Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tuesday Roundup

Just about a year ago at this time, a young team that hadn't been in the playoffs in a while was gearing up for a first round date with a pretty evenly matched opponent. Led by their Ross (and eventual Hart) Trophy winner, prized rookies, high-scoring blueliner and a veteran forward and some sandpaper picked up at the trade deadline, they promptly got trounced (ok, beaten handily) in the first round.

That team, of course, was the Pittsburgh Penguins, a 105-point squad whose inexperience showed against a more battle-tested Ottawa team, but the reasons Pittsburgh lost went beyond youth.

Will this year's Caps team suffer a similar fate? Let's take a look at some differences (and similarities) between this year's Caps/Flyers series and last year's Pens/Sens match-up.
  • Goaltending. Heading into last year's playoffs, Pens' netminder Marc-Andre Fleury hadn't played in a single NHL playoff game, and he got lit up to the tune of 1-4/3.76/.880 (though, to be fair, Pitt's offense went and hid after Game 2). He was outplayed by Ray Emery, who had 10 games of playoff experience the prior year.

    Cristobal Huet, on the other hand, has a playoff series under his belt (2-4/2.33/.929) already, and it's Martin Biron who will be making his debut on the game's biggest stage.

  • Offense. Pittsburgh was the third-highest scoring team in the regular season last year... but Ottawa was second. Despite the Pens' lethal power-play, the Sens' far superior five-on-five scoring predictably (due to the reduced number of penalties called in the postseason) provided them with an edge.

    Like their Pennsylvania brethren last season, the Flyers had a great power play during the regular season, but the Caps were the better team five-on-five (and, of course, those are season-long, not post-Hanlon numbers).

  • Defense. The Sens gave up fewer goals and had a better penalty kill than the Pens last season.

    This season, the post-Hanlon Caps had a better GAA than the Flyers' season-long mark, but the Flyers had the better penalty kill (which they'll likely need - they were the most penalized team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season).

  • The home stretch. Finally, the Pens finished up the 2006-07 regular season with a 6-3-1 record. The Sens put a wrap on their season with a 6-2-2 mark.

    The Flyers ended this season 7-2-1, and the Caps, well, you know what they did - 9-1-0.
On paper, and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it's easy to see that the Pens had their work cut out for them last year, despite having the same number of points as Ottawa over the 82-game regular season. The Caps simply don't have the same match-up disadvantages in their first-round series with Philly (and they have home-ice, which the Pens did not). That's not to say that they don't face a significant challenge - of course they do. But chalking up Pittsburgh's loss to Ottawa last year to inexperience is a little shallow, analytically, and assuming that the Caps will fold because of their collective youth is just silly.

I will, however, point out this fact: Sergei Fedorov has played in 162 NHL playoff games. The rest of the skaters on the roster? 155 (Donald Brashear 49, Matt Cooke 32, Chris Clark 26, Tom Poti 24, Viktor Kozlov 14, Matt Bradley 10).

Then again, maybe experience is everything. What do I know?

Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:

The news is coming fast and furious, so be sure to check back with the "What We're Reading" sidebar often for all the latest.... Mike Green is an unsung hero.... Eric Fehr is Hockey's Future's 47th-best prospect, and Karl Alzner is #12 on the list.... The Caps are up to sixth in CBS's power rankings. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to Ovie.... Pierre LeBrun says Caps in seven.... Scott Burnside doesn't think it'll take that long.... Neither does David Bastl (whoever he is).... A video game says Flyers in seven.... How nice was it not to give a crap about the Draft Lottery last night?... Vote for Huet's mask.... A great read on faceoffs from the WSJ? WTF?... On this date back in 1993, Sylvain Cote scored his 20th goal of the season making the Caps the first team in NHL history to have three 20-goal scoring blueliners in a season (CoCo would end up with 21 goals, joining Kevin Hatcher (34) and Al Iafrate (25) as 20-goal rearguards).... Also on this date back in 1989, Kelly Miller's overtime goal gave the Caps a 4-3 win and a 2-1 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 3 of the Patrick Division Semifinals and on this date back in 1987, Mike Ridley's game-winner gave the Caps a 4-3 win over the Isles in Game 1 of the Patrick Division Semis.... Finally, one year ago today we lamented an individual statistic (yawn) and thanked you guys for coming out and partying with us (awww).

