Soccer notes

I haven't been following the Premiership all that closely this year.  I've probably only watched 12-15 games there all season.  Plus maybe half a dozen in the Champions league.  But I've certainly caught some interesting ones.

One of the more interesting ones was City v Spurs a week or two ago, where City scored on their first attack and seemed solidly in control for a long time.  Then Spurs busted out three goals in seven minutes or so (Dempsey's one of those three was really awful defense.  Relying utterly on the offsides trap less than five yards from your goal does not seem like a sound decision) to take the game.

I've also caught a couple of good Arsenal games (most recently their match against Man U... yesterday, maybe?  This is the one problem with watching via DVR, sometimes you don't know when the games were played).  In addition, I've watched a number of Man U games, and have really enjoyed watching Rooney and van Persie together.

And I don't think I've yet seen a bad Champions league game.  I wish I'd written up the one I saw with Man U and a swiss team in pool play, because I've forgotten pretty much all of the details.  But I was really impressed with one of the Swiss players (ethnically Serbian, or something nearby) who had a build that appeared more suited for American football, but was still impressive.

And last week, I think, I saw the second leg of Barca's quarterfinal win, where they appeared headed for elimination for a long time, but Messi came on as a sub and helped the team tie up the game, giving them the win on away-goals.

And this week, I watched the opening legs of both semifinals, as both Spanish teams were spanked by their German opponents.

I had watched Real Madrid twice, earlier on in Champions League play (one was against Manchester City, I think, in pool play.  I can't remember the other at all), and was very impressed by their defensive work in the midfield.  They just had an attack on the ball that was never far away, and which never quit.  They didn't play badly in the Borussia Dortmund game, but never showed that defense.  Not sure whether it was failure or strategy; either way, it obviously didn't work.

The hero of that match, of course, was Lewandowski, who had four goals, two of which showed impressive control and creativity in very close quarters.  But the entire Dortmund team was impressive, showing a lot of attacking, good runs, heavy pressure on the ball, and some really excellent first touches.  They seem to practice passes in the air to themselves more than any team I've seen.  Well, at least they use them more, and since there were so many, I assume it's a deliberate thing.  Regardless of whether that's true or not, it's pretty awesome.

On the other side was Barca and Bayern Muenchen.  This one I felt like I knew the players a lot better.  I've seen more Barca games, as well as seeing most of the players in World Cup play.  And while I don't think I've seen a Muenchner game before (I probably would watch them if they were available on TV here), I've seen a lot of the principals in the World Cup.

For most of the game, I thought Barcelona was solidly in control, but was a bit unlucky on the number of corners they gave up, and were definitely inferior in the air.  Munich's first two goals were both headers off corners that were very nicely done.  Their third was really questionable, as the separation for the shot came from a pick.  I remember that the fourth was by Mueller (his second of the match), but can't remember how it happened.

I wish I'd heard just what was up with Messi.  I did hear, in the quarterfinal match, about him not starting because of an injury (whether nagging, or something he's just recovering from, I didn't hear), but don't know the details.  It obviously slowed him in that match, although he was still effective.  In this one, he was largely invisible.  This was very disappointing to me, because his presence in the game had a lot to do with me deciding to watch it.

Both of those matches were in Germany, so both Spanish sides can come back in the home leg, but both are pretty steep hills to climb.  An all-German final in Wembley would certainly be interesting (I wonder how many Spaniards would be present, due to having bought the tickets a while ago), and I hope I wouldn't miss it.

Poking the bear

Last night's Bruins game was another one that had no real meaning for the Caps.  They were still locked into third seed no matter what, but they still wanted to do well to keep the juices flowing for the start of the playoffs.  And the game was far from meaningless for the Bruins, as they looked to maintain their hold on second place in the conference.

Well, the Caps came out swinging pretty hard, and looked really good.  In fact, there were long stretches of the first period where Holtby was probably getting bored, because so much of the play was down at the other end of the ice.

But he was definitely regretting one faceoff in the Caps end, where Krejci won it back to Lucic, who wristed it well wide of the goal.  Unfortunately, Alzner wasn't able to get his skate out of the way (he was trying), and it caromed off his toe and into the corner of the net.  Very weird all the way around.

So despite having, by far, the better of the play, the Caps went into the first intermission down a goal.  Shots on net were 12-8 in Washington's favor, with Boston having eight blocked shots and Washington none.

The second period didn't feel quite as lopsided as the first (in the opposite direction), although the shots were pretty similar (15-9, although I don't have the breakdown on blocked shots).  And the Bruins were up two at that point, because Lucic made a nice play that set up a really good screen of Holtby on the rush so he couldn't see the shot coming in (the screen was Lucic and both defenders).

In the third period, the refs were a lot more noticeable, and called a bunch of penalties.  Thankfully, the Caps had far the better of that with three straight power plays.  That pitted the top power play (41 goals heading into the night) against the top PK (18 goals allowed, heading in) in a battle royale.

Mike Green decided he had been too quiet, apparently, as he managed to net two shots from the point, one on each of the first two power plays.  That left things all tied up, and despite a bit of 4-on-4 and a chunk of 4-on-3, that carried all the way through the third period.

And the penalty that caused the 4-on-3 actually carried over into the overtime (ie: went back to 4-on-3), but the Caps did manage to kill it off (I should also point out, here, that this was a matchup of the worst power play (17 goals for) against the second worst PK (35 goals for).  Not exactly a world-beating mark) this time.

And they got a bit of help a minute later when Chara got thrown off by Ribeiro's shifting speed, and got called for hooking.  This brought the 4-on-3 back the other way.  The power play was a little sloppy as everyone seemed to want to help Greenie get the hat trick.

They kept trying to feed him (and they even put him in OV's spot at the end), but Rask was able to save them.  But his ninth shot (overall, not just on that power play) bounced into the slot, where Fehr dove on it, knocking it up and over Rask for the win.

The win might not have meant much in terms of standings (although Boston was surely disappointed), but it was an awesome way to cap off an improbably up and down season.

Some ups: Green's two goals gave him the scoring title for defensemen.  And OV, despite not adding another goal on the night (though still getting two points) is going to get his third Rocket Richard trophy.  And he'll certainly be in the conversation for the Hart, although I can't say as I expect him to win.  And the team, despite spending time at the bottom of the standings (and second to last impressively late in the season), took the final Southeast Division title and third seed with it (eighth in the league, for those scoring at home).  Holtby, despite a pretty miserable beginning of the season, still showed that his performance over the last two seasons might not have been a fluke (I'm inclined to think it wasn't, but he still hasn't played enough games to be sure).  He certainly appears to be an above-average starter.  The power play went from wretched back to the top of the league (almost 27%).

But there were certainly some downs as well.  The PK went from solid to miserable, ending at 78% (27th place).  The team lost their second best prospect (which, when you've basically got three prospects, is a big deal).  Laich went from team ironman to missing most of the season with injuries.  Ward played very well, but finished the season on IR.  Ribeiro has been a decent center (and certainly deserves a fair amoutn of credit for that power play), but pretty miserable at even strength (his possession numbers are atrocious).  And the Caps need to do better in close games.  Their Fenwick close% has remained below average, and was generally so even when they were winning.  That's actually a discouraging factor, going forward.

But, despite the weird path to get there, it's hard to be upset with where they ended up.  Let's just hope that the playoffs go more similarly to the end of the season than the beginning.

Treading water

I can't say as I went into last night's Caps game with high expectations, or anything.  And the first two shifts did nothing to raise them, as most of both shifts were spent playing defense.  But then Perreault's line came out and moved play in the the right direction, so it felt a little better.

It was back and forth for a bit, then the Caps started to get the better of the play.

But nobody could find the net for the rest of the period (both goalies were excellent).

In the second period, things went far more Ottawa's way.  There weren't a whole lot of shots, but the Senators had a comfortable margin of them.  And one of those Borealic shots went off of Karlsson's stick, and was deflected past Neuwirth by Silfverberg.

