Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Player Is Not the Only Thing Missing from the Capitals

As I'm sure you all heard, the Caps lost 6-0 to the New York Rangers; a team that has struggled to score, and yet found the ability to drop six on Washington. With the trade deadline approaching, many have requested certain pieces and/or players to be implanted into Washington's roster. However, with the way the Caps have played of late, they resemble more of a mess than a team that has a few pieces missing. I realized long ago that this team needed more help than any center, winger, defenseman or veteran goaltender could provide.

When the Capitals started this season, it was noted that they needed 1.) a reliable, stay at home defenseman 2.) a center for their second line 3.) a playoff-experienced, most likely a previous Cup-winning veteran with presence to lead this team. Pieces 1 and 2 were most urgent, and number 3 could be acquired later in the year.

The season progressed, and the Capitals seemed to be struggling offensively. Turns out the struggles were the result of their shift from a high-octane offensive team to a team focused on winning with defense. The Caps acquired Scott Hannan for Tomas Fleischmann in November, crossing one item off their wish list, but the offensive struggles continued and there still was that hole at center.

Fast-forwarding to the 26th of February, two days before the NHL's trade deadline, the Caps still have made no moves toward numbers 2 and 3 on the list of needs. What also remains an issue for Washington is that even if they went out and got said player(s), they still no longer remain favorites to win it all, despite their expectations to do so this year.

So then what else could be wrong even if the team plugs those holes?

Confidence. Trust. Identity.

All of these traits are missing in Washington.

The Capitals have no identity: while they have shifted to a "more defensive" style of play, they continue to try and convince everyone that they have an offensive attack. "Well," I ask, "where is this 'attack'?" The Caps have fallen into this trap of becoming a team that thinks it's playing well defensively, but still it is not winning them games consistently..

Hell, this style of play hasn't even worked against teams that already use this "defensive" style. As the Caps saw with Western Conference teams like the Sharks and Kings, who have bigger players and players used to this system, Washington doesn't match up well to these guys. And even though the Capitals may be "better," it doesn't mean jack when you lose almost every game like this.

There is a line between being "defensively responsible" and "blue collar." The first time I had heard the term blue collar to describe the Capitals was in Mike Hoffman's article about the re-signing of Matt Hendricks. It almost tore my mind apart. While Hendricks is a fan favorite in Washington, and a fantastic addition this season, he is not the entire persona of the team... and he shouldn't be.

Let's get real here: don't tell me you're a "blue collar" city when everybody drives a Bentley. Alex Semin = not blue collar. Alex Ovechkin; not blue collar. Nick Backstrom; not blue collar. This is why you have four lines to play with. You have your cafeteria line, mail room line, all the way to the secretary and office line, to the CEO line. That's what worked for Washington. That's what gave them their swagger and their confidence to play.

So pick one style. No wonder they're such an enigma. They lost their game in an attempt to try to tell me they are something they're not. Glen Sather did not tell Wayne Gretzky to play defense in November. It wasn't until the Stanley Cup playoffs when Gretzky was told to shorten his shifts and work a little more on defense." (I replaced the term "Finals" with "Stanley Cup playoffs. Otherwise, he was encouraged to break his records and play HIS game. When you have such stars on a team, like Ovechkin, you build a team to win around his style.

Which brings us to the next issue: Trust. The fact that head coach Bruce Boudreau could not trust general manager George McPhee to get players for his system that he felt he had to go through this ridiculous game shift is a big problem. There is no trust then from the players in the general manager, and brings questions to the team's real commitment to winning.

Yeah, I said it. Commitment to winning. Even the smallest of moves can make a difference, as The Hockey Writers' Mike Colligan wrote. For the last few weeks, we have been hearing about the trades of Ray Shero, Steve Yzerman, Paul Holmgren, and other GMs of contenders in the East. But how about the small moves that did not even shift the team, but showed an effort to move to win? The San Jose Sharks picked up Kyle Wellwood (fatass or not), Ben Eager, and recently got Ian White via waivers and small trades. In between all of these moves, the Sharks became a team that went from not making the playoffs to possibly winning their division.

Then there are the big splash moves like Shero made to plug the holes his team had, especially in the face of injury. With the Penguins biggest stars like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby out (both possibly for the rest of the year), Shero went out and negotiated his ass off to get the types of players he needed that seemed impossible to get for next to nothing. Not everyone can get the type of moves that he did, but his approach was the right one in seeing what the team needs and going for it. And also finding ways to not give up key pieces even with injuries running rampant.

