Thursday, May 30, 2013

Previewing the Conference Finals

It is really hard to do this, but I feel I have to.

The Conference Finals are set. In the East, we have the Boston Bruins against that team up in Pennsylvania. In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks, who rallied to beat the Detroit Red Wings, is playing the defending champion LA Kings.

This is the first time I'm blogging how I choose these winners, so this is a breakdown. I compare the Offenses, Defenses, Goaltending, and Special Teams, with Miscellaneous as a tiebreaker. So, lets begin.

EAST: #1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #4 Boston Bruins
Offense: Pittsburgh. Crosby, Malkin, Iginla et al. vs. Marchand, Lucic and Bergeron? Um, no.
Defense: Even. These are two contrasting styles. Pittsburgh has an offensive D, while Boston plays extremely defensively. They are both effective, though, and it's hard to choose a winner.
Goaltending: Boston. Tomas Vokoun has been good, but Caps fans know how that can change. Tuuka Rask has been consistent all year, and is really Boston's only hope for shutting down the Pens.
Special Teams: Even. This will be a battle between Pittsburgh's power play and Boston's penalty killing. If both play to their potential, this will be tough to call.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7. This comes down to home-ice advantage. Pittsburgh may overcome Boston's D, although Boston certainly has a chance of knocking these guys out.

WEST: #1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #5 Los Angeles Kings
Offense: Chicago. Both offenses have played well, but Chicago showed how dangerous they can be against Detroit. They have the advantage here.
Defense: Even. The tandem of Keith and Seabrook were extremely important for the Hawks against the Wings. Like the Eastern series, this is a battle of offensive D and defensive D.
Goaltending: Los Angeles. Corey Crawford has been good this year, but Jonathan Quick has been even better.
Special Teams: Even. Both teams have underperforming special teams squads. Playing to their potential, it will still be too close to call.
Prediction: Chicago in 7. This comes down to one thing: can the Blackhawks beat Jonathan Quick? Jimmy Howard was very good and nearly stemmed the Hawks, but Chicago prevailed in the end. The Kings have a good chance to beat the Blackhawks, but if Chicago can play like they did in Games 5-7 of the Detroit series, they will win.

You heard it first from me... the Stanley Cup Finals will be...

#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #1 Pittsburgh Penguins.

I'm already excited (even though the Caps aren't playing).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Why Alex Ovechkin Will Win the Hart Trophy

Getty Images
Let me start by saying one thing: John Tavares should win the Hart Trophy this year.

I'm not saying he will, or that I want him to. But the Hart Trophy is awarded to the player deemed most valuable to his team. Without Sidney Crosby (the other of the three finalists), the Penguins have Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, et al. Without Alex Ovechkin, the Caps still have two other players (Mike Ribeiro and Nick Backstrom) who had more points than Tavares, who led the New York Islanders. Without Tavares, the Isles have... Matt Moulson? Kyle Okposo? Brad Boyes?? Ovechkin probably made Backstrom's stats better with his even strength goals and Ribeiro's better with his power-play goals, but Tavares was arguably more valuable to his team than Ovechkin or Crosby.

That being said, here is why Alex Ovechkin will win the Hart this year:

1. He was EXTREMELY valuable to his team. No, I am not trying to contradict what I said earlier. Tavares was arguably more valuable, but OV was still important. Ovechkin had 9 goals in the first 25 games, and than Caps were 10-14-1 (the 9 goals are misleading; a third of those came courtesy of a hat trick against the Devils). OV scored 23 goals in the next 23 games, and the Caps went 17-4-2. The two halves of this season show just how important Ovechkin was to the Caps. Without him, I highly doubt the Caps make the playoffs this year.

