image from nhl.com
Well, today’s photo is not a look back as much as it is a look ahead: Alex Ovechkin golfing. There isn’t a better sight. Even he appears to be excited. But, I digress. There’s a game that I should be going over.
Varlamov let in some really soft goals while he lasted (Hey, remember when he was really good?). I’m not sure if it was the pressure, but he was just awful. He’s been saving the Caps defense and holding them in the series. When he went cold, things went wrong for the Caps in a hurry. There wasn’t anything special about this game compared to the others. We out shot them 31-23, we dominated time of possession, they won the face-offs 32-27. That’s a pretty standard line for the series. The difference was definitely Varly falling apart. Though the Cap DID turn the puck over 19 times. I believe that stemmed mostly from aggressive play when they were down, though. They were cheating their defensemen and trying to make perfect passes to get something in the net. When you play reckless like that, you definitely are at risk for turning the puck over. I bet there will be some Caps fans out there howling because of the 8-0 penalty minutes. That’s right. We didn’t get one single penalty called on us. And why should we? We had at least a 3 or 4 goal lead for most of the game. We had no reason to blatantly clutch and grab and trip when we got beat on defense. I’d say it was just a clean hockey game in general, though. The only real penalty call was the slash by Shaone Morrisonn in the first period. After that it was a blatant interference by Federov that was half retaliation and half frustration and all dumb. The 4 minute high stick in the third was a by the book call the ref was forced to make. They ‘missed’ (I’m thinking more turned a blind eye) on one to Brooks Orpik earlier. The Caps weren’t going to get away with it twice. But that could have happened to either team. So, that’s pretty much it. Simple. We dominated the chances as usual. The only difference was that Varlamov was finally human. That’s how I saw it at least. I feel bad for the kid. But he’s got the whole off-season to get over the doubts and focus on the good things he did this playoff run, and you better believe he’ll get a good long look next year. One person I’m not sorry for is Ovechkin. I started with him, and I’ll end with him. I’ve complained in a previous post that he takes runs. Well, Karma always comes back around.
That was a perfect cap to the game.
Oh, and to all the doubters of the last post, I was wearing my jersey for this one. 7 for 7 this round. I’ll have it on for the conference finals. Don’t worry. I’m a little worried about the next game. Tim Thomas and Cam Ward are both scary prospects to face, but as my dad just reminded me: the teams don’t get easier as you move through the playoffs. Very true. But for now, I’m going to try to just enjoy this one. It was a classic series, and I’m glad that every time I see it replayed (which will be a lot), I don’t have to throw up.
Oh, one more thing. There’s a guy on youtube that posts a show called ‘Yinz Luv Da Guins’ after every playoff game. He’s pretty good at reading highlights and has a decent sense of humor. You can find him here.
image from espn.com
Well, crap. There was no reason for Washington to win this one. We out-shot them 42-24, we dominated the time of possession, we drew more penalties. I’m not sure what else we could have done better. Varlamov didn’t steal this game for them, either. They just got a few breaks. It happens. Plus, I know the real reason we lost. I haven’t worn my Pens jersey for the 3 losses, and I have worn it for the three wins. That’s 6-6. Good enough of a correlation for me. I’m not looking forward to game 7 in DC. That’s a shaky prospect. I have this nagging suspicion that we had our chance and we blew it. I really did believe that Washington would come out with a fire under their butt and their backs against the wall and just out-hustle us. It didn’t happen like that at all. That’s what makes it even more frustrating. Fleury didn’t have the best night, but the defense didn’t help him out at all. He was interfered with by Hal Gill on one goal, and another one by Laich was because of a screener that wasn’t even touched by the defense. I realize it’s tough on the power play, but if a guy’s going to stand right in Fleury’s face, you have to at least shove him a bit. Defense definitely lost us this game, but that was unusually bad for us. It’s correctable. Or at least it better be corrected by Wednesday.
Oh, and I’m too tired to write a Pirates/Mets recap, but in short, we still suck. We haven’t won in over a week. We’ve won one game so far this month. This is the longest losing streak by an MLB team this year. Add to that the distinction of longest consecutive losing streak to another team (we’ve lost 17 straight to the Brewers), and we’re developing quite the collection. If we get longest streak of consecutive losing seasons after this year, we’ll have the trifecta! Hooray! A developing theme is forming: the starting pitching is giving OK but not outstanding starts, the bullpen then takes a close game and gives up a bunch of runs to make it a not-so-close game, and the bats are nowhere to be seen to compensate for the crappy bullpen. Sounds like fun, eh? The Pens better win game 7 so this isn’t our only sports entertainment until training camp.
