Tag Archives : Hockey


Playing With The Lead

Ovechkin Celebrates the Capitals' First Goal in Game 5

Ovechkin Celebrates the Capitals' First Goal in Game 5

Obviously, the Capitals win Saturday was huge. It put them through to the second round for only the second time since their trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. It was also the first playoff series in the Ovechkin/Boudreau era to be settled without having to go the full seven games. The Capitals have played four seven-game playoff series in the past three years. It’ll be nice for the Caps to have the extra time off to rest and heal for a change.

As we wait to see who the Capitals will face in the Conference Semifinals, I want to highlight what I think is a huge change from series from the past three years: The Capitals went 3-1 against the Rangers when they held the series lead. Over the four series in 2008-2010, the Capitals went 2-5 in games where they held the series lead. That’s pretty bad. It gets even worse when you realize that both of those wins came early in their respective series. The Caps won game #2 against the Penguins in ’09 to take a 2-0 series lead. Last year, they won game #3 against the Canadiens to take a 3-1 series lead. In both of those series, the Capitals proceeded to lose the next three games. They eventually lost both series.

So when the Caps lost game 3 and we’re down 3-0 at the start of the 3rd period in game 4, it certainly seemed as if the Capitals we’re going to choke away another series lead like they had the past two years. Instead, they came out for the third period and played like their backs were against the wall. And while the Capitals’ have sucked at defending a series lead, they have played very well well when facing elimination – 6-3 to be exact in the past three years.

If the new-and-improved Caps can combine their traditional talent of playing from behind in the series with the ability to drive nails into coffins win games when they have the series lead, the Capitals will be a very hard team to beat this year.


Shocker at Staples

My passion for the Washington Capitals is well documented. What you don’t know is that I was actually a Los Angeles Kings fan before I was a Capitals fan.

I wasn’t into hockey growing up, but I caught hockey fever when I was going to college in southern California. That was the Gretzky era  – he led them to the Stanley Cup finals the year after I graduated from USC – and the Kings were the hottest ticket in town. But that era faded with the 1994 lockout, bankruptcy, trading Gretzky to the Blues in 1996 and missing the playoffs four years in a row. But unlike most of my then-fellow Angelenos, I stayed on the Kings bandwagon.

In 1998, the Kings finally made it back to the playoffs, facing the St. Louis Blues (Gretzky had moved on to the Rangers by then). The Kings had lost the first two games in St. Louis, but held a 3-0 lead in the 3rd period of Game #3. Then this happened:

In a game that will be talked about for years to come, the Kings saw a 3-0 lead wiped out by four St. Louis power-play goals within a 3:07 span after defenseman Sean O’Donnell received a fighting major for beating down the Blues’ Geoff Courtnall, who had knocked down goaltender Jamie Storr.

Pascal Rheaume, Brett Hull and Pierre Turgeon scored goals to tie the score and then Terry Yake knocked in the game-winner as the Blues rallied for a 4-3 victory Monday night to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series before a sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Great Western Forum.

Meltdown on Manchester
Los Angeles Times, April 28 1998

I was one of those 16,005. It was the ugliest feeling I have ever had walking out of a hockey game.

I imagine the fans at the Staples Center last night are familiar with it.

"I’ve never seen anything like it," defenseman Matt Greene said after the Kings squandered a 4-0 lead and gave up a season-high five goals in the second period.

San Jose winger Devin Setoguchi finished off a three-on-two break with a deadly wrist shot past Jonathan Quick 3 minutes and 9 seconds into sudden-death play, stunning a Staples Center crowd that had been taken for a long and wild ride all night. What seemed like a chance for the Kings to take control of the series instead became a potentially devastating defeat that left the Sharks leading the first-round series two games to one with Game 4 scheduled for Staples Center on Thursday.

Kings turn four-goal lead into 6-5 overtime loss to Sharks in Game 3 
Los Angeles Times, April 20 2011

I watched the 2nd period last night at first with jubilation (Kings go up 4-0 less than a minute into the period), then slight concern (Sharks finally get on the board), then increasing concern (Sharks close the game to 4-3), then relief (Kings score :15 seconds later to make it 5-3) and finally horror (Sharks score twice in the last :90 seconds to tie the game 5-5).