The third period was almost all Neuwirth, as the Caps were completely dominated (to the tune of 23-4 in shots, likely with a healthy helping of blocked shots as well, although I don't have the breakdown on those).  The only reason it wasn't completely Neuvy was that MarJo sprung OV behind the defense (helped by a bit of a misplay by the defender who had a chance to cut off the pass), and OV put it behind Anderson to tie the game up.

That was as good as it got for the Caps.  As I implied, Neuvy held the fort enough to keep Ottawa from extending or retaking the lead, and it went into overtime.  Ribeiro didn't help matters by taking two bad penalties in the third (one of which carried over into the OT).  In the overtime session, the Caps couldn't finish killing that penalty, and hence, never even got a shot off.

As I said, my expectations on the night weren't high, so I can't say as they really disappointed me, but I certainly had hopes of more.  Mostly, I'm just hoping it was a bit of a blip, because twenty shots a game just isn't going to get it done.

But the game didn't have any real meaning for the Caps, so it's hard to read anything into it.  I just ended up hoping that Saturday's Boston game would go better.


Do you feel safe?

I've long been suspicious of huge amounts of security; maybe I'm just weird, but it makes me more nervous than anything else.

Something along the lines of, "terrorists might end my day very unpleasantly, but that's very unlikely. You guys most certainly will inconvenience me," I think.

Along a similar line, I don't have any fear of 9/11 being repeated, even if airport security drops off to pre-9/11 levels (which will never happen, I know). The calculus for hijackees changed, that day, in a way that will keep it from ever being possible again.

The calculus used to be, "just go along with them. It's likely to be highly inconvenient, because I'll end up in a city where I don't want to be, but nobody will die." Now, the calculus is, "If I don't do anything, not only will I die, but hundreds or thousands of others will as well."

It's not an accident that the last of the incidents that day was the one that failed. And that's the worst case of what I expect from any 9/11-type incident going forward. (As a side note, it's kind of odd that the NRA hasn't tried to say that the solution to the airline terrorist problem is to just arm everyone on the plane.)

So I don't worry about it.

But I do worry about the costs of ever-increasing amounts of "security" (I put that in quotes because lots of security is actually just theater, to make people feel like something is being done. Not all of it, of course, but a lot of it. And that lot costs a great deal of money), so I do read a fair bit about security measures.

When my favorite sportswriter went to talk about it, in the context of the Boston bombing, I couldn't stay away. And this part really rang a bell for me:

I told someone how odd this all seemed to me as an American — this was before 9/11, back when you didn’t have take off your belt or put your shampoo in plastic bags before boarding a flight — and she shrugged and said: “We deal with this all the time. Don’t worry. It’s almost always a false alarm. That’s why people are so ready for it be over. … It’s just a different life. In America you have other things. You have crime. We don’t have violent crime here. You learn to live with what you have.”

The incident reminded me of a facet of 9/11 that I haven't thought about often, since then. I used to subscribe to The New Republic, and 9/11 was what got me to drop it. It was because they had several articles that were along the lines of, "Yes, this is how we feel all the time in Israel", and I found the attitude deeply disturbing. Enough that I couldn't read the magazine anymore, in fact.

I don't have any dog in Israel's fights, but I think there is enough provocation on both sides that I can't say that anyone comes out of the fights looking innocent, or good. So trying to say, "We're all Israel now" just wasn't ever going to work for me. Hopefully, in the years since, the magazine has moved on from that position. I rather doubt it, though.

But the key to it all, for the nation as a whole, is where Posnanski ends:

“If this [sports-related terrorism] was happening on a yearly basis, we might be having a different conversation,” he said. “Fortunately, it has not. I do think it’s very important to remember that.”

Jetting to the Title

Thanks to last night's win by the Jets over Buffalo, the Caps came into tonight's game needing a regulation or overtime win to clinch the Southeast Division title for the season.  And they came out flying, taking it to the Jets, and playing hard to keep it in the offensive zone.

They got a break early, too, when Hendricks put one in off the back of Pavelec's shoulder from the corner for an early lead.  Play went back and forth for a while after that, with play generally favoring the Caps, but the Jets having a pair of unbelievable chances.  One of those chances was literally pulled off the goal line by Erskine (he'd actually made a nice play on the earlier incredible chance as well, where Carlson ended up clearing the puck from the paint when Holtby was down); that one took a substantial review to be sure it hadn't completely crossed (it did mostly cross, but did not clearly make it all the way.  If the call in play had been a goal, I don't think the call would have been reversed; it was that close).

But the Caps did continue to play hard, and were rewarded again, this time by the third line, when Chimmer took a pass from Perreault, pulled it a few feet over, in front of the net, put it off of Pavelec, then knocked the rebound over Ondrej to double the margin.

Half a minute later, Volpatti took a slashing penalty when he retaliated for a shot to his head (no call), and went off.  The Caps did a good job holding them off for the rest of the period, and took their two-goal lead into the intermission.

For the period, they had a solid six-shot edge, and had to be feeling pretty good.

But things did not continue well in the second, as Kane was given an uncontested entry into the zone, and put the puck into the far side of the net only sixteen seconds in (and five seconds before the power play expired; Erskine's only real negative on the night was being the screen on this shot), cutting the margin in half.  Play continued, mostly favoring the Caps, but the Jets were still the next team to score.

Oleksy took the puck behind the net, and threw it around the boards, but Antropov intercepted there and three it into the high slot where Wheeler immediately buried it into the net.  I must admit, I was getting a bit worried at that point.

Oates responded by throwing the top line out there, and they delivered on that shift.  Nicky took the puck over the blue line, and tossed it wide to OV on the right.  OV got half a step on the defender and threw it back across the net, between Nick's defender's legs, and off of Backstrom and in (which was all sorts of weird.  It got reviewed, even though there was nothing resembling a kicking motion, and, even stranger, OV was initially credited with the goal).

A couple minutes later, the third line struck again when the puck ended up loose in front of Pavelec in the slot.  Everyone was reaching for it, but Matty hit it with his stick first, and it carried over Ondrej and into the back of the net.

So after a very busy second period, where the Caps again had a large edge in shots, the Caps were still up two.

The third period was more even than the first two (especially in terms of shots), though the Caps did get a power play five minutes in.  It wasn't a great power play overall, though it did get a couple of good chances.  But no insurance goal.

In fact, the lead was cut in half again, four minutes after that power play ended, when Antropov carried in without being met at the line.  He then put a wrist shot into the top corner before he could be fully engaged by the Caps blueliners.

That led to some fairly frantic play, especially when Perreault got called for high sticking, although the PK did a fantastic job on that kill.  They not only held Winnipeg shotless, but got two opportunities of their own.  Brouwer got a beautiful breakaway, but was unable to beat Pavelec.  And Beagle missed the net entirely on a 2-on-1.

They kept the momentum up after that, playing hard, and putting the puck in deep continuously then hitting the Jets with the forecheck.  They didn't score any goals, and didn't even get a lot of shots (though there were a couple of very good shifts, particularly including one by the fourth line), but were keeping the Jets from even getting close.

And they kept doing that until there was a minute and a half or so left.  At that point, the Jets did manage to get it into the zone long enough to pull Pavelec, but were unable to keep it there when the puck went out of play.

Again, the Caps went back to the forecheck (and some ridiculously short shifts), and eventually got a turnover just outside the Jets zone.  It was on Nick's stick, and he threw it across to OV.  I'm almost surprised the defender didn't step out of the way when OV went into a full windup, but it didn't really matter.  OV didn't miss, and the celebration could begin with about half a minute left.

There was a slightly bizarre moment a few seconds after that, when Erskine and Tangradi got sent off for matching misconducts (but no other call), but nothing else of any interest.  In fact, the game ended with the Caps in a board battle behind the Jets net.

