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Quick Take: Why Length of Injury Suspensions Are a Bad Idea April 22, 2014

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I was watching the Habs-Bolts tilt on NHL Network tonight, and at the second intermission, the subject of erstwhile Capitals rental Matt Cooke’s recent kneeing foul came up.

As far as Cooke goes, throw the book at him.  He knows better.  Without looking, I’d guess his NHL rap sheet is longer than his bio in Minnesota’s media guide.  But that’s not my main topic here.

The question is whether players who get suspended for injuring other players should sit for as long as the injured player is on the shelf.  Let me give you a scenario or two to show you why I don’t think that’s a smart idea.

Assume the Capitals are up against, I don’t know, Philadelphia.  Now assume that the game gets chippy.  Let’s suppose that, in this theoretical chippy Caps-Flyers tilt, Alex Ovechkin goes in hard on the forecheck against a recent call-up.  Let’s make it Brandon Manning for discussion’s sake:  he had 31 points and 231 PIMs, and was -24 defensively, in his most recent season with the Phantoms.  He’s also listed as 2 inches shorter, and 35 pounds lighter, than Ovechkin.

So let’s assume Ovechkin goes in to a theoretical forecheck against Manning, and let’s assume for discussion that the play goes horribly wrong.  Manning suffers a horrible injury and, per the Flyers, won’t be back for the rest of the season.  Under a length-of-injury suspension, that would be the end of the season for Alex Ovechkin.

But look at it from the other side.  If you’re Philadelphia, and you know you can end Alex Ovechkin’s season by keeping a minor leaguer on the shelf…hmmmmmm, tempting, yes?

Or, switch colors and look at it the other way.  Say it’s Sidney Crosby inadvertently knocking Connor Carrick into the middle of next month, the regular season is winding down, and the Capitals are locked into a first-round match-up with Pittsburgh..  If you were the Capitals, would you be in a rush to get Carrick back into service, knowing that you could keep your archenemy out of the playoffs while “innocently” insisting that you want to make sure Carrick was 100% before you said he was ready to go?

No, neither the Capitals nor the Flyers would resort to that kind of chicanery.  But that’s the can of worms you could be opening if the rule for injury-inducing fouls were a length-of-injury suspension.

It’s a noble idea at first:  after all, who wouldn’t want justice for their favorite player/teammate/employee?  But the unintended consequences it might set off could adversely affect the integrity of the game on the ice.

By all means, discipline unsafe play; absolutely, throw the book at serial cereal-heads.  But discipline needs to be set neutrally by the League, without giving other clubs a backdoor way of keeping other clubs’ players out of the game.–CS

A Look At the Math: 3/28/14 March 28, 2014

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This year’s race for the playoffs has been a tale of two conferences. The West is nicely stratified, with the divisional qualifiers already over 90 points, the two wild-card teams in the mid 80′s, and everyone else at 79 or below. St. Louis, San Jose, and Anaheim are already in; Chicago, Colorado, and Los Angeles will more than likely be punching their tickets soon enough; Minnesota and Phoenix control their own fates down the stretch, and–at least mathematically–have no excuses for missing the postseason.

And then there’s the Eastern Conference, where the playoff scenarios are more convoluted than the fare structure on the DC Metro.

First, the easy part: Boston is in, and Pittsburgh would need to collapse like the Sampoong Department Store in order to miss the playoffs.

Montreal and Tampa Bay are both in the Atlantic divisional slots and playing well. Meanwhile, the rest of the Atlantic Division is, in order: going sideways (Detroit); doing its best imitation of M. Night Shyamalan’s career (Toronto); still alive, but with one foot on the golf course (Ottawa); and playing out the string (Florida, Buffalo). As it stands right now, you can break out a #2 pencil–note the word PENCIL–and put the Habs and Bolts on your playoff tree.

And now for the Metropolitan Division and the Wild Card slots, and this is the part where it gets more confusing than the chronology of “Pulp Fiction.”

Pittsburgh is, for all intents and purposes, in. IN THEORY–and this is the ONLY reason they aren’t officially in yet–they could lose their final nine games in regulation and get passed by some combination of the Rangers, Flyers, Jackets, and Capitals, while Detroit rights the ship, takes the final wild card slot, and leaves Penguins fans wondering what the heck just happened. But that’s the ONLY way the Penguins don’t make the playoffs. One more point is all they need, and they have 9 games to earn it. Pencil in the Pens, and get the ink ready: the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be back in Steeltown (unless the Penguins suddenly get possessed by the spirit of the ’95 California Angels, or something.)

Let me quickly rattle off the teams that are, soon will be, or may as well be, out of the picture:

OFFICIALLY OUT
Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers

SOON WILL BE
New York Islanders. Would need to win their final 9 games to get to 84. Eliminated from Metro 1 and 2; would be eliminated from Metro 3 at their next loss of any kind, or Philadelphia’s next point, however gained. That would leave the Islanders with a “doomsday number” of 4 against Columbus, and 5 against Detroit, Washington, and Toronto, for the wild card spots. The Islanders would have to run the table, and have a quarter of the Eastern Conference crash and burn, in order to make the playoffs. Not bloody likely.

MAY AS WELL BE
Ottawa Senators. Could reach 92 points if they win final 10 games. Eliminated from Atlantic 1. Would be eliminated from Atlantic 2 by their next loss of any kind, or by Montreal’s next point, however gained. Doomsday number against Tampa Bay is 4 for the Atlantic 3 spot. Recent performance (2-5-3 in Last 10) does not exactly suggest Cinderella potential.

