Mike Green: Game Too?

Prior to Game One of The Crosbys vs. The Ovechkins, I posted a photo I took of Alex Ovechkin in February during our visit to the Sunshine State (otherwise known as the Week We Retired).

Keeping in mind the worldwide influence of this blog, it would seem apparent to me that the appearance of the said photograph directly contributed to the Caps’ victory over their arch-rivals.   No doubt it was my photography that spurred the Gr8 Eight to play up to his potential, begin to justify the hype concerning this series and to chip in a goal to boot.  In addition, I am sure that Simeon Varlamov’s otherworldly performance was his way of attempting to grab the attention of these pages and to earn the posting of an image of his own.

Mike Green Celebrates 6973
It's been THIS LONG since I scored. Seriously.

Because the Caps are my adopted team once again this post-season, and because I believe very strongly that the Penguins will play better in Game Two, I am going to use some ninja psychology on the 21-year old Capital netminder:  I am going to decline once again to post his photograph hereabouts.  Instead, I shall post a picture of Calgary speedster and Norris trophy candidate Mike Green.  I am posting this photo of Green because:

  1. It might help him remember what to do if he happens to be involved in a play during which the Capitals advance the puck into the Penguins’ net – unless he’s been drywalling his ceiling at home, it’s been a while since Green has had occasion to raise his arms over his head; and
  2. If the appearance of this photo doesn’t spur Green on to change his approach to the game, a public posting of this image might get it considered for use on the side of the milk carton that will inevitably begin circulating inside the Beltway as those Rockin’ the Red begin to earnestly wonder about Green’s wherabouts.

Seriously, Mike, one shot on goal in twenty-six minutes of ice time and a partially blown coverage that led to your boy Simeon’s masterpiece save just aren’t getting it done right now;  not for a marquee player that the Capitals are depending on.  Anyway, Ovie, Green and their mates better cowboy up and get ready for a different kind of rodeo tonight.

Update 12:10 p.m. : On Frozen Blog is reporting that Capitals defenceman John Erskine left the morning skate early and that the Caps have recalled prospect defensemen Karl Alzner and Tyler Sloan from their AHL affiliate, Hershey (a club that is itself involved in a playoff series, believe it or not against the Penguins’ AHL farm team).  Erskine was half of the duo I saw Boudreau matching up with Sidney Crosby in Game One (Fedorov was Sid the Kid’s shadow by times as well).   Injuries on the blueline to critical personnel combined  with an undoubted sense of urgency among the Penguins to bring a better game mean that the Caps’ task tonight will be significantly more difficult.  I’m pulling for them, but I foresee a Penguins victory tonight following an improved showing from both Crosby and Malkin.

Elsewhere on the Ice Tonight

spits 14
Keep on checking to make more checks: Go Spits Go!

A certain Major Junior A team from a certain City located in the extremities of Southwestern Ontario takes to the ice tonight against the Brampton Batallion for Game 3 of the Ontario Hockey League Championship Final.  I have had some difficulty getting the live streaming audio from CKLW AM 800 to work properly for me throughout the OHL playoffs;  I am hoping that won’t be the case tonight.  Obviously, I have a choice to make – Crosbys vs. Ovechkins or Spits/Batallion.  I think I’ll probably watch the NHL game on the tube and try to record the Spits broadcast using Freecorder;  then I’ll listen to the .mp3 of the Spits game broadcast on my iPod when I go to bed.  How far indeed – and yet not so far at all – we have come from those days falling asleep listening to Dave Quinn’s call of the game over my crystal radio set.  The technology has changed radically;  35 years later, I’m still looking forward to the excitement of the Spits on the radio.

Stanley Goes to Motown. Again.

Mike:  You can exhale, uncross your fingers and toes, uncover your eyes, put down the four-leaf clovers, and – for heaven’s sake – let the rabbit have his feet back.  The Wings’ Cup championship was well deserved;  they outlplayed their rivals from Steeltown, and it would have been an unjust result had they not prevailed.  There had to be a few million Maalox consumed in the Motor City, though, following the harrowing final seconds of the game, with Osgood down and a loose puck bouncing – like deja vu – to the right of the goal and a Pittsburgh attacker whacking away at it with his stick as the clock.  Ticked.  Slowly.  Down.

