Monday, May 14, 2012

Round three predictions, Caps season wrap

Caps season recap and questions to come shortly. Check back in the next couple days for that.

Here's the playoff predictions for round 3 - Don't expect them to be right, because I seem to kinda suck at these this year:

Phoenix Coyotes v Los Angeles Kings: Kings in 5

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils: Rangers in 7

No matter how many games each series go, I would be very, very surprised if it didn't end up being an LA/NY Finals this year.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

NHL Playoffs: Unpredictable

The NHL playoffs are always bound to have their large share of thrills, and this year's playoffs are far from being an exception. In the last two weeks:

  • The New Jersey Devils lost star player Ilya Kovalchuk before game 2 for the rest of the playoffs, only to have him make a miraculous return in game 3.
  • The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers split four games, each winning one at home and one on the road, including a triple overtime thriller in Washington for game three, ending the morning after it started.
  • The Nashville Predators suspended star players Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for game three after hotel key card tracking showed the two players returning to their rooms at around four in the morning the night before game 2.
  • The Phoenix Coyotes opened their series against Nashville by winning both of their home games and splitting on the road, drawing to within one win of the Western Conference Finals. The Coyotes had never even gotten through the first round before this year.
  • The Los Angles Kings, the 8th seed in the West, have jumped out to a 3-0 lead for the second consecutive series, and have a chance to knock out #2 St. Louis tomorrow afternoon.

Just another reason the NHL playoffs are the best two months of the year annually.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Game 2 Blog: Skipping class with a cause

Okay, I'll admit it. I cut class on Monday to go to game 2. The same class that I write this blog for. Sue me. It's not my fault that President Loh encourages classes to allow for two unexcused absences before you are penalized for not showing up to class. It's not my fault I typically go to class and had an absence or two to spare without penalty. It's not my fault Chip's ticket hook up is absurd and it's not my fault that I'm his son, and thus often the benefactor of such ticket hook-ups. And it's not my fault that New York is an affordable, within driving distance destination.

With all that in mind, I received a text around midnight on Saturday, or if you want to get real technical, Sunday morning, from my dad saying that if I wanted to go to Game 2, to inform him by the morning and I would have the opportunity. Dumb question, Chip. No brainer. After recruiting a couple of friends from home and one in New York, we were off and running by 6 pm Sunday, en route to our buddy Alex's place in Brooklyn. We rolled in around 11 pm, had a couple of beers, enjoyed some laughs, and got some shut eye in anticipation of a long Monday.

After oversleeping all of our alarms, the three of us woke up, without Alex, and got moving toward downtown Manhattan. I spent this past summer working in mid-town, but had never made it down to the 9/11 site while I was there. However, when we turned corner onto West Street, we were met with quite a view of the newly developed, and still in progress, 'Freedom' tower.

Ironically enough, earlier that morning on the site, the tower had been declared the new tallest standing structure in the United States. After parking the car in a horribly overpriced lot, say, $67 for the day after tax (who knew they quietly charge you an extra $10 for an SUV and then 20% tax without telling you?), we moved onto a quick trip to the NHL store, and a delicious lunch at the pizza joint I spent a couple of days a week at during my lunch hour all summer, Pronto Pizza, on 48th Street between 5th and 6th.

The 'Original Six' Orange County Chopper that my dad would kill to get his hands on - Runs for a cool $100K
Slices of heaven
After downing a pound or so of pizza, going into a food coma, and eventually coming out of it, we hit Soho to do a lot of walking and try our luck at shopping. Despite my best efforts, I completely struck out. However, I was rudely greeted by dozens of locals who didn't take a liking to my Washington Capitals t-shirt. New Yorkers are such friendly people...

We had spent the day looking forward to checking out the 9/11 memorial, but were met with some sad news when we got there. Evidentially, you need tickets to get down inside the site. Who knew? We sure didn't. However, it wasn't all a loss. We got to take a walk around a few blocks and see the Freedom tower from all sides. We also went into the 9/11 memorial shop, where we got to see a magnificent chopper, built by Paul Jr. Designs, a split-off company of the famous Orange County Choppers.

