Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Vancouver's New Jersey

It may be as bad as the 1975 Houston Astros with the infamous rainbow gut.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Toughest Division to Play

In the post lock-out era which NHL division has been the toughest to play against? Based on the regular season's records of each team for the past two years, I've put together a ranking for toughest division. The following is the combined records of each division vs. the rest of the league:

vs ATL
vs NE
vs SE
vs CEN vs NW
vs PAC
Eastern Conference W L OL W L OL W L OL W L OL W L OL W L OL
ATLANTIC x x x 90 88 22 96 75 29 24 18 8 12 11 2 11 12 2
NORTHEAST 110 64 26 x x x 117 68 15 12 9 4 24 23 3 11 10 4
SOUTHEAST 104 75 21 83 97 20 x x x 19 3 3 6 13 6 20 26 4

vs ATL
vs NE
vs SE
vs CEN vs NW
vs PAC
Western Conference W L OL W L OL W L OL W L OL W L OL W L OL
CENTRAL 26 16 8 13 10 2 6 13 6 x x x 94 79 27 89 91 20
NORTHWEST 13 7 5 26 17 7 19 5 1 106 75 19 x x x 102 74 24
PACIFIC 14 7 4 14 9 2 30 16 4 111 70 19 98 84 18 x x x

Using the NHL's formula for standings points - 2 points for a win and 1 point for an over time loss here is the combined totals:

Vs League
Eastern Conference W L OL PTS
ATLANTIC 233 204 63 529
NORTHEAST 274 174 52 600
SOUTHEAST 232 214 54 518

Vs League
Western Conference W L OL PTS
CENTRAL 228 209 63 519
NORTHWEST 266 178 56 588
PACIFIC 267 186 47 581

So here is the the rankings for NHL's Toughest Division to Play:









One last thing, thanks to The Puck Stops Here for helping me out with my incredible math skills and allowing me to make this post as accurate as possible.

Caps Resign John Erskine

Yesterday the Capitals announced that John Erskine has agreed to a two year contract extension. The defenseman played in 29 games for the Caps last season scoring 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points while racking up 69 penalty minutes. He's a ruff and tumble player who brought a lot of toughness to the team but broke his foot blocking a shot in mid-December. After missing 25 games he returned only to dislocate his thumb in an early March fight. He and Steve Eminger meshed very well at the beginning of the season when they were playing together. We'll look for John to keep all of his bones and joints intact this year because in my opinion he was one of the more fun players to watch. He fears no one and will drop the gloves when needed. He seems to relish in the old time fight style - lets hit each each in the face as hard as we can and see who can take it. That's great stuff!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hershey News

The Capitals AHL affiliate, Hershey Bears, have made some roster moves for the upcoming season. The Bears signed LW/D Grant McNeill, C Malcolm MacMillan, RW Tom Maxwell, and C Grant Potulny. The Bears also resigned D Tyler Sloan. Here's what the Bears website had to say about each:

"McNeill, 24, spent the majority of 2006-07 with Wheeling (ECHL), accumulating 254 penalty minutes in 63 games played. He also played in two regular season games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) last season. McNeill played in three games for the Florida Panthers (NHL) in 2003-04, recording one fighting major.

MacMillan, 25, played in four games for Hershey in 2006-07 and recorded two penalty minutes. In addition, he played in two games for Albany (AHL) last season, and 66 games for Reading (ECHL). While with the Royals in 2006-07, he scored 10 goals, assisted on 25 others and built up 270 minutes in penalties.

Maxwell, 21, made his professional debut in 2006-07 with Phoenix (ECHL) after four seasons in juniors with Medicine Hat (WHL). He scored five goals and accumulated 253 penalty minutes in just 53 games.

Potulny, 27, was drafted in the fifth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators, and played four years at the University of Minnesota from 2000-2004. He won back-to-back National Championships in 2002 and 2003 while in Minneapolis, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime of the 2002 National Championship game against Maine. Potulny scored 23 goals in 78 games for the Binghamton Senators in 2005-06 with 122 penalty minutes in 2005-06.

