The Prodigious Son

I mentioned, earlier, that I was reading The Son of Neptune during the last Caps game.

I never got around to writing up much of a review on its predecessor in the series, and nothing at all that made it out of my notes. To sum up my thoughts, I liked the three main characters quite a bit and I liked the idea as well.

What I found interesting was contrasting the Greek gods versus the Roman ones, because I'd always thought of them as interchangeable. I still haven't gone back to any of my greek mythology books, to see whether that perception of mine was due to the books I read, or my misreading of those books, or whether Riordan just made up those differences.

One thing that struck me about the Percy Jackson books is that most of them comprise a mostly-identical retelling of the labors of Hercules. It didn't jump out at me that that was being done in the first book (nor in the second, come to that), but I suspect that the rest of the series will end up being much the same as Jason and the Argonauts. I should really re-read that legend before starting on the third book. (And I originally saw Jason as being in charge of the Argo II, but this one made me wonder if that will, indeed, be the case. Thinking about it, wasn't Hercules part of the crew of the original? Something to think on.)

So, what was good about Son of Neptune? Again, the three main characters are quite compelling. They each have their strengths and weaknesses (although Frank's stated clumsiness is never backed up by clumsy action, it occurs to me now), and they make a good team.

The Roman camp is interesting, and mostly well done. Them having an aqueduct didn't make much sense, given the lake right there, but that was a fairly minor thing. The camp part of it was good, as that fit well with Roman legions.

I also liked that the 'son of Neptune' who would take away Hazel's curse is actually a horse. That was very cute, and well done.

What didn't I like? There were a couple of minor consistency issues (three times I felt like there was a reference back to something that hadn't actually been mentioned, although I didn't check any of the three). There might have been another, more significant one, too, now that I think about it. I believe it was all giants that could only be killed by a god and a demigod working together, and that was only true of one of the two, here (although that one was really funny). SPQR showed up (inevitably) in both books, with slightly different spellings in each (the SPQ part was the same in both, Senatus PopulusQue, which is correct. But the R was Romani in the first and Romanus in the second. The fact that they are different is interesting, but the correct is Romanorum, so both are wrong. The fact that I know that tells you that I saw part of what was going on very early on in the first book). Also, the idea that people would set out to accomplish something with no prospect of being able to finish it kind of bugged me (they had an ill-defined goal taking place somewhere in an area of several million square miles with no way to get there or back). And they didn't seem especially concerned about this prospect (the large area part of it was shown, later, that they knew that, but if they did, they should have showed that concern much more readily at the beginning. So showing it came out as... less than genuine, I guess).

Expanding on that idea, Mars "prophecy" that set them on their quest was done in a way that I found very funny, but it didn't make a whole lot of sense. Him giving them something to go on, some way to make the quest seem possible, would have been a lot better.

The last thing I don't think I liked is that the victory at the end of the second book is too complete, too pat. I'm not sure why that bothers me, as it generally doesn't, but I think it's mostly that I expected more in the way of sacrifice. There was too much talk of that being important, and too little of it actually happening.

But I definitely enjoyed both books, and am even tempted to re-read them (perhaps along with the Percy Jackson series) to see how things tie together (mostly, to see if there are some things I missed, as I expect that there are).


I watched the Washington/Vancouver game on Saturday, not feeling real great about it. And the game didn't leave me feeling like that was unwarranted. It started out with the Caps getting dominated solidly for quite a while. They were spending way too much time being hemmed in at their own end of the ice, and not nearly enough attacking. When they were able to attack, they weren't able to sustain it for any length of time.

The first period ended with them down 3-1, and that's about how it felt. The shots were 17-10, I believe, and it definitely didn't feel that close. The first goal was a really bad misplay of the puck by Vokoun, where he went to play the puck behind the net and didn't do it well (I really wish he weren't so ambitious; this is the first time it's really bit him in the butt, but it has worried me regularly). The other two goals, IIRC, were both on the power play, as the Caps couldn't seem to do much to slow down that power play unit.

The second period went much more the Caps way. The Caps didn't dominate it like Vancouver had the first period, but they did manage the opposite goal differential, leading to a tie by the end of the period. And, perhaps most importantly, they weren't dominated again. I didn't see the shots for the period, but I believe they went pretty well in the Caps favor.

The third period did not go well at all. I think it was closer, in terms of balance of play, than the first period, but the goals were even more lopsided, with Vancouver getting all three. I turned off the TV in disgust when the third goal went in. I must admit to not remembering too much, specifically; I guess I was putting more effort than I thought into reading The Son of Neptune.

One thing about the game that was a little weird was that Boudreau tried to shake things up a bit by replacing Vokoun after the first period. I don't have too much feeling about whether that was a good idea or not; I thought Neuvy was only ok, but TVo hadn't been great either. I would have been happy if Neuvy had started the game in net; TVo is a workhorse, but he still needs the odd break. And that was the eighth in a row for TVo.

Other than that, I thought the power play looked decent, and the penalty kill didn't. The good part was that the effort was definitely there. The first line regularly looked like a wrecking crew (as they should), in particular. The fourth line didn't, although I still thought Perreault did a good job. I was a bit irked, though, that Boudreau felt the need to tinker, again, and started mixing up the lines in the middle of the game. I was particularly irked at the first and third lines being played with. The former was looking great, and the latter has been doing well all season. I know that's Bruce's MO, but I was hoping that he might be getting past that (finally). False hope, it seems.

Other than that, I thought MarJo and Knuble both looked good (although I must admit to not having a good feeling about Knuble facing Luongo; it was a pleasant surprise when that one trickled into the net). But that's basically where the good news ends.

I'm hoping that, tomorrow night, Bruce gets back to just rolling all four lines, and doesn't tinker as much with the combinations. We'll see. And I'd like to see the start of another winning streak. Duh.

Plumbing the Oil depths

Last night's [I wrote this Friday] Caps game against the Oilers didn't start out so great. My DVR wasn't recording, but, luckily, I was only a few minutes late turning it on. So when I finally got the game (the box was having some trouble that extended the time a couple more minutes) on, things were turning up. Alzner, of all people, scored less than a minute later. And things continued to look pretty good for the rest of the period, with the Caps getting quite a lot more chances.

