Monthly Archives: January 2012

Three things that have to improve for the Washington Capitals in the “second half”

Yesterday I wrote about the three things to like about the “first half” so today I’ll look at the three things that have to improve as the “second half” begins.

#1-Road play

The Caps have amassed a record of 47-25-10 on the road over the previous two seasons, good for 1.27 standing points per game.  This season the Caps are 8-13-2 on the road, a clip of 0.78 standing points per game.  The week before the break did provide a solid 3-0 road win in Montreal as well as a gutsy point in Pittsburgh.  The same week also saw a 3-0 loss in Carolina in which the overall effort and result was something that feels all too familiar this season, especially away from Verizon Center. Two goals were allowed in the final minute of a period, the shot total was too low and the power play made us wish we could decline penalties.  With 19 of their final 34 games away from home, seven of which are against Southeast Division opponents, the effort and results on the road HAVE to get better.

#2-Tougher presence in front of our own net

Honestly, I’d like a tougher presence on the ice in general from this team as a whole (like, you know, sticking up for your leading scorer in the game he was ACTUALLY elbowed in instead of addressing the issue 2 weeks later when given the opportunity by luck of a trade), but the issue more specifically needs to be addressed in front of our own net.  If you take a look at generally any game and compare the treatment of opposing players in front of our net to the treatment we are given in front of our opponent’s net, you will see what I consider to be an inexcusable difference.

The aforementioned 3-0 win over Montreal left me feeling more frustrated than even a typical loss because of this very issue.  Yes, this is just one game, but it is all too often a theme throughout many games this year.   At the 6:13 mark of the 3rd period, Michal Neuvirth covers a puck and is poked not once, not twice but three times.  The response?  Karl Alzner gently ushers Rene Bourque (yes THAT Rene Bourque) away from the net.  It might just be me, but I’d prefer the that the treatment of opposing players in front of the Caps net never be something that could even possibly be described as gentle.

Later in the game Mathieu Darche gives Matt Hendricks a shove in his lower back that sent Hendricks into his own goalie.  For a minute, as you can see in the video, the Caps look as if they are thinking about taking issue with this.  Darche then says something to Hendricks and cooler heads prevail.  So an opponent can just explain his way out of throwing Hendricks into our goalie?  If this type of reaction was an exception and not the rule, I’d be willing to let it go.  Unfortunately, this type of reaction seems to be the rule.

I was still complaining aloud about that incident when Erik Cole decided to jab his stick at Neuvirth as he covered the puck, hitting the goalie in the head with his stick in the process.  Neuvirth is staring daggers at Cole as he skates away while the 5 guys who should rush to his defense don’t even bat an eyelash.  We may as well set up lawn chairs and serve cocktails in front of our own net.  A rum and coke, you say?  A Washington player will be with you shortly.

In all seriousness, though, this is an issue that has driven me mad about this team for years. On the day Dale Hunter was hired Brooks Laich talked about wanting this team to become, if nothing else, a team that opponents hated to play against.  If this is to happen then our treatment of opponents in front of our net and protection of our goalie has to get better.  I understand that some players play a grittier style than others and generally only certain players fight, but making the area around your own net an unfriendly place to be is a responsibility every hockey player should willingly fulfill, regardless of his role on the team.

#3-Depth at Center

Injuries at center have not helped this issue but there were problems here even before Mathieu “Hat Trick” Perreault began centering our #1 line.  A 2010-11 season preview over at Japers’ Rink refers to the 2nd line center issue as “lingering”.  If 18 months ago this issue had been around long enough to be considered “lingering” then at this point it’s fair to call it chronic.

If someone could let George McPhee know that in NHL ’12 I traded Alexander Semin and Jeff Schultz for Ryan Getzlaf, our problems could be solved.  Clearly the Ducks will take a pending UFA and a guy that has been a healthy scratch for all of 2012 for their #1 center, right?  Too bad Brendan Morrison was just dealt to Chicago or else the Caps could mistakenly try him out as the second line center again.

Adam over at Kings of Leonsis recently mentioned Jeff Carter as a possible trade target.  An intriguing name that has some potential red flags but, without question, would put an end to a talk about the Caps lack of depth at center.  He also mentioned Derek Roy, who might make more sense from a fiscal perspective.

And with that, we begin the post All-Star break portion of the season.  Now, if George McPhee could just find a 2nd line center who protects the front of the net and is a great road player…

Seventy-three defensemen…

“Seventy-three defensemen were chosen ahead of Wideman in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Only three – Jay Bouwmeester (first defenseman chosen), Joni Pitkanen (second) and Duncan Keith (16th) – defensemen have scored more points than Wideman among those rearguards drafted that summer.”

via Dump ‘n’ Chase

Is Caps coach Dale Hunter looking to set a new tone for the “second half”?

