Monday, December 31, 2007

Starters, Reserves, “Pro-Bowlers”: Skins Beat , Swamp All

Wow, the focus of the misguided Dallas fan can change in the blink of a Shawn Springs pick of Tony Romo. Wasn’t this supposed to be a sought-after, Redskins-playoff-denying gut-check warm-up for the Cowboys? Weren’t we supposed to see an NFC-dominating, Super-Bowl-bound contender squash the postseason hopes of its inferior division dweller then, maybe, “rest its starters” to prepare for the divisional round of the playoffs?

Actually, the answer was no, as much of Dallas fandom determined at about 11:58 of the fourth quarter, when the interception-less Todd Collins placed a beauty of a rainbow/dart into the streaking hands of Santana Moss to put the contest completely out of reach. At that point the game was, in the warped -possibly bandwagonly brainwashed- minds of Cowboys’ fans, completely meaningless, and always was. Key injuries! they cried. Non-playing starters! they interjected. Whatever the excuse was, it all spelled one word: n-o-n-s-e-n-s-e. Ask yourselves, Dallas fans: are these really the guys you want to lay your season upon should your beautiful starters go down? These inept backups who could not muster a touchdown against a former division doormat?

If there is anywhere that injury and key-missing-player excuses will not be accepted, it is Washington. Yes, Washington, where we’ve all had to endure the “everybody has injuries” derisions of opposing fans eager to jump on an already severely wounded team. Seriously, who’s had it this bad, ever? Don’t shop the we-were-missing-players garbage here. Besides, what if this game really foreshadows complete disaster for a non-healthy Dallas team? What if Terrell Owens’ tricky little high ankle sprain lingers well into the playoffs? What if Romo continues to remember he is completely overhyped and is supposed to stink it up in the late season/post-season (not to mention if that world-famous thumb acts up, right, Peter King?)?

Continuing the discussion of the Peter-King-beloved “Pro Bowler” Tony Romo (the “starter”, mind you): he played the entire first half and a good portion of the second half. His legacy in this game was a 27-3 deficit. He stuck around long enough to get that all-important Cowboys completion record and then headed to the bench (whether for injury prevention or utter ineffectiveness, we just don’t know). It’s really too bad he couldn’t have stuck around longer to hurl that 20th interception of the season, because it was coming; it truly, truly was coming. After that came the supposedly hell-bent-on-revenge Brad Johnson. His leading of the ‘boys to a field goal only made the final margin of victory a very telling and symbolic 21. Thanks, Brad.

Here’s the really telling part, though: one Dallas yard rushing. Yes, one yard. Grade school, high school, and college writing instruction won’t even let me express it digitally: the Cowboys’ “prolific” offense gained one yard of rushing the entire game. That’s three feet. The length of three delicious footlong Subway meatball subs. Even if we’re allegedly looking at backups the entire time, the most rudimentary NFL offense, composed of first-stringers or third-stringers, should be able to gain more than that on the ground. If this Cowboys’ offense was half as explosive as we’ve been lead to believe, surely there would have been some sort of running component to set up Mr. Underwood-Simpson and his godly golden arm.

No matter. The point is that the Redskins somehow survived this almost-20-pick thrower and his 28-yard-chip-shot blower “Pro Bowl” kicker to get into the playoffs. We’ve already discussed the easily traversable road the Redskins could travel to the…, and it all starts in the land of Starbucks and Frasier (and formerly Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez). At the beginning of that road lay the “mighty” Seattle Seahawks.

Yes, the Seahawks, champions of that downright intimidating NFC West division: home of the 5-11 49ers and 3-13 Rams. Also home of the 8-8 Cardinals, who must have been thrilled to finish 8-8 and who will probably throw a parade. It’s winnable folks, just as that playoff game in 2005 was winnable. It’s one of the most underdog-winnable games out there. When they pull this one out, we can see how blessed Tony’s 7-of-16-for-86-yards-and-one-interception performance will play out over a full game.

Boswell's column for today's paper nicely sets out all the reasons we should feel optimistic about the coming game in Seattle, especially in light of all that's happened. If his closing quotes from an unnamed "300-pound veteran" are any indication, the 'tism is catching.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

There's Someone Worse Than Us

Seems like I missed quite the hockey contest. Somehow I don't think that periodic updates via cellphone whilst traversing the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95 do justice to the wild insane f***ing crazy 8-6 shocker the Caps laid on the good citizens of Ottawa.

Some quick math demonstrates that our Capitals have been responsible for 22.2% of the East-leading Senators' losses. For good measure, all 22.2% of those losses have been on the aforementioned opponent's home ice. Just wait until the Caps get the Sens on that world-renowned Verizon Center ice on New Year’s Day!

Some quicker (and even less-complicated) math demonstrates that the Capitals can now claim the mantle of Not Worst Team in the Eastern Conference (hello down there to the Tampa Bay Lightning), and earned at least a standings point in 10 out of 13 games in December. There is probably some poetic symmetry in achieving this honor by beating the best team in the conference, but I’m too tired to notice (more than six hours of driving and contending with Meadowlands-bound Pats/Giants fanatics will do that to you).

So yeah, too bad I missed this one. As the cellphone updates ill-served the grandeur of the victory, so too did the choppy video highlights on and, sadly, even the competent and soothing reporting of Lindsay Czarniak on channel 4 (seriously, though, Georgetown vs. AU highlights before the Caps? Come on. I can't stay up all night). Nevertheless, we all look forward to a repeat performance come Tuesday, as the Caps continue to make up that ever-shrinking distance between themselves and the rest of the East (five points to a playoff spot and counting; eight to the division lead).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Let's Talk About Playoffs (and More!)

It’s getting closer to 4:15 Sunday afternoon, which means it’s getting closer to the beginning of the end of the Redskins’ regular season. It’s also getting closer to 7:00 Sunday evening, which means it’s getting closer to the beginning of the Redskins’ postseason. Yes, the playoffs are all but inevitable, as the much-doubted victories in the Meadowlands and Minneapolis were, in the end, inevitable.

So let’s take a look at what awaits the Skins once the playoffs begin. We know there will be a first-round trip to Seattle. Winnable game. Even more winnable than the second-round game there in 2005, when the Redskins were well on their way to the conference championship before Mark Brunell’s charmed season finally came to an end (still a satisfying season, though).

After that would be a trip to Dallas and the “top seeded” Cowboys. Completely winnable game. As winnable as the game in Dallas earlier this season, when the Redskins were well on their way to upsetting the darling Boys in front of their own fans (including my aforementioned relative) before Jason Campbell’s charmed magnificent performance came to an end. With perhaps a surprisingly wily veteran QB manning the helm this time around, and with the playoff-pressure-susceptible Tony Underwood-Simpson-Romo still nursing that ”famous thumb”, it’s easy to see how this time around would be different.

Next? The NFC championship in Green Bay. Yes, Green Bay, where this past fall the Redskins were well on their way to derailing the Packers’ homefield-throughout dreams ten weeks early before Santana Moss’ bad day got worse and such hopes ultimately ended. Again, it’s easy, very easy, to see how this time around the result would be very different and, just like that, our boys are bound for the…well, you know.

Impossible? Not entirely. Wouldn’t it be a great finish to what could under-statingly be called a tumultuous season?

Incidentally, all NFL athletes (and possibly all athletes of all professional and college sports) should read Wilbon’s article from today before giving postgame interviews. It summarizes nicely what the Redskins have endured this year and might make such athletes think twice before whipping out the massively clichéd “overcoming adversity” line to describe everything from a deficit resulting from shoddy play to rainy weather (now if we could just make a dent in the use of “It is what it is”).

Travel prevented me from following the Capitals v. Penguins save for the occasional cell phone update, but, disappointing OT loss and injuries to Brent Johnson and Alex Ovechkin aside, there is good to take from the game, and to apply to the season as a whole.

Last year’s December 11 shootout loss to the Penguins is often cited as the moment a promising season started tanking (and the blowing of a four-goal lead at home was truly galling). Oddly enough, such an overtime loss this season (losing a one-goal lead late and all) is an incremental sign of progress in a season whose incremental goal is just making it to the playoffs. I know, it sounds strange, but it was this very type of game that just a month and a half ago would have resulted in zero standings points for the Capitals.

Taking one point out of Pittsburgh and tying the Lightning for not-worst-in-the-East is a small-yet-significant step for a team still gradually recovering from that unpleasantness of late October and pretty much all of November. Plus, the Southeast division lead is all of a sudden less than ten points away. With still more than half the season to go, the third (third!) overall seed in the conference is not that ridiculous a goal.

The points continue to accumulate for the team, even if it’s at too slow of a pace for some fans. Sill, the fact is, they’ve gained at least a point in 9 out of their last 12 games. That’s true, tangible progress, and a sure road to the playoffs. Even from not-quite-last place, it’s not that far off. We won't delve into the details of the Caps' own march through the conference yet. That can wait until April.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

New Members of the DCO HOF, and Dealing With Phonies

Even though we fully believe the Redskins would not have blown another second-half lead on Sunday had that famous 12-men-on-the-field challenge not been made, we at DCO nevertheless honor those credited with bringing it about. Defensive coach Bill Khayat (pictured) and assistant video director Todd Davis have been identified as the two coaches “upstairs” who tipped off Coach Gibbs to the Vikings’ illicit player population. For the brilliant move in the face of desperation and slightly waning momentum, for giving the Redskins the ball back on a crucial drive, and for squashing the burgeoning optimism of the Minnesota crowd, we proudly induct Khayat and Davis into the DCO Hall of Fame. The inductions double the population of this exclusive club, which until now consisted only of John Lannan and Shaun Suisham.

