NHL Power Rankings: October 18th

1 If Jason Chimera keeps playing like he has, he might soon enough get Ovechkin money (kidding). However, injury to Neuvirth is cause for concern.
2   Wings have had no faults so far, going a perfect 4-0-0 and allowing only 5 goals.
3   The Varly trade now looks to be trending in favor of the Avs—who woulda thunk it? He’s been great and they are 4-1-0—far from the sure lottery position many thought they’d be in.
4   Bryzgalov has been all Philly fans hoped he’d be, going 3-0-1. A loss to former captain Mike Richards hurts, however.
5   Phil Kessel has wowed with 5 goals. But even moreso, he has shown improved hustle and commitment. He even asked to be on the PK. He has the Leafs trending upward (at least until their usual collapse).
6   John Tavares has been outstanding,  recording a hat trick the other night against their NY rivals, the Rangers. Plus solid goaltending from Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov—quite an eccentric duo.
7   The big spending has worked so far, but the best play has come from a young gun, Luke Adam, who looks to contend for the Calder with 3 G so far.
8   Ducks have won 4 straight and look poised to continue their impressive form from last season.
9   I thought they’d be a bland team. But Kari Lehtonen has supplied outstanding goaltending (.955 SV%) and the D is scoring to make up for the forwards’ lack of offense.
10   Losing Evgeni Malkin again, not having Sid Crosby back, and now having Kris Letang suspended for 2 games has the Pens trending downward.
11   Geezer Johan Hedberg has filled in nicely while Brodeur is injured. Prized rookie Adam Larsson has 0 pts and is a -1.
12   Although they’ve only played 3 games, Florida’s looked good, however real test comes this week with games vs. Washington and Buffalo. New D-man Brian Campbell has 7 helpers (!)
13   Will this be the year the Preds have some offense? David Legwand leads the league with 8 points.
14   They beat Philly, but losing Drew Doughty really hurts, no matter how long he is out for (right now, it looks to be short).
15   The ‘Yotes have won 2 in a row after losing 6-3 to San Jose to start the season.  Probable trade deadline bait Shane Doan has 7 points. Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera both (surprisingly) have .920 SV%.
16   Defense has been the story, and not for a good reason: they’ve allowed 16 goals in 5 games. However, they’re getting Ryan Kesler back for their next game, so that will definitely help.
17   It’s been up-and-down so far for Minny. However, they have 6 points—not bad. Koivu, Heatley and Setoguchi have only 7 pts combined—that will have to improve.
18   The offense has been lacking for Carolina after the departure of Erik Cole as they have only 13 goals in 5 games. They’ve also surrendered 32 shots a game on Cam Ward, which doesn’t help.
19   They split 2 games with Dallas, beat the atrocious Jets, and lost to Boston. Not very impressive. However, Crawford has less than 2 GAA, .930 SV%.
20   They’ve had to play without Martin Havlat and Antti Niemi to start the year. Team leaders of points have 3.
21   Good win vs. San Jose, but goaltending’s been awful, especially Halak, who has .857 SV%.
22   No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has wowed so far, including a hat trick the other night against Vancouver. The future is bright—just not yet.
23   TBL are suffering from East Finals hangover, most recently losing 7-4 to the Panthers to add to their 1-3-2 record. One bright spot is Marc-Andre Bergeron, who has 2G and 6A, but who is well-known to be a defensive liability.
24   Habs have been bit by the injury bug yet again, as 3 of their top 6 defensemen are now injured. Erik Cole started they year on the third line and was terrible, but he’s been bumped up to the top 6 and played a good game against the Avs. Price has not been great, either. Mike Cammalleri is injured as well. OY!
25   Bruins look to be suffering from a Stanley Cup hangover.  They are 2-3-0.  PP is once again garbage, going 1-for-20.
26   Rangers have yet to win a game, as they sit at 0-1-2. Richards and Gaborik have 5 pts combined (not good by any means), but the rest of the roster has only 7 combined. Their offense needs to get going to support Henrik Lundqvist.
27   James Wisniewski was suspended for the first 8 games. Now Jeff Carter is injured and has been put on IR. The Jackets are 0-4-1 and are on the verge of complete disaster.
28   It’s another below-average year for the Flames, complete with anemic offense. They’ve only scored 11 goals. And Jay Feaster says he wants to get rid of some of the better players. Can you say lottery?
29   The Jets only now picked up their first win after losing their first 3 games. It will be a long season. But no one in the ‘Peg really cares.
30   The Senators are 1-4-0 and with mostly not-quite-there-yet young players (and Daniel Alfredsson), and absolutely horrible goaltending from Craig Anderson. They are the worst team in the League right now.