LONG SHOT
Carolina Hurricanes. Could reach 91 points if they win final 9 games. Eliminated from Metro 1. Doomsday number against New York Rangers for Metro 2 is 6 with tie break; against Philadelphia for Metro 3, 9 with tie break. Carolina is 5-5-0 in its last 10, and it does have enough points available, for now, to keep things interesting. The Hurricanes need lots of wins, and lots of help, to get in. They’re good enough, in my view, to get the wins; the ticklish part is going to be getting the help. Not a team to be lightly written off at this point, but not a team to bet the rent on a playoff appearance, either.

IN THE HUNT
New Jersey Devils. Could reach 94 points if they won their final 9 games. Eliminated from Metro 1. Doomsday number against New York Rangers for Metro 2 is 9 with tie break; against Philadelphia for Metro 3 is 12 with tie break. Will the real New Jersey Devils please stand up? Simply put, I have no CLUE what’s going on in the Garden State. They’re 4 points behind the Wild Card logjam, with 9 games to go: mathematically, not bad at all. But their remaining schedule includes only 2 games against serious playoff contenders (Capitals, Bruins). Who’s going to show up for the other 7 games: cream puffs, or spoilers? Add to that the Devils’ 4-5-1 mark in their last ten games, and you’ve got an extremely combustible mix. Then too, because the Devils have so few games against teams ahead of them, they’re going to need help. Definitely a team to watch over the final few weeks; however, lack of games against teams in front of them is a concern.

THE LOGJAM
Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs. To discuss any one of these teams, you pretty much have to discuss all 4. Top-end scores are: CBJ, 100; DET/WSH, 98; TOR, 96.

Let me mention Toronto first: they’re on a six-game regulation loss skid, they’re 3-7-0 in their last 10, and since the end of the Olympic break, they’ve tumbled from Wild Card 1 and a tie break away from a division slot, all the way to 2 slots below the cut line, with only eight games left to save their season. HOWEVER, 80 points is 80 points, and a couple of regulation wins might just be enough to squeak back into playoff position. Definitely trending the wrong way: of the 4 teams locked at 80 points, the lack of available points, and all the recent losing, doesn’t exactly scream Turnaround Act.  If I were a Leafs fan, and if I were a drinking man, right now I’d be stockpiling the Labatt Blue. It looks like there may be a lot of sorrows that will need drowning in Toronto.

As for Columbus: they have the most points available, and their 5-4-1 mark over their last 10 isn’t horrible. Their schedule over the next week, however, gives pause: PIT, @CAR, OFF, OFF, COL, OFF, @PHI, CHI. Read that: Divisional powerhouse, desperate team, 2 days to recuperate, Playoff team, one day of rest, playoff team, defending Stanley Cup champion. Okay…lots of luck with that. The good news is that if they’re still in position after all of that, their schedule does look a bit easier–on paper–over the final week. But that’s the $64,000 question: can the Jackets stay alive against some certifiably tough cookies over the next week? Worth noting is the game at Philadelphia: the Jackets might possibly be in position to challenge the Flyers for the Metro 3 slot. If the Jackets can survive this coming week, they might be well positioned for not just a playoff spot, but perhaps even some early-round success.

Now, on to Detroit and Washington. (Be honest, Caps fans, how many of you skipped down to this without reading the rest?) Both teams have 80 points on hand, and 98 available. Detroit has been eliminated from Atlantic 1, but the Capitals are mathematically still alive for Metro 1. That happy state of affairs, however, will last until Pittsburgh’s next point, or Washington’s next loss.

That the Capitals have a very tough stretch run is, by now, common knowledge. So let’s take a peek at Detroit’s:

@TOR (Desperate team looking to halt late-season slump. Somebody’s going to go to 82 points here, and if the game goes into OT, the loser will go to 81. Needless to say, the Capitals cannot afford to lose to Boston on Saturday.)
TBL (A division rivalry, and possible later-round playoff preview; the Bolts mean business this year)
BOS (Best team in the East right now)
BUF (The Sabres are out, but could relish the chance to play spoiler to their division rivals)
@MTL (More divisional fireworks, against another playoff contender)
@BUF (As above)
@PIT (Best team in the Metro right now)
CAR (Could potentially be fighting for its playoff life; could just as easily be out of contention, at which point it’s the cream puff/spoiler question)
@STL (Old rivalries die hard, and the Blues have the most points in the NHL as this is being written)

So Detroit certainly doesn’t have an easy schedule down the stretch, either. Yes, they have two games against Buffalo, but those are not guaranteed wins. And if Carolina manages to hang around, they’ll be a tough out by the time they skate the Joe. So the Red Wings really have only 2 games that might be considered “easy”–which divisional games usually aren’t, regardless of standings.

You could very easily make the case that DETROIT has a tougher schedule down the stretch than Washington has.

All told, with the numbers crunched and the schedules analyzed, there is a way for the Capitals to find their way into the postseason. No, it won’t be easy; yes, they’re probably going to need some help before it’s over; and if anyone wanted to say the Caps’ work ethic needed a boost, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree.

However, there’s hope to be had–quite a lot of it, when you look at the math–and this season isn’t quite as over as it seems.

FOR NOW.

The Capitals cannot afford to leave any points on the table at this point. They need to either play cards or leave the table.

The playoffs are now. Still.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
NO TEARS ON MY CALCULATOR TONIGHT, I LOVE IT

The Playoffs Are Now March 17, 2014

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I don’t want to lead off by saying that this season is a lost cause, but…

Here’s where things stand.  Right now, the Capitals would need to run the table to finish with 100 points.  Their current streak is a W2, and with 13 games remaining, that would put them on a theoretical W15 to end the season.