So the Caps will win the Southeast (the Jets actually could end up tied in points with the Caps, but the Caps have the tiebreakers) and the Islanders will make the playoffs (Winnipeg can no longer pass them, either).

I hope this means that some guys (most notably, Holtby) will get at least one game of rest before the end of the season.  It'd be even better if Orlov could come up, but I doubt that'll happen.  Maybe Wolski will get another game or two.

Even more, I'm hoping Ward will return from his knee (?) injury.  It'd be nice if Laich would return also, but I'm not holding my breath.

And I just checked, and the Caps have no chance to catch Boston/Montreal for the second spot, so there's certainly no reason to go all out for both games.

Oh, and the TV crew got a great shot of McPhee celebrating momentarily, right after the empty netter was scored.  This is at least partial vindication of his decision-making this year.  I thought he made the wrong decision (well, I'm still not entirely sure he made the right one), but they did make the playoffs, at least, so it wasn't a terrible choice.

So Ottawa and Boston are the last two games.  They're both at home, and both teams will be fighting (Ottawa has fallen all the way back to eighth place, and could be overtaken by Winnipeg.  Boston is tied with Montreal for second in the conference).  We'll see what happens.

Update:  I just noticed that every team in the East in playoff position has a positive goal differential, and every team out has a negative one.  Not often you get quite that high a correlation between goals and wins, especially in hockey.


Senselessness in Beantown

I don't know that I have much to say about what happened in Boston, but I did want to comment on it a little bit.

I had heard, the morning it happened, the things they were doing for the marathon to honor the victims from Newtown.  So my first thought when I heard about the explosions was that it was some gun nuts in some sort of senseless protest.

I was very happy to be wrong about that.

But I'm not sure I understand what did happen any better.  I'm very glad they got the younger brother alive; I hope he sheds some light on why they did this.

But I really don't understand why a couple of Chechens would do anything like this.  I mean, if they were attacking something Russian, it would make a little more sense to me.  But this?  No comprehension at all.

I hope the motive comes out; however it happens.  Just so senseless; my heart goes out to the families affected (especially that of the boy who was killed, and whose mother and sister were also badly injured.  I literally can't imagine how they're coping).

Finish with a Flourish

Well, I was worried about the Senators game being the start of a bad trend (at a remarkably inopportune time).  But the Caps got things off on the right foot very strongly tonight at Royal Mountain.

They didn't get started right away with a lot of shots, unfortunately, but did put a lot of pressure on the Canadiens, leading to several icing calls in a row.  Finally, the Caps got a forechecking turnover after one of those, and OV got the puck near the half-wall.  He skated around a defender, made a nice pass fake to get Price cheating, then put it in, short-side to open the scoring.

They scored again about a minute later when Ribeiro won the draw back to Alzner, who passed it up the wall to Brouwer, circling around.  Brouwer came over a little bit to improve his angle, then wristed it high, blocker-side to double the margin.

At that point, the Caps had three shots and two goals.  I can't imagine Therrien was pleased with Price's performance, but he didn't give him the hook (which he's been doing a lot, lately).

The Habs got a couple of power plays the rest of the period, but were unable to convert on either of them.  If I remember correctly, the first stoppage involved a lot of scrambling, several blocked shots, and a couple of close calls, but the second one was lovely, where they kept preventing the Canadiens from even getting set up.

So the Caps went into the break up by a pair.  But things weren't looking great right away, as Erat got flagged for holding the stick (a really weak call, too, especially given some of the instances not called later in the game) only eighteen seconds in.  But the Caps stayed strong, and kept Montreal searching.

A couple of minutes later, there was a huge pig-pile in one corner of the offensive zone; the Habs had three players there and a fourth was just coming over when MarJo found Brouwer alone in the slot.  Troy took a moment to make sure he had it on his stick ok, then put it into the same corner where he'd put his first goal.

Three minutes after that, the Caps finally got a power play of their own.  After getting it into the zone, Ribeiro had the puck on the right half-wall.  Seeing nothing there, he moved it back to Green at the point, who held it for a second then passed along to OV.  Everyone was thinking shot at this point, so Price played that, strongly.  But OV saw Backstrom on the doorstep of the other side, and put it on Nicky's stick where it was deflected in.  Very pretty play.

That was pretty much it for competitive play in the game; nobody else scored in the period.  While the Caps tried, several times, to feed Brouwer for his second hat trick, OV got the only goal remaining for the Caps.  It was also a power play, and the setup was essentially the same as Nicky's goal, except that OV did shoot it, this time.

The only disappointment in the game was that the team was unable to get Holtby his fifth shutout of the season.  To Montreal's credit, it was a very pretty passing play to score it; Holtby had no chance at all.

So OV scored his 29th and 30th to gain a little bit of cushion in the race for the Richard trophy.  And Brouwer now has an outside shot at breaking his season high in goals, despite only having 48 games.  Holtby was again outstanding.  As mentioned, he had no chance at all on the goal, and prevented a number of really tough shots against (as a side note, I hope he gets at least one game off the rest of the way).

But calling the lack of a shutout a disappointment is certainly picking nits.  Silencing the Bell Center is always a sign of a strong performance.  Making it even better, it was the last home game of the season for Montreal.  We'll see if that gets in their heads for the playoffs.  Ok, probably not, but we can hope.

The Islanders helped the Caps a little bit, earlier in the day.  It took a shootout, but they did defeat the Jets.  So the Caps just need to take care of business, and win Tuesday's game against Winnipeg in regulation.  Things are certainly looking good for that, with the game at home and it being the third game in four nights for the Jets.  But if the Caps try to overlook Winnipeg, they will lose, so let's hope they come out like they did tonight.

(Amusing bit of trivia coming out of the game; PK Subban and Lars Eller both played their 199th game tonight, so they should both hit 200 on Tuesday against the Devils.)

Penultimate Road Stop

Well, I can't say as I had the greatest optimism about last night's game. The fact that things had kept going in the Caps favor with evidence of a lot of luck, and how many times they've recently gone up 4-0, and the fact that the last game had gone so well... Well, you knew the other shoe was going to drop at some point.

And boy, did it. They were completely dominated last night; most of the play was in their own end. Shots were 38-19 in favor of the Sens, with Washington having 60% more blocked shots as well. Just ugly, almost from start to finish.

Even the Caps one goal was a combination of lucky bounces and one hell of a play by Erat (hitting the puck in mid-air twice; once to "stop" it and once to pass to Ribeiro). Certainly couldn't fault Anderson for it.

It was an odd game for Holtby, though. He was mostly fantastic (could have easily allowed several goals with merely good play), but both non-empty net goals being on him (one a shot that should have been easy; the other a bit of a mis-play behind the net leading to a goal before he could get back in front).

In the attacking end, Anderson was ready for just about everything the Caps tried; it was definitely a good game for him as well. But the Caps didn't get to him much; basically just on the power play and at the ends of the periods. Far too much of the play before that was in the Caps end.

Ah well. It was a bad game, but we knew there'd be at least one or two more of those before the end of the season. The only really bad part of it is that the Jets won their game, so they're only two points behind the Caps now.

And next, the Caps face the Habs in their last non-home game of the season. Quite a roller-coaster the end of this season is turning out to be. Let's hope the Caps can win the next two; that would pretty much lock them into 3rd in the conference.

Dancing the Rag

My kids were probably more excited than I was about the Caps/Leafs game last night. My wife had put my son's Caps sweatsuit on him yesterday (he's two), and I asked him if he was excited about the game (he said, "Go Caps!", so he's learning something right :).

And at dinner, my daughter wanted to sit next to me, so she could see the TV. I told her that if she ate quickly (for her), she had fifteen minutes so she'd be able to watch the game from the couch (one room closer to the TV in question). She ate pretty quickly (actually, very quickly for her), and was just about done when the game started.

