laing, Sami Lepisto, Tommy Maxwell, Chris McAllister, Grant McNeill, Patrick McNeill, Jason Morgan, Travis Morin, Steve Pinizzotto, Grant Potulny, Steve Werner. The Caps also released Dan Kronick.
He's right -- there aren't any surprises there. Which leaves, by my reckoning...
It's early, and we might not be entirely accurate here...corrections are welcome.
If you look at that list, it seems pretty to get down to 13 forwards and 6 defensemen, plus the goalies. But getting there leaves the matter of where Tomas Fleischmann and Jakub Klepis go (they're not in my 13 forwards; Ben Clymer -- who is the subject of Tarik's feature this morning in the Post, is in that group), and where Mike Green and Jeff Schultz end up (they're not in my six defensemen). That might end up being the longest running drama of camp.
Interesting that there are fewer players here this morning, but it feels more crowded.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Thanks for that excellent look at goaltending trends. One of the things that has occurred to me, anecdotally, is that shots matter from a defensive point of view. At this level of play, there just isn't that much difference in save percentage among goaltenders in the NHL (last year, the top 20 goalies in save percentage with at least 50 games ranged from .902 to .922).
But looking at one goaltender to whom I pay attention -- Olaf Kolzig of the Capitals -- the effects of shots is telling. Kolzig faced 1,771 shots last year (33.4 shots per 60 minutes of play). For his trouble, he had a goals against average of 3.00, 20th in the league among goalies with at least 50 games, while posting a .910 save percentage. In order to shave that GAA to, say, 10th (2.58, Rick DiPietro) facing the same number of shots, Kolzig would have had register a save percentage of .923. Had he done so, he'd have led all goaltenders who played 50 or more games in that statistic.
Here is another way to look at it. Marty Turco and Kolzig had the same save percentage in the regular seson (.910). But while Kolzig had his facing 33.4 shots per 60 minutes, Turco had his facing 24.9 shots per 60 minutes. The arithmetic results in a 0.77 differential in their respective GAA (more than 25 percent better in Turco's case). Which team's goalie -- and team -- was more successful?
That's a long way round to the point that "shots" seem the most underrated statistic in the sport. Which brings to mind another factor in this -- what has been the trend in blocked shots and missed shots? And, have goals scored as a share of "shots taken" (as opposed to "shots on goal") changed over time?
We're mindful of a rather standard response to the "shots" argument, that there are "shots" and there are "shots." By this we mean that goaltenders might face a lot of easily stoppable shots that inflate a shots on goal statistic. In any given game, that is certainly possible, but data being what they are over a series or a population, we suspect that over the course of a regular season that sort of thing evens out -- that the 6-8 easy shots goaltender A might face today are evened out by a similar number goaltender B faces next week or goaltender C faces next month.
I think it useful to pay particular attention to the comparison of Kolzig and Turco, above, and apply the analysis we used in the first example. For Kolzig to have achieved Turco's GAA (2.23) while facing the number of shots he did last year, he would have had to post a save percentage of .933. That would have led all goaltenders, according to the NHL's statistics. And Turco finished fourth in GAA.
Wayne Gretzky famously said that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take. It's merely another way of saying, "shots matter."
Monday, September 17, 2007
If you take a tour of the blogs this evening, you’re going to see something common in the recent posts…things are accelerating.
JP, over at Japers’ Rink, notes the return of Karl Alzner, Francois Bouchard, and Josh Godfrey to their junior clubs.
The OFB gang updates the training camp roster.
Mike Vogel also notes over on Dump and Chase that a few more cuts have been made (the Alzner, Bouchard, and Godfrey travel plans).
Move on to In the Room, Capitals Insider, and a few of the other regular haunts, and it is the same…things aren’t just a-changin’, they’re doing so quickly. And there is a subtext to this, suggested in Mike Vogel’s comments….
“…with the shorter training camps mandated by the CBA and the raised expectations of Washington’s fortunes this season, it’s more important to get the guys ready who are going to be here.”
