Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Caps/Bears rosters unchanged at deadline

It was a relatively quiet day around the NHL on Monday.  Despite the league's annual trade deadline, there was very little activity and even the trades that were made were relatively minor moves.

The general opinion for this inactivity was due to so many teams being on the verge of the playoffs.  And as the Flyers showed a couple of years ago...all you need is a chance.

So, from a Bears perspective...

This is great news.  If the Caps were buyers they likely would have traded prospects and/or draft picks.  Both of which would have hurt the Bears at the very least down the road, if not this season. 

If the Caps were sellers they likely would have traded off their soon-to-be free agents and aging players for draft picks and prospects.  That would have been bad news for this season as Hershey likely would have lost players like Cody Eakin and Tomas Kundratek for the remainder of the season.  That would have been good news for future years though as Hershey would have seen an influx of new talent from the picks.

But neither happened and the Caps and Bears enter the stretch run with their rosters still (relatively) intact. 

Now, from a Caps perspective....

I think this was a mistake.  And I don't think the Caps should have been buyers, which it would appear they were trying to do. 

I understand that the Caps are right in the playoff race (8th as of this morning).  But the Caps aren't the Florida Panthers or Winnipeg Jets.  Their goal is not just to make the playoffs.  Their goal is to win the Stanley Cup.  Making the playoffs is not good enough.

Nor should it be.

I understand that all you need is a chance.  But has this Caps team shown anyone anything over the past 2+ months to convince you that they will be able to win 4 out of 7 against a top Eastern Conference team?  Have they shown you anything to convince you that they can even win 4 of 7 against a bad Eastern Conference team? 

They haven't shown me anything.

So why not trade your soon-to-be free agents (Semin, Wideman, Vokoun) and some of the aging players (Knuble, Hamrlik) for picks and prospects.  Even if you don't get "fair" market value, isn't it better to get something for these players than to watch them all leave this summer for nothing. 

You can't honestly tell me that no teams would have offered a nice package for Alexander Semin.  Or Wideman.  Or Vokoun.

Trade them now, get some high picks or young playmakers, and be better positioned for the next 5 years instead of the rest of this one. 

I keep reading that the Caps have a ton of talented prospects in the system.  Where?  Goalies, yeah they have a few of those.  Orlov...obviously but he is already in the NHL.  Eakin...yeah, but I am not sure anyone is convinced that he will be a top 6 forward in the NHL.  Kuznetsov...I will give you that (although he may not leave Russia).  Galiev...maybe. 

After those players is Mattias Sjogren, listed at #6 by Hockey's Future.  He couldn't manage to compete at the AHL level let alone the NHL.  Brett Flemming is #8.  He has played well for the Bears, but can't even maintain a spot there let alone in Washington.  He seems like a fringe NHL defenseman at this point.

There isn't much talent in the Caps system outside of the goaltenders.  I am not sure what everyone is looking at.

Then I saw a post from someone saying something like...if you sell off members of this team, you are just signaling to the rest of the team that you have given up on them this year. 

Yeah...but didn't the players give up first?  Didn't they give up Boudreau back when everyone was healthy?  Haven't they played like crap for months now?

Obviously trading Wideman would hurt.  But you would still have Green, Carlson, Alzner, and Orlov as your top 4 defenseman with Erskine and Schultz as well.  Plus you recall Kundratek.  Or you play a defensemen you got in one of the trades.  I don't think that top 6 would be that bad.  Surely not any worse than what they have been to date. 

Yes, Semin is arguably the best player in Washington right now.  But do you really think the team would play much worse without him in the lineup?  Semin is a top NHL scoring talent.  No question.  But he doesn't make the players around him better the way a Nicklas Backstrom does.  Or the way a Keith Aucoin does.

Yes, without Semin the team might not make the playoffs.  But guess what, with Semin...the team might not make the playoffs.  And you probably could have gotten a very nice group of players/picks in return.

Vokoun...Neuvirth can handle the duties along with Holtby.

Knuble and Hamrlik...they aren't playing anyways. 

And who knows what kind of pieces the Caps might have gotten in return.  Maybe a couple of players that were "almost there" NHL players.  Young guys, highly drafted, who are starring in the AHL or picking-up valuable, yet fringe, minutes in the NHL just waiting for their chance.  The Blackhawks have a few of them.  Rumor has it they wanted a top 4 defenseman and were willing to part with one.  Were they not interested in Wideman?

Maybe I have it all wrong.  Maybe McPhee was trying to trade for the future and couldn't pull off a single move.  It is possible.  But not likely.  My guess is that the Caps were looking for that elusive 2nd line center that they have been unable to locate for the past few years.  And that player wasn't available for the right price.

And this was the perfect year to be a seller.  You had 20+ teams looking to buy players and only a few looking to sell.  You weren't going to get a ton for some of the guys, but you would have gotten enough to make yourselves better next year and multiple years after that.

Instead you go into the offseason with the likelihood of losing all the players that would have garnered attention this past week. 

And instead of having future stars to replace them, you have fringe prospects and overpriced free agents (see: Joel Ward).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bears lose to Norfolk...4th straight loss

Tomorrow I will have a post about the Caps inactivity at the deadline and how I feel about both a Bears fan and a Caps fan.

Then, at some point this week I will discuss the Keith Aucoin / Waivers situation that we are fast approaching.

But today I want to talk about this past Saturday's game and where the Bears are right now. 

