Archive for February 2008
The Capitals finished off their mentors trip in fine fashion on Saturday night in Tampa Bay, downing the Lightning 3-2. The win was Washington’s 28th of the season, matching the team’s total from the 2006-07 season. Sixteen very happy dads came down to the visitors’ locker room after the game and had a group photo taken with their sons and the rest of the members of the Capitals. The dads and the other 20,000 folks in attendance at St. Pete Times Forum witnessed a hell of a hockey game. There should be plenty more to come among the Caps’ remaining 22 tilts this season.
The dads and sons spent Sunday here under sunny skies, either golfing or fishing. We’ll all fly back to our respective homes late this afternoon.
Had Saturday’s game gone the other way, the Caps would have been in a third-place tie with Florida, four points behind top dog Carolina and just two points ahead of fifth place Tampa Bay. Instead, the Caps dealt the Lightning a “devastating” loss and kept the first-place Hurricanes well within reach.
The week ahead and the weeks ahead hold plenty of interest and intrigue for fans of the five Southeast teams, the tightest division in the NHL at the moment. Only eight points are separating the five Southeast teams, and only 17 points currently separate the 15 Eastern Conference teams roughly three-quarters of the way into the season.
Here’s a quick look at the Southeast in both the short run and the longer view.
Carolina has won three straight and four out of five. The Canes play twice (on Monday in New Jersey and at home on Tuesday against Boston) before the Caps play their next game. Carolina hosts Atlanta on Tuesday and then the Caps visit Raleigh on Saturday, so by week’s end, the Caps will have two games in hand on Carolina. Tuesday’s game against Boston starts a six-game homestand for Carolina. After Monday’s game in Newark, the Hurricanes have only seven more road dates all season. By contrast, Washington will play six straight road games late in March. Beginning on Mar. 19, the Hurricanes play nothing but Southeast Division opponents the rest of the way, a total of eight games.
Atlanta has won three of its last four and six of its last nine. Four of the Thrashers last five wins have come in overtime or in the shootout. Atlanta is off until Thursday when it visits Carolina. The Thrashers will play their next three games, five of their next six, and 12 of their final 21 games of the season on the road. Beginning on Mar. 19 when it hosts Carolina, the Thrashers play only against Southeast Division opponents the rest of the way, a total of seven games.
Florida is 5-3-1 in February. The Panthers play four games this week: they visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday, host Boston on Thursday, visit Philly on Saturday and Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Florida has a seven-game homestand in March, and plays nine of its last 10 games that month at BankAtlantic Center before going out on the road for all three of its April dates. Beginning on Mar. 16 when it hosts Atlanta, Florida plays exclusively against Southeast Division foes the rest of the way. The Swamp Cats will play each of their last nine games of the schedule against divisional foes.
Tampa Bay is 8-4-1 in its last 13 games, but Saturday night’s loss definitely hurts. The Lightning must climb over four teams to get to the top, a tall order with only 23 games remaining. The Lightning will also play eight of its first 11 March games on the road. The Bolts have three games left with Carolina and two each with the Caps and Panthers. Beginning on Mar. 22, the Lightning finishes out the season against Southeast opponents, a span of eight games.
Washington ran off four straight wins in mid-January but is 6-5-1 since. The Caps have climbed back into the playoff chase after a 3-14-1 stretch of hockey early in the season, doing so on the strength of their current 39-game run in which they have not suffered successive regulation setbacks. The Caps will have to play six straight on the road at the end of March, but they’ve played a strong 13-13-5 away from Verizon Center this season. Beginning with a Mar. 21 game in Atlanta, the Caps will finish out the schedule with seven straight Southeast skirmishes.
None of the five teams in the Southeast Division has managed to win as many as five straight games this season. If any is able to reel off five straight over the season’s final seven weeks, it might make the difference in the division. Plenty of folks are eager to write off the Hurricanes after the loss of captain and face-off whiz Rod Brind’Amour to a season-ending knee injury, but all the teams in the division have dealt with and played through injuries throughout the campaign. You won’t see me writing off Carolina, and they’ve won three straight at the moment, giving them the best chance to become the first team in the division to win five in a row this season.