Sloan, 26, is coming off arguably his best pro season as he enters 2007-08. He played in 68 games for Hershey last season, one off his AHL career high, notching 11 points and a career high 104 penalty minutes. Sloan also recorded seven points in 17 games during the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs, also a new career best. The Calgary, Alberta native played his first full season with Hershey in 2006-07 after making his Bears debut during the 2006 Calder Cup Championship run."

In other Hershey news, LW Peter Vandermeer signed to play for the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL. Vandermeer appeared in 26 games for Hershey last season with 2 goals, 5 assists, and 129 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 2 playoff games for the Bears.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Heward Goes to Russia

According to European former Capital defenseman Jamie Heward has signed on to play for SKA St. Petersburg in the Russia Super League. Washington traded Heward at the deadline last season to the LA Kings for a conditional 2008 draft pick. The condition being if Heward signed with LA for the 2007-08 season the Capitals would receive a 5th round draft pick. However, with Heward signing in Russia the Capitals will receive nothing. Heward played for the Caps from the beginning of the 2005-06 season until he was traded last season. For the Caps he played in 123 games with 11 goals, 33 assists, 44 points, 81 Penalty minutes and a +/- rating of -1. He also was the recipient of an errant skate from Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano that caused he to miss about a month of last season while having to undergo facial reconstruction surgery. Unfortunately the Caps will now receive nothing for the trade and I wonder if he could have been better utilized by playing for the Caps down the stretch last season, but hindsight is 20/20 isn't it.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Caps Progress Review - By the Numbers

The Capitals announced back in the 2003-2004 that they would undergo a rebuilding process and quickly began trading most of the teams assets for draft picks and prospects. They were fortunate enough to win the draft lottery and picked Alex Ovechkin with the number one overall pick in the 2004 entry draft. According to the the team, the plan was to let the young players show what they could do for two years and then evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. After two trying years the Capitals have started filling in some of the holes during this summers free agency market. The numbers from these past two years are very telling.

First off is the overall record. In 2005-06 the team went 29-41-12 and in 2006-07 they went 28-40-14. Both years accumulating 70 points in the standings and finishing in last place in the Southeast Division.

In the goal department in 05-06 the Caps scored 230 goals and in 06-07 scored 234 goals. Opponents scored 300 and 275 respectively. While cutting the goal differential dramatically in 06-07 they were still out scored by some 41 goals. One of the more noticeable stats is shots on goal. The past two years the Caps were out shot by their opponents by a whopping 874 shots. The need to score more goals was one of the areas addressed by the team in free agency this summer. The Caps brought in former Cap Michael Nylander and Victor Kozlov. Nylander had 83 points last year and is expected to center the first line with Ovechkin. Kozlov had 51 points with the New York Islanders last year and looks to play on the second line with Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom, the number four pick in the 2006 entry draft. The team also resigned their captain Chris Clark to a three year extension. In two seasons with the Caps, Clark has scored 50 goals and 93 points. The younger Caps including Matt Pettinger, Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, Jakup Klepis, and Tomas Fleischmann will be looked at to contribute more to the offense as 134 of the 234 goals scored last season was the product of four forwards ( Ovechkin 46, Semin 38, Clark 30, and Dainius Zubrus 20).

Special teams has been an Achilles heel for the Caps. They scored 72 power play goals in 05-06 and 67 in 06-07 while giving up 116 and 82. Admittedly, the Caps have acknowledged that they just didn't have the personnel to run an effective power play. They acquired free agent Tom Poti to be their power play quarterback. On the Islanders power play last year, Poti had 6 goals and 26 assists. They also expect Backstrom to contribute his play making abilities here as well. The penalty kill ranked 23rd last season and 28th in 05-06. While there was some improvement here there needs to be much more if the teams wants to be competitive. The defense is the big question mark for this years team. The Caps defense has lots of prospects in Milan Jurcina, Steve Eminger, Mike Green, and Jeff Schultz and some of them will step up. The Caps have also brought in a couple of veteran defensemen with a lot of European experience in Josef Boumedienne and Jamie Pollock. General Manager George McPhee has indicated that no more moves will be made until after the start of training camp. The hope is that the young defense corp has matured enough and the competition for the spot will show who is ready for a full time position on the blue line. If no one appears to be breaking out, the Caps may have to look for a free agent or trade to fill this need.