Saturday night, the Bears lost 4-3 in regulation to the Norfolk Admirals.  The Ads currently sit in first place in the division and in the conference. 

It was Hershey's 4th straight loss (3rd straight in regulation), and 5th loss in the last 6 games.  A tough stretch no doubt.

The Bears have played 12 games in February with one to go.  All of them have been played without arguably the best player in the AHL this year, Keith Aucoin. 

Obviously when you are without a player of that caliber it is going to have an affect on your team.  And truthfully the team has struggled this month.  They are 4-6-0-2 in their 12 February games to date. 

Not good.

But I don't think the Bears are in as much trouble as one might assume. 

Let's discuss.

This past Saturday the Bears gave up 4 goals.  I would argue that all of them were bad luck rather than bad play.

Goal 1 - this is the only one that I honestly feel might have been bad play.  Braden Holtby didn't see the shot...simple as that.  He was screened and a weak wrister got by him.  However, how many times are you going to see a shot that weak/slow get by a goalie at this level....not very often.  Yes, Braden has struggled at times this season, but that is a goal that he stops 9 out of 10 times.

Goal 2 - This was just bad luck and maybe some bad positioning.  Braden made the save on a point shot and directed the rebound to the corner.  Unfortunately, two Bears were standing that direction and the puck didn't make it to the corner and instead dropped right in front of the crease.  Now Holtby is out of position as the puck was 'supposed' to be in the corner at this moment allowing for a relatively easy goal for Norfolk.

Goal 3 - Braden played the puck behind the net.  I know for many of you that is a serious no-no considering the season he has had but I didn't see anything terribly wrong with the play.  There was some contact and Braden couldn't get back to the crease to make the stop.  Again, how many times are goals like this scored?  Braden handles the puck 10 times a game and I would say there have been fewer than 5 goals scored this season based on those decisions.

Goal 4 - Great play by Norfolk.  Deflection goals are part of hockey, but this one was special.  The Admirals forward got a piece of the puck and it went straight down at a 45 degree angle and bounced between Holtby's pads. 

In my opinion all of these goals can be attributed to bad luck or good luck for the opposition.  These are the kinds of things that happen over the course of a season.  And usually they all happen at the same time for a period of time.  Just like these are the things that happen in your favor when you are on a roll. 

Hershey has scored 3.4 goals per game on the overall season.  And for the season they are allowing 3.0 goals per game.

In February the Bears have scored a putrid 2.3 goals per game and have allowed 3.2 goals per game. 

Much of the lower goal scoring is the result of a below average power play - by Bears standards. 

From October through January the Bears power play was converting on 29.6% of their chances. 

Since February 3rd the Bears have converted only 19% of their power play chances.  That is obviously much worse than previously, but in all honesty it isn't that bad.  If that were the Bears mark all season they would be sitting in 10th place in the league.  Average.

Obviously we know what the problem Keith Aucoin to lead it. 

But it would appear as though that isn't the case, at least of late.  In the first 4 games Keith missed (one in January, first 3 February games) the Bears converted 0 of their 15 opportunities.  In the next 4 games the Bears converted 4 of 21 (or 19%).  But in the last 5 games the Bears have converted on 7 of 26 chances (or 26.9%), which would be #1 in the league.

So in all honesty, the power play isn't the issue right now.  It was at the beginning of the month, but they have figured it out.

I think more than anything this comes down to two things...luck and chemistry. 

Chemistry, specifically line chemistry, is important in hockey as guys that are used to playing on the same line together are generally going to know how the guy with them plays, where he is going to go in certain situations, and what he needs to adjust in his own game for someone else.

Think about a quarterback and his receivers in football.  A quarterback who has been throwing to the same receiver for multiple seasons is going to need to communicate less with that particular receiver.  There is a comfort level there of knowing what each other is going to do.

Same is true for hockey lines.  Unfortunately for the Bears the removal of Keith Aucoin from the equation has a domino effect on every line.  More so than losing a Christian Hanson type player.  Sure Hanson is good, but his injury only affected the 3rd and 4th lines.  But Coiner's recall has affected every single line.  So all 12 forwards are probably playing with someone they haven't spent much time familiarizing themselves with in regards to their playing style.

That takes time.  But it is coming.  And now that the power play is picking back up to pre-Coiner recall production the rest of the offense will follow.

As for luck, it is just something that the Bears need to work through.  Fluke goals, lucky bounces, and momentum are all things that generally work themselves out over the course of the season.  Some weeks everything is going your way.  Other weeks you can't seem to catch a break.

The breaks will return for the Bears.

The Bears sit in 5th in the conference.  They are still closer to 1st in the conference then missing the playoffs.

They don't raise Divisional or Conference championship banners in Hershey.

Only Calder Cup banners.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Your Midweek Bears Update

Lots of different topics to discuss this week...a look at the standings, 2 games to play midweek, injuries, Aucoin's return, and a little NHL trade deadline talk.

Bears Sit in 3rd (or 5th depending on your preference)

The Bears were looking to make up some ground in the division this past weekend.  With 3 points in 3 games they failed to do that. 

As of this morning the Bears sit in 3rd place in the division, 2 points out of 1st (and 2nd).  They are also the 5th seed in the conference and would face Norfolk in the 1st round. 

The good news...the Bears have a game in hand.  The bad news...even if they win that extra game they would remain in third based on number of wins. 