The Washington Capitals today announced they’ve signed 24-year-old forward Joel Rechlicz and called him up from Hershey. According to the team’s press release, “Rechlicz, 24, has recorded one goal, one assist and 184 penalty minutes in 27 games with Hershey this season. He currently leads the AHL in penalty minutes.”

Could the signing of Rechlicz have something to do with the fact that the Caps are playing Steve Downie’s team tomorrow night? Downie was a bit of a pest the last time the Caps faced Tampa Bay and his fight with Karl Alzner seemed to spark his team. Perhaps Washington head coach Dale Hunter is looking for someone on his bench to use in a similar fashion against the Bolts and other upcoming opponents, or to at least keep guys like Downie from taking guys like Alzner off the ice for five minutes? As writer Ted Starkey pointed out, the Caps also face Montreal and Rene “I Elbowed Your #1 Center in the Head” Bourque on Saturday.

This call up of Rechlicz could set an interesting tone at the start of the “second half,” especially for a team that begins it with three games on the road, a place the Caps have struggled. Are we about to see some Hunter Hockey, as the Caps’ coach looks to establish his team in the stretch run as one that won’t back down and that might even proactively mix it up a bit more with opponents?

Three things to like about the “first half” for the Washington Capitals

The All-Star break, among many other things, allows fans take a look back on the season that has been while also looking forward to the “second half” of the season. For Caps fans this exercise seems to be producing a lot of anxiety. While this anxiety certainly can be justified, it is also important to be reminded that sometimes a healthy dose of perspective can go a long way. After all, on January 28th, 2009, just a few short months before winning the Stanley Cup, the Pittsburgh Penguins sat tied for 8th place in the Eastern Conference.

Given that, I wanted to take a balanced look at the team while avoiding doom and gloom but making sure to not paint too rosy of a picture either. I’ve broken this down into three things to like about the “first half” and three things that need to improve as the season moves forward. First are three things to like.

#1-Jason Chimera

Sure, he only has 1 goal in his past 15 games but if you told me at the start of the year that Jason Chimera would be tied for second on the team in goals after 48 games (and have the team lead for much of the first half) I’d either think Chimera was going to have a career year or I’d tell you that this team should be worried about its offensive output. Turns out that I don’t have to pick, they can both be true! Despite the recent drop off, Chimera is still on pace for 24 goals and 38 points, both of which would be career highs. He also finished with 4 shots in each of the two games before the break. Chimera seems to be taking the puck to the net with more confidence and authority this season, and with his size and speed, that makes him a tough guy to defend. As if Chimera’s offensive production didn’t give us enough to like about him, there was also this gem.

#2-Tomas Vokoun

There was plenty not to like about Vokoun’s play early on. And the soft goal he allowed on November 26th to Zack Kassian was a huge turning point in the game that turned out to be Bruce Boudreau’s last behind the bench for the Caps. But over the past month Vokoun has been the Caps best player. In the thirteen game span since coming on in relief of Michal Neuvirth on Decemeber 26th, Vokoun has posted a .931 save %. During that span he and the team have had a 4 game and a 3 game winning streak. When you imagine where this team may be without Vokoun over the past month, it starts to get scary. While his recent save % may be unsustainable, Vokoun has earned a lock on the #1 spot in net for the Caps at this point.

#3-Playing in the Southeast Division

Okay, so this is not something to like just about the first half, but in general. Sometimes I feel as if the mediocrity of the Southeast is exaggerated, but at this point you’d be hard pressed to find evidence to support that. The Caps are in first place in the Southeast with 55 points, 5 less than any other division leader in the NHL and 9 less than any other division leader in the Eastern Conference. Not a single team in the division is a positive in the goal differential department, an honor no other division can claim. The Caps are the only team even within the neighborhood of even in that department at -1. It may seem as if this is trying to shed a positive light on what should be an embarrassment for the 5 teams in the division but the bottom line is this benefits the Caps. We have a potentially easier way into the playoffs and we get to play 13 of our finals 34 games against our divisional “rivals”.

Given all that this team has been through in the first half (coaching change, injuries, lack of production from stars etc.) things could be A LOT worse. While there are legitimate concerns about this team moving forward, there are also plenty of reasons, including these three, to appreciate where this team is despite a tumultuous first half.

