Morning roundup: 'We're not a one-man team'
The Capitals are eager to prove that they can not only survive, but win, without their marquee player, Alex Ovechkin, who will be watching from the press box beginning tonight against the New Jersey Devils.
"As much as he gets all the press, I've gotta believe we're not a one-man team and there's still a lot of good players there," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "A lot of teams, [Atlanta's Ilya] Kovalchuk's out, [Eric] Staal's out for Carolina and other teams are just moving on and keep going. We've got to be the same way."
Prudential Center, 7 p.m.
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: 820 AM, 1500 AM
* Patrik Elias is hurt, but thinking about playing tonight against the Caps anyway (Star-Ledger):
Unless it is simply intended to confuse the Washington Capitals, it seems odd that the Devils are not ruling out forward Patrik Elias from making his return Wednesday night at the Prudential Center.
Especially after Elias said he was feeling some soreness in his leg after Tuesday's practice.
"My leg didn't feel that great today," said Elias, who had hip and groin surgery this summer and an arthroscopic procedure Sept. 15. "If I felt like I did yesterday, I probably would go. But I couldn't push off at the end like I want.
"No sense in rushing.The guys are doing well. They're playing fine. I'd like to get out there as soon as possible. That's not even an issue. I just don't want to get out there, be out there five minutes and take a week off again."
* More on Elias's to-play-or-not-to-play confusion. (The Record)
* Speaking of injuries, all the Russians are hurt (TSN):
Let's pretend for a moment that you're Vladislav Tretiak, general manager of the Russian Olympic team for the Vancouver Games. You look down at your projected roster, and admire the superstars that will unquestionably be the cornerstones of your team about 100 days from now.
Alex Ovechkin - reigning NHL MVP, 56 goals last year and 14 already this season.
Evgeni Malkin - reigning scoring champion, 113 points a season ago.
Ilya Kovalchuk - 43 goals and 91 points in 2008-2009. The trio combined for 134 goals last year.
You check the top names on your defence corps. Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov are both dynamic puck-moving blueliners who can quarterback any power play.
And then you shudder.
The realization dawns on you that all five of those stars has suffered early-season injuries - some significant - and all are currently missing big parts of their NHL campaigns.
* Ovechkin on traveling to Jersey: "I don't want to stay at home and watch game at home." Huh. Must not have Center Ice.
* Yesterday was "Washington Capitals Day." Sorry I didn't get you anything. (Caps)
* Hockey fans rant, ESPN's Pierre Lebrun plays Dr. Phil. Here's one complaint in particular that may be of interest:
Netminder71: I am sick and tired of the Washington Capitals defense (and goaltending) playing to lose. The team has shown that it can score goals, and create opportunities in the offensive zone. Even the Caps power play has shown promise (though flickering at times). The major problem is defense. First, Mike Green is lazy, unmotivated, and was heaped with a huge contract and praise way too soon. He is looking like a big bust now. Rick Nash made him look silly yesterday. Secondly, Jeff Schultz is the worst defender in the NHL. All that size, and he hits no one, he is constantly finding ways to make himself smaller, but never poke-checking attackers, never engaging when he has support, and he only looks big when he is screening his own goalie. Third, Tom Poti is well beyond his years. He is slow, out of position, and lacks the upper body strength to muscle anyone out or win battles along the boards.
Last, guys like Brian Pothier (too small) and Shaone Morissonn (too clumsy) are not helping at all. The team takes stupid penalties at key points in the game, they lose focus when they get the lead. They let all teams back in games, and the Capitals refuse to play for a win ... they'd rather just play to get one point, or just get to the locker room because they probably have better things to do than be winners. I hope Bruce Boudreau can motivate the team because they are playing poorly night after night.