2. He had a great season statistically. The Hart is not supposed to favor stats alone, but it invariably does. Crosby would have had the best season points-wise and assists-wise of the three (no surprise there), but Ovechkin scored 32 goals to win the Richard trophy for most goals fairly easily. Chances are Crosby (who had 15 goals before the injury) would not have scored 18 goals in 12 games to steal OV's crown. Tavares also did well goal-wise, finishing third with 28 goals, but even taking out Ovechkin's two empty-net goals, he wins the Richard (indeed, if he had made the 5 empty-netters he missed this year, he would have broken Peter Bondra's record for goals in a 48-game season). Ovechkin also ended up tied with Crosby for third in points with 56. Even if you consider that Crosby missed 12 games, OV ends up only behind him, Steven Stamkos, and Art Ross winner Martin St. Louis. Tavares finished 17th in points, with 47. Taking statistics into account, Ovechkin still should win.

3. History favors him. People have said a person who 'took half the year off' should not win the Hart. Two years ago, however, Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks rode a hot streak at the end of the season to the Richard crown and a Hart Trophy. This year, Ovechkin did the same. Albeit the expectations for Ovechkin are much higher than those for Perry, the stories are so similar. Both ended up third in points, both won the Richard, and both carried their team to the playoffs. If things go the way Caps fans want it to, both will have won a Hart that year as well.

Sidney Crosby should not even be in this conversation. He was really good, yes, and will probably win the Ted Lindsay Award for most outstanding player. But his team did well without him when he was injured, going 8-4. Tavares will win a Hart in his career, maybe this year, and certainly in the next few years. 

But if Alex Ovechkin wins the Hart, this is why.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The OV vs. Crosby Debate, and Why It Is Stupid

On October 5, 2005, two heralded prospects made their NHL debuts. Alex Ovechkin scored twice for the Washington Capitals, while Sidney Crosby recorded an assist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. As that debut season went on, it was easy to see that these two young stars would go on to be the face of the NHL.

Over the next few years, until the 2009-2010 season, these two were constantly compared, and it was pretty even, even though Crosby had been part of a Stanley Cup and Olympic winning team. In the past few years, however, with Ovechkin 'slumping,' Crosby had begun to distance himself and was 'by far' the best player in the world, while the emergence of Steven Stamkos left people wondering if Ovechkin was even one of the top two.

When the Capitals lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in February, Mike Milbury went on a rage, blasting Ovechkin about his 'lack of effort' and that 'he should be ashamed of himself.' Since then, the Great 8 was the one who went on a tear, storming to a sensational finish, beating Stamkos to win the goal-scoring title while ending up in a tie for third with Crosby in points. Because of this tear, the two have started being compared once again, as the battle for best player in the world has begun once more.

I just want to say one thing: this comparison is DUMB.

Alex Ovechkin is paid to score goals. That is how he plays. Wingers, whether left or right, are the finishers, the snipers. Centers, like Crosby, are people who do everything, pass, score, play D. Ovechkin has garnered a lot of criticism for being lazy defensively. Well, wingers are usually not very defensive in nature. Looking at past Selke Award winners (given to the best two-way forward), the last eight are all centers. Other than Jere Lehtinen and Bob Gainey no other non-center has won the award more than once. Now, while Ovechkin will not be winning the Selke any time soon, his efforts in Game 6 against the Rangers were still telling of why wingers, especially superstar wingers, don't play D. In the first period, he blocked a shot off of his foot, receiving a hairline fracture which greatly impeded what he could do. Ovechkin should play D, no question, but he should not have his 'lack' of effort compared to Crosby's just because of what he does and doesn't do in the defensive zone.

Crosby is also considered better than Ovechkin because he scores more points. What is surprising about this? There are two reasons: one, Crosby is a center, meaning he will pass a lot more than he will shoot. 41 of Crosby's 56 points last year came due to assists. Two: look at the linemates the two had. Crosby: Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis two scorers. Ovechkin: he finished the season with Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson (neither of who are scorers), but also played with Joey Crabb, Matt Hendricks, Wojtek Wolski, and Jason Chimera. Only one of those (Chimera) is a scoring threat, and he had an off year last year, with just two goals. Despite this, Ovechkin still had 24 assists last year, third on the team and top among Caps wingers. You can't expect someone without a bona fide goal scoring threat on his line to assist more than score.

