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Question of the Day

What's going on here?

I wouldn't have believed what happened this weekend at VC had I not seen it with my own eyes. The Caps, depleted by injuries and trades, and playing nine guys who spent time in the minor leagues over the past 12 months, won back-to-back games for the first time since January. And they did it against the Maple Leafs and Lightning, two teams fighting for their playoff lives.

So here's what I'm wondering: Are they that much better with Olie Kolzig in goal, or are opposing teams simply looking past the Caps, a team that's out of the playoffs but stocked with guys hungry to prove themselves?

Let me get something straight: I'm not taking anything away from them. They looked good on Friday and Sunday, as good as they have in months. Olie was as a sharp as ever and youngsters like Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Jeff Schultz didn't look out of place (most of the time, anyway). Even last-minute call up Alexandre Giroux scored twice.

But let's also be honest. Are these guys really four goals better than the Maple Leafs and six better than the Lightning? Folks in the Tampa Bay dressing room didn't think so.

"We [were] already thinking about the Islanders," Tampa Bay Coach John Tortorella said, referring to his team's next opponent. "Sometimes these games ...it's may sound a little silly, but it may be a blessing sometimes just to put things into perspective as far as where we are as a hockey club."

Lightning captain Tim Taylor's comments really stung: "They played well against Toronto a couple of nights prior. They are a team that's playing very loose. They have nothing to lose. They are out of the playoffs. They have no chance. Every year they are like this. They are out of the playoffs and they seem to beat us at big times. Last year they beat us in the last game of the season to knock us to eighth."

Ouch. I bet that quote will be read aloud before the teams' next meeting on March 31st in Tampa.

At the very least, I've got to believe the back-to-back wins have given fans a reason to tune in over the final nine games as the Caps try to surpass last season's point total of 70. They've got 65.

Let me hear your thoughts.

BTW, the Caps earned a day off with yesterday's win. They'll return to the ice tomorrow at KCI before heading out of town for the Buffalo, Carolina, Montreal trip later this week. Oddly, I'm actually looking forward to this trip now.

By Tarik El-Bashir  |  March 19, 2007; 11:31 AM ET
 
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Comments

i think that both the leafs and the lighting thought these were going to be easy wins and they didn't really show up.

the caps did look great this weekend though. it games like those what make the frequent losses even harder to swallow.

the energy, desire, and ability to win games is clearly there. i think what is still lacking is a coach who is able to bring those qualities out of his men more consistantly.

Posted by: jamebow | March 19, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

comments like torterella's and taylor's are just a way of covering their asses after an embarrassing loss. man up

Posted by: Anonymous | March 19, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I'm a little surprised that Tortorella is so 'matter-of-fact' about his team getting their butt whipped when they are only 4 points from being out of the playoffs.

"We [were] already thinking about the Islanders," Tampa Bay Coach John Tortorella said, referring to his team's next opponent. "Sometimes these games ...it's may sound a little silly, but it may be a blessing sometimes just to put things into perspective as far as where we are as a hockey club."

Why would they be looking past an opponent at this point? It seems to me an indictment on the coach and leadership to get beaten as badly as they did while fighting for their playoff lives.

Tim Taylor talks as though they are 1st in the conference with a nice comfortable cushion.

"They played well against Toronto a couple of nights prior. They are a team that's playing very loose. They have nothing to lose. They are out of the playoffs. They have no chance. Every year they are like this. They are out of the playoffs and they seem to beat us at big times. Last year they beat us in the last game of the season to knock us to eighth."

If he knows that " Every year they are like this. They are out of the playoffs and they seem to beat us at big times. Last year they beat us in the last game of the season to knock us to eighth," he and his teammates have no excuse for playing as crappy as they did yesterday.

