Well, have to say the lack of NHL hockey has me rather bummed and I’m not so sure the league lockout combatants have any idea what the real stakes in this fight are. Watching millionaires fight over their fans, mine included, hard earned money got old quick and know every passing day rubs salt in the wound, they need to resolve their differences now. The last time they did this in 2004-05 it took a full 2 years for me to attend another NHL game. I picked up where I left off in years gone by and returned to college hockey rinks. College level play is not only high quality but the players are on the ice, for the most part, out of love of the game and the thrill of competition. This current state of affairs has this hockey enthusiast contemplating other plans…
I’ve experienced more pre-season hype, regular season glory, and post season disappointment with the Washington Capitals than I care to share. After being outclassed by Tampa Bay in the second round of last spring’s playoffs I just moved on. Talk of super talented young guns and a solid core group of players was for someone else’s conversation. Don’t take this the wrong way because I’ll still be in my seat cheering them on this year, it’s just that my expectations and hopes for the Caps took another in a series of season ending beatings.
My hiatus was interrupted when I lifted an eyebrow towards the Caps in early July when free agent players hit the open market. GM George McPhee made a number of solid acquisitions combined with re-signing existing talent that few would argue make the Caps a better, more mature hockey team.
These offseason personal moves combined with veteran players showing up early for training camp talking about heightened commitments to conditioning and team attitude is encouraging, but not overly so. This year I need more than just preseason talk; I need to see how this talk translates on the ice.
I usually greet the early fall and impending hockey season with enthusiasm for what’s to come, but for this year’s Caps it’s more measured optimism.
Related Story from the WP Capitals Insider:
Alex Ovechkin returns to Washington
This posting was written while the Capitals played the Avalanche at Verizon Center on Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin had a great 1st period and a major cross checking penalty committed by Alexander Semin pretty much killed the second. The team had a bit of a resurgence led by Matt Hendricks when he scored to keep it close in the 3rd but in the end they lost 3-2, their 5th loss in a row. One thing is clear from the last 5 to 10 games and that’s the Caps lack of focus. Many of us have been left wondering who’s game are they playing anyway, because it certainly isn’t their own.
The Caps have superstar players whose collective effort as of late has produced an at beast streaky at worst average NHL team. They used a slingshot to make their way to the top of the league standings and a borrowed used car to cough and belch their way down as the game’s elite are passing them on their way up.
From Coach Bruce Boudreau on down his lines of players the common mantra is that hard work and old school bang’em up, heads up hockey will turn the tide and I’m not so sure they’re right. The Caps are a highly skilled hockey team where patience and precision is the name of the game and they’ve clearly lost focus on these strengths. How many give and go breakouts have been foiled by the shooter fanning on his shot? How many times have bodies reacted prematurely to set up plays that result in errant passes traveling behind or ahead of the intended target? And how many times can power play opportunities go by the wayside before other teams stop fearing your offensive firepower?
The Caps need to refocus their effort by recognizing their inherent ability to score goals and it needs to start with their Captain Alex Ovechkin. Many Caps fans have shown a great deal of patience waiting for the Ovechkin of old to reappear in the highlight reels. There was a time when Joe B. would proclaim from the broadcast booth, “The Great 8 shoots, The Great 8 scores,” and the collective masses would see the caliber of play among his teammates climb with each tally. Ovi the assist leader just doesn’t cut it, he’s 14 goals behind league leading Sidney Crosby’s 26 and that just leaves me…enough said, it’s time to change the mindset.
We haven’t hit the half way mark to the NHL Regular Season so panic’s not on the table, but real concerns are. The Caps need to keep cool heads and dry pants and focus on the skills that built the offensive powerhouse that other teams have had real difficulty in neutralizing.
Please note: the post game reaction from the Comcast Crew and Coach Boudreau was positive saying the team that played tonight was crashing more nets and playing better hockey than recent outings. I really wonder about conversations that deal with which losing team is the better losing team. The Capitals are held to a higher standard because they’ve earned it, a loss is a loss.
Context is critical when assessing Alex Ovechkin’s performance. As of this writing, he’s the Captain of the team that sits on top of the NHL standings with 30 points, he ranks 4th overall among 712 players listed on this season’s stats sheet, 5th in assists, and 10th in goals.
What many view as Ovi being off his game would be an incredible start for more than 9 out of 10 NHL players, but he’s viewed through a different lens than mere mortals. He’s a 2-time league MVP who’s part of every legitimate debate trying to identify the best player on the planet. His game is assessed through a highlight real, no Youtube worthy theatrics translates into concern in the Caps blogosphere:
Russian Machine Never Breaks after last night 5-4 OT loss to the Flyers:
Alex Ovechkin had another stinker, and it’s time to start talking about it. He spoiled two excellent breakaway chances that would have been signature Ovi goals in another season. On point for the powerplay, he struggled to set up the sequence, squandering oodles of time. It’s official: something is rotten in the state of Alex.
The Peerless Prognosticator after the same loss to the Flyers:
A breakaway, hitting the post, and breaking his stick on a one-timer in the first period. Right now, Alex Ovechkin can’t catch a break. But he looked a lot better in this game than he has for most of this month
Japers Rink in last week’s Capitals Ups and Downs – Week 6 post:
With two goals and five assists on the week, AO keeps piling up the points. But with just four shots on goal over the last three games, you can tell that he’s not playing his best hockey
Using this tone when talking about the caliber of Ovi’s play is unchartered territory for many, and while these folks might be on to something I think there’s a breakout game coming. I thought it might come in Atlanta on Friday night but no, Saturday night against the Flyers showed improvement, but not yet. My money’s on Ovi, it’s coming sooner than you think.
Rather sedate crowd on the patio this afternoon, it’s a sunny 71 degrees and these people just don’t look like hockey fans, they have no idea what their missing.
The Capitals won last night 4-3 in overtime against Atlanta. Other than recording a win, the big news was Alexander Semin leading the offensive attack with a hat trick, (that’s 3 goals for those new to the game) and the outstanding effort of center Mathieu Perreault playing alongside him. Perreault was called up from the Caps farm team, the Hershey Bears, yesterday and assisted on 2 of Semins’ goals. The Caps need an offensive spark and if Perreault’s play is consistent over the next couple of games he may be playing in the big league for the foreseeable future. He had the same opportunity last season but wasn’t quite ready for the NHL grind and was sent back down to the Bears, the next couple of games will be very telling.
The Yankees are playing golf, the Redskins play at 1, and the Patriots at 4:15. Normally I wouldn’t mention the Redskins but their fortunes affect so many of the locals around here that it’s best if they win. All is well with the sporting world…for now.
In late July I posted a dump and run purge of last season’s first round, one and done playoff disaster, the Capitals need to win, and concluded the road to redemption for this team starts with a collective chip on their shoulders and ends with hoisting the cup.
Yesterday’s WP Caps Insider provided evidence of the emerging chip from veteran RW Mike Knuble after yesterday’s morning skate at the Caps practice facility. The journey begins:
“I expect, right from Day One, we’re going to be judged on our playoffs,” Knuble said. “We know how we’re all going to be measured is the playoffs, not the regular season.
“We’re going to play well during the season, we’re going to have a good record; there’s no denying or changing that, but what happened makes everybody take a step back and makes everybody a little more angry than hungry,” Knuble added. “I think everybody’s a little pissed off this year and can’t wait to get to spring. It’s going to be a long 7-8 months to get to the playoffs for us.”