Well, because of dinner (mostly, helping the kids eat), I wasn't able to concentrate too closely on (much of) the first period. It seemed like the Caps were doing a good job of keeping the puck in the Leafs end, mostly through strong forechecking.

That pressure finally paid off after fourteen and a half minutes, when Chimmer dumped the puck back to Hillen at the point whose weak slapshot took a knuckling deflection off a defender's stick, and found the upper half of the net.

Chimmer might have also been a bit helpful later, as McClement put a dirty hit on Backstrom that resulted in Nick's face hitting the boards along the Toronto bench. OV took mild exception right away (somehow resulting in a Toronto power play), but Chimmer got McClement to drop the gloves a few minutes later and handled himself respectably (unlike the last time he got into a fight).

The Caps did a good job handling that OV power play, with Erat and Beagle even managing to get a (weak; Beags took the shot) shorthanded scoring chance and a O-zone faceoff. And Washington's excellent positional play continued into the second period.

Getting the kids into bed, I missed the first five minutes of the second period, so I missed Washington's second power play. But I got back just after Erat's nice tip-in ended that power play only a couple of seconds early (backhand tip-in, even. Much higher level of difficulty).

The Caps scored again a couple minutes later when a center-ice turnover led to a 3-on-1. Carlson slipped it past the lone defender to Brouwer, who went hard to the net and across. As Scrivner went from post-to-post, Brouwer saw a huge gap in the middle (with the stick off the ice), and slid it between the wickets and into the back of the net.

The Caps then handled Toronto's second power play with aplomb (not quite as well as the first, but effectively), and got their own power play a few minutes later. Ribeiro did a good job getting the puck into the zone, and carried down the half-wall where two defenders met him. He managed to get it back to the point (the play was still looking quite innocuous at this point), where Greenie immediately fed OV's one-touch slapshot. Scrivner had not managed to get all the way across the net yet, so he was not in position to stop the rocket of a shot.

After seeing the prior collapses from 4-0 margins, I stuck around until the end of the period, with the nice play continuing that far. But I wanted to get some other things done, so I checked out at that point. I missed Grabovski's breaking of Holtby's shutout and MarJo's power play goal, but the shots being even implies the Caps did a pretty good job of maintaining pressure. Well, actually, just looked at the power plays; as in, the Caps got several. So maybe they were easing up a bit; not sure. Regardless, they only allowed the one goal, and that's the most important bit.

In the end, it'd be hard to find anything to complain about in this game. They didn't give ground to Winnipeg (who also won), and played a dominant game. Ottawa's win over Carolina increases the odds of a Washington/Ottawa first-round playoff matchup. And in a possible preview, that's the next game, as the Caps head up to Ontario on Thursday. We'll see how that goes.

Keeping Tampa at Bay

[man, even further behind with posting than I thought; this post and the two following were all written after the game in question, but I'm a wee bit slow in getting them up here.]

I was too tired to watch the Caps/Bolts encounter on Saturday evening. We were out at dinner with my parents when it started, and was so tired by the time we got home that I went to sleep right after the kids (bad sleep Friday night, got up early for photography, then played ultimate frisbee, then visited the DC Trolley museum, then dinner. Very full day).

But I turned it on Sunday morning, and greatly enjoyed the first period. Largely, though not entirely, driven by the three power plays (one a double), the Caps had one of their most dominant periods of the season. They only scored once on the power play (the first attempt was actually not a good one, giving up one shot for the two they got), but got two more goals at even strength.

Both of those even-strength ones were on the rush; Hillen put one in from the top of the circles as part of a 4-on-2 and OV got one when Backstrom sprung him behind the defense. Both of those were from near the end of the first period.

The second period also started very strong, and the Caps got another goal three minutes in when Perreault and Chimmer perfectly worked a 2-on-1 to give Chimmer a tap-in to an empty net for the goal.

The Caps were up 4-0 at that point, and were looking so good that I turned the game off shortly after that.

My mind was blown when I checked the paper a few minutes after that for the final score. I was like, "6-5, in OT"?!?

Looking at the box score, the second period appears to have been pretty strongly dominated by the Lightning, with the Caps escaping with two goals (both assisted by Perreault) to match the Bolts' two. And the third appears to have been a complete defensive shell game by the Caps, with a predictable result.

It's quite damning, to my eyes, that the Caps had as many shots in the overtime as in the third period.

I really thought they'd put together a good game, but it seems that they relaxed quite a bit too much.

Shots were very close, although the Caps almost doubled up Tampa on blocked ones.

Overall, I'm glad of the win, but the possession numbers still aren't great. I'd talk about score effects, but the game did get tied after the Caps (twice) got a four-goal lead (teams trailing by more than two goals almost always lead in shots, as the team with the lead plays it "safe").

We'll see. The big challenge comes up now, as the Caps face five straight games against Canadian teams (then play Boston on the last day), starting with Toronto tomorrow. If they can come up with five points, they should be in the playoffs (probably maintaining their position at the top of the Southeast, seeing as they've won the game they had in hand vis a vis Winnipeg).


Stupidest idea ever

I could have sworn that I'd already written about this, but if so, I can't find it.

One of the biggest problems with the current economy is the absurdly outsized compensation packages lavished upon executives at large corporations these days.

Well, here's a large write-up on what's driving that trend, and what problems it's causing.

Imagine also, to extrapolate Martin’s analogy [comparing CEOs to sports team coaches], that the coach and his top assistants were hugely compensated, not on whether they won games, but rather by whether they covered the point spread.

Yeah, that's pretty much how the stock market works for a company.  All sorts of evils wrapped up in that kind of scoring of performance.

There's also a mention about how "goodwill impairment" (of which I had not previously heard) forces CEOs to take a short-term view of company return, even if is at the expense of long-term returns.

Another factor not talked about is how low taxes are on the very rich, these days.  Back in the day, when the US was growing by leaps and bounds, CEOs paid taxes around 70-90%.  Yep, they really did.

What that meant was that to become really rich, they needed to keep working to build up their companies for years.  That forced them to take a long-term view of returns, which was great for the company, great for the country, and great for the workers.  But now they can get generationally wealthy in only a couple of years (and average CEO time in position is less than five years), so why would they bother with the hard work of building long-term value?

It's a cyclical problem that needs to be dealt with, and I have yet to hear of a policy suggestion from Washington that would even be a step in the right direction.

March Wrap-up

I posted previously on the start to the NCAA tournament this year.  So how did it end up?

In a word: terrible.  I got 39 of 67 games right, and didn't get a single one of the final four.  In three of the regions, I did ok (missing three, four, and five games in the region).  But the last was a disaster.  I don't have it handy, but I think I missed nine.  And, obviously, I missed the last game in all four.  Oof.

Helping Hands

Forgot to write about this last night, but thought it interesting that the trivia question during the game was about who the top five assist-getters in league history were (context: Oates is sixth). One (Gretzky), I knew, of course. Two (Ron Francis) and three (Mark Messier) I thought of, but decided they were a little lower down the list. Four? I always forget how good Bourque was at the offensive end. And five? Yeah, didn't think of him (Paul Coffey) at all (I think because I only remember the very end of his career. Stupid west coast and Penguins).

But what I found most interesting about the group of them was this:

That list is the first season played for each of the five (in order, if it matters).

Quite a testament to how high scoring was in the NHL in the 80s. And to add to it, #15 (Al MacInnis), #16 (Larry Murphy), #20 (Dale Hawerchuk), #23 (Denis Savard), and #30 (Jari Kurri) also started in those three years. #7 (Steve Yzerman), #10 (Super Mario), and #13 (Doug Gilmour) were only a couple of years after. Oates himself was only two years after the last of that latter group (imagine if he had skipped going to RPI).

Now just imagine if OV could have played in his prime in that time period. That would have been scary; he might well have set the single-season goal record.


A bracing wind

Tonight's Caps/Canes tilt started with the Caps two points up on the Jets, with a game in hand, but with Winnipeg having a much easier remaining schedule.  So the Caps need to keep winning to maintain their position on top.