Posted by: Leigh | March 19, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Yes, they are better with Olie. That's not necessarily a good thing. There is only one goalie prospect in the system that has the potential to be a number one guy, and he just got drafted. In all fairness, Kolzig is a great goaltender. He's great in the clutch and almost unbeatable in close. His deficiency is his 5-hole, where a lot of teams end up beating him. I fear that when he's gone we'll end up with Tampa Bay's goaltending problem. (The score yesterday should not have been 7-1. Flash's 1st and Giroux's goal should have been stopped.) What happens when all our money gets paid out to Ovie, Semin and Backstrom?

Other than that, the line's yesterday worked fantastically, with the exception of the 1st line. Novotny's defensive inclination is good but offensively he needs to not hold on to the puck so long...and then lose it. But the 2nd line was a terror. Semin can play right just as well as left, the 3rd line was superior in shutting down Lecav et al. And the 4th did what a 4th should do, well. These guys are playing loose and without much fear. The pressure is off. And that, apparently, has made all the difference.

Posted by: Kerplunk | March 19, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Don't get too excited...you know what Ted LeBonesUs is thinking. "...Wow!, there's no reason we should make any deals in the off-season. We beat the Leafs and the Lightning in the same weekend with nine AHL guys. Maybe I can continue to save $ by not investing in any talent for another season." ...and the beat goes on.

Posted by: Digitalman08 | March 19, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

It's very simple Tarik, the Caps record with Kolzig is what 21-19-8 and 5-15-3 with everyone else? We've seen all year that this is a decent team with Ollie and the worst in the league without him.

Posted by: eric, baltimore | March 19, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Olie made the difference in the win. Possibly as much so in the locker room. The real questions is -- how long will it last? The excitement of Olie's return may wear off, and probably extinguish when they suffer their next loss. This team is still very young and fragile, and they could hit another losing streak when their confidence wains.

Here's to hoping they do break 70 points. They are a better team than last year.

Posted by: Randy | March 19, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

As has been mentioned, I don't think you can understate how important Kolzig is to this team...not just from a talent standpoint but from a psychological standpoint.

I find it hilarious the teams afterwards try to disparage the Caps, as though that somehow makes their performance more acceptable or understandable. The bottom line is if you come into a game not respecting your opposition and thinking that you're going to win regardless of effort level then you're probably going to lose. Looking ahead to your next 'real' opponent doesn't make much sense when two points is two points regardless of who you play.

And let's not overstate the teams they beat this weekend. Yeah, Tampa Bay and Toronto are in the mix for the postseason but no one should be afraid to face either team in the playoffs.

Posted by: idl | March 19, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Yesterday was a tremendous game for the Caps. What else can the losers from Tampa say. They got outworked, outhustled, beaten at every turn by a team that wanted it more. It's that simple. If they can't get up for the big games, that is there problem. I have no doubt that Olie' return has had a huge impact for this young team. I think Caps management is realistic enough to know what they need for next year. Games like the last 3 give us reason to hope big time for next season.
Take away the dreadful 2 minutes of the 3rd period in Boston, and they would have 3 wins in a row. The rest of the season will be very telling. I'm optimistic!

Posted by: kenhockey | March 19, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Did see the Toronto game live. The Leafs looked flat. I could not believe they didn't come out with more jump in the 2nd and 3rd periods with all that was on the line.

This is not to say the Caps didn't earn the win. They did. Olie was very sharp and the young defense very responsible.

These games show how close the Caps are to being a contender, but how much further they need to go in terms of player acquisitions this summer.

Great coverage, Tarik.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Cap Hill Caps Fan | March 19, 2007 1:16 PM | Report abuse

nice question posed on the HockeyBuzz

"Will this be remembered as the game that Tomas Fleischmann broke out?

hmm....

Posted by: Anton | March 19, 2007 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I think the bigger question, after the last couple of games, is which of these young guys are actually going to be consistent enough to deserve a full time NHL spot? If some of these guys are capable of putting together a solid string of NHL games, they sure have a lot more potential than some of the grinders that are out there 12 minutes a night. Nothing against Bradley or Clymer, but I hope they don't end up playing too many minutes next season.