The franchise record for consecutive wins is 14, so you can put me squarely in the doubting Thomas column on THAT possibility.

The current season pace, overall, would see the Caps finish with 88 points.  (87.942, technically, which may as well be 88.)  Now, if we take the Caps’ 5-4-1 Last 10–a 55% points pace–and extrapolate that from the Caps’ current 74 points, we end up with 88.3…and that rounds down to–surprise, surprise–88.

88 points will not get the Capitals into the playoffs.  

Forget about Pittsburgh–they’ve got 92 points already, and an aggregate 8 points (Penguins wins/Capitals losses) officially slams that door shut.

Philadelphia has 15 games remaining, and has 77 points in the bank.  For now, that gives the Capitals a magic number of -24 against Philadelphia, since the Flyers have not clinched the ROW tie break over the Caps.  That’s not impossibly insurmountable to overcome–the redundancy there is intended–but the Caps are going to need a lot of wins, and a lot of help, if they want to challenge for the Metro 2 spot.  And they just might get that help, too:  the Flyers’ next ten games (!!!) are all against teams that are in playoff position as of the conclusion of play Sunday night.  That includes two games against the St. Louis Blues, who currently have the most points in the NHL.  I think Philadelphia can be overtaken, provided the Caps take care of business on their end.

Columbus is currently hanging on to Metro 3 for dear life:  they only have that right now by virtue of games in hand over the Rangers.  The Jackets have 76 points, and 15 games remaining, giving them a top-line potential of 106.  The Capitals are -25 against the Jackets, again because Columbus has not clinched the ROW tie break over Washington.  Again, not impossible; but the Caps are going to need a lot of wins, and a lot of help.  

Of interest: Columbus has 2 each against the Islanders and Hurricanes.  The Islanders have already been eliminated from Metro 1, and the Hurricanes, who are 3-7-0 in their last 10, are likely to follow suit by the end of this week, barring a major turnaround and a totally stinkeroo week from the Tuxedoed Terrors.  And wouldn’t you know it:  the first game Columbus has this week is one of the two Carolina tilts.  Carolina will either be fighting for its playoff life, or relishing the chance to play spoiler:  either way, Tuesday night’s game in Columbus bears watching.

The Islanders currently have a top-line potential of 87 points, so it’s only going to take 4 wins from the Bolts and half a dozen wins from the Blueshirts to disabuse the Fishermen of whatever playoff dreams they might have had left.  They’re spoilers, and they know it; so that might be reflected in the two games they have against the Jackets, as well.  It’s a long shot, and the Jackets’ schedule, while not exactly a pastry shop, isn’t quite as daunting as some of the other Eastern contenders.  Also, on 4/3, the Jackets and Flyers go head to head, so if that game ends in regulation, the Caps will get some help.  So as of now, there is still an outside chance for the Capitals to sneak into the Metro 3.

As for Tampa Bay in the Wildcard 1 slot…

The Caps will host Tampa Bay on the last day of the regular season.  A lot can change between now and then, but it does not look like that game will end up being a win-and-they’re-in for the Caps.  Tampa Bay has a VERY favorable schedule–other than the season finale in Washington, every other game the Bolts will play in April will be at home, where the Lighting is 19-8-5.

And it’s a moot question as things stand right now.  The Caps would need–as of now–80 standings points to overtake Tampa Bay for Wildcard 1, which–again, as of now–would put them in Metro 2.  So, the way things stand right now, there is one less way for the Capitals to get into the playoffs.  The Capitals would need a miracle on the order of feeding the 5,000 to take the Metro 1 slot.  Metro 2 and 3 are not impossible, just difficult.  Wildcard 1 is currently blocked off, as well, because the point total that would secure that slot would actually put the Capitals in a Metro slot.

Which leads us to the Rangers in the Wildcard 2 slot.  The Capitals essentially need 3 points to pass the Rangers for Wildcard 2:  with only 13 games remaining, and the Capitals trailing by 8 in the ROW column, the Rangers are all but assured of the tie break should the Capitals only eke out 2 more points than the Rangers down the stretch.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  8 of the Rangers’ final 13 games are on the road.  This week is going to be very interesting for the Rangers:  after a Tuesday night stop in Ottawa–where the Rangers won 4-1 earlier this season–the Rangers head out to Columbus on Friday.  There are the Jackets again, and this is going to be an important game for both clubs.  But then, get this, no rest for the weary, as the Rangers will be in New Jersey the very next night–and those two teams despise each other with a passion.  The Rangers then head back to MSG next Monday for a duel with the Desert Dogs, who are currently right smack on the bubble out west.  Then it’s a Rivalry Wednesday game against the Flyers, and we know how those games can go.  But THEN–and here’s where the Caps are going to get what might be their last break from their opponents’ schedules–the Rangers go west themselves:  Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Colorado.  Calgary and Edmonton are most likely going to be in full-on spoiler mode at that point, Vancouver is fighting for its postseason life, and Colorado is currently in the Central 2 slot.  The Rangers are going to need every single point they can scare up on that road trip.  Here’s why:  their final 3 home games are against Carolina, Ottawa, and Buffalo, all 3 of which will likely be playing out the string at that point.  If the Rangers come home from their Western swing without a playoff spot locked down, any of those teams–perhaps all 3–would be more than happy to see to it that they finish the season that way.  The Rangers wrap the seaon in Montreal, which currently holds the Atlantic 2 slot.

Now, why does all that matter to the Capitals?