I posited that this game, and the next one (against Tampa) should be relatively easy victories for the Caps, provided that they don't let their guard down.

Well, they seemed pretty good in that department for the first couple of minutes.  But then they got a power play on a delay of game call.  Then they evened it out again with a high sticking call eight seconds later.  Things were still ok at that point, but then Hillen got called for tripping a minute and a half later, and things rapidly went downhill.  Over the rest of the period, they were absolutely dominated, with Carolina jumping all over them and putting lots of shots on goal.

They were very lucky that the only goal allowed was when a rebound popped right to Skinner, who was on the doorstep and slid it into the net.  That happened, it turns out, only ten seconds after the Hillen call, so Carolina went back on the power play very quickly.

So why did they get so lucky, about not allowing another goal?  Well, given that Carolina had quite a few very close calls, we'll say that Holtby played out of his mind.  While the defense was not, generally, great, they did have some big contributions a few times when Holtby was out of position.  And Carlson managed to sweep the puck away from the line one time, when it was behind Holtby.

The defense was, several times, shown to be too slow, getting burned by Carolina forwards churning down the wing with speed (Erskine was the in at least two of those cases).  They were also having trouble clearing the zone.

So it was pretty ugly all the way around.

The second period went much better, with the Caps having a bit better focus on keeping Carolina from entering the zone with speed.  They did impressively compromise their own power play, though, with Ribeiro getting called for a high stick only four seconds after Tlusty got called for tripping Perreault  as he was going through the neutral zone (without the puck; it was odd).  So, at that point, they'd had three power plays covering a total of 2:12, without scoring a goal.  Quite unusual, to put it mildly.

But otherwise, things continued to go pretty well, culminating in another power play almost eight minutes into the period.  This one only lasted fourteen seconds, but at least it was due to scoring a goal, as Brouwer put one into the top corner, blocker side, from the slot.

Things started to get more even, although the Caps did manage another goal two and a half minutes later.  Green took a pass from Beagle (programming note: forwards on the ice right then: Beagle, Wolski, OV.  Huh?) at the point, crept in (around Skinner), and wristed a shot to the exact same spot where Brouwer had scored.  But the rest of the period was pretty solidly Carolina's; shots for the period ended up even.

And the third period was really more of the same.  Washington got a decent number of shots and chances, but were still heavily outshot by the Canes.  Happily, though, the only goal was an empty netter that Brouwer put in with six seconds left.

I feel very similarly to how I did for much of the Hunter era (if not quite as much so): too much reliance on good luck and strong goaltending.  It wasn't a defensive shell, like Hunter Hockey with the lead, but they were very heavily outplayed for most of the game.  They just managed to get one more shot through.  That's great when it happens, but not a strong predictor of future success.

Anyway, how much was that the case?  The Caps had 31 shots (a decent total), along with twelve more blocked.  But they allowed 44, plus another 18 blocked.  Yeow.  Thank goodness Holtby was on top of his game; this game easily could have (and probably should have) gone the other way.

But happily, it did go the way it went, and the Caps remain in the catbird seat (though Winnipeg pummeled Florida to maintain the gap).  So now Tampa comes to visit, and then things really get ugly, if the possession numbers don't improve.  We'll keep our fingers crossed.


Dismissing des habitants

The Caps had the first of a number of upcoming challenges tonight.  Neuvy was in net again, which surprised me, but was probably a good decision (though not if the decision was based purely on how he played last game.  Playing the "hot hand" is not a good way to decide the lineup).

The Caps certainly got off to a fine start.  The Caps had nine shots in the first six minutes, and were showing some very good pressure.  But things started leveling off very quickly after that, as the period finished with the Caps having only eleven shots.  And in the meanwhile, the Canadiens showed some pressure of their own, and scored a goal when they carried in on a rush, went past the goal, and threw it back to the front of the net.  Brouwer was the only defender in front, and he was guilty of watching the play behind instead of tying up the man in front.  Neuvy had no chance on that one at all; dumb luck of the shot going into him would have been the only way he could have stopped it.

And the second did not start well either, as they came out to find that OV had been charged with a slashing call as time expired in the first.  Montreal kept up some really tough pressure during that power play, but was unable to find the net.  I was hoping OV would get a breakaway coming out of the box, but it was not to be.

In fact, the play for the rest of the period was largely in Montreal's favor, as they nearly removed the imbalances on shots and scoring chances.  But the Caps had a couple of very nice plays.  One had a 3-on-3 carry-in, where Carlson ended up dumping to the trailer (OV), who carried through a Habs forward and threw the puck at the opposite side of the net.  He didn't appear to have an angle, but apparently appearances were deceiving, as it found the back of the net (I was sure, until the replay, that it had been deflected by MarJo just in front of the net).

The Caps got another goal a couple minutes later when Oleksy pinched in and threw the puck across the rink.  Hillen pinched in to pick it up, and threw it at the net, where Fehr deflected it enough for it to bounce over Price, off the back of Price's leg, and into the net.

So scoring in both periods went to the team that was possessionally dominated.  Weird game.  But the Caps did manage double-digit shots in both periods, so it wasn't all bad.

The third period was about even, without a whole lot of shots getting past the defenders.  The Caps extended their lead about five minutes in when there was an absolute mess of play in the high slot (several consecutive turnovers) and the puck got dumped back to Hillen.  Jack didn't play around, throwing the puck at the net (just over the defender who slid in front of him), where it found the top corner.

After that, the Caps were largely playing defense under a lot of Canadiens pressure.  It got even worse when Eller (who had scored the first goal as well) deflected a point shot into the net with 3:32 left to cut the margin in half.

When Price left for the bench, it did not get any better, although there was one bit of weirdness.  OV got the puck near the red line, and threw it towards the goal (but wide).  He was called for icing, which is, I think, the correct call, but it was a bit weird insofar as dump-ins from that spot are generally not called for icing (it happens several times every game).

Anyway, despite a pig-pile in front of the Caps goal as time expired, the Caps did manage to skate away with the win.

The national media seems to have latched on to the Caps merely feasting on the weak teams in the Southeast, so I wonder how this game will affect that view.

OV continued his hot streak, with another goal (keeping him ahead of Stamkos for the league lead).

Neuvy was excellent, as he had a number of terrific saves and neither goal could be considered his fault.

Erat wasn't able to play, but did practice a little bit.  I hope he comes back soon; this is encouraging.  Laich, meanwhile, went to a groin specialist in Minnesota instead of traveling with the team.  Encouraging?  Not!

Erskine had a very good game with many blocks, and pretty decent overall play.

Hillen had a great game, as he broke a 44-game goalless streak and added another assist, to boot.

Wolski managed to get out of the press box, finally, but didn't do much with his seven minutes.  I'm very disappointed he hasn't managed to displace Volpatti, at least.  Speaking of whom, Volpatti actually looked fairly decent tonight (it might be the first time all season I noticed him in a good way).

The Caps were pretty heavily outshot, overall, as they were outshot by a hair, and had 24 more blocked shots than the Habs.

I'm actually still not feeling that great about their chances of making noise in the playoffs, but it's always good to beat a good team, and they did that tonight.

Winnipeg also won, to keep pace with the Caps, but I still expect them to fade back further, given their (highly negative) goal differential.  Tampa also kept pace, but that might work in the Caps favor, as they defeated Ottawa.  The Caps are now tied with the Senators and Islanders for fifth in the conference in points.

The Caps now get a chance to pad their division lead with Carolina on Thursday and Tampa on Saturday, both at home.  Then the sledding gets mighty tough, as they'll face Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal in order.  Go Caps!

Sakura Screening

[Note: I wrote this yesterday, but didn't get a chance to post it.]

