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INEXCUSABLE March 13, 2013

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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Caps Nation, I don’t know what to tell you.

Coming out of Thursday night’s 7-1 dismantling of the Florida Panthers, the Caps suddenly looked like they had a genuine shot at turning their season around.  (Note well the use of past tense.)  Up ahead, a visit to the Island, where the Islanders had struggled; a home game against the Rangers, who hadn’t exactly been tearing up the pea patch away from MSG; and a home game against the Hurricanes, which everyone knew would go a long way in determining the Caps’ chances of winning the Southeast Division.  The games against the New York teams were “should win”; tonight’s Carolina game was effectively “must win.”

So what happened?  The Caps proceeded to lose all three games by an aggregate score of 13 to 3.

9 of the Capitals’ next 11 games are on the road.  The Caps’ current road record is an abysmal 3-7-1.  I might still have held out hope for a sudden reversal of fortune; but the Caps’ “efforts” tonight–and even using quote marks here seems an insufficient negation–have more or less disabused me of any hope I might have had left for this season.

The third goal was the final straw:  Carolina iced the puck, but Jeff Schultz did not get back to touch up in time; the puck was in the Washington net within a matter of seconds.

I’ll be blunt:  Jeff Schultz owes Braden Holtby a steak dinner and a public written apology for such a half-hearted, piss-poor play.  There is NO excuse for that.  None.

Regarding Holtby–he did absolutely everything he could to keep the Caps in this game.  A bank shot from behind the net, a deflection, Schultz’s brain-fart, and an empty-netter is a horrible way to watch a sailboat go up on the scoreboard.  Holtby deserved much, much better than this.

So where, exactly, was the urgency from the rest of the team?  And where do I begin?  To start, I have to say, I haven’t seen that much swing-and-a-miss since the last time I took batting practice in Little League.  And the rest?  The passing was atrocious, the Caps couldn’t seem to get past the neutral zone, they weren’t working hard enough to draw penalties, only three of them (Ward, Chimera, and Beagle) won the majority of their faceoffs, and the cycle game looked about as suspicious as Lance Armstrong’s.

All this, in a game the Caps knew they had to win, and on the day after they were given a day off to boot.

And so I have to start re-thinking what’s come so far this season.

The assumption was, that the Caps’ 2-8-1 start could be explained away by a lot of new players playing for a brand new coach, who was teaching a brand new system, and that by the time the Caps finally “got it”, they were already in a 2-8-1 hole.  After the Caps won 8 of their next 11, the assumption was that this was the new normal, and they were going to start making their way back into contention.

In light of the most recent three games, all of that needs to be re-thought.

Now, to be fair, the Capitals have been facing more extenuating circumstances than most teams ever see in one season.  Short season, new blood, less than a week to learn a new system, injuries to key players, weird schedule, and the list probably goes on.

But true champions do not give in to circumstance:  they OVERCOME circumstance.  Not these Capitals:  tonight, they played a must-win divisional game like it was some meaningless preseason game up in Baltimore.

The Stanley Cup isn’t coming to Washington this year.  Period.  If the past three games have shown me anything, it is that this team, as constituted, simply does not have what it takes.

Now, I’d love to be wrong.  I’d love to see the Capitals take to the road, break hearts at a lot of Eastern Conference barns, and go into April with a legitimate shot at a playoff spot, and a roster full of players with a champion’s heart.  I’d love to be able to anticipate hockey in June in DC, and I’d love to look forward to breaking a serious sweat in my cloak.

But after watching the Capitals stink up the joint in a must-win game, I must admit, I’m already looking around for the mothballs.

Do not misunderstand:  I still love this team, and I will continue to intend the best for each and every one of the players for as long as they’re with the Capitals.  I’ll still be at every game I am physically able to attend, cheering the Caps on to whatever victories they choose to pursue this year.  The players may very well have given up on this season, but I’m not giving up on them.

But I cannot, and will not, defend the indefensible.  I cannot, and will not, accept the unacceptable.  And I cannot, and will not, excuse the inexcusable.  The Capitals have much, much to be called to account for in these most recent three games.  The level of play has been inexcusable.

But, as I said, I’m not leaving.  I thoroughly expect to have my heart broken many, many times in the next month and a half.  I expect there will be nights when I’m one of the last few fans in their seats at the final horn.  I expect that some of the men on the current roster will be playing elsewhere by this time next month.  And I expect that for most, if not all of them, I’ll be genuinely sad to see them go.

This season has been a very, very difficult one.  And I know there will be many more difficulties to come.

But o, how I wish that this team, and these players, could have done something special this year.  And while the possibility of that is yet still there, it is distant, and fast receding.  O, how I wish that this could have been the year I at last got to hear, “Alexander Ovechkin, come get the Stanley Cup.”   And while that may yet happen, the impediments to be overcome are now nigh on insurmountable.  O, how I wish that this could have been the year when I got to experience firsthand the drama, the passion, the pageantry of the Stanley Cup Finals here in Washington, DC.  And while that may yet happen, I cannot believe right now that this team, the team that I watched perform so horridly at Verizon Center tonight, has within it the makings of a champion.  And o, how I wish to be wrong!

If tonight was the first game of the rest of the Capitals’ season, then o, what a long and lamentable season it will be!