Now it’s several days of hearing all that “control their own destiny” stuff. The situation is even better than that of course, as even a loss to Dallas doesn’t mean playoff extinction. There is, of course, great optimism amongst the populace, and lots of “it’s good Green Bay lost” sentiment, because the Cowboys will be playing a game meaningless to them, and possibly resting starters. It’s unfortunate in a way that we may not see Romo’s doofy smiling mug the entire game, or any of the game, as we absolutely feel the Redskins would be up to defeating the full Dallas contingent. It’s definitely unfortunate that we have to hear Cowboys fans already qualifying what they seem to think will be a sure Redskins’ victory. It’s only Tuesday (and Christmas, at that) and I’m already sick of hearing “oh, we (the Cowboys) are going to lose, but it doesn’t matter.”

Of course, living in the DC area, I’m mostly hearing this from people who do not live in Dallas. This brings up the eternal question: why is it that Cowboys fans born thousands of miles from Texas (such as, um, certain relatives and friends of certain bloggers) are more vociferous and obnoxious in support of their “hometown” team? Why is it that Cowboys fans actually from Texas generally seem to be more decent and almost polite despite their support of the most evil sports team on the planet? My theory: the former know that they are nothing but bandwagoning frauds (the king of this group is of course LeBron James, he of the Cowboys, Bulls, and Yankees fandom, despite his Ohio roots), thus need to overcompensate for their deep personal failings (and lies) in their completely irritating and baffling enthusiastic support (perhaps also playing a role: some latent-and-unfulfilled childhood wishes of actually being a cowboy). In this way, they almost convince delude themselves that they are from Texas, and that the Cowboys could be legitimately claimed as their own. So the next time you run into a Dallas fan from Trenton, New Jersey, or Annandale, Virginia, ask them the source of their rooting interest. The more convoluted or ridiculous the explanation, the more they truly know they are frontrunning phonies.

Ok, a bit of a tangent there. The point is: here’s hoping Romo, et al accumulate plenty of rust and go completely into the tank three weeks from now in round two of the playoffs (against the Redskins, perhaps?). Maybe that will shift some DC-area traitorous Dallas fans back to their real home team.

On the other hand, maybe this starter-resting isn’t such a bad idea after all. The Redskins have numerous nagging injuries. Perhaps there should be a full-scale resting of key personnel on the Washington side as well. It would even the odds, taking the “you only won and made the playoffs because we let you” arrow out of the vile collective quiver of Dallas fans. It would also be a true testament to ‘tism, a belief that this team that has endured so much is absolutely destined to make the playoffs, no matter what happens. So, problem solved: rest the damn starters.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

King Wrong (Again)

Well, here we are: just hours away from determining the fate of the Redskins’ season. Despite what Peter King thinks, this game is utterly hugely important. It was fairly (but not entirely) shocking reading his picks earlier this week and seeing this gem regarding the Skins and Vikings nationally broadcasted game: “a game that interested only two markets at 8 PM” (he does predict that many will eventually watch a close, Adrian-Petersen-dominated game, but the snippy damage is done).

Hmm. I would think that, at the very least, lots of people in New Orleans and New York will find this game very compelling, as the result could play into their teams’ post-season future (if any). Things could get really interesting if the Bills hold off the Giants and further along New York’s Mets-like fall from contention. I’m hoping that, prior to the game, somebody gave a revenge-for-Super-Bowl-XXV speech. Buffalo fans, after all, seem to have as long and thirsty (and sometimes confusing) a memory for revenge as Ravens fans. Thus, the motivation for payback for a 17-year-old grudge could be powerful.

The game would also have been interesting to fans of the Carolina Panthers, but the former perennially popular pick to go to the Super Bowl blew it last night against the Cowboys. And speaking of the Cowboys, King, as usual, found great interest in all things Dallas, mentioning “the most famous thumb in recent football history” as the primary item of focus in that game. Apparently Tony Romo’s boo-boo makes for more gripping (get it?) football than a team trying to play on and make the playoffs not even a month after the murder of one of their own. Seems the swooning over Romo blinds one to all else (and we already know how much in love King is with the doofy Dallas QB).
It’s getting more and more disgusting seeing Romo’s continuing transformation into the critics’ Arthur Fortune, the trendily popular billionaire who (temporarily) captured the hearts of the slavishly suggestible citizens of Springfield.

So, ignoring King and the rest of the Tony-fawners, let’s look forward to this destined-to-be-successful trip to Minnesota. The game is important to many for many reasons, even if he doesn’t think so.

UPDATE 11:40 PM: Give King credit, he came within one point of correctly picking the Vikings' final score. Adrian Peterson didn't quite "run wild" per his prediction, however (9 rushes, 27 yards).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Alex S. on the Rise

Instead of dwelling on the unpleasant business of a 5-2 loss to the Canadiens (still only the third regulation loss of the month, the same count as those critically acclaimed New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres, fewer than those critically worshipped Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Underachievers Rangers), let’s look at the subtle re-emergence of Alexander Semin these past few games. It’s an emergence that could well lead (back) to multiple-goal games and another 30-goal season pace. Even if a pesky ankle won’t allow for the putting up of the nearly gaudy numbers we saw last season, we could still yet see renewed prowess from the (other) young Russian, bringing about that much-discussed secondary scoring threat that is needed to take some opposing defensive pressure off of Alex Ovechkin.

We’re in the midst of a grand Semin point-scoring streak here. Three games, three points (2G, 1A). Modest, perhaps, but nonetheless something to celebrate from a player of 70-point potential who has been slowed by the aforementioned annoying joint for the entire season. Another possible contributing factor: the annoyance Semin must feel towards EA Sports, for the fact that they still cannot pronounce his name correctly in their otherwise ever-improving line of NHL video games. No doubt that Brooks “Lack” Laich can relate to this injustice.

Tonight’s game is perhaps more important than a late-December game vs. the Islanders should be, but regardless it’s a win the Caps need to continue to gain ground in the East. We feel good about this one, though, because if there has been one constant in Bruce II’s brief interim reign, it’s that the teams rebounds nicely from lackluster efforts and bad losses.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ahh, the Metrodome

Early this week, our buddy Steinz used the phrase ”runaway optimism” to describe the feeling of the masses after the Redskins downed Eli Manning and his 36 incompletions Giants. Even if Steinz was being a tad sarcastic/ironic/smarmy (he did, after all, declare the Redskins ”doomed” before a regular season down had been played), he nevertheless summarized nicely what could be the most optimistic football days since just before the season began.

Heading to Minneapolis this week, the Redskins look to fully resurrect their playoff chances in the place they last reached ultimate glory: the eternally magnificent Metrodome. Yes, remember those days when the Super Bowl was still in its XXs (most Redskins fans fondly recall the 20s of the Super Bowl in the same way I fondly recall my recently departed 20s), and still undefiled by Michael Irvin and Ray Lewis? Remember that 14-2 team that went into that little white bubble of a stadium with its charming Hefty-bag baseball outfield walls and justified all the hopes we had in them? I remember a little 8th-grade optimist watching his team ply that artificial field and coming away from it with the very thing they sought.

Ok, perhaps I’m reminiscing a bit too much and making an imperfect comparison here, but the point is: the Redskins again go to Minneapolis in the wintertime seeking something related to the playoffs. Once it was a Super Bowl championship. Now it’s just a chance to get back on the road to that Super Bowl championship, but the parallel works well enough. Repeat success is imminent.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hanging With the Best (Again)

Another game against the top team in the NHL, another encouraging performance from the Capitals. That standings point left on the board with the loss in the post-overtime useless gimmick shootout would have been nice to have, but taking the Red Wings as far as humanly possible, in Detroit, without beating them is nothing to be ashamed of. Optimism-haters could point to all sorts of nit-picky nonsense and could-have, should-haves, but it’s another standings point to a team desperately seeking them, and another step on eventually climbing the standings.

Speaking of the standings, they seem to look better and better every time I look at them. Is that really a playoff spot five points away? With still over half the season left to go? Tied with Atlanta for not-last-place in the East (yeah, those mighty Thrashers have two games in hand, but are they any kind of relevant threat anymore?)? With the team on an undeniably solid (and looking like non-new-coach-fluky) streak of 7-4-2? Come on. Time to re-kindle that early season 3-0 euphoria.

Despite the undeniably good feelings generated during and after this game, even the most optimistic fan could be forgiven for having a slight tinge of doubt/dread when the Red Wings broke a 2-2 tie with less than five minutes to go. However, in this season of increasingly balanced scoring (not completely balanced, increasingly balanced), Alexander Semin ended a game (season?) of near-misses with a blazing shot that was definitely missed by myself and Mrs. DCO watching on TV.

Kolzig is catching a little flak across the boards today for going 0-for-3 in the shootout, but who really knew of the killer power of the Detroit Backhand? Besides, Kolzig helped the Caps get to the shootout in the first place, making the same number of saves (27) as the sainted Dominik Hasek.