image from espn.com
Wow. 5 games with 4 of them decided by 1 goal. You can’t say enough about this series. This game was probably the first that I could actually argue the Caps deserved to win. They did a much better job at controlling the puck, and they got a lot more quality opportunities. Oh, and look what happens when you control the puck for an equal amount of time: you get an equal amount of penalty calls. Shocking. Varlamov continues to play extremely well and get extremely lucky on occasion. 38 saves again last night. You have to tip your hat to that. However, we did a much better job of going after rebounds last night. When you have a hot goalie on your hands, you deal with him by throwing lots of stuff at him and going for rebounds. I can’t stress that enough. It’s nice to see us win a game without Gonchar. The Pens aren’t going to say a word. He’ll be a game time decision for every game from here on out so the other team has to prepare for him. Hockey is worse than football with injury reports. But the way it looked to me (and I’m certainly not a doctor), knee injuries like that generally require significant time off. I wouldn’t count on him for the rest of the playoffs. Game 6 is back in da ‘burgh on Monday. It’s more important than people realize. Washington’s going to be the desperate team with their backs against the wall, and if they win it’s a deciding game 7 on their ice. Not a good situation. This series is not over yet.
image from espn.com
Wow. Varlamov was great, but slightly human this time out and look what happened? I noticed a lot of shots going high on the waffle (stick) side. Maybe the Pens see his weakness? I also saw a lot going for the five hole thinking he’s a little slow getting into the butterfly. Most important, though, is the fact that we got shots on net. I’m convinced that Varlamov’s major weakness is not where you shoot, but getting shots in general and going for rebounds. The Caps are really good at having a bunch of guys in front of the net to clear rebounds, but we’ve got to find a way to out-man them. If you’ve been following my posts, you know I’ve been making a big deal out of faceoffs. Well, we lost again, 28-22, but at least I can stomach that. They’re not winning 2/3 of them anymore. There was way more balanced scoring, and a power play goal that should shut up the majority of critics. I’m not sure, though. I love the fact that we’re controlling the puck for the majority of the game, and we’re getting much more quality chances, but I still want more dirty goals. Varly let in some soft goals tonight, and we can’t count on that all the time. I don’t know. I can’t really complain too much about our play. We’re out-playing them badly, and a red-hot goalie is doing his best to steal this series. There’s not much else you can say. Who would have thought that going into this series? Not me.
Quick turn-around and game 5 is tomorrow night. And in other news, the Hurricanes just went up 3-1 on the Bruins. Who saw that one coming? Poor Boston. The Bruins haven’t been to a Stanley Cup final in ages. I mean, they only have the Patriots, Celtics and Red Sox with championships in the last 5 years to keep them occupied. Some people just can’t win…..all the time.
image from espn.com
If you don’t think the Pens deserved that win, you’re crazy. They outplayed Washington in every facet of the game except maybe goaltending. The only reason the game went to overtime was a fluke goal out of the gate and absolutely unreal goaltending by Varlamov. Bruce Boudreau and the Caps wanted to talk about the penalty differential. Well, I hate to have to explain hockey to them, but penalty differential and time of possession differential tend to go hand in hand. It’s hard to take penalties when you’re controlling the puck. We controlled the puck for almost the whole game, and we were rewarded for it. If you want the calls to go your way, take the puck away. Stop crying. Even with the great effort in this game by the Pens, there are still some things that can be corrected. The same things I pointed out last post. We had a 37-29 disadvantage in the faceoff circle. Varlamov lets out a ton of rebounds, and we’re lucky to have one guy ready to clean them up. The power play is still maybe a little too picky. I’ve noticed we love to set up the one timers (especially on the power play), but our passes are a little sloppy, and the receiver has to calm the puck down before they can shoot. By that time, Varlamov is squared to the new shooter and all is lost. Maybe they should try that passing an egg drill they did in the Mighty Ducks? (you’ll have to fast forward to 3:22)
We won this game on effort. If we continue to play like this, we’ll win. Simple as that. The hockey gods have not been smiling on us thus far, and we just forced them to smile on us last night. That’s what good hockey teams do. Oh, and one last thing. I put that picture up because I love that Ovechkin finally got punished for taking a run. He seriously had Orpik in his sights from center ice. That’s the definition of charging. If he made clean contact you think it would have been called? Probably not. But the refs are clearly favoring the Pens. Ha. Here’s the video if you care to see it.
