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Looking back on Winnipeg, looking forward to Chicago

There was a lot of talk after the Caps 3-2 loss in Winnipeg last night about a possible suspension for a Jets player and a stick-holding incident, but there were a couple of things that bothered me more than either of these because they were within the Caps control:

  • Why was Troy Brouwer sent out to take the offensive zone faceoff at the start of the Caps PP with 2:22 remaining in the game and the Caps down a goal?  The Caps lost the draw and the puck was cleared, ticking off the first 20 seconds or so of a PP with the game on the line.  One reason for this, directly or indirectly, is the decision to scratch Jeff Halpern. It’s doubtful that Halpern, who is one of the top faceoff men in the league, would have been out because of the PP and the need for a late goal.  However,  him not being in the lineup pushes everyone up a spot on the faceoff depth chart that led to a winger, who took one other faceoff the entire game, on the dot at a crucial time in the game.  Mathieu Perreault was also on the ice, and may have been tossed out before the CSN camera panned to the dot, but the fact that Brouwer was even put in that spot, whether being first or second choice, is questionable coaching.
  • The Caps were rightfully upset with Mark Stuart for his high and late hit on Marcus Johansson in the 1st period.  Unfortunately, we only came to find out after the game that the Caps were upset, since there was absolutely no visible response from the Caps during the game.  Is this team aware that you don’t have to wait for a player to be traded to Montreal in order to respond to a dirty play on a teammate?  The Caps and Jets meet again next Friday and there may be a response then, but why didn’t that happen last night? That’s the kind of hit where I’m okay with a Caps player immediately charging at Stuart and risk giving the Jets a five minute PP.
  • Let’s be totally clear about this, Caps fans:  “Crosby Sucks!” is not an appropriate chant on Friday when the Jets visit DC.  I’ll be at the game and will personally remove anyone from the arena who participates in this.

Overall, I’m still upbeat about the Caps chances of making the playoffs.  There is plenty to like about the way the Caps have played in this most recent stretch of games.  Additionally, Nicklas Backstrom has been skating and ramping up his workouts.  While no return date has even been discussed yet, this is significant progress for the Caps number one pivot.

The Caps now look forward to the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday night.  Almost two years ago to the day, on a Sunday in Chicago, Backstrom provided the Caps with a thrilling overtime goal to end a game that is one my favorite post-lockout Caps memories.

Ward is the Hurricanes’ only true star?

Before tonight’s Caps game against the Carolina Hurricanes starts, let’s try to remember that Cam Ward is their only true star. Wait…what??? I don’t agree with that, but it’s what Washington Post columnist Jason Reid wrote in a recent column:

“A 5-0 loss against Carolina on Monday was the low point of the season — the Capitals at least hope it doesn’t get any worse. Carolina is last in the East. Goalie Cam Ward is the Hurricanes’ only true star — and he sat out because of an injury.”

Something tells me that Carolina Hurricanes fans would disagree with that statement. In fact, most anyone following the Caps and their Southeast Division opponents on a regular basis or any big hockey fan would likely say that Ward isn’t the only “true star” on the Hurricanes.

For starters, Carolina’s captain Eric Staal is a two-time 40 goal scorer and an Olympic gold medalist. He captained an NHL All Star team last season called “Team Staal.” He has scored 245 NHL goals over the course of eight seasons with the Hurricanes. Staal also racked up two goals and an assist in that 5-0 game against the Caps that Reid referenced in that column.

Jeff Skinner, who scored over 30 goals last season and was named NHL Rookie of the Year, is another example of a Hurricanes player that would be viewed as a star in many people’s eyes. Maybe he’s too new to be considered a “true star,” but the media was all over that guy last season and it hard not to hear about him if you were following the sport—he had a goal that game against the Caps too.

I’m not sure what Reid meant when he typed that about Ward and the Hurricanes, but it strikes me as another example of a Post sports columnist somewhat out of touch with hockey, yet writing about the sport. I’m not sure where the sports editor was on this one either.

Most important Caps home game since…

Masisak tweet

NHL writer/editor and former Washington Times Caps beat reporter Corey Masisak asked on Twitter, referencing tonight’s home game against the Southeast division-leading Florida Panthers, “…pretty much the most important regular-season #Caps game at Verizon Center since the end of the 07-08 season, no?”

Agree or disagree? Use the comments below or reply on Twitter.

And you can check out Corey Masisak’s hockey writing at NHL.com.

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.

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