Timing was key in Steve Yzerman's moves. He made moves during the offseason to build the Lightining around their key stars like Lecavalier, Stamkos, and St. Louis. Yzerman then made a mid season trade to get Dwayne Roloson to take over the goaltending duties. While Roloson may not be the best goalie around, his veteran presence gave the Bolts some breathing room and he's won games for them that they probably would not have won with Mike Smith and Dan Ellis. Last week then, as we move closer to the playoffs, Yzerman gets Eric Brewer, a defenseman who was captain of the St. Louis Blues. A veteran player who also can put sturdy defense in front of Roloson and keep the team focused helps make the Lightning more solid than before. Then, seemingly a touch up move, Stevie Y moves Dan Ellis to the Ducks for Curtis McElhinney in a goalie exchange.

On the Ducks' end of things, it seems as though Jonas Hiller might be out longer than expected, and with McElhinney not working out too well, Ellis and their other option, Ray Emery, will handle the goaltending duties until Hiller can return. Even though these are not top goalies, it's a move that was made for the best available.

McPhee may be working behind the scenes for Monday's deadline, but if players are hearing about these trades going on and every day their team is not involved in the mix of all the teams making moves and winning as a result, it hurts their trust in the team and in the GM. As a GM, you must set your own time table for these deals to get done. McPhee is not Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings, who has the trust of his players that he will get things done (if even need be) and vice versa. Holland has given Detroit championships, and has a team with a pedigree and a reputation... an identity if you will. There is no reason for people to have faith in McPhee because he has done nothing close o what Holland has done for the Red Wings.

Even the most conservative of GMs, Dave Poile of the Nashville Predators went out and got Mike Fisher in a timely manner. While we joke that it had everything to do with Carrie Underwood, in reality, Mike Fisher actually works in Nashville, and Poile even gave up a first rounder for the move. If such a quiet GM made a move like that, it shows the environment that is needed to get the deal done and sometimes, a trade can be made to trade; the same way a coach can get fired just to get things done, or any other kind of move to show what the team wants to do. Right now in Washington, it looks as though the GM doesn't know what he's doing and he will have to come up with the biggest fish of them all, or else he fails.

Finally, this leads into confidence. With all of this falling on the mistakes of the GM of the Caps and the over-pronounced shift in the Caps' play by the coach, the players are the ones who execute these plays and have to have responsibility for their own actions as well.

They look dead. Especially after Friday night's 6-0 loss.

Will there be enough time to tweak the team before the playoffs to return to scoring once the pick up is made by Monday, we don't know. Many have remained passive and have tried to show trust in the Caps' front office to make decisions. Go ahead, get mad. There's no reason to trust them.

If a move is made that turns this team around, I will take everything back that I have said. No problem admitting that. I do not mind admitting being impressed after heavy criticism. If the Caps win without making a move, I can admit being wrong. But if none of the above happens, be prepared for me to rip a new one into the atmosphere. But I'll stay classy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

*Guest Post* Head Injuries: Can't Forget About Them

Since this weekend, much of the hockey world (and anyone else who wished to comment) made a lot of out of Mario Lemieux's comments about the incidents that occurred Friday night during the Pittsburgh Penguins/New York Islanders game. A series of fights, brawls, and bench-leaping resulted in a few suspensions and fines from the NHL.

However, the most pressing issue until Friday was the topic of headshots and concussions. While le
Magnifique stresses the safety of players as a result of all-out brawls like Friday's game, the NHL cannot forget that it has this situation to take care of primarily.

So for my second guest post, I had Vinod Venugopalan (We can call him "V"), a medical researcher from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University, shed some light from a medical perspective. I thought this was important because we hear too much from people who don't know a thing about concussions, and what better way is there to discuss the real implications of concussions than to hear it from a guy with experience in the field. He's also a Montreal Canadiens fan, so he understands from a fan perspective as well on head injuries.

Hope you enjoy and learn a bit!

First, I’d like to thank Angie for graciously giving me space on her blog to air my opinion on an issue that I feel very strongly about. My name is Vinod Venugopalan. I’m a medical researcher at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The recent rash of concussions in the NHL is a definite cause for concern.

The loss of Sidney Crosby, Marc Savard and several others due to head injuries has prompted the NHL to re-think its policy regarding hits to the head. However, to date, the NHL’s response to the sharp increases in the number of head-injuries has been woefully inadequate and poorly reasoned. The NHL has determined that the rise in head injuries can be curbed by increasing the severity of disciplinary action against head shot offenders. What seems to be missing in their consideration of this issue is how to limit the concussions from occurring at all.