Some of the penalty calling was a bit suspect, with some really ticky-tack Caps penalties getting called, while more blatant ones for the Oil were ignored. And a blatant tripping call on the Oil was nullified by a call for diving.

In the second period, things really went off the rails, as many more questionable calls went against the Caps (hitting a puck out of the air, and into the stands, was called Delay of Game, rather than just being considered a deflection? Never seen that one before. Calling slashing on a weak shot that (apparently; the player dropped it but there was no visible damage when it was laying on the ice) broke a stick. That one wouldn't bother me as much if they had made the same call in the third when OV's [I remembered it as OV, others have said it was Backstrom; I am not sure] stick was broken. Calling hooking when Alzner tied up the stick of a forward? It might, technically, be true, but that's another one I've never seen called. It does happen EVERY game (it's kind of like calling palming in basketball). No goalie interference when two Oilers forwards tripped each other, one falling on top of Vokoun and the other across the crease? Actually, that one was even worse, because the ref was right there, and when Vokoun complained, he seemed to be mocked for thinking that that might be a penalty. And there were several elbows to the head and crosschecks by the Oil that were ignored.

It was incredibly frustrating, and again led to multiple 5-on-3 disadvantages. Unsurprisingly, the Oil got two goals on all those power plays. Frankly, I thought the PK (and Vokoun, of course) was doing a great job to keep the game so close.

And, outside of those power plays, the Caps were absolutely dominating the game. They were just destroying Edmonton on possession, and in keeping play in the offensive zone.

It was just so frustrating to see them getting so little chance to play.

Coming into the third, the Caps really turned on the afterburners. It really took a Herculean effort by Khabibulin to keep the Caps out of the net. An Oiler analysis had the Caps advantage 10-2 on scoring chances in the third.

But the Bulin wall was in full effect; he looked fantastic out there. As I said, he kept the Caps off the scoresheet, somehow.

So the game was very frustrating, but perhaps balances out the Pittsburgh game, where the Caps didn't deserve their victory.

In any event, the Oilers definitely have an incredibly fast and talented team. The Caps definitely weren't used to seeing such speed rushing at them. The defense seemed to be continuously getting surprised by that on the rush. And the first goal for the Oil was a very pretty, tic-tac-toe to an open shot. Kudos to them for that.

So we've got a day off before we visit the Canuck-leheads in Vancouver. That should be quite the challenge, despite the Canucks not doing so great so far (or so I've heard). I don't think they'll have any trouble with motivation in facing the Caps. And we'll hope that the Caps feel more hungry after the disappointing result last night.

From a "liberal" rag

Yesterday's Social Security article in the Washington Post is really torquing me. It isn't false, but the premise of the article is misleading, at best. It's kind of funny, in a way, because WaPo is frequently painted as a bastion of unabashed liberalism, but this article was all in service to the conservative agenda of cutting Social Security.

The truth: Social Security is in the red, has been for the last couple of years, and will be for, probably, a couple more years. It is also true that it going into the red is due to the recession. And Social Security, without changes, will cause serious budgetary problems in a bit more than 25 years. Of course, Medicare/Medicaid will cause much more serious problems well before then.

Anyway, to get back to the issue at hand, the premise of the article is that Social Security benefits must be cut in order to put the budget back in balance, and the AARP is making that politically impossible.

Why that is misleading: the reason that the recession pushed SS into the red is that too many older people lost their jobs unexpectedly, and started collecting benefits earlier than they would have. Now, because they are collecting earlier, their monthly benefit is smaller. Because of this, over the long term, they will collect the same amount of benefits (on average, at least). So, while it is causing some short-term pain, the change will add just as much back over the lifespan of those who retired early.

I must admit that I shouldn't, but I expect better from the Washington Post.

But yet another example of why "the liberal media" is a myth (perhaps with some factual basis in the past; I'm not sure, but it certainly is not true now, when all the media is owned by very large corporations).


More English

My wife and I were also able to make it out to see Johnny English, Reborn on Friday night. I wasn't too sure what to expect, beyond it being a spying-related farce, since all I knew was the title and that it starred Rowan Atkinson.

I never did see Bean, but I had an idea about the type of humor from Atkinson's scene-stealing cameos in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually.

And this one definitely lived up to that. It was beautifully absurd, with Johnny continuing to succeed, despite himself. There were scenes (particularly the conference table with the prime minister, where a single sight gag was worked harder than a two-dollar whore to magnificent effect) where I just could not stop laughing.

If you like farce, this movie brings it, in spades.

The Darby Match

Watched much of the Manchester United/City match yesterday; wasn't too sure what to expect, beyond good play.

It started out with Man U playing slightly better, in terms of keeping play mostly in City's end of the field. But, twenty-two minutes in, Balotelli (who I was watching more, because of his beautiful, bicycle-kick goal against Villa last week) converted a nice crossing pass from the top of the box, burying it into the far corner. De Gea made a nice try of it, but missed by a few inches.

The game really turned twenty minutes later, though, when Evans, on a very lazy defensive play, hauled down Balotelli at the edge of the box. Not only was this a very obvious foul, but he was the last defender, so he got a red card for his troubles. The wall blocked the subsequent kick, but the damage to the defense was done. City scored again in the 60th, 69th, 89th, 91st, and 93rd minutes, turning what was a very tense match for a long time into a laugher. The only (tiny) saving grace for Man U was that Fletcher did manage a single goal in the 81st minute.

I turned it off with around 75 mintues left, because my daughter wanted to watch "How to Train Your Dragon" again, and I had promised I would let her earlier in the day. Because of that, though, I have no idea if any of the remaining goals were pretty ones.

We did see typical British humor from the commentators a ways into the game. Balotelli had gotten a yellow card after his goal, when he pulled the front of his shirt over his head, exposing a shirt underneath, reading "Why Always Me?". The announcers, talking about this a few minutes later, commented, "Quite a shy lad, isn't he?" I was definitely laughing at that.