Pierre Lebrun: Netminder71 (Ken Dryden reference?), you make some excellent points on your Caps. Having covered them in last season's near-playoff loss to the New York Rangers, it was interesting to see them metamorphosis (just in time) into a team that took fewer chances and played smarter, playoff-style hockey. But they had to go down 3-1 in the first-round series before they figured it out. Now, some those of bad habits are back this season, although the team is sure are fun to watch. All of which brings me back to a discussion I had last week with the game's greatest coach, Scotty Bowman. Tell me this doesn't send shivers down your spine when you hear Bowman say this about a team he once coached:
"The team was good offensively, they could score goals, but they played by the seat of their pants," Bowman told me. "And the goaltending was never up to snuff."
Hello? The team in question was the Detroit Red Wings from the early-to-mid 1990s, a team Bowman believed needed a dramatic correction after his arrival. They needed to play two-way hockey. So, he had a famous meeting with franchise player Steve Yzerman.
"I called Steve in and I said, 'You have a lot of good individual stats, but if you don't play a lot more defense, then the rest of the guys will probably keep playing the way they are.'"
I explain more of this historical conversation between the coach and the star captain in Yzerman's Hall of Fame feature story, which will be posted on ESPN.com on Wednesday. But I pass along this anecdote because I wonder if this isn't the kind of intervention Caps coach Bruce Boudreau needs to have with superstar Alex Ovechkin. Besides, now is a good time, No. 8 is injured!
If Ovechkin sacrificed some offense in order to play safe hockey, believe me, the whole team would follow along. It wouldn't be as much fun to watch, but the Caps would be a more serious contender come playoff time. Until the Red Wings played two-way hockey, they never became a championship team. Today, that culture still exists in Detroit with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. It's a mindset you have to buy into. The Caps haven't yet.
* Lebrun on Ovechkin's IMG deal: "It's about time, Alex." (ESPN)
* Interesting read from Justin Bourne, a former minor-leaguer and the son of Bob Bourne, on gay slurs in hockey (USA Today via Puck Daddy):
In my days as a hockey player, I did nothing but contribute to hockey's culture of homophobia and prejudice against gays. I used gay slurs more times than I'd like to admit. Six months after I left my last professional locker room, I felt a twinge of regret, followed by a full-out, stomach punch of regret. And by the time I finished the first draft of this column, I was disgusted with myself.
At the time, it seemed harmless. After all - when you think about the NHL, AHL, ECHL and more, can you call to memory a single open homosexual among them? There was nobody in my team's dressing room to offend, right?
The lack of a homosexual presence in hockey must mean one of two things: either homosexual men don't play the game or they don't feel comfortable admitting it -- in which case I, and my brethren, were offending some teammates with our close-mindedness, and furthering what must have been unsettled feelings of fear and general exclusion.
* In The Hockey News, Rory Boylen writes that more rules in the NHL won't prevent injuries:
You can't throw players under the bus for clean bodychecks - ones you learn how to throw from a young age - just because they lead to injuries. When a player cutting across the middle with his head down gets his block knocked off by a lowered shoulder, it's an unfortunate, but not necessarily an illegal or inexcusable hit. Penalize them all you want for charging or interference or whatever other infraction may apply in a given situation - and, please, suspend the egregious checks - but you can't chastise somebody for playing the game the way it was intended.
By suspending players for hits like the ones we've seen recently from Dion Phaneuf and Mike Richards, you're blurring the lines more than you're defining them. Employing a head shot rule to apply for all hits without any room for discretion puts the blatantly illegal and textbook checks in the same boat. And that doesn't teach anyone anything.
Isn't it just as bad if a star sits for laying a textbook bodycheck as it is if a star misses time because he was injured? What exactly is being accomplished there?
* Teams are scoring more this season -- just check out the numbers. (Hockey Or Die!)
* The U.S. Olympic team will be revealed on Jan. 1 during the Winter Classic. (NHL)
* Ted Leonsis has this curious new post (not helped by the fact that it's titled "Confusing Messages") that deals with owner meddling -- or lack thereof. Excerpt:
Yet even with all of this on the job training and exposure to the team and league, I AGREE that I am not a hockey person and would never assume that I would know what to do to build a team as to specifics; salary cap management; execution; systems; lines to play; players to draft and the like. So I agree with you all. Thank you. And thank goodness.
Morning skate updates to come.
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