This, That and The Other Thing

Some random thoughts:
The National Hockey League could screw up a one-car funeral. They are all about fixing what’s not broken (new jerseys make everyone 9% faster!) and letting real problems wither (scheduling, television, web sites). Here’s another example. They’ve “tweaked” the official game scoresheets. Nothing whatsoever is wrong with the ones that have been used for years, so let’s “fix” them. We had long conversations with print and electronic media types before last night’s game in Ottawa and nobody we spoke with seems to like them. Way to go, Edsel.

I generally don’t have time to read message boards, but occasionally people who do send me links and I’ll take a peek. I think it’s pretty funny that not only are the Keyboard Klobberers taking Glen Hanlon to task for his preseason line combinations, they’re unhappy with his comments about the lines. I don’t see eye-to-eye with Hanlon on everything, either, and don’t expect to. But man, I’m not going to get all bent out of shape and have a hissy because he won’t play one guy with another in a preseason game.

Hanlon told us days ago not to read anything into his preseason lines, and now people are spending hours doing exactly that. He basically said he has four top six forwards set, and that he will mix and match them. And that he has Chris Clark skating with Matt Pettinger and Boyd Gordon during camp to give some of the team’s young and skilled prospects a chance to earn slots among the top six. Some guys are taking advantage of that chance, some are not. Furthermore, Hanlon said that he knows he can drop Clark back on the right side of a line with Alex Ovechkin if none of the kids step forward enough to nail down a top six spot. Seems simple to me, and it makes enough sense, too.

On defense, he’s taking a similar tack. He knows he can pair up Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina anytime and they’ll form an effective shutdown tandem that can play 20 minutes a night. But knowing that has also enabled him to split them up to see how those two might work alongside other partners. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s smart to do so now when the stakes are low.

What am I missing here? Why the outrage?

Look, I said from the time the Caps signed Viktor Kozlov on July 1 that I liked him better on the right wing. But I’m not ready to declare the season a bust and Hanlon a failure as a coach because he has Kozlov centering for Ovechkin, a guy with whom he has proven chemistry.

Hanlon noted the other day that prior to Ottawa’s Dany Heatley, Florida’s Pavel Bure was the most recent NHL player with consecutive 50-goal seasons. And that Kozlov was his center for the first of those two seasons, 1999-00. Kozlov totaled career highs in assists (53) and points (70) that season.

“They played together [at the Olympics in Turin],” said Hanlon. “We feel that he can control the play. He is a different type of centerman than Nylander. We’re giving Nylander and Semin some time to get adjusted. And I think before this is all over, you’ll see them switch around. I don’t want to get too wordy on this, but we had two power play groups that were set up. We combined a couple of them and it was pretty effective with the three Russians [together] with Semin on the point. There are lots of different looks, and that’s what makes teams hard to defend.”

Hanlon is a bright guy. If it’s not working, he’s going to try something else.

Here’s what he said on Wednesday when asked about his defensive pairings:
“What we’ve done here is we’ve got a group of combinations of four forward lines, and we might have 20 of them. Then we have a group of six [defensemen] and there might be 20 of those also. There are six [defensemen] who are going to play, but there are 10 guys fighting for those six spots. It’s just been one [preseason] game that was played, by mostly non-NHL defensemen. The only NHL defensemen there were [John] Erskine and Mike Green, previous year NHL defensemen.”

On specific players with “types” of defensemen:
“I don’t want to stereotype these pairs where you’ve got the one stay-at-home, not mobile, doesn’t get up [the ice] with the guy that can skate. We want two defensemen that can be mobile. We’re not looking for somebody to be safe. We’re looking for all of them to be smart and make right decisions with the puck. To me there is a big difference from ‘safe.’ ‘Safe’ is just sitting back and dumping pucks out.”

The lineup for tomorrow’s game in Tampa Bay will consist of fewer veterans than the one the Caps iced in Ottawa last night. We’ll post the lineup here sometime tomorrow.

One more thing. Not sure where or how this rumor about Michal Neuvirth got started, but it’s not true. Someone somewhere had it that Neuvirth was slated to start for the Caps last night in Ottawa and did not because he was hurt in the pregame warm-ups. That couldn’t be more wrong. Hanlon gave us the rosters for the game on Wednesday and when he did, he also told us that Olie would start and would go all the way.