The fact reflected in this comment is that there just aren’t that many roster spots open on this club. One can tinker with lines and ponder where Nicklas Backstrom might settle (as to position, not whether he will start the year in Hershey – he won’t), but the roster is largely set. Over these next couple of weeks, as things continue to accelerate toward opening night, the object of the exercise is to figure out, as best as the coaching staff can, who can play with whom. And that is not conducive to long looks at guys who won’t be here in October. Compare the training camp of the Redskins – 40 days of training camp in advance of their 2007 opener – to that of the Caps, who will have only 20 days preparation from the opening of camp last Friday to the opener in
One supposes that the cuts will start to accelerate as the clubs that serve as destinations of players needing further seasoning start their own camps and seasons, and some guys will be here to gain a bit of game experience while the vets are rounded into game condition. There are always the tough cuts at the end for any club, but for the Caps, the assets they will have to work with are largely known. That is by no means evidence, with all due respect to those who offer the opinion, that the “rebuild” is done, and we’ll go into detail about that as we all go through the training camp schedule. For now, suffice it to say that the materials are in place – that is a happy situation the Caps have not enjoyed in several years, where some camps seemed more devoted to trying to cobble together a squad from spare parts and green wood. Not this year. And things will merely accelerate from here.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Day 2 . . . it was more like the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Alexander Semin and Matt Pettinger got tangled up at the end boards in the second half of today’s scrimmage right in front of The Peerless, and it wasn’t pretty. Semin appeared to be cut above his eye, and although he left under his own steam, the trail of red stains on the ice behind him as he skated off was not the most pleasant thing for Caps fans to contemplate. For his part, Pettinger looked a bit stunned, himself, but returned to action.
Before that slice of scariness, today’s session was full of things to ponder. First, Semin was having quite a day before his injury. A move that looked for all the world like a behind-the-back dribble in basketball left the crowd “oohing” appreciatively (note to Peerless….new nickname for Semin: “Meadowlark”). It wasn’t the last of his stickhandling wizardry, as he seemed to be in mid-season form as far as such things go.
Nicklas Backstrom gave indication of why he will be a centerpiece of this team, and also why fans will be scratching their heads wondering if he’s all that good. During the scrimmage he was the picture of calm with the puck and earnestly played defense. He does both at what The Peerless would call a “low temperature.” He might give the impression to some of not being especially intense or not putting forth a top-end effort. Well, The Peerless suggests you get a little closer to the glass and watch him over a whole shift or two. He certainly has some moments when the smaller rink seems to give him a bit of difficulty, but this is a kid who plays such a seamless, fluid game, that you could watch the game for ten minutes and wonder if he was out there. The Peerless suspects that as time passes, he’s going to have the quietest three-point games you’ll ever see. It would have been nice, though, if he’d buried that breakaway he had after picking off Tomas Fleischmann’s iffy pass.
Karl Alzner plays a similar kind of game. But he’s more noticeable in the same way a cornerback in football is more noticeable – he’s on an island of sorts. But Alzner just isn’t often in a position where he has to scramble to recover. One watches him out there, and it just doesn’t register that he won’t be 19 until the 24th of this month.
Sasha Pokulok had a moment that might have had fans’ hearts in their throats, given his recent physical problems of other sorts. He took what appeared to be a knee-on-knee hit (The Peerless wants to say with Brian Sutherby, but is not sure about that). He did make it back to his feet, but the youngster was clearly feeling it and favored the leg for the remainder of his shift.
Chris Bourque and Milan Jurcina got tangled up on a couple of occasions. Jurcina is a very large man. Bourque, alas, is not. It was a bit comical to watch (but easy to appreciate) Bourque’s sticking his nose in there. And The Peerless thought he was a hard-working cuss out there, too.
The morning skate on the Capitals’ Rink, administered by Coach Hanlon, looked to be at a much more up-tempo pace than yesterday, and the guys looked like they were feeling the effects of it, too.
The Peerless witnessed what might only be called, “The Kolzig Bloom.” After being beaten a couple of times in the first session over at the Public Rink, Olaf Kolzig swung his stick under the crossbar and popped a dozen or so pucks high into the air – it looked like a flower blooming.
And now, your Caps Snaps for today:
Unfortunately, DCSportsChick.com is going dark -- we hope only for the shortest while.
You're going to be missed.
Former Cap Glen Metropolit is trying to make a go of it as a non-roster invitee to the Bruins training camp.
None at all...good luck, Glen.
"The summer was coming to an end, and I didn't have a concrete offer from anyone. But the Bruins were interested, and I figured, hey, I'll give it one last try.
"No harm in trying, right?"
...Tortorella is so cold.
Asked how to cope with the grueling fitness tests that at best will leave players gasping for air and at worst barfing up their breakfasts, defenseman Dan Boyle said, "Fake an injury."
Really, he said with a straight face, "Fake an injury."
"Yeah, pay someone to hurt you," chimed in defenseman Brad Lukowich, sitting at the next locker.
"Camp Torturella" has opened. No word on if the Lightning will soon be deployed to the Middle East.
"It's no secret that we thought John (Ferguson) could use some help..."