WSH Game 4: Caps improve to 4-0, beat Senators IN REGULATION 2-1

It wasn’t even really as close as it sounds. A pretty bland game, with all the action happening in the 1st period.

Recap: Nick Backstrom scored on the Power Play to kick things off on a nice pass from Alex Semin. Backstrom netted it from just beyond the right goalpost. Then my man Marcus Johansson made it 2-0 when he carried the puck down the left-hand boards and went 5-hole on Alex Auld on a wraparound– a goal which, really, if it had not been Alex Auld would not have been a goal. Then Peter Regin cut the Caps’ lead in half on a crazy shot from almost 180 degrees to the net (goalpost was on his right). Craig Laughlin said it best: “If he was right handed, that’s not a goal.” But would he have even been in that situation if he was right-handed? Where would his career be if he was a righty? Food for thought.

Plus: Caps finally won in regulation. That’s a good thing…The Caps only took 1 penalty, and killed it off. Alex Semin managed to contain his urge to hook someone…Vokoun stopped 33 of 34…Ovechkin had 7 shots on goal…Mike Knuble had 2 assists…Roman Hamrlik has now played the most games of any Czech-born and -trained player (important to note the “trained”, because Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita was Czech but grew up in Canada)…

Minus: The Caps only managed 2 goals on Alex Auld…According to Japers’ Rink, Ovechkin was absent from the Caps’ top PP unit, and when he came back, he wasn’t on point. THAT makes sense…Erik Karlsson, the Sens’ promising young Swedish blueliner, was outplayed by his Carlson counterpart, John…

Injuries: Ottawa D Sergei Gonchar left in the 1st after blocking a shot and didn’t come back. Word from the Senators is that he has a bruised foot…

3 Stars: 1. Auld (gotta do it) 2. Vokoun 3. Knuble

Nightly Nugget: Not Caps related, but very significant: On this day in history, Wayne Gretzky scored his 1,851st NHL point. This surpassed Gordie Howe for most points in the NHL all-time, a record that still stands and is not likely to be broken soon, if ever.

Next up: The Caps welcome the Florida Panthers and Jose Theodore to the Verizon Center on Tuesday. As someone who finds Theodore more entertaining than probably anything on TV that night, you know I’ll be watching.

WSH Game 4: Senators@Caps

I’m looking to atone for my lack of a postgame review for the Caps’ last 2 games, so I force upon you a preview for tonight’s matchup with Ottawa at the Verizon Center.

What to watch for: –According to Katie Carrera, DJ King will be in the Caps’ lineup tonight for Mathieu Perrault, giving the Caps some added toughness against a very gritty Sens team that includes the likes of Zenon Konopka, Chris Neil and Matt Carkner (ed. note: Carkner has a knee injury), who have combined for 2,744 PIMs in their careers.

-Caps have won all 3 of their games so far, all in OT. It’d be nice to see them be able to close out a game in regulation (although the OT does make for some excitement). According to Mike Vogel, the last time the Caps won four straight to open the season was in 1997-98. 4 straight is the most in team history.

-Puzzling news today on the goalie front: from Katie Carrera, the Caps called up Dany Sabourin from Hershey today. This means that Neuvirth won’t go again tonight, hardly surprising news. But also, this means they are picking Sabourin over Holtby to (presumably) back up Vokoun tonight. The theory coming from Kettler is that the Caps would rather Holtby play in the AHL than ride the pine in the NHL–something I think is just a dumb idea. Even forgetting the possibility of Vokoun getting injured tonight, I still think it’s better for Holtby to have some experience with the big boys where (presuambly/hopefully) he will be playing next year.

Between the Pipes: Tomas Vokoun vs. Alex Auld. This is a sad, sad statement for the Sens. Yeah, Craig Anderson has looked dumbfoundingly atrocious this year (.853 SV%,5.07 GAA), but Alex Auld is not much better. Trust me.

Happy Statistic: Roman Hamrlik will play in his 1,315th game tonight, which will give him the most ever played by a Czech in the NHL. Wish he would’ve been doing this in Montreal tonight.

(Sometimes) Ballsy Prediction: Goin’ with the obvious tonight. Caps easily overcome a Sens team that’s surrendering 5.25 goals a game. 5-2.

On the Capitals’ goalie situation

Michal Neuvirth should be the Capitals’ number 1 goaltender right now and for the foreseeable future.

Not the 1a. That should be Braden Holtby.