24 comments:

JP said...

I forgot to mention this in the post, but it's worth passing along - I've heard from multiple sources that Games 1 & 2 were almost entirely sold out before the Pens/Flyers game ended on Sunday, likely meaning that a lot of Flyer fans waiting to see where they'd be playing Game 1 were shut out at the ticket window. Too bad.

Brunella said...

"Sergei Fedorov has played in 162 NHL playoff games..." This is a remarkable number and, despite the significant and long-lasting distress 2 of those 162 games cost me personally in 1998, it makes me feel very cozy.

JP said...

It's a big number, alright - two full regular seasons worth of playoff games. Damn.

ted said...

Boo hoo! Bwakes my wittle heart.

If nothing else, it will be nice to see another complete red out. While it took the band wagoners a while to come back, we'll welcome them any day over the opponents' ilk.

Hooks Orpik said...

As someone who lived through the series you highlighted: the Sens were a more experienced team all around than the Penguins and they were ready for the big-time. You look at the Flyers and a lot of their key players (Richards, Carter, Umberger) are pretty green too. Not to mention Biron is untested in the NHL's 2nd season.

The Caps are largely inexperienced but the more important point might be that this year's Flyer team doesn't compare to how good last year's Ottawa sqaud was.

JP said...

"[T]he more important point might be that this year's Flyer team doesn't compare to how good last year's Ottawa sqaud was."

And that pretty much is my point - that last year's Ottawa team had a lot more than just an experience edge over the Pens when you look at it. No question experience was a factor, but it was far from the only one.

b.orr4 said...

There are a couple of areas that concern me. On special teams, I think Philly has a decided edge. There power play is second in the league and the Caps PK is in the lower third. This could be a reason for inserting Steckel back into the lineup since he's probably our best penalty killer. Watching the Flyers in their last game against Pittsburgh, they seem to be an incredibly undisciplined team so I anticipate a lot of PPs for the Caps. The downside is that the Flyers are a top tier PK team and they had 13 shorties and with Alex on the point that makes me nervous. The other point that concerns me is Philly's balanced scoring. If Schultz and/or Morrisonn can't go, that could be a real problem when Eminger and Erskin are out there. Too bad Pittsburgh was so determined to tank their last game and get Ottawa.

Paul said...

JP, do you know the AHL history between Boudreau's Bears (including many current Caps) and Stevens' Phantoms (including many current Flyers)?

~Mark said...

This will be a series for the ages, and one the Caps can win if they play disciplined hockey. The Flyers are going to try to pound us into submission (OK, that's generally playoff hockey), and take away the shots around the net (and as Brooks Laich says, that's where goals come from). Basically, we need to prepare to pay a price to get those ugly goals and basically force the Flyers into taking stupid penalties. Which, leads me to my next point, that we HAVE TO get more productive on the PP. We have to get dirty, and get ugly. I think when this series is over, and you look back at the stats, the team who has a better PP scoring percentage will also be the winner. To put it another way, the benches in the penalty boxes will remain warm most of the series.

b.orr4 said...

If you're a proponent of violence, then you're going to love this series. I don't think there's any doubt the Flyers are going to try and punish our young players. I'm not worried about Ovechkin because he plays better when he's challenged, but Backstrom, Green and Semin could be in for a rough series. This is where Brash will earn his salary, not to mention Erskine, Bradley and Cooke.

ted said...