In other hockey news, the Leafs have apparently made Ron Wilson an offer.  The guy has put up some decent numbers with teams in the regular season, he was at the helm of the Capitals (failed) run to the final in 1998,  and he coached the U.S. team to victory in the 1996 World Cup, but it’s somewhat troubling to me that the Leafs – professing a desire not just to qualify for the playoffs each year, but to actually win the Stanley Cup – are hiring a guy that was just fired for, at least in part, not being able to get that job done.   I worry too that much of Wilson’s success came in the obstruction/holding era of the late 90’s.  On the other hand, Wilson’s teams have tended to be pretty good on both power play and penalty kill – two areas that were absolutely woeful for the Leafs this year.

Again I say, it’s almost impossible for an outsider – someone outside the dressing room – to really know whether a hockey coach is “good” or not.   So only time will tell, assuming Wilson takes the job, whether this was the right decision.  But Messrs. Peddie and Tanenbaum need to look over their blue and white clad shoulders – with 11 Cup championships now, the Wings are fast catching the Leafs in the “number of championships won” category.  I spent the early part of my life hoping that Mike Palmateer and Darryl Sittler would propel the Leafs past the hated bleu, blanc et rouge to the top of that list at some point in my lifetime;  now I just hope we don’t get passed by the likes of the cephalopod-waving juggernaut from Hockeytown.

When Good Coaches do Bad Things.

Quickly:  I can’t believe Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau started Jaroslav Halak in place of Carey Price at goaltender in last night’s Game 4 matchup with Philly.  Bonehead move.  I do not understand the thinking behind that;  Price had not played poorly in game 3, despite what the sportscasters are blathering about in their 30-second soundbites, not even in games 5 and 6 in the Boston series when the Habs allowed 10 goals in two games.  Although it would be fair to say that Price was not brilliant in any of those three games,  the goals allowed were not attributable to negligent goaltending; it took a team effort to surrender leads consistently and quickly.  On Monday night in particular, (game 3 vs. Philly), Price was screened badly by his defencemen on the first two goals.  If the Habs’ blueliners would either stand up at the blueline a little more, reduce the gap between themselves and the attacking Philadelphia forwards and possibly generate the occasional offside OR get the hell out of the 22 year old netminder’s way, he might have had a chance.  Since they chose to do neither….not so much.  It is true that Price made a mistake on the third goal, but what of it?  Is Carbo sending the message that one mistake will result in a player’s butt being nailed to the bench?  If so, I suggest he examine the game film a little more carefully, especially any footage he might have filed under “Kovalev, A:  defensive coverage”.    I suspect that file might be a little thin, so it won’t take Guy long to review the available material.   Also, the Kostitsyns’ pictures ought to be showing up on the side of a milk carton any day now.  Anyone having knowledge of their whereabouts is invited to contact Canadiens’ management and advise.

My point is that the whole team turned in a Game 3 performance that was a big pile of meh (much to my delight, I might add).   To single out Price and bench him as a result has nothing to do with encouraging accountability among the players, and any efforts to justify it on those grounds are ridiculous.   Once you accept that, it’s obvious that playing Halak in game 4 was a mistake – down two games to one in the other guy’s barn, you need to win and carry the series back home tied.  Going down 3-1, knowing you’ve already surrendered home ice advantage, and heading back home is not a plan for success.  The rest is easy:  if you have to win this game, you play your best goaltender, no ifs, ands or buts.  Choosing instead to turn to a guy with limited NHL experience and who hadn’t played in something like three weeks until the 3rd period of game 3 is not a wise choice.

As it turned out, Halak did not play terribly.  He was  facing the wrong way for two of Philadelphia’s goals, but at least one of those goals was a direct result of more incredibly bad team defensive coverage.  Halak could not be blamed for the loss, but he did not play well enough to steal a win either.  It’s possible that Price would not have raised his game to such a level either;  we’ll never know, though, because Carbonneau kept his powder dry and his best player on the bench in the Habs’ most important game of the season to date.

I actually like Guy Carbonneau even though he spent all those years as a player wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge and then toiling away in obscurity and boredom for the Dallas Cattle Rustlers (or whatever they’re called).  I think he’s shown himself to have some flair for coaching;  you can’t argue with the success that the Montreal power play had in the regular season, and there’s no doubt the team over-achieved this year.  Both of those things are symptomatic, in my opinion, of good coaching.  Even good coaches make bad decisions, though, and tapping Jaroslav Halak on the shoulder last night was one of them.

Ovie’s Overtime?

Game 7 between the Capitals and Flyers is now going to overtime. A pretty good game with some (again) horrid officiating. It is difficult to know what gets a guy a penalty in this league any more. Ritual decapitation? Is that always a penalty? Even late in the third period of a tied game 7? Argh. The situational ethics of NHL officiating continue to frustrate me.

