Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ovechkin on Campbell

If you haven't seen it, well, here it is:

(when you notice the title, take into account the user's name)

Chicago Blackhawk Brian Campbell, the victim, was seriously injured on the play. He's out 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone and cracked ribs. Ovechkin was suspended for the Caps' past two games this week, a 7-3 rout of the Florida Panthers and a tough 4-3 OT loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Ovechkin also received a five minute boarding major and a game misconduct on a play.

It wasn't as bad as it looked.

How many times do we see a defenseman have to take a hit from a forechecker? Lots of times. Same sort of scenario here: dump in, Ovechkin chases the defenseman, who passes the puck away. By now, Ovechkin is committed to the hit. Campbell has already seen him. This got him into trouble before with kneeing incidents. They tell you in hockey school (from what I hear) that you take the hit along the boards, as that is the safest play--the boards absorb some of the impact and there's no room for your body to contort in weird ways. But Campbell is a great skater. He thinks he can get away from the forechecker. Big mistake. Ovechkin pushes him as Campbell is turning and Campbell flies into the boards.

Some things to notice:

1) Campbell toe-picked. His left skate you can easily see hit some rut on the ice. Maybe Campbell could have kept his balance otherwise.

2) Campbell and Ovechkin were going more parallel than perpendicular to the boards. This is important. It means the contact was..

3) A shoulder-on-shoulder push. The side angle from NBC shows it best. The broadcast angle shows one number covered--hitting from behind from that view--but the side shows a shoulder on shoulder contact.

4) The call on the ice was boarding. After conference, the officials added a game misconduct. Why? James Mirtle (in the below J.R. links) argues that it was because it was a hit from behind. That wasn't the call on the ice, so why should Ovechkin be penalized as such?

5) The Caps won. Colin Campbell won't be losing sleep over suspending the best player in the world and the two-time reigning MVP, as if the Caps lose out on the top seed in the East or overall, they'll only have themselves to blame.

Now, I'll say this: Ovechkin should not have been suspended.

Why? Well, because then Colin Campbell, the NHL's disciplinarian, is penalizing because of injury, not the play itself.

There are unfortunate things that happen in hockey. Sometimes, the plays aren't routine. Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke and Philadelphia Flyer Mike Richards went out of their way to hit Boston Bruin Marc Savard and Florida Panther David Booth respectively. But those aren't even the worst hits. Tampa Bay Lightning Steve Downie only got a fine for a vicious slew-foot on Penguin Sidney Crosby, one that should have been suspended if any from the Sunday of Ovechkin's hit on Campbell. Penguin Craig Adams nailed Ovechkin from behind into the boards and Adams only got a minor penalty, no suspension.

The NHL discipline system is flawed. It's inconsistent.

More recently, James Wisniewski was suspended 8 games for a hit on Blackhawk Brent Seabrook. Seabrook just before that had made a pretty bad hit on Anaheim Duck Corey Perry. Watch the hit:

How bad was it? I think that the appropriate call would have been a charging penalty with a game misconduct and a game suspension, but since the call on the ice was a minor, a two-game suspension I think would have been appropriate. Instead, 8 games. Why? No one knows. Wisniewski got him on a leaping hit, but one close to the boards. It's normally routine, that play, except Wisniewski jumped to make the hit. And Seabrook gets off clean for a dangerous clip to Corey Perry.

I guess our perception of what should be suspended and what shouldn't is based a lot on precedent. Nowadays, we have none. Colin Campbell has done an excellent job of not giving us anything to judge hits with. Nothing. And that's the travesty of it all. Why should Ovechkin be suspended for a routine play gone wrong (in Campbell turning to try and avoid the forechecker) while completely non-routine plays don't get any sort of serious additional punishment?

For more, go to Japers' Rink (there are several long discussions here, here, and here), The Peerless Prognosticator (here), and From the Rink (here). (By the way, no comparison on Lapierre vs Ovechkin. Lapierre's hit was much much worse).