Like, apparently, half the population of DC, I went down to the Tidal Basin Saturday morning to take pictures of the sunrise. I thought, after looking at the Cherry Blossom webcam, that the trees would have reached peak bloom by then. I also, stupidly, it seems, thought that the crowds wouldn't hit until a bit after sunrise.

But it was a zoo. There was already a very sizeable crowd half an hour before sunrise (some of which is pictured above), so I headed to my secondary location. It turned out that that was a better spot than where I'd planned on. For unknown reasons (too much light somewhere nearby?), the normal coloration that precedes sunrise never happened (at least, not visibly), so dawn was a bust. But I waited for sunrise shooting back towards the west, and got a couple of shots I was really happy with.

Only two trees had reached full bloom that morning, but both were on the southeast stretch of the tidal basin, and a bunch more there were quite close.

Hearing about the 10k race, and other stuff happening Sunday, I gave the area a pass, and mostly ended up shooting birds on the Potomac at sunrise Sunday morning. Nothing too thrilling, but I did find a couple of interesting places for future possibilities.

But I went back to the tidal basin this morning to try again. The exact spot I'd found for the equinox was taken, but I was able to get some shots with the cherry blossoms very close by. Then I went back to the side of the Jefferson Memorial (with my dad's 80-400mm AF-D lens instead of my 150-500mm, since he was planning on joining me and I'd be able to return it), to get west-facing shots again. Again, much better shots of the blossoms themselves, that way.

Got interviewed by a local TV station (today's the first day of spring, they were saying. I thought the equinox, ten days ago, marked the beginning of spring, but what do I know?), which was kind of interesting. Doesn't look like they used the footage, and I'm curious how it looked. I certainly felt like I did a much better job than the last time I got interviewed for TV (that was in Hong Kong, which didn't help, I'm sure. That time, I know the footage didn't get used; it turned out they were looking for foreigners spending lots of money at the time), and would like to see if that was the case.

Also found the time to take some macro shots of the blossoms, which cold prevented me doing on Saturday (left my gloves in the car; thought it wasn't going to be so chilly). Unfortunately, a bit of wind prevented me from doing a good job making use of the Really Right Stuff macro focusing rails I got recently. The wind necessitated shooting blossoms as close to the trunk as I could manage. Having a very tall tripod facilitated this (I think I ended up with the camera about seven feet up), but the camera still needed to be at a very steep angle, and the focusing rails couldn't advance "uphill" on that much of an angle. I was still able to get some shots I liked, but I couldn't use the fine adjustments.

Anyway, I still need to process today's shots; we'll see how they came out.

Bolting into the clear

Last night's Caps/Bolts tilt got off to a much worse start than the prior night's game. While the Caps actually came out very strong, an interference call on Oleksy, a minute and three-quarters into the game, threw a monkey wrench into things. There was known to be a lot of talent on the Tampa power play, and the Caps PK is considerably less than stellar, but it was still a bit of a surprise when it took only seven seconds for Tampa to take the lead. Especially since the goal was a deflection by Lecavalier rather than a one-timer from Stamkos (though the primary assist coming from St Louis was no surprise).

Actually, an aside here. The announcers (Locker, especially) seemed surprised by Tampa showing a 1-3-1 there. Am I misremembering that being de rigeur for Tampa? Maybe I am. In any event, although it wasn't there long, that's certainly what they were doing.

The Caps actually did well the rest of the period, although nothing that showed up on the score sheet. But it was good to see them controlling play regularly.

Three minutes into the second, we got another look at the improved OV, as he tipped in Hillen's point shot. After his first of those, a week or so back, Oates had commented that they were working on that, with the goal of adding five goals a season that way. Well, they're up to two. Let's hope that continues; anything adding new wrinkles to OV's play goes a long way towards making him less predictable. And let's face it, it's been a long time since the Caps got many goals that way (not since Druce's playoff run, that I can recall).

While the Caps mostly continued to play well, Hillen played a one-on-one pretty poorly, turning it into a clean breakaway where Killorn wristed the puck five-hole to put Tampa ahead again.

But the rest of the period was solidly in the Caps favor, with them getting rewarded six minutes later, when Carlson carried into the zone and blasted a slapshot into the top-right corner of the net. Then, a few minutes later, Ward got the puck from Perreault on his off-side, and carried down. Recognizing that the defender was a forward, he carried through him, and snuck the puck into the near side before Bishop could get over to cover the post.

The Caps continued the strong play into the third (well, mostly, at least; due to some DVR weirdness, I missed five to eight minutes towards the end), but without any scoring until the end. In fact, I came back from that weirdness just in time to catch OV skating the puck almost all the way into the empty net to provide the final margin of victory. That was also a bit strange, though, as one of the Bolts attempted to put his stick over the boards to mess with OV as he was passing by. Thankfully, the refs caught it, even though OV was able to skate through it. I'm not sure what the rule is on that (other than it certainly being illegal), but I think the best way to keep it from happening again (and it has certainly happened at least one other time recently) is to make it a mandatory one-game suspension. Any in-game penalty would be easy to ignore, and that wouldn't. I guess we'll see if it becomes more of a general problem.

One thing encouraging about the weekend: the Caps managed double-digit shots in five of the six periods. Let's hope that keeps up. They also had the edge in shots in both games. Again, "more, please". And how sad is it that last night's was the first empty-net goal of the season.

But neither Florida team is all that good (though, of the two, Tampa is far better, judging by goal differential), so it would be easy to read too much into that. With a whole heaping helping of interdivisional games coming up, we'll get a better handle on whether the Caps deserve their current position (not just on top of the Southeast, but also being tied with the two New York teams for sixth in the conference).

Next up, along those lines, is Montreal on Tuesday. Let's hope Erat and/or Laich is back, and the Caps can continue their winning ways.

Cats nipping at their heels

I didn't get a chance to talk about it earlier, but I did enjoy watching a big chunk of the Caps game on Saturday. I had mentioned that the Caps should be in good shape as long as they didn't take Florida for granted.

I was a little worried, at the beginning of the game, whether they were, in fact, doing that. They were playing ok, but nothing great until Erat got hit hard into the boards (haven't heard anything since, other than him being injured. I hope it isn't anything too serious). That got them a major penalty, facing the worst PK in the league (yes, the Caps, while bad, have managed to avoid being last. I sometimes wonder how).

I was a little disappointed that they only managed one goal on that penalty (a pretty stuff by OV set up from a feed on the opposite side of the net by Ribeiro), but they did start playing much better. That was the only goal in that period, but the momentum carried over into the second (helped by a penalty only a few seconds before the whistle).

The Caps scored again only forty-three seconds into the second, when Green's point shot went off the post and behind Markstrom. Ribeiro was the first to find it on the ice, and he tapped it over the line.

OV got another a couple minutes later when Backstrom sent him in 1-on-2, and he skated around the near defender, lifted the defender's stick (looking backwards), and shot it into the top of the net while turning around. Very pretty (although I hope it doesn't encourage OV to attack 1-on-2 more often; that usually results in a harmless turnover, even from him). And that was enough to chase Markstrom from the game, bringing in Clemmenson (an odd choice, given Clemmenson's terrible record against the Caps).

The Caps continued to play in dominant fashion for another twelve minutes, when the Caps got another power play. They ran the same play that scored the first goal again, and with the same result (only difference was Johansson passing to OV instead of Ribeiro). So OV got his second hat trick (and should have been his fourth goal; another goal was disallowed on an iffy roughing call on Hendricks right as the puck was going into the top of the net) of the season.

After seeing how dominant the Caps had been up to that point, and knowing that I wanted to get up at 0500 to take pictures, I turned the game off at that point. And apparently that was a good decision, as the Panthers scored three in the third to make the end of the game more dramatic. Boy, I'd've been ticked if I'd been watching that.

I was pretty surprised that Oates played Holtby in this game; he'd played a bunch in a row, and you'd think Florida's anemic offense would have been a much better time to play a goalie you apparently don't have much confidence in. Maybe that third period was what convinced Oates to play Neuvy last night in Tampa. Don't know.