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17 Comments on “This, That and The Other Thing”

  1. odessa steps magazine Says:

    Isn’t preseason exactly the time to tinker and try out things like line combinations?

  2. dumpnchase Says:

    Odessa,
    Exactly. Which is why I wonder about people who obsess with/insist upon line combos at this time of year anyway.

  3. Kazer Says:

    I believe the comment on Neuvirth was said during the Rogers Sportsnet broadcast that many Caps fan watched via the NHL.tv center ice feed that is free during pre-season. The same crew also stated that Kolzig had not originally planned on starting, and that he was starting because Neuvirth was unable to go. Then again, I’m not sure we should take the word of guys who couldn’t pronounce basically anyone’s name on the Capitals except Kolzig and Ovechkin. (Brooks ‘Lake’, Tomas ‘Fleshmunn’, Tom “Pot Tea” among others) On comment with the lines, I would say that it’s just frustrating when someone has a really bad game when you’ve been looking forward to seeing them for a while (Kozlov). It’s just between the disappointing result, the faceoff percentage, and the bad game for Kozlov, it tends to spew a lot of venom.

  4. dumpnchase Says:

    Kazer,
    I’d heard the Rogers guys were a little “off” last night. Kolzig was going all the way from the get-go, and Neuvirth was only along because the rules say you have to have a backup dressed.

    As for the lines, perspective my friend. Never too high after a good game, never too low after a bad one. Kozlov has played in several hundred NHL games, and he’ll play in several hundred more. They weren’t all terrible, and they weren’t all stellar. Whether it’s Wayne Gretzky or Joe Schlobotnikov, you can’t judge any hockey player on the basis of one warmup/practice/scrimmage/game.

    If it doesn’t work, they’ll try something else. But now is the time when they should be experimenting, and they are. We should applaud that, not assail it. Just my opinion, though.

  5. errantelf Says:

    Kazer
    Don’t forget Backman and Jewseena, lol! I hope for the sake of Ottawa fans that those guys were not their regular announcers.

    Mike,
    Tarik is reporting that Neuvirth left practice today (Friday) with a limp and a knee brace. Is it possible that Kolzig was already slated to go the whole way in Thursday’s game by the time you got the rosters on Wednesday because Neuvirth tweaked something in practce that day? Or did something happen today and it’s just an eerie coincidence that people were talking about an injury yesterday? I’m getting confused.

    Also, is Neuvirth still here because they still need an extra goaltender in camp, or is it possible he’s getting a longer look before deciding whether to send him to Juniors or Hershey?

    Thanks for all the info and analysis.

  6. dumpnchase Says:

    errant,
    Neuvirth may very well be ailing, and he may have hurt himself in pregame warm-ups in Ottawa. But if he had been ailing since Wednesday to the point where he couldn’t play, no way he’d make the trip in the first place.

    Goaltenders as a rule stick around a bit longer, just so there are enough puckstoppers to work two nets for two practice sessions.

  7. me likey Says:

    You’ve been quite feisty lately, are you channeling Dave Fay? I love it, keep it up.

  8. kenwood Says:

    DumpandChase – you are right on target with your entry. It’s preseason. We need to see how people are going to handle things and there is only one way to see how it goes.

  9. sk84fun Says:

    to your first random thought…agree, the new NHL scoresheets stink, , …a boxscore without any goalie information and where did the PP and SH TOI stats go?

  10. Oneal Says:

    Love the blog, Mike — and it’s great to know I’m not the only Caps fan living in Baltimore. (can I call you a fan? This is your job…)

    But personally I don’t mind the outrage over the line combinations. I think it shows that people care about the Caps and it’s all part of a healthy discussion. You are definitely correct in that it’s all pointless, though — a lot of the fans writing these posts seem to forget is that line combos change not only game to game, but often within games.

    But I love having all these different message boards, with all the fans getting involved. It shows we want the team to win, after all this time. I agree with you that Hanlon is a smart guy and he seems to be going about this process in the right way.

    Keep up the good work!

