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.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Time to Get Healthy (And a Little Mad)

Call it a case of (insert professional championship, such as the Stanley Cup) Hangover, but on a much smaller scale and without the championship. That’s basically what we saw with the Caps last night. Two days after the giant-killing in Ottawa, the Caps looked largely disjointed and, aside from a brilliant early power play that was criminally unscored-upon, unable to apply significant pressure through most of the night in falling 5-2 to Tampa Bay. That’s ok, looking at the big picture. Now with four days until their next game, the Caps can get their wounded stars healthy and prepare to make some real headway in the Eastern Conference standings (and given their last-place position in said conference as of this morning, there is nothing but headway to be had – but hey, we’re tied with Buffalo, and everyone always seems to think that Buffalo is on the verge of winning everything).

As always, there are positives to be gleaned, even from a loss. Mike Green again showed off his offensive stick-wielding prowess (the true likes of which we had not seen since early last season in Colorado) in driving deep into the offensive zone and feeding a pass into the crease, eventually deposited into the net courtesy of Ovie. Kolzig was completely sharp on a number of occasions, until the Caps shot-giveaway special attempted to again take over a game. The 14,617 Capitals faithful in attendance did not turn on their slightly underperforming team, instead saving their third-period ire for the referees and their non-calls on Matt Bradley short-handed breaks, non-calls on dislodged nets with pucks in them, non-calls on various trips and hooks, and the occasional offside-causing blockage of the puck (for the record, lest we be beset with “stop complaining about the refs, your team sucks”-type comments, it’s unlikely any of this really played into the ultimate result – it was just nice to have fans of a currently losing team find another demon to boo other than that team). Tomas Fleicshmann notched his fourth goal of the season, matching his career high, set last season. He’s rounding nicely into a solid second-line winger. Could there be a second-line-winger controversy when Alexander Semin is healthy? Of course not.

Speaking of Semin, these next four days off could be a good time for him to get healthy(-ier) and to come back to bring that wicked snap-shot of his to a lineup desperately seeking it. Captain Clark is reportedly coming back after the short break (we hope to reunited with Ovie on the top line), so the Caps could be returning to a semblance of what the team was really supposed to look like, and that team that thrilled and teased us all with the 3-0 start. With playoff positioning still only five points away, there is still time to make a run and make it happen, though it does have to start soon. The timing of Clark’s return and (we hope) Semin’s imminent return could not be better.

Coach Hanlon is, according to Tarik’s blog, a little angry over last night’s loss. That’s good. A little anger could be what the Caps need, as we’ve previously noted. Some coach-inspired anger spilling over onto the ice would be as useful as the aforementioned Semin snap-shot. Get furious, Caps, and make the run we know you can make.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Blocking the Shot, Stemming the Tide, Stopping the Bleeding

Perhaps in March and April, when the Caps are jockeying for playoff position, we will look back to Dave Steckel’s stick-less blocking of a shot while killing of a 5-on-3 power play as the turning point of the season. It could be the sort of moment that turned around the entire momentum of the season and not just this utterly perfect upset game in Ottawa. It topped even their home-opening shutout win of Carolina as far as complete efforts go, and definitely tops that win as far as potential season-long implications. It all goes back to that play. It was shades of six years ago and a different sport, when Lavar Arrington returned an interception for a touchdown to turn around the season of a Redskins team that at that point was 0-5 and disintegrating (interestingly enough, also with many calls to can the coach). Of course, that Skins team finished at .500 and out of the playoffs and the coach was canned, so perhaps an imperfect comparison, but the similar premise remains.

It was that “full 60 minutes” we’ve heard so much about, and it was never more evident than during the third period, when instead of sitting back and simply trying to survive an aggressive and desperate Ottawa attack, the Caps took shots of their own, eventually being rewarded with a vintage Ovechkin goal and a much-more-comfortable three-goal lead.

We’re sometimes asked what possible positives we can glean from seemingly completely negative situations (there have been some tough ones. In this situation, though, we need to ask: what possible negatives can be taken from tonight? A brief lapse late in the second period to give up the lone Ottawa goal? Nothing overwhelmingly terrible there, really. A bad penalty or two? Maybe, but that can even lead to the great positive of 5-for-5 penalty killing against that 50-goals-in-14-games Ottawa attack. The 2-on-1 break by the Senators eight seconds into the game? Again, it only reminds us that Olie made the save and went on to make many more in probably his best game of the season. So really, what awfulness can be spun from tonight, when the Senators were handed their second (and worst) loss of the season?