Tonight, I mourn, for hope for this season is far removed from me.  This season is scarcely halfway run, and already, I weep for all that might have been.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
WHAT A SAD NIGHT!

Whew! March 8, 2013

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Back in 1979, CBS rolled out a game show called, “Whew!” (I know that sounds like an extremely odd opening for a hockey post, but bear with me.) The main game worked like this: the challenger selected whether to start as the “blocker” or the “charger.” The charger was put in a soundproof booth while the blocker set up “blocks” on the game board. The board consisted of 5 rows of clues worth 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 dollars, plus a sixth row at the top with clues of 200, 300, and 500 dollars. The blocker got to place 6 blocks: no more than 3 in any row of 5, and no more than 1 in the top row. The charger was then brought back onstage, and had 60 seconds to get to the top of the board. Each clue had an error that was underlined; the “answer” was the correct word or phrase. For instance, if the clue was, “John Erskine had his #4 retired by the Boston Bruins,” the correct answer would be “Bobby Orr.” If the charger landed on a block, they were given a 5-second penalty. If the charger thought they didn’t have enough time to finish, they could take a “Long Shot”, stop the clock, and go straight to the top row. The blocker was then given one additional block to secretly place on the top row. If the charger made it all the way up the board in 60 seconds, or successfully answered a Long Shot, they won; if the charger ran out of time, picked a block on the Long Shot, or got the Long Shot answer wrong, the blocker won the game. Players traded roles for the second round of three; if a third round was necessary, the defending champion chose which role to play for Game 3. Best 2 out of 3 won the match; and if the winner could solve ten clues in the bonus round, they won $25,000. That may not sound like much today, but $25,000 in 1979 would be almost $79,000 in 2012 dollars.

As you have no doubt figured out from that long-winded description, my theme for this post is going to be “blocking” and “charging” with respect to where the Capitals are situated in the standings.

Okay, first, let’s look at where the Caps stand right now. The Caps are now at 21 points, which is the same total as Tampa Bay and Buffalo. However, because the Caps have played fewer games than either of those two teams, they’ve just charged to the 12 spot in the Eastern Conference.

But when you look at the number of points each team has available, the Caps are actually in even better shape than that. Here’s the raw list:

(Format: TEAM, Max Pts/Current Pts)

BOS 87/33
MTL 82/34
PIT 80/32
NYR 78/26
CAR 77/27
TOR 76/30
OTT 76/28
NJD 75/27
WPG 73/23
WSH 73/21
NYI 71/23
PHI 69/23
TBL 69/21
BUF 67/21
FLA 67/19

So in terms of playoff potential, the Caps are in a position right now where they have more control of their playoff fate than they did even a few weeks ago. Being one of the hottest teams in the conference over the last 10 games, while some of the teams nearby have been struggling, has been good medicine.

I’m looking at the Caps’ next few games, and what I see is the potential for either a whole lot of charging, or some very, very big blocks.

First up is the Islanders this Saturday, at the Vet. If the Caps win that game in regulation, they will charge one spot in the Eastern Conference standings for sure. If Philadelphia loses in regulation on Saturday, you can make that a 2-spot charge.

But even before that happens, watch the Panthers-Jets game Friday night. If the Panthers beat the Jets in regulation on Friday night, the Caps could pick that spot up on Saturday, as well.

In other words, if the Capitals take care of business on Long Island on Saturday, and they get some help from out of town, they could theoretically be standing–you sitting down, Caps Nation?–NINTH when they come home to face the Rangers on Sunday.

Speaking of the Rangers, they host Ottawa on Friday night. Now, if you look at the standings, it’s easy to favor the Rangers going into that game. The Rangers are 9-4-1 at home, while the Senators are 3-7-2 on the road; the Rangers are coming in on a 4-game streak, the Senators, on a 1-game skid. However, the Senators win with defense. It’s technically accurate to say that only Boston has allowed fewer goals than Ottawa in the Eastern Conference. But it’s only 1 goal, and the Bruins have played 3 fewer games. The Senators are actually giving the Chicago Blackhawks a serious run for the Jennings Trophy right now, and the Rangers aren’t exactly shooting the lights out on Broadway. That game could easily go any number of different ways on Friday night. A regulation win by the Senators would be a HUGE help to the Capitals.

That would set up quite a showdown at the Phone Booth on Sunday morning.

(And pardon the rant, but it is a morning game in my book: thanks to Daylight Savings Time, it’s going to feel like an 11:30 start, meaning it’s going to feel like 10:30 doors at Verizon Center, and oh by the way, Metro is going to be a mess this weekend. Caps Nation, what do you think: maybe we should all show up for the game on Sunday in our pajamas?)

Ahem–as I was saying–quite a showdown at the Phone Booth on Sunday morning.

If the Senators beat the Rangers in regulation, and the Caps take care of both teams from New York over the weekend, the Caps could, with a little help, quite possibly charge all the way to–would you believe this?–ONE POINT out of playoff position.

However…

If the Caps lose both games this weekend, and the out of town scoreboard piles on the insults, the Caps could conceivably be all the way back in 14th by the time the Hurricanes arrive to kick off a home-and-home Tuesday night–two quick games that could decide if the Caps are going to be charging in the Southeast, or staring down a very, very serious block.