In my next post, I’ll look at three things I’m hoping to see improve as the season resumes.

That red Kool-Aid must be good

It can be argued that a suspension of three games is too harsh a punishment for the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin to be handed for his check on Zbynek Michalek of the Pittsburgh Penguins last week. But the hit was, without a doubt, illegal and worthy of discipline—one or maybe two games in this Caps fan’s opinion, with three feeling a bit excessive but not like absurdly too many.

My real disappointment with this situation though has less to do with the act itself—where Ovechkin made a bad decision in a split second (though he does need to be more conscious of keeping his skates on the ice when delivering a hit)—and more to do with the way Ovechkin and the Capitals organization, as well as some Caps fans, have handled things since.

Caps owner Ted Leonsis blogged that he does “not agree in any way with the suspension of Alex Ovechkin for 3 games.” I hope it’s only the length of the suspension that Leonsis takes issue with. His player’s feet left the ice and he launched himself into Michalek. A hit like that is against the rules, plain and simple. I ask Leonsis and any Caps fan who feels otherwise: “What would you be saying if someone had hurled their body into Mike Green that way?”

In speaking to reporters, Ovechkin said, “I don’t think it was bad hit, a dirty hit. Yeah, I jumped, but he don’t get hurt and I don’t get two minutes. I don’t think it was a three-game suspension.” So maybe Ovi feels three games is too many, but why can’t he admit he made a mistake and that it was, in fact, a bad hit? He may not have meant for it to be one, but he acted recklessly and it was.

As Adam Vingan wrote on Kings of Leonsis, “Ovechkin contradicted himself, saying that the hit was neither ‘bad’ nor ‘dirty,’ but admitting that he jumped into Michalek, which is both bad and dirty. To be blunt, if the hit was neither of those things, Ovechkin would not be sitting out until February 4.”

It would be nice to see Ovechkin take some ownership of what he did, like the victim of his hit did for an elbow he gave later in the same game. As Vingan points out in that same post, “Michalek, who did not receive any supplementary discipline for his elbow on Matt Hendricks, admitted his mistake and said that he deserved punishment for it.”

The fact that Michalek did not receive a suspension for his hit, while Ovechkin did, is what seems to have many Caps fan riled up. But, simply because one guy got handed a suspension and the other didn’t, should not prevent Ovechkin, team management and Caps fans from admitting his own hit was outside the rules and a suspension worthy offense.

And that brings us to the NHL All-Star Game, which Ovechkin has chosen to skip, saying “My heart is not there. I got suspended, so why I have to go there? I love the game, it’s a great event, I love to be there but I’m suspended. I don’t want to be a target. I feel I’m not deserving to be there right now. I got suspended, I have to be suspended, so that’s why I give up my roster [spot].”

In an open letter to Ovechkin, my brother used the analogy of a child being grounded. He wrote that “Being grounded does not excuse you from your chores,” with the All-Star Game being one of Ovi’s chores that he should continue to do, even if he may not want to (like back-checking consistently).

I choose to use a different, but slightly related analogy. I kind of see Ovechkin as the kid who is saying, “Fine, if we can’t play the games I want to play, then I’m not playing at all” and he’s packing up his toys and going home sulking.

Nick Kypreos said something similar: “Alex Ovechkin gets a three-game suspension so he’s taking his road hockey net and going home.” But Kypreos goes on to excuse Ovechkin for skipping the All-Star Game saying, “the league gave Ovechkin the wiggle room to take a pass and I believe he’s perfectly within his rights to take the weekend off.”

Ovi may be within his right to opt out of this year’s game but, as a Caps fan especially, I don’t like the decision he made. One commenter here on this blog said they “think it is great that he is taking a stand.” I think this move by Ovechkin actually makes him look more weak than strong.

When my son asks me why Ovechkin isn’t in the All-Star Game this weekend, I’ll probably tell him that only Ovechkin knows the answer to that, but that it appears he’s either trying to make a statement about being suspended, that he doesn’t want to face the consequences of his actions or he maybe didn’t want to be there in the first place, preferring to rest.

If it was a statement he wanted to make, Ovechkin should have sucked it up, put on his big boy skates and gone to the All-Star Game, being bigger than life in every opportunity he got and playing out of his mind, like the Ovechkin we’ve seen many times before.

When asked about his suspension by reporters during All Star Weekend, he could have taken ownership for what he did and then expressed disappointment that he got so many games. If he wished, he could have then spoken about how he would have liked to have seen Michalek suspended for his hit on Hendricks as well.

