Capitals Turn Up Intensity in Shootout Win Over Buffalo

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, September 30, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

With every pre-season game that passes, the Washington Capitals have turned up the intensity a little bit each time.  Last night against the Buffalo Sabres, before a not-quite packed house at Verizon Center, they did so again in beating the Sabres 4-3 in a six-round shootout.

Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Matt Hendricks all scored in regular time and Tomas Vokoun made 21 saves on 24 shots to lead the Caps to their second pre-season win.  After a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shootout, where the normal three rounds just weren't enough.  Backstrom beat Ryan Miller on the Caps sixth try and Vokoun stopped Luke Adam to finally secure the victory.

The Caps played loosely in their own end in the first two periods, with all three sets of defensemen breaking down, leading to scoring chances.  But in the third period the Caps played with more intensity and attention to detail, limiting the Sabres to just three shots in the final frame.

"Even though we were faced with some adversity there in the first couple periods, we didn't give up," said Mike Green from the victorious locker room.  "We showed our character."

Green thinks the gradual transition in intensity is an inherent thing.  "I think it's natural.  I think now we're starting to wind down to our roster and guys are getting ready to actually play and get focused on the season. I feel like training camp is one thing, once the season starts you change your mind-frame."

Matt Hendricks agrees with his teammate on the natural progression.  "I think what helps is that we're getting a little more comfortable with what we're doing with each other.  I think when you're hesitating you're thinking too much out there.  The game doesn't seem to be as fast as you kind of get that underneath of you.  You start picking up the speed, things start to get more physical and I think that was evident tonight."

Coach Bruce Boudreau chalked much of the uneven play of the first two frames to miscommunication as a result of having most of his regulars on the ice together for the first time this pre-season.  But talking things out in the second intermission seemed to lead to the better focus, especially on defense.

"I thought the energy and the forechecking in the first two periods was pretty good," Boudreau said.  "We got the results in the third period, but I think a lot of it was we worked hard in the first two periods.  But it was consistant for 60 minutes, which we hadn't done [thus far]. In the previous five games, in Chicago we were good for forty minutes, in Columbus we were good for the last 20 minutes, and you can go on and on.  We were good for portions of the game but it was important I think for us to get 'game legs' and game shape for 60 minutes."

The Capitals face Chicago again for the pre-season finale on Sunday at 5:00 pm at Verizon Center.  It's the last tune up before the games start to count next Saturday, when the intensity will surely be much higher than any of these pre-season games.  After training camp and a seven-game pre-season, the players, coaches and fans are all ready to get things going for real.

Capitals re-sign Jason Chimera

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, September 29, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals announced Thursday via press release they re-signed winger Jason Chimera to a two-year deal, which runs through the 2013-14 season.  Terms were not disclosed in accordance with team policy, but several outlets report the deal is worth a total of $3.5 million, resulting in a salary cap hit of $1.75 million per year.

The speedy Chimera plays regularly on the Caps third line and had 10 goals and 16 assists in 81 games last season, finishing minus-10 for the season.  He averaged 13:15 of ice time and had 64 penalty minutes.

In the playoffs the last two seasons, Chimera scored three goals and four assists in 16 games.  He registered a memorable double-overtime game-winning goal against the New York Rangers in Game 4 at MSG last season.

Chimera was a fifth round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 1997 and has 98 goals and 215 points in 581 career NHL games over 11 seasons.  The Capitals acquired him from Columbus in December of 2008 for then-captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina.

About the White Nets

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, September 27, 2011 | , , , | 1 comments »

Nobody likes change.  Especially a change that has little-to-no warning.  Double-especially on a change to a product or service after it has been paid for.  Sometimes change can be for the good, sometimes... not so much.

Last night at Verizon Center, a pre-season hockey game between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets took place.  The Caps beat a Jackets team comprised mostly of AHL'ers 3-1.  Michal Neuvirth was solid in goal, veteran defensemen Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik looked like they've played together for 10 years, and the "Mighty Mites" line of Cody Eakin, Matthieu Perrault and Chris Bourque provided a bulk of the scoring, leading the Caps to their first win of the pre-season.

But all anyone is talking about is the new white netting behind the goals at Verizon Center.

Yeah, there were a lot of folks in the arena complaining about the new nets.  Twitter was blowing up about it.  Bloggers blogged and pundits... pundited?  Anyway, we had to see for ourselves exactly how bad it really was.

Not that great, eh?

The problem, at least from our season tickets in Section 104, is that the white netting reflects the light not only from above, but the light that bounces back from the ice surface, leaving the protective netting much like trying to see through gauze.  The white netting actually draws your eyes' focus to the netting instead of through it. The black netting that has been in use in previous years absorbs the light, making your eyes focus though the netting to the play on the ice.

At least one other team acknowledges this phenomenon.  On the Detroit Red Wings official team page, there's a whole paragraph dedicated to the netting on their tickets FAQ. 
Why is the netting black and not clear or white?

The league conducted extensive research to determine the type of netting that would maximize both protection and visibility. Test results and other factors led the league to conclude that black netting accomplishes both of these very important objectives because it absorbs light, rather than reflecting it, and causing possible distortion of your view. The league determined that the white netting refracted the light and drew your eye to the netting, as opposed to directing your focus through the netting and onto the players on the ice. The monofilament or clear netting also reflected light and is more difficult to work with because of its elasticity. The league concluded that black netting was optimal and the Club agreed.

Was the netting selected for TV reasons and not for the fans who sit in the seats?

No. The consensus of all involved in the league's research was that the black netting was preferential both in-person and as broadcast on television.
The Detroit Red Wings at least claim The League concluded that black netting was optimal both in-person and as broadcast on television.  So why the switch at Verizon Center?