More good stuff:
-The much-needed re-emergence of Viktor Kozlov. Three points and the kind of bull-your-way-to-the-net goal that we need to see a lot more of
-Niklas Backstrom: temporarily tired of dishing assists, he finally gets the first of no-doubt many NHL goals
-The afforementioned Dave Steckel. Sure he finished -1 for the night with no points, but that blocked shot sans stick on the 5-on-3 was worth more than anything on the stats sheet could show
-Power Play. 1-for-4 and consistent pressure. Just like their now-second-best game of the season vs. Carolina at home

So yeah, that was enjoyable to watch. A truly major early-season upset. On Frozen Blog puts it in proper historical context.

Time now to build on this and continue the climb back to Eastern Conference relevancy. Next up: Tampa Bay, who are only two points ahead of the Caps. I'll be watching while enjoying my Family 4-Pack. The Lighting, incidentally, are 1-7 on the road so far (finally winning tonight at Carolina).

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


You know how sometimes scoring slumps can be broken by the ugliest of goals? You know, that bounces-off-two-defensemens’-legs-then-dribbles-in-type of goal? Then that goal usually ushers in a torrid streak in which everything, at last, goes in? Maybe that ugly goal is akin to a 2-1 overtime loss to a fellow bottom-feeder. Maybe in losing to the (formerly?) lowly Atlanta Thrashers, the Caps have scored their ugly goal, won their ugly single standings point to break the standings-scoring drought (a drought that even managed to foul the mood of the owner). Maybe this sets the stage for a shocking win in Ottawa on Thursday, followed by a healthy dose of games against Southeast opponents; games ripe for more streak-breaking. Included in there is a nice four-day break, a prime opportunity to get back those desperately needed injured 30-goal scorers.

While they now sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, tied with Tampa Bay and Buffalo (Buffalo? Didn’t see that one coming) for last place, the Capitals are only four points behind the Rangers and Maple Leafs, who are tied for 8th. Yes, a playoff spot. Four points and lots and lots of time to make up the ground.

I was only able to half-follow the game through internet updates, due to that Versus-imposed blackout I still don’t fully understand. Thus I’m not sure exactly what went on, though I do see the Caps scored a power play goal and killed off six Thrashers’ opportunities. That’s something. Tom Poti played, Michael Nylander scored, helping the Caps surge back from that one-goal hole.

At this point, it could still be worse (they could be Edmonton or Phoenix), and there is plenty of opportunity to get better.

Monday, November 5, 2007

At 5-3, Why Worry?

Following up on Bobtimist’s fine commentary on Clinton Portis’ resurgence and the means to keep it going, let’s look at countering naysayers who are pessimistic despite the Redskins’ win over the Jets.

The optimism-hating line of the week will be something akin to “they barely beat a terrible team.” This presumably takes the place of the recent discrediting attempt to the tune of “the Lions win was fraudulent because Detroit really stinks.” Well, Detroit is 6-2 and stuck 44 on the Broncos and their vaunted shutdown corners, and held their equally vaunted crazy successful running system to 47 yards. Somehow the Redskins withstood that high-flying Detroit offense and suffocating D, so let’s stop pretending that wasn’t a huge victory. With that win legitimized (and becoming important, if tiebreakers come up later on), detractors must find another outlet, and this OT win over a 1-win team would seem to be a fine candidate. Predictably, we disagree.

Reasons for optimism from yesterday, aside from the obvious huge positive of the win:

-We do not have to deal with the “they won because of the coin toss” detraction. The Skins lost the coin toss and had to face down the scary Jets’ offense to start the overtime. It looked bleak after that 39-yard gain pushed the ball into Skins’ territory, but the D, looking ripe for the vultures to jump on their somewhat subpar performance, stood up and didn’t even allow a field goal attempt.

-Santana Moss, despite limited output yesterday, showed us he is still capable of the big play, flying down the field in overtime and putting himself in prime position to catch a game-ending bomb. Only a slight overthrow by JC kept it from happening. But we can find a positive there, in that Santana looks to again be ready to haul in the long ones.

-Halftime adjustments, widely considered a glaring weakness of this year’s team, were brilliant, whatever they may have been. Maybe the Skins just needed to be losing by a little instead of leading by a little going into the half. Could Coach Joe finally be reviving his half-time-adjusting genius of years past? Perhaps even by getting angry at his team’s lack of effort in a first half against an inferior opponent? Combined with Glen Halon’s bench outburst on Thursday, maybe DC is getting a much-needed infusion of angry coach motivation.