Anyway, the game broke all sorts of records for Man U (first time allowing six goals in a home, league game since 1930, worst defeat at Old Trafford since 1955, first loss at home in thirty-seven games, first time City had scored six there since 1926, etc). The crowning insult, perhaps, though, is that it leaves City atop the league table.

It was quite a statement of a game, and it's now certain that no one will take City lightly for the rest of the season. Good luck to 'em, the rest of the way.


Playing for First

The Caps ran into the Red Wings tonight; the only two undefeated teams left. Things weren't looking too good initially; the Wings came out roaring and controlling the play. But the Caps managed to tread water until Bertuzzi hit Carlson going back for the icing touch-up. That boarding penalty put the Caps on the power play, and Greenie managed to pot one twenty-one seconds later.

It was, I think, the best the power play has looked all year; they were moving and passing crisply, and got Detroit thrashing quickly.

Detroit didn't seem too discouraged yet, but a minute later Knuble forced a turnover on a nice forecheck. He passed it over to Semin overlapping around him, who passed it on to MarJo overlapping even further. And from only a couple of feet from the goal line, MarJo buried it in the far side of the net. The team continued the nice play through the end of the period, almost converting on another power play.

Green got his second, again on the power play, about five minutes into the period. That was about where things started going off the rails for the Caps. Detroit largely took over possession again, helped greatly by four Caps penalties that resulted in two 5-on-3 advantages. They scored with five seconds left on the first of those 5-on-3s, and things were not looking so good. The Caps managed to keep Detroit off the scoresheet for the rest of the period, but it was touch-and-go with a large assist from Vokoun (who I think we should call TVo). The period was closed out with some nice pressure from the fourth line, culminating when Hendricks' shot from the point trickled between Conklin's pads and Matty P was there to push it over before Conklin had a chance to see that he'd missed it. Very nice anticipation from Perreault, there.

Unsurprisingly, the third opened with Detroit pushing hard, again, and looking very good. But Greenie intercepted an attempted breakaway pass, and threw it across ice, off the boards, to Laich who charged down the outside. He got a stride on the defender and tossed it across the crease to Ward, who was making a beautiful backdoor cut and pushed it into the net to break things really wide-open. From there, it was basically all Caps, with insurance goals from Perreault (who got a gift when the puck squirted out of a face-off scrum to him with no defender on him; but he finished it beautifully) and Backstrom (on a beautiful deflection while charging towards the net).

So, what was good? The power play was excellent, potting two on four chances. The penalty kill was very good, breaking only on a 5-on-3 (I'd be less pleased if that was against a lesser power play, but Detroit's is always good). TVo, as mentioned, was fabulous; although I'd feel a lot better if he was getting less work (though maybe it just feels familiar to him). There were no big defensive breakdowns again (thank goodness, too, because Detroit definitely would have made them pay, if so). And, as you'd expect with that many goals scored, contributions came from up and down the lineup.

The third and fourth lines both looked great again; I didn't expect it to work too well, but Perreault again looked great on the fourth. He keeps it up, and he'll definitely be playing every night. (And hopefully this will be the last time he gets a long break in the middle of a period, with many penalties in a short span.)

And the ability to just keep rolling the lines kept the Caps fresher than the Wings, which might well have been part of all those goals at the end. (Being a younger team also helps with that.) And I'm loving all the goals with traffic; that's something that the Caps have never really been good at (the exceptions being the couple of years with Ciccarelli, and the year after that with Druce (who seemed to learn it from Ciccarelli).

And what wasn't so good? As mentioned, Detroit controlled possession for long stretches of this game. That happens with any regularity, and the Caps won't be winning games. In particular, no offense to TVo, but he can't be expected to be this good for any length of time. Nobody is that good. And the defense seems to occasionally have trouble with strong forechecks.

But that's about the limit of negativity. There wasn't a whole lot the team could have done better. And it was especially satisfying to do it to Detroit (well, the Penguins would have been even better, but only a little bit).

So now, the team has a couple of days off, then is off on a West Coast swing starting with Edmonton on Thursday. It'll provide a bit of insight into whether Boudreau's coaching has gotten better if they can avoid a let-down (not to mention that Edmonton has some really good, young talent that would love to take advantage of such a let-down).

Update: I just noticed that, after breaking out the beat-down stick on Philadelphia and Detroit (damn, that still amazes me), the Caps now have a really nice goal differential. Let's keep this up!


That felt good

The Caps and Flyers game tonight was quite a roller coaster. The first eighteen minutes or so of the game was being pretty solidly dominated by the Flyers. Their forecheck was so good the Caps were regularly having trouble clearing the zone after getting the puck hiding behind their own net. It was pretty frustrating to watch. The shots were actually pretty even, which surprised me when it was pointed out, because it didn't feel even.

And when Giroux got a breakaway during 4-on-4 play which he buried, I was feeling very down. But at least it was only 1-0.

Well, things started looking better just before the end of the period. A good forecheck on our part got Perreault the puck above the circles; he skated over to the side a bit and, seeing both of his line-mates screening the goalie, threw it towards the net. A lucky bounce off a defenseman put it in the net to tie things up. The Caps had it in the zone again a minute later, and Backstrom drove towards the net from behind. His stuff attempt failed, but bounced right to OV on the doorstep, and he buried it.

So things were looking much better going into the second. The second played out pretty evenly, perhaps with a slight edge to the Caps. But there wasn't any scoring, so I was still on edge. The disallowed goal didn't help with that, either. Having to wait a bit to put my daughter to bed, and hence to wait to watch the third period was not helping my peace of mind.

Two minutes in, all hell broke loose. It started when Hamr had the puck at the point, and threw it towards the net. This one also deflected off a defenseman's stick and found the back of the net. A minute later, on the power play, Backstrom passed it to OV in the middle of the defensive box, and he shot it at the net. This one also deflected off a defenseman's stick (and was helped by a nice screen), and found the top of the net. Just about a minute later, Schultz shot it from the point and Ward got a really nice deflection that put it into the top corner.

By that point, the game was, for all intents and purposes, over. The Caps were pretty much content to sit back and wait for it to end. Normally, that drives me batty, but with a four-goal lead, I wasn't too upset.