Crosby is the best player in the world. I'm not going to dispute that. But Ovechkin is a close second. The Penguins are the NHL version of the Miami Heat, and Crosby is the LeBron. But the Caps are the Oklahoma City Thunder, a good team which needs to get better to win a championship, and OV is the KD (Kevin Durant). If management wants the Great 8 to get more points, they should bring in a scorer or bring up Evgeny Kuznetsov already. This will take pressure off Ovechkin while allowing himself to get more points as well.

But please let's not compare Crosby and Ovechkin any longer. It just does not work.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why We Lost Part 3: #1- Henrik Lundqvist

Greg Fiume/ Getty Images
I think we all knew this would be coming. While Brian Boyle and Derrick Brassard gave the Rangers a much needed offensive boost, and Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi played stellar shut-down defense, the series would have been over in maybe Game 4 or 5 without King Hank in net for the Blueshirts.

Times have changed since 2009, when the Caps rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Rangers in the first round and set up a second round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins (we all know how that turned out). In that series, the Caps victimized Henrik Lundqvist, consistently beating him high on the glove side. The Caps had figured him out! In 2011, Lundqvist was better, but it was hard to make an opinion on him when his offense struggled and the lasting image of the series was him sitting in the crease while Jason Chimera skated behind him and tapped the puck into the empty net. Once again, the Caps had vanquished New York. Last year, things took a turn. Lundqvist was stellar and used his glove well, and the Rangers and their good offense and defense took a hard-fought series.

And that brings us to this year, perhaps the most hard-fought series of all of those. The Caps wanted to dictate tempo. They did. They wanted to pressure the Rangers and forecheck with all their might. They did. They wanted to generate scoring opportunities. They did. They did nearly everything correctly offensive-wise, and should have easily taken this series, save for one thing: Henrik Lundqvist.

Hank was absolutely stellar in net for the Rangers, robbing the Caps time and again. He single-handedly thwarted the Caps offense, making save after save. In four of the games, he allowed 2 goals or less including a pair of shutouts, while in the other three he allowed three goals. Two of those were wins. Both of the OT games (which the Caps won) would not have even gone past 60 minutes had it not been the King. In the series, he had a 1.65 GAA and a .947 save percentage. Comparably, Braden Holtby, who had a respectable series, had a 2.22 GAA and a .922 save percentage. Holtby's stats are still pretty good, despite the 5 GA in Game 7. But King Henrik's stats are absolutely insane, especially considering the fact that the Caps outshot the Rangers in every game.

Lundqvist was a star. Without him, the Rangers don't win more than one game in this series, and it ends in Game 5, maybe even a sweep. Without Boyle and Brassard, the Rangers offense struggles and the Caps are likely in the second round. Without McDonagh and Girardi, the Rangers defense struggles and the Caps are almost certainly in the second round.

But without Henrik Lundqvist, the Caps are playing the Bruins tonight.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why We Lost Part 2: #2- McDonagh and Girardi

Getty Images
It was a familiar site for the Washington Capitals in this series. The top line barreled into the offensive zone. The crowd's noise level grew, as the fans began to rise either in anticipation or apprehension. Marcus Johansson or Nicklas Backstrom, whomever had the puck when they crossed the blue line, came in and dropped it off. Alex Ovechkin grabbed the puck and skated into a better shooting angle before releasing a wicked shot which looked perfect; until either Ryan McDonagh or Dan Girardi fell to block the shot, sending the puck careening harmlessly out of play.

The top line was perhaps the best line for the Capitals this series. In most shifts, they were generating offense and opportunities, which against most other teams, would be goals. However, because of the great work done by two hard-working defensemen, the top line was held in check for most of the series, contributing just two even-strength goals in the entire series. Alex Ovechkin, the superstar on the team and the reigning 'Rocket' Richard champion, was held to just one goal, a PPG in Game 1, while his other two line mates also only had one goal each, Johansson on a breakaway in Game 1, and Backstrom early in a losing effort in Game 3. The top line had their chances, namely Ovechkin's miss on an empty net in Game 6, but would have had a lot more had the top D pairing for the Rangers been so good. 