Reasons to hope this weekend: the Islanders have been HORRIBLE at home this season, which may play to the Caps’ favor on Saturday; and the Rangers have not been very good on the road coming into Verizon Center on Sunday, where the Caps are now 7-5-0.

What worries me about Saturday is the Caps’ road record, a very pedestrian 3-6-1 so far. That road record has GOT to improve this month if the Caps are to have any chance of–yes, I’m going there–charging all the way into the playoffs. That said, the Islanders aren’t much better at home than the Caps have been on the road, so even this may be worrying too much.

So, keep an eye on the scoreboard Friday night, Caps faithful. If the Panthers win in regulation, the Caps could jump two spots, and possibly three, with a win at the Vet on Saturday. And don’t neglect to look in on the Rangers-Sens game, as that game could set the table for Sunday’s game here in the District.

All in all, this is going to be a whirlwind weekend for hockey in DC…and that’s before we play the Hurricanes.

This season is suddenly getting very, very interesting. Step away from the ping pong balls, folks: these Capitals just might be able to pull this Long Shot off, after all.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
INTRIGUED

On Realignment February 27, 2013

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I saw the NHL’s proposal for realignment. If you haven’t seen it, the gist of it is, instead of 6 divisions of 5, the NHL goes to two divisions of 8 in the East, and two divisions of 7 in the West.  Top four teams from each division play down to division champion; division teams battle it out for the conference; conference winners play for the Stanley Cup.

It would be an elegant format, if only the league had 32 teams.  As it stands, it would be easier to get into the playoffs in the Western Conference, and harder to make it in for the East.

Frankly, I think that’s overcooking that particular casserole.  You could keep the 6-division alignment by putting Winnipeg into the Northwest (keeping the Canadian teams together), Minnesota into the Central (since it’s just up the pike from Chicago), and Columbus into the Southeast.

Wait…Columbus, in the Southeast?  Actually, if you look, Columbus is closer to Raleigh and Washington than Nashville; and even though it’s further from Florida, the Jackets could hit both the Panthers and Lightning on the same road swing and call it done.  Columbus is also on Eastern time; Nashville, on Central.

I know the Red Wings won’t like it, but Columbus is further east.  Outside the NFL, which puts more emphasis on history than on geography, Columbus to Pittsburgh may be one of the shortest distances between two conferences in all of professional sports.

And no, that does not mean Columbus to the Atlantic.  With the Hudson Valley Three, and the Keystone Rivalry, the Atlantic is as good as it could be (without Washington being in it, that is.)  What, do you put the Flyers in the Southeast?  Um…no.  There’s just too much history along I-76 to just split it up like that.  The Southeast is enough of a hodgepodge already, so that’s the easiest place to put the Jackets.

That would be the best way to do it:  move Winnipeg into a Canada-heavy division, shift a team on the cusp (Minnesota) into the next division over, and from there, move an Ohio team into–wait for it–the Eastern Conference.  I would guess that, given a choice, Jets fans would rather travel more if it meant a more Canada-heavy schedule:  ergo, Northwest.  But the Avalanche have to stay put in that scenario, so Minnesota would move into the same division as Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis (oh, hi there, Nashville.)  That would put the Jackets into the East, and in the interest of keeping the Atlantic together, Columbus would then go into the Southeast.

Now, if they really did end up going with four divisions only, they really would need to have some way for Eastern Conference teams to not have to beat four division teams instead of three.  Here’s one way to do it:

*Top THREE teams in each division automatically qualify for the playoffs.
*Top Eastern wild card takes the 4 spot in its own division.
*Second highest Eastern Wild card takes the remaining 4 spot in the East, regardless of division.
*Top Western wild card takes the 4 spot in its own division.
*Next highest AT LARGE wild card takes the remaining 4 spot in the West.

That’s less than ideal–travel under that arrangement would be horrendous–but you could conceivably end up seeing teams win cross-division, or even cross-conference, titles, which might make for some interesting rafters in years to come.  You might also end up seeing two Eastern rivals duking it out for the Stanley Cup.  

(Memo to the NHL:  that means you might end up with Ovechkin vs. Crosby for all the marbles.  IMAGINE THE RATINGS!)

That’s complicated, yes.  But I’m not entirely sold on the idea of teams having a 4:3 chance in favor of making the postseason out West, while Eastern teams are reduced to a coin flip.  Putting an at-large wild card in play could make things slightly easier on the East, and slightly tougher on the West, which could help balance out the idea of “two divisions of 8, one of 7.”

How does it look mathematically?  Well, Eastern teams have a minimum chance of 8/16 at the playoffs, which is 50%.  If the at-large wild card is from the East, the East would end up with a 56.25% chance of making the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the West would be guaranteed 7 spots out of 14 teams–the same 50% as the East–and would have about a 57.14% chance at the playoffs if the at-large spot went to the West.  I’m not quite sure how those work together, but they look awfully darn close, in my view.  Both conferences would begin with a 50-50 chance at the playoffs:  it would not start at 50% in the East, and 57% in the West.  Looked at strictly from the math side, 8 spots guaranteed in the East, 7 spots guaranteed in the West, and the last spot in the West going to the best remaining team league-wide, is the best way to make the math work out.

The logistics of an Eastern 9 would be horrendous, but Detroit’s won one or two Stanley Cups from out West, so it can be done.