The Bears playoff positioning is going to come down to how they play outside of the division.  Only 7 of their remaining 23 games are against teams in the division.  And only 3 of those are against the teams ahead of them (1 against the Pens, and 2 - this weekend and next week - against Norfolk).

That isn't exactly how you want to finish the season either.  In my eyes you would much rather play your division rivals at the end of the season. 

In addition, the Bears are better within the division.  Against the East Division the Bears are 18-7-2-2.  Against the Northeast and Atlantic, the Bears are a combined 8-7-2-3.  Over 50% of the remaining games are against teams from those divisions.  The Bears need to figure out how to beat them...quickly.

Two Mid-Week Games

First though the Bears will travel a little north and barely west for a couple games against Western Conference teams.

Tonight the Bears are in Rochester to take on the Americans before heading to Cleveland for a matchup against the Lake Erie Monsters tomorrow night.

Both teams reside in the North Division and currently sit in 2nd and 3rd in the division.  The Amerks have 55 points while the Monsters have 56.  Neither team is playing especially well or bad of late.  The Amerks are 1-3 in their last 4 and 2-4 in their last 6 but in those 2 wins they scored a combined 15 goals.  The Monsters are 1-2 in their last 3 but that comes on the heels of a 4 game winning streak.

This is the 2nd (and final) meeting with both teams for the Bears.  They beat the Amerks in a shootout in January, but lost to the Monsters just after Thanksgiving. 

4 points would be very helpful.

Hanson Out

On Saturday night Christian Hanson was cut on the wrist by the skate of a falling Monarchs player.  At the time it wasn't thought to be serious but word came down yesterday that a tendon was torn in that wrist and surgery is required. 

There is no precise timetable for his return, but he is officially listed as week to week.  Which more than likely means about a month. 

Aucoin is Back

The loss of Christian would hve been more significant if Keith Aucoin was still in Washington.  But he isn't.  He was returned to Hershey on Sunday and will be on the ice tonight and tomorrow...barring another recall obviously. 

When Coiner was recalled by the Caps he was leading the AHL in points with 70.  He had just finished a January in which he collected 3 goals and 14 assists in just 10 games.  He was on pace to shatter the AHL regular season assists record (89 is the record) and to challenge the Bears single season mark. 

Obviously Coiner wouldn't trade his time with the Caps for anything and we are all happy for him.  But it would have been cool to see him make a run at those marks.

Coiner missed 9 games.  He is now 2nd in the league in scoring behind teammate Chris Bourque (72 points) and is still 6 points ahead of T.J. Hensick in 3rd. 

As for the records.  Coiner would have to absolutely destroy the league to have any shot at the Bears season record for points.  He is on pace for 107 points which would leave him about 20 short of the record.  Probably not going to happen.

Assists are a different story.  His record setting pace pre-callup was so impressive that he is STILL on pace to break the record.  If he continues on the same pre-callup pace he would finish with 91 assists...2 more than the 89 record.


NHL Trade Deadline

The Caps suck right now.  Simple as that.  People can blame the injury to Nicholas Backstrom all they want but the fact is this team is not playing as a team right now. 

I can understand the Caps being 'buyers' at the deadline as they are only 2 points out of the playoffs as of today.  But a 5-0 loss to the Hurricanes on Monday when you are within range of the playoffs tells you everything you need to know about this team right now.

Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post thinks very similarly and says that the Caps should strongly consider being 'sellers' at the deadline.

The effects on the Bears could be interesting. 

If the Caps are buyers I don't see a large effect on Hershey as their aren't a ton of desirable prospects currently on the roster.  Braden Holtby might be the biggest loss for the Bears...which would be huge, but with Dany Sabourin also in town it wouldn't be insurmountable.

If the Caps are sellers though I think all of that could change.  Cody Eakin would likely spend the rest of the season in Washington and some other guys might get looks as well since the Caps would be trying for young prospects and draft picks. 

Tarik mentions Semin, Green, Wideman, and Knuble as possible pieces on the move.  That could mean that Patrick McNeill and Tomas Kundratek could spend time in Washington along with Eakin. 

Pay attention to the could get interesting. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bears on the road this weekend

Tonight the Bears will play in Providence, Rhode Island.  Tomorrow they travel to Manchester, NH.  Sunday they complete the weekend in Bridgeport, CT.  After that game they will return to Hershey.

Except that is just the beginning of their journey over the next week.  This is the longest stretch of road games for the Bears this season (5) and due to the layout of the games the Bears will spend more than 1/7 of their next week on a bus. 

The first leg, this weekend, will take them from Hershey to all the cities I already mentioned.  That is 15 hours on a bus...according to mapquest anyways.

Then they come back to Hershey for about 3 days before leaving Wednesday (I assume, but they may leave Tuesday) for a trip to Rochester, NY to play that night.  Then Thursday they go to Cleveland to play again. 

And then they come home.

All combined it is 1750 miles and over 31 hours on a bus.  That means that about 18% of the teams next 7 days will be spent on a bus. 

That's a rough road trip.

Tonight the Bears get the Providence Bruins.  Currently the Bruins sit in last place in the Atlantic Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.  Tim Leone points out that they have been one of the better AHL teams over the past 10 games, going 6-2-2-0 in those games

Compare that to the Bears 4-5-0-1 in their last 10 and you might think the Bruins are playing better today.  Except that the Bruins are 1-3 in their last 4 games while the Bears are 3-0-0-1 in their last 4. 