I'm far from a bike buff, but that thing was pretty damn cool. Despite our disappointments in not being able to see the memorial, it was time for the main event. We rallied and took the Subway back to mid-town, grabbed our jerseys and invaded Madison Square Garden.

We were fortunate enough to get to the game very early, and being that the Caps were not the main attraction for most people in the arena, we able to sneak down all the way to the Caps player's tunnel for warm ups. Here's a pretty cool video of the boys in white taking the ice for the pre-game skate:

While I chatted the lady sitting next to us during the warm up, I remember turning to my friends and saying something along the lines of "Holtby's on tonight, boys. We're going back to DC 1-1 tonight." Might seem a little cheesy, but it did happen, and I really felt that confident about the game.

When it got going, the building was rocking. Everyone around us, mainly several drunken fans who were probably in their late 20's, had more than a few words for me and my friends about our choices in attire. However, the arena was seemingly a lot quieter when Mike Knuble put the Caps up 1-0 mid-way through the first period, and even more so after rare gaffe by Rangers' goaltender Henrik Lundqvist allowed Jason Chimera to give the Caps a 2-0 lead. The period ended with a late goal by New York, along with a terrible tripping penalty by Mike Green, shifting the momentum back to the Rangers, and of course, their fans, going into intermission.

We were heckled with the standard road fan taunts: "You guys are f*****g a******s! I hear Caps fans have to sit when they piss because they're all p*****s!" Etc, etc, etc. Following a boring, scoreless second, things only got worse when the Rangers tied the game at 2 midway through the third period. The building was loud, the cussing was aggressive, and we were all very, very quiet. After Lundqvist made several great saves on a Caps' power play just under half way through the period, the Caps got a second consecutive power play opportunity.

For the 45 seconds or so it took for the game to get back underway, the guys behind us to our left kept screaming down to me, "Hey, a*****e! Who's number 21? WHO'S NUMBER 21?," in reference to my #21, Brooks Laich jersey. They kept going right up until the Caps won a face-off back to Alex Ovechkin, who promptly took a couple of steps before sniping a shot top-right to take the lead. I enjoyed standing up and turning around and screaming back "WHO'S NUMBER 8!?!?!?!?!?! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" in their faces, and exchanging a round of high fives with my buddies. Needless to say, that was the last we were taunted during the game until the final buzzer sounded off a 3-2 Washington victory.

Of course, we were still met with a lot of rude words as we watched the Ranger faithful file out of their building with a loss, but we were all smiles and silence as we were still being verbally assaulted, knowing it had all been worth it to make the drive. Before we said our goodbyes to Alex, and got a reluctant usher to snap a picture for us to take home, along with our victory.

Home ice advantage now lies with the boys in red. Let's Go Caps.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Round Two Playoff Predictions

A little late, but here they are:
Phoenix Coyotes v Nashville Predators: Predators in 6
St. Louis Blues v LA Kings: Blues in 6
Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils: Flyers in 7
Washington Capitals v. New York Rangers: No shot I'm writing anything down.

Let's Go Caps.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Recap: Caps defeat Bruins in 7

Joel Ward scored 2:57 into overtime to lift the Caps to the second round of the playoffs.

The Washington Capitals have moved on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season, thanks to Joel Ward's timely offensive contribution just under three minutes into overtime. This past summer, general manager George McPhee said he overpaid by roughly fifteen percent to get his hands on Ward, but also noted that he would rather overpay for a guy who could consistently perform in the playoffs. Last night, Ward crashed the net and earned his $3 million for the season with a single goal. This team clearly believes in itself and it showed throughout the series. The Caps took three of four in Beantown.

Let's revisit the keys to the series that were posted before game one and examine how the Caps and Bruins measured up.

1. Can Braden Holtby keep up with Tim Thomas?

Umm, yes. Holtby performed as well as you could ever expect a 22 year old rookie to play. He turned away 31 of 32 shots in game seven and 233 of 248 in the series. Tim Thomas also was good for the Bruins, even brilliant at times. Thomas saved 191 of the 207 pucks on net he faced. But the fact that Thomas didn’t player better than Holtby means Holtby won the battle.  Advantage: Holtby.