And an at-large wild card could result in some already historic rivalries in the East becoming battles for the ages.  Think what would happen if Boston won the East, while Montreal survived the West as the at-large.  Imagine the Rangers winning the East, and the Flyers coming out of the West off the at-large.  And, I’ll try this scenario again:  Penguins win the East, Capitals survive the West from the at-large, and you end up with the CAPITALS AND PENGUINS DUKING IT OUT FOR THE STANLEY CUP.

That 7-7-8-8 alignment looks like a lemon right now, but with an at-large playing in the West…that’s not just lemonade, that’s HARD lemonade.

Now, then…Caps and Flyers tonight, on Rivalry Wednesday.  I’m stoked.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
MY, WHAT CRUNCHY NUMBERS

From Grave Concern To Wait And See February 27, 2013

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I wrote in my last post that I was no longer in panic mode, but that I remained gravely concerned about where the Capitals are heading this season.

Well, time to upgrade the condition again, this time to Wait And See. The Caps were–let’s be honest–kinda sorta stinkeroo to start the season, but they seem to have been playing markedly better the last few games. Housing the reigning Eastern Conference Champions 5-1, and then shutting out the current leader of the Southeast Division, would seem to bode well for the Caps.

And yet, I cannot so easily dismiss the team’s early struggles. They do have some convincing wins as of late; but a 7-10-1 record and 5-5-0 Last 10 are still nothing to write home about.

Wednesday night’s game against the Flyers is going to be huge. If the Caps win that, they would climb up to 12th in the East. No small feat, that, especially for a team that not so long ago looked like it was dead, buried, and playing for ping pong balls. A win Wednesday night, and the Capitals’ season would suddenly get much, much more interesting. No, it’s not “must win.” But it is definitely a “really, really should win,” especially given the national stage the Caps will be on.

So, let’s look at the math. I normally don’t publish playoff math charts that I know up front need a lot of work, so take the below chart as a point of discussion only.

Rough chart: Guidance Only

Team Max
Pts
Curr
Pts
Magic
Nums
Which
Does
What?
Clinch Elim
BOS 90 26 +45
BUF
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4NE
   
MTL 85 27 +44
BUF
-59
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4NE
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
   
OTT 84 26 +45
BUF
-58
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4NE
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
   
PIT 82 26 +45
BUF
-56
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
NJD 82 24 +47
BUF
-56
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
TOR 80 24 +47
BUF
-54
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4NE
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
   
CAR 79 19 +52
BUF
-53
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
NYR 78 18 +53
BUF
-52
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
TBL 77 19 +52
BUF
-51
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
WPG 77 19 +52
BUF
-51
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
WSH 75 15 +56
BUF
-49
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
FLA 74 16 +55
BUF
-48
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
PHI 73 19 +52
BUF
-47
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
NYI 73 17 +54
BUF
-47
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
   
BUF 71 15 -45
BOS
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
   

Rough chart: Guidance Only

NOTES

  • This is a ROUGH CHART. Tie breaks are NOT being considered.
  • President’s Trophy and Top 5 Draft are NOT being considered.
  • This chart is for discussion purposes ONLY, and should not be construed as official.
  • Elimination from a Division 1 spot automatically eliminates a team from the Conference 3 spot.

I know what you’re going to ask: how are the Caps up in the 11 spot on this chart, when they’re 14th overall in the standings? To begin with, this chart ranks teams by how many points they have available, and THEN looks at how many points they have right now. The Caps have had a comparatively light schedule compared to the rest of the East: only Boston has played fewer games, which is part of the reason why the B’s top end number is so gaudy. The Caps still have another 60 points available to them; meanwhile, some of the teams just a few points ahead of them in the standings have bled a few more points off their top end, which means they have fewer total points available than the Caps do.

So based on that, there may actually be grounds for some extremely guarded optimism. But there is a “however” on that: the Capitals have to keep winning to hang on to those top end points. One loss here, one overtime there, and pretty soon that top end could be in tatters. The Capitals still need to win a lot of games, right now. The teams ahead of them are not likely to slow down, and any help the Caps get from the teams behind them is going to come at the expense of the trailing team gaining ground on the Caps. I would even go so far as to say that the Capitals can make the playoffs from where they are right now. However–there’s that word again–that will only happen if the Capitals take care of business on their own end. Too much “coulda, woulda, shoulda” in March may ultimately lead to “this out of town game hurts us either way” in April, and that usually spells trouble for a team’s playoff hopes.

The Caps aren’t quite at the point where they need to treat every game like a playoff game. At this point, one or two bad nights at the office won’t kill them; but the emphasis is on one or two. The Caps need to win, a lot, right away.

So why am I taking a wait and see attitude about that? Frankly, despite the Caps’ dominating performance in their last two games–and here I will praise with faint damns–I’m still not quite sure that they’re as good a hockey team as they can possibly be. Two home romps, however satisfying, do not a comeback make. The Caps need to win, consistently. They need to play all 200 feet for all 60 minutes, every single night they get on the ice. The $64,000 question is, can they do that, and will they?