Posted by: Jeff | March 19, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

What a pleasant surprise! Went to the game yesterday expecting to see the Marty and Vinny show, only to see Flash bust out and Semin remind everyone that there are two Alexes in town. I hate seeing what's happened to Ovie. His entire line has been blown up in the past month and he's essentially going to have to do it on his own the rest of the way (not that he's incapable of doing that!). Bring on Datsyuk!

Great set of games this past week, giving me reason to be optimistic. However, like most of the folks here, I'm still waiting to see what happens this summer.

By the by, did anyone else at the game find it odd that they'd let the UVa pep band play music AFTER the puck had been dropped? What's up with that?

Posted by: Geauxcaps | March 19, 2007 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Geauzcaps,

I agree about the Pep Band. Music isnt allowed to be played over the sound system during play, so why should that be any different. I would think the Lightening would be at a little disadvantage considering their bench was right next to the pep band, and it may have been more difficult to call line-changes or bark instructions at their players.

Posted by: Leigh | March 19, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I think it's just the Caps finally having the puck bounce their way again. Semin had a couple of games during the losing streak where he hit the crossbar. Yesterday, they went in.

Posted by: tallbear | March 19, 2007 2:01 PM | Report abuse

A couple of points. Bradley is a player that a lot of NHL players don't enjoy playing against, he will not score a bunch of goals, but he will make you wish your coach would call a line change. Perhaps these games were coming out parties for Flash, we can only hope. If we beat Tampa last year and put them in 8th, why would they take us lightly this year? Are they stupid? I was there for both games and saw teams get outplayed both nights and I saw a game right before these 2 that we should have won, except for some very stupid penalties. FYI, the Pens announcers talked about how their coach had been practicing all year on the shootout, seems to have paid off, as much as I dislike it.

Posted by: Cheapseats Bob | March 19, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Going back to the comment about Ted. Don't let these two wins fool you. We need offseason help in a big way. Remember Yogi Svekovsky scored 5 goals against Buffalo in the last game of the season for the Caps. The Caps are playing loose that is for sure but make no mistake this teams needs veteran leadership for 07/08. If they go into next season with this lineup, they'll loose another season ticket holder right here

Posted by: AGP | March 19, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it's possible to overestimate Olie's importance to this team. I also think they finally got some bounces, and pucks that would have missed two weeks ago are now finding their way in to the net. Part of the reason for that is hustle and confidence, and they play in front of Olie in ways they don't play for anyone else. I seem to recall that Olie got "competitiveness assurances" when he signed his contract before this season. I am looking forward to finding out exactly what that means.

Posted by: Fred | March 19, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

yeah, the UVA prep band needed to stop playing when the play was going on, it really annoyed me, and I was in the 400 level.

Posted by: Rob | March 19, 2007 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Ugh, the whole Pep band thing made no sense. I was across the rink from them and they annoyed me. And the players looked pissed to have to keep waiting.

The Lightning are completely trying to blow this off by saying that they were not even thinking about it.

If there was ever a game to win for a team that is trying to make the playoffs, this is one. They didnt win because the Caps were better, end of story.

Green looked better then the Toronto game....

Posted by: LB | March 19, 2007 2:56 PM | Report abuse

If you cross paths will Tim Taylor, please remind him that he is fortunate indeed to be with Tampa Bay. With the Caps he would be one of those interchangeable 3rd/4th liners that we sem to have in super abundance.

So, enjoy yourself Mr Taylor . . . but, don't be full of yourself.

Posted by: JL | March 19, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Taylor better hope that Buffalo "looks past" the Lighting in the first round, because it's the only way TB is going anywhere.

Posted by: Mike | March 19, 2007 3:18 PM | Report abuse

The team is better when they have a goalie they can trust. Ever since Johnson's meltdown against Buffalo he hasn't looked the same, and he had to be pulled a few times during Olie's injury spell (albeit the one against the Thrash was due to injury).

When the guys trust Olie to cover their butt when they make a mistake it looks they seem to play better.