Vokoun did have to stand on his head a few times to preserve that lead, but he did hold it until there were only fourteen ticks left, so it was all good.

You'd think I'd be thrilled with a three-goal win, but I'm merely pleased. There was a lot of luck involved, with those shots going off the defense and into the goal. None were nearly as fluky as the one that deflected off Green and in (against Tampa, I think), but any of them might well have been stopped without the deflection.

Also, the Caps did end up with a sizeable power play edge, but the edge should have been even larger. The embellishment call on Semin and the interference call on OV both blew my mind. I think there was one other that the Caps did get away with (although I can't remember, other than that I remember thinking they'd gotten away with one), but there could have easily been another eight minutes of power plays for the Caps. OV was tripped three times in the first period, with no calls, and a high stick that broke Laich's nose was only a two-minute penalty. There were also a couple of hits that looked like elbows to the face.

One good thing: there weren't any huge defensive miscues in this game (well, maybe the out-of-zone breakdown that led to a three-on-one, but Alzner and Vokoun took that one in stride) leading to easy goals. But the puck advancement has not been as good as expected.

The 6-0 start is really nice, but the luck is going to go the other way at some point. Still, can't complain about racking up points at this stage of the game. Really, this team can't prove anything until the playoffs. But it's nice to be in the catbird seat for now.

Update: I forgot to mention how good it felt to be able to hear the cheering from the crowd
when the last two Caps goals were scored. Sweet.


More great moments in sportswriting

This time, I need to point to the premise of an entire column, titled "Campbell, bad luck seem joined at the hip". The man has made ~$8M playing a game. Nothing against him, but we should all be so unlucky.


More occupation

I talked a little bit about Occupy Wall Street a few days ago; I should have mentioned this page with lots of charts to show why those people are there.

Finally, one to be proud of

The Caps really wanted this one; they came out firing, and determined to take it to the Panthers. And they did. They maintained pressure steadily through the period; I was surprised when they finished the period with so few shots. But they did manage to take a 1-0 lead when MarJo slipped it through the pads of his friend, Markstrom, on the power play.

As has generally been the case this season, the third line led the way, shutting down Florida's top line and getting chances of their own. In fact, they started a beautiful sequence towards the end of the period where the Caps kept the puck in the offensive zone for a minute and a half or two minutes. I can't remember if they managed one or two shift changes while keeping it in; but it was a thing of beauty.

Florida, perhaps encouraged by being down by only one, despite being solidly outplayed, came out flying to start the second. I was worried that the team was going to just mail it in the rest of the game, as the Cats kept the pressure up pretty steadily for five minutes or so. But the Caps rocked back from their heels, and started throwing their own punches (metaphorically), playing steadily for the rest of the period.

And in the third, they got things going quickly, with Semin putting one just over Markstrom's arm, hitting the inside edge of the post on the way into the net. That was less than two minutes in, and pretty much set the tone. Despite Florida being pretty desperate, the Caps continued to outplay them for the rest of the period, limiting Florida's chances while generating a number of their own.

And with a minute left, Chimmer put the last nail in the coffin, backhanding one into the empty net from the red line. Hands of stone? I've certainly said it before, but this line is making the most of his talents, and I'm loving to see it. I don't think he'll continue to lead the team in goals for long, but that's ok. If they continue to solidly shut down the other team's top line, I don't care if he doesn't score another goal this season. And if he does continue to score, well, that's just some very tasty gravy.

And to revisit some of my earlier comments, I was concerned that we might be paying too much for Ward, based on one really good playoffs, but I'm loving his game. He works hard, he's a beast on the boards, and he plays smart. I wouldn't call it pretty, but I'm already tempted to get a jersey (though I think I'll stick with my original plan to get an Alzner one, instead). Of course, the season is still young enough for "small sample size" to be a reasonable concern, but I'm not basing it on a few big events, just lots of little ones. So hopefully that isn't the case.

Other than that, Carlson and Alzner continue to be awesome. One thing that was a bit weird was that Alzner was the one getting shots off tonight, but that certainly isn't a major thing.

OV wasn't looking too good for most of the game. In fact, through the first two periods (I think that's when it changed), he seemed disinterested when not on the attack. As in, he would immediately start coasting as soon as the puck turned over, even if it was close to him. He looked much better in the third, so maybe he got a good talking to about his effort. And hopefully, it will carry over to future games.

MarJo looked pretty good, although he didn't get nearly as many chances as I expected. And I was disappointed when, in the middle of the first, he got a clean run down the outside of the offensive zone, but didn't go for the wraparound. I forget what he did do, but I remember that it didn't work.

Perreault looked pretty good, although he didn't get much ice time, either (the least on the team by quite a bit). I wish he'd get more chances; as I said, he looked good when he was out there.

Hamr didn't look all that great when he was out there. He had some nice blocks of shots, but he was kind of all over the zone when playing defense. He's the only Caps defender I saw playing above the circles in the D-zone. Hopefully, he only did it the one time I noticed, because if he's been doing that, then we know why he's been on the ice for so many goals against. He also took a pretty foolish penalty trying to stop a rush when there were already others back.

Finally, let's get to the man of the night, Mr Clean-sheet Vokoun. He looked great stopping shots; he scared me a couple of times with his stick-work (I thought he was going to lose the stick one time he stuck it out), but was fabulous when facing shots. He was even ready to stop a weird bounce off the end-boards that led to a sudden, close-in shot. So I'm glad to see him get the shutout; hopefully the first of many.

And let's also give a shout-out to Markstrom, who got his first NHL start tonight. He lost, but only allowed two goals on thirty-one shots (some of which were really tough). He should be proud of the performance, as should Panthers fans.

So now we wait for the first game of the season with the Flyers, on Thursday. They're only one point behind the Caps in the standings, and probably deserve their record more than the Caps do. So it should be a pretty tight game, likely going into overtime again. But not if the Caps play like they did tonight. Time will tell.