The in-game stats show some interesting trends. Stats for hits, takeaways, giveaways, blocked shots, and missed shots are all quite subjective and tend to vary from arena to arena so take them for what they are. The Caps out hit their opponents by over a hundred each of the past two seasons and the level remained consistent. 1,542 hits in 05-06 and 1,556 hits in 06-07. Takeaways were nearly the same for the Caps over the two seasons but the opponents increased their takeaways by 134 last season. Opponents averaged 88 less giveaways over the two season span. For the 05-06 season the Caps blocked 33 fewer shots than their opponents, but this number increased to 151 for the 06-07 season. Missed shots were very consistent with the Caps averaging 923 and their opponents averaging 1023. A difference of 100 per season. What these stats show is the Caps play a more physical game than their opponents but need improvement in their puckhandling and defense.

In 2005-06 the Caps ranked 10th in face-off win percentage. In 2006-07 they ranked 17th. The change from 50.4% to 49.8% can be attributed to a couple of factors. One was the loss of Jeff Halpern who had a lifetime face-off percentage of 53.9% and 55.2% in 05-06. The second was the fact that the Caps had no one who consistently played the center position. Finally, it took awhile for Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich to become proficient at the art. Both started slowly but were very good at the end of the season. Gordon finished with a 52.1 win percentage and Laich finished at 51.9%. Gordon work really hard last year to improve this aspect of his game (in 05-06 his percentage was 46.3) and it showed as Head Coach Glenn Halon had him take almost all of the important draws in the latter stages of last season. Next season the Caps look to improve this area with the addition of Backstrom.

Penalties were a big improvement in th 06-07 season. The Caps took 158 fewer penalties for 266 fewer minutes in the box. This also coincided with the Caps taking only 1 more penalty than their opponents last season. In the 05-06 season the took 65 more penalties than their opponents. If they can continue this trend they will be in a position to have more power play chances than their opponents which is always a good thing.

Goaltending for the Caps was once again Olie Kolzig and Brent Johnson with a little Fredrick Cassivi thrown in. Overall the goalies improved in most areas. The goals against average was down 0.32 goals per gave and the save percentage was up from 89.6% to 90.3%. The save percentage in 06-07 was slightly above their opponents 90.1%, but Caps goalies faced 435 more shots than their counterparts. The goalie situation is stable for the start of the year with Kolzig starting and Johnson as back up. Michal Neuvirth and Simeon Varlamov are young goalies that showed promise last on their on the junior and European teams. Both were signed by the Caps this summer and led to the decision not to qualify Maxime Daigeault in June. Kolzig is in the last year of his contract and has said he wants to play for three more years. We''ll have to wait and see if it will be with the Caps.

The last area is the one that hurts. The Caps were a miserable 1 win and 11 losses in the shootout last year. It was hard to believe since they had 7 wins and 6 losses in 05-06. In 06-07 skaters scored 5 goals in 40 attempts with only three players scoring a shootout goal (Ovechkin 2-12, Semin 2-10, & Pettinger 1-4). Hopefully the addition of Kozlov 13-25 and Nylander 10-24 will help. The goalies did not fare much better. They allowed 18 goals in 40 attempts. Their save percentage dropped from 70.2% to 55.0% . The Caps simply need to do better in this area of the game. They lost 11 possible points in the standing because of it. Hopefully with the new additions there will be a new attitude about the shootout and us Cap fans can watch it again.

So season three of the Capitals rebuilding project is set to begin on September 14th with training camp at the Kettler Iceplex. This will be a telling year in the progress of the rebuilding Capitals. We'll watch the numbers and see what trends change and what doesn't, but the numbers don't lie. If they're good there will be much to cheer about. If not, well, lets not think about that yet.

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