So said Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, when speaking to the Canadian Press on Friday.
Well, they didn't get him any help, so it's pretty clear...if the Leafs find themselves on the outside, looking in at the playoffs this year, so Ferguson will find himself on the outside, looking for a job.
No pressure, eh?
Friday, September 14, 2007
Jake Taylor: Shit, the way I played today, I wouldn't be surprised if they red-tagged me already.
Willie Mays Hayes: What do ya mean?
Well, today was the first day of training camp for the Caps, and chances are, no one got cut. But today’s on-ice activity was not without its moments, either….
-- Viktor Kozlov centering Alexander Ovechkin and Francois Bouchard in the scrimmage…hmm.
-- Michael Nylander centering Tomas Fleischmann and Alexander Semin....uh, ok.
-- Shaone Morrisonn planting Alexander Semin face-first into the end boards…Semin was down for a moment as he rearranged his helmet (perhaps ensuring it still contained his cranium)…Morrisonn giving Semin a tap on the backside with his stick as the two skated back.
-- Kozlov later taking a puck just underneath the edge of his helmet as Frederic Cassivi was trying to clear the puck up the center of the ice. Kozlov skated off immediately, but did so in a manner that did not suggest urgency (although he was holding a towel to his face).
-- Uh, here’s a tip from your Uncle Peerless….orange, red, AND burgundy jerseys on the ice at the same time doesn’t work very well.
-- Alexander Semin looks to have added some size.
-- The Peerless made a tactical error in foregoing the second half of the scrimmage to take in the drills on the Public Rink. Seems the second half had much more action, scoring-wise.
There was a nice crowd for a weekday start to camp, ringing both rinks. One can only imagine what The Plex will be like for the weekend. Welcome back Cappies and Cappie-fans.
And now, some images…
Alex Ovechkin scores his first shootout goal since....well, let's not go there.
Kolzig and Ovechkin show fans what they do to goalies who don't stop any shots.
See?...I told ya...red, burgundy and orange...it doesn't work, guys.
But gee, they look so purdy in their colored outfits.
Glen Hanlon, hoping and praying that Ovechkin did not have the double-chili cheese dogs for dinner last evening.
Olaf Kolzig, sporting his new mask and pads...
...and Brent Johnson his.
...and the bad news is, you're going to be suspended.
And for those of you keeping score, that means none of the Sabres' captains from last year will be on the ice on opening night. Daniel Briere and Chris Drury having signed with other teams. This will leave coach Lindy Ruff pondering his options. The Peerless, being a helping sort, has some suggestions:
Captain Merrill Stubing. Master of the Love Boat; if he was given the "C," HSBC Arena might be renamed, "The Love Shack."
Captain Barney Miller. Leader of the ol' one-two, he at least has the experience of trying to interpret some sort of rule book.
Captain Frank Furillo. Perhaps not the best choice. He spent too much time canoodling with Joyce Davenport, and everyone knows that Sgt. Phil Esterhaus ran the Hill Street precinct, anyway.
Captain Wallace B. Binghamton. "Ol' Leadbottom"...he has the experience of screaming at his nemesis, Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale, which might come in handy dealing with the Ron Koharski's and Kerry Fraser's of the world.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
“I think the real NHL is the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.”
George McPhee said this on The John Thompson Show on Sportstalk 980 this afternoon* in response to a question from Al Koken on whether the "real" NHL was the fast-paced, room-for-the-little-guy version, or if it was that reflected in the style of the Ducks. His point was that the Ducks were talented, and they were tough.
The question now becomes, “are the Caps talented and tough enough to make a run at the playoffs?” George, citing Donald Brashear, Brian Sutherby, and others, clearly seems to think the Caps are at least headed in that direction.
The nice thing about sports is that it reveals the truth of such claims. So we’re going to see whether the Caps are tough enough, talented enough, to make that run for the playoffs.
Thanks to CapsDC on The Official for the reminder.
The Peerless chooses to go a different route in looking at the Caps as we move through training camp. As we embark on the new season, we’re doing Shakespeare . . .
“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'”
Well, maybe Glen, George, and Ted (and Caps fans)...
"A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!"