What Is A Concussion?

I think it’s important to start with a definition of what a concussion is, and what causes them. First, concussions are brain injuries resulting from a force that causes the head to snap violently. This force in turn causes the brain to move within the skull and scrape along its jagged edges to cause a brief (ranging from seconds to minutes) loss of consciousness. More alarming is that it becomes easier to become concussed the next time and the time after that. In other words once concussed, the brain is never the same.

What's wrong with what the NHL does now?

One main issue regarding how the NHL deals with concussions is that the average team medical staff is not trained effectively to recognize symptoms of concussions: Headaches, dizziness, inability to concentrate, vision, hearing sensitivity, anxiety and depressed mood are all signs of a concussion.

Case in point: Sidney Crosby has yet to return to action as a result of two seemingly innocuous hits to the head, the first by Dave Steckel during the Winter Classic and the second by Victor Hedman of the Lightning. What concerns me more as a medical scientist and clinician is not the Steckel hit on Crosby, which appeared to be accidental, but that the Penguins medical and training staff put him back on the ice after appearing dazed during a second period interview. Moreover, he was allowed to play the next game when he was injured again in a collision with Victor Hedman of the Lightning. Did the training staff not recognize that he was concussed? And if not, why not?

One of the great obstacles in evaluating the extent of brain injury following a concussion is that present brain imaging technology lacks the requisite resolution to detect brain damage caused by concussion. One improvement over the years in analyzing head injuries are new brain imaging techniques are making great headway in being able to detect microscopic injury, the type of injury caused by concussions. A recent a study on concussed athletes suffering from post-concussion depression found functional abnormalities in the frontal lobes of the brain. Five years ago this type of information that ago was not available to the medical community.

Most players who have had concussion problems have had them since they were younger. To my knowledge, there are no comprehensive programs in place at the junior and minor hockey levels that test every player for head injury. This is the ideal place to start. Neuropsychological testing (or testing of cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, verbal reasoning and planning) can and should be assessed in every player from Midget onward. This data should be recorded in a medical database and used for future reference. Players should be tested at least twice a year and flagged for more extensive testing if there are performance decrements from one testing period to another. This type of continuous follow-up will help to detect or at the very least manage these head injuries more effectively.

Revisiting the Crosby case, my first impression is that Sidney Crosby was concussed much earlier in his career, perhaps as far back as his days in QMJHL. I suspect that a great percentage of players come to the NHL with un-reported head injuries. Part of the responsibility lies with the player who is reluctant to tell the trainer he’s hurt for of fear of losing ice-time, his job, draftability, or just simply appearing weak. In a game whose very ethos is defined by resilience and toughness, admitting weakness is career suicide.

In an interview with Eric Duhatschek of Globe and Mail, Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Minnesota Wild who missed more than a year after sustaining back-to-back concussions talked about how difficult it was as a player to overcome the natural urge to compete and block out any obstacle to playing. “As hockey players, we don’t like to miss games,” said Bouchard. “You think you can play through it. You think you’ll be able to get rid of it the next few days - and you might. But if you get hit again, there’s that danger - that you could get an even bigger concussion." That is exactly what happened to Bouchard.

There are ways, however, to prevent or manage head injuries.

Concussion Prevention

In order to prevent and diagnose head injuries, early detection is key. The NHL should make use of new technology to have every individual brain-scanned before entering the league and scanned a minimum of twice a year, and collect data on the incidence of concussion. The more information we have at our disposal, the better we can use this data to inform NHL policy regarding head injuries.

Once we have this information, it is important to educate all NHL players and staff about what concussions are and the real-life implications of head injuries. It is this way that the players will be more aware of the dangers they are subject to on the ice on both the giving and receiving end of hits.

In Conclusion...

Hockey is a game of hitting and contact; that will never change. As a fan, I do not want it to change. It’s a big reason why many of us watch the game in the first place. That said, I think it’s time for the NHL to change tack. Instead of trying to legislate hits to the head, it must shift its priorities to prevention through the methods explained: education, early detection, and technology.

If you would like to contact Vinod directly, feel free to send your questions or comments (or fan mail) to:

Montreal Neurological Insitute Room 276
3801 University #276
Montreal, QC, Canada
H3A 2B4

or you can just simply email him at vinven55@hotmail.com.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Malkin's Out... Again #injuryninja

So I'm convinced the Hockey Gods (or the #injuryninja as @TheProgramBTR calls it) have decided to just curse all the league's favorite people: Alex Ovechkin JUST hit 20 goals last night, as a result the NHL would probably kill us with Sidney Crosby news -- except he's been out with a concussion he received in the Winter Classic and is still out to date, and now Evgeni Malkin is out, again.