    Oneal

  11. errantelf Says:

    I didn’t think it made sense to take Neuvirth to Ottawa if he couldn’t play- Tarik did also mention that the “injury” seems to be not too serious since he’s been practicing. Also, I asked the camp question because I’d heard Machesney was healthy enough to practice again, which would make 5 goaltenders still in camp. If the info about Machesney isn’t just flat out wrong, then should I assume “practicing again” meant skating on his own, not with the team? Can you confirm or debunk that for me? Thanks again.

  12. dumpnchase Says:

    Me likey,
    I’m humbled and flattered by the Fay reference, but no, not channeling. I love the game and care about the league, and think the fans and the people who care about the game deserve better. That’s all.

    sk8,
    The things you noted are the things I miss, too. Also, it’s harder to read. And, some of the columns (shots, attempts/blocked) are too wide. If they shrank those (go with S and AB as headers) and dumped the “PTS” column (I think most of us are capable of adding the number of goals and assists scored by a player during a game to determine the number of points he has), they might be able to keep everything they have now and return to us our PP, PK, amd SH TOI info.

    Oneal,
    Thanks for the kind words. And yeah, I’m a fan. Was a fan before it became a job and will be one afterwards, too. Always good to know there are some hockey lovers here in Charm City.

    I also agree with you that passion over the line combos is a good thing, and that forums where people can chat/vent/commiserate can be healthy. My problem in this instance is that Hanlon went out of his way before the start of camp to say that his preseason line combos meant nothing and that people shouldn’t read much into them. And then they went ahead and did so. Nothing I write or say is going to change anything, I just found it worthy of making a few remarks. Gotta feed the blog, ya know.

    errant,
    Machesney was back practicing with the team on Friday, full pads, taking shots.

  13. Tomppav Says:

    I understand that Hanlon wants to try Kozlov as Ovie’s center, but what I can’t understand is that why they put Bäckström play in a position where he’s not very familiar in? Wouldn’t it make more sense to let the youngster play at center where he’s been playing most of his career? Shouldn’t pre-season be the time when you let your youngsters adapt to NHL games? Or is it so that Hanlon has noticed (in one pre-season game + practises) that Bäckis isn’t good enough to play at center yet?

  14. dumpnchase Says:

    Tomppav,
    Playing center carries with it a lot of responsibility. Combine that with being 19 years old and playing on a smaller ice surface for the first time, and that makes for a lot of adjusting and responsibility. Putting Backstrom on the wing on a line with Nylander allows him to ease his way into the game and the new style. Plus, the way that line plays, it’s not like there is a center-left-wing right wing … the line basically has three forwards. Backstrom is good enough to play center, and he will play center. Don’t forget, Evgeni Malkin played a lot of wing for Pittsburgh last season and he won the Calder.

  15. norske Says:

    They also no longer show shots by period. It’s not crucial information, but I always found it interesting. But yes, the two biggest bozo moves are moving the goalie information off the official scoresheet, and removing the FS, PP, and SH TOI columns. What I find funny is that the scoresheet now contains less information, but yet is somehow more complicated and harder to read. Also, just what is an “occurence” of five on five play? This puzzling concept is shown as part of the even strength goal summary.

  16. Todd Says:

    Sheesh!

    The regular season has not even started. Are we seriously complaining about online score sheets? While I admit to having “watched” a game on the score sheet rather than TV/radio, I’m not sure if any differences would bother me.

    Mr. Vogel –
    If Ted is going to give access to, and encourage team coverage by blog writers, doesn’t he have to accept that he can’t control what they write?

  17. dumpnchase Says:

    Norske,
    Your assessment is spot on. Less info, more confusing. They obviously didn’t check with any hockey people or any media people before they made the changes. We also got a howl out of seeing that teams are “1-for12 at even strength.”

    Todd,
    The radio and TV guys are used to certain info being in certain places, for example power plays by period. And they’ve taken away a lot of info and replaced it with far less useful/pertinent stuff. So naturally, they’re upset with it. And it’s better for them to complain about it now on the off chance that someone might heed their plea and return to the previous system.

    Ah, wait. Nevermind. NHL.

    And I’ve never heard Ted complaining about coverage by blog writers. To me, all you can expect from blog writers is for them to get the facts straight, same as you’d expect from any other source of coverage.


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