Capital battle

The Caps played the Sens Saturday night, and it started out the way you'd expect with a 1-3 team playing a 3-0 one. The Caps jumped out pretty early to a two goal lead, dominating play to get there, and stay there for most of the people.

Things went a bit off the rails at the very end of the period, with a bit of a defensive breakdown and a Senator with the puck on the doorstep. Vokoun saw it in the players feet, and tried to jump on it, but missed and the Sen was able to pass it back to a teammate who lifted it over Vokoun before TV could get back in position. So they went into the break only up a goal, but having pretty seriously outplayed the Sens.

And, well, I can't say things went too terribly after that, because no goals were allowed, but they did not play well. They did not continue to dominate the play; in fact, the edge on that went to the Sens. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as the Penguins game, but the Caps didn't really look good for more than about thirty seconds at a time the rest of the way. Perhaps the third line and the Carlson/Alzner pairing excepted. Oh, and Vokoun, who was excellent.

I'm really not sure what to make of this team; they're really not doing anything well with consistency. Well, the first, second, and fourth lines aren't (though all have shown flashes). Hamr has been pretty bad so far; I hadn't realized just how bad. He's been on the ice for seven of the eleven goals the team has surrendered so far. I'm guessing that he's just failing to mesh with Green (or he doesn't get the Caps system at all, but that seems even less likely). The only real point of optimism here is that Hannan looked pretty bad for a while when he first arrived last season, also, but played very well for the rest of the season. I'm hoping Hamr can similarly turn it around.

One thing that I can't figure out is why Perreault was out again. He played quite well his first two games, but was replaced by Beagle against Pittsburgh (and how'd that work out for us?) and by King (?!?) against Ottawa. King actually wasn't a complete disaster in his seven minutes, but I still don't understand why Perreault wasn't the one out there. I mean, if Asham was on the ice, I might've understood it, but he was in Pittsburgh.

And I should also mention that Brouwer moved up to the top line, as I was hoping. Let's just say it wasn't all that I had been hoping for. It would probably work better if we could get OV and Backstrom to cycle more; as is, it's not been a great fit.

Anyway, I'm hoping the team can start establishing some consistency; I think it might start by making the third line the de facto first for a bit. That is, give them the most minutes. Heck, maybe give them cushier zone starts than we'd generally prefer, and see if that lights a fire under some of the guys on the top two lines. Because while 4-0 is really nice, it's been achieved with large dollops of luck, and playing the way the Caps have is more likely to result in 0-4 than the current record. There was a lot of talk recently about accountability. Is that actually going to happen?

We'll see, when we get back into things tomorrow night against the Panthers (who, it must be noted, just took two from the Lightning).


Occupy the street

A friend pointed me at this commentary on Occupy Wall Street. And, looking at it, there's some good stuff and some not-quite-as-good. The first thing that jumped out at me was this paragraph:
Great CEO White Lie = “We are acting in the best interests of shareholders.”

This is sort of true, and sort of not. They actually are trying to act in the best interests of shareholders, but only from a very short-term perspective. Long term, yes, he's right that unemployment (and, by extension, all those layoffs that briefly raise margins) will absolutely kill the economy, because they'll eliminate demand for whatever product or service the company is making or providing.

Following from that first part being a lie, he suggests:
If OWS really wants to change corporate structure and impact the economy, talk to shareholders.

There are several problems with this. The first, and most important, is that the majority of stocks are held by the top 1% that OWS is protesting (yes, just about 50% of stocks are held by 1% of the population. It is that bad). So talking to family members who own stocks is all but pointless. The second problem is that a huge percentage of the remaining stocks are held by mutual funds, so all voting proxies are held by the fund itself. Guess who runs just about all of those funds? Yep, back to the same 1%. Third, corporate governance is damned near a sham, as far as stockholders are concerned. Getting a measure on the ballot isn't a trivial matter, and getting a large percentage of stockholders to vote for it is even harder.

What it really comes down to is finding conscientious people to put on the board, and to get them there. And yeah, that's absurdly tough. Proxy votes are always, do you vote for such-and-such? They aren't, vote between these people. Then factor in that very few people have heard of these prospective boardmembers, and you're left with a nearly impossible situation.

He does finish that section by suggesting going to the shareholders meeting. That can be difficult, but does give you, by far, your best chance. So I'm definitely behind that one.

The second part is "Push to Make All Financial Institutions Partnerships". I'm not sure this is the best, or most feasible, solution, in terms of "can it be done", but I do like the idea. The moral hazard that pushes everything towards privatizing profits while socializing losses cannot be allowed to continue, and that would be one way to eliminate it.

Of course, it does nothing to address the problem of currently-outstanding CDS', which can still sink the economy at a moment's notice. What's that? There's still a gun to the head of the economic system? You betcha. Nobody knows how many, and for how many dollars, but it's entirely possible (even likely, I would speculate) that there are currently enough CDS' outstanding on every major financial institution that if one of them goes down, paying out those policies could wipe out one or more other banks, in turn wiping out even more of them. There's a number of related problems here. The biggest is that companies were able to issue these bets (because that's exactly what they are: high-dollar gambling) without actually having the cash to pay them out. The second is that it is a completely opaque market. And the third is that the institutions issuing these policies are depository institutions, which can wipe out all of their depositors, not just the people willing to make these gambles. It's possible that requiring the institutions to hold enough cash to pay out a sufficient percentage of their outstanding CDS's (my thought is something like 40% of the total or enough to pay out all of any one class of CDS, whichever is larger. But I'm spitballing that, I don't have the background to know if that's good enough) would be enough to solve the other two problems. Of course, the short-term problem with doing that is that it's likely that most of the "too big to fail" banks have already issued more CDS than they could cover with their entire portfolio.

Getting back to the original, the third section is "Limit the Size of Student Loans to $2,000 per year". I have no idea what relevance this has for Occupy Wall Street, and do wonder about what it would accomplish. It would push the cost of college down; I have no doubt about that. How much? I'm not sure. And he says it won't affect the ability of low-income students to afford college. I'm highly skeptical of that claim, but I'm not in a position to know.