More importantly, Holtby showed off exactly why so many have compared him to Caps' goaltending legend Olie "The Goalie" Kolzig. Holtby played with a certain swagger to his game. He didn't allow his inexperience – or the Bruins’ physical play – to intimidate him at any point. This example of Holtby’s cool under pressure came during Wednesday's overtime clincher:

What a boss. Knocks down Peverley and then stares him down during a fake slash-to-be without flinching. Somewhere in the DMV area Olie is smiling ear to ear while watching this.

2. Which Tim Thomas shows up to play?

As noted, Thomas was good for 191 saves on 207 shots total. But was it enough? Statistically, nobody is going to complain with their goaltender putting up a .923 save percentage in the playoffs. Statistically, Thomas' 2.14 GAA was plenty good to give the Bruins a shot to win this series. Really though, Thomas needed to come up with more to allow his team to win.

During game 6 in DC, Caps fans got a huge scare when the once beatable Thomas began to show signs of why he was last year's playoff MVP. Thomas robbed Marcus Johansson on what looked to be an empty net tap in, diving across the crease Superman style to knock a puck away with the paddle of his stick. Thomas continued to frustrate Capitals' shooters, consistently challenging the angle with an unparalleled aggressiveness. However, the Boston netminder also gave up a few goals that his teammates would likely expect a four-time All-Star to stop. Overall, Thomas didn't live up to expectations, and the Caps were able to narrowly squeak out of the series and guarantee that there will be a new Stanley Cup Champion this year.

3. What does Dale Hunter do about Boston's desire to match Chara and Seidenberg against Ovechkin and Backstrom?

Who told Dale about my blog? Because he had to have read it, right? Hunter was at times brilliant behind the bench, and made some very gutsy decisions which ultimately paid off in the form of a series win, even if he pissed-off his franchise player at times.

Hunter placed Ovechkin alongside Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer in hopes that Ovechkin's bigger, more physical line mates would create more open space for the Russian winger. Meanwhile, Nick Backstrom centered Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson on the second line, allowing the creative pair of Swedes to get Semin several scoring chances. The move ended up totaling in 16 shots on net and 3 goals for Semin, who has, in the past, virtually disappeared in the playoffs. Ovechkin contributed 2 goals of his own, along with 3 assists and a stunning 28 shots on goal. Not bad, Dale, not bad at all.

4. How do MoJo, Perreault, and Aucoin perform against Boston's bigger lineup?

This is quite the interesting question to answer looking back on the series. Marcus Johansson put up a goal and two assists in the series, but was also a minus-3. Mathieu Perreault only dressed for four games of the series. His thumb injury made room for Mike Knuble to establish himself back into the lineup on a regular basis. Perreault finished the series with no points, one shot on goal and a minus-1 rating. Keith Aucion and his 5'8", 171 lb. frame contributed one assist and five shots on goal, along with a minus-2 rating. So, how did they do?

Johansson showed off his solid puck-handling presence throughout the series, and allowed for the creation of open ice to free up Alexander Semin for many of his shots. Johansson's skating and puck-possession have come to strongly resemble that of line mate Nick Backstrom's, which all hockey fans know is a great thing if you're a Caps fan. He also sprung through two Bruins to free up a puck along the boards and fed Backstrom for a game winner in overtime in Boston.  So Johansson gets a check-plus in my book.

Perreault is a different story. No offense to Perreault, but his game seemed to be much less effective than that of 6'3", 229 lb. Knuble. Perreault was not a strong presence in the offensive or defensive zones against the larger, more physical Bruins team. That showed when Perreault was often knocked off a puck or forced into making a hurried, poor decision. On the other hand, Knuble came into the line-up and contributed a go-ahead goal early in the third period of game 5, and was responsible for the net traffic that led to Mike Green's fortunate bounce into the net in game 6. Oh, and he also blocked the dump in and led the rush that allowed Ward to tap in the series winner. These plays all resulted from a typical theme of Knuble's career: win the board battles and crash the net. Expect Knuble to remain in the lineup and Perreault to join Jeff Halpern & co. for some free food in the press box while on the healthy scratch list.