In addition to that, the Bruins have scored a total of 8 goals in their last 4 games.  Which is bad enough.  But 6 of those goals came in one game.  The 3 losses in their last 4 have seen goal totals of 0, 1, and 1 by the Bruins. 

Although that shouldn't be entirely surprising considering they are currently ranked as the 30th team (out of 30) in the AHL in goals per game with only 2.33 per game. 

Hershey scores 3.60 per game.

A few other stats in the Bears favor tonight...
  • Providence is only 1-5 versus the East Division
  • Bruins are 28th in the league with the man advantage on home ice
  • Bruins are only 15th in the league on the penalty kill at home
  • The Bruins enter the game with a -13 scoring margin in the first period
  • And a -14 in the third period.
One thing the Bruins do have going for them...they are 2nd in the league in attendance per game with 7,321 per game.

That is second to the 2,352. 

Next up is the Manchester Monarchs.  These guys beat our Bears twice in two days back in January.  First there was a 5-4 win for them on Saturday the 21st.  Then they followed it up with a 4-2 win on Sunday the 22nd.

So Hershey should be looking for some retribution.

The Monarchs enter the game 2nd in the Atlantic and 6th in the Conference.  They are also 1-3 in their last 4 games (just like Providence) and have actually scored fewer goals in those 4 than the Bruins, only 7.  While allowing 14.

Again, that shouldn't be surprising as the Monarchs score only 2.6 per game.  And they don't do it on the power play at home as they are only 23rd in that category. 

What they do well is keep opposing power plays from scoring as they are currently 6th in the league on the penalty kill at home. 

Just in case you were wondering...Hershey is 1st in road power play.

While Providence weaknesses appear to be in the 1st and 3rd periods, the Monarchs are weak in the 2nd.  They carry a -16 scoring margin in the 2nd period on the season.  The Bears are +21 in the 2nd...their strongest period.  (Also a +17 in the first so that is good...and not too bad in the 3rd, -2).

Finally this weekend the Bears get the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.  The Tigers are probably the best team of the three this weekend...especially of late.

Yes the Bears beat them twice back in December.  Once in Hershey and once in Bridgeport.  But those games fell in a tough pattern for the Tigers as they were only 1-8 during a stretch there. 

Since that stretch ended though they are a very impressive 13-1-0-1.  Their two losses were to St. Johns and Manchester and impressively they have scored at least 5 goals in 4 of their last 6 games.  All wins of course.

The good news...both the losses took place on home ice.  If that helps you anyways.

Bridgeport is the best offensive team Hershey will see this weekend (7th in goals scored).  Their power play on home ice is weak, only 26th in the league, but the penalty kill at home is a solid 4th in the league.

Lucky for us this game will be on TV starting at 3:00 Sunday afternoon.

Enjoy the games.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Let's talk about Joel Rechlicz

Yesterday's post garnered this comment from Debb:
I love your blog..and I see where you are going with the caps coach. I totally agree..but whats with the Recker comments???I know there is really not a spot for the guy in the NHL but..I wanted to ask you a question. Do they tell him what to do when he is played? I you think that they just cut him loose on the ice..or is their a preset agenda?? Just wanted to know your take on it. I am such a Recker fan that I have trouble with the latest comments from everywhere about where he is and what he does..I think he is paid for a job that he does verrry well if they would just let him...Reck someone..Not that many toe to toe fights right now. I understand they need players that score because of the time of the year..But I think he really serves a purpose..Thanks

First of all, thanks for the comment Debb.  Hopefully I understand what you are asking here.  I am reading it as you are wondering why everyone is criticizing the organization, and in turn Joel, for his recent recalls to Washington. 

Originally I intended to just respond to the comment in the comment thread, but that response became pretty long so I decided to do a full post about it instead.

I like Joel.  While I have never met him, I am sure he is a great person.  He has made a career out of doing what he loves, playing hockey.  His role probably isn't exactly what he envisioned as a young player, but his size, skill level, and what was needed on his teams likely dictated a little bit of what he has become.  I am pretty certain that just about every 'enforcer' that has played hockey would rather have made it as a goal scorer, but they didn't have those skills.  For many of them they were big enough and tough enough to make it to pro hockey by fighting.  My guess is that very few of them would trade playing professionally for anything.

Joel is good at what he does.  He can really throw punches and he isn't afraid to go toe to toe with matter how many come at him.  He gets the team into it, the crowd into it, and he strikes fear into the opposing teams.  (Just ask the guys on the Phantoms bench!)
My problem of late isn't with Wrecker.  However, I understand how the criticism can seem like a knock on Joel, but it isn't meant that way.  At least not by me.  I accept Joel and his game for what they part of overall team.

My criticism is with the Caps coaching staff...namely Dale Hunter.  EVERYONE knows what Joel brings to the table.  And everyone knows that his game outside of that is limited.  Even in Hershey, where the talent level is obviously lower than the NHL, Joel rarely plays in the third period of tight games.  In complete games Joel sometimes gets only about a handful of shifts a night.

But Dale Hunter seems like he is stuck in the 90s.  He is trying to win in today's NHL with a physical, imposing mentality that most teams abandoned after the lockout.  Back then, Joel very well may have been an every night player. 

Unfortunately for Coach Hunters beliefs, those types of things don't win games on a consistent basis in today's NHL.  Enforcers are a rarity on NHL teams nowadays.  Gone are the Bob Probert's of the world and in their place are the Matt Hendricks style fighter...grinders who will drop the gloves to defend a teammate.