I couldn’t watch any more after that. I saw that it had gone to overtime, but I didn’t know who won until I looked it up online this morning.

Frozen Royalty calls it the “Flop on Figueroa”. Purple Crushed Velvet has a broken heart. Hockeywood calls it an “epic meltdown” but then suggests Kings fans need to “Keep Calm and Carry On” because “One game a playoff series does not make”.

Technically, that’s true – the Kings are only down 2-1 and have shown they can win in San Jose. But with momentum shift of blowing a 4 goal lead, I don’t see how the Kings win this series. I’d like to be wrong, but I don’t see how they win another game this year, much less the series.


Avalanche 4, Caps 1

“We had nothing; we were horrible out there,” Boudreau snapped. “Everybody had their bad game at the same time. You win a lot of games in a row, you’re going to have a stinker. Today was it.”
Capitals Insider

Boy, it’s much more fun to write a Caps wrapup when they win.

Honestly, the less said about this game, the better. I said at both intermissions that the Caps were lucky to be tied/down by only one, and the third period proved me right. Honestly, if I didn’t know the players and the teams, I wouldn’t have been able to tell which team was #2 in the East and which team was #15 in the West.

The only good things I can say about this game are:

  1. Perfect on the penalty kill, including 43 seconds of 5-on-3
  2. Backstrom’s goal was nice
  3. Much better on faceoffs – as a team, we won 60% of them. Only Nylander was below 50%. Steckel won 9 of 10
  4. Err, did I mention the Caps were perfect on the PK?

Japers pointed out that “the frequency with which these “efforts” are happening that is more than a little disconcerting.” After last night’s effort plus the 3rd period effort against Montreal, “more than a little disconcerting” is spot on.

Next up, Caps play the Penguins tomorrow. The Pens just beat the Flyers 5-4. I didn’t see the whole game but Biron totally botched the play that lead to the Pens game winning goal. So we have the Pens riding a big win and the Caps coming off a lackluster performance on national TV. Should be interesting to say the least. Unfortunately, I’ve got a morning flight home to Seattle tomorrow, so I’m going to miss it.


Caps 4, Canadians 3 (SO)

I don’t get the chance to see many Caps games, being as I live over 2000 miles away from Washington D.C. I got to see them tonight live and in person for the first time in like four years, and it was awesome. Awesome to be there that is, even if the Caps were less than awesome in the third period. Frankly, I think the Caps were lucky to get one, much less two points in this game.

But before I talk about bad, let’s start with the amazing. Ovechkin’s goal was the most amazing a goal I’ve ever seen live. He leaves Hamrlik in the dust by banking the puck off the boards to himself while he does a 180 to reverse direction. Then he gets knocked down by Chipchura but still manages to slide the puck into the net under Price while lying on his side on the ice before Chipchura’s momentum knocks the net off it’s moorings. You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Crosby Sucks Caps JerseyHonestly, I think this is even better than “The Goal” from Ovechkin’s rookie season. The goal itself maybe wasn’t quite as amazing, but the bank pass to himself while reversing direction that set up the goal was literally jaw-dropping. That with the knocked down goal in succession was truly a work of art. They showed it about a dozen times on the jumbo-tron, several times on the NHL network highlight show and I’ve watched the embedded video maybe a dozen times while writing this post. Anyone who thinks Ovechkin isn’t the best player in the league is frakking crazy.

Backstom’s give and go with Federov for the second goal wasn’t bad either.

But here’s the stat of the game that should give Caps fans nightmares: All three of Montreal’s goals came on the powerplay. Caps did fairly well in the penalty taking department – only taking four penalties on the night. But going 25% on the penalty kill? There’s no way to spin how ugly that is. To add insult to injury, two of the three goals came less than ten seconds into the penalty – Montreal scored before the Caps could even get their kill set up. Ugh. The first was had two Caps getting tied up in the faceoff circle, leaving Higgins open to score. The second I think went off Erskine’s stick and over Theodore. And the third looked like one Theodore should have had.

The third period, the Caps looked totally flat until Steckel’s nice tip in to tie the game. They didn’t seem to be winning any one-on-one battles for the puck. I know the Caps have talent to spare, but they need to win on the boards if they’re going to win on the scoreboard. They picked it up for the last three minutes of the third and Overtime (except for very scary giveaway by I think Nylander near the end of OT that the Habs couldn’t capitalize on).