Malkin had been dealing with a knee injury at the start of the season and was unable to play for Pittsburgh until later in the year. He finally returned and slowly found his scoring touch, until just before the All-Star Break, he had a sinus infection that kept him out for five games and the All-Star Game. Nonetheless, he returned after the break and played last night against the Buffalo Sabres.

According to an eye-witness account I received, Malkin hit the boards standing, until Tyler Myers fell onto Malkins knee. The way it bent, she said, he looked as though he tore his MCL.

Lo-and-behold this morning, Malkin was slated to be out for the rest of the year with a torn MCL AND ACL. ESPN's Pierre Lebrun on Twitter said his sources say the recovery time for Malkin after surgery would be six months. So all in all, Malkin will be out for the rest of the year.

The Penguins, who are currently three points behind the Flyers, can choose to deal with their struggles and call it a year, or go for someone at the trade deadline. Their injuries, especially to their centers, pose the option of going after Brad Richards from the Dallas Stars. Not that I have any inside information on any talks between the two teams, but because Dallas' uncertainty in being able to re-sign Richards and a having a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup, it is a viable possibility.

In the coming days, I will have a guest-post from medical researcher, Vinod Venugopalan, on concussions and Crosby's career options. You won't want to miss the opportunity to hear from not a know-it-all sports journalist, but an actual medical source on such a serious issue for the NHL.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Next Live Chat Coming Soon!

(for those who missed out pucking with me last night). I hosted a live chat last night for the Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens game for LiveHockeyChat.com. I just wanted to thank all those who joined in and talked hockey and watched the Caps lose 3-2 in the shootout with me.

Even more, thanks to Hulk Hogan (I kid you not, someone signed in and gave a Hulkster impersonation all night. Was quite humourous), who referred to Brian Gionta, who had 2 goals and the shootout winner for the Habs, as Hornswoggle. If you do not know who Hornswoggle is, you can look him up and it will make all the sense in the world. If you do, fellow wrestling fans, laugh on.

I certainly want to do another live chat soon. Monday, March 7th when the Caps face the Tampa Bay Lightning on the road is one date I have in mind. Wednesday, March 16th when the Detroit Red Wings host the Caps, is another time I'd like to host a chat. If the selected dates go well enough, I would consider making them more frequent and pretty regularly.

Hell, I'm not opposed to hosting live chats featuring other games either, as I realize that not everyone is a Caps fan, and I love watching other games, too. So if there are any recommendations for a game you would like me to host a chat for, feel free to comment on here, or find me on Twitter (@LadyHatTrick). I'll puck with any team out there.

Also, if you are interested in being a guest-poster, please email me at lewisa@washpost.com.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hockey Markets and their Successes - GUEST-POST

This past weekend was my birthday (January 15th) and one of my Twitter followers, Shannon Caulfield (@Shannybaby99) stepped up to be All We Do Is Puck's first guest-post.

She focused on the idea of hockey markets and what could help certain markets succeed and looked into some teams' progress thus far in the NHL. Albeit, it is a large topic to focus on, but I thought she did a pretty good job of helping folks scratch the surface on the issue.

*These are strictly the guest-poster's views*

~Hockey is a beloved sport across the nation and throughout North America but it is obvious the difference teams across North America posses. The popularity of the markets, players, and how success plays a major role in revenue is relevant in the success of the league.

My curiosity lies within the location and management of specific teams. How big of a difference would their success be if they originally started in the East or were moved to a better market? Has the popularity increased/decreased after finding success in a cup run? Where is the correlation between success and a good fiscal year for teams?

According to ESPN.com the team in 2010-2011 with the highest attendance is the Montreal Canadiens with an average of 21,273 attendees per game. The second and third highest in attendance lie with the previous Stanley Cup Champs and runner up respectively the Chicago Blackhawks 21,231 and Philadelphia Flyers 19,594. Next two are the Maple Leafs 19,317, the always successful and original six hockey club the Red Wings with 19,275, the Blues hold 7, Canucks 8, Capitals 9, Sabres round out top ten and Pittsburgh Penguins 11 with 18,212. Three of those teams lie in the Western Conference with winning titles and successful players.