My questions about Joel's recalls were more centered on...why the hell would Dale Hunter recall a guy that rarely plays more than a handful of shifts in the AHL?  The Caps problems don't seem to be on the physical end of the least that's my opinion (which means absolutely anyone).

Hunter seems lost.  Apparently that's what this Caps team does to people....just ask Bruce Boudreau.

As for other part of your question "Do they tell him what to do when he is played?  I you think that they just cut him loose on the ice..or is their a preset agenda??"...

All teams have a certain scheme and all players/positions in those schemes have certain positional responsibilities.  Whether its to be at a certain place on a breakout or to cover a certain player after a faceoff.

While Joel has a very defined role to play on the team...enforcer...he is still expected to maintain his positional responsibilities...not just fight or hit people.  If he fails in his responsibilities as a left wing then the other team is likely to get a scoring chance.

So, no, Joel does not just get on the ice to fight someone.  He has a role and if he isn't following through on it, the coaches won't play him in other situations.

Hopefully that answers your questions...if not, ask another and I will try to answer that one.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Braden Holtby gets the start for Capitals

At about 4:00 yesterday afternoon I checked my Google Reader to see if there were any last minute posts/reports I wanted to read. I subscribe to a couple dozen Caps/Bears related blogs/sites so I am generally up to date on information and news.

Yesterday there was nothing out of the ordinary at 4:00. Cool.

At just before 7:30 I turned on the NBC Sports Network (it was much easier to type Versus by the way) to watch the Caps/Sharks game. I stepped out of the room for a minute so I missed all of the introductions and pregame chatter that typically goes on. Meaning I missed the comparison of starting goaltenders. Last I heard, Michal Neuvirth was starting in goal for the Caps.

I came back in a few minutes later and saw the Caps goalie make a save. Wait, was that #70 in goal? But that’s Braden Holtby’s number…he was called up?

Yes, that is correct. The Washington Capitals coaching staff feels so confident in Neuvirth right now that instead of asking him to play back to back games they recalled Holtby and asked him to play his 3rd game in 4 days…in 3 different states.

The coaching staff said that since Neuvy hadn’t played back to back games this season they didn’t want to ask him to do it now.

Obviously that can’t really be the reason…could it? Nope, apparently the Caps coaching staff just likes to deceive players. You want proof…try these TWO from Capitals Insider:

And then the real reason (maybe) was given (from Capital Insider):
“It’s one of those things that if he was standing on his head every night, would Braden be playing? No,” Hunter said. “It’s always judged by how you play.”
Sounds fair.  If you aren't playing well then you should be benched...just ask Ovechkin.  Just to be sure though, let's see Neuvy's numbers recently:
Over his past four starts, which stretched over the 11 games prior to Monday’s tilt, Neuvirth went 1-2-1 including a shutout but stopped 113 of the 123 shots he faced for a .918 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average during that span.
Doesn't look that bad to me.  But ok, let's give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt and see what else we can find...oh wait, here you go:
No one told Michal Neuvirth he wasn’t starting Monday night against the San Jose Sharks. When Neuvirth arrived at Verizon Center, he found out he wasn’t playing. Instead, Braden Holtby would make his first NHL appearance of the year.
Wow. Classy.

I am convinced that Dale Hunter is about as lost in this job as Joel Rechlicz is when he gets 3rd period ice time.

Speaking of Joel….he was recalled too. And he played.

That’s right. Mike Knuble and Keith Aucoin were both healthy scratches so that Joel Rechlicz could get 2 shifts, 1:30 of ice time, and a 10 minute misconduct penalty. Yes, I didn’t see it but apparently Joel got a 10 minute misconduct penalty from the bench.

As I have said before…the guy is nothing if not efficient.

But why would Hunter bench Knuble for yet another game? (also from Capitals Insider) Let’s see:

“He will [get back in] eventually … it’s always who plays the best and who doesn’t play well,” Hunter said. “We watch tape and bring new faces in.”
Ok, fair enough. Wait, you say you watch tape and yet you recalled and played Joel Rechlicz…for the 2nd time this season?


Don’t get me wrong. I understand that Joel brings a certain element to the game, but the Caps need more offense right now…not more confused bodies.

Can anyone honestly tell me that they think Dale Hunter has any clue what he is doing?

In 2007 the Caps fired Glen Hanlon. In 2011 the Caps fired Bruce Boudreau. Now Dale Hunter is the coach and he is on a 1 year deal. Considering how the Caps are playing right now all signs point to a new coach for 2012-13.

Three coaches…4+ years…similar results.

Maybe it is time to look at the players on the ice instead of the guy behind the bench.

As luck would have it the trade deadline is approaching. Fast. February 27th.

A couple of days ago Ted Leonsis, Caps owner, basically said that the team would be active at the deadline.

So was Braden’s appearance in the game last night REALLY because of Neuvirth or was there another reason: (from John Feinstein of the Washington Post)

That’s why it probably wasn’t an accident that there were no fewer than 12 scouts in the building on Monday — including Montreal Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier. It probably wasn’t an accident that the Caps decided to call up talented 22-year-old goalie Braden Holtby on the spur of the moment for a spot start.
Personally I don’t buy the whole Neuvy couldn’t start back to back games crap. I agree with what Feinstein is hinting at and think the Caps are trying to figure out which goalie they want to keep.