As things stand right now, the Caps’ most probable route to the playoffs is the Wildcard 2 slot.  Both the Capitals and Rangers have 13 games remaining; both of those schedules are 5 at home and 8 away.  And while it’s easy enough to look at the Rangers’ schedule and say they’ve got an easier schedule and the lead going in, I’m not so sure it’s as cut and dried as all that.  There are enough games on the Rangers’ schedule which could give the Caps some as-of-now unexpected help.

All that having been said, it’s all for naught if the Caps go one-step-forward-two-steps-back in the final 4 weeks of the regular season.  The Capitals, simply put, have got to win, a lot, right now.  

The schedule is not going to be any help:  the only game the Caps have left against a team ahead of them in the standings is the season finale against Tampa Bay.  So, essentially, they have, as this is being written, almost no control of their playoff fate at this point.  There’s just no way to sugar-coat it:  the Caps are already in the unenviable position where, theoretically, they could run the table and still miss the playoffs.

However, that nightmare scenario may actually be a longer shot than the Caps somehow finding a way in.  If they win enough games, and hang around long enough, they might just get the break they need from the out of town scoreboard.

But they have got, got, GOT to win, consistently, convincingly, consecutively, and RIGHT THE HECK NOW.

Don’t book your April 14 tee times just yet, Caps fans:  for now, there is hope.  But there is a heavy emphasis on FOR NOW.  

It may be too much to expect these Caps to play 4 weeks of perfect hockey.  Bad luck happens; honest mistakes happen; hot goalies happen.  That’s one thing.

But this season, the Caps have sometimes found some very creative ways to shoot themselves in the proverbial foot.  That’s quite another thing, and they cannot afford to do that anymore.

Because, for all intents and purposes, the playoffs are NOW for the Washington Capitals.  Any mistake could turn out to be the nail in the coffin once we look back at the end of the regular season.  There is a way for the Caps to make the playoffs.  However, there are just as many, if not more, ways for them to get knocked out.

So, it’s down to this.  5 home games left, 4 weeks to play, 3 teams we can pass, 2 long road swings, and a partridge in a pear tree.  Buckle up, Caps Nation.  It’s go time.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
JUST WIN, BABY

Time To Walk Away? December 25, 2013

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Washington, I need your help.

Some of you may or may not have noticed my absence at a couple of recent Caps games. I was actually down in Florida for a week and a half visiting my girlfriend for as close to Christmas as the schedule would permit. I scheduled my flight home on the 20th, the last possible day before the next home game. Well, forty has a way of making you pay for thinking you’re still twenty, and come time to get dressed for the game the next night, I was more road-weary than usual, and I had absolutely nothing left.

I was in my usual spot against Anaheim on Monday night, and, well, we all know how that turned out. And then, on the way home, somebody on the Metro was giving me a bunch of guff that my magic wasn’t working. Well, no kidding, Kojak, you didn’t say anything I probably hadn’t told myself more than once before I even got on the train.

I’m sure there are a few of you who are dying to know how Florida was. Well, in a way, that’s kind of what got me writing this post, although this is certainly not going to be a recount of my travels.

I suppose I’d better just come right out and put all my cards on the table. I’ve been out of work for several months, and I’ve been drawing down some money my father left me when he died. That money is almost gone. Absent some new income, soon, I can’t afford the place I’m in much longer.

Meanwhile, word going around amongst all the people I met in Florida was that the VA at Bay Pines was desperately in need of veterans to fill some of their job openings. Civil service pay goes a lot further in Florida than it does in DC. I actually found a place 15 minutes away from Bay Pines by bus that was offering 2-bedroom apartments for 33% less than what I’m paying for my current 1-bedroom set-up, with in-unit laundry.

Yes, I really did look into it that seriously.

Meanwhile, the only thing keeping me here in DC has been the Capitals. I don’t really have any close personal friends here in DC, my immediate family is all overseas, and I have no extended family in the area. And, well, since I’m putting all my cards on the table: I’m a bit of a hermit with the exception of Capitals games, and I don’t have any close friendships in DC, either. And while that is admittedly on me, if I’m too terminally shy to get out of the house all that much, then DC, Florida, what difference does it make, aside from the rent?

As for the Capitals. (This is the hard part.) I’d like to think that I’m doing some kind of good for the franchise. Now, obviously, if we’re going to go by the scoreboard, then it’s an easy decision. Whatever I’m trying, isn’t working as well as I’d like it to. Believe me, Caps fans, if I could will the team to victory all the way from Section 417, we’d be taking victory parades for granted by now. But with 30 teams all competing for one championship, there’s so much cross- and counter-intent going around that it would take more skill than I currently have to take it all on all by myself. (Which is not to say that I don’t try.)

So, if not the scoreboard, then what? What good am I really doing here? Any at all?

And here, DC, is where you come in. This is where I need your help.

First, business. If you are, or know someone who is, hiring, drop me a comment and I’ll get you my resume. Comments are set to full moderation, so for the business replies, no one will see your post but me. You know the passion I bring to Verizon Center on game nights? Give me a chance, and let’s see if I can do the same for you.

And now, to my fellow fans, this is where I need to hear it all. Am I doing any good here? If so, then what good is it?

Look, I know I’m yesterday’s news: that news, by itself, is already yesterday’s news. I just need to know that what I’m doing isn’t in vain. That’s the one thing that keeps me up nights: the idea that all I’ve ever done here, is ultimately worthless.

But no one person can know the entire answer to that question, which is why I have to kind of crowdsource it.

I know there are some who are going to see this as an exercise of ego on my part. I have to shake my head at the cynicism, but I’d have to be as blind as a hockey referee to not see the nattering nabobs ready to pounce on a post like this.