What I do know would help the student loan situation is to stop allowing those loans to be used for for-profit schools. The situation in those schools is absolutely horrid, and undereducated kids are sucked in, bent over, and pounded hard. They end up unprepared for the job market with huge loans that they can't even get away from via bankruptcy. Most of the people going to those schools are affording it almost entirely with federally backed loans. It's just a wretched situation that helps nobody (except the people running those schools, who get to pocket nice profits. Oh, and the politicians they lobby, who get a cut of that money).

Update: I just realized I missed the bottom two paragraphs, where the author suggested that people like him will figure out ways to create and operate for-profit institutions. First of all, ignoring that I'm not sure it's really possible to do higher education better on a for-profit basis (there are certainly a number of traps one could easily fall into), but for-profit universities are not (as a whole, I've never seen a breakdown to see how much variation there is from one school to the next) doing a better (or even, as good) job of preparing students. So color me skeptical here, as well, but the possibility is there.


Ground Birds

Tonight's game in Pittsburgh was really ugly. I was looking forward to the third line kicking some more butt, but they started the game and were hemmed in their own end quickly. And that was pretty much how the rest of the first period went, as well. The Caps just could not sustain any possession thanks to the Penguins' brutal forecheck (and the Caps inability to help one another), and were lucky to escape the period with only one goal against.

The second was much more even, with the Caps getting a lucky goal when Knuble crashed the net and the defender pushing him off the puck also managed to kick the puck between the goalie's legs. Pittsburgh was still playing better, but it was at least close.

Going into the third, the Caps got a nice goal in the first minute when OV deflected Greenie's shot into the top corner. It actually went in and out so fast that it was initially called a "no goal", but replay clearly showed it going in. Unfortunately, the Caps again lost any ability to keep possession at that point (along with their desire to attack, apparently), and basically tried to play defense for the rest of the period.

Unsurprisingly, Pittsburgh did manage to tie it up with a bit less than four minutes left, even if it did take them a power play to finally do it.

The Caps finally started to get some offense at that point, but not to much result, as they only generated one more shot (making three for the period. Sadly, that matched their total for the first period).

The overtime period didn't start out a whole lot better, until Staal took down OV trying to carry into the zone (the first non-offset penalty on the Pens all night). Vokoun skated off immediately, and they actually managed to set up the offense for a little bit until Pittsburgh got enough of the puck off a rebound to stop play. The Caps never managed to get the offense set up again, but half a minute later, Backstrom carried into the zone and threw a nice saucer pass over to Wideman, breaking in on the right. Wideman rifled it, wide side, just over Johnson's leg for the winning goal.

So, while I'd like to complain about again giving the other team a standings point by going to overtime, the reality is that the Caps were the ones who didn't deserve that standings point, let alone two. Not that we'll turn them down, of course. And we can just chalk both of those points up to Vokoun, who was outstanding. I hope this is the most rubber he sees in any game for the rest of the season, but I'm glad he was there, standing strong.

In fact, to further the point about how much rubber he was seeing, he faced only one fewer shot in the third period than the Caps generated for the entire game. The five-to-one disparity in minor penalties didn't help that, but it's still mighty ugly.

And, in a side note, the Avalanche buried the Senators tonight, 7-1. I was hoping we'd get a lottery pick for Varly, but things aren't looking too good, so far, for that to happen.

And I almost forgot; Beagle was on and got convinced to face off against Asham. He looked pretty good, briefly. Then Asham landed a solid punch and knocked him right out, I think. It was pretty ugly; I really hope he's ok. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if he's concussed, but I hope that's nothing more than my paranoia speaking.

Now, we'll get to face the Senators on Saturday; let's hope things go much better than they did tonight.


Greased Lightnin'

This was a really frustrating game to watch. The Caps were absolutely dominating this game, from start to finish. They were keeping the play in the offensive zone, the checking line was bottling up Stamkos and St Louis (and scoring), MarJo was flying, and yet the score kept being tied.

The first goal allowed was a total fluke, as the puck was thrown to the front of the net from the corner, it bounced off the back of Green's leg, and into the top of the net. Definitely getting things off on the wrong foot for Vokoun, making his team debut. The second was a bad play by Vokoun on a shot from about the same spot that went in off of him. Then the defense forgot to mark someone right between the circles. Then there was a pretty nice deflection where Vokoun was utterly screened. Finally, Tampa got another one with around seven minutes left from about the same spot in the corner (same end of the ice, too, for what that's worth).

Really, the Caps should have won this game by at least three; it was that lopsided. But the complete fluke, along with the bad (regulation) game by Vokoun, sent the game into overtime at five apiece.

To review the Caps, the Chimmer-Laich-Ward line was freakin' awesome again. They kept the Stamkos/St Louis line off the scoreboard and mostly in their own end, and even tossed in a pair of goals (both by Chimmer. What are the odds?). I'm definitely loving that line, and hope Boudreau doesn't start feeling the need to toy with it. They don't try to do anything fancy (one goal was off a deflection from Laich's power move to the net, the other off a strong forecheck led to a juicy turnover), but they're working hard and just dominating play.

MarJo had a great game, getting a very nice goal (on his second shift, I think) and an assist, as well as drawing two penalties. He keeps playing like that, and he ain't never getting sent down again. And, with him driving, the second line looked very good. And Brouwer got a goal deflecting a shot from Sarge, so that was good to see.

With MarJo back in, Perreault was dropped down to the fourth line, along with Hendricks and Halpern (hmm... Haliceault line?), and they mostly looked good as well. They assisted on Wideman's goal, and I believe they weren't on for any against, and that's what you're looking to get out of a fourth line. Matty P looked a bit out of his element (that is, he looked like he was having to think about where he was supposed to go more than usual), but actually did a good job. Was glad to see it, because I wasn't sure how good a fit that was for him.

Overall, the top line was actually the weakest one for the team. I hope that doesn't happen too often, because they shouldn't ever be the drag on the team. I wonder if they were just trying to hard to throw their bodies around, because they did have some very nice hits, but...