 

I have always believed this, even when the Caps surprisingly signed Tomas Vokoun. Everyone knows Vokoun is fine in the regular season. In the Playoffs? He’s only played in 2 series in his entire career, losing both in 4 and 6 games. The notion that he somehow brings veteran leadership and experience for the Playoffs is absurd.

Michal Neuvirth, on the other hand? He does. He has already played in as many series as Vokoun has, and he is 23 years old to Vokoun’s 35. Neuvirth has not underperformed in the Playoffs by any means-in fact, he was one of the bright spots on the team during the Playoffs last year. He also won over the starting job from Semyon Varlamov, which ultimately led to Varly’s being shipped to Colorado.

Look, I understand when people say that Vokoun should be the number 1 because he is the veteran, he brings experience, etc. But I never understood why the Caps even signed him in the first place!! I understand it is for those very traits. But why do they need them? Neuvirth has proven himself to be just as good as Vokoun will be in the Playoffs. In his 2 career series, Neuvy has a 2.34 GAA as compared to Vokoun’s 2.47. Now, I understand that Vokoun has not played on good teams in his time in the League. But we’re looking at Playoff statistics, and a team doesn’t get to the Playoffs without being at least respectable. In fact, I would contend that Neuvy’s GAA, which admittedly is not that much better than Vokoun’s, is more impressive. The Capitals are known for being an extremely offensive team, one which plays close to no defense (the reason for their perennial Playoff collapse). The Predators, the team on which Vokoun went to the Playoffs twice–are known for their tight defense year after year. So, that being said, I would say that Neuvirth’s GAA is in fact better, to use the term loosely, than Vokoun’s in the Playoffs, which then calls into question the signing of Vokoun if their existing goalie is better than him at the very thing he was signed for.

Now, I am aware every team needs 2 goalies, and many say, “Well, Vokoun as a backup is not bad.” Again, I say that there was no reason to sign him in the first place. Vokoun was signed for his veteran savvy, leadership, and “Playoff experience”, right? What good are any of those doing if he is the backup? All of those things are contingent on his being the starter. And, with Neuvirth starting the first game of the year, he is not. What good are his experience and consistency on the ice doing riding the pine?

In addition, the Caps have yet another very talented, young goalie in their system–Braden Holtby. I believed Holtby should have been at least the 1a (to use Boudreau’s term) this year, if not the starter. In 14 games last year, Holtby had a 1.79 GAA and a .934 SV% against such formidable opponents as the Flyers, Lightning, and Blackhawks-and 2 games in Montreal, the toughest place to play in the League, where he shut the Habs out once and allowed 2 goals on 26 shots in the other. That is extremely good for a 21-year-old. I didn’t understand why Boudreau didn’t ride him after the other goalies came back last year, and it led to…Playoff elimination.

Now, the big knock against Holtby is that there is no Playoff experience-but he would be the backup here, so that wouldn’t be a huge issue if he turned out disastrous. But he wouldn’t. I think any 21-year-old that can go into Montreal in only slightly more than his tenth game in the League and shut them out, while dealing with the extremely pressure-filled and intense atmosphere that is Montreal, not only can handle enormous pressure, but deserves a really serious look on your team? Did he get that? No–Holtby is in Hershey right now.

So who is to blame here–what is the problem? George McPhee should never have signed Vokoun in the first place, and Boudreau should not have named him the starter only 10 days after signing him. Now, after Neuvirth totally outperformed Vokoun in camp, Boudreau was forced to start him over Vokoun, making him look like a total buffoon. Neuvirth has proven to be an NHL-quality goaltender, and one that is more than ready for the Playoffs who doesn’t need someone like Vokoun as a fallback. Also, the Caps still have Holtby, who absolutely blew people away in his starts last year and who many assumed would be the 2nd goalie on the Capitals. So what I am wondering is–why sign Vokoun in the first place, and why name him the starter and then start Vokoun?

The problem is that Neuvirth and Holtby were ready to be one of the NHL’s best goalie tandems. Then they signed Vokoun, named him the starter, he sucked, and now Neuvirth is starting again. And who manufactured the problem?

Bruce Boudreau. I think we have found the real problem here.

MTL Game 2: Habs ruin Jets’ return, win 5-1

You’d never have guessed the Canadiens won judging by the crowd noise at the end of the game. And guess what? There were more injuries!

Recap: The Jets came out looking jittery, and the Canadiens really just took hold of the game and never gave it back. Mike Cammalleri scored on a nice wrister for the only goal of the 1st. Tomas Plekanec scored on a really nice play where he intercepted a pass then picked Johnny Oduya’s pocket and deked out Ondrej Pavelec for the goal. Nik Antropov then scored a couple minutes into the 3rd and the stadium was nearly blown to high heaven by the joyous noise. However, MaxPac, Moen and Weber (on the PP!) finished off the Jets with their 3 scores.

