Saturday, May 13, 2017

A case for Oshie to re-sign

TJ Oshie may have been the best trade acquisition in the team's history.  His two seasons in Washington represented his two best goal scoring seasons, and this year's .82 points per game were well above his .699 with the Blues.  Having scored on 18% of his shots with the Capitals, Oshie consistently found a way to get in behind the defense and into the high percentage scoring areas.  This is important.

First, to suggest that Oshie suddenly, at age 28, became a high percentage shooter, increasing from a career mark of 11.8% with the Blues to 14.1% and 23% over his two seasons in Washington, is shortsighted at best.  While some of the increase can be attributable to maturity on the ice, that stark of an increase is likely due to other reasons.  Namely, Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Second, the NHL is a league of mimicry, and especially given the Penguins success over the past two seasons, there has been a particular premium placed on speed.  However, Oshie is not exactly fleet of foot.  Since he excels in front of the net, it is advantageous for someone else to be doing most of the shooting.  Ovechkin is in a class of his own when it comes to getting rubber on the net.  In fact, since entering the league, our beloved Alex has produced the top 7, and 9 of the top 11 seasons in terms of shots on goal.  He has 45% more shots on goal during that time span than second place (Eric Staal).  Oshie can take advantage of the attention Ovechkin naturally draws and position himself either in the soft spot for a one-timer, or in front of the net for a tip-in or rebound.  He has done a phenomenal job of both thus far, and he would be well served to recognize this unique opportunity.

Oshie may very well be the perfect right wing companion for Alexander Ovechkin.  Ovechkin has drawn defenders to him for most of his career in a way unseen since Mario Lemieux was in his prime.  For an offense that likes to control the puck and cycle, the defense cheating leaves room somewhere on the ice; Oshie was able to exploit this and weasel his way into high percentage scoring areas.  Oshie is a very good hockey player, but without an elite goal scorer next to him, he will draw more attention from the defense, and his effectiveness will suffer.  As far as complementary scorers go, Oshie is in a class of his own.

Few centers make the game look as easy as Nicklas Backstrom does.  His smooth skating, strong two-way play, and soft but crisp passing have been critical to this team's relative success.  Since joining the league, only Joe Thornton and Henrik Sedin have more assists than Backstrom's 540.  No one even comes close to his 247 power play assists; Thornton's 211 (in 40 more games) come closest, and no one else sniffs 200.  Someone as good on the power play as Oshie would have to be a fool to walk away from that.

Since his heroics in the Olympics, TJ Oshie has endeared himself appropriately to most hockey fans.  Having led the league in shooting percentage, he will have no shortage of suitors for his services.  He is well deserving of a pay raise, and will most assuredly receive a sizable one at that.  However, for his sake, and for that of the Capitals, he should remain where he is, in front of the net, banging home gifts from Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Capitals will win tonight

I guarantee it.

This is not the hapless, dough-eyed fan in me.  This is the pragmatist, the one who believes in puck luck, the one who believes in momentum, the one who believes in our time being now.  Our time, being that of the fans, naturally.

This team was built for this moment.

Tonight's roster will consist of almost entirely first-round draft picks.  Two Cup winners with four Cups between them.  Seven defensemen to insulate against defensive shortcomings and provide roster flexibility.  And an energized captain playing on the third line to create scoring depth unheard of in this city.

The Penguins are savvy veterans who have been there and done that, but they are banged up, and are limping into the lion's den.  There is no denying their talent and their coaching, but health will be the determining factor in this hard-fought series, and Pittsburgh is too injured, too hurt to continue.

That is not to say the Penguins will not put up a fight, because believe me they will.  But their fight will fall flat, their comeback will come up short, and the black and yellow will turn black and blue.

Prediction Guarantee: Washington 3, Pittsburgh 2

Monday, May 8, 2017

Offensive explosion forces game 7

The Capitals offensive outburst in game 6 forced this pundit to spring for a disgustingly overpriced ticket to yet another potential heartbreak.

But as a sports fan, this is what I live for.

Barry Trotz's tinkering of the offensive lines has seemed to work thus far, generating two wins in as many games.  Burakowsky, playing with Backstrom and Oshie, scored twice.  Backstrom picked up the game winner en route to being one of two Capitals to win most of his faceoffs.  The newly formed trio of Ovechkin, Eller, and Wilson combined for 8 hits and 5 shots, and despite losing the majority of the faceoffs, seemed to control the puck well.  Kuznetsov has awoken from what was a terrible 2016 calendar year to emerge as the dominant second line center the team has been searching for since Sergei Fedorov retired.