Both Neuvy and Holtby are likely would garner significant attention at the deadline…if they are made available. Teams need goalies and both of these guys are young and talented. Remember, just last summer the Caps sent Semyon Varlamov to the Avs for a small ransom in return.

Teams pay (a lot) for good young goalies.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bears begin new streak against Baby Pens

Last Sunday afternoon the Bears entered their game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins having lost 9 straight home games to their arch rival.  Then they won 4-3 in a shootout.

Yesterday evening the Bears made it 2 in a row against the Pens on home ice as they provided a sound beating to the Pens with a 5-1 victory.

That was the 11th meeting this season between the two teams and Hershey has gone 5-4-1-1 against the Pens for 12 of a possible 22 points.  But last nights might have been the most important to date. 

The Bears came into the game trailing the division leading Pens by 3 points.  A regulation win by the Pens would have made it 5 points with only 1 game remaining between the teams.  Obviously it would have been possible to make it up, but it would have been harder.

Now the Bears sit just 1 point back.  If the Bears and Pens finish the rest of the season with the same record and the Bears beat Wilkes-Barre on April 6th, the Bears win the division. 

Translation....(and yes I know this is early)...the Bears control their own fate.

Ok, back to the game last night. 

It was fun to be there yesterday, wasn't it?  If you weren't there let me put it in to perspective for you...

we were doing the wave in the 3rd period!

I am not a believer that the wave has any place at a hockey game.  There is just too much to pay attention to and the games are generally filled with action and emotion. 

Last night it was 4-0 and a group up in section 225 managed to get it going.  It was fun.

So far I have seen plenty of compliments paid to Jacob Micflikier and Ryan Potulny, and their 2 goals...each, for the scoring last night.  (Leone, SHOE, C&W)

And they both did a fantastic job, but I can assure you that there were 2 bigger stars last night.  Chris Bourque and Braden Holtby.

The first two goals, which set the tone for the game, were both picture perfect passes by Bourque.  The first, a nice pass/shot through some legs, was tipped in by Potulny with 6 minutes to go in the 1st.  A minute and a half later, it was a brilliant slap pass to the stick of Micflikier that proved to be the game winner.  He added another assist on Potulny's second goal late in third to complete the night.  Keith Aucoin would have been proud of the passing last night from Chris!!

If it wasn't for a whiff on a wide-open net in the 3rd period I am pretty certain he would have been the games #1 star.  All around he played a very good game.

How Holtby didn't end up as one of the 3 Stars from last night I will never know.  He made 34 saves and played about as well as I have seen him play for the Bears...ever.  His puck handling was spot on...quick decisions and decisive actions.  His reaction time was great...did you see all the times he poke-checked the puck out of harms way?  And he never once seemed to get rattled.

Braden was in net last Sunday against Wilkes-Barre, Friday night in Syracuse, and yesterday.  In those three games he stopped 103 of the 108 shots he faced.  He earned a .953 save percentage and a 1.62 goals against average as well.  Oh, and more importantly the Bears earned all 6 points.

It was, by far, the best 3 game performance of his season to date.

Up next for the Bears...a 5 games in 7 nights road trip to 5 different cities in 5 different states.  Sounds like fun.  More to come later this week.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bears drop game to Sharks in shootout

Friday night went pretty much according to plan.  Despite getting only 2 goals the Bears managed to keep the Crunch at 1 goal and got the road victory.

Saturday night was a different story entirely.  If you didn't know the Bears opponent you would have sworn that it was a rivalry game right from the start.  After the first save and whistle the two teams came together and the animosity began. 

Considering the Bears and Sharks are both in the top 3 in penalty minutes I guess it shouldn't be too surprising, but I wasn't expecting that kind of emotional, physical game.  Especially considering that the last game I was at, last Saturday night, the Bears barely even showed up.

Things got out of hand pretty early on.  After a questionable hit on Andrew Carroll, league penalty minute leader, Joel Rechlicz, decided to take matters into his own hands.  What proceeded was a melee of sorts that saw referee Chris Brown drastically underestimate what was about to happen.  While only one fight (if you can call it that) actually happened I thought for sure that the proper call would have been multiple roughing calls on a few other guys for both the Bears and the Sharks.  Had Brown called it that way the intensity might have diminished right then.

Instead he called only a fighting major on Wrecker and a Shark, with an additional 2 on Joel for trying to take the guys head off with his stick. 

So the animosity and intensity stuck around a little while longer.

With about 13 minutes gone in the first period Boyd Kane was apparently tired of Bears players getting knocked down with cheap shots and he laid a pretty vicious hit on a Sharks forward.  In response he got a game misconduct, a 5 minute major, a minute minor, and a 5 minute fighting penalty.

The 5 minute fighting penalty was thanks to Sharks forward Jimmy Bonneau who decided, correctly in my opinion, that Kane's hit was dirty and he needed to be taught a lesson.  While the fight was barely recognizable I do agree with the referee's decision.

The unfortunate part about my opinion that if the referee had just called the game a little tighter prior to this incident the whole thing might not have occurred.  But once Boyd got tossed the game settled down a bit.

I haven't seen Worcester play prior to last night so any judgement I pass is based on the stats I see and what happened last night. 

But in my opinion the Sharks are an extremely physical team that borders on the edge of dirty.  Many of the hits they placed on Bears were questionably timed or poorly executed.  Luckily for them the referee seemed to let both teams play.