Granted, the Caps looked like a well-oiled machine Tuesday night against the Hurricanes. Excellent job, to be sure; and plaudits up and down the roster for a job well done. But that’s just one game. And several of the players on this team were there for Game 7 against the Rangers last spring, a winner-take-all game in which they arguably got out-everythinged. So, what team is this? Is it the no-nonsense bunch that surgically shut down the Hurricanes Tuesday night? Or is it the gang that couldn’t shoot straight on Broadway when the stakes were win or go home?

So that’s what I’m waiting to see. I want to make sure these two most recent romps are the new normal for this Capitals team, and not merely an oasis of satisfaction in a heartbreaking desert of a losing season.

The rest of the season begins Wednesday night, in Philadelphia, on the national stage. How the Capitals perform under this coast to coast microscope may ultimately define where the rest of their season goes from here.

I hope to see more of what I saw on Tuesday, but given the history of some of the men on the roster, “wait and see” is the best I can manage at this time. I do not expect any certain outcome, but paradoxically, I do expect that I will not be surprised regardless of what happens.

I want to wish the Capitals all the best in Philadelphia. It’s a tough place to play, and the stakes are higher than they should be at this point in the season. If any team can rise to the challenge, it’s these Capitals. However–and there I go with that word again–if any team can royally disappoint, it’s these same Capitals.

We’ll find out which Capitals team this really is when the puck drops at 7:30 Wednesday night.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
NONCOMMITTAL

From Panic to Grave Concern February 14, 2013

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And yes, I do mean that as an upgrade.

The Caps are on a modest 2-game streak, and are heading into Thursday night’s bout with the Bolts with a bit of momentum on their side.  The Caps just came out on the good end of an overtime game Tuesday night; the Lightning, by contrast, are on a 5-game winless streak, most recently finding themselves on the wrong end of a 4-3 shootout loss to the Habs.  The Caps are heading in the right direction; the Lightning are getting close to two weeks without a win.

Yes, I know it’s a division game; yes, I know anything can happen; yes, I know this is pretty much the same club that clobbered us on Opening Night.

But the Caps are starting to look like they’re figuring out everything they didn’t get a preseason to learn.  Saturday night’s romp at Verizon Center was a welcome relief, to be sure.  But Tuesday night’s win may have been more important, because the Caps finally figured out how to throw the kitchen sink late in a game and actually score a hit.  Down by a couple with time getting short, they fought back, and skated out with two points.  Any win is a good win at this point, and a character win on top of two points is most welcome indeed.

But the Caps aren’t out of the woods yet.  They are still in last place:  not tied for last place; last place outright, due to tie breaks.  They can’t stop at a 2-game streak:  it needs to become a sustained run of wins.  4-5-1 in the L10 column is still losing hockey, and they need to get working on turning that 4 into a 5, 6, 7, or better.  They simply HAVE to claw their way out of the cellar.

It’s more than just the ignominy of being in last place.  That’s bad enough.  But when you look at it from the playoff math side of it, last place is the last place you want to be, especially this season.  If you have one team ahead of you, and another one safely behind you, and the lower seed beats the higher seed, you have a chance to make up a lot of ground on the higher seed.  But when EVERYONE is ahead of you, you can lose ground no matter who wins any particular game.  If the higher seed wins, they’re that much closer to getting out of your reach for good; if the lower seed wins, you now have to make up ground on them, too.  And with no inter-conference help possible this year, every single game matters.  The short version:  upsets won’t help unless the Caps are out in front of the team that’s doing the upset.

So they’ve GOT to win, win several games, and do it now.  I know I sound like a broken record on that point, but if they’ve really figured out how to claw their way back from a bad night (a la Tuesday night), and they also know how to win going away (remember Saturday?), then all the ingredients should be there for a charge up the standings.  I don’t want to say it’s must-win at this point, but we’re definitely closing in on put-up-or-shut-up time.

The Caps have done well in their last two; but they need many, many more wins if they’re going to have a shot at the playoffs.

Now, if you look at the standings, you’ll see the Caps a scant 6 points out of the division lead.  That’s not impossible; but it’s also not as easy as it would be under an 82-game schedule, especially with no help possible from the West.  I don’t want to say that one more bad skid means you can stick a fork in the season.  I DO want to say that the Caps have got to win.  A lot.  And now.

They’ve shown they can do it in their last two outings, and now it’s time to prove those weren’t flukes.  A win Thursday night in Tampa might get them an upgrade to Very Concerned.

Hey, you have to start somewhere.  Good luck, gentlemen.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
OUR CHARGE CONTINUES AGAINST THE BOLTS

Ovechkin That I Used To Know January 30, 2013

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A discussion of this season’s underperformance by the Capitals would not be complete without wondering, in print, what in God’s name has happened to Alexander Ovechkin.  It wasn’t too many seasons ago that the man brought home four player trophies in one year.

This year?  Six games in, and all he’s got to show is 1 goal, 1 assist, six penalty minutes, and a -2 rating.  The Alex Ovechkin that broke the Capitals record for goals by a left wing, who took home the Art Ross and Rocket Richard Trophies in the same year, is currently eighth on the team in points.

Who’s that impostor in the #8 sweater, and what the heck did he do with the real Alexander Ovechkin?!