The caps playing spoiler to SE Rivals is nothing new. Taylor is still angry about never making it with the caps obviously. I don't know why since he's got his name on the cup twice. Oddly enough, he was instrumental in one of the best things that ever happened to this franchise lol

Posted by: Graham | March 19, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Olie is a veteran player who is extremely vocal. This team lacks these types of players who can keep the focus of the game. So, at this point, yes the caps play better with Olie in net. I do not think this will always be the case. If we aquire some experience during the offseason we should be a more rounded team, so when one leader is out anther can step up.

Granted it has been a few years, but does Tampa remeber where they came from? We used to kill them scoring 10-12 goals on them regularly. It will come back around...

Posted by: capsfan | March 19, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

We were in front of the Pep band and they were horrible. People were yelling at them to shut up and were booing them. What a horrible idea...I think I might even send Ted an e-mail about it.

Posted by: freakinandpeakin | March 19, 2007 3:34 PM | Report abuse

freakinandpeakin,

During the game, I was thinking, "that would be awful to have to sit in front of the pep band after shelling out all that money for tickets." It was awful enough up in section 407.

Posted by: Leigh | March 19, 2007 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Tarik,
I know you mentioned awhile ago that you were thinking of doing a story on Semin through an interpreter. I hope you are still considering this--I think it would be interesting since we don't really know much about him. Thanks for the great coverage this season.

Posted by: RL | March 19, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

ice post digitalmon. I was wonder where you and Finn and caphcky were now that the team has put three good games together. Didnt think there would be anything to hate about the games, but you found it. How do you go through life with such negative thoughts. So sad. The team pulls off something thats only happened three times in NHL history (2 natural hat tricks in 3 games), gets scoring from their young players and have their leader come back from injury to backstop three outstanding games, but all you can think about is how Ted is going to screw you. I'm for everyone having an opionion, but this isn't even an opinion. Just a thoughless strawman argument. If you are going to make such posts, at least make them clever or entertaining.

Posted by: Sad | March 19, 2007 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Yes, please please please give us the background story of Semin. Family, upbringing, etc etc. Thank you!

Posted by: Sasha | March 19, 2007 3:55 PM | Report abuse

That story has been considered and will be written. unfortunately, it's tough to sell a huge story about a player on a team that's out of the playoffs.

but don't worry it will happen.

Posted by: Tarik | March 19, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

freakinandpeakin
I was in the same general vicinity as you. I thought the one heckler got it right when he asked the band, "What are you majoring in? Annoying?"

AGP
I don't think you'll find any of the optomists here even remotely convinced that the team as it now stands is playoff bound next year. Still, it feels good winning a few games while they're playing out the string. If they help knock a team out of the playoffs, so much the better. Serves 'em right for trying to overlook our team.

Posted by: Geauxcaps | March 19, 2007 4:11 PM | Report abuse

You look at this club the last three games . . . six different players have the 15 goals scored (including two hat tricks), 16 different players have registered the total of 39 points. In all of that, Alex Ovechkin has one point. When the "light over the head going on" moment is taking place, chances are you don't see it.

That's what makes it hard to say whether this is a fluke or the moment is at hand when some of the kids to be counted on are starting to "get it." Alexander Semin is 3-4-7 in his last three. Tomas Fleischmann is 3-2-5. Chris Clark (no kid, but an integral part of the club moving forward) is 3-1-4. Boyd Gordon is 2-2-4. The Caps might get a lot of time on SportsCenter (ok, not ESPN . . . one of the Canadian outlets, perhaps) with Ovechkin scoring highlight goals, but if that's all the team is getting they won't win much. It will be what contributions the club gets from up and down the roster that will matter in the end. Maybe the last three games, fans have gotten a glimpse of just what that means.

Posted by: The Peerless | March 19, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm....Caps look good and we hear nothing from Finn. Upset because there is nothing to complain about?