--King Richard III (V, iv, 7)
That horse, of course, is Alex Ovechkin. It is a measure of the esteem in which the youngster is held that a 46-46-92 season can be characterized in some quarters as “disappointing.” Maybe Ovechkin shares that view. Tarik El-Bashir quotes Ovechkin in today’s Post that he is “hungry for hockey.” Further, Ovechkin sees himself as in better condition this year than last, a product of skating, training, and practice with his former Moscow Dynamo team. This is not a good sign for the rest of the league. The Peerless has an observation about he with whom Ovechkin is always compared. Sidney Crosby lost in the Calder Trophy voting by a landslide in 2006. He came back the next year with a vengeance, establishing himself as the best player in the NHL. Signs point to this being a similar year for Ovechkin. With the tools provided him by George McPhee – Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, and Tom Poti (who should provide some needed assistance on the power play), Ovechkin might have the room to rumble. And as Caps fans have seen, a dedicated and focused Ovechkin is a force of nature. He is the horse the Caps’ will ride.
"Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous."
--Julius Caesar (I, ii, 194)
Although the quote reflects Caesar’s mistrust of Cassius, the meaning here applies to Olaf Kolzig. The veteran goaltender is the leader of this team, and he’s been displaying that trait in the unofficial practices he and some of the other Caps have held in advance of the start of training camp. It is a sign...Kolzig, who has been through the good and the bad, sees this season as an opportunity not to be lost. The Caps have playoff potential, and it will take hard work – to affect a lean and hungry look – to bring that possibility to fruition. Kolzig has played a lot of minutes in the NHL, and has noted that the offseason conditioning is harder and harder to attend to as time passes. But if Kolzig is paying the price, it is a sign to the rest of this club to follow. And such men can be dangerous.
"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on..."
--The Tempest (IV, i, 156-157)
There are young Caps who have a very real chance to make the club out of camp. None would b e a bigger story than Francois Bouchard. Bouchard, a second round pick in 2006 (35th overall) and brother of Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Wild, has one of those opportunities born of misfortune. Eric Fehr seems not to be ready to test his injury (back, hip, pituitary gland – the club isn’t very forthcoming on such things), and this opens up the race for a spot on the right side. Viktor Kozlov and Chris Clark might now be the odds-on choices to man the right side on the first and second line, but there is the potential for a newcomer to force the club to write his name into the lineup in one of those two spots. Bouchard seems likely not to make the club out of camp, but his progress through juniors has been steady and significant:
2004-05: 54 games, 11-13-24
2005-06: 69 games, 33-69-102
2006-07: 68 games, 45-80-125
Down the road, he could be the scoring right wing the Capitals need. He could be that by the end of the month. Such is the stuff dreams are made on.
"I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament."
--Julius Caesar (III, i, 60 – 62)
“Constant as the northern star” is an apt description for Chris Clark. He could play on the right side on any of the top three lines. But Clark brings a singular devotion to the task, whatever responsibility he is asked to assume. It goes without saying – although it needs to be said over and over – that Clark was and is an excellent choice as captain, a worthy successor to the tradition of captains such as Rod Langway and Dale Hunter. Where Clark plays could be a function of how others fare in training camp. If Nicklas Backstrom isn’t ready to center the second line and is moved to the right side, Viktor Kozlov might be a center option, and Clark could be on either of the top two lines on the right side. If a youngster such as Bouchard or even a Tomas Fleischmann or Eric Fehr (if he is healthy) breaks through, Clark could man the right side on the third line. Wherever he plays, and he might be asked to move around, Clark’s effort will be as constant as the northern star.
"Is this a dagger which I see before me..."
--Macbeth (II, i, 33)
Alexander Semin scored 38 goals last year. Everyone ahead of him is older (ok, Thomas Vanek is six weeks older). That qualified as a breakthrough season for Semin and establishes him as a sniper of the first order...or does it? It is one thing to do it once, it is another to do it again. That is the task for Semin this year. He might start the year centered by Nicklas Backstrom, and how the rookie progresses in that role could go a long way in determining what numbers Semin is able to put up. There is also the matter of Semin’s own play. While supremely talented as a shooter and a puck handler, there were times last season when his maturity might have been called into question. That side of his game needs to progress more. But the pieces are there for him to be a feared offensive player on a level with Alex Ovechkin. What we don’t know is whether he can maintain or improve upon last year’s performance on the ice, whether this is a dagger we see before us...
"Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind."
--A Midsummer Night's Dream (I, i, 234)
The word “fan” is slang for “fanatic.” A little – and sometimes a lot of – craziness goes with the territory. There is sometimes a tendency to overrate one’s own players, and Caps fans (this one included) is not immune from the disease. That is prelude to this observation....the Caps might not be a “good” team to start the year. They are bringing in a lot of new pieces, some from different organizations – Nylander, Kozlov, Poti -- and possibly some rookies such as Bouchard, Fehr, Fleischmann, Alzner, and others. Sometimes a dish tastes better as the flavors are allowed to meld. This will almost certainly be a better team – in fact, a much better team – in February than it will be in October. Caps fans might keep that in mind as the year begins. Stanley Cups are not won in October, and the playoff teams aren’t identified before Christmas.