I remember those seasons not too long ago when Ovechkin looked like he was having all the fun in the world out there on the ice.  The hockey world was his oyster, and he had the point totals, goal celebrations, and ear-to-ear grin to prove it.  Nowadays, his goal celebrations (what few I’ve seen recently) have looked like the fun has gone out of it for the Great 8.  I’m not sure what’s going on; but based on what I’m seeing, it doesn’t look like Ovechkin is having any fun anymore.

And if I had to guess, that may be a contributing factor to his diminishing numbers.  If it’s happiness that breeds success, as some have argued, then Ovechkin’s diminishing numbers may correlate with him not having as much fun as he used to have.

Yes, NHL hockey is a business:  a highly competitive business that can be as heartless as it is fun.  But go pull the video of the goal Ovechkin scored against Buffalo on Sunday:  there was no joy in his celebration.  He took the traditional hug from the guys on the ice, and skated past the bench, without any evident pep in his step.  Had the Alex Ovechkin of a couple years back gotten off to a slow start, he would have shown a lot more emotion on scoring his first of the season.  This time?  Meh.  Another day at the office.  Look at the video of his reaction to that goal, and try to tell me this is the same Alex Ovechkin who used to be lighting up the celebration reels as much as he was lighting up the scoreboard three, four, five years ago.

I don’t know about you, Caps Nation, but I want that old Alex Ovechkin back.

Anyway, I was sitting at a pharmacy waiting to pick something up today, wondering whatever happened to the old Alexander the Gr8, when the radio overhead started playing “Somebody That I Used To Know.”  I thought to myself, “I just want Ovechkin that I used to know,” and the resulting parody pretty much wrote itself.  (Yeah, I know…”and it shows.”)

So, here you go:

“Ovechkin That I Used To Know”
Parody of “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye

Now and then I think of when you won the Calder
And how the future looked so bright for Washington
You played with passion and a joie de vivre
It seemed your scoring touch would never leave
Those days were hopeful, and that hope I still remember

You can get addicted to a certain kind of iffy
And being just another player, just not so great
But we can’t seem to get past early May
At least you can still collect your pay
I just miss the days when you could score one in a jiffy

But you didn’t have to lose your touch
And drive DC completely nuts with your lack of performance
We may not need a hundred four
But you make six million plus ’cause you get paid to score

No, you didn’t have to fade away
And leave us wondering if we should have picked Evgeni Malkin
They can’t move your fat contract, though
So now I need Ovechkin that I used to know

Now I need Ovechkin that I used to know
Now I need Ovechkin that I used to know

Now and then I think of all those playoff series losses
And wond’ring if another goal from you’d have won some games
The Cup won’t come to Washington
If you keep doing what you’ve done
I know that you’re much better, though
So I need to see lots more of the Ovechkin that I used to know

Because you just don’t have to play like this
Make out like you just don’t care and leave your fanbase hungry
You may not score three every game,
But who you are and who you were just simply aren’t the same

No, you don’t have to score every goal
Just be the player that deep down inside you know you can be
I’ll be right there to cheer the show
When you bring back Ovechkin that I used to know

Ovechkin, that I used to know, etc. (Outro)

—————–

Look, I like Alexander Ovechkin a lot, as a player and as a citizen of DC.  He’s a genuinely good guy, and we’re lucky to have him here in Washington.  But I miss those days when walking into Verizon Center always meant wondering, “Okay, how will Alexander Ovechkin amaze us tonight?”  Nowadays, I’m wondering, “Okay, will Alexander Ovechkin even score tonight?”

Alexander Ovechkin is better than this.  I know it.  Caps fans know it.  I’d bet money the whole hockey world knows it.  And I’m pretty sure that in his heart of hearts, Ovechkin knows it, too.

Look, I know some of this is a bit heavy-handed–the Malkin reference is probably a bit much–but darn it, I know there’s a world-class hockey player in that #8 sweater somewhere.  I just hope I get to see more of it, especially given how badly the Caps are doing at this point in the season.

So, yeah…I want to see Ovechkin that I used to know.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
WEIRD AL I’M NOT

Better Find That Panic Button January 30, 2013

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No, Caps Nation, don’t HIT the panic button just yet. But make sure you know where it is, because we may have to hit it pretty darn soon.

Like most of you, I saw the ending of the Ottawa game, a 2-2 tie broken by a power-play goal off a sketchy call. It wouldn’t be a full official season of Capitals hockey without at least one game being stolen by the officials, or so it seems as of late.

But with 1/8th of their season already in the books, the Capitals have managed all of 3 points. That puts them on pace for 24 points, which would nearly bring the team full circle to its historically stinkeroo inaugural season.

With Alexander Ovechkin, a former 4-trophy player, on the roster.

So, yes, this is very, very bad. How bad? Here’s the current playoff chart for the Eastern Conference, and please don’t run away screaming when you see it.