(Note: you can find all the hits I referenced on YouTube quite easily)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Chicago-Washington Preview

So tomorrow afternoon (or night for me) should be one of the best games of the season.

Forget that it's on NBC, which can't cover hockey well despite the visually spectacular product. Forget that Mike Emrick uses passive voice way too much. Forget that Pierre McGuire gets way too caught up in star-love and stands too close to people. Forget that Mike Milbury isn't really much of an analyst at all (just look at his management and coaching track record). Forget that you have work to do for Monday.

Just watch the game with your undivided attention.

The Capitals are 45-14-9 for 99 points in 68 games; the Blackhawks are 44-17-5 for 93 points in 68 games. The Capitals lead the NHL in offense by a wide margin, at 266 goals; the Blackhawks are tied for second at 220, with San Jose and Vancouver (which has played one more game). The Capitals are the league's second-best road team (trailing San Jose); the Blackhawks are the second-best home team (trailing Washington). On the ice will be talents like Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Nicklas Backstrom, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Alexander Semin, Patrick Sharp, Mike Green, Duncan Keith, Joe Corvo, Brian Campbell, and I'm still forgetting people. In short, these teams are deep, young, and can hang with you any way you want.

Things to look out for:

Last week on the NHL on NBC, Cristobal Huet laid an egg. Not like those brilliant Sidney Crosby gold-medal-goal-celebration-photoshops that you saw in the Puck Daddy photoshop contest, but he allowed 4 goals on 7 shots to the Red Wings. Chicago's 2-0 lead suddenly went to a 4-2, and by the end 5-4, deficit. Antti Niemi may start for Joel Quenneville with that in mind.
Meanwhile, Jose Theodore looks like he'll get to face Chicago. Semyon Varlamov, while getting better with each start, is nowhere near his terrific November and December form. Bruce Boudreau has made it clear that he's alternating goalies for starts, and with Theodore playing very well for most of this season, the starting job in the playoffs is his to lose.

Since returning from the Olympics, neither teams' Olympians have shown much in the way of energy or flashiness. Alex Ovechkin, while putting up multiple points in three straight games to break out of a slump, still hasn't shown any inclination to take the goal-scoring or points races by the throat. Nicklas Backstrom hasn't put up a big game either. Tomas Fleischmann, since being scratched, has two goals in two games, which is decent, but he was a minus player in both. Not helpin', Flash. At the very least, the Caps' PP has been clicking better and better each game, but the PK has still been inconsistent. The Hawks' special teams are both top-10, which means that the Caps will need to play disciplined hockey, something over the last few games they've done well.

What will help the Hawks immensely is that they can get the matchups they want. While Bruce Boudreau generally fiddle around with line-matching, Joel Quenneville does (it certainly helps that, like Detroit, Chicago can match power against power, with Selke candidate Toews on the Hawks' top line and Norris favorite Keith on the top pairing). But down the middle against DC, you either get a great faceoff man or a strong offensive line. And when they play their game, the wingers are unstoppable.

Bruce Boudreau will need to play an aggressive defense in this one, and dress his best skaters against the fast, young, hungry, talented Hawks. That's a tall order, but one that if any team, the Caps can match. They're more talented up front than Chicago, they've got better goalies, and they're, honestly, more ready for this type of game. It's time for them to snap out of a funk in which they've won half of their last 10 games (as opposed to 7 for the Hawks).

Prediction: Ovie and Sasha both score twice, while Nicklas Backstrom and Eric Belanger have nice games. The decisive goal, though, comes from an unexpected source: John Carlson. A late empty-netter seals the deal. Caps 6, Hawks 4.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Caps lost, but...

Alex Ovechkin had another brilliant goal, faking Stephane Robidas out of their socks and firing a rocket past Marty Turco. And if Turco had been playing his game as he has for the rest of this season, AO would've had at least five goals on the night.
Some of Ovechkin's best goals, for your viewing pleasure.