That’s all for now....we’ll return to this over the next few days and weeks as we get ready for the season opener, and The Peerless settles on his season prognostications.
Happy Training Camp!
Well, a good portion of that community swarmed Voorhies, NJ, to observe the contest between the Caps' rookie contingent and that of the Philadelphia Flyers. Not having had the opportunity to attend, myself, The Peerless will leave it to you to peruse the observations of those who did...
A View from the Cheap Seats
Dump and Chase
The Kevin Hatcher Fan Club
And this doesn't even include the other heavyweights such as On Frozen Blog, Off Wing Opinion, Japers' Rink, DC Sports Chick, Capital Fanatic (it's early -- The Peerless doesn't know at this hour if they were in attendance) . . . shoot, just look over there in the right margin and click for yourself. There are a lot of folks who have their eyes, ears, and keyboards tuned to the Caps. In fact, JP of Japers' Rink does your aggregating for you at Washington Hockey Daily.
If this -- a rookie game in early September -- is an indication of what is to come, the Caps' community will not lack for things to read and see via narrative, picture, audio, and video this season.
Just as the club might have reached a tipping point in its rebuild, ready to make the leap from league also-ran to playoff contender, so does the Caps' blogging community stand at what might be a tipping point...an "alternative stream media" (ASM) that adds a richer, Caps-centric brand of coverage to the club with game highlights, observations, and things you just won't read (or see or hear) anywhere else.
The Caps' Coverage Swarm. It's coming to you...now.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Back in 1965, medical staff and coaches at the University of Florida got together to figure out why football players were wilting in the Florida heat. Identifying the reason as a loss of fluids and electrolytes, and depletion of carbohydrates, the group put together a formula to replace those fluids and nutrients lost from exercise....Gatorade was born.
Well, now Sportsnet.ca reports a new breakthrough in re-hydration science and its relation to physical performance...
Pedialyte. Yes, Pedialyte.
Toronto Maple Leafs bruiser Wade Belak reports that the formula for rehydrating toddlers suffering with diarrhea is a fine remedy for high-end athletes, too:
"You get all your electrolytes and it's designed specifically for kids and babies so you know it's good."
But Mr. Belak lets the cat out of the bag that this is hardly a new-found remedy for dehydration....
"You really want to know the truth, why I started drinking Pedialyte? I used to drink it for hangovers."
Now there, dear reader, is a hockey player.
Doug Gilmour has this coaching thing down...Describing the difference between life as a player and that of a coach (well, a "civilian"), the newly minted part time coach for the Leafs' organization observed that:
"When you're playing, you get up in the morning, get dressed, go to the rink, get undressed, get dressed into your equipment, get undressed after practice, then get dressed to go home. Then you get undressed to take an afternoon nap, wake up, get dressed to go back to the rink for the game, get undressed and get dressed in your equipment. After the game, you get undressed, get dressed to go home and then get undressed later to go to bed.
"When you're not playing, you get dressed in the morning and then get undressed at night to go to bed. That's it."Coaches, consider your secret revealed.
Oh, and here is your Day 97 of a Sport Held Hostage moment, courtesy of The Battle of California.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
"Yes, he was suspended today. I spoke with Scott to tell him he was being suspended, which Scotty expected."
When your lonely heart has learned its lesson
You'd be his if only he'd call
In the wee small hours of the morning
That's the time you miss him most of all
When your lonely heart has learned its lesson
You'd be his if only he'd call
In the wee small hours of the morning
That's the time you miss him most of all
"We have just created and introduced a great, low cost ticket package against our biggest rivals. I am hopeful we can fill the house against these teams with our own hometown Caps fans. The reason we created a package of tickets is to ensure that our own fans buy them and come to all of these games. I doubt that a fan of just one of these teams will buy all of the tickets in the package. For $99, a fan can come to our Opener and five of our best games against our biggest rivals. Please consider purchasing a plan; come to these games; and be loud and proud."
"I need another 2,500 season-ticket seats. What that would do is tip it, it would give us scarcity of tickets and allow us finally to raise prices. Our ticket prices, for the most part are exactly the same as they were in 1999."
If you answered: a) Ted Leonsis (on September 8), and b) Ted Leonsis (today), you win a prize. The Peerless will make sure to give you a deal on it so you can pay more later.