Team Max Pts Curr Pts Magic Num Which Does What? C/E
BOS 95 11 +75
FLA
+Clinch
14E
N/A
TBL 94 10 +76
FLA
-83
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4SE
-Elim
1E
N/A
MTL 94 8 +78
FLA
-83
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
N/A
NJD 94 8 +78
FLA
-83
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
N/A
OTT 93 9 +77
FLA
-82
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
N/A
WPG 91 7 +79
FLA
-80
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4SE
-Elim
1E
N/A
NYI 91 7 +79
FLA
-80
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
N/A
NYR 90 6 +80
FLA
-79
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
N/A
TOR 90 6 +80
FLA
-79
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
N/A
PIT 90 6 +80
FLA
-79
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
N/A
CAR 90 4 +82
FLA
-79
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4SE
-Elim
1E
N/A
BUF 89 5 +81
FLA
-78
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1NE
-Elim
3E
N/A
WSH 87 3 +83
FLA
-76
BOS
+Clinch
14E
+Clinch
4SE
-Elim
1E
N/A
PHI 86 4 +82
FLA
-75
BOS
+Clinch
14E
-Elim
1E
N/A
FLA 86 2 -75
BOS
Elim
1E
N/A

NOTES:
TOR/NYR tie break is head-to-head
WPG/NYI tie break is head-to-head
MTL/NJD tie break is ROW
TOR/PIT tie break is ROW
Current PT favorite CHI not considered this East-only chart

Okay. So, right away, some good news: the Caps aren’t the worst team in the East, and they’re actually ahead of Philadelphia in terms of points available. Don’t forget, the Panthers charity-pointed their way to the division title last year, and the Flyers, well, are the Flyers, who you normally expect to see much higher up the chart.

Small comfort, that, but at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get.

Notice that as of right now, there’s not a lot of wiggle room between 1st place and 8th place, or between 15th place and 8th place. And with a conference-only schedule this year, every team’s win is going to be someone else’s direct loss. This isn’t a season where you can write 2 points off to a Western Conference powerhouse because, well, you’re not going to be playing anyone in the West. It’s also not a season where you can hope for help in the standings off of inter-conference games: if there are two teams ahead of you, and they go to overtime, you fall that much further behind, no questions asked, with not as many games available to hold your position.

The bottom line is that with the Caps standing 13th in terms of points available, they’re already in a position where they need to win, win a lot, and do it now. And they could soon find themselves no longer in control of their playoff destiny if they keep losing.

I don’t like being an alarmist, but at this point, I can’t argue with the math. And here’s what the math is telling me right now:

If the Capitals continue at the pace they’re now on, they will be eliminated from playoff contention on March 24th.

Yes, you read that right. If they keep playing like this, we’re going to end up with a month of meaningless hockey games here in the District. Not exactly the way to continue (ahem) a sellout streak.

Now for some good news.

The Caps will play a majority of their February games at home, which should–I hope!–give them time to hold position, and hopefully pick up a few spots in the standings. They’ll need every point they can spare, as they’ll only have half a dozen home games in March. And while the Caps are slated to spend the majority of April at Verizon Center, that home cooking isn’t going to mean much if they’re out of contention and the fans decide they’d rather watch the Nationals.

Look, I’m not a panic-monger by nature. I’m usually quick to offer some variant of “keep calm and carry on my wayward son.” (Which might make for a nice bumper sticker on the back of a Chevy Impala…)

But this is no ordinary season due to its shortened length. And even though the Caps, by all appearances, seem to be rebuilding, they cannot afford to take too many more notches in the L column if they still consider themselves contenders. They need to win, they need to win a lot of games, and they need to do it now. There is simply no time left to lollygag.

Gentlemen, either go hard, starting now, or just admit you’re playing for ping pong balls so we can get ready for the Nationals to start Spring Training. You have no margin for error, for the rest of the season. Get it together, now, or admit right now that this is going to be a rebuild year. And since I know you’re too proud to quit, then that leaves exactly one option: get it together, gentlemen.

This isn’t panic time, yet. But it is definitely very highly concerned time.

I want to wish the Caps all the best Thursday night in Toronto, and then on through the upcoming homestand and beyond. I believe this season can be salvaged despite the rough start, but the turnaround needs to happen soon.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
EXTREMELY WORRIED

Metro Alert for Sunday’s Caps Game January 25, 2013

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This will no doubt be done better by someone else, but here’s my crack at it.

RED LINE.  Metro advises that they will have service back to normal by noon on Sunday, so fans taking the Red Line shouldn’t be affected.  RECOMMENDATION:  Red Line riders may want to add a “just in case” 15 minutes to their travel time in case Metro runs into trouble clearing out the work zones.

YELLOW LINE.  No work scheduled; normal service intervals are scheduled on the Green Line.  Yellow Line riders should be unaffected.  RECOMMENDATION:  Expect normal service.

GREEN LINE.  Work scheduled between <b>College Park</b> and <b>Greenbelt.</b>  Only station affected is Greenbelt, which will be served by every other train.  Normal service intervals are scheduled for College Park and all points south.  RECOMMENDATION:  Avoid Greenbelt if possible.  Metro officially advises allowing 10 minutes additional travel time.

BLUE LINE.  No work scheduled; Orange Line trains running at reduced service, so overlap should not be an issue.  RECOMMENDATION:  Expect normal service.

ORANGE LINE.  <b>TWO SEPARATE WORK ZONES.</b>  Work zone on <b>WEST</b> side between <b>East Falls Church</b> and <b>West Falls Church.</b>  Work zone on <b>EAST</b> side between <b>Stadium-Armory</b> and <b>Cheverly.</b>  Includes <b>Minnesota Avenue</b> and <b>Deanwood.</b>  Trains running <b>every 24 minutes.</b>  RECOMMENDATION:  Bus or park and ride passengers on the west side may want to consider the Red or Blue lines.  Official Metro advisory for travel through the work zone is 20 minutes.  Park and ride passengers on the east side should consider the Blue Line, or the Green Line from College Park and points south.  Bus passengers may also want to consider using the Red Line.  Official Metro advisory for travel through the work zone is 20 minutes.