So there we go: a non-humiliating, completely impressive performance in front of what we could reasonably believe to be a national audience on Vs. In short, just about the complete opposite of the worst that could have happened when the best team in the NHL hosted the allegedly “worst” team.

Can You Forgive Elijah Now? Good!

The DCO was pained to learn this morning that highly talented, yet highly troubled, new Nationals centerfielder Elijah Dukes is again having trouble with the law, again a result of women-friend problems, and again involving his cellphone. This time, Dukes was cited for sending threatening text messages. While the DCO would never condone domestic abuse (we have had some issues with condoning certain types of abuse in the past), we are condoning a man's right to be innocent until proven guilty, and in this case, we believe Mr. Dukes was the victim. The actual perpetrator: automatic word-fillers on your cellphone's text messaging service.

Now that we all do most of our communicating via instant three-word messages, punctuated by l33t sp33k and acronyms most seven year olds spout out ad nauseum (omg), the proper interpretation of sent and received texts is oftentimes up in the air. I know you have gotten that text from that special lady-friend that reads like, "Last night was OK," and since you do not have the proper sarcastic tone to interpret, you assume that last night really WAS OK, and not that this chick really hates you and thinks you need to start swabbing your ears with q-tips every other morning. Now, with cellphones having new features that make texting easier, more mistakes become apparent. The feature of automatic word-filling rears its head when your cellphone, attempting to shorten the time taken to properly spell out a word, automatically finishes up the word it thinks you are writing. In Elijah's case, the "threatening text message" likely resembled this:
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Dukes, in an attempt to tell this lady that she should be 'totally dif' tonight ('dif' meaning different), was overwritten by the cell's inability to recognize this ttly recognizable abbrev that all the kids are using. If we change the 'threatening word' back to it's original context, everything is just fine, right? My guess is that Dukes was attempting to text while driving, an unfortunate, yet oft-occurring problem of this generation. Sure you can keep the phone up around the steering wheel level and dance your eyes from the screen to the road, and now that he had moved to one of the traffic meccas of the world, this becomes more and more permissible. Maybe he was in the midst of traversing the dreaded 'mixing bowl' whilst cellphoning his lady friend, slightly frustrated at taking a half-hour to move 12 feet, and thus, not properly paying attention to his text message syntax. There are so many likely scenarios that we cannot immediately call his character into question.

So there is no need to admonish Mr. Dukes for his cellular phone usage, nor should we admonish the Nationals for their attempts to utilize his baseball talents while trying to curb his offseason issues. Maybe the Nats should have disabled his cellphone usage, writing it into both his baseball contract and his contract with Cingular. But we think there is no need to curb his anytime minutes nor his unlimited texts. In fact, we have another theory regarding Dukes' past cellphone problems, where he was allegedly sending pictures of a gun to lady-friends. He was merely showing off his new cellphone.

UPDATE: Quickest DCO resolution evar?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Recapping the Sweep

For now, let's just briefly review and enjoy the results of the much-anticipated and ultimately fruitioned New Jersey Sweep

December 9: Wizards 104 Nets 89
December 10: Capitals 3 Devils 2
December 16: Redskins 22 Giants 10

And even though it has nothing to do with the fair Garden State:

December 16: Dolphins 22 Ravens 16

Thus this goes down as one of the finer weeks in recent Washington sports history. We'll take what we can get.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Salute to Bench, Bit, and Beyond Players

Even as DC Optimist’s fantasy football championship aspirations lay mortally broken in the wake of another typically underwhelming Rudi Johnson performance, there was reason to celebrate this morning. The Wizards and their ever-shrinking healthy roster continued their blistering run up the Eastern Conference standings (13-5 since those panic-stricken days of early November, with the wins being elusive and the let’s-overreact-and-fire-Eddie-Jordan sentiment gaining ground). The Capitals came out a night after a sometimes-stirring-yet-often-times-disturbing performance against Buffalo and responded to another of Bruce II’s public displays of disgust with a victory over the Lightning. The win was significant in that it finally allowed the team to shed the shackle of “Worst Team in the NHL”, leaving that distinction to the truly hapless (as opposed to our own team’s “accidentally and temporarily hapless” status) LA Kings. Thus the weeks-long climb from beyond obscurity and relevance has its first tangible result. Next stop: not-last in the Eastern Conference and Southeast Division, overtaking the no-longer-hot Thrashers and the seldom-if-ever-hot Panthers.

What do the recent Wizards and Caps have in common? Primary, secondary, and tertiary scoring. The now-familiar drastic injury situation has forced the Wizards’ collective hot shooting hands into such a situation. Ivan Carter’s article in the Post summed up the Wiz nicely in its opening line: “Lose a key player, win a basketball game.” Scoring was again all over the board, pushing Jordan further towards his inevitable Coach of the Year award. The game also, again, nicely contrasted them with a team who has had significantly less success in dealing with significant injuries.

The Caps won with names seldom seen in a game summary outside of the penalties or healthy scratches: Fleischmann, Steckel, Pothier. They also again fought back from being scored on first, a death knell if there ever was one earlier in the season. It was a great bounce-back from the debacle-ish game against Buffalo, played in front of a trio of Washington sports luminaries (Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Sellers, and Chris Cooley), as well as, unfortunately, more than a few Sabres fans.

It’s been a good DC sports weekend so far, a welcome contrast from some dark weekends of the recent past that saw all local teams go down in a two-or-three day period. With the recent trend towards less-prominent players leading our teams to victory, presumably tonight we will see the likes of Reche Caldwell, Todd Yoder, and Ladell Betts dancing in the Giants Stadium end zone tonight (not to mention the fact that it’s still Todd Collins looking to lead them to victory). So, onward with the successful weekend (even if I do lose that fantasy football affair).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Wheaton Weapon suits up, and Miami gets PWNED!!111!!

HAHAHA! Anyone catch the Miami Heat, aka the worst team in the NBA getting housed by the Wizards Thursday night? I did. Before the game, people harped about the Wizards lack of winning ways in Miami, home of the worst professional sports teams in America, but not THIS optimist. Even with their ever-ballyhooed, ever-fellated-by-officials, yet ever-complaining guard Dwyane Wade in place, and not holding dramatic, wheelchair calling trips to the DL, the Wizards maintained a ten point lead throughout the contest, much to the chagrin of the TNT broadcasters, who only began firing up when the Heat managed to cut the lead to seven once or twice. Speaking of firing up, man, could Deshawn Stevenson not feel his face last night, draining career-highs in threes and season-highs in points. I wonder if Darling Dwyane was able to feel his either, for most of the crazy falling-backwards j's were directly in his over-exposed grill. I wan't able to count the number of lame T-Mobile commercials Wade was in during the broadcast in comparison with his number of effective plays, but I am sure that Miami's fickle fanbase likely gawked at more lame commercial performances (not even a genius like Barkley could rescue him), than great plays at a 30000000:1 rate.

Of course, the Darling was able to hurt the Wizards in a more lame, more dirty manner, egregiously flying towards the always-solid Antonio Daniels while he was in route to extending the lead to fifteen, illegally tackling him in the air in a foul attempt to land on sportscenter. Amazingly, the Darling was assessed his first foul of the night on the play, to which he, un-amazingly, began to cry to his usually helpful official friends. While the Wizards were OK for the rest of the night, AD suffered another freakin' sprained knee, leaving the number of adequate point guards on the Wizards roster resembling Gilbert's jersey number.

But is the DCO worried about this continued cursing via injuries? Never. Because we have been catching the recent play of Roger Mason Jr.! I know everyone on the internet loves nicknames, those crazy "African-American" traditions where guys are given lovely names based on their play, hair, criminal record, quality of cocaine, hometown, favorite car, or ability to impregnate women. Our attempts at nicknames haven't quite caught on yet, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to again throw our hats into the arena and again dub the son of Mason, The Wheaton Weapon.

As some of you may know, Bobtimist Prime is from, lives, and represents Wheaton, MD, the illest suburban enclave this side of Connecticut Avenue. Roger Mason gets his new nickname from having played at Good Counsel High School, back when it was located off of the more seedy side of Georgia Ave. Sure, the venerable Catholic school with its required polo shirts and slacks uniforms and required courses of Latin has since moved further up Georgia Ave in Olney, likely saving the paying customers of the school the need to avert the toughs leaving Mrs. Kim's lovely Party Time Beer and Wine, but the essence of Wheaton remains in Mason. The gritty, yet kind of monied background, the effective location (great three point shot = proximity to the district), the diversity (Mason plays the point in addition to shooting guard and swingman, Wheaton has a burgeoning El Salvadorian community), the key contributions (Mason's huge 18 points, Wheaton Plaza's fantastic variety of shoe stores), etc.

Now, with Daniels nursing his knees for a couple of weeks (and the Darling nursing his lottery-bound team to another lauded two-game win streak), the Wizards will rely on the Wheaton Weapon's contributions in a full time manner, and we are confident that they will continue their pwning ways.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Brashear and Motzko: Can They Be Stopped?