- LaRon Landry is a quick learner. This has been evident all season long, as his contributions to the secondary undeniably have contributed to the lack of big bombs given up by the D this year. His specific lesson from yesterday was how not to destroy a QB. Following his 15-yard penalty for pummeling Kellen Clemens with his helmet, Landry continued to bring the blitz from the secondary, and on more than one occasion pulled up after the ball was thrown, still hitting Clemens, but not with the helmet-leading voraciousness that would draw a flag. Lesson learned, and another step taken on the road to being a true disciplined-yet-deadly safety.

- The coming-to-town Eagles looked utterly inept. McNabb threw INTs into triple coverage, the defense folded, and the fans were flabbergasted. Looking forward to seeing them on Sunday.

A Win Is A Win, But We Need to Hate Harder

Surely the DCO nation would be happy with their beloved Redskins overcoming a fourteen-point deficit on the road against an opponent firing with Kellen cannons of desperation. Surely the DCO nation would be happy with a five-and-three midway point with the three losses coming to a 2-loss, a 1-loss, and the greatest team of all time, respectively (or respect-less-ly), right? Surely the DCO would laugh in the face of those curmudgeons at the Washington Post (save one), who basically note that all of the adversity overcoming didn’t matter as the Redskins just couldn’t beat on those lowly Jets enough to properly savor this victory. I mean, why would the DCO guard the ‘tism on this victory, one where Clinton Portis’s spryness again returned, as he danced between the Pete Kendall-Chris Samuels hat-on-hats to the tune of 196 yards and a touchdown? Why would they temper any sort of reaction to the fifth, game-winning overtime upright-splitting performance by current DCO hall-of-famer Shawn Suisham? Well, the reason isn’t that we aren’t impressed with the ‘skins overcoming another bottom-feeder with guile, guts, and ‘ggressiveness, it’s that the positivity that we could possibly be emanating in response could be detrimental to the team.

This is evidenced in a gross misjudgment by the current beacon of ‘tism at the Post, Mike Wise, who after telling us all to relax, and that everything was going to be fine™ on Friday, distributed a bevy of happy backslaps to the aforementioned Portis in light of his stellar performance and back-carrying tendencies. While we of course loved the positivity in the face of Les Carpenter’s scoffing at the lack of hearty victories against the league dregs, we can’t help but feel that a column like this is not going to help Clinton go back to being the reason the Redskins were good two years ago and terrible last year. See, what we know about C.P., other than the fact that he has a penchant for intensely entertaining pressers, is that the haterz are his motivation this year. We attempted to heighten that motivation before a week 2 victory over the Eagles with this post, summing up all of the reasons we should hate Clinton and his ways. The purpose of this post was to further motivate Clinton to two-step in front of his detractor sect and rip off 30-yard scampers behind solid blocking and (slightly) improved quarterbacking. Portis didn’t quite respond the way we had initially hoped, but the team responded with a fantastic in-division victory.

With the Iggles again flailing into town, now is not the time to tell Clinton how much we love him and realize how important he is to the team. Now is not the time to bask in the team finally realizing that they have a solid left side of the line that can, with their all-pro pedigrees, open up holes for a guy who had 1,500 yards the last time he was healthy. We shouldn’t be feeling better about the Redskins holding precocious team-only meetings where offensive philosophies were chiseled out, and a superstar pledged his back to team-carrying. No, we should instead dwell on the fact that Clinton hasn’t been able to have performances like this against teams that aren’t the New York Jets. Why, Clinton, couldn’t you have run for close to 200 yards in another game this year? Was it because you were too busy referring to yourself in the third person, butchering proper English dialects, and loafing throughout the much important preseason? Could this performance be on the heels of organizational whispers that deem your backup Ladell Betts as the more competent ball-carrier, thus making your outlandish contract stipulations as unnecessary? Why now Clinton? It’s not like you will be able to continue this torrid pace against the “tougher” part of the schedule, again taking the skins to the playoffs and beyond. Why, your performance wasn’t even the most fantastic running back performance of the week.

No, we need more motivational hatred to be guided Clinton’s way, for a victory over those insufferable Iggles and their insufferable suffering fanbase would be just delightful to us. Would a blowout sweeping victory over the Iggles be the final nail in the Andy Reid “5 passes per run” era’s coffin? Will this win finally lead the Eagles’s franchise quarterback, Donovan “bouncepass” McNabb to end up being the next QB savior of the Chicago Bears? Will a T-shirt that reads, “T.O. Swallows Pills Supplied By the Reid Family Drug Emporium,” as suggested by my mother, be a bit too classless? Only 93,000+ haterz can influence those answers.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Brendan Haywood: Looking Good!