March 8, 2009, versus Dallas

Game 5 versus the New York Rangers, 2009 playoffs

February 5, 2010, versus the New York Rangers

February 18, 2009, versus Montreal

February 10, 2010, versus Montreal (technically not a goal, but it should have been)

January 16, 2006, at Phoenix

I'm sure I forgot some, so let me know which ones I need to add.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Trade Deadline Recap

So, according to TSN, the busiest trade deadline day ever.

Didn't feel like it.

With Ilya Kovalchuk gone to New Jersey, Olli Jokinen to New York City, Dion Phaneuf to Toronto and Jean-Sebastien Giguere too later on, all the big names that would be moved were gone before the Olympic break. Florida was asking for too much for Tomas Vokoun, and Nashville and Anaheim decided they'd keep Dan Hamhuis and Scott Niedermayer respectively. That certainly made it tougher. That being said, moves that could have an impact.

Alexei Ponikarovsky to Pittsburgh
He's a bit of an enigma (how many former USSR players does that describe?) as his skill, speed, and vision indicate he should produce more than he does. Maybe a stint on the Sid & Geno show will help him out. The Penguins still are thin on wing, but not as thin as before.

Jordan Leopold to Pittsburgh
He's been pretty good for Calgary, Colorado, and most recently Florida over his career. He played tough minutes and put up decent numbers for a not-so-great Panthers team. He's a solid addition to a defense corps that hadn't been able to adequately fill the void left by the departures of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill via free agency last summer. With Gonchar, Orpik, Letang, Leopold, and Goligoski, the Penguins can count on five D contributing every night.

Lubomir Visnovksy to Anaheim
Anaheim already has a top-5 power-play; Visnovsky will make it better. Seems like he's been around forever, but he's only 31, and with nice puck-moving skills, a nice shot, and good hands, he'll make sure Anaheim makes the playoffs and at least gives a top seed a run for its money.

Joe Corvo to Washington
Not the trade we were looking for in Caps land. But unable to acquire Dan Hamhuis, Scott Niedermayer, or Anton Volchenkov, GM George McPhee went inter-divisional and got Corvo from Carolina. He's a great puck mover with a hard and accurate shot and a great skater. That being said, he's a "turnover machine."
Should fit well in Washington (note: stats show he's very underrated defensively). But more importantly, he adds depth, so guys like John Erskine won't be getting sweaters for postseason games (barring injury).

Eric Belanger to Washington
A good move by Washington. While the price of a 2nd round pick may be a little steep, it could pay off incredibly well for DC. The scoring lines in DC will be even deadlier with an actual good faceoff-winning center (sorry, but Nicklas Backstrom, Brendan Morrison, Tomas Fleischmann, and Brooks Laich don't qualify). With nice speed and two-way instincts, if Alexander Semin can stay healthy, the Caps' second line will be unstoppable. Imagine what that means for the rest of the lineup.

Steve Staios to Calgary
Calgary is hanging around that final playoff spot and after having traded Dion Phaneuf and prospect Keith Aulie, added depth in Staios (they'd gotten Ian White as part of the return for Phaneuf). He'll put up points but isn't exactly a defensive defenseman, although he's decent. With Miikka Kiprusoff playing great for Calgary, though, that won't matter. They'll be a scary team for any team that draws them.

Wojtek Wolski to Phoenix
Phoenix clearly believes they can make some noise in the playoffs, a far cry from the unanimous "15th place" pre-season predictions made by "experts." Phoenix also acquired others like Derek Morris and Mathieu Schneider, but Wolski is the most important. Phoenix, between their defense corps and Ilya Bryzgalov, won't have any trouble keeping the score down. They'll need offense, and Wolski's skills could come in handy, notably in shootouts which could get Phoenix a few extra standings points down the stretch.