Ryan McDonagh had a shaky start to the series. He is perhaps most (in)famous for the Delay of Game penalty in OT of Game 2, which came at the end of a 3.5 minute long case and led to Mike Green's game winning goal. But that mistake aside, McDonagh was a key cog in their defense, averaging well over 20 minutes every game and helping shut down the best power play in the league. He brought good grit  to the back line of the Rangers, and helped out offensively as best he could. But his biggest accomplishment was helping shut down Ovechkin. McDonagh was often given the task of guarding the Great 8 and did so admirably, not allowing him to receive passes and take shots and limiting him to just 1 goal and 1 assist, both on power plays.

Dan Girardi was arguably even better than McDonagh. He was a tough player who skated long, tough minutes against the Caps' best lines. In Game 1 alone, a non-OT game, he skated 29 minutes. In a 60 minute game, he skated nearly half of it. The image stuck in my head as I write this is the picture of Ovechkin getting crushed in Game 7 by Girardi. He made very few mistakes, and was ready to drop and block any shot the Caps took (in fact, he exemplified the Rangers defensive philosophy: Stop, Drop, and Block). 

An argument could be made that the Rangers D in general would have been enough to control Washington's high-powered offense, but does anybody honestly think Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto would have been good enough to stop OV and Backstrom? I highly doubt that. I said in the previous post that without Boyle and Brassard, the Caps would most likely be playing the Bruins right now. Well, the same thing applies to Girardi and McDonagh, although I'd change it a bit. Without those two, the Caps would almost definitely be in the second round this year.

I'd say about a 90% chance.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why We Lost Part 1: #3- The Boyle-Brassard Combo

AP Photo/ Charles Krupa
Well, after this exhilarating run came to an end on Monday, I got to thinking: Why did this team, a team on fire going into the playoffs, and a team considered by many poised on making a deep playoff run, lose in the first round yet again? 

Over the next few days, I will be examining the biggest reasons the 2013 edition of the Washington Capitals lost, starting with #3: Brian Boyle and Derrick Brassard.

Boyle was held out of Game 1 when John Tortorella decided Chris Kreider would be more of a threat. Kreider skated 8:23 in that game and was a -1 with 2 shots. In Game 2, Tortorella turned to Boyle. He didn't do much, but then again, nobody on the Rangers did offensive-wise. However, Game 3 was a different story. Boyle scored in the 1st to tie the game up at 1, with Derrick Brassard recording his 1st point with an assist. In the 2nd, Boyle had an assist on Brassard's goal to give the Rangers the lead. After that, Boyle was fairly quiet in the series, netting only one more goal, in the first minute of a losing effort in Game 5, but he was a threat whenever he came on the ice, and provided the Blueshirts with a greater physical presence when Ryan Clowe left the series for good. But as important as Boyle was, his contributions were minuscule compared to Brassard's.

Brian Boyle has long been a thorn in the sides of the Capitals. He was one of the few people who scared me whenever he had the puck, along with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash. Derrick Brassard, on the other hand, was (and still is) new to the Eastern Conference and this Rangers-Caps rivalry. Of all the people on this stacked squad, Brassard was one of the people I did not expect to control this series. He proved me wrong, racking up points like he was playing NHL 2013. Over the 7 game series, he led all skaters in points and assists and was tied for the lead in goals. He had a part in 9 of the 16 goals the Rangers scored over the series. Without a doubt, he was the driving offensive force on this team. 

In a series where the Capitals dominated offensively (except for Game 7), Brassard and Boyle brought the Rangers a much needed offensive contribution, helping Henrik Lundqvist by giving him just enough goal support. Without those two, the Caps would likely be playing the Bruins right now.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Hey Caps fans! On the heels of (another) disappointing season, I've been inspired to start this blog. Basically it's just Caps news when and where it counts, and it will also give me an opportunity to vent, er, give my opinion about games and other news. Not much is happening this offseason (but I'll tell you when stuff does), but when the games begin again in September, well, I'll let you see for yourself. Let's hope for a great offseason and Rock the Red come September! Lets Go Caps!!