Keith Aucoin's series is perhaps the most intriguing. Aucoin wrapped up the series with a lone assist, 5 shots and a minus-2 rating, but numbers don't always tell the whole story. The Caps couldn't possibly have expected Aucion to be a puck-possession force along the boards in this series. His lack of size often becomes a large factor against the minor league journeyman. However, Aucoin's limited role, which largely consisted of fourth line duty, didn't keep him from contributing on the power play. Aucoin's creativity with the puck down low led to several scoring chances for the Caps on the man up.  And for that, we'll say that Aucoin "broke zero," especially since no one expected him to still be on the roster at this point of the season.

The Caps now face an imposing opponent in Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. They've already taken down the defending champs and arguably the toughest "playoff hockey" opponent in the East in the Boston Bruins. Now the task will be finding a way to get some pucks by the brick wall of a goaltender standing between the pipes for the Rangers. Preview to come shortly.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tim Thomas is awesome

I'm going to do a wrap up post about the entire Caps/Bruins series and a preview as to what is to come for the boys in Red shortly. But for now, I have to give some quick props to Bruins' goaltender Tim Thomas. Say what you want about the guy, the Bruins, etc, but Thomas just became one of my favorite athletes on the planet. After giving up the series-winning goal to Joel Ward 2:57 into overtime, Thomas had to go through every hockey player's worst nightmare; being on the losing end of the post-series handshake line.

However, as Thomas was ending his business on the ice, the Bruins' all-star goaltender spotted a young child seated in the front row, crying over the loss. While most athletes would have immediately stormed off the ice in frustration of their season ending, Thomas skated over to where the boy was seated, gesturing to him that he should smile and waved to the boy.

For a guy who just gave up the season-ending goal on home ice, Thomas showed what a class act he is all around. Just another example of why hockey players are the greatest athletes on the planet, both on and off the ice. Timmy T - you can come play goal for the Caps anytime in my book… as Holtby's back-up…

Monday, April 23, 2012

Felony charge for guy using 'water cup' for soda? Yup.

NAPLES, Fla. — A Naples man faces a felony charge after he was accused of walking out of the McDonald’s in East Naples without paying for a cup of soda. After filling a courtesy cup with soda Thursday at the McDonald’s soda fountain and then leaving the restaurant, Mark Abaire, 52, of the 500 block of 14th Street North, was arrested by Collier deputies and now faces a felony theft charge, a sheriff’s report shows. A manager told sheriff’s deputies that Abaire entered the store and asked for a glass of water around 10 p.m. Although the employee told him the cup was for water, Abaire filled it with soda at a fountain machine and sat outside the restaurant, according to an arrest report. During a conversation with the manager, Abaire declined to pay for the soda, valued at $1, refused to leave the premises, and cursed at the manager, the report stated.

So this makes probably 85% of people reading this felons, right? I mean, there's about a 0% chance that most everyone I know hasn't pulled this move before? "Umm, just a cup for water please." Bullsh*t. "You're food is overpriced and I think I deserve a free soda" is the correct translation of that sentence. But lets get to the important part. The manager seriously called the cops on this bro? I mean, he probably took a styrofoam cup, about the size of the cap to the top of your bottle of mouthwash, and took a few ounces of fountain soda. What's that equate to? Like a $0.04 crime? "Hey guy, loosen up. Bro's thirsty." 52 years old? 10 pm? Odds are this guy was day drinking with some of his former frat buddies and is too sh*tfaced to know what he's doing. Who's to say he doesn't wake up the next morning, see the cup, and notice he has an extra dollar in his pocket? Guy feels guilty and comes and pays you the dollar for the drink he stole, problem solved. It's not like he broke into SeaWorld to swim with dolphins and stole Dirk the penguin or anything.