My picks for the goal scorer: for the Caps, I have to go with Ovechkin, he’s had at least four amazing chances so far tonight, the guy is just a force of nature; for the Flyers, I just know it’s going to be Daniel Briere, and then I’ll have to think about that stupid fist-pumping thing he does for the next few weeks.

Update:  Crap! At least it wasn’t Briere.  Dilemma:  sounds like the Habs play the Flyers in the next round.  I hate both teams.

Gr8 Game Seven Coming

Watching Game 6 of the Caps/Flyers series tonight, I was struck by how great a game Mike Green was having. From the hit he laid on Sami Kapanen (the one where they had to get the Philly Fire Department to pick l’il Sami out of the rigging up in the rafters) to his rapid and purposeful sprints up ice, to his masterful puck handling along the Flyers blueline while on the attack, Green made me a believer. I wish this guy was on our team.

Of course, Green’s play was overshadowed by that of certain a hairy Russian force of nature. What a play Ovechkin made on the go-ahead goal; he blocked the point shot of his constant tormentor Timmonen, then immediately broke for open ice between the two Flyers defencemen, instinctively knowing that the partially blocked shot would surely be recovered by Kozlov and that he had an opportunity for a breakaway – but only if he didn’t hesitate. Ovechkin took two lightning quick steps towards centre and was eight feet past a now very alarmed Timmonen and the much maligned Kozlov hit Ovechkin on the tape with a beautiful pass as Ovie blazed up the middle of the ice. Everybody in the rink, including Martin Biron, knew that Alex the Gr8 would not be denied, and moments later the Caps had taken a very improbable lead.

The Philadelphia fans had barely resumed breathing through their open mouths when, for a change, it was the Flyers who took a “too many men” penalty (really, Gabby – three of those in the last couple of games is waaaaay too many). On the ensuing powerplay, Ovechkin was served up another beautiful pass, this one from Brooks Laich and Ovechkin hammered that thing so hard, everybody seated in the stands behind the goal ought to immediately drive to the nearest church, synagogue, mosque or temple and thank the resident deity or deities that Ovie’s shot bulged the twine, because if that puck had hit the glass it would have killed everybody in the first six rows. Do you think that game will shut the TV monkeys up about Ovechkin needing to “step up”? Probably not; five’ll get you ten that’s still the main theme harped upon by the flapping gums – “monster” or not.

Alex’s interview on TSN after the game was awesome; it was so obvious to me that he wanted to strap the blades on and play Rasputin-PDGame Seven RIGHT NOW. This guy is Rasputin on skates – aside from the near spooky physical resemblance, there is the matter of Mr. Ovechkin’s superhuman constitution to be addressed. He played a shift in the second period that lasted well over two minutes of concerted attack. The Flyers may well need a group of Russian assassins and some cyanide-laced confections to take down their hirsute nemesis, because neither the substantial hits applied within the rules by Richards, Umberger and others, nor the straight up punches to the back of the head administered by the ever-classy Derian Hatcher have done the trick, and the hitherto-successful Philadelphia scheme for Ovechkin prophylaxis by the constant application of major doses of Timmonen has run its course. Ovie has figured out how to get away from that coverage, as evidenced by the six shots he had on goal in Game Five and the further seven (not to mention two goals) he added tonight.

This is going to be a great Game Seven.

Can I ask what the hell Pierre McGuire was babbling on about when he kept referring to Martin Biron’s “active glove”? Umm, Pierre, that’s just stupid. No goalie has a “passive” glove. They catch stuff with them. They’re called “trappers” and “blockers” for a reason; these items of equipment represent an active concept. Anyone who stands there just waiting to get hit, is… well, Andrew Raycroft does that. Perhaps that’s a bad example, but you get my meaning.

As for the other game this evening, I didn’t see much of the Habs/Bruins Game Seven. I did see Game Six of that series and much of Game Five too. One thing I don’t understand is the media babble about Carey Price supposedly having come apart at the seams. The so-called experts point to the ten goals surrendered by the Habs ‘tender in those two games and lazily conclude that Price played poorly. Now I’m no Habs fan, but I do know a classy and talented kid when I see one – Spouse and I were lucky enough to see almost all of Price’s games with the Hamilton Bulldogs during last year’s Calder Cup winning run – and Price is most certainly getting a bum rap from the wags on that one. Yes, he coughed up the puck late in Game Five to put the B’s ahead, and yes, he looked rattled after he made that rookie mistake, but none of the five that got past him on Saturday night in Game Six could be called soft goals. The pundits ought to have been asking where the defensive coverage and veteran leadership was on the Habs bench; how, it might fairly be asked, were the Bruins allowed to continually come back and score throughout the third period? With the series on the line, the Habs got a questionable effort from the Kovalev unit, for example, which was a -3 on the evening. I do not recall hearing much mention being made of that fact; it’s too easy, I guess, to point the finger at the goalie. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for whatever kind of Habs-related misery there can be, but it’s the job of those in the media to correctly identify the reasons why the Habs suck, not to pin the whole shootin’ match on  a twenty year old rookie who was playing in the WHL last year at this time.

