Monthly Archives: May 2012

Great block parties: 2012 Rangers-Devils isn’t 2010 Canadiens-Caps yet

Blocked shots quickly became a major storyline in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals as New York Rangers skaters opened the series by stopping 26 of the New Jersey Devils’ shot attempts in Game 1 before they could make it through to goalie Henrik Lundqvist (stat via ESPN.com). Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said about Lundqvist’s play, “I saw him [only] about 10 minutes of the game because there were so many Ranger players in front of him.” 

Anytime I see discussions about shot blocking, particularly in the playoffs, it sends me back to the 2010 first round series between Montreal and Washington, in which the eighth-seeded Canadiens knocked off the top-seeded Caps in seven games.  

Montreal blocked 182 shots in those seven games against the Caps, for an average of 26 per game. The 2010 Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals led the series 3-1 before the Canadiens came back to win three straight, with shot blocking playing perhaps the biggest role I’ve ever seen it play in a series.

As WashingtonCaps.com Senior Writer Mike Vogel wrote in 2010 following Game 7:

“Washington fired 94 shots to Montreal’s 38 in Game 7. Only 42 of Washington’s shots were on goal; the Canadiens blocked a whopping 41, which was more than Montreal teed up on the entire night. The Caps also missed 11 shots. In the final three games of the series, the Habs blocked 83 shots. The Canadiens had just 66 shots on goal of their own in the same three games.”

94 shots by the Caps in that Game 7! That includes 41 that never made it to goaltender Jaroslav Halák because a Montreal player got in the way first. That still blows my mind.

26 blocks in Game 1 against the Devils is something the Rangers—who then had 16 blocks in Game 2—can be proud of. But the 2010 first round shot blocking performance by Montreal against the Caps, particularly the 41 in Game 7, still might be the best block party ever.

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What should the Caps do with free agent Alex Semin?

Of the six players on the Caps roster that are set to become unrestricted free agents, none has garnered as much attention so far as Alex Semin.  Recently on Twitter, we asked what people thought the Caps should offer Semin or how they should replace him if he signs elsewhere.  Here are some of the responses:

Semin’s agent has already said that his client won’t accept a one year contract this time around.  He has also said a lot of other things that I chalk up to posturing, that his client didn’t exactly support when asked about the comments.

Russia forward Alexander Semin lines up for a ...

Russia forward Alexander Semin lines up for a faceoff against Slovakia during the 2010 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neil Greenberg wrote a great piece on Semin’s value, in which he advocated bringing  Semin back on a 1 or 2 year deal for about $6 million per season.  There was also a great FanPost on Japers Rink that took a look at Semin’s value using some fancy charts.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself when talking about Semin’s value when so many Caps fans seem opposed to even bringing him back.  I don’t want to rehash what we’ve already spent plenty of time on in previous posts, but perhaps you should reevaluate your opinion of Semin if you think he’s lazy and should not be brought back under any circumstance.  I also think anyone who opposes bringing back Semin needs to propose how we replace him.  This team needs more top-6 forwards, not less, and if Semin walks then the holes in the top-6 become even more glaring.

If the Caps don’t re-sign Semin, the decision better be part of a larger overhaul set to take place this summer.  Letting Semin walk and taking a business-as-usual approach to the rest of the off-season will result in a team with even deeper flaws than the one we watched over the past season.

Given that I’m not George McPhee, I don’t have the benefit of knowing what options are available to the Caps if they decide to go with a larger overhaul this off-season.  That being said, I don’t see a better option out there than bringing Semin back if the contract makes sense.  I’d absolutely not go any longer than a four year term, and I’d be much more comfortable with a two or three year deal.  In terms of dollars, I wouldn’t go over $6 million per year under any circumstance, and would be much more comfortable with a cap hit in the $5-$5.5 million range.  Unless a major overhaul takes place, specifically to the Caps top-6 forwards, I don’t see how this team gets more competitive by letting Semin walk away.

It’s over for the 2011-12 Caps, but these playoffs felt different

Just over two months ago, with less than twenty games remaining in the Washington Capitals regular season, I wrote the following as part of a post on how the struggling team was complaining about signs that fans were holding up before a game:

I’ve rooted for a lot of losing teams in my life; it’s really not hard to do. I’m not a fair weather fan, even when my teams are on a losing streak. But when a team doesn’t seem to care for stretches at a time or when they look deflated, uninspired and plain defeated, they’re not always a lot of fun to pull for…

See yourself, one solid shift at a time, winning the game being played on the ice, Caps, not what some fan is holding up to the glass surrounding it. Your season, and many fans’ patience, might be gone soon if you don’t.

A statue, located outside Rexall Place in Edmo...

A statue, located outside Rexall Place in Edmonton, honouring Wayne Gretzky. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to believe that the Caps team that just eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champions and then took the Eastern Conference’s top seed to seven games is the same group that seemed so far from focused just a short time ago. But focused is exactly what this team appeared to be during much of its 2011-12 playoff run.

Though their eventual Game 7 elimination by the New York Rangers was disappointing, like most any playoff exit is, and contained examples of improvement still being needed—such as an ugly third period power play or the inability of the team’s star players to perform at the level required to win the game—it’s hard to be upset with the Caps’ overall post-season performance, particularly given where they were in March. Perhaps more importantly, these playoffs signaled that the Caps of the Ovechkin era may be capable of playing the type of dedicated hockey often seen from teams that make deep playoff runs.

As Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post wrote in his post-series column:

In the past, what Washington often lacked was much more than a goal. It was a combination of qualities that command respect in the NHL and which Hunter, of course, calls character. He might as well say “pain in pursuit of progress,” because everything he demands hurts in one way or another.

Whether a Capitals player must throw his body in front of slap shots, bang on the boards, focus on defense first or sacrifice minutes so the right players, by skill-set, not star reputation, can be on the ice at the proper times — there is always an element of sacrifice…

Sacrifice. Dedication. Grit. Leaving it all on the ice. These are not terms that have been used often to describe the Caps playoff teams of the past few seasons. Yet even NBC Sports commentators were complimenting players like Ovechkin for blocking shots and buying into Dale Hunter’s system at times this post-season (it’s critical that Ovi still improve his two-way game more than any player on the team, but that’s perhaps a topic for another day).

Did this Caps team blow an opportunity in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead? Absolutely. But they bounced back and won the next game, like they did every time they needed to during these playoffs. Every game was close for the Caps, against both Boston and New York. All but one game during their entire fourteen game run was decided by one goal.

This year’s performance was far beyond last year’s second round loss in four straight to Tampa Bay, the blown 3-1 series lead against Montreal the year before or the 6-2 Game 7 loss to the Penguins in 2008-09 for which the Capitals didn’t seem to be in the building. As I’ve written before, “Not since the 2007-08 playoff loss in seven games to the Flyers has it appeared as if the team left it all out on the ice as they were eliminated.” That changed this post-season.

This year’s team seemed to grasp the fact that talent alone isn’t enough to win in the playoffs. These Caps were playing as if they now better understand the concept Wayne Gretzky wrote about in his autobiography, when he described the scene as he and fellow Edmonton Oiler Kevin Lowe left the building after losing the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals to the New York Islanders:

“We both knew we were going to have to walk by the Islander locker room, and we were dreading it: having to see all the happy faces, the champagne shampoos, the girlfriends’ kisses, the whole scene we wanted so much.  But as we walked by, we didn’t see any of that. The girlfriends and the coaches and the staff people were living it up, but the players weren’t. Trottier was icing what looked like a painful knee. Potvin was getting stuff rubbed on his shoulder. Guys were limping around with black eyes and bloody mouths. It looked more like a morgue than a champion’s locker room.  And here we were perfectly fine and healthy. That’s why they won and we lost. They took more punishment than we did. They dove into more boards, stuck their faces in front of more pucks, threw their bodies into more pileups. They sacrificed everything they had.  And that’s when Kevin said something I’ll never forget. He said, ‘That’s how you win championships.’”

Washington players have taken some bumps and bruises in the playoffs the past few years, but quite often it was the Caps who were having their shots blocked or who were being beaten to pucks by guys that seemed to want it just a little bit more. While it was the Rangers who rose to the occasion and seized the opportunity before them in Game 7 Saturday, the Caps put together a playoff run that shows they may finally be on their way toward getting it.

BrooksLaichyear on ABC 7: “Washington Capitals fans stay optimistic after rough loss”

Thanks to ABC 7 ‘s Suzanne Kennedy for including me in this segment on tonight’s news:

…and check out her article online too:
Washington Capitals fans stay optimistic after rough loss

Find BrooksLaichyear on Facebook and Twitter too

You can also us on Facebook at facebook.com/brookslaichyear and on Twitter at @brookslaichyear, where we often post during Caps games.

HBO: Please #FreeKnuble and the rest of the unaired 24/7 footage

There’s quite a bit of material filmed for HBO’s 24/7 hockey series that never makes the show. For example, as mentioned below by Dmitry Chesnokov and Nate Ewell, footage on Washington Capitals players Alex Semin and Mike Knuble went unused.

Let this be my plea to HBO to release some of this footage. If it’s not shown on the network, it could made available online, through an additional DVD or they could cut a deal with someone like the NHL Network to air it. I know I’m not the only hockey fan who enjoys 24/7 and would like to check out more.

‘Good Canadian boy’ pixels (Attention: Don Cherry, CBC Television)

Throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, fans have been seen in TV shots flipping opposing players the bird after a goal. But it’s rare that you see the players fire one back, which is what it appears Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers are doing here to this fan in Washington after last night’s three-overtime victory.

I wonder if hockey commentator Don Cherry will label Girardi and Del Zotto, both from Ontario, ‘good Canadian boys’ or criticize this behavior as “goofy stuff” like he did when Alex Ovechkin did such highly offensive things as excitedly jumping into the glass to celebrate goals. We’ll wait to hear from Cherry on this.

Dale Hunter’s reaction to penalty call in OT on Alexander Semin

Dale Hunter’s reaction to the penalty call on Alexander Semin in the first overtime was classic!

A few tweets and thoughts on Alex Ovechkin’s ice time

This is going to be a quick post, with a few tweets and thoughts on what seems to be the sports story of the day in DC and beyond: Alex Ovechkin’s ice time in Game 2 versus the New York Rangers last night.

A few of mine from this morning…

One from Mike Vogel after the game last night…

And a couple of mine from after the game…

One way to look at this: it often feels good when you don’t need to go to your closer to win a baseball game, knowing he’ll then be better rested the next time you need him. If the Caps get involved in another long series or make a deep playoff run, keeping your players from getting too banged up is usually a good thing.

See the chart at the bottom of this article from The Globe and Mail for a look at Ovechkin’s minutes for every playoff game he’s played:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/globe-on-hockey/alex-ovechkin-the-role-player/article2418893/

Ovechkin’s ice time last night is an interesting story, but I don’t see it as an issue right now.

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