Last night, the Capitals accomplished two tasks that have proven quite difficult for most NHL teams this season: they scored on the New York Rangers and were scored upon by the New York Rangers. The confluence of these rare events resulted in one of the better games I’ve attended in recent years. Throw in the scoring prowess displayed by the unlikely combination of a career minor leaguer and a career bruiser and there was even more to love about the game. Who knew that, with all the line juggling we’ve seen this year, the ultimate offensive fourth-line chemistry would be found between Donald Brashear and Joe Motzko. Brash even pummeled Colton Orr (almost casually) for good measure. With teams possibly forced to give added defensive attention to this burgeoning juggernaut, Alex Ovechkin’s steady climb up the scoring leaderboard should accelerate.

There was an enthusiasm in the building I’d not sensed since the home opener. Even though the crowd was on the not-so-large side, and even though it was moderately polluted with Rangers’ fans, it got into the game in a big way in the third period and overtime. And why not, as the Caps continued to bury early-season demons as they un-bury themselves from the depths of the NHL (caught the Kings and Coyotes; getting ready to pass them). Getting scored on first? No longer a problem. Early two-goal deficit? No longer a problem. Lost a couple of third-period leads? Even less of a problem: just finish the job in OT, with the NHL’s highest-scoring defenseman, Mike Green (he of the 30-plus minutes on ice), deftly beating the likely-still-stinging-from-a-first-period-Ovechkin-slapshot Henrik Lundqvist.

The standings are looking friendlier in these days of three-game-winning streaks and 6-3-1 recent records. Wins are solidly in double digits. The playoffs are only six points away. The division lead is coming into view at only nine points away. The strange Southeast Division (with all teams sporting negative goal differentials) is definitely still there for the taking. The chance for much conference and division ground-gaining is there this weekend, with Buffalo and Tampa on tap. The trip to Detroit after that looks intimidating, but didn’t that early season trip to Ottawa look equally so? That worked out pretty well. The stuff after it…well, that’s why the wins need to keep coming so we can forget about it.

More Fun:

DCO friend Jill does her best Ovie-on-Jagr impression in post-game broomball action.

DCO friend Brian menacingly patrols the defensive zone during the same.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More DCO Validation

I know you are wondering where Bob has been, being that his last two posts have been two photoshops, one bogarted from a more talented friend, and another that had all of the internet scratching their heads at the slightly obscure reference. As a result, the DCO has effectively turned to a spectacular one-pony show. But explanations for a star's absenteeism is something we leave to area professional sports reporter bloggers, all of whom have a reasonable timetable for Gilbert Arenas's imminently successful return.

Instead of worrying about whose alias sits at the bottom of each post, we will concentrate on one of the most important weeks of football in the history of this fantastically successful sports blog. Emphasizing fantastic, or fantasy, an eventful event occurs this weekend, with Bob's fantasy football squad "Romo-Grip" taking on DCO's fantasy football squad "DC Optimist" in their company's fantasy football super bowl. This potentially fiery matchup pits the dominant, overall points champion Romo-Grip, named after Tony Romo's unsuccessful bid to secure a playoff game winning field goal, a team that is made up of the number one tight end (Antonio Gates), the number one receiver (Randy Moss), the number one running back (Ladanian Tomlinson), and other dudes that consistently landed "the Grip" in the top slot. DC Optimist, made up from guts, waiver wire deals, and also Randy Moss (the two were in different conferences, thus similar makeups). So who ya got? Who cares, right?

The ultimate overall purpose of this unprecedented matchup (and painfully self-serving blog post), is to further the vindication of the superior prognostic abilities of the two head writers of this blog (boy that's a lot of 'ofs'). I'm sure you have been heading elsewhere for your fantasy football advice, possibly even paying for 'expert' advice from dudes who likely aren't matched up with their esteemed partners in their league's super bowls. The DCO team has, in one fell swoop of a football season, dominated all aspects of their league, and guarantee their readers that one of them will be the top fantasy performer of the year.

These results mean you should still check the DCO for your local sporting insights. Lets check the overall stats: Right about the Nats, Right about the skins (sort of), going to be right about the caps, and now, right about fantasy football team constructions.

Want to be the next "Romo-Grip," or "DC Optimist?" Follow this trademark. Neither Romo-Grip nor DC Optimist feature a Cowboy, a Giant, nor an Eagle representative. Why would this strategy work? Not only do you avoid the quagmire of Eli-ownership, but also, you don't have to be that tool who cheers whenever a clown like Romo winks. Have the number one pick? Choose Tomlinson, who has been lighting it up latelty. You can even learn from the mistakes of these two juggernauts, like avoid the Denver Broncos defense and Marc Bulger like the plague, as both teams partook in these cancers to poor results. But resilliance has also been a hallmark of these two fake teams, as despite wasting a draft pick on those scrubs, they were subsequently replaced in an effective manner.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Boz: Back on the 'Tism Train

Less than a week after shades of shock and horror at the Nats’ typically risky-yet-strangely brilliant acquisition of Elijah Dukes, Thomas Boswell is again looking on the sunny side of the team’s off-season, praising the signing of Paul Lo Duca. Right off the bat, Boswell, in a DCO-esque fit of stat-spinning, cites Lo Duca’s .297 batting average over the last two years (neatly covering up the .272 from last season, which still would be an improvement over much of the Washington lineup), bringing the masses hope that the loss of Brian Schneider may not hurt so much after all. At the very least, the catcher position will receive an offensive boost.

Later, Boz rightfully praises what was essentially the second half of a cagey-veteran double signing, with playoff hero Aaron Boone’s inking being the first half. But it’s more than just a strengthening of the bench and a young team with such wise old timers, it’s something of a good-behavior-enforcer stockpiling.

Lo Duca, supposedly he of the famous “know your place, rook” admonition to Nats newbee Lastings Milledge, is almost certainly a guy to help keep the youngsters with (allegedly) troubled pasts in line. Along with the famously redeemed Dmitri Young, the increasing veteran presence in the clubhouse will help push high-risk signings/tradings like Dukes/Milledge towards the lesser-risk side of the scale. A dose of Manny’s patented optimism will cinch the deal.

Boz knows it, and probably did all along, even during last week's hand-wringing.

Heading for the New Jersey Sweep

So far this week it’s DC 2, NJ 0.

Wizards: Downed the Nets to roar back to .500 and fifth place in the East, just half a game out of first-round-home-court-advantage territory. The slumping Orlando Magic are just two games away and should be nervously looking behind them.

Capitals: Took out the Devils to win their second straight, improve to 5-3-1 under the brutally motivating Bruce II (two consecutive scratches for Pothier! A private/public team-lashing that has resulted in two desperately enthusiastic performances/victories). As seemingly every Caps story printed in the Washington Post reminds us, the team is still in last place and in need of a winning streak. Two games is a (modest) winning streak. Solid playoff positioning is less than ten standings points away. The moniker of “not the worst team in the NHL” is only two points away. A small step, this imminent overcoming of the hopelessly future-less LA Kings, but one easily reachable. After that, the equally hopeless Panthers are ripe for passing, then the Sabres, then the Lightning, and so on.

This Sunday: the Redskins look to complete the Jersey-defeating trifecta by shocking the Giants in the Meadowlands. Does Todd Collins starting on the road in December against a supposedly superior opponent sound familiar, and perhaps a familiarly perfect recipe for a stunning upset? It should. Kent Graham in Denver, anyone? That was shocking. This could be, too. Let’s just hope it snows on Sunday night.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Capitals Looked Sounded Were Probably Great

On a night when party-hosting duties kept me from seeing or hearing all but about a minute of the game, it would appear that the Capitals put quite the hurting on the Atlanta Thrashers (doing my best Bryant Gumbel impression here).

Wait a minute; wait just a minute. Turning on the TV just now to catch some non-Redskins NFL action has revealed that the game is being replayed on CSN. Marvelous. I’ve missed the first two goals, but I’m looking forward to seeing Mike Green’s continuing brilliance and Alex Ovechkin further creeping up on the NHL goal-scoring lead (and his getting back within shouting distance of a 100-point pace), much as the Capitals subtly creep up on the rest of the Eastern Conference.

There’s still a bit of a ways to go in that regard, but once the points are made up it’s incredible how far a streaking Caps team could rise and how quickly they could do it. Only 11 points between 15th place and 4th place! Sure, there are a lot of teams in that mix, but there are 50+ games left in the season. With the Caps clinging to .500 or slightly better through the getting-to-know-you stages of Bruce II’s tenure, it’s no longer just blindly optimistic to think that the worst is behind us. It might even be closing in on objectively realistic. Beating Atlanta, a team that has pulled off a similar turnaround after an 0-6 start, is a necessary step towards a renewed respectability.

Speaking of Bruce: calling out lackluster play and backing it up with surprising-but-necessary healthy scratches? Brilliant. Where have we seen this before with the Caps? How about never? Or at least, not recently. You’ve got to like the results and, if you were at the game, got to love your free pound of wings obtained via the 6-goal outburst (I always enjoyed my late-Saturday-morning Jerry’s pizza years ago after a Friday-night-Caps scoring binge). Even some normally crusty commentators across the message boards are praising Bruce and appear to be primed for a long-term embracing

Wow, just look at all those plus-ratings scattered across the Caps’ side of the box score. A lot of movement back towards the happy side of 0 for a lot of players. Continuing efforts like this one on this week’s home stand will push the Caps back towards the happy side of 8th place in the East.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Redskins Would Appear to Win By Eight

It looks like the Redskins could have snapped their losing streak and maybe secured themselves an important win and tie-breaker in climbing back into the wild card race. The 24-16 victory over the Bears, quasi-abley announced by Bryant Gumbel, who might sort of be the most hedgy, waffling-ist announcer in history (my favorite: Chris Cooley catches the ball at the Bears' 10; first-down marker is five yards behind him at the 15; Gumbel: “what would appear to be a Redskins’ first down.”), almost devolved into the sort of soul-crushing collapse we’ve seen too often lately.