If you look past the ultimate competitive results of the most recent Wizards games, you'll see an improvement in what most consider the Wiz's most glaring weakness. When people begin their harping on the Wizards team construction, they immediately point out what they think is a lack of a big man of adequecy. Just about every pundit would opine, if the Wiz had someone like Tim Duncan or Shaq, they just might be competitive enough to be worth our preseason prediction love. While they may be slightly correct in that assessment, what they don't see is that the Wizards actually have a big man of note on their roster. His name (which aparently, still remains on his locker in the Verizon Center), is Brendan Haywood.

In the first three regular season games, Haywood has been most impressive, snagging 11 offensive boards in Indiana on the first game helping the Wizards to not lose the game in regulation time. On Friday, Haywood continued to shine, earning a double-double and a posterization of referee sweetheart Kevin Garnett (blocks look really cool when you actually foul the guy and the ref ignores it). On Saturday, Brendan continued his most rare display of competitive play, garnering a career-high 16 rebounds on his way to playing competitively against also-balyhooed Dwight Howard. 'wood continues to utilize whatever is motivating him, whether it be a guaranteed starting lineup spot, Eddie Jordan possibly being on the coaching hot seat, or being given props on various internet outlets by guys like Roger Mason Jr., Dan Steinberg, etc.

A happy Haywood was hard to come by last year, but at his most-motivated, 'wood was the Wizards' best five-spot option. However, possessing the inate knowledge of this fact made Haywood a bit lackadaisical, earning scorn from experimental Eddie Jordan, who would insert a dreadlocked, poetic motivator in the form of Etan Thomas in lieu of the woodman playing adequetly. Haywood curiously responded by loafing, knowing deep in his heart that his last name was meant to be uttered in the same hallowed breath as Unseld, Muresan, Booth and Bol.

Even if the Wizards have had a tough time with the whole winning thing, one has to think that since this big man situation has ultimately been solved, the Wizards are bound to reach the Eastern Conference Finals at the very least. With this big man thing out of the way, the Wiz can concentrate on the important things, like maybe hitting a three-pointer or two or five or something that would make them slightly more competitive.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

All is Not Lost (This Weekend or Otherwise)

We certainly didn’t mean to lay all the blame of the Capitals’ loss in New York on the inexplicable-double-penalty-calling officials, but we may have given off that impression. With last night’s loss against the Flyers seemingly un-blamable on the refs, we must of course fall back on the usual (though in this case completely legitimate) scapegoat of injuries. Two words: Clark, Semin. Perhaps a third as well: Poti. Not many teams could well-endure the absence of a pair of 30-goal scorers (not to mention the absence of a valuable PP-point-playing defenseman).

I do truly hate to keep bringing up the name of this team, but the Rangers have only one more standings point than the Capitals right now (and 12 fewer goals; why isn’t Henrik Lundquvist getting Scott Gomez/Chris Drury money. Maybe he is; I don’t care). The lauded Rangers are supposed to be dominating the East with their ridiculous offense. They’re not. But critics continue to cling to hope that this is a Cup-worthy team. The Caps haven’t earned such benefit of the doubt yet, but that’s to be expected. A 3-0 start garnered no respect, so a 2-8 record since then will bury them in many people’s minds.

A pessimist might point out that the Capitals are 14th in the East with 10 points, only two ahead of those knee-jerk-coach-firing Atlanta Thrashers. A more optimistic look at the early-season standings, however, would reveal that the Caps are merely four points out of fifth place; not really a bad place to be with months to go in the season.

Going back to those ESPN power rankings for a moment: New Jersey at #30, the absolute bottom of everything? Wow. Check out the Thrashers above the Devils. New Jersey has been christened by the Chris Berman/Stuart Scott network as “The Worst Team in the NHL.” I never thought I’d live so long. Is Dainius Zubrus not the dynamic difference maker so many thought he was?

Yahoo!’s teaser for the Caps-Flyers game recap read “The Flyers finally broke the Capitals’ dominance…” Now, this dominance could really only refer to last season’s four-game sweep of the Flyers, but still it’s an indication that, even last year, the Caps were not, and currently are not, quite the pushovers many see them as.

Watching the game on TV, it seemed that the crowd was not quite as overrun with Flyers’ fans as it has been in years past. And by years past I mean prior to last year, when personal experience at MCI/Verizon Center revealed a much smaller (or at least much quieter, possibly because of the last-place nature of their team) Flyers’ fans contingent than I was used to. Maybe that’s an encouraging sign (if my perceptions were accurate), that there is at least one less visiting team this year to potentially overwhelm the Caps’ faithful with their own legion of unwashed.

