Sunday, April 18, 2010

What's Wrong with the Caps?

 photo by Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post Photo

The Caps have tied Montreal in the series at 1-1, but they have played notably poorly in their first two games.  What do the Caps need to do in order to win this series?  Here are my very own "keys to the game."

Solve Halak
Luckily, we already know how to solve Jaroslav Halak, but now the Caps need to actually do it. Eric Fehr's breakaway goal is a perfect example of where Halak is weak - high blocker side.  When Halak goes into the butterfly on lower shots, he's near unbeatable.  The Caps need to avoid shooting so low and shoot higher in order to best him.  Both Carlson's and Backstrom's goals were high glove side.  We solved Henrik Lundqvist last year (remember high glove side?) so Halak can be solved too.

Solve the Habs D
Especially after the first two games, it's become abundantly clear that the Habs D is, well, really freakin' good.  Hal Gill is a) enormous and b) leads the league in blocked shots in this postseason (he blocked 9 shots in Game 1 alone).  Jaroslav Spacek was a major problem for the Caps in Game 1.  Andrei Markov has also been excellent thus far.  This one is a little bit tougher to solve, but at least in the case of Hal Gill, he's not very fast.  Bruce Boudreau may want to consider putting speedy guys like Jason Chimera and Éric Bélanger on the ice against Gill.

Caps Goaltending
While José Théodore was outstanding in Game 1 with some sparkling saves, he allowed 2 goals in the first 2 shots last night.  The first goal was embarrassing, and you could chalk up the second goal also to some poor defensive moves.  Pulling him in favor of Varlamov was absolutely the right call, but who to start in Game 3?  Theo has been solid all year, but many are saying start Varlamov, who has a great playoff record but was shaky during this regular season.  Coaches will want to keep an eye on both in practice and definitely rotate the goalies to keep them fresh.

Top Line Must Improve
This definitely improved last game, as Nicklas Backstrom notched a hat trick in OT.  Ovechkin had a goal and a helper, but Bruce may want to consider putting Alexander Semin on the top line instead of Mike Knuble.  Both Knuble and Semin have not been effective so far in the playoffs, so shaking up the top line might benefit both of them.  Obviously Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin can get too cute, but other times, they're outstanding.  It could be worth it to try out the line combination and see if it can spark the offense we all know they can produce.

No one knows what Bruce Boudreau and the Caps might do, but they can't continue playing as they are right now and expect to move on in the playoffs.  Game 3 is tomorrow night at Bell Centre in Montreal.  We'll see what happens.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rocking the Red (Hair)

Going into the playoffs, I wanted to do something special to support the Caps.  Being that I'm a woman, I can't exactly grow a beard and my job would not allow a mohawk (besides, I don't have the guts for that).  So what else is there to do?  Dye my hair.

I haven't dyed my hair since high school, when I used to dye it light brown on a regular basis.  I opted for a semi-permanent color since I didn't want to have to do the whole growing it out two-toned thing - semi-permanents last through about 28 shampoos.  Today, I entered the CVS across the street from my office with a purpose.  In the hair color aisle, I came to two choices.  I couldn't decide which one to pick.  So what is a Caps girl to do?  Ask her Twitter followers of course.

I tweeted this photo from the aisle in the CVS:

My followers overwhelmingly selected the left color, "Rosewood."  So I bought it.  And got home tonight and got ready for the red.  I went from my natural dark brown:

And after what looked like a bloodbath in my shower, ended up auburn:

Now since this lasts through 28 shampoos, I hope I'll have to recolor it before the Caps are done.  How are you going to rock the red in the playoffs, Caps fans?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Caps and Bears Playoff Schedules

So the Caps and the Bears are both entering the first round of their respective playoffs this week.  Hershey will face the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Washington will face the Montreal Canadiens.  Unfortunately, a couple of their games are at the same time, so perfect your multi-tasking, Caps/Bears fans!

Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 14 – Bridgeport at Hershey, 7:00
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 16 – Bridgeport at Hershey, 7:00
Game 3 – Sat., Apr. 17 – Hershey at Bridgeport, 7:00
Game 4 – Sun., Apr. 18 – Hershey at Bridgeport, 3:00
*Game 5 – Wed., Apr. 21 – Bridgeport at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 6 – Fri., Apr. 23 – Hershey at Bridgeport, 7:00
*Game 7 – Sat., Apr. 24 – Bridgeport at Hershey, 7:00 

Game 1 - Thu., Apr. 15 - Montreal at Washington, 7:00
Game 2 - Sat., Apr. 17 - Montreal at Washington, 7:00
Game 3 - Mon., Apr. 19 - Washington at Montreal, 7:00
Game 4 - Wed., Apr. 21 - Washington at Montreal, 7:00
*Game 5 - Fri., Apr. 23 - Montreal at Washington, 7:00
*Game 6 - Mon., Apr. 26 - Washington at Montreal, 7:00
*Game 7 - Wed., Apr. 28 - Montreal at Washington, TBD

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Some Notes from the CHL

 photo by Sylvain Buisson/Collaboration Spéciale

Last night was an interesting one in the CHL Playoffs, and some of the results may be of interest to Caps fans (more specifically, Hershey fans).  The Victoriaville Tigres and Québec Remparts of the QMJHL met in Game 4 of their playoff series last night, and the Tigres ended up victorious, sweeping the Remparts in the series.  The Remparts are now out of the QMJHL playoffs and their season is over.  So why should Caps fans care?

The Remparts elimination last night means that Dmitry Kugryshev, who the Caps signed in March, is now eligible to be called up to the Hershey Bears.  The question is, will he?  Mark French already has a stacked Bears lineup, further inflated by the recent additions of Anton Gustafsson and Cody Eakin.  Plus, the Bears only have two more games in this regular season (Friday and Saturday against Norfolk).  Would the Bears add another new forward in the playoffs?  We'll have to wait and see; as we all know this organization can definitely surprise us.

UPDATE 4/9/10: It has been reported that Dmitry Kugryshev has been called up to the Hershey Bears and is expected to join the team Monday.

photo by Tyler Brownbridge/The Windsor Star

In other teams-I-like news, the reigning CHL Memorial Cup champions the Windsor Spitfires required extra time in Game 4 of the OHL Western Conference semi-finals, finally defeating the Plymouth Whalers in OT 3-2, sweeping the series.  At the end of regulation, the Spitfires had put an eye-boggling 66 shots on goal, yet only scoring on 2 of those shots.  Calgary Flames prospect Greg Nemisz scored for the Spits with just 19 seconds left in the 3rd period to send the game into OT.  Florida Panthers prospect Scott Timmins then scored the OT winner.

The amazing part of this story is that the Whalers did not even have their #1 goalie in net - Matt Hackett had been suspended for the game due to a roughing match penalty in Monday's game.  Back-up Plymouth goalie Scott Wedgewood, just 17 years old (eligible for the 2010 draft), ended up facing 73 shots for the night, saving 70.  Spits goalie Philipp Grubauer faced 21 shots.  73 to 21.  Unbelievable.  A Whalers blogger has a really great recap, I recommend reading it.  Windsor will meet the winner of the Kitchener Rangers/London Knights series, which is currently tied 2-2, in the OHL Western Conference Finals.  Game 7 (if necessary) for the Rangers/Knights series is scheduled for April 12, so Windsor will have some rest until the next round begins (likely mid-next week).  The winner of that matchup will play for the OHL Championship.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Update: Cody Eakin

 photo by me

Well, I got to see Cody Eakin in action myself this weekend, as I headed up to Hershey for the Bears' last home game of the regular season. I'd heard from Hershey friend Derek that Cody didn't have such a great game on Saturday night against the Crunch, but I was hoping he'd still see action in the lineup on Sunday. Did he ever.

At the end of the night, Eakin was awarded the #2 star of the evening (#3 being Patrick Wellar and #1 being Mathieu Perreault). For the most part, the scouting reports I read were very correct. While I didn't really get to see the extent of his speed in action, I did notice that he is very good at seeing the ice. Just watching him during a particular shift, I saw that his eyes were constantly moving (literally darting around), even when the puck was nowhere near him - looking around the ice to see where the puck was, where his teammates were, where his opponents were. He could see the next play before it even happened. This kind of ability will no doubt prove to be important and extremely beneficial to Eakin and his team.