At the bottom of the list? The teams that just can’t get a break are ones and can’t spark a consistent interest with fans begin with the Panthers at 22nd, 23 Avalanche, 24 Stars, 25 Ducks, 26 Devils, 27 Blue Jackets, 28 Thrashers, 29 Coyotes who draw approximately 10,282 and finally the ever-struggling Islanders with 9,692.

Unfortunately for these markets these teams have experienced poor upper-management and ownership ultimately has led to some of this downfall, specifically with the Atlanta who has experienced what it is like to be the product of poorly ran upper management.

After the 2010 season Atlanta cleaned house and is looking up as far as success is concerned. They promoted Don Waddell to President of Hockey Operations, formerly serving as interim coach and GM and the Assistant GM Rick Dudley was then moved to the leadership position of GM. Former Assistant Coach of the Boston Bruins Craig Ramsay was named head coach. Dudley spared no time when it came to the players and quickly got to business trading for Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, defensive powerhouse Dustin Byfuglien. Atlanta is top ten currently overall in the league which is a world of a difference when they finished last season ranked at 23rd. They can give the Southeast Division a run for their money as they are only six behind Tampa Bay and Washington who are tied for 51 points.

The Thrashers’ revenue averages $65 million per year and rank under Washington at 27 according to fromtherink.com and Forbes magazine. They brought in a mere $59 million in the 03-04 season and saw a great deal of improvement just a few years later bringing in $70 million in 2008. What does that mean for Atlanta? With the big(ger) ticket names and recent Stanley Cup winners gracing the roster? Increased interest means increased revenue and a bigger shot at remaining in their market.

It’s no shock that the Toronto Maple Leafs hold the current number one spot on the aforementioned Forbes list averaging revenue of a staggering $134 million. Despite their consistent lack of winning Their fans are unwavering in their support for the Ontario based team. Second is the Rangers with $122 and third is Montreal with an average of $107 million dollars in revenue not a shock either, New York City is the largest populated city in the U.S.

Pittsburgh is ranked low on the Forbes list at 23, they brought in approximately $52 million 03-04 and by 07-08 the year they began to see significant success; they had brought in coincidentally $87 million, (but cool). Pittsburgh had the highest percent increase at 67.31% the next highest belongs to Anaheim with a 66.67% increase and bringing in $90 million in revenue in 2008 the year following their Cup win. The next highest percent increase lies with the team from the Garden State starting with a $61 million in 03-04 to bringing in $97 million in the 07-08 season.

Colorado had the biggest percent decrease within the five-season span surveyed. They were down -8.08% while remained ranked at number 9 for bringing in the most revenue. The second team ranked in the negatives, also rounding out the top ten, was Tampa Bay who’s average was $85 million but down -4.55% over the five year period. Third who was down in the negatives and also in the top ten was the Philadelphia Flyers who are ranked sixth on the Forbes list average approximately $96 million and found themselves -3.77% percent.

Despite the rankings according to Forbes over this five year period; I can’t help but be aware of the success of these teams at the current time. The Flyers are seeing sellout crowds due to their recent Cup run against the Blackhawks and are currently going between first and second in the league and the consistent passionate support of their fans. It’s no secret in sports that Philadelphia has some of the scariest passionate fans in the country. The Flyers success has only fueled the fire of the passionate fans.

Colorado has not only recently picked up Matt Duchene but has seen some recent success and have been fluctuating with their current rank of 16. Colorado finished last year in the top 12 and clinched a playoff spot. They saw some spotlight with goalie Craig Anderson and his unbelievable go-around during the playoffs. Unfortunately for the franchise, the fans only seem to want to fill the stadium during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The other team in the negatives was Tampa Bay who saw the 25th rank at the end of their season, one of their forwards Steven Stamkos brought a lot of press to the team tying with superstar Sidney Crosby for most goals in a season and co-winning the Rocket Richard trophy. In this ‘10-‘11 season they are on fire and round out the top 5 in the league. They recently picked up Flyer veteran Simon Gagne; Stamkos and St Louis are seeing success with 57 and 53 points respectively they’re proving their success. I recently had the pleasure of experiencing a Lightning game in Tampa Bay and there was a decent, loud crowd. The more the team sees success (they pulled in first in the Southeast Division that specific game) the more fans and support they can garner and a positive increase in revenue as things take off.

What can the NHL do as a whole then to generate more fans and a higher success rate for the teams drawing poor crowds? We can’t blame the economy for everything, especially when Detroit ranks in the top 10. The NHL should carefully take a look at locations that contain more rinks per-capita, as well as the favorable opinions of ice hockey in various cities with high interest in a professional team. Money and cost of hosting these teams are a huge factor, as well as the promise of generating enough revenue to keep the teams.