But post it I must. I have to know where I’d be doing the greater good. And that really is the whole dilema: How do I know where the greater good is, if I can’t even quantify how much, if any, good I have done (may do?) in DC. I know what good I can do if I get out of DC. What I don’t know, is how much good I could do if I stay. So…the more I know, the better-informed my decision will be.

So with that, I suppose I’d better stop talking and start listening.

–Christmas Day, 2013

Some Random Search Results September 15, 2013

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I was poking around on YouTube, and decided to run the Capitals’ regulars past the search box and see what the most popular video subject was for them.

A couple of the defensemen and goalies were in there by name only; and a pair of defensemen did not auto-complete.

The list is below.  For “Highlights” and “Goal”–two common search terms–I also listed the second-place result, if there was one.

Nicklas Backstrom: Highlights, Commercial
Jay Beagle:  Knocked out
Troy Brouwer:  Gangnam style
Jason Chimera: Goal
Martin Erat:  Highlights, injury
Eric Fehr:  OT goal vs Bruins
Mikhail Grabovski:  Highlights, interview
Marcus Johansson:  Highlights, goal
Brooks Laich:  Goal, Highlights, First Pitch
Alex ovechkin:  Highlights, Top 10 Goals
Mathieu Perreault:  Celebration
Aaron Volpatti:  One punch
Joel Ward:  OT goal
Tom Wilson hockey: Fight

Karl Alzner:  Goal, Draft
John Carlson:  Winning Goal
John Erskine:  Fight
Mike Green: OT goal
Jack Hillen:  Ovechkin
Tomas Kundratek:  Goal
Steve Oleksy:  Fights
Dmitri Orlov:  (Name only)
Cameron Schilling:  (Nothing yet)
Patrick Wey:  (Nothing yet)

Philipp Grubauer:  (Name only)
Braden Holtby:  Highlights, Doesn’t Flinch
Michal Neuvirth:  (Name only)

Make of it what you will, Caps Nation.

See you at Verizon Center Friday night.–CS

As The Dust Settles April 28, 2013

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Who’da thunk it?

Take a look at the NHL standings as they existed on March 14th.

The Capitals were down in 14th. They were 5-5-0 in their last ten games, were on a 3-game regulation loss streak, were playing .500 hockey at home, and had only won 3 of the 11 games they’d played away from Verizon Center.

They were also a single point away from being tied for the worst record in the NHL at the time. The Caps stood 3 points behind Calgary and Colorado, who were tied for the worst record in the West at that point. All three of those teams–Washington, Colorado, and Calgary–had 25 games played at that point.

The three teams’ records since then? Colorado, 6-14-3; Calgary, 9-14-0; Washington, 17-4-2. The Caps went on a points pace just north of 78%, for just under HALF OF THE ENTIRE SEASON. That would be something like a 61-point pace in just under half of an 82-game season. That’s practically video-game good.

Have the Caps been letter-perfect for the second half? Not quite: there are still a few rough edges here and there which I hope are addressed over the coming few days’ practices. There were a few passes to nobody in particular Saturday night, a few spots where the Caps got bottled up in their own end, some scary chances against at period starts, and a few discipline bullets that Braden Holtby managed to dodge on behalf of the rest of the team. I’m sure there are many, many nits that could be picked with this team, but that’s not why I’m writing this.

The Washington Capitals have suddenly Gotten Good. Not perfect, no. Not unstoppable force, no. But they are a very, very good hockey team at just the right point in the season.

By way of comparison, the Rangers–so, we meet again, Mr. Bond!–were 13-10-2 on March 14th; they’ve been 13-8-2 since. So if you want to look at the macro trend, over the latter half of the season, the Capitals have been doing better than the Rangers over the past month and a half. And that despite the fact that the Rangers have been hanging around the cut line for most of the season, and have been above it much more than they’ve been below it. For the Blueshirts, it’s been more of a nail-biter than perhaps they would have liked, but I don’t think anyone was calling the Rangers a lost cause.

Washington? Yeah, not so much. Even as the trade deadline approached, the conventional wisdom was that there would have been no shame in calling this season a lost cause: brand new coach, new system, new players, injuries to key players, some guys having to re-adjust to the North American game after playing overseas…the list of crazy new stuff happening all at once was very, very long. If there was ever any one season the Washington Capitals could have been forgiven for chalking up to experience, this one would have been it.

Instead, what did they do? They clicked; they jelled; they went on one hell of a tear; and they’ll get to hang the very last Southeast Division championship banner next fall.

Oh…and they’ve also drawn the New York Rangers in the playoffs, again. Only this time, they have home ice advantage for the series. The Caps and Rangers have played several memorable series in recent years, but two stats jump out at me about the recent, Ovechkin-era history: the higher-seeded team has won every series; and–this is the REALLY weird stat–the series has been decided on the winning team’s ice. Look it up: the Caps won game 7 at home in 2009; won game 5 at home in 2011; and lost game 7 on the road last year. And while there’s absolutely no guarantee that any of that history will repeat itself, it is, I should think, an interesting stat at the very least.

A month and a half ago, I don’t think there were too many who thought the Capitals could even make the playoffs. And if there was anyone back in March who said “Caps will win the Southeast” with no irony whatsoever, I’d love to see the date stamp on it. Division champions? Back in March, that was a punch line, not a possibility.

And yet, here we are. Who’da thunk it?