In other words, he could have handled it in a mature fashion. He could have handled it like a captain. He could have handled it like someone who represents a team and its fans. His current approach has him sounding like a dejected quitter and I’m at least one Caps fan who isn’t too proud to be associated with that.

Finally, as I read comments about the situation online, I’m wondering why so many Caps fans are quick to defend Ovi’s actions. It’s as if they have to stand with him on all or nothing and they’re choosing all. It sometimes seems as if there’s a fear among Caps fans that if they admit Ovechkin has done one thing wrong, the Ovechkin-naysayers of the world like Mike Milbury and Damien Cox will win.

I think we all need to put down the red Kool-Aid occasionally. This is one time when Ovechkin isn’t being the player and leader I think many of us would like to see him be.

An open letter to Alex Ovechkin

Dear Alex,

You are probably frustrated by the suspension the NHL handed you for your hit on Zbynek Michalek, and rightfully so. I knew as soon as I saw the hit that it’d draw the attention of the league but I never expected three games. The hit was a bit reckless but by no means did you target the head and Michalek wasn’t hurt on the play.  In fact, Michalek was feeling so good that he doled out a questionable hit of his own just a few minutes later, but I digress. I thought you’d maybe get one game and never imagined you’d get three. That being said, I think your decision to not attend the All-Star Game as a result of the suspension is shortsighted, selfish and spiteful.

Personally, I don’t buy your explanation that you didn’t want to be a distraction by attending the ASG. I think all along you preferred (like a lot of players) the three days off and the suspension gave you a great excuse to bail. I think it comes across as “Oh, you want to suspend me?  Fine, I’ll show you!” I get that. I have reacted in a similar fashion plenty of times. That doesn’t mean I think it’s the right reaction.

Say a child is grounded by his parents and that child decides in response to stop doing his chores around the house. Perhaps this is a reaction you’d expect from a child but, from an adult, it seems like a shortsighted and spiteful reaction. That child (or in this case, you) fails to realize that he/she benefits in countless ways from being a member of the family other than just the freedom granted when not grounded. The child has a place to live, food to eat, etc. This child has a life because of his/her family. The NHL is your family that has given you so much and the ASG is one of your chores. Being grounded does not excuse you from your chores.

You’re also either failing to realize or failing to care how many other people your decision affects. You’re one of the most recognizable faces in the league. Your energy is contagious. People are drawn to you and genuinely excited to see you play. Some of those people are fans and some of those people are sponsors (and some are both). All of these people are essential to you having the life you have. The ASG is generally considered THE showcase for these people to gather and marvel at your skill and personality. Now they don’t have that chance through no fault of their own. They don’t have that chance because you have let your current grudge from your suspension let you lose sight of the bigger picture here. And please, spare me on the whole bit that you are doing the league a favor. The league put you in the ASG, so let the league make the decision if you shouldn’t attend (and yes, I know they said they understood your decision. But you are still the one making a decision that is not really yours unless you are injured or notify the league in advance of being selected).

I’m not saying any of this to attack you or because I don’t like you. The truth is, I really do like you. I love watching you play. I’ll still be cheering and rooting for you. That being said, I have investments in you and the Capitals, both financial and emotional, and, for what it’s worth, I feel disappointed that you have handled this in such a childish manner. Enjoy your break. I’m looking forward to watching your return in Montreal.

Let’s Go Caps,
Patrick Holden

A new Washington Capitals blog

Washington Capitals forwards Brooks Laich(year) battles along the boards during the Caps November 11, 2011 game in New Jersey. (Photo: Mike Holden)

Starting this blog is something my brother Pat and I have been talking about for a little while.

I’ve been blogging about Caps hockey some on my personal blog and have wanted someplace to do that where the content is only Caps/hockey related. My brother has thoughts on the Caps all the time that would make for good blog material—I’m often telling him, “Start a blog” after he emails or calls me about something he saw during that night’s game.

So, we’ve started BrooksLaichyear.com as a place where we  can write about our favorite team and the sport of hockey in general.

If you are wondering about the name of this site, my hockey-crazy three-year-old son is under the impression that number 21 for the Caps and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story share the same last name: Laichyear. It cracked me up the first time he mentioned the name “Brooks Laichyear” while telling me a story about a Caps game. And Pat and I filed it away as what we’d name our Caps blog if we ever started one.

So, today we’re starting one. We hope you’ll jump in and comment on our posts. You can follow us on Twitter at @brookslaichyear as well. Thanks for stopping by to check this out.

To the playoffs…and beyond!

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