Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It Must Be The Boredom...

Wow and to think I thought the summer months were tough on us hockey fans. However, an article in today's (Com)Post where George McPhee, Glen Hanlon, and Olie Kolzig take turns beating up on A.O. over his defensive play generates more commentary than you can imagine.

The Venerable Off Wing Opinion sees smoke in this and where there's smoke, there's fire. (He also says to check out the (Com)Post comment string. That's why I don't allow comments around here.) JP thinks this is a non-story type of story maybe a way to light a fire under A.O. when he returns. And I tend to agree with that this isn't much of a story but of course; the always reliable Chicken Little denizens Darwin's Waiting Room will pulverize this story until it is the microscopic remains of an empty glue bottle. It must be the boredom of having no real competitive hockey to talk about right now because I think this is being blown way out of proportion.

First of all, I don't think the tone of this story all that negative. "Everyone agrees that the 21 year old Russian's defensive decision making is better than it was a year ago." Of course, you have to get inside the article in order to find that. Furthermore, it has been no secret that the Caps want better defensive play out of A.O. and it is no secret that A.O. is working hard on providing that. As we've seen with the most recent obstruction crackdown from this past Saturday, old habits die hard.

Looking at the scoresheet of Saturday's debacle, A.O. was on the ice for only two of the Panthers' goal. First the shorthanded one and then the empty net goal. Both of those situations you expect him to be on the ice and both situations are more about offense than defense. I would be hard pressed to blame him for either of the two goals that went in the Caps net. Conversely Matt "Omar" Bradley, Steve Eminger, and Mike Green were all on the ice when other Panther goals were scored at even strength and they could be blamed for the puck going in the net.

Watching that awful Young-Stars game last night, I saw that the Pre-designated Calder Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin-Lindros was cherry picking all night. His final stat line, No goals, No assists, and a -2. Only Jordan Staal had less icetime than Malkin-Lindros did and even goaltenders Kari Lehtonen and Peter Budaji both found the scoresheet for that turkey of a hockey game. Even the announcers were mentioning that the Hockey Gods don't like it when you cheat on defense as badly was Malkin-Lindros was.

But is A.O. being publicly "called out" a problem? There's no doubt that A.O. is the best hockey player on the team. So why shouldn't the Caps expect more out of him than they do of a Donald Brashear? Why shouldn't the Caps want to have their best players on the ice when the game is on the line? Hanlon says in the article he wants to give A.O. MORE ice time. Well, here's how A.O. can go and get it. Here's how A.O. gets the call to go out there when the Caps are protecting a one goal lead with 50 seconds left on the clock in the third period and Europe's "The Final Countdown" blaring over the loudspeakers.

Finally, it is also important to note that the article makes special mention of players like Steve Yzerman and includes a quote from Mark Messier. Messier himself says that A.O. has to get better in his own zone if he wants to win a Cup. So this just isn't the Caps "puking all over their star" it is simply an explanation as to why they want him to improve his defense and why they want to use him more but can't right now.

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