Anyway, after that it was on to Tampa, last night. Will write that one up separately.


Present leave

I heard, a couple of days ago, that Roger Ebert had had a relapse, and was taking what he called a 'leave of presence' for more therapy.  That leave was cut short today when he passed away from the throat cancer he's been fighting for several years.

I don't really have a lot to say about him; I haven't been reading him in quite a while, although I regret that.  He was probably the most influential film critic around (Pauline Kael is the only one I can think of who would be close), and was very prolific.  He kept a busy schedule just with his Sun-Times reviews, but also found time to write books (seventeen of them), screenplays (only a couple), maintain the best-known movie-review show for many years, and keep a blog.

A great one has passed.  Resquiescat in pace, Roger.

Update:  I've forgotten to mention this for several days now, but here's a few thoughts on death from Ebert, from several years ago.

One is the loneliest number

Tonight's Caps game started out pretty well.  The Caps weren't getting a lot of chances in the first period, but they did a good job of keeping the puck at the other end of the rink.  That didn't pay off, but they did break through with thirteen seconds in the period when Green's wrister deflected off the defender and between Nabokov's legs.

I was really surprised, at that point, to see that the shots were five aside (though I knew the Islanders had gotten a couple of good chances); I was sure the Caps had an edge, and wouldn't have even been surprised to see a sizable one.

After that, things went downhill as the Caps stopped being able to keep it at the other end, and were still giving up chances on the rush.  But Holtby kept the team in the game, repeatedly bailing them out (sometimes spectacularly).

The Caps did keep getting chances, but not as many as they were giving up.  Plus, it was pretty much one-and-done on every Caps chance.

In some ways, it was feeling like Hunter hockey in the latter half of last season.  Not because it was played the same way, but the results were pretty similar.

The third period started well for the Caps.  They played quite well for the first several minutes.  But it was pretty much all Islanders after that, culminating in a stick to stick to stick passing play across the ice that ended with the puck almost going through the net.  That happened with five minutes left, and the Islanders continued to push.  They even got a bogus delay of game (apparently, despite conferring together, none of the four refs saw the puck skip off the glass on its way out) with two and a half minutes left that really made things tight for the home team.

The Caps pulled together, and despite a couple of terrible clearance fails, did manage to kill the penalty.  But the Caps couldn't get the puck in the net, so they went to overtime.

The Caps again looked pretty good for the first minute or two of overtime, but it was pretty chaotic after that.  The puck just kept going back and forth from blueline to blueline, with all the shots going to New York.

But Holtby held on strong, and pulled them into the shootout.

The shootout didn't start well, with Hendricks pulling his move too soon (I think) and not managing to get Nabokov to react after that.  OV followed, and tried an unusual combination (for him) that ended with him roofing it on the backhand into the top of the net for the score.  Ribeiro was third, and didn't really do much of anything before putting it into Nabokov's pads.

On the other side, Nielsen responded to Hendricks by also going straight into Holtby.  Boyes followed with a nice forehand move, but lost control on it and the puck went into the corner of the rink.  Tavares followed, and made a pretty decent move to Holtby's right, but Holtby got his leg out and stopped it dead.

So the Caps got the two points they needed, and moved into first in the division when the Jets were grounded in Montreal, 4-1.

Of course, the big question is, what about Erat?  He looked very good in puck control, but put his only good scoring chance into Nabokov's glove (it was one hell of a save off a nice feed by Perreault).

I'm still skeptical about the trade, but at least we got a good player.  It certainly could have been a lot worse.  Maybe I'll come around on it, eventually.

But I'm not feeling great about the Caps, moving forward.  They've now gone six straight periods (including two overtimes) without registering ten shots in a period.  And they've allowed seventy-six shots over that time period (plus thirty-five more blocked).  Not disaster time, but not encouraging.

But, as I said, they're now leading the division.  That part is nice, at least.  We'll see if it's enough.

Next up is Florida on Saturday.  As long as they don't take the Cats for granted, they should win that one pretty handily.  Of course, this team does have a long history of coming out flat in such games.

Oh, one more detail I forgot.  Carlson isn't generally a big hitter, but did have a couple of very nice ones tonight.

The winds of change

What I alluded to, in the previous post, was the trade of Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat (from the Predators. As a side note, I am always amused by his last name because it means (in Latin) 'he was' and because David Eddings had a character pose as the Duchess of Erat in his book, Pawn of Prophecy).

Man, that was a mess, yesterday. They were supposed to announce it at 1530, half an hour after the deadline passed. But that didn't happen, and the announcement didn't end up being made until 1700. Very irritating, although apparently the problem is that they weren't able to find one of the players (presumably Erat; I doubt Forsberg would have been a priority, being overseas in a different league) to tell him before the announcement.

Anyway, we did, eventually, find out that it was Erat and a so-so prospect (Latta; supposedly a decent center with a lot less upside than Forsberg).

There's certainly something to like about the deal; Erat is a good left wing on a reasonable contract who does a good job of driving play. And, considering the offensive system he's been playing in, a pretty decent scorer as well.

But I'm not a big fan of the deal because a) this team is a bit old already, and a 31-yo Erat isn't helping that. b) His contract is perfectly decent, but will make it more difficult to re-sign Ribeiro next year. c) I was really looking forward to seeing Forsberg over here. And finally (and most damningly), this very much feels like a 'Hail Mary' pass, in that the odds of the Caps making noise in the playoffs seem very slim.

Unquestionably, this makes the team better this year (and probably next). It does improve the odds of the Caps both making, and making noise in, the playoffs (although not much for either; we're only talking about thirteen more games). But it's quite a long-shot. RMNB had an article yesterday or the day before, dissecting a McPhee interview, questioning whether he believed what he was saying. Well, this trade certainly proves that he believed it.

I'll keep my fingers crossed, but I'm not feeling very good about the deal, and it would take at least an ECF appearance to change my mind (along with re-signing Ribeiro to a non-crippling extension).

Slipping through the winds

I've been having computer problems the last couple of days (my Mac, for reasons unknown, decided that it didn't want to talk to my Synology RAID unit, and wanted to hang all sorts of login activities because of it), so haven't been able to post.

But boy, was that a weird game on Tuesday in Raleigh. It certainly got off to a bad start, as Tlusty was able to score two goals for the Caps before the Caps were able to get on the board. Making it worse, the Caps were being outplayed over that span, and one of those goals was a power play marker (Carolina's PP has been awful, of late). Can't really blame Holtby for either; the first had Tlusty, just outside the crease, be the first one to get to a rebound that stopped about at his feet despite four Caps around him. The other was a very pretty bang-bang-bang passing play.

OV was able to stanch the bleeding a bit just before the first intermission as he and Backstrom got a two-on-two, and were able to convert.

The second period was off to a rough start at the very beginning, but Skinner went down behind the net to try to draw a tripping penalty and got called, himself, when he put the flat of his hand down on the puck briefly. Weird penalty, but we'll take it, I guess. Fifteen seconds later, the Caps had gotten set up in the zone, and Greenie put a shot from the point off the post, and into the top of the net (Caps first blueline PPG on the season, somehow). Despite that only being the Caps fifth or sixth shot of the game, things were looking pretty good.

Things looked a little worse half a minute later, though, as OV was called for hooking Skinner (yet another dive; impressive, in a way). Just over half a minute later, Tlusty completed his hat-trick by tipping in a pass from Eric Staal.

After the hats were cleared (this game had an exceptionally large amount of stoppage time), play resumed. A couple minutes later, Chimmer and Ward won a board battle at center ice back towards the middle, and Backstrom, who had just come on. Nick took it in, dropped it to Green and continued in. Greenie took that space, and found the top corner of the net with a wrist shot to tie it up again.