With less than seven minutes left, the Redskins with the ball and a four-point lead, it might not qualify as complete optimism-hating to have fleeting visions of three-and-outs, punts, and opposition game-winning-drives. But lo: an aggressive, pass-centric, non-three-runs-up-the-middle-and-out drive! It looked a little dicey with a pair of runs for minimal gain at the Bears’ 20, but the Saunders-beloved Todd Collins’ dainty toss to Ladell Betts quenched any uneasy queasiness that might have crept in to the hearts of even the most ‘tism-loving Skins fan.

A victory. Jason Campbell again somehow dodging multiple ligament/tendon tears in his knee (not to diminish the abject suckiness of a dislocated patella). Portis finally finding serious room in the open field again. Shawn Springs! The aforementioned aggressive drive with a small lead in the fourth quarter! Exactly what we all needed to see. Maybe. Right, Bryant?

On the Redskins' postgame show Trevor Matich, who, after briefly lamenting "the games [the Redskins] gave away" earlier this year, put it best when he said, "Let's concentrate on the hope." One down, three to go.

Not So Easy, Is It?

So, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a little bit of an issue with winning sans superstar. What a shame. Based on the Wizards’ 105-86 throttling of the Cavs, we at DCO have no qualms in declaring Cleveland’s springtime sweep of the Wiz completely fraudulent and LeBron et al’s improbable and ultimately futile run to the NBA finals nothing more than the flukiest aberration this side of a Miami Dolphins’ victory. Is there any more true equation in the entire universe than No LeBron = No Chance? Contrast that with the Wizards’ truisms (‘tisms?) of:

Wizards - Gilbert = Still Excellent Chance(s) of Winning
Wizards + Healthy Gilbert = Stunning Post-season Run

Bigger picture, the victory means a .500 record (9-4 since that little early season bump) and a phoenix-ish rise to 5th place in the East. A different kind of Phoenix is next up, and while it’s undoubtedly tempting for those optimism-haters out there to write this game off as a launching pad to a sub-.500 record, keep in mind that Dallas is 8-1 at home, and that “1” is courtesy of a 12-point stunner from the Wizards back in November. The point is, a 15-4 Suns team need not look like an automatic L.

The Redskins should take note of the win-streaking, odds-beating, and injury-overcoming as they prepare for their own season-salvaging run, starting tonight. We’ll even take the field-goal-only path to victory. Anything.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

More Potential Redemption Acquired

Somehow it doesn’t seem to be the moment for intricately dissecting the Redskins and all the reasons for positivity in their admittedly disappointing 17-16 loss to the Bills. Besides, it’s so obvious they’re going to go 9-7 and make the playoffs that it’s useless talking about it anyway. The stunning 4-0 run starts with the Bears on Thursday.

It is the moment, however, to celebrate the Nationals’ continuing transition from MLB-destroyed rebuilding team to fabulous-braintrust-restored team. Budding contender, even? The bringing in of huge-upside-laden Elijah Dukes (or "Troubled Outfielder Elijah Dukes" as the popular descriptor reads) shows that the Nats are, more than ever, interested in a team that can produce now and well into the future (as opposed to the building of a team that could maybe produce in the future only).

Of Dukes, Premiere Stan Kasten said, “"I would feel really good if we could make this a success story." In that vein, he brought last year’s stunning success story, Dmitri Young, along with Font of Optimism Manny Acta, to meet with Dukes. The same message that worked with Young (don’t screw up) was given to Dukes. With newly found depth in the outfield, the Nats are in a can’t-lose position here. If Dukes works out, increased productivity was acquired for nothing (player to be named later). If he regresses, he’s out and Milledge and/or Pena steps in for extra playing time. Win-win.

Speaking of winning, it’s amazing that there seems to be no lesson learned from last season, when the team won far more than they were “supposed” to, as the Nats may yet again be written off by the rest of baseball – well before the season begins and even before the meaty part of the off-season. Perhaps overly desperate and eager to atone for his and his fellow expert cronies’ bafflingly wrong prognostications about the Nats last year, Yahoo!’s Tim Brown writes “…it appears the Nats' lone option is to overachieve. Again” This snarky little quip after he almost embraced the ‘tism in the preceding paragraph. You disappoint us, Tim. Again.

So here we are, set to see yet another success story blossom in DC. Just as some cities/teams are burdened with the moniker “where careers go to die”, (Tampa Bay Rays?) the Nationals are well further on their way to becoming the place “where teams go to revive”. The list is growing: Belliard, Young, Redding, Milledge, Pena, Dukes. What other reclamation/imminent-success projects will come along this winter? We should know more after the big Meeting

Saturday, December 1, 2007

No Step(s) Back

“It wasn’t a step back. We made plays at the end…we just didn’t win the game.” Wiz coach Eddie Jordan spoke thusly after last night’s one-point loss, but the same words could have easily been uttered by Caps coach Bruce II after his team’s defeat by the same margin. DCO completely agrees with such an assessment of both teams. The Wizards still own a winning record since their non-ideal 0-5 start, and the Caps still have a respectable 2-2-1 mark since their coaching change (and their ballyhooed power play movement still looks good). There has been a lot of ragging on the refs on the Caps’ boards today. Whether or not they unjustly waived off two Washington goals was ultimately immaterial, as the Caps played well enough down the stretch to almost tie eventually win.

While the Wizards had the opportunity to set up for a last-second jumper to win the game, the Caps put consistent serious pressure on the Hurricanes and came oh so close to getting that tying goal. So close was Nicklas Backstrom to scoring on a backhand late in the third period that, even as of 4:00 PM Saturday, Yahoo!’s box score shows him netting his third goal of the season with a minute left.

No setbacks here. Ever forward.

Friday, November 30, 2007

"We're Not Done."

Well, Jim Bowden and the Nationals have brought in Lastings Milledge and his Wily-Mo-Pena-ish potential. That makes your likely 2008 Nationals outfield: Wily Mo (true breakout season imminent), Lastings Milledge (potential to be ultimately realized), and Austin Kearns (destined to bounce back from a down season). Throw in an occasional appearance by Nook Logan and Justin Maxwell and that’s a well-rounded, run-producing outfield.

Yes, the trade came at the price of Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. Even looking at the trade completely objectively (as opposed to blindingly optimistically), it’s a tremendous deal. Capitol Punishment summed it up nicely, saying, “[Milledge] is every bit as good as Ryan Church offensively RIGHT NOW, plus he's 6 years younger.” A youth movement and a “win now” upgrade all in one. Schneider, though not exactly hold, is getting older, and with youthful clutch home-run-hitting catcher Jesus Flores set to move up in the ranks, plus Schneider’s rapidly increasing salary, such a jettisoning may have been imminent anyway.

So, that’s a successful rebuilding of 2/3 of the outfield in the last year (and the entire outfield in under two years) with minimal net loss to the team. The trade is yet another confirmation of the growing suspicion (if nowhere else than in our minds) that Nats’ management believes the worst of the rebuilding is over and it’s time to look to building a champion.

The best part? More magnificent moves are on the way. Bowden says they’re not done. It’s going to be hard topping the pillaging of one of the Mets’ top prospects (after shutting them out of the postseason, let’s never forget that), but we eagerly await the next championship-luring move.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Win That Almost Was But Then Wasn’t

Well, you really can’t get much closer to winning without actually winning, can you? Last night’s 11-round shootout loss to Florida could be seen as basically a grossly exaggerated version of every barely lost / almost-won game the Caps have played this season.

Before we go into full-fledged panic mode again about back-to-back losses and only two goals in those losses, consider that the 2-1-1 record the Caps sport in the last four games (all under Bruce II) easily qualify as the second-most-successful stretch the team has had this season. That’s progress, folks. Wouldn’t we all have loved to see such a record as they were, say, dropping four straight a few weeks ago (or five straight just last week)? The second standings point would have been nice, but why not celebrate the one just a little?

In the first period, yes, they were a tad…lethargic. It wasn’t until Matt Bradley, he who seems increasingly eager to engage in a donnybrook, got into it with Garth Murray in the second period did the building and the team really wake up. That fight energized the Caps and their fans in a way that the Kiss Cam couldn’t just moments beforehand (seriously, in all the Caps games I’ve attended, I’ve never seen such willful noncompliance with this compulsory snogging gimmick). Alex Ovechkin put on some serious pressure (and a number of his 11 shots) shortly after the fight, and Chris Clark brilliantly stole a clearing pass and scored not long after that.

Even though the power play went 0-for-5 (including that maddening OT power play), there was still improvement to be noticed from weeks past, in that the Caps for the most part managed to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Very little bumbling around in the neutral zone or running back behind Olie to retrieve a cleared puck. Mike Green also continues to show that he will be Sergei Gonchar (with a slightly bigger defensive conscience), as he has a growing penchant for sneaking down the wing on the power play to unleash a one-timer. His scoring-chance-producing coast-to-coast burst was a nice touch as well.