What really got my attention in Saturday night’s game was how the Caps, who had absolutely nothing to play for (other than avoiding injuries, and perhaps putting on a good show for Fan Appreciation Day) came back from a 2-0 deficit at the 2nd intermission. As with the season generally, I doubt anyone would have complained had the Caps simply played to stay healthy. Guaranteed the 3 spot regardless of the outcome, there was no NEED for them to try for the win.

Let me repeat that for emphasis. The Capitals did not NEED to win Saturday night’s game. As far as playoff standing was concerned, they literally had nothing to gain if they won, and nothing to lose if they lost. There was no NEED to try to come back from a 2-0 hole at the second intermission.

The Capitals didn’t NEED to win. But they WANTED to win. And even though it would mean a lot more work than simply playing to stay healthy, the Caps still went out, contested the game, and ultimately won it–even though the result had absolutely no bearing on their playoff standing.

There have been Capitals teams in recent seasons who might very well have conceded Saturday night’s game as a throwaway. This year’s team did not do that.

And it is that attitude which I submit should have the rest of the league on notice. There have been Capitals teams in recent years that have coasted when given the chance, and which ultimately did not succeed. This team could have coasted on Saturday, and chose, as a team, not to do so.

So, work ethic? Check. Compete level? Check. (If these guys can come all the way back to win a game that’s meaningless, imagine what they’ll do now that the games matter a lot!) Power play? Check and check. (All 3 goals Saturday were scored on the man advantage.) Scoring? Check. (Ovechkin’s getting another Rocket Richard trophy, and Mike Green is back to his old scoring self.) Defense? Check. (And Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy have been revelations, haven’t they?) Goalies? Check, check, check. (If Holtby keeps playing like this, Neuvirth may end up with the best seat in the house for a long playoff run. And somebody needs to get John Erskine some pads for all the goaltending he’s been doing lately.)

The Capitals are definitely not invincible. They still have a few things that need to be worked on before they welcome the Rangers to the Phone Booth. But of all the Capitals teams I’ve seen in recent years, I’m hard-pressed to pick a squad that looked better than this team looks right now. And that’s with Joel Ward and Brooks Laich in the press box!

There have been seasons in years past when it seemed like the Capitals were somehow lacking in the intangibles: perhaps the young guns didn’t quite have the experience, perhaps the chemistry on some of the forward lines wasn’t quite what it could have been, perhaps this, perhaps that, perhaps something else.

If you asked me to name the one thing that could doom the Capitals this postseason, I would have to think long and hard, and reluctantly point behind the bench. No disrespect to Coach Oates at all, but this is his first Stanley Cup Playoff as a head coach. True, first-time coaches can be successful–just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins–but in the long run, there’s no substitute for experience. John Tortorella has forgotten more Stanley Cup Playoff games than Adam Oates has ever been a head coach for. The first round, at the very least, is going to make for an extremely intriguing coaching matchup, but on paper, it’s hard to avoid giving Torts his due.

So, all that having been said…

Now that we all can look back and smile at it, I think we can say that this has been a regular season that we’re glad to have been here for. There have been a number of trying times, and the way we got here is not the way many expected we would. But we’re still standing, while 14 teams are already going home.

Who’da thunk it?

Now the season really starts: that second season played for keeps.

I’ll end with a question: will this finally be the one?

CAPITAL SPIRIT
AT BREAK OF DAY, UNTIL THE LIGHT FAILS, MARCH EVER ON

Maybe It’s Mawkish April 18, 2013

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But I think this is the right thing to do, somehow.

Earlier this season, I got a couple of ridiculously huge poster boards. The idea was to come up with some huge signs for major events.

I haven’t been as good with those as I’d planned to be, but I do have one board left, and this one WILL be put to good use.

But not to cheer on the Capitals. Wait, what?

Also, for those who know my pre-game routine, I’m normally stationed at the Caps blue line when they come out for warm-ups. A bit of encouragement, not that I think any of them ever notice me standing there. But for the final game of this regular season, I’m going to be standing by the visitors’ blue line. Wait, what?!

For those who haven’t looked at the schedule lately, our final game is against the Boston Bruins. I doubt I need to recount the tragedy that took place in Beantown earlier this week.

The front of the sign–which I’m going to hold so that the Bruins can see it–says, “Boston, you are in our prayers.” I admittedly freehanded the last word a little too sloppily–the Y is a mess–but it’s legible.

The back, though, is where I’m going to need help from you, Caps Nation.

I’ll be bringing the sign with me to all remaining home games, along with a couple of Sharpies. What I’d love to have happen, is for fans at the game–regardless of fandom–to sign the back. After the Caps-Bruins tilt on Saturday night, I’ll go straight to my local FedEx and ship the whole thing to the Bruins organization.

Sound like an idea? Or am I just being too sentimental?–CS

A Boredom Buster While The Caps Hit the Road April 17, 2013

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I’ve written before about the connection between our thoughts, words, and actions, and how the Capitals do on the ice.

I’ve been researching the subject again a bit over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve got a few further ideas on the subject.

To begin with, we can all agree that there are only a finite number of wins to be had in the NHL. Only one team can win a hockey game.

Now, can the thoughts of a fan base affect the outcome of a game?

Let us suppose that the Capitals are playing, let’s say, the Senators. And let us also suppose that Senators fans all over creation Believe, on balance, that the Sens will win the game. Meanwhile, let us suppose that Capitals fans, on balance, take the Missouri approach: we’ll Believe when we see. Oh, and by the way, Chris Rooney is one of the refs, so we fully expect the other shoe to drop at some point, while we’re at it.

Suppose Washington scores early in that game. Caps fans are excited, but Sens fans don’t despair: they take the line that the Sens are just working on their come-from-behind stats. No worries, thinks Ottawa; Can they hold this?, worries Washington.