His #2 star came from his beauty of a goal in the second period. As Cody was providing a screen in front of the net, Patrick Wellar launched a slapshot from the blue line, and Eakin angled his stick to deflect the shot past Admirals goalie Tokarski's shoulder for a goal. Aside from the goal, Eakin had a good game - creating scoring chances and establishing a decent forecheck. I can't wait to see him continue to improve, get stronger (at 179 lbs, he's still mighty scrawny for a 5'11" hockey player), and one day make it up to the Capitals roster.

Highlights of Sunday's game are here. Patrick Wellar's shot that Eakin deflects in comes at about the 0:22 mark.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Focus on Prospects: Cody Eakin

photo by Getty Images
Name: Cody Eakin
Position: C
Shoots: Left
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 179 lbs
Birthdate: 1991-05-25
Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba

Cody Eakin is pretty much your typical Canadian hockey-playing kid.  Playing up through the ranks in Canada, he was drafted in the first round out of bantam ranks by the WHL's Swift Current Broncos in 2006.  His first season of 2007-08, he scored 11 goals and had 6 assists, and then really shone in the playoffs of that year, when he had 7 points in just 12 games.  In his next season, he exploded into the WHL star ranks - 24 goals, 24 assists, and was named the Broncos Rookie of the Year.  The same season, he was selected to play in the CHL Top Prospects Game, and scored 2 goals for Team Orr, earning him the Player of the Game award.  He went on to play in the IIHF U18 tournament for Team Canada, where his team earned the gold medal.
This season, the Broncos were 3rd place in Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season, but were knocked out in the 1st round of the playoffs by the Brandon Wheat Kings.  During the season, Eakin was #7 on the list of top scorers in the WHL with an astounding 47 goals and 44 assists.  As a reward, Cody was named to the All-WHL Eastern Conference second team this season.

The main thing that coaches and scouts point out about Cody Eakin is his speed.  He's not terribly big, but what he lacks in height and weight he makes up for in his skating ability.  He's good on the forecheck and effective on the PK, and definitely isn't a selfish player - he sees the ice and his teammates extremely well.  Eakin has said he models his skating after Ottawa's Mike Fisher.  That's a fair assessment, being that Eakin is skilled as a two-way forward, much as Fisher is.  However, Eakin does say that his favorite player is Ovechkin due to his passion for the game - a passion that scouts have seen in Eakin.

His idolization of Ovechkin meant that he was a thrilled little quote machine after being drafted by the Capitals in 2009 in the 3rd round (85th overall).  He told reporters that he'd recently become a Capitals fan, largely for the exciting play of Ovechkin, Semin, and Backstrom.  He said after the draft:
"I'm looking forward to getting there and see the guys. I'm probably going to be a little shell shocked because of those amazing players. I watch the Capitals all the time...It is a good young team and I am excited to go down there."  
He had no idea who would select him getting down the 3rd round, but was excited when the Capitals called his name.  He said, "I wasn't really sure who or where I was going to go. But I am happy and I couldn't ask for a better team."

Signed to an entry-level contract in October 2009, Eakin knew that he was eligible to play with the Hershey Bears once his Swift Current season was over.  But he didn't even really expect to go that far this year.  In a January interview with Japers' Rink, he was asked about how he felt about possibly playing with the Bears this spring.  Eakin responded with:
"Oh, that would be exciting!  ...If I get a phone call and be asked to come up, whether it's to watch or to practice or what have you, it would be an exciting time for me, and I think definitely would be an eye opener for me."
Eakin was called up to the Hershey Bears on March 25, and his first game was in Syracuse against the Crunch on March 31, wearing #34.  He scored his first AHL goal - on his first shot.  He finished the night with a +2.  Eakin's new coach Mark French said that he intends on keeping Eakin in the lineup for a little while, indicating that the organization wanted to take a good look at him.  It seems to be the beginning of a very exciting career for the 18-year-old Eakin.  From the interview with Japers' Rink, he shows that he's very smart about the game and should go far:
I think if you get called up to any team, you gotta play a simple, smart game.  You gotta be reliable player.  You wouldn't expect to go up there and log big minutes.  But the minutes that you are out there -- you gotta take advantage and show that you're smart, reliable, and you can be put on the ice and you don't have to be worried about.

Here is a link to the highlights from Eakin's first AHL game.  Be sure to check out his impeccable positioning on his goal.  The goal comes right off the face-off around the 0:29 mark (thanks Kathryn).