What about a starting point for these new locations? Look into successful NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey, the successful clubs not only draw the attention of fans enough to sell out crowds nearly nightly but they also contain a number of players who will soon make the transition of collegiate athlete to pro-athlete. North Dakota could be promising as well as Maine (especially with its close proximity to Canada). There has been talk of moving a team back to Winnipeg; how will that play out? As of now, it’s just rumors.

Other things to consider: the NFL. There are huge, very serious allegations insinuating a lockout. While this news is disheartening to football fans nationwide, there lies the opportunity to give the NHL the financial boost it needs. Unfortunately for football fans there are no other football outlets for them to get excited about.

However, during this pending lockout, there are options for football fans: sports that start around the same time, like ice hockey and basketball. This gives each sport a fair shot at new fans and a new interest in what each has to offer. These fans did show excitement during the Olympics, and especially after the 24/7 HBO series, the spotlight on hockey seems to have gotten brighter with lockout implications in other sports. When fans of these other outlets have their sports taken away, they will have the opportunity to further explore the idea of hockey -- Just something to take into consideration in the very near future.

Success is ever important to the NHL between the success of teams and players. The NHL is creating new ways to bring positive attention to the league, such as the 2011 NHL Winter Classic and hyping up its biggest superstars. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have brought attention the Capitals-Penguins matchup at Heinz field brought in 4.5 million viewers, the highest of their matchups thus far (the two still have two more matches to go this year). This Winter Classic had a 10% increase in viewers from all the others according to thehockeysuit.com.

These are all signs of an increased interest in and what the league has to offer to new fans. With the better stars, fresh ideas for fans, young stars the league is consistently recruiting, there is more attention brought on to the NHL. The franchises pull in fans and will have greater revenue each fiscal year. Fresh, innovative and exciting ideas involving fans give an enhanced chance to each franchise respectively for the most success attainable for the NHL. ~

If you have interest in being a future guest-poster, email me at lewisa@washpost.com with your potential topic and approach.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

LiveHockeyChat.com: a place to talk about pucking while you puck

Hey! You... yes, [insert your name, reader]. You see that ad up there above this post? You should click it every once in a while. It goes to this pretty cool site that I plan to use soon to talk hockey live during games.

As you all know, all I do on here is puck and talk about pucking. While I enjoy talking about hockey on my Twitter feed though, I would enjoy it much more if I was in constant conversation about it with other people. I mean, I know I'm not the only one who likes to talk pucking, so I would like folks to join me. I love to hear the trash talk go back-and-forth in real-time. I feel like trash talk is more effective that way anyway.

I plan on chatting on LiveHockeyChat.com on Monday, February 1 when the Washington Capitals faceoff at home against the Montreal Canadiens. It would be totally awesome too if I could have some of you all join me in discussion. It should be fun, for sure.

Of course, I understand that not all my readers are Caps or Habs fans, so guess what: you have the option of going to OTHER games as well. How convenient! You can choose which game you'd like to join a chat in. On a given day, there is one chat room that is open and started for each game 30 minutes before each game respectively, and then the chat room will close 30 minutes after the game is finished -- you know, so you can talk about how awesome or how terrible that puck session was.

So how do you start talking with me about hockey on the site? Since I've dearly asked you to join discussion with me then, you can either create a username and password and confirm your email address.

And if you happen to like other sports, like futbol, American football, college sports, baseball, basketball, squash... you can use the same account username & password that is used on http://www.LiveHockeyChat.com for the rest of them.

Hope you also find time to visit The Hockey Writers' new forum soon as well. Lots of good topics. And don't be shy! You can start a topic, too!

Hope to see you all February 1! Until then, enjoy the NHL All-Star Game (and don't focus too much on the snubs -- they've got next year for sure).

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Climbing a Hill(er) to look at the Stars: A Tale of Two Teams on the Rise... and some shamless plugs

After an eleventh and twelfth place finish last season in the Western Conference respectively, the Dallas Stars and the Anaheim Ducks are third and fifth in the West.

In the beginning of the year, one would have them in the lower portion of the Pacific Division, while the LA Kings and San Jose Sharks would be able to reign freely on top. However, ironically, if the playoffs were to start today, the Kings would just barely be in the eighth place spot and the Sharks would not be in the playoffs, sitting in twelfth place like the Ducks last year.

Giving