Mike Vogel of had a blog post Monday before the game explaining the idea, that the team thought it would provide better viewing for fans -- both in the arena and on television -- noting the idea originated from a Comcast Sportsnet producer.  It seems in practice the nets didn't really have the intended effect.

This morning, as reported by The Washington Times Steve Whyno, the Capitals are re-evaluating the white netting after the complaints from the fans that attended the game.  Monumental Sports & Entertainment spokesman Kurt Kehl confirmed the team made the switch intending to make the game easier to watch both in the arena and at home, but said:
“If it doesn’t solve one of those or both of those, it’s not worth moving forward with it,” he told The Washington Times. “If it’s something that’s distracting and disruptive of our fans viewing the game, we’re not going to continue with it.”
The Capitals, and owner Ted Leonsis, are normally very sensitive to the needs and complaints of their core, the season ticket holders.  Mr. Leonsis routinely patrols the concourses, talking with fans about the game-day experiences.  He solicits fan input regularly and publishes his e-mail address for fans to reach out to him with their concerns. 

If the original idea was indeed believed to benefit the fans, and the opposite occurred, I'm fairly confident the team will properly address the situation.

The Capitals play at home again Friday night against Buffalo.  I guess we'll all be waiting to see the color of the protective nets.

UPDATE:  Ted Leonsis made a comment very similar to Mr. Kehl on his personal blog this morning.

McPhee's Comments on NHL Realignment

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, September 26, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

Most of the Capitals Convention Saturday was about autographs, fan interaction with the players, and reuniting with old friends and making new ones.  But during the panel discussions there was some pretty decent information passed along if you were willing to pay attention.

One such case was in GM George McPhee's panel in the morning.  Once known as "The Undertaker", McPhee has gotten really good talking with fans.  He's candid, up-front and, dare we say, funny on occasion.  He started his comments Saturday by saying, "If what I talk about today doesn't end up on the Internet this will go a lot better," but he didn't expose any state secrets while still being candid, and the fans in attendance ate it up.

His comments on NHL realignment were of particular interest to me, as I've always been fascinated by the geography of professional sports.  The youngster in me never understood how the Dallas Cowboys could play in the NFC East, for example.  I wrote my senior thesis in college on expansion and alignment of all four major sports in the U.S.  That was in 1989.

As a result of Atlanta moving to Winnipeg, the Southeast Division will have a strange look to it this season, not to mention some very long road trips.  McPhee said the situation will probably be rectified at the Governor's Meeting in December, but to his knowledge things are still very much in the air about what to do about it.  He said the "easy" thing to do would be to slide Columbus into the Eastern Conference and Winnipeg into the Western Conference.  But as in life, the easy thing isn't always the right thing to do.

McPhee suggested that Dallas and Colorado would like out of the Pacific Division and Detroit would like to come east, and the situation in Phoenix makes everything more difficult, so there are a bunch of issues that still need to be sorted out.  As with everything else in sports these days, the end result will come down to money.

But of particular interest, McPhee said one of the plans that's on the table would feature two 15-team conferences with two divisions each of eight and seven teams (based on time zones), with eight teams qualifying for the playoffs.  He supports the top two teams from each division plus the next four best teams, instead of the top four in each division.  For me, I'd love to see teams have to fight their way out of the division for the right to play in the Conference Finals.  That's how rivalries are really built.

McPhee mentioned that one of the favored plans would see the Capitals play in an Eastern Time Zone division with the New York-area teams, Philly, Carolina and the two Florida teams.  It's not quite the Patrick Division reunited, but it's probably as close as we're ever going to get.

It would be great, in this hockey fans' view, if the Caps were able to renew division rivalries with the Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Islanders.  In the last decade, the Caps have watched fellow Southeast Division teams win the Stanley Cup, yet those "rivalries" still don't compare to the level of hatred for the old-time rivals.  I might be one a few left, but every time the Caps go to the Island I want them to hang a half-dozen on them.  If you're as old as me, you know why.

This alignment will be good for the NHL as well.  It's no secret the Caps are a huge draw right now, with Ovechkin's individual popularity matched only by that of Sidney Crosby.  Having Ovechkin play a few more games in the New York market has to be good for television and marketing.  But then, the league has never made a game-play decision based on marketing, have they?

Very Quick Impressions from CapsCon

Posted by Dave Nichols | Sunday, September 25, 2011 | , | 1 comments »

Here are some very quick, incomplete and probably incoherent impressions of CapsCon today at the Convention Center.

1)  If the President of the United States is speaking in the same venue that 6,000-plus hockey fans are, someone may want to increase security.

2)  Also, he may want to pay his proper respects at Verizon Center at some point.  Just sayin'.

3)  Kevin Kaminski is more giving of his time than any human being that I've even met.

4)  Goalies are weird.  In a good way.

5)  George McPhee continues to amaze me.  Every time he steps in front of fans to talk with them he's more open, honest and forthcoming than the last time it happened.

6)  Don't ever ask Roman Hamrlik to dance.

7)  Tomas Vokoun really, really wants to win a Stanley Cup.

8)  Turn the damn music down!

9)   J.P. throws a heck of a party.

10)  No one can convince me that D.C. isn't a hockey town.

We'll have much more on the annual Capitals Convention tomorrow, including pictures and some of the players' impressions of the event and the support they get in D.C.

It was great to see so many friends -- old and new -- today at CapsCon. I kept telling everyone it was like the first day of school, getting to see so many friends we've missed over the summer. 

Thanks to everyone that came up and introduced yourselves to us.  We try to keep a professional demeanor on this space, but it's very gratifying to know that a) people are reading us and looking at our photos and b) you think enough of us to come up and introduce yourself.  Thanks very much.  It was a long, but really great day.

Rock the Red, indeed.  (photo by Cheryl Nichols)