Posted by: Lee | March 19, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I am a very optimistic Caps fan, but at the same time I try to be realistic. Without a true center, and improving the current D, in a full season these Caps wouldn't hit 70 points. It's fantastic to see people other than OV chip in offensively, and it's possible that some of them will pan out. But Gordon isn't going to average over a point per game, and to think his recent scoring stretch could be counted on is pretty unrealistic.

It's pretty certain Semin and OV will be 40 goal scorers for years to come, and Clark will chip in 20ish if he plays with OV. But until 3 players are NOT scoring 50% of this teams goals, they simply aren't deep enough to make the playoffs (tho, I guess Tampa is trying to show it CAN be done, this season). That's why as exciting as these 3 games are (and boy, has it been nice to win a couple), the off-season is still going to determine where the Caps will be a year from now.

Posted by: Jeff | March 19, 2007 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Why wasn't Alex O on the new show tonight?
They kept advertising it over and over and no reason why he wasn't on. Not a very good show anyway. Kind of boring. I don't like the bait and switch they did about him. The Caps do always get the short stick with the media, and this is your own company. I for one won't waste my time with it again. Very disappointing, but again not surprising.

Posted by: kenhockey | March 19, 2007 6:26 PM | Report abuse

In fairness to the producers, Alex can't talk. He took that stick to the chops, and it appears to have left him with difficulty in that regard.

Posted by: ThePeerless | March 19, 2007 6:29 PM | Report abuse

kenhockey, they explained all that on the show. Apparently you gave up too soon. It wasn't bait and switch. As the Peerless said, Ovechkin had trouble talking due to the whack in the mouth he took yesterday, and didn't want to be on television, so they agreed to have him on next Monday instead. Don't watch if you don't want to, but don't blame them for not explaining it. They did, and even showed the video from the game of Ovechkin getting smacked in the face.

Posted by: norske | March 19, 2007 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Word up sad, this was the question..."Are they that much better with Olie Kolzig in goal, or are opposing teams simply looking past the Caps, a team that's out of the playoffs but stocked with guys hungry to prove themselves?", not the management sees this as an excuse to not spend money, but w/e. Its a combination of both. according to those media notes on the side of the front page, the caps defence has been playing quite well for the last few weeks. kozig is much better than any other goalie we have, hes the team leader, and im sure hes return to the ice has been somewhat inspiring. but its not like we beat NJ, DET, or BUF, we beat two teams that are fighting for the last few spots in the east. Tampa and Toronto are slightly more consistant than the caps. so its good to see our young players playing well with each other, especialy the D (jurinca and morrison). i wouldent be surprised or too concerned if the caps lost the next two games by a total of 12-2. patience.

also, i nkow johnson has potential to be really good, but also he can be pretty bad. i dont think it was a good call resigning him...i think the caps could go out and get some one a little bit more dependible.

Posted by: timbers | March 19, 2007 7:10 PM | Report abuse

finaly Gordon scores a little, hes gonna win the selke soon

Posted by: timbers | March 19, 2007 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for giving me the info. We were switching back and forth, waiting for him to be on. I guess if they said it a few times during the show I would have known.
Too bad they couldn't have gotten another Cap like Chris Clark, or Olie Kolzig to go on there. Again, thanks for clarifying.

Posted by: kenhockey | March 19, 2007 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Heh, it is kinda funny to see a few names kinda absent today.*snerk*

I'd like to think that we're seeing the "real" Caps right now, but I don't think any team can sustain this kind of pace. It's great to see them playing as a full team again. Hopefully some of the rookies will be taking lessons in how to work with each other into next season.

And they betetr have a printout of those words from Taylor on the door to the locker room for the rest of the year.

Posted by: EricS | March 19, 2007 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, I don't think Gordon will ever score enough to win a Selke (a la Lehtinen), but I do think very highly of him as a defensive specialist. I cansee him shutting down Sidney Crosby for the next several seasons. Interesting that he's got the highest +/- on the team now.

Posted by: Geauxcaps | March 19, 2007 10:34 PM | Report abuse

Caps have a three star players, two good vets, and four or five young players who could be the core of a good team. When all these players are clicking in gear, and the rest do as well as they can, the CAPS can win. That's what was saw. But, this combo won't give you a winning season. It's just a glimpse of what could be.