image from espn.com
is playing great and proving me wrong. At first I though we was just lucky, but he’s gotten lucky enough times to make me think me might be just good. Every goalie has his holes, however, and I think Well, this is a tremendously frustrating series. We’re getting chances. Quality chances. But so are the Caps. Every time they drop the puck its a 50/50 crap shoot, and we’ve come out on the wrong end twice. VarlamovVarlamov might be a little slow grabbing rebounds. I’ve noticed a lot of garbage goal opportunities. He gives up a lot of strong side rebounds, too. We have to follow our shots and look for second chances. Ovechkin and Crosby put on a can-you-top-this show tonight, which is both fun to watch and good for the league. Dueling hat tricks is amazing. This was the fast paced, exciting game that the NHL had in mind with the post-lockout rule changes. I’m sure they loved it. As for improvements for the Pens, the theme seems to have someone not named Crosby ‘show up’. Now in my experience, when a hockey ‘fan’ claims that a player needs to show up, they’re really saying they need to score more. Well, I saw a lot of hard checks and good hustle plays today that make me think that despite not getting a goal, there were a lot of players who made their presence known. We came out ready to out-work the Caps, but towards the tail end of the third period we were dragging. We stopped winning the races to the puck and the battles in the corners. It’s hard to blame them. It’s tough to keep up that level of energy for that long. I think the goals will come, but we need (as a team including Crosby) to get more efficient looks for the goalie we’re facing. Get the puck on net a lot more often and go for the rebound. Move the puck side to side and get Varlamov moving. It’s not that big of an adjustment. I understand patience in hockey. I understand waiting for a good screen first before you throw the puck on net. But especially on the power play, we’re looking for the perfect shot instead of a good shot. Yeah, the Pens went 2 for 5 with the man advantage, but the reason we’ve been struggling is still there. Good power plays score most of their goals from within 3 feet. The biggest thing that has to improve is not the power play, however. It’s faceoffs. The caps had a 38-23 advantage there. That’s huge, and it can’t happen. Faceoffs are one of the most underrated things in hockey. When a faceoff is in one team’s zone, all 5 attacking players are in the zone before the puck drops. No need to get onsides first. Therefore, a win in the faceoff means the offensive team can almost immediately set up a play. A lost faceoff means a lost opportunity. Look at down the stretch. Both late goals by the Caps were off faceoffs. The Pens had a faceoff in the offensive zone with 10 seconds left and lost. One quick flick of the puck down the rink and the game’s over. Unfortunately, there’s no fix for a faceoff disadvantage. You ether have the reflexes or you don’t. However, the home team gets the advantage by putting their stick on the ice second. The home team also gets the opportunity to set up good matchups during line changes. That means we can get a defensive specialist on Ovechkin the whole time. I’ve always hated this adage, but it’s the last thing I can hold on to: the series hasn’t started until a home team loses. Game 3 is in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. We’ve gatta protect our turf.
image from postgazette.com
So, thanks to some last minute (literally) heroics by the Carolina Hurricanes, we draw the Russian National Team Caps for round two. Now, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not all that afraid of the Caps. They still have a first year goalie in Simeon Varlamov, and although he played well against the Rangers, he didn’t face all that much adversity. When they get behind in a game, and he still steps up and doesn’t get down on himself, I’ll be worried. The only problem is that there was a reason he didn’t face much adversity: the Caps ability to keep pressure in the offensive end. They did an excellent job of turning the Rangers over in the neutral zone consistently, and that frustrated them after a while. Washington’s forecheck hasn’t been outstanding this year, but they might not have to do much against the Pens. Philly was very effective by trying to put an extra man on the blue line and forcing us to dump and chase. You better believe that the Caps were watching that. More bad news is the special teams. The Caps have been great in both aspects over the tail and of the season/first round. The Pens have been struggling with the power play all year. There’s no time like the present to get that squared away. Despite all of that bad news, I’m still predicting a Pens win (and not just because I’m a homer….alright, mainly because I’m a homer) because of their scoring ability and (get this) physical play. I really think we’ll have an advantage going after pucks in the corners. So, here are some other key numbers that make me believe the Pens can pull this one out.
7 : Number of points Sidney Crosby has in the 4 games against Washington this year. Malkin has 5. Satan surprisingly has 4.
49 : Total number of penalty minutes by the Pens in 4 games against the Caps this year. The Caps have 56. These games are generally fast paced and clean. Lets see if that holds true in the playoffs. It would be favorable to Bylsma’s new system.
528 : Number of shots on goal Ovechkin has taken this year. He may lead the league in goals, but he’s doing it by taking 20% of his teams shots. No wonder. Everyone marvels at the Caps depth, but I disagree. You just need to stop Ovechkin.
6-1 : Pens playoff record vs. Washington.
0 : Stanley Cups won by the Capitals.
1998: Last year the Caps made it out of the first round of the playoffs.
This all kicks off on Saturday at 1:00 with game 1. It’ll be on NBC, and if there’s overtime it will move to VS. Gatta make way for the Kentucky Derby pre-race show. Not the actual race, just the pre-race show. I hate NBC.