Sidney Crosby is playing hurt and it shows.  Game 7 will be a true test of his character.  Should he play, he may be a liability, as he will certainly be a target of enhanced physicality, and he may not be as effective as the second line AHLer due to replace him.  Should he sit, and the Penguins lose, the Capitals will have shifted the series due to the misfortune of a young man's proneness to injury.

Early prediction: Capitals 3, Penguins 1

"Wars might be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who leads that gains the victory."

-General Patton

Trevor Daley out with LBI

According to Coach Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh defenseman Trevor Daley will miss tonight's action.  Considering he missed Friday's practice, this should come as no surprise.  Still, the Penguins rely on his grit, so he will be missed.

Brian Dumolin, despite being hurt in game 5, will play.

One would figure veteran Mark Streit slots in, as the former Islanders captain provides mobility and offense, and is a left-handed shot like Daley, though the right-handed Chad Ruhwedel offers youthful vigor and is more sound defensively and may earn a jersey.

Either way, with Letang and Daley out, the Capitals need to take advantage of the typically lengthy Penguins injury list and pounce early and often.

More to come.

6:08 PM edit:

Ruhwedel slots in to replace Daley, who is still feeling the effects of a clean Tom Wilson hit.  Wilson, who skated hard then glided for roughly 15 feet, was penalized for charging, an attempt by the referees to dictate the pace and physicality of the game.  No matter; the damage was done.

History will repeat itself

As Washington prepares for yet another potential series clinching game, we are reminded that this is not the first time these Ovechkin-led Capitals are faced with this situation: down 3 games to 2, going on the road to face a lower seed.

This playoff series has been eerily similar to 2009, when the second ranked Capitals defeated the seventh ranked Rangers on the back of Sergei Fedorov.

Having lost both games at Verizon Center, the Capitals won game three decisively before failing to complete a comeback in game four.  Sound familiar?

Matt Bradley exploded for two of his three career playoff goals in game five as the Caps downed the Rags 4-0 in a game which Capitals fans got the better of John Tortorella, who was suspended for the following game.

Game six was a physical affair, capped by Donald Brashear absolutely destroying Blair Betts with a clean hit from the blindside in what ended up as his final game as a Capital.  The result was equally exciting, as the Rangers furiously attempted to come back, but fell short in spite of a goal from Marc Staal with 6 seconds left.

I would expect a similar result Monday night.

The 2009 game featured goals from five players, including three defensemen.  So far this year, the defense has not been able to capitalize, which has obviously handcuffed the team.  In fact, since the Ovechkin era began, only once, between the regular and post-seasons, have the Capitals received such awful production from the back end.  The 2009 postseason saw 2 of the 22 goals scored came from blueliners; this year 3 of 31 have come from them.

A physical affair should provide the Capitals with several opportunities on the power play, which we will see capitalized upon in the way of multiple power play goals en route to a 5-3 finish.

Monday, May 1, 2017

OT heroes

Led by Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins, with the goaltender pulled, scored twice in the final two minutes of the game to send this to overtime.

We could whine about the officiating by Brads Meier and Watson, but that does us no good.

It is time to focus on overtime.  If the Caps are to have any chance in the series, winning in overtime on the road to scrape out a win is the way to do it.

If the Capitals win, it is because of Justin Williams.  He has been all over the ice since the opening puck drop, netting two assists and several hits thus far.  Mr. Game 7 lives for the clutch and will live up to his name.

If the worst were to happen, it will be because of Malkin.  It is hard to choose against the hot hand.

The Capitals will win tonight

Down two games to none, having lost consecutive home games in embarrassing fashion, the Capitals will come out of the gates in Pittsburgh tonight firing on all cylinders.  Look for Washington to put the pressure on early, by dumping the puck and trying to knock the Penguins defenders into next week.

If there is a silver lining, it is that the Penguins are getting worn down.  Having blocked 62 shots through two games, and being outhit 78-36 has taken its toll: Pittsburgh, already down Letang, add three more to the injury ledger in Hornqvist, Kuhnhackl, and Hainsey, although the latter two figure to play tonight.

The Capitals need to focus on their strengths, namely puck possession and taking advantage of their collective heft, instead of trying to match Pittsburgh's advantage in speed.  The heaviest team in the East is not going to win many footraces.  Washington was built to take the blue line by force, win battles along the boards, and to slow down and cycle down low.  They are great at winning rebounds in front of the goal, but in order to do so, Oshie and Williams, who are not exactly fleet of foot, need the opportunity to get there.  That does not happen much in the transition game.

At least not against Apolo Ohno dressed in black and yellow.

Washington breaks the drought and builds confidence tonight with a big win: 4-1.