Posted by: Dezlboy | March 19, 2007 11:06 PM | Report abuse

I think it's the combination of Kolzig being back and the fact that at this point any pressure to do anything other than play out the rest of the season is gone.

I suppose it's understandable... they have all the young talent in the world, but they lack the consistency that comes with experience playing at the NHL level.

They need to pull in some veterans who can help anchor the team at critical points (1st line center, 1st line right wing, 1st defensive pair) and help the youngsters mature into solid players who play at the NHL level every night. If they don't, they'll make the playoffs next year, but they won't go a whole lot further than the first round.

On another topic, they also desperately need to find someone, a trainer, a special teams coach, a voodoo shaman, anyone who can help these guys figure out how to score in a shootout. It's embarrassing... We'd at least be sitting a little nicer in the standings right now if we could have won just a few of those SO losses.

Posted by: HolyOlie | March 20, 2007 8:05 AM | Report abuse

Mike Gartner leaves NHLPA

TORONTO -- Hall of Famer Mike Gartner resigned from the NHL Players' Association on Monday night, about a week after two top union officials were placed on leave because of allegations they ordered the monitoring of NHLPA player e-mail.

Gartner began a conference call with the players' executive board with his announcement that he was leaving as the NHLPA's director of hockey affairs. He had been with the union for eight years.

"This decision was made with careful thought and consideration and has been contemplated over an extended period of time," Gartner said in a statement. "I leave with great reservation due to my long-standing involvement with the Players' Association and in light of the current circumstances affecting the union. I am sincerely troubled by the recent revelations and am hopeful that the Association can move forward and be restored to a level of respect worthy of its members."

NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin and senior director Ken Kim were placed on paid leave March 11.

The player reps voted to retain outside counsel to "address the employment issues surrounding Mr. Saskin and Mr. Kim," the union said in a statement.

Toronto attorney Chris Paliare will counsel the executive board on whether to pay off whatever severance package Saskin and Kim are entitled to or whether there are grounds to fire them.

An internal review in the hiring of Saskin is also ongoing.

The turmoil within the union ranks follows a contentious labor agreement that saw the union yield to a salary cap.

Gartner joined the NHLPA in 1999 as its director of business relations following a 19-year playing career. Gartner helped improve the pensions for current and former players. Gartner was named director of hockey affairs in 2006.

Posted by: LB | March 20, 2007 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Why wasn't Alex O on the new show tonight?
They kept advertising it over and over and no reason why he wasn't on. Not a very good show anyway. Kind of boring. I don't like the bait and switch they did about him. The Caps do always get the short stick with the media, and this is your own company. I for one won't waste my time with it again. Very disappointing, but again not surprising.

Posted by: kenhockey | March 19, 2007 06:26 PM


They announced at the beginning that because of the high stick he took to the face in Sunday game and the resulting stitches in his lip, he would be on next week when he could actually speak! Poor guy...

I thought Steinberg was pretty funny

Posted by: LB | March 20, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Great weekend of fun at the VC. Was there for the Leafs game. Didn't know what was funnier, the first goal or that guy with the big St. Patty's day hat.

Olie has a impact on those guys and it was obvious they felt they could play more of an offensive game with Olie in the goal. When you have confidence in your goalie, you are likely to try to do more on offense. These guys look good and if A.O. can have one point during all of this scoring, that's great. That means the team should have a good basis to pick up someone like Briere during the offseason to solidify everything. But they do need to get a good second goalie.

Posted by: Go Caps | March 20, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I was next to the pep band and my kids and I were some of the people yelling at them to. It was rude and un called for. I sent Ted an e-mail as soon as we got home On Sunday. There was a Caps employees sitting right next to them who let that happen. I love how the horn guy took over for the lat 30 seconds so they could not play!!! Go horn guy!!!

Posted by: mj | March 20, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

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