And I forgot to call out Backstrom for his excellent game the other night. He still looked pretty good tonight, but the line just wasn't getting it done. Some of that was bad luck; they did have some very nice chances that they couldn't quite convert. But they just weren't driving play like I'm used to them doing. Or maybe I'm just getting hung up on their lack of finishing tonight; I certainly hope so. But they definitely weren't at the top of their game.

Anyway, overtime was a bit of a mess, with MarJo doing a nice job drawing his second penalty (which, incidentally, should have been his third; a high stick he took was missed). The power play didn't look great, as it allowed a chance the other way, and a possible second one was called on account of a hooking penalty. The penalty kill was decent, although Vokoun was excellent on the ensuing penalty (and the penalty after, as they got called for too many men right as the first penalty was expiring).

So we ended up with a shootout. Hendricks started, and I figured his trick was about at the end of it's life, but it worked again as he left Roloson undressed. OV followed, doing the wide left move that is, I think, his strongest approach. But he couldn't quite keep the puck from rolling when he went backhand, and put it into the side of the net. Semin went last, after Vokoun stopped both intervening Tampa shots (a bit contemptuously on the second, I thought). And he just screamed straight down at the net, only veering a little bit after he got Roli to half-heartedly try a poke check (he was going fast enough that the poke never actually came, but Roli had changed his grip for the attempt, which left almost the entire side of the net empty).

So the Caps take the second game on the gimmick. I'm liking their four points, so far, but wishing they weren't giving the opposition points, especially with both game inside the division.

So, once again, we see a lot (actually, a LOT) of potential, but some really uneven play as well. I gotta think, with the way Boudreau usually treats his goalies, that we're now going to be seeing Neuvy against Pittsburgh on Thursday.

And I really hope the top line can put it together. While the rest of the team bailed them out tonight, the team just ain't going to go far without eighty or ninety goals out of that top line.

Oh, and special teams... I actually thought the power play looked better tonight, even though they didn't convert at all. They were doing a much better job moving around, and pulling the defense out of shape (except for that last power play, in overtime), and that's what's going to lead to goals.

The PK was excellent. They allowed a bit more zone time on the first penalty, than I would prefer, but were killing it in the second. And they did a good job hanging in against a tough power play in the overtime. So I'm pretty pleased with that.

So, two down, eighty to go. And Pittsburgh is on tap.


College Volleyball note

I've always enjoyed playing volleyball (never been great at it, but a decent setter), but don't get to watch it too much. Looking for a soccer game earlier today, I instead caught a little bit of an Illinois/Ohio State women's volleyball match. I didn't notice right away, but Illinois (ranked #1 overall. How did that happen?) was well on their way to crushing OSU, ahead 20-14 in the third game (after winning the first two). But I wanted to write about the next point.

Emily Danks was serving (very well; she even had an ace a few points later), but Illinois still returned it with a spike. OSU got the spike up in the air, but weren't able to do much more than get the ball over the net. This pattern repeated several times (with the center-back player, whose name I missed, getting most of them). That's a really bad plan for winning a match, but it worked for them this time as they finally managed to get a misplay by Illinois that sent the ball out of bounds.

I'm really not doing the play justice, but just wanted to mention it, as it's one of the best volleys I've ever seen in a match. And OSU did manage to run off six points in a row, but it was a last gasp, as they were still swept in the match.

In any event, it might be the first time I've ever cheered for OSU. And might well be the last, come to that.

Green-Winning Goal

Finally finished watching the opener on a bit of a delay. A very uneven game, all the way around. The defense looked pretty good, but it had several very large breakdowns leading to someone all by themself on Neuvy's left with no defender in sight. I suppose there's a small caveat that all of those breakdowns occurred with Carolina having a man advantage (three power plays and once with the goalie pulled).

But, while it's easier to have that sort of breakdown with an extra person to keep track of, it's even more important to not let it happen, as evidenced by the three goals allowed on those four plays (and the fourth was inches away).

So, three goals allowed, but Neuvy can't be faulted with any of them. He played a very solid game. Nothing spectacular, but he was in position and didn't allow any soft goals.

We've already covered most of the defensive side, but I wanted to note that Carlson had quite an up-and-down game. He took both of the penalties that led to Staal goals on the power play (two of those breakdowns), but, in between, he had a really sweet break-out pass to spring Semin in alone for a tying goal. Green looked very good (apart from being part of the breakdown on the first Staal goal), and finished with the overtime goal.

On the forward side, I liked the line selection. I'm not sure I wouldn't rather see Brouwer with OV and Backster, but that's a minor quibble (especially since Knuble looked very good on that wing). The very expensive third line (Chimmer, Ward, Laich) looked very good, wearing down the top line by making them work hard in their own end. The second line did pretty well; as mentioned, Semin had the Caps first goal and mostly played well (he did take a bad penalty at the end of regulation, however). Perreault also looked very good on that line, with several excellent chances (and even one or two good back-checking plays). The fourth line pretty quietly did their job as well.

Laich also had a nice goal off a missed shot by OV (although it took a 5-on-3 to get it).

Chimmer surprised me with a goal where Ward's pass sprung him behind the D, and he potted it over Boucher. I was less surprised to see, on the replay, that his shot went off the shaft of his stick. We'll certainly take it, though. And if he can consistently get chances like that, I certainly won't complain about his lack of finishing ability. (Still confused about the contract extension, though.)

Special teams? The PK did not look very good, for the most part. Two goals surrendered, which is bad enough, but also got pinned down for a minute and a half on one power play (though they managed not to surrender a goal on that possession, somehow).

The power play had two goals, but still did not look all that great, overall. The results were good, but the methodology wasn't. They still need to move around more (although I think they did improve on that a little bit); both goals were somewhat fluky. The first, as I mentioned, was a missed shot off the boards that bounced right to Brooks (nice hands by him, though); the second was a shot from the point that trickled through.

Anyway, as I said, an uneven game, but, happily, we'll take the win. I'll feel a lot better when the D starts meshing better, although the talent is certainly there.

Oh yes, and I should mention that Beagle, who I did not think should be playing (would have preferred MarJo on the third, with Chimmer bumped back to the fourth), still had a pretty decent game. In particular, he had a couple of nice forechecking plays, so we'll look for that to continue.