Now, saying that I should add, the Bears more than handled themselves last night and I have seen more egregious acts by opposing teams (and the Bears) during the course of this season.  I just think that the Sharks acts were a little more widespread and continuous than most teams.

And I do believe Jacob Micflikier is making himself a Hershey favorite.  At one point the diminutive winger form-tackled/body slammed a Shark after the whistle.  Pretty sure everyone (including Minker and a linesman) enjoyed that one. 

Last night definitely showed me one thing...the Sharks will be a tough team to beat in the playoffs, no matter what their seed is.  Their goalie Tyson Sexsmith has been good all year and was pretty damn good last night as well and their physical play will make for a long series come spring time. 

Right now they are the 7-seed.  I would be fine if they fell to 9th.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bears looking to get back on track

Thankfully last weekend is over and behind us.  It was not a complete loss, but it sure wasn't good either.

It was a weekend full of different emotions for the Bears and their fans.  On Friday night everyone was shocked (and a little sad or angry too) as the Bears gave up a 3-0 lead in the 3rd period in Wilkes-Barre.  Saturday was filled with frustration (and definite anger) as the Bears didn't appear ready to play against the visiting Whale.  And then on Sunday everyone was happy (and somewhat relieved) as the Bears finally beat the rival Penguins on Giant Center ice.

Last weekend is just a memory now and the Bears get set for their 2nd of 3 straight three in three weekends.  With the playoffs about 2 months away this is the time that championship teams start to figure things out and come together.

This team still has immense questions about it heading into the final third of the season.  After 47 games the Bears find themselves in pretty good shape.  They have a 26-14-4-3 record and are currently the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference for the fast approaching playoffs.

But things don't feel right.  We all see the talent on this team and I am sure most of us feel that they should be performing better. 

Sure, roster attrition has been a factor, but all teams deal with that.  Worcester, who comes to town on Saturday, is missing their top 2 goal scorers currently.  Wilkes-Barre, Sunday's opponent, has dealt with incredible roster flux for the second year in a row. 

To be honest the Bears have had a pretty steady season as far as roster moves goes.  There were some injuries early and there have been a few call-ups throughout the year, but nothing that should have a tremendous impact on the team.

So what is the problem?  I can't be sure.  I have some theories that I will surely share with you over the next couple of months, but for now I will allow the team to prove me wrong.

29 games to go.  The Bears, as a whole, need to figure out their weaknesses and work at fixing them.  This weekend offers a good start.

The Bears play 3 this weekend and the opponents span 3 different parts of the standings.

Tonight the Bears play the Syracuse Crunch.  Syracuse currently sits in 14th in the Eastern Conference.  This game features a team from the bottom of the conference.

They are an offensive team (3.24 goals per game) that can't stop anyone (3.36 goals allowed per game). 

Hershey is getting them at a decent time too.  The Crunch have lost 4 straight and are only 1-6 in their last 7 games.  In those 7 games they have managed to keep their opponents under 4 goals only 2 times. 

So the weekend starts off with a team that Hershey SHOULD beat.

Saturday night sees the Worcester Sharks visit Giant Center for their first and only visit this season.  The Sharks are currently the 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, so this game features a team from the middle of the conference.

Worcester has gone 2-5 in their last 7 games.  And the majority have been close, low(er) scoring affairs.  In those 7 games, 5 of them finished with a score of 3-2...4 of those were Shark losses.  The other 2 games were 4-2 scores.  To their last 7 games the Sharks have scored 3 or fewer goals 6 times while allowing 3 or few goals 6 times. 

Nothing if not consistent.

The Sharks are 4-0-0-0 against the East Division so far in 2011-12.  Before anyone gets worried...those games are against Binghamton (twice), Syracuse, and Wilkes-Barre.  The 3 wins against Bingo and the Crunch are hardly something to get excited about as they are currently the two last place teams in the conference.

Worcester is a better defensively than they are at producing offense.  They are 5th in the league in goals allowed per game but only rank 23rd in goals scored per game. 

A good chunk of that can be attributed to their goalie Tyson Sexsmith.  Currently he sits in 4th place in the AHL with a goals against average of 2.15.  And he is 6th in save % at .925.  Obviously a very solid goaltender.

While Worcester is a better team than Syracuse, this is still a game the Bears SHOULD win.

Sunday brings the Baby Pens back to Giant Center.  This is the game that will truly indicate where our Bears are at this point in the season.  Sure, they just beat them last weekend, but they also blew a 3-0 lead last Friday night to this team.

The Pens are playing well right now.  They are 1st in the division (4 pts up on Hershey) and are currently 2nd in the conference.  They are 9-3 in their last 12 games (although only 2-2 in their last 4) and have scored at least 3 goals in 14 straight games.  8 of those game saw 4 or more goals go in for the Pens. 

Goaltender Brad Thiessen is also playing better of late.  In his last 9 starts he has gone 7-2 with one loss coming in relief of Scott Monroe.  He was a stud last season, carrying the Pens to the division title, and is regaining his form at the right time this year. 

The Pens are a great road team too.  In fact they are better at home than on the road this season.  At home they are 10-9-2-2, but on the road they are 18-4-0-3.  4 regulation losses.  4.  Not too shabby. 

And one more thing to keep in mind.  Sure the Bears power play is vaunted...1st in the league.  And yes, the Pens PK is basically average (18th in the league overall...15th on the road).  But the Baby Pens have scored a whopping 10 shorthanded goals on the road this year.  Best in the league.

Why is that important...