Giveaways were a problem – Caps had 12 to Montreal’s 6 – and Backstrom got slapped around in the faceoff circle, winning only 6 of 18. Nylander had a bad night on the dot, going 2 of 8. On the plus side, Caps had 17 takeaways to Montreal’s 7 and Gordon, Steckel and Laich and Federov all were over 50% on the faceoffs (team as a whole won 27 of 58, or 47%.)

As I said, I don’t get to see the Caps often, but I hear they aren’t that good in the shootout, which is kinda surprising given the surplus of offensive talent on the team. They were 2-3 in the shootout going into tonight, while the Habs were 7-4. But the Caps were perfect, Semin and Backstrom scoring while Theodore stoned Plekanec and Markov.

In the end, it’s two points which puts us a full game up on the Devils for 2nd in the East and seven games up on Florida who’s technically chasing us for the SouthEast division crown. Not quite in the bag, but making up that much ground in the 24 games remaining is pretty daunting. The Caps trail Boston by four and a half games for the top seed in the east, which is also a daunting task given the amount of season remaining. I’d love to be in first, but I’m pretty happy with where the Caps are right now – except maybe for the PK.


Caps’ Season Ends

I should be mad. Angry. Furious even.

The Capitals season ended tonight in large part due to what I think was a horrific non call in the second period. The on-air commentators were stunned that the officials allowed the goal after the Flyers Patrick Toresen took Caps’ goaltender Huet out of the play by body checking Shaone Morrison into him. Sami Kapanen had the whole net to shoot at and didn’t miss. The NHL quickly trotted out an excuse justification for the call, but what else are they going to say. “Yep, the officials blew the call. It only decided game 7, no big deal”?

As I said, I should be pretty upset. Especially after what sounded like a poorly called game four (no comment from me – I didn’t see the game).

However, I can’t help but think back to the last Friday in November when the Caps had the worst record in the league @ 6-14-1 and had just promoted their minor league affiliate’s coach to the big leagues. If you had told me then – almost exactly five months ago – that the Caps would go 37-17-7 over the remaining 3/4ths of the season, win the division in their last game and take battle back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a game seven, I would have wondered what you were smoking.

This season has been a gift for Caps fans and I’ve relished the few games I’ve gotten to see, even the one that sent us home.

Furthermore, even though they lost, these playoffs are a promise of future success. I tell my kids all the time that the only way to get good at something is to work hard while you’re bad at it. Playoff hockey is no different. Most of the Caps had little or no playoff experience going into this series and it really showed thru the first three games. But they kept at it and played much better over the last four games of the series. They went 2-2 in those games, but the two losses went to overtime. A little more luck (or better officiating) and the Caps are headed to Pittsburgh instead of the golf course. 

Speaking of Pittsburgh, look back at the Penguin’s performance in the playoffs last year. Like the Caps, Pittsburgh is loaded with young talent that were thin on playoff experience. Also like the Caps, they went home after the first round. However, unlike the Caps, they only managed one win against an Ottawa team they had beaten three times down the stretch in the regular season. Furthermore, when facing elimination, the Penguins laid a goose egg. However, as much as I hate to complement the Penguins, things are very different this year. Here’s hoping the early playoff exit has a similar effect on the Caps.

Bumping around my music collection for a song that captured my mood, I came across Getting Better from Tesla’s debut album.

All that rain, outside my window
But I’ll live on I know
Its gettin’ better every day
Soon the sun will shine, through my window
When it’s gonna come
You know I really, couldn’t say
But I know, it’s gettin’ better every day

Swapping “season” for “day” kills the rhythm and rhyme, but it captures how I feel.

Thank you Washington Capitals for a great season. I look forward to many more to come.

Thank you Bruce Boudreau for jumping in the deep end unafraid and turning this season around.

Thanks you Washington fans for turning out in such force. Who would have thought the Verizon Center would be considered “most electric arena“?

Finally, thank you to Ted Leonsis for enduring the criticism, for turning Washington DC into a hockey town and for ensuring I’ll be able to wear my #8 Ovechkin jersey until my kids are in high school.