Plus, we'll hope that OV's thumb isn't in too bad a shape after the slash he took to get the 5-on-3.

So, overall, definitely some things to work on, but a good result.



Writing that last reminded me that the Cards and Phillies were playing game five, so I turned that on for the last two innings. A 1-0 score was not what I would expect from those teams, although I guess it isn't a complete shock, with Halladay and Carpenter pitching.

Well, that was the score when I turned it on, and that was the final margin, as well.

Everyone was afraid of the Philies in a short series, with their incredible rotation. But it turns out not to have been quite good enough. Although I'm not disappointed, you can certainly count me among the surprised.

And I'm somewhat amused that Howard came up for the final out, as I've been hearing all season from Philies phans that he's such a great clutch hitter (hence, those enormous RBI totals). I am sorry that he hurt his ankle, however; I hope it isn't serious.

Anyway, congratulations to Carpenter and all of the Cardinals, I'm looking forward to seeing them playing the Brew Crew.

And I'm amused to note that all three Central division teams advanced, and that the one non-Central team is Texas, who probably should be in the Central division (just based on geography).

Can't buy me love...

Just a quick note to congratulate the Tigers on knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs. Even if they didn't lead the league in spending by nearly as much this year, I'm still glad to see them go.

The final countdown

We're on the eve of the opening game of the season for the Caps, and I haven't really had much of anything to say about them in quite a while. I missed most of the preseason games, catching only the final one against the Blackhawks (well, most of it; somehow, I missed the first ten minutes, despite the DVR being set. Not sure what happened).

Despite this, I'm pretty excited about the upcoming season. McPhee made a number of very nice moves this offseason (I think I commented individually on pretty much all of them). I'm slightly skeptical of the signing of Ward, but hoping my skepticism is merely paranoia. I wonder, too, if Brouwer is worth the first-round pick; but again, I hope so. The rest are all good moves, in my book.

So we're left with a team that is deep, absolutely loaded with talent, and a legitimate pick for the Stanley Cup. There's a lot of years of playoff failure to get over, there are still questions about Boudreau's ability to coach in the postseason, as well as his ability to inspire discipline in his players. The new acquisitions should help with that latter (and the former, come to that).

So things are looking, right now, about as good as they've ever looked for the Caps. So I'm really just trying to keep from getting too excited when we've still got the whole season to look forward to.

The only big questions marks are at second center, where MarJo's so-so preseason did not inspire confidence (though Matty P's excellent one helps mitigate that. Perhaps, between the two of them, they can hold down the position), and with the salary cap, as the team will be riding that line all season. The downside to the latter, of course, is that it limits their ability to deal with the former (if necessary) at the trade deadline.

Looking at the team schedule, the only thing that really jumps out at me is that February and March are going to be absolutely brutal. Thirty games in fifty-nine days. As I said, brutal. Hopefully, they can find a little bit of time to rest in January and April.

So, as I said, a lot of reason to get excited, but we don't want to get too excited too soon. We want this season to stretch all the way to June.


On a much lighter note...

I just ran across this article. The headline is great. What really makes it funny is that it's true (in fact, the industry is constitutionally unable to admit it, but piracy is just a sign of underserved customers). What makes it even funnier is that Apple could easily buy all of the movie studios. Out of cash reserves.

Puts a bit of perspective on the massively outsize influence of the studios.

To get back to the article, though, I think the CEO is completely wrong that iTunes is stifling competition. If it is (and I doubt it), it's a sign that the studios are relying too much on others to do their work.

In Memoriam

I got quite the shock, this morning, when my wife looked at the paper and told me that Steve Jobs had passed away. I must admit, despite the health warnings over the last few years, and despite the recent retirement, I was still shocked. Obviously, I shouldn't have been.

His life is kind of amazing to me, in a way. His life's work has been defined by technology, but he was never technical. I've even heard people describe him, recently, as a gadget person (as in, he makes cool gadgets). There's a kernel of truth there; he was certainly intimately involved in the design of those gadgets (and computers), but never did anything towards the implementation.

I did, at one time, sneer at Bill Gates because he (I heard, and maybe even correctly) hadn't written any of the code in DOS since writing some of the code for FAT disks. I'd like to think I've since gotten over the arrogance that made that a sneer, rather than just recognizing an interesting aside, but the point is that it was looking down because he wasn't technical. I later found out that he was pretty intricately involved in the technical parts of things, despite not writing any code, but I didn't know that at the time.

And I think I wondered about Jobs, when I found out that he wasn't a technical guy. But I've since come to appreciate his contributions more; he might not have been the technical guru, but he was certainly the artistic, driving force behind the designs.

There's an old saying along the lines of, "A design isn't finished when there's nothing left to add, but when there's nothing left to remove". And that's true, for many reasons. When a design is minimal, there's less to modify and maintain, and it's easier to use. So it's a vital thing to keep in mind, engineering-wise. But very few companies do this. Microsoft, for instance, has always believed in throwing the kitchen sink at products, and seeing what sticks. There is some good to that; if you know, intimately, what you want, and don't, then you can get exactly what you want. But you need to know things to an incredible level, and it takes a lot of work.

But the minimal way is much better for 99% of people (even a lot of technical people don't want to need to know their OS that well, for instance; they'd rather focus on what work they're doing).

And Apple, under Jobs, has followed that minimalist mantra better than any other company of which I know. I hope that they will continue to do so.

Steve really has been the master of the intersection of technology, art, and functionality. I don't know who will pick up that mantle, but I sure hope someone does.

I want to finish with a link to the commencement address Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005. I've sat through four commencement addresses in my life (two of my own, plus two for friends of mine), and this was far better than any of the ones I've seen, live. I must admit, he talks about living every day as if it's your last, and I have never lived my life like that. I've mostly lived it like I'd be working for some time (probably 20-30 years), retiring as soon as I could afford to do so, and then doing what I want without worrying about that supporting me. But I think I really should figure out how to change that.

Because life really is much too short. So long, Steve. I'd like to say, "Resquiescat in pace", but I suspect you'll find something to keep you busy, wherever you are. Good luck in Act V.