The Bears have allowed 4 shorties on home ice...4th most in the league.  Not a huge number, but something that should keep the Bears power play on their toes and maybe slightly less aggressive come Sunday evening.

Whereas Friday and Saturday see games that the Bears SHOULD win, Sunday sees a game that the Bears NEED to win.  They need to show themselves, the Pens, and the rest of the league that they are able to beat their arch rival on a consistent basis when points are at a premium.  They need to show that they can be the best team in the division.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Roster Moves Galore for Bears

Yesterday saw 4 separate transactions that impacted the Bears directly. 
  • Cody Eakin was reassigned to Hershey,
  • Danny Richmond was traded to Colorado for Mike Carman,
  • Matthew Ford was traded to Philadelphia for Kevin Marshall,
  • Keith Aucoin was recalled to Washington.
First of all...congratulations to Keith Aucoin.  The guy is flat destroying the AHL this season so this is obviously a very much deserved recall.  More than likely he isn't going to get 1st or 2nd line minutes and will more than likely return to Hershey in short order, but there is always hope that a guy just needs a chance.  With the weakness that is the Caps center situation right now and the willingness of Dale Hunter to play guys from Hershey (see: Joel Rechlicz) you never know. 

Welcome back young Eakin.  We all knew this would be an active season of recalls for the young centerman.  He is just a little way off from being a full time NHLer though so enjoy his presence in Hershey while you can.  Aucoin's departure will likely result in some big time minutes for him.

And before I get to the trade...Rechlicz in the NHL?  I understand he is serving a role and good for him, but seriously...Rechlicz in the NHL?  He is obviously a fan favorite in Hershey and you have to love the intensity he plays with, but this isn't pee-wee hockey anymore.  Guys don't typically (and for good reason most of the time) get rewarded just because they play a high intensity game and give it their best shot. 

I love watching Wrecker play.  But even in Hershey he rarely ever plays after the 1st period and almost never plays in the 3rd period.  And that's the AHL.  I am sure Hunter has a plan, but I (as well as many Caps fans) have to question the move.

Sorry, had to get that off my chest as I hadn't said much about it this week.  On to the trades...

I know these moves were both announced as Capitals trades, but I am pretty sure that was only because they were both on 2-way contracts and are technically Caps property.  But I would be shocked if Doug Yingst wasn't calling these shots.

The Bears had a veteran problem...they had too many.  Every game a good player, typically Graham Mink, had to sit in the stands and watch the game.

Trading Richmond alleviated that problem.  As much as I hate to see Danny go I think it will end up being for the best.  BUT, let us not forget the Richmond Effect.  The Bears since December 1, 2011 without Danny in the lineup are only 3-3-1-1.  On the season, without Danny Richmond in the lineup, the Bears are only 9-7-2-2.  That is below .500 folks.

Is it coincidence?  Maybe.  We will find out.

Either way Richmond is on his way to the Colorado organization where he will likely be playing for the Lake Erie Monsters.  And on his way to Hershey is...

Mike Carman.  A 23 yr old (almost 24) centerman from Minnesota.  Carman is not going to be mistaken for an offensive force and is surely destined for a 4th line role in Hershey.  In 107 career AHL games he has 14 goals and 11 assists.  Hockeys Future identifies him as a career minor leaguer who may see a recall to the NHL in times of many injuries.  My Andrew Joudrey like player that wins faceoffs and plays well in his own zone.  We shall see.

The other trade send Matt Ford to Philly/Adirondack and brings defenseman Kevin Marshall to Hershey.

First, lets talk about Ford.  This moves sucks as a Bears fan and is fantastic as a Caps fan.  Ford was 27 and was not going to be mistaken for a hot prospect any longer.  Sure he had some offensive talent, and was actually quite good on the penalty kill, but overall he was a 27 yr old AHLer with 0 games of NHL experience.  He had 28 points (10g, 18a) in Hershey this season and was on pace for a solid 51 point season, but the Caps had no need for him.

Marshall on the other hand was the 7th rated prospect in the Flyers organization according to Hockeys Future.  He is considered mainly a defensive player who can produce offensively given the opportunity. 

I have seen some posts from Bears fans on other sites that talk about a physical player with great defensive skills.  I can't speak to that as I hate the Flyers and don't care about their prospects.  His numbers wouldn't suggest that though.  He is only 6'0" and 200lbs...Collins is bigger.  In 185 AHL games he is a -23 in plus/minus.  Obviously that means crap considering he played on average to bad Adirondack teams, but it bears some watching.

Marshall has played in 10 games for the Flyers this season.  He has not recorded a point, was a -1, and averaged less than 9 minutes of ice time and about 13 shifts per game.  Which is about the same as Tomas Kundratek averaged in 5 games with the Caps.

It is my opinion that these trades were directly related to the Bears veteran "situation".  Had one of the veterans been injured or if the roster had one less veteran I don't think EITHER of these trades gets made.

What will the overall affect be?  Time will tell obviously.  The offensive depth obviously took a hit.  Carman is not Ford and won't be asked to replace him. 

Maybe Marshall is a better defenseman than can't judge that at this point.  But Richmond had something that made this team better.  They won 66.7% of their games and earned 72.9% of their points with Richmond in the lineup.  Without him they won only 45% and earned only 55% of the possible points.  And the competition (based on points percentage) was BETTER when Danny was in the lineup. 

I agree with trading a veteran...just not sure which one I would have traded.