Matt Cullen to Ottawa
While Washington was riding a 14-game winning streak and Los Angeles a 9-gamer, Ottawa built up an 11-game winning streak too to vault them into the Northeast division championship race. With the way Buffalo has been playing, they'll win the division. Cullen adds some depth at center as a guy who can win draws, play solid two-way hockey, and slide over to wing from time to time at well.

Denis Grebeshkov to Nashville
Most people thought this would be a precursor to a trade involving Dan Hamhuis going East. The Predators ended up not doing anything to help themselves offensively. While this trade was good, now the Predators have way too many blueliners (you thought Toronto had a lot? Nashville probably has 2 teams' worth of NHL-level defensemen, give a year of experience). But hey, if they can pitch shutout after shutout, it's all good, right?

In short: Washington and Pittsburgh are THE teams in the East, and Chicago, San Jose (maybe), Detroit, Anaheim, Los Angeles,...ugh. That's a lot of teams, and the list isn't even finished. Bodes well for the Eastern Conference champion.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Things to look for in the last weeks of the NHL regular season

I'm not very good at these prediction things. I mean, I can feel an upset coming on from time to time, but I think I pick way too many. Congratulations, Canada. And hey Pittsburgh, we got our own OT hero too.

Now, things to watch for as the last quarter of the season has begun to unfold...

The Rocket Richard race
Ovechkin: 42 goals. Crosby: 42 goals. No one expected this. Ovechkin has played in fewer games, thus meaning his pace is higher, and the Caps' remaining schedule is easier than Pittsburgh, so it says here Ovechkin wins the race with 57 goals to Crosby's 54.

The President's Trophy race
The Capitals lead San Jose by a single point and Chicago by three (Chicago has a game in hand). Keeping in mind that Washington really got into this with that fourteen-game winning streak, and it's not too likely that they can hang on, except for a few things. San Jose and Chicago will be playing more in the West, where Detroit, Anaheim, Dallas, and others will be tougher to beat. Washington has one of the easiest remaining schedules as it, the league's best home team, gets to play most of it's remaining games at Verizon Center. It says here that they lose it by a few points to San Jose, but since we all know San Jose will by golfing before my AP exams, then Washington will have four-round home ice advantage.

The trade deadline
Alright, so it's like...tomorrow. Some teams already got started--New Jersey acquired Ilya Kovalchuk, Pittsburgh traded for Jordan Leopold, Chicago got involved with a futures-goalie swap, and Nashville got Denis Grebeshkov. What will the Caps do? George McPhee's shopping list probably goes along the lines of: Dan Hamhuis (Nashville), Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim), Tomas Vokoun (Florida), Anton Volchenkov (Ottawa--though they're almost certainly buyers, not sellers), Jan Hejda (Columbus). Don't expect any of these names to be donning red, white, and blue come the weekend, but GMGM shouldn't be staying pat either.
An under the radar type move like the one for Jason Chimera is a possibility (Todd Marchant from Anaheim anyone?), or a defenseman dump, since quite frankly, Green-Schultz-Poti-Pothier-Morrisonn-Alzner/Carlson has to be the way to go, and at that, screw the extra year you'd get of JC's contract, he's calm and already a winner, get him in DC in the playoffs. A 2nd line center could also be a possibility, but Brendan Morrison I think will bounce back given the nice Olympic break he had.

The effect of the Olympics
Will Ryan Miller be emotionally drained? Will Alex Ovechkin look to redeem himself? Will Brain Rafalski show signs of long-term fatigue? Will Mike Green look to cement his spot in Sochi this season itself? Time will tell.

The playoff race
Basically here, it's all about Detroit and Anaheim. Those two teams are going to be the only dangerous "underdogs" come playoff time--don't pick against either in the first round, yes, even if they draw San Jose or Chicago. But of course, both need to make the playoffs first. With Detroit getting healthy and Anaheim having a successful Olympics--Jonas Hiller was great in net for Switzerland, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Scott Niedermayer won gold with Canada, Ryan Whitney won silver with USA, and Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu won bronze with Finland--both should make the postseason on a roll. Look out.