Given the way the five Southeast teams have beaten each other’s heads in over the season, I think the best chance for a club to separate itself from the pack is from now to the middle of March, when the schedule almost turns into a Southeast tournament the rest of the way. The division could well be decided between now and mid-March, and the fun has certainly already begun.
Good to see that former Caps bench boss Glen Hanlon will be back behind a bench soon. Glen has a good hockey mind and more importantly, he is a good man. I wish him the best success in Jokerit next season and beyond.
Here in South Florida, the Caps are preparing to take the ice for their morning skate. The players have just arrived and the bus returned to the hotel to pick up their dads. After yesterday’s practice here, most of the players and some of the dads sat poolside and enjoyed the great weather we’ve been having here. The players and dads enjoyed a team dinner together last night, and today it’s back to business.
Carolina won last night, so the Caps have fallen two points off the pace in the Southeast race. Washington is 0-2-1 in its last three games within he division, and is 9-9-2 against Southeast Division foes. Since the yearlong lockout that killed the 2004-05 season, no team with a losing record within its own division has made the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Caps climbed back into the race by playing well against the rest of the league, and they will play mostly non-divisional games for about a month after tomorrow’s visit to Tampa Bay. They may need to use that stretch to create some separation in the standings, because the last three weeks of the season figures to be a classic dogfight, with all five Southeast teams playing exclusively against one another.
“If there are 11 divisional games [remaining] on average of all the teams in our division, somebody is getting points, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau told me yesterday. “If you’re tied or behind, when you don’t play you’re losing ground. When you do play, you’ve got to make it count.
“Our guys have done a great job at being pretty consistent in our efforts. But we’ve still got 24 games, and I assume they’ll all be like that.”
Tom Poti won’t play tonight. I’ll let you know of any other lineup adjustments when I learn of them.
The Caps announced today that they’ve signed left wing Tomas Fleischmann to a two-year contract extension. The deal will pay Flash $725,000 for each season, and the pact is one-way for both years. Fleischmann would have been arbitration eligible for the second of those two years.
We just got back from the morning skate at Philips Arena here in chilly Atlanta, and we’ll have video from the press scrums for both Thrashers coach Don Waddell and Caps coach Bruce Boudreau up on caps.com in very short order. Podcast at 2, also.
Nate Ewell flipped me this link this morning about former Caps farmhand Jared Aulin. This has the makings of a terrific story if Aulin is actually able to make it back to the NHL after all he has endured, physically and otherwise. I know this: there are plenty of folks (myself included) around Washington, Hershey, Portland and the other places he played who will be rooting pretty hard for him.
Those of us who go back more than a decade with the Caps remembered a different foursome of youngsters when the Caps recently trotted out a ticketing/poster incentive involving four of Washington’s top young players and titled it “Young Guns.” Joe Reekie and I remembered it right away and I set out to find a picture from the first foursome of “Young Guns.”
Here it is, taken from a 1995 Caps program spread titled (you guessed it) “Young Guns.” The boys were dressed in full western regalia, right down to chaps and bolo ties. In one of the photos, the guys are pointing the shafts of their hockey sticks at the camera as if they were rifles.
I wonder if the mid-90s Caps fans revered these four guys the same way the current fans love Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin.
The Caps’ first trip to a Southeast Division city in nearly two months will involve visits to three Southeast cities, and 16 of the players’ dads/mentors will be along for part of the ride. We got into Atlanta about an hour ago, and the team will be joined by the dads once we get to South Florida on Thursday.
Caps.com web producer Brett Leonhardt is along on the trip too, and he and I will be documenting the trip with video for a DVD that we’ll be putting together for the players and dads as a memento of the trip. We’ll also be getting morning skate and postgame video, and anything else we can think of that will enhance the trip for the folks back home, too. Brett should have a good video package of each day starting tomorrow, as there’s nothing going on today. We’ll also be doing our weekly Caps Report podcast from Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon at 2.
Here’s a list of players whose fathers are scheduled to expand our traveling outfit on Thursday:
Olie Kolzig (father-in-law)