Let us then suppose that the 1-0 nail-biter holds for most of the game; up to say the 10-minute mark of the third or thereabouts. Senators fans intend for their team to get a power play, while Capitals fans are simply hoping our men won’t make mistakes; but we wouldn’t be surprised one iota if they did, or, for that matter, if they got hit with a phantom whistle.

Now, put yourself in the position of some higher power. Call it God, call it Gran Met, call it Ahura Mazda, call it Eywa if that’s your cup of tea, whatever, I don’t care. Just whatever fits your view of a higher power.

Now, suppose you’re this higher power, and you see Senators fans expecting a late power play; on the other side of the game, Capitals fans are expecting one of their men to be handed a stupid penalty any second now. If those are the intentions of both sides, how easy would it be to grant the Senators a power play? Maybe Erskine is a bit too thorough with a body check, maybe the bench can’t hear who’s in and out and it’s a too many men penalty…whatever. Pick something sketchy, and the more questionable, the better. The point is, if both sides are expecting the Sens to get a power play–Senators fans consciously, Capitals fans unconsciously–then how easy is it, for you as a higher power, to give both fan bases exactly what they expect?

Now suppose the Senators are on the power play. Ottawa fans are thinking, “This is where we score to tie it up, let’s do this!”; Washington fans are thinking, “It’s always the ticky-tack calls that end up as PPG’s for the other team.” Both sides expect the Sens to score on the man advantage: Sens fans consciously, Caps fans unconsciously. Once again, how easy is it for you, as a higher power, to give both teams exactly what they expect?

Now the score is tied 1-1, it’s getting late in regulation, and Senators fans smell blood. Their Belief goes into overdrive: “We’ve got them now!” And Washington? “Well, here we go again…seen this movie before, Caps will give this one away, I’m sure of it.” Again, how easy would it be to give both teams what they expect?

See, it’s very, very easy to intend a loss. If Ottawa fans are thinking “win” while Caps fans are thinking “lose,” be that consciously or unconsciously, it is very, very easy for a higher power to get both sides exactly what they expect.

Now, when you’ve got both sides fully intending a win, it gets dicey, and this is the part where I’m having trouble figuring out the nuts and bolts of it. Obviously, both teams cannot win; so THEN what?

That’s the part I’m still trying to figure out. Is it strength of intent? Is it number of intenders? Is it the quality of the intention, or the frequency of the intenders? What is it, exactly?

I need to do some more research on this as time permits; but I will maintain that intending a loss is an almost sure-fire way to receive one. Intending a win may not be enough by itself; intending a loss usually is. We have to stop intending losses, be that consciously or subconsciously. I’ve written on this before, so I see no need to belabor the point.

But this time–drum roll, please–I will now give you a method to demonstrate, for yourself, that thoughts influence reality. I’m indebted to Pam Grout for this one.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED: Two wire coat hangers you don’t mind destroying, a pair of scissors, and a drinking straw.

(Yes, this experiment does involve the sacrifice of two harmless and innocent coat hangers. I suspect I will get quite an earful from Koncerned Voices for the Ethical Treatment of Coat Hangers.)

WHAT YOU DO: First, untwist the coat hangers so that you’re left with two long wires. Form the best letter L that you can with each hanger. Cut the straw in half, and put one half each on the SHORT ARM of your L-shaped wires. Once each half is in place, fold the ends of the wire over so that the straws won’t slip off. (You’ll be using the half-straws as grips.)

Now, hold your L-wires our in front of you, short side (with your grips) vertically, and the long side pointing away straight in front of you. Wait for them to stop flopping around (taking a few deep breaths to quiet yourself and your energy helps.) Now, keep your eyes pointed straight ahead, and think of something that causes you negative emotions. I used, no joke, Capitals playoff losses, and hat tricks by Sidney Crosby. (I’m a Capitals fan, what do you want?!) Watch what happens: your wires will start pointing inward, and may eventually touch if you get enough negativity going (which I do not recommend.)

Now reset your grip, keep looking straight ahead, and start giving yourself positive emotions. For this, I actually imagined, I kid you not, what John Walton might sound like calling late-round playoff victories for the Caps. In my case, when I got to the part where Gary Bettman said, “Alexander Ovechkin, come get the Stanley Cup,” the wires were pointing out so far I almost couldn’t hold on to them.

Try it yourself if you don’t believe me.

Now try this: while holding your wires straight out, and looking straight ahead, focus your attention on something to either side. Look at where the wires go: they follow the direction of your thoughts.

Try it, folks. Don’t just take my word for it (not that anyone ever does.) You’ve got nothing to lose but a couple of cheap wire hangers. And maybe, just maybe, you might begin to accept that what you think REALLY DOES MATTER.

I’ll intend the best for the Caps in Thursday night’s contest with Ottawa. Two final road games, and then the Caps will be home for the balance of the season.

Now, you, reading this: Go find two coat hangers, get a straw, and try that experiment. Go.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
INQUISITIVE

Scenarios for 3/24/13 March 24, 2013

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Oh, while I’m at it–and I’m doing this in prose, much, I’m sure, to everyone’s relief–some scenarios for Sunday. The Capitals obviously need a win here, but let’s run the scenarios…

WSH R-WIN
WSH would take 10 East from BUF (idle). WSH would be within 1 point of NYR (vs WSH) and CAR (idle). NYR would hold at 9 East. If TBL defeat WPG in regulation, WSH would also be within 3 points of SE leader WPG. If TBL defeat WPG in extra time, WSH would be within 4 points of WPG. If WPG wins, WSH would remain 5 points behind WPG.