That was it for scoring for several minutes, although I think it was during this stretch that Pitkanen went out with a broken heel when he crashed into the boards awkwardly while beating Brouwer out for an icing call (this was the really big delay to which I alluded earlier. I believe they said it took nine minutes of delay getting him off the ice. Hopefully, he'll be ok, although what I've heard since is that it's a ten-twelve week recovery period. Yuck.

After all that, the Caps got a break when a bad breakout pass deflected off OV's skate, to MarJo, who pushed the puck ahead to Backstrom. Backstrom sucked off both defenders and passed it to a streaking (and open) OV who put it into the near, top corner to finally give the Caps a lead.

Backstrom again got onto the scoring sheet with a minute and a half left of the period when he hooked Jordan Staal. That led to a power play for the Canes. After a clear, they were bringing it back into the zone when the puck was dumped off to the right point a bit sloppily. MarJo beat the defender to it and broke down ice. Ward charged hard from the other side, and MarJo hit him with the pass when they were close to the goal. Joel pushed it into the net to give the game's final margin.

The third period was a busy one, even if nothing found the back of the net. The Caps spent a large portion of the period in their own zone, and had two stoppages of play when players were hit in the face with the puck (Erskine and Ward). Thankfully, both were ok, but it was a bit scary. The second came with about seven minutes left, and those, combined with Pitkanen's injury, had me wishing the game was called just to prevent injury.

They didn't do that, of course, but happily, no one did get hurt.

Overall, this was not really a game the Caps deserved to win. It was just one where the Caps converted almost every chance they got. That's certainly cool, but not a good predictor of future success.

The other good part was that the Jets also lost, leaving the Caps in pretty good shape for the postseason (or, at least, better than they've been in so far this season. I suspect their odds are still below 50-50).

But, that's where they were until yesterday. Next up are the Islanders, tonight.


Inveterate teases

I haven't really felt like writing about the last few Caps games, but I haven't missed any of them.

The Islander game last Tuesday was very frustrating.  The Caps actually played quite well, and were doing very well possessionally, but they had two early breakdowns in defensive coverage (no excuse for leaving someone alone at the near edge of the faceoff circle, and they did it twice) that led directly to goals.  Then, they clawed their way back and tied the game up in the second (a beautiful effort from Ribeiro, and a good point shot from Carlson).

It was pretty good play from there, well on into the third, but then Greenie had quite an adventure trying to get control of the puck (he missed it with his stick, then with his foot), gave it up right next to the net, then watched the Islanders feed it in front for the deciding goal.  Very frustrating all the way around, especially at home against a lower-ranked team.

You give up points like that, you force yourself to need to beat one of the better teams later in the season, which is not a position you want to be in.

Then they had several days off until playing Buffalo last Saturday.  That was certainly an exciting game, and one that really got off on the wrong foot (especially annoying as Hendricks was interviewed before the game and talked about how important a strong start is).  They had a bad play along the left half-wall which allowed Ehrhoff to walk in alone, and Holtby couldn't stop the shot over his shoulder (one he would definitely like back).

A minute into the second, Leino brought it in the zone, fed to Ennis on the right, then crashed the net and cashed in on the rebound.

All this time, the Caps were actually playing pretty well, but were not able to cash in on any of their (many) chances.  But on the next shift after that goal, Ennis tripped Johansson to give the Caps a power play chance, and OV found the twine with a wrist shot from his normal position.

But things got worse eight minutes later, as Leino tipped in a Foligno shot to restore their margin.  That was where the period ended, and you could be forgiven for not guessing that the Caps were the ones with the 2:1 advantage in shots in the period.

A couple of minutes into the third, the Caps faced another short-handed situation when Carlson flipped the puck over the glass, and you could definitely feel that they needed to hold to have a chance in the game.  Brouwer certainly felt that way, and when he saw Laich getting to the puck in the zone, he bolted for the far goal.  Laich saw him, and fed a long pass between the defenders to give him a breakaway.

Troy received it without issue (really, it was a beautiful pass) and put it high, blocker side, into the net to cut the margin in half.  Play continued, back and forth, with the Caps having the better of it but unable to even the score until they pulled Holtby with a minute left.

With the extra attacker, they kept the puck in the zone for quite a while, working it around until Greenie got a slapshot off from the point that went off the post, off the back of Enroth's shoulder, and into the net to tie it with half a minute remaining.  Unsurprisingly, both teams played to keep that standings point into overtime.

Alas, a DVR snafu kept me from seeing most of the overtime, but I caught the end of it, before it went into the shootout.

The shootout started the Caps way, with Buffalo electing to go first and having Pominville stopped by Holtby.  Hendricks went next, with his normal move.  He didn't get much more than a flinch from his normal fake, but still managed to stay half a step ahead of Enroth until he put the puck over Enroth's leg and into the net.  Holtby then stopped Ennis as well, and things were feeling good.

I was actually looking forward to seeing Ribeiro or Wolski (who somehow made it out of Oates' doghouse for a game, and playing ok in very limited minutes), but OV got the call.

I usually prefer to see OV sweeping wide on his attempts, but he only went a little wide this time.  But it worked out as he managed to find a tiny gap going over Enroth's stick in the five hole to give the Caps the two points.

Quite a finish to the game.

That left the Caps in Philadelphia on Sunday, with both teams in the second half of back-to-back games.

Things started well for the Caps, with them controlling play, and getting the first goal from a really nice tip-in from Backstrom.  From there, things were pretty seriously downhill for the Caps as Talbot put a rebound past Holtby and Read scored on a breakaway (sprung by Giroux).

That was it for the first period.  Though pretty heavily outplayed through the second, the Caps did manage one good moment as Laich found Green coming out of the box at the end of a penalty.  Green took the pass cleanly for a breakaway, and put it past Bryz's right shoulder to tie the game.

The Caps power play wasn't for quite a while.  It came up empty in the first and second, and was looking pretty bad through the first minute of a double-minor to Voracek (who took unkindly to a hard, but clean open-ice hit Oleksy put on Giroux).  But Giroux tried to get a little too fancy before clearing the puck, and hit OV's skates when he tried.  That left the puck dribbling out a little to MarJo, who stepped in and put it over Giroux and into the net.

Just twenty-six seconds later, Carlson got his point-to-half-wall pass to OV perfect (he'd put it into OV's feet with that pass a number of times recently) for the one-timer that Bryz had no chance on.

That's where things stayed for another six minutes, with the Caps having the two-goal advantage but getting outplayed pretty seriously.  That's when Giroux scored, sixteen seconds into a power play, to cut the margin in half with about seven minutes left.  I hate to say it, but it was a very nice play with good puck-movement.

But the one that was the real dagger came with only nine seconds left (shortly after a very questionable icing call, and with Bryz on the bench), as a seeing-eye shot from the point eluded everyone and snuck into the very edge of the net.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the Caps couldn't even manage a shot in the extra period, before Fedotenko's wrister from just outside the paint, with 94 seconds left, found the back of the net.

Man, that was a depressing way to end.  Up two with eight minutes left... I imagine their odds of winning, at that point, were about 85%.  Ugh.  Again, quite a finish to the game, but not in a good way, this time.

The only positives are that they did still get a point out of that, and the non-Caps games over the last four or five days have gone about as favorably as possible for the Caps.

So if the Caps can beat the Canes tonight, they'll be in pretty decent shape.  If Winnipeg also loses to the Islanders, they'll be two points behind with two games in hand.  And regardless of what Winnipeg does, that would put them a game ahead of the Canes (although the Canes will have a game in hand as well).

This is, pretty much, make-or-break.  If the Caps lose and Winnipeg wins, I think the white flag needs to go up.  Carolina and Winnipeg can't keep playing as badly as they have the last week or two.  But if the Caps win, then things aren't looking too bad.

But I still feel like they're going to be within a point of making the playoffs, one way or the other.  I'm really worried that they'll miss by a point or two, not get any taste of the playoffs and be in horrible position in the draft.  We'll see.