Plus: Man, True North is rolling in the dough. Literally every person there was wearing Jets merchandise of some sort. Sales must be out the wazoo…Carey Price had a typical Carey Price game, stopping 30 of 31 shots with some real nice saves mixed in…Tomas Plekanec added 2 assists to go along with his goal and was a +3…Moen and Weber both had 1G and 1A…Really, Winnipeg the big winner here. Nothing was going to ruin this for them…

Minus: Although the homecoming is glorious, the play was discouraging for Jets fans…Erik Cole had another bad game…Pavelec allowed 5 goals on only 22 shots, a SV% of .773…Winnipeg was 0-for-6 on the PP…

Injuries: Michael Cammalleri left with an apparent laceration of his leg. Reports have said 2 weeks and 2 months. Pray to God it’s on the 2 weeks side…Jaroslav Spacek, in what can only be deemed a cruel desire of the hockey gods to see Yannick Weber on D, left with an “upper-body injury” that came after he appeared to hurt his ribs on a hit where he collided with the Habs’ bench…The injuries are absurd right now. Praise the Lord for Carey Price (if I just jinxed it…I will kill myself)…

3 Stars: 1. Plekanec 2. Price 3. Pacioretty

Nightly Nugget: Max Pacioretty scored his first goal since the, uh…incident

Next Up: The Canadiens have their home opener on Thursday when they welcome Jarome Iginla and Calgary to town. The Flames (read: Miikka Kiprusoff) have looked awful so far…

Blair Betts returned to Flyers

The Canadiens announced today that Blair Betts, who they had claimed on waivers a few days ago from the Flyers, had been returned to Philadelphia because he failed his physical.

Questions obviously arose after Betts did not play in the Canadiens’ opener in Toronto. The Habs said he was day to day.

From Bettman, via the Canadiens’ team website:

In reaching his decision, Commissioner Bettman stated: “While it is clear that both clubs have acted in good faith in this unique situation (i.e. a waiver claim), I am not prepared to dispute the conclusion of the Montreal Club doctors that Mr. Betts was physically unfit to play at the time of the claim. Therefore, it is my decision that, per League By-Laws, the appropriate resolution to this matter is to restore the parties to the position they were in prior to the waiver claim on Oct. 5.”

This is a real disappointment-many (including yours truly) thought Betts was the player the Habs had been searching for for the last year or so: gritty 4th line center who is good on PK and will score occasionally.

Looks like it’s Andreas Enqvist time, unfortunately. Jeff Halpern, why did you have to go?

 

Caps game 1: Green scores in OT to give Caps 4-3 victory in home opener

A pretty sloppy game all around, which made for some wide-open back and forth play. Fun times.

Recap: Amid controversy, Michal Neuvirth started the game and made at least 4 or 5 great saves that kept his team in it. Eric Staal had 2 power-play goals and assisted on Jussia Jokinen’s goal that came with 1:19 left when Carolina’s goalie was pulled for the extra attacker, as they were down 3-2. Semin, Chimera, and Laich (whose goal was very nice and came on PP) had the regulation goals for the Caps. Mike Green finished it in OT on the PP on a shot that went off a shin pad in front. It was the Caps’ only shot in OT. Brian Boucher, starting in place of Cam Ward, stopped 32 of 36 shots for a .889 SV%.

Plus: Neuvirth, although he allowed 3 goals, played very well to the tune of 28 saves on 31 shots. He had a number of nice saves, although Joni Pitkanen almost slipped one by him about a minute into OT…Staal had 2 PPGs and an assist…Jeff Skinner assisted on all 3 Canes goals…Nick Backstrom notched 2 assists…Roman Hamrlik lead the Caps in ice time-he leaves Montreal to play less, then plays more…

Minus: Alex Ovechkin was held to only 2 shots…The Caps’ PK allowed 2 goals on 4 power plays. That’s something that will have to improve this year, as it has been a huge problem in years past…Boudreau’s handling of the goalie situation, which you can read my opinions on here and here, was atrocious. Should not, by any means, have named Vokoun starter at all, let alone on July 11th…

3 Stars: 1. Eric Staal 2. Michal Neuvirth 3. Jeff Skinner

Nightly Nugget: Brooks Laich scored his first goal since March 15th, an 11-game scoreless streak.

Next Up: The Caps face the Lightning at home on Monday (the Puck Schmuck’s b-day), a game you can catch on Versus.