Wednesday, October 17, 2007

For The Record

I have to say, these four day breaks in the schedule are a killer when it comes to trying to fill time on your blog. Even if I didn't have a day job, going out and covering watching paint dry practice just isn't my cup of tea. Now I'm not putting down those that do go out to watch paint dry practice but about the only way I would do it on a regular basis if I was a person being paid to do it.

Then of course, there are days like yesterday when there isn't any paint drying practice to watch at all.

Maybe this is why our comrades Mike Vogel and The Peerless went out and wrote about how everything will be fine this season. I don't even have to check, I know they're responding to the denizens of Darwin's Waiting Room more than anything else. However, just on the off chance some of this was aimed at me, let me remind them, I picked the Caps finish fourth in the Southeast and don't think this team will make the playoffs.

Yes, 3-2 is rather nice compared to the nightmare brewing in Atlanta (I saw the end of the game against New Jersey on Saturday night, and let me tell you, that's a loss that will take a long time to get over) and a good start is much better than a poor one. However, there are some very troubling signs from the past two games.

As I mentioned in the Post-Mortem Saturday night the transition game has once again disappeared. We can equivocate and say that the Buffaslugs are an elite Eastern Conference team, but that doesn't excuse the poor showing. Maybe we should lose to the Buffaslugs, but lose by four goals and get outshot by 27?

I also find it interesting that Vogel points out that the Caps are 12 for 12 in the penalty killing department with Boyd Gordon in the lineup and just 10 for 15 without him. First of all, IF El Gordo is that vital to the Caps Penalty Killing success, let's start the Frank Selke campaign right now because he should be a shoo-in. Secondly, this goes to another problem I pointed out before the season started about the lack of depth (though in fairness to all involved, that has more to do with the salary cap system than anything else. The Skins are deep trouble for the same reason, injuries are killing them and the cap prevents them from stockpiling any depth to weather the storm). Finally, Vogel undermines this point when he points out that five games isn't a good sample set for a team's start. Vogel (and others too) thinks you need about 15-20 games in order to get a good read on a hockey team. If that is the case, how you can judge the penalty killing unit and who the vital cog is on that unit after only 5 games seems a little silly.

Then there's the number crunching Peerless (who does a good job BTW) who tells that one game under .500 in October isn't a kiss of death. Yet by Gary Bettman standards, the Caps were one game over .500 in October last year going 4-3-4 and still missed the playoffs. Montreal was 6-2-3 under Bettman (6-5 in the real world, still over .500 no matter how you cut it) Toronto was 6-4-3 (6-7, one game under .500 in the real world, like the Rangers, Ning, and Senators who made the playoffs) in October last year, and they too missed out on the playoffs. Better, yet, at the end of October last year, the Caps, Candiens, and Leafs all had more standings points than the Rangers, Ning, and Senators.

Now this isn't to say that playoff teams and championship teams don't have bad stretches in an 82 game schedule. Anaheim lost 4 games in a row twice last season (only one of those eight losses came in a gimmick) and Carolina lost three games in a row once in 2005-2006.

But the here problem is two fold, it wasn't that the Caps lost last weekend, it was the way that they lost. They were standing around on the penalty kill on Friday night and Saturday they couldn't get out of their own zone. It was a flashback to the play of the past two seasons. If the Caps had played hard both nights and came up on the short end of the stick, most people wouldn't be looking to jump off the bandwagon. What makes it all the more infuriating is what took place the opening weekend. There was no hint of a poor transition game and the Caps were the ones bottling everybody up in their zone. We see the glimpses of just how good this team can be and when they don't do it consistently, you begin to wonder if the team really has the potential some say that it does.

But people are all jazzed up about this season because of the talk from the team that started last April and is all a continuation from last season. For over a year now we've been hearing from the Caps "we're going to make the playoffs" "we want to make the playoffs" "we expect to make the playoffs" but the play on the ice looks to remain the same. If the brass in the Caps front office think they had PR problems with the way last season ended, they'll long for those days if the Caps finish 14th in the Eastern Conference again this season.

Sure, things could "turn around" and we could stay on the three wins out of every five games pace that will yield a minimum of 98 points and safely secure a playoff spot. But performances last last weekend have to be blips on the screen and not the normal run of play.

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