We can also be encouraged by the way the Caps fought back from a deficit four times: once in regulation from the 1-0 hole, and thrice in the shootout with the game on the line. The final Brian Pothier attempt couldn’t quite tie the game yet again, and the several potentially game-winning shootout efforts just didn’t have enough to get past the surprisingly resilient Tomas Vokoun, but it was a valiant effort nonetheless. And it brought home a standings point, a disturbingly rare feat so far this season.

Finally, we should mention Olie. In the third period especially (and the shootout) he was at his acrobatic, stretching-across-the-goalmouth best. It was hard to see all the gritty details from Section 403, but on at least two occasions it seemed that pucks 100% destined for the back of the net never found their way there.

There were a fair number of fans wearing Sean Taylor jerseys at the game, a nice visual tribute to go along with the honor the Caps paid to the Skins’ safety before the game. A number of vendors outside also had freshly minted Taylor hats and shirts. Speaking of which, Bucktown Skins Fan has put together a very nice simple design for sale on various clothing articles, with proceeds going to whatever fund/charity is ultimately set up in Taylor’s memory.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

21 again

Courtesy of DCO friend Fredy Viera (

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Remembering the Recent (and Glorious) Past

Wasn’t 2005 great? Remember how fantastic it was watching the Redskins win their last five games to finish 10-6 and in the playoffs? Remember how they went to Tampa Bay and won a playoff game, then came really, really close to beating the Seahawks in Seattle? Remember how bleak and unlikely it all looked when they were 5-6 that year?
It was all so grand, from the 35-7 pasting of the Cowboys to complete the season sweep to the Christmas Eve thumping of the Giants to the New Year’s Day finishing touch in Philadelphia. We all had a great time, didn’t we? Isn’t it awesome that we can now hope to see it all happen again?

The Redskins have lost three straight and find themselves at 5-6. In 2005 they also lost three straight (Tampa, Oakland, San Diego) to find themselves at 5-6. A common thread here seems to be Tampa. They’re annoying. Not as annoying, however, as that putrid “Duh” series of Hyundai commercials. Seriously, every…damn…break Kelsey Grammar’s sonorous voice brought us cheeky commentary on the…merits, I guess, of that word and its tenuous connection to second-tier automobiles. Why? How could the man who brings us Sideshow Bob wallow in this nonsense (I won’t mention “Back to You”)? In any case, these commercials are well on their way to taking their place in the pantheon of all-time awful advertisements, along with the Lexus December to Remember Sales Event and anything featuring that John Mellencamp song. Watching a fourth-quarter rally die is hard enough without these putrid intrusions. Where was I? Tampa. Don’t like them. Too much pewter.

Jason Campbell has this throwing-for-300-yards thing down pat. Soon he’ll get that whole not-throwing-interceptions-inside-the-20-yard-line-with-a-win-within-reach thing settled. The defense, when not receiving apologies from the offense, continues to bail out the team and desperately try to give them a chance to win.

It’s getting a little crowded behind the Lions in the growing fight for the second wild card spot. Fortunately, two of those 5-6 teams with the Redskins, Chicago and Minnesota, are on the remaining schedule. Another, the Cardinals, are saddled by that wrenching tie-breaking loss at FedEx (they also lost to the 49ers today). Still another, the Saints, lost to the Rams. How can they possibly be a threat?

The Wizards won five straight. The Caps are 2/5 of the way to such a streak, completely perfect under Bruce II and downing teams that populate the top of the standings. Time for the Redskins to go on their 5-game tear.

For now, it’s Remember 2005. Five weeks from now, maybe it will be Remember 2007.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Smile Bowl I: Brett v. Tony

Joe Buck to Brett Favre after the Packers' victory over the Lions (now ripe to be passed by the Redskins in the NFC playoff race): "You're leading the league in smiling." Was this an off-handed statement or a direct affront to Peter-King-anointed NFL Smiling Champion Tony Romo? Depending on how Romo responds in the 4:15 game, this could set up a Smiling Showdown next week when the Cowboys take on the Packers. Will it also set up a confrontation between Buck and King as to who can fawn over their respective favorite QB more? The drama.

Bruce II

No sense in fence-sitting or calling for (more) patience any more. Glen is gone. The chants of the Verizon Center mob have been answered. Being limited (perhaps mercifully so) to choosing between the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders on TV last night, I could only follow the (in)action on the web, but I could imagine the atmosphere in the arena equaling something like Monday night x 10 (ditto the somber locker room). Maybe this move can ultimately turn those poisonous environments back into the one we saw during the home opener, with an optimistic red-clad crowd watching a smooth dispatching of the Carolina Hurricanes and a chipper locker room thinking (if not talking) about playoffs. Of course, only a string of similar performances from the Caps will bring those back.

So we’ll see if Bruce #2, Bruce Boudreau, can right this listing (but far from sunk or even sinking) ship, and hoping to avoid the disaster of Bruce #1: the ultimately forgettable napkin-doodling Bruce Cassidy. If the news coming from the first practice via Tarik’s blog is any indication of Boudreau’s style, it would seem the Caps are getting the kick in backside they need. Slackers skating laps! A coach getting (truly) angry (or at least consistently yelling)! His initial line setups may seem a little puzzling at first (Backstrom on the 4th?), though considering how often they were shaken up before, the team shouldn’t be totally shocked by potentially strange combinations. I do hope the Fleischmann-Nylander-Semin combo can stay together for a significant period of time. Flash may not be the defensive-conscience-with-an-offensive-upside that Chris Clark is, but he did block a shot Monday night, and can score, so there is promise.

Boudreaus’s “interim” label is a nice touch. It leaves the possibility he could stick around if all goes well (ie, a miraculous playoff-making resurgence), or be replaced by someone else (NHL veteran coach anyone?) if the season goes further into the tank. Not all interim coaches quite work out (see Robiske, Terry), but as Atlanta’s GM-behind-the-bench situation shows, they can in a big way (now I’m looking to the Thrashers for hope? I thought being inspired by the Lions was bad. Optimism will do that to you).

There you go. Despite the chanting-and-message-board-posting masses’ call for Hanlon’s head, overall it didn’t seem like there was the level of animosity towards him as there was towards Cassidy as his imminent end came about. Fans likely recognize Hanlon is a decent guy handed a rebuilding team. He performed admirably though ultimately seemed destined to be a caretaker, a bridge between rebuilding and relevancy. He may only have lacked the true curmudgeonly attribute that is sometimes necessary in a coach. Just looking at Boudreau suggests he is capable of such a streak (ask the lap-skating John Erskine).

It’s Still Possible Standings Update: there are nine points and nine teams between the Caps and 6th place in the East. The number of teams is more daunting than the points, but a rejuvenated, angry, and properly motivated team can make up the difference.

Now, seriously, the resurgence can begin tomorrow night in Philly. Give the new guy a shot. Commentator mauree from Capitals Insider put it best: “Let's just be optimistic and see what he'll do. Honestly... I'm tired of bellyaching.”

Right now, this moment, the eating (then sleeping) can begin. Happy Thanksgiving.

Oh yeah, and the Wizards: well on their way to 77-5. Can’t stop ‘em.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It's Chinatown, baby

Giving Glen Hanlon a(nother) Chance

It was another Capitals loss that another local embattled coach might describe as “hard-fought.” The return of injured key pieces provided sparks, but poor decisions and lackadaisical ways early on dug a hole far too deep for the team to properly emerge in a Wizards-like manner from. One might, if they were to stretch the metaphoric meaning of a single game to epic proportions, see this game a microcosm of the early season woes. It began with the quick start (Backstrom and Ovechkin flurries to the net, extended powerplay pressure equivalent to the 3 wins 0 losses start), followed by an ugly follow-up (ugly first goal, ugly next few games in New York), followed by momentum snagging sparks (B.Laich’s shorty = victory in Ottawa), followed by despair (subsequent 3 goals = subsequent 5 games). If that is the case, there could actually be some positives to draw from, with that fantastic flurry in the third, where that elusive third goal was scored, and Semin and Clark made their presence felt on the score sheet, outside of the trainer’s room. Sustaining that big mo and building on that strong third period starts with the other embattled head coach, one who in his post game press conference said, “It’s easy to look at the negatives but you can’t turn back, and we’ll keep looking for something to build on.” These are words that get fellow DC Optimists a bit misty, and it has renewed a sense of trust in still-coach Glen Hanlon, barely nudging us off of the fence on his recent tenure.

Hanlon continues to face the wrath of a rightfully hostile crowd, and his unique mixups of the Capitals lines often forgo burgeoning chemistry in lieu of that elusive offensive spark. This has lead to long lapses in cohesion, and has resulted in both dagger-ing odd-man rushes and a stern lack of offense at times. So for this reason, should we heap further blame onto the coach in the form of poorly coordinated chants of “Fire Hanlon” as many of our surrounding ticket-buyers have? Said Olie (whose post-game pre-interview death-stare last night was something that could have caused sudden unwanted bowel movements in this blogger), “I'm sick of being asked about coaching changes. That's the furthest thing that needs to happen here. How many shocks do you need? I don't know.” We agree. Why, if Hanlon’s line juggling was the overall issue with this team, why would more lineup shuffling, this time in the coaching ranks, make things any better? Bottom line is, Hanlon continues to shuffle lines in order to discover which lines will finally find that cohesion, offensive spark, etc.