@b.orr4

I agree, it's gonna be nasty. I think the Flyers will be trying to bait us into retaliation penalties. As much as the Caps want to stick up for their teammates, they will need to temper that urge with a little self restraint and stay out of the box during key situations. Best revenge is scoring on the PP.

Shaggy said...

All four "analysts" on TSN's playoff preview picked the Caps pretty easily (I use "analysts" loosely because of the four, Pang, Duthie, Milbury, and Mackenzie. only Mac strikes me as completely credible).
Alternately, Vegas has 50:1 odds on the Caps winning the C-c-c-cup. (That was hard.)

dmg said...

I'd have to disagree - I think Backstrom goes to the net strong. I also think Semin and Green run a higher risk of getting hurt than intimidated - neither seems to get intimidated but both carry the puck and skate with their head down too often (though Green has gotten much better from last season). Really the only guy I'd be worried about would be Kozlov. He has the reputation of being able to be thrown off his game by physical play and it's happened a few times this year.

ted said...

@Shaggy:

Who did the monkey pick on that show? I missed it, but I thought one of the analysts said the monkey picked the Flyers. I'd hate to bet against the monkey, but he is just spinning a wheel, after all.

Tyler said...

Let's not get too worried about physical play. The Caps have generally been happy to engage in the physical stuff this year, and have responded well to it. (With one notable exception: that March BOS game.)

But... the place to be concerned about physical play is how it would impact an Eminger-Lepisto D pairing. Those two guys haven't responded well to pressure/physical play when handling the puck.

Paul said...

If we throw out an Eminger-Lepisto D pairing for more than one game, we're in serious trouble.

Is Lepisto really better than Boumedienne? I thought Lepisto looked unprepared for the NHL game in his call-ups, and I can't imagine he will play better against the Flyers in a playoff series.

AJD said...

Lepisto ain't ready for the show yet. If he has to play, it's a problem.

On the plus side, the Phlyers are talking about rolling creaky old Derian Hatcher out for this series, which is the best news I've heard since I don't know when.

The Caps forwards will make him look like a telephone pole as they whiz past him to the net.

b80vin said...

I just hope our guys give 110% 100% of the time, and the Flyers have 50% of their players giving 110% 50% of the time. We could score 100% of our goals 75% of the time if they play 50% of the time giving just 50%. Now let's play some hockey! But let's not play the hockey song.

b80vin said...

And another thing: on that CBS power ranking the Caps are 6 but were previously 14, proving once more that power rankings are done by hockey challenged hacks with oddly-shaped hypthalmusi (Hypothalmuses?).

b80vin said...

Let me add one last thought: as to the sell out, I'd feel better if this town wasn't full of money grubbing opportunists with no sport connection who buy blocks of tickets and sell them for a profit on Stub Hub to whoever wants them. Prior to the Panthers game on Saturday, out of curiosity, I found Eagle's Nest tickets that sell for $10-20 at the box office for $80 a piece, and a pair of lower bowl tickets for $1500. Remember the selling of huge blocks to Detroit businesses during the Stanley Cup? I reiterate my belief that this is a different crowd, but I don't put a lot of faith in the kind of suits we have in this town.

Kim said...

My thoughts exactly regarding the sellout. My husband found at least 500 tickets up for sale on eby. Looks like large chunks of Section 109. I wish that moments like these did not bring out the greed in so many people. First place I am going to look is 109 and see how many Flyers fans are there.

ted said...

I just logged on to Ticket Master and was able to find club level seats available for the first game. Aren't these the seats controlled by Abe Polin's group? Sigh

Look for Black and Orange in the 200s as well.

Brunella said...

"The downside is that the Flyers are a top tier PK team and they had 13 shorties and with Alex on the point that makes me nervous."

Me too. Especially when Ovie cycles down and that leaves the OTHER Alex, with his head down and an urge to dangle, at the point. Yikes.

Scott said...

Did I miss something? Did the redskins change their name to the capitals? What is all this Caps talk!? I don't even have time to read everything...I always have time to read everything...