See you all at the game.–CS

Cue Edith Piaf January 7, 2013

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Those of you who saw the movie “Inception” will get the reference right away, but for the rest of you, I need to explain that title before I dive into the meat of this post.

In the film, dreamers are reminded that it’s time to wake up when they hear “Non, je ne regrette rien” by Edith Piaf.  There’s subtext in the usage of that song:  part of the plot involves how one of the characters recovers from a lot of moments that he regrets.  And if you listen carefully, the horns at the very beginning of the film sound like the horn part of “Non, je ne regrette rien” slowed down–which is how they would sound to dreamers in “Inception.”  And finally, at the end of the credits, the song is played at normal speed, signalling us, the “dreaming” audience, that it’s time to “wake up” ourselves.

Well, cue Edith Piaf on the nightmare that was the lockout, because now we can wake up and get back to the game we all love.

I’ve missed the NHL for the past few months.  Not exactly junkie-jonesing-for-a-fix missing it, but there’s definitely been a hole in my getting-out-of-the-house schedule that’s been a project to fill.  To be quite candid, I was beginning to expect them to call the whole season off any day now.  So when I found out they’d reached a deal on Sunday morning, I was happier than Sean Avery at Boxers NYC.

I’ve seen the expected “I’m only going to show up to boo” comments in some quarters, and that’s too bad.  Life’s too short, and hockey’s too much fun, to pay money to go stew in your own hatred.  And in order to vote with your vocal cords, you have to vote with your wallet to get in the door–and both the players and owners will happily listen to your kvetching all the way to the bank.  So if you’re going to show up, then cheer like the season depends on it.

And it very well just might.  With a shorter season, every game is going to be that much more important.  There will be almost no margin for error this season, even in the regular season, and never mind the playoffs.  We’re about to get treated to five months or so of the most intense NHL hockey any of us will (hopefully) ever see in our lives.  The errors of a 48-game season are much more dangerous than the errors of an 82-game season.  This season is essentially going to be one long, long stretch run from the instant the puck is dropped.  I don’t know about you, but I think that sure beats the heck out of a lost season.

And as far as I’ve heard, the playoffs are going to be the same as they’ve always been:  4 rounds, best of 7.  Yes, the Stanley Cup Final could very well be in late June.  (Just the thought of wearing an all-wool cloak when it’s in the upper 80′s is making me sweat.)  But as far as I know, they won’t put an asterisk on the Stanley Cup for this year’s champions.  The playoffs are the playoffs, regardless of the format of the qualification round (i.e., the regular season.)

The nightmare is over, Edith Piaf is blasting on our headphones, and it’s time for us to wake up to the reality of the new season before us.  Is it the 82-game slate we’d hoped for?  No.  Did it start back in October when we all wanted it to?  No.  Did we get to see a Winter Classic this year?  No. 

But does all of that give us, the fans, license to hold a grudge?  No, and especially not with a very unique season about to start.  That’s not to say that we should be rejoicing that the season has been shortened.  We shouldn’t be, not by any stretch.  But it is to say that we’re not going to see another season like this–hopefully–ever again.  So while we could get down in the amen corner and weep and gnash our teeth that we didn’t get the full 82 this year, I’d like to hope that we could instead take the good with the bad, and embrace the uniqueness of the season ahead of us.  If both sides of the labor dispute have learned their lesson well, we may never again see a season like this.  So why not appreciate the coming season for its uniqueness? 

No, it’s not a uniqueness anyone would have wanted; we’re correct in seeing it as a bit of a lemon of a qualifying round.  But what manner of lemonade might we see squeezed out of this lemon?

Let’s welcome hockey back with open arms, and look forward to a one-of-a-kind regular season.  Every single game is going to matter this year.  And the Stanley Cup will not be deliberately covered in tarnish for the team that ultimately wins it this year.

No, I did not, as a fan, enjoy the lockout.  No, I did not, as a fan, enjoy long, dark winter nights without the company of the sport I love.  No, I did not, as a fan, enjoy being reduced to a betting chip in a squillion-dollar poker game.

But Edith Piaf is blasting on my headphones.  The dream is over.  Hockey is back.  And even though the regular season is going to be markedly different from a full 82-game slate, I think that just makes it a singular–and hopefully unrepeatable–experience to take in stride.

Hockey is back, finally.  And I would submit that those of us who love the game, should love the game as we always have.  The time for finger-pointing is over.  Now it’s time for stick-taping, skate-sharpening, fight-strap-fastening, and trying to develop, once and for all, some way to de-stink hockey pads.

The nightmare is over.  The season is finally at hand.  And I, for one, can’t wait to get back to the rink and cheer for the guys in red.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
HOCKEY’S BACK!

For the Curious November 11, 2012

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I’m bored to tears, and I am seriously missing the NHL.  How badly am I missing it?

Well, I’m feeding my head with stuff like this.  That’s how bad.  Man, do I ever need a hockey fix.–CS

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