Going into this season, the Caps had several new key offensive players to work into their lineup, including three new centermen (Nylander, Kozlov, and Backstrom) who they figured to work major minutes. The season began with Kozlov and Ovechkin working together on the top line with Fleischmann, and Nylander schooling the young Backstrom on the NHL ways on a second line with Semin being the potential benefactor. Those ambitions were quelled quickly as Semin’s ankle problems, and Clark’s ear problems begat a scramble to find worthy lineup replacements. Kozlov (who I henceforth will refer to as “the enigma”) in particular has been shifted from center to wing to etc, creating a bevy of chances for someone to just plain finish. Why can’t that someone be Ovechkin again, someone who had described their elusive chemistry early on?

Hanlon realized that in the third period of last night’s game, returning Kozlov to center with Ovechkin, and reuniting Nylander with Semin. The results, two goals and the knowledge that these line combinations, or at least these center-wing pairings, ought to stick. “I thought Kozy in the middle did a good job, you’ve got three centerman that can create some offense and that’s a positive.” (There’s that word again).

So now that we have some sort of a semblance of potentially potent lineup combinations (Tarik’s blog notes the practice combos of Ovie-Kozlov-Clark and Semin-Nylander-Fleischmann in practice “skating hard”), and we have the return of injured hockey gods, and potential superstars (Hanlon on Semin: “He’ll likely score 40 this year no matter how many games he plays.”), maybe we can give coach Hanlon another chance. If this experiment works, a la Eddie Jordan’s Blatche-Brendan-big time lineups, it will cool his seat big time. And we will look to this game not as the back-breaking earth-shattering evidence of ineptitude, but as a sign of a turnaround. Why, Hanlon is almost clairvoyant with his next assessment: “It was almost a tale of two different teams, the team that started the game and the team that ended the game.” Here’s to hoping team third period emerges this time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Loss, But Third Period Could Bring Us Hope

Revised stats: Alexander Semin has still played in 100% of the games with DCO in attendance, yet the Caps have now only won 50% of such contests. The former point is the one we will concentrate on now, because for a short while it seemed that the return of Semin (and a fully healthy team) would (and still could) save the Capitals’ season.

Semin looked good off the bat, sending a crisp cross-ice pass to Matt Pettinger for an almost-quality chance on his first shift. The early good times continued (much like the early season) with an impressive Niklas Backstrom scrum-inducing drive to the net that also very nearly developed into multiple scoring chances.

On numerous occasions, Semin looked utterly unencumbered by the former ankle injury, lending credence to the Coach Hanlon decree that Semin was 100% healthy. After some vintage Alex Ovechkin ice-dancing through multiple defenders drew a penalty, Semin’s body-torquing kept the puck in the offensive zone. Happy memories of early October were again ushered in as there was consistent pressure on the power play.

Semin’s ice time was listed as 5:28 for the first period, though during the intermission Bobtimist Prime and I commented to each other that it seemed closer to 7 or 8 minutes. Maybe it was his constant presence around the puck and time logged on the power play that made it seem longer, or maybe just our complete lack of sense for time.

The penalty kill, also heralded in those glory days of yore (remember 12-for12?) came through in a timely fashion. Brooks Laich, undeterred by two closing defensemen, calmly settled a misbehaving puck and shot a bouncing wrister into the net for a shorty. It was to be the last positive moment for quite a while.

As anyone who was at the game or who saw the game knows, things started getting…restless towards the end of the second period. Chants of “Fire Hanlon”, at first as disorganized as each Caps rush up the ice, gradually grew in intensity. Just moments after more masterful Semin dekes, spins, and offensive creations almost resulted in a Caps goal, and just a few more moments after Kolzig’s heroic stand on a 3-on-2 Panthers break kept the Caps within 1, Florida struck and the fans’ brimming frustration poured out.

The chants found some organization and coherence during the first several minutes of the third period as the Caps struggled to find theirs, reaching a crescendo when the Panthers went up 4-1. But when Semin struck on a superbly sublime deflection at 8:14, it momentarily silenced the optimism-haters and brought us the most intense and inspired Capitals play in weeks.

The next Caps goal seemed inevitable, and one member of DCO was heard to mention to the other that perhaps Semin had saved the season with a slice of his stick through the air. Chris Clark brought that closer to reality with his power play goal. That gave the Caps two goals in the third period from key players who have been injured for significant stretches this season, and it seemed that, at last, with everyone together and the brief, awkward, 2-and-a-half period re-getting-to-know-you phase was over and the team could get down to business, tie the game, and win.

It didn’t happen, but the bigger question would be: can it still happen? Can they build on the third period play that was sparked by Semin’s goal, a goal that came as Caps fans all throughout Verizon Center were ready to turn on the team in a fashion unseen since the end of the Cassidy/Jagr era.

It was, to say the very least, a sullen Caps locker room afterwards. Several questions referenced the late third period spark the team finally found, and while the players seemed to be burdened by the immediacy of another loss, that half a period is something they can (must?) build on starting Wednesday if a true revival is to begin.

Last week we implored the Redskins to look to the Capitals and their shocking road win in Ottawa as precedence for shocking the Cowboys on the road. That didn’t quite work out, but now the two teams are in curiously similar situations. Both are seemingly reeling, but both are also coming off of losses that contained potentially inspiring late-game near-comebacks.

We’ll have more tomorrow, including why we still cannot join the burgeoning Fire Hanlon bandwagon.

Caps (Need) To Begin Rebound Tonight

Bobtimist Prime has correctly noted that, when DCO is in the Verizon Center press box, two things happen: Alexander Semin plays, and the Capitals win. While we may concede that this study is currently based on a relatively small sample set (1 game), it is nevertheless compelling evidence of the power of concentrated optimism. While we wait for the beginning of the Sutherby-less era of Caps hockey, we look with great hope at the healthiest lineup that has taken the ice in many weeks. We’re not the only ones, either. It would seem that, despite some setbacks in recent weeks, there is still much positive thinking to be found amongst Caps fans. Maybe they correctly surmise that there is much time left in this season for a comeback; perhaps they still see that there is too much raw and refined talent on this club for them to remain in last place indefinitely; it could be that they see in the resurgent (and comparatively talented) Wizards the team the Caps could become.

Whatever the case, we do acknowledge that this is a far more important November matchup with the Panthers than we would have imagined it would be a month ago. They need the two points, and against an apparently warring Panthers team, the two points are there to be taken.

Proper Perspective on a Near-Win

Mike Wise, now officially cured of the optimism-hating that crippled so many of his columns in the spring, penned a beautifully lyrical ‘tism love note to Jason Campbell in this morning’s paper. This focus on all that was positive from yesterday sounds as if it were written for the virtual pages of DCO itself.

All the points are there: Campbell is brilliant and will be even more so, as he continues to rack up career-best performances; late interception aside, he performed more-than-admirably in front of a raucous crowd of hostile Cowboys’ fans (many of whom may actually have been from Texas) – a crowd that also seemed to be well-sprinkled with burgundy-clad faithful; Sean Taylor would have put second thoughts into TO’s head yesterday, and prevented at least a couple of those showy touchdown grabs. Troy Aikman also jumped on the growing Campbell bandwagon, declaring it was “definitely worth” the Redskins trading draft picks to move up and select JC.

This loss could be a second incarnation of the Ugly Goal Theory (the first incarnation, brought to us by the Capitals, is still fermenting, as they continue to look for that elusive big win streak to break their moderate funk), in that this loss, disappointing though it is, could be that ugly, fluky goal that breaks a long drought (uninspired performances, won or lost) and ushers in a streak (big road wins to secure a playoff spot).
At 5-5, playoffs are still well within reach, and with this courageous loss to build on, the time is ripe for a Wizards-like streak. Going 4-2 the rest of the way to get to 9-7 is no more improbable this year than going 5-0 to close out 2005. I can happen, and it starts in Tampa, where the Redskins are well-familiar with winning playoff or playoff-like games.

This week also brought a couple more vindication points of sorts to the ‘Skins. First, that win against the Jets is looking more like a quality victory and not such a cause for concern (because of the squeaky nature of the win over a 1-victory team). It seems the Jets are a team to be taken seriously after all, beating the critically acclaimed Steelers in overtime. Second, Washington is erased from the record books as this season’s most brutalized Patriots’ victim. That honor now resides in Buffalo, home of the still-Super-Bowl-winless Bills. 52-7 isn’t pretty, 56-10 is less pretty. It’s 49ers vs. Broncos territory.

Back to Wise, his was one of the better pieces to appear anywhere in the DC sports world recently. It makes us want to resurrect the quasi-dormant Manny Acta Optimist of the Week Award and (again) bestow it on this now fully recovered optimism-hater. In fact, it even more makes us want to declare that, from this day forward, the words “optimism-hater” will no longer besmirch the good name of Mike Wise.

Finally, look at the rest of the season through these words of noted ‘tism sage Tom Boswell: “Despite another brutally close defeat…the Redskins actually produced more reasons for hope than causes for fresh anguish.”

Friday, November 16, 2007

A (Coaching) Change in Optimism? ?

We’ve been pretty much silent on the brewing Fire Glen Hanlon storm, but perhaps now is the time to throw our modest bright-eyed voice (bright-eyed voice? What does that mean?) into the fray.

To start, there are a pair of welcome well-thought-out, non-emotionally reactionary commentaries on the situation from CapsChick and Caps Blue Line worth reading. Both point out how Hanlon came into the Caps job following the debacle that was Bruce Cassidy and his band of highly paid massive underachievers (not quite what we have in front of us today, but the warning signs could be there). I liked Hanlon and his ‘tism-affected attitude well before this blog turned me into a full-blown optimist with never a negative thing to say about any of our local teams (my wife will surely back me up on this). Like most fans, it seems, I saw him as a great fit for a young (if struggling) up-and-coming team. More so, I like him because Hanlon is a good cross-town counterpart to our hero and inspiration, the Master of Optimism himself, Manny Acta (all hail). Manny’s unrelenting positivity carried the Nats way past their pre-season expertely assigned domain of last place, and we’ve seen flashes of that in Hanlon’s tenure as well (think early last season, last week in Ottawa).

The arguments presented in the two blogs mentioned above are sound, and it may come time to shake things up. Perhaps not just now, but maybe soon. It’s at least worth seeing how the full, healthy, team plays together and seeing if some coherent and consistent lines can be put together. Clark is back, Poti is back, Semin could be back Monday (the very day DCO will be in the arena? Can’t be coincidental, can it? Maybe).

Is this a little too bleak? Or at least a little too not-fully-optimistic? Not really. Good will definitely come of this. Either a near-totally healthy team will in fact turn things around in the short term to get back within true striking distance of Eastern Conference legitimacy (playoff positioning still only six points away), or the team will continue to drift, in which case something would almost certainly have to be done, and the fans calling for a firing could have their firing. A timeframe? Two weeks, perhaps? Enough time to gaugue a healthy, and a little desperate, team and its perhaps equally despearate coach.

After that, maybe we’ll see an Atlanta-like turnaround with (new coach?) behind the bench. They’re 8-4 since dumping their boss. Who around here wouldn’t absolutely love something akin to an 8-4 run by the Caps?

It’s still only 18 games into the season, and while things will seem to progress rapidly from here on out, we shouldn’t be overly, overly hasty here. Look at the calls for Eddie Jordan’s dismissal after 0-5. Now the Wizards have won two in a row and are obviously ready to make some noise. The Caps could still surprise us all, in their current coaching iteration, with making some standings-climbing noise. As this very important season drags on, however, all options should be considered.

We’re still optimistic. Really.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An Outrage!

So outrageous were yesterday’s announced results of NL Manager of the Year voting that at first we were certain that dozens of news outlets everywhere had misprinted them. Manny Acta fifth in the voting? Only four votes for ChairManny, and each vote of the third-place variety? Surely some editor somewhere botched the story and it was merely reprinted and reposted incorrectly everywhere. Surely Manny received the 33 first-place votes he deserved and not the 0 he reportedly received, right?

Sadly, no, and what we are left with is the greatest snubbing since July’s All-Star game and Gold Glove voting for third base. The NL award went to Arizona’s Bob Melvin, who led the relatively well-funded and non-MLB-neglected Diamondbacks to a first round playoff sweep at the hands of the Colorado Rockies. Melvin, whose Diamondbacks also featured a fairly stable pitching rotation of Major-League caliber pitchers and a non-cobbled-together bullpen, beat out even less-deserving candidates Charlie Manuel of Philadelphia (see “playoffs, disappearing in” and “fans, turned on by”), Clint Hurdle of Colorado (his case could be made), Lou Pinella of Chicago (another one who could be grateful that only the regular season is taken into account by voters), and Bud Black of San Diego (??).

After that in the voting came Manny, whose modest four third-place votes mirrored the modesty of the man (how’s that for cheese?). Of course, Man Act doesn’t need awards, and inferred as much when he said, perhaps referencing DCO and other ‘tism-lovers, “I think the people in D.C. have made me feel like I won anyway. That just made me happy.”

In the end, maybe it’s not such an outrage. Like utterly wrong-headed and now-obviously foolish predictions of 120 losses, such snubbing can serve as further motivation (and at least we’re not the Boston Globe, quasi-complaining about perceived award injustices in the face of a world championship; call the transformation of Boston into New York complete). When the imminent World Series celebration comes to the Navy Yard, it won’t matter anyway.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wizards: Even More Successful

After a five-game tune-up, where Eddie Jordan figured out his mysterious rotations, Gilbert Arenas figured out the proper fluid level of his precious knee, Caron Butler figured out how to maintain offensive possession without dribbling the ball off of a latent burger king straw, Andray Blatche figured out where to rub and tug his defenders on the screen and roll, and Antawn Jamison figured out the mystery of his jump shot, the Wizards properly began the successful portion of their 2007-2008 season with a win over those once hapless Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks, having held strong at home against powerhouses like the Suns, and some other team from the Western Conference, could not stand the consistent offensive pressure that four consecutive adequate quarters of Wizards-brand basketball ultimately provides. The manner in which the Wizards strung together competant basketball in one 15-minute stretch of play after another is a sure sign of brilliance to come. Over the past few seasons, the Wizards started slowly, digging themselves into that metaphoric early season hole that only players-only meetings, occassional defense non-lapses, and shots actually circumventing their original rim-based origins and supplanting themselves in between the nets can properly cause this funk emergence.

Early on in the season, the manner in which the Wizards would forgoe basket-making in lieu of entertaining television (whether it be high-flying Denver Nuggets or reeeeeeaaallllly close fourth quarters), was something that Wizards fans couldn't possibly fathom without finding a properly blameable person. While we have our own viable scapegoat, no one wearing a Wizards-issued uniform should face the fan's proverbial (or verbal) wrath. Especially after reading this sweet Ivan Carter blog post where he eavesdrops on one of those scout guys who notes how this team just loves playing for the oft-hated-on Eddie Jordan. So you see? The guys just needed some time to figure out the whole playing-with-a-gimptGilbert thing again. They needed some time to adjust to their high expectations, their unyielding potential, and their Grun-perfect structure.

And you know what, this season is actually starting out on a higher note. Last season -- a season that was uber-successful in our eyes -- the Wiz dropped their first eight away games before finally making headway against the still-hapless Knicks. But this year, the Wiz have been a quite respectable team on the road, not losing in regulation against the Pacers, again coming pretty close against the Nets, and then coming together to beat those now-respectable Hawks. A win on the fourth road game this season is obvious progress over last season, and the DC Optimist is firm in their belief that this team is ahead of previous paces, and will motor into and deep in playoff territory. John Hollinger may be cackling inside of his cuishy ESPN Insider office in Bristol, continuing to bemoan the Wizards lack of bigs, lack of defense, and thus, lack of wins. But the defense is actually slightly improving. Not to mention a big that we already mentioned having a sick year (that's now 4 double-doubles in 5 games).

Despair need not be felt in Washington, not for the still-playoff sighting 'skins, still potentially great Caps, and now emerging Wizards. No, that despair ought to be reserved for Hollinger darling picks in Chicago, a team that has limped to a 1-5 start seemingly crippled by something as trivial as trade rumors. Or despair could be felt in Miami, where the football team is terrible, and the NBA basketball team, one that features all kinds of guys everyone inexplicably blows foul whistles in favor of, is on equally lame standing.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Is Another World-Shocking Road Trip Imminent?

We tried looking back 220+ years to find precedent for a Redskins upset in New England. While that didn’t work out quite the way we expected, we’re very confident that more recent precedent will help them out in Dallas. Maybe it’s not as odd as looking to the 1991 Detroit Lions for inspiration, but it’s still fair to call it unlikely. Following their possibly disheartening collapse of a loss to the Eagles, the Redskins should be inspired by some (not all) recent play of the Washington Capitals. How’s that? After all, they have a lot in common, like a similar number of wins.

Think about it. Last week the Capitals also slogged through an uninspired match against an inferior division opponent, in their case the Atlanta Thrashers. They lost that game in overtime (late fourth quarter?), and the loss caused great unrest throughout the fanbase (calls for a coaching change sound familiar?) as the team prepared to visit the Ottawa Senators, the powerhouse of the Eastern Conference. Likewise the Redskins prepare to go on the road to visit the (I choke on these words) powerhouse of the East, the Dallas Cowboys (Side Note! The Chicago Tribune would seem to possibly maybe agree with us on the absurdity of the national Tony Romo love affair! That is, they somewhat sarcastically reference it). Many fans seem ready to chalk this road trip up to a crushing loss, as was the case when the Caps were on their way to Ottawa.

As we all know, the Caps put on a shockingly dominant performance against the Senators and handed them their second loss. See, another similarity! Both powerhouse teams had or currently have one loss with Washington heading to town. Is it possible a second such team could be receiving its second loss in an unlikely defeat? Wouldn’t that be great and (almost) completely make up for games like those against the Eagles, Packers, and Saints? Speaking of the Packers game, remember how the Redskins came really, really close to pulling off that unllikely road upset? Just think of the possibilities if it's not raining in Dallas and Santana Moss does not have to deal with a slippery ball!

So there you go. Remember the Caps in Ottawa when the Redskins play in Dallas.