It was a one-goal loss, a loss that the aforementioned 30-goal-scorers and PP-quarterbacking defenseman could have made a significant difference in. It’s these types of games that those three will make a significant difference in as the season goes on. While we look forward to the day when one-goal losses such as this one will turn into one-goal wins (or at least overtime games), we nevertheless take heart in the fact that the Caps (again) turned a 2-goal deficit into a 1-goal hole to make for an interesting finish. Such finishes will ultimately result in lots of victories; we are sure of that.

So yeah, it’s not the best start to what we’d hoped would be Rebound Weekend, with the Caps and Wizards going down. There still are, of course, the 1-7 Jets on the horizon, so that at least could be some measure for joy before Monday comes. Mike Wise thinks so. Seriously, this guy has gone from out-and-out optimism-hating to virtual optimism-marrying. Dmitri Young is jealous of his comeback. Pushing local-sports-‘tism even a little farther, maybe we’ll even be able to rejoice in the first Navy victory over Notre Dame in 43 years. Yes, perhaps that does not strike quite the emotional note that victories by the Caps, Wizards or Skins would strike, but it’s at least one other potential positive to look forward to.

We can salvage this weekend. We will not use such a word (salvage) for the Caps’ and Wizards’ seasons, however. There is too much hockey and basketball left for such surrender-ific words. Things will get better.

Relax. Everything’s going to be fine.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Not the Worst Shutout Ever

Well, it was going to be a truly, truly compelling final ten minutes or so of hockey until a pair of nonsense elbowing calls on the Caps gave a gift 2-man advantage to the Rangers. No, we’re not getting into blame-the-refs mode here, but rather looking at the positive results this negative action begat. Glen Hanlon yelling! Glen Hanlon turning red yelling! Glen Hanlon turning red yelling and waving his arms! Glen Hanlon, who usually handles himself with a Joe-Gibbs-like stoicism (rhymes with ‘tism), losing it just a little bit and showing some welcome healthy anger, letting the officials know of his disdain for the calls, while imploring his ever-improving penalty killers to get the job done. While the PK unit couldn’t quite overcome the injustice of a two-minute 5-on-3 disadvantage, they made a great effort, and did kill off the ensuing traditional power play.

The 4-minute Caps’ power play a few minutes later was a nice attempt by the officials making peace. It’s just too bad the one-goal deficit couldn’t be “restored”, thus bringing back the potential for late-third-period gripping, scrambling hockey.

Back to the positives. We’ve know how much ridiculous offensive talent the Rangers have bought. For the Caps to hold such Patriots-like talent to 28 shots and 2 goals (one on that aforementioned nonsense 2-man Rangers power play) is a big step up for a team whose defensive prowess was questioned before the season began. Addendum: questioned in the pre-season and positively savaged in some quarters (we’re looking at you, ESPN hockey power poll) after the October Shot Clearances in NYC and Buffalo. I mean, Drury and Gomez might as well be Brady and Moss, right? They’re supposed to catapult their team to unheard-of offensive levels, what with the great Jaromir Jagr and all, right?

Not exactly, of course, as the Rangers’ offense has largely languished this early season, despite the flashy and expensive additions (we all know what’s really missing of course). Still, considering what happened last time at MSG, when the Caps were down 3-1 in goals and 20-7 in shots after one period, tonight wasn’t all bad, even with the ultimate result of a shutout. Teams get shut out, even good ones. These powerful Rangers themselves have pulled it off three times already. The ever-mighty-or-seemingly-on-the-fringes-of-mighty Lightning were blanked this very day by the Islanders.

One other specific note: Brooks Laich made some ridiculous moves to power to the net late in the third period. He could very quietly put together a 15-goal season. There’s something about this guy; I just like him and his hybrid fourth-line-invisible-ness/nice-move-making-or-goal-scoring-ness.

Even looking past the usual positivity that naturally pervades and clouds this blog’s vision of every event in Washington sports, this was a pretty well-played game by the Caps, despite the fact they scored no goals. The 2-0 final score could really read 1.5-0, considering that ill-gotten PP goal the Rangers put in to double their lead. Sure they’ve now dropped to 5-7, but we really, really feel that things (ie, defense) are falling into place, and with Clark, Semin, and Poti on the mend, the offense (particularly the power play) will follow suit.