WSH O- OR S-WIN
WSH would take 10 East from BUF (idle). NYR would take 8 East from CAR (idle). WSH would be within 1 point of CAR (idle), and within 2 points of NYR (vs WSH). Scenarios of WPG-TBL game as in R-win.

CAPITALS O- OR S-LOSS
WSH would take 10 East from BUF (idle). NYR would take 8 East from CAR (idle).
WSH would move to within 2 points of CAR (idle).
If TBL defeat WPG in regulation, WSH would close to within 4 points of SE leader WPG. If TBL defeat WPG in extra time, WSH would close to within 5 points of WPG. If WPG wins, WSH would fall to 6 points behind WPG.

CAPITALS R-LOSS:
NYR would take 8 East from CAR (idle).
WSH would hold at 11 East if FLA (at NYI) wins in regulation, AND if PIT wins.
WSH would fall to 12 East if EITHER: NYI (vs FLA) do not lose in regulation; OR if PHI (at PIT) wins.
WSH would fall to 13 East if BOTH NYI (vs FLA) do not lose in regulation, AND PHI (at PIT) wins.
If TBL win in regulation, WSH would remain 5 points behind SE leader WPG. If TBL wins in extra time, WSH would fall to 6 points behind WPG; if WPG wins, WSH would fall to 7 points behind WPG.

Now, wait a minute, you’re saying, the Bolts are only 2 points back, so where are they in these scenarios?

The Bolts have one less ROW than the Capitals, so if they win in a shootout, they stay put. However, even if they win in regulation or overtime, they can’t catch the Capitals. The next tie break is head-to-head. The series is tied at 2 points apiece; HOWEVER, both games were played in Tampa Bay. The rule is that if teams are tied head to head, and have not played an equal number of home games, the first “extra” game is ignored. Well, the first “extra” game in Tampa was Opening Night, and the Bolts won that: that win gets ignored, so the Caps retain the standing for head-to-head purposes.

All that having been said…let’s hope for a regulation win by the guys in the white sweaters Sunday night.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
ON A SUDDEN BLOGGING BINGE

Some Really, Really Bad Verse March 23, 2013

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Had anyone told me on Wednesday that the Caps would be in their current position,
I would probably have told them that there’s a long, long way between predictin’ and wishin’.
Still, two convincing romps on two consecutive nights in Manitoba,
And now it looks like our season might suddenly not be oba.
With Braden Holtby doing his best impression of a reinforced bank vault,
Jets fans only got one chance to do their version of “all your fault.”
This season has been one of so many highs and lows,
There are nights I can’t tell if the Caps will be the Terminators, or the CurlyLarryMoes.
I hope most fervently that the Caps have finally found their stride,
Because if they have, the next month (or three?) could turn out to be one hell of a ride.
Now, had you asked me last Wednesday what the Caps should do at the deadline,
I most likely would have said that the Caps should walk into a Metro station and toss their playoff hopes in front of the next Red Line.
But then the Caps went into Winnipeg and opened up a two-night, 10-1 can of Redi Whip,
And it may not be foolish optimism to think the Caps are somehow, at this stage of the game, suddently figuring out how to right the ship.
And now comes arguably a season-deciding contest at MSG.
Question: Which Capitals team is going to show up? Answer: Beats the 8-shot iced Americano outta me.
If it’s the same bunch that got Manitobans crying on their Tim Horton’s, that would be totally swell.
But given how up and down this season has been for the Caps, there’s just no way, right now, to tell.
There’s no reason they CAN’T kick the snot out of the Rangers:
They’ve played each other in several recent playoffs, so these two teams sure aren’t strangers.
And the Caps have, for the most part, come out on the right side of that match-up;
This will be the part where we see how well they can play there when they have to play catch-up.
Game 7 last spring was the most terrible, awful, no-good, very bad way to begin an overly extended summer.
We had them, dagnabbit, and losing that game was a woody parsnip, a Chinese wax job, and a nitchen schwag bummer.
So now, here we are, back on Broadway, playing for the regular season’s version of “next round or the putting green.”
Our last visit to MSG was a dud, and a win today may require an effort from the Caps that we may not, this season, have seen.
Sixty-minute game? Please. That’s only where the effort should begin.
The Caps need to treat this like a playoff multi-OT if they want to get a convincing win.
And I’m sure that the players know what the coaches, management, and the fans all would beseech:
Get two unanswered points here, guys, and suddenly, the postseason may be well within your reach.
As for what to do at the deadline, that is currently no longer a slam dunk;
But it might end up becoming one if the Caps go into an unexpected funk.
One game at a time, yes, absolutely: it does no good to look too far ahead.
But the game at hand now is one that could raise our chances considerably, or leave us all but dead.
It’s never a dull day
When there’s hockey on the Great White Way.
The Caps need to win this one if they hope to have April jumping on F Street.
A bad game here, and there may be some fans who decide to spend the rest of the season dressing like a seat.
When it’s all said and done, this could be another epic chapter of the battle of the red, white, and blue.
Or, who knows, it may end up being just another footnote. I personally have no clue.
I know what I’d like to see from the boys from DC.
Whether or not I will see it is beyond me.
So, in closing, I want to wish the Capitals all the very best,
As they take to the ice in Manhattan for a potentially season-deciding test.
May your passes be crisp, may your hits be solid, may the saves be simple, and may your goal-scoring highlights be glorious.
And may you come out of the most famous arena in sports, victorious.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
OGDEN NASH WOULDN’T APPROVE

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