Team-Elect Announced

After a very carefully run election (no doubt involving United Nations observers), the Leaf fans at Pension Plan Puppets have at my suggestion adopted the Washington Capitals, champions of the NHL’s NASCAR division as their foster team for this year’s NHL playoffs.

The first (and hopefully last) adoption of one poor underserved hockey team is complete and the poll was a landslide. The Washington Capitals are our team. For now at least because once the hockey gods find out that Leaf fans are cheering for a team their season will end in a cruel and scarring way. Maybe we should cheer for the Habs? I just hacked off the fingers that wrote that sentence.

Anyway, we’ll keep up with the Leafs but we’ll run game previews and recaps for the Capitals as they take on the Flyers.

A few technical questions presented themselves, of course:

  • whether, for the duration of the playoffs, adoptive Capital fans are to spell words like “honour” and “colour” without the “u”;
  • whether Mike Green is a “defenceman” or a “defenseman”;
  • whether we need now be specific that the game we are watching is “ice” hockey.

I am advised that no such alterations are necessary. Essentially, we’ve done the sports rooting equivalent of twinning our “city” with Washington. In other words, we get to enjoy al the benefits of being a Capitals fan right now without fearing that cultural imperialism will destroy our colourful customs and quaint provincial ways, rather like the way we were promised “Free Trade” would work. Of course, Rupert Murdoch and Clear Channel now control my thoughts, so you know – things don’t necessarily always work out according to plan.

Some have accused those of us who are choosing to root for the Caps of blaspheming; I have to say that I don’t feel this is the case. My team is not competing in the tournament I am following, but it is natural to root for one team over another when following along. I have to say, it’s actually kind of liberating. I am looking forward to learning the line combos and back-stories of all the players, and I’m feeling a little excited to cheer on Ovechkin. And hey, maybe if enough of us try on another team for size, it will scare Leaf management into worrying about what might happen if we find that we actually like it.
On an unrelated note, as I write this, I am watching Game One of the Penguins/Senators series. It’s early in the second period and Anton Volchenkov just got struck in the face with a Malkin slapshot from the point. CBC cut to a shot of the injured/scratched Sens players in the Ottawa box, I would guess because they assumed the Senators players would be displaying noticeable concern. The result: essentially a close up of Daniel Alfredsson contentedly snarfing down cheese fries. Methinks Alfie’s going to have some ‘splaining to do when the team watches the tape of this one – awkward!

Ridiculous Dept.

Evidently, the poor (on-ice) performance of the Leafs is being cited as a contributing cause to the cancellation of certain CBC programming (via bitterleaf):

Apparently, without the playoff revenues generated by the large audiences that tune into post-season Leaf broadcasts, the CBC can’t afford to keep crap quality programming like Hockey Wives and Jpod on the air

Be careful if you go clicky; the linked post contains a throrough (and humourous) discussion of the pernicious influence of the Maple Leafs throughout history. I nearly spat tea all over my computer as a result of the first image. You’ve been warned.

Seriously, though – what the hell is this nonsense? Are we really to believe that the inability of the Leafs to reach the bonus round the past few years is the problem here? shinola01How ’bout the idiots in the financial planning department at the CBC who were, evidently, betting the family farm that Andrew Raycroft would lead the Buds to glory? This kind of causes one to wonder what other excellent financial prestidigitation has been going on behind the scenes at the Mother Corpse. I mean, if nothing else, the fact that they’ve apparently been drawing up budgets that are premised upon the assumption that the Leafs will participate in the playoffs reveals that CBC mucky mucks are unable to distinguish the substance pictured at left from unrelated fecal matter when it comes to hockey and/or that they haven’t even been watching their own programming – anybody who’s popped in for the occasional episode of Hockey Night in Canada when the Leafs are busy coughing up a three-goal third period lead in the last couple of years (and those episodes have been numerous, I tells ya) ought to have at least a passing idea that it might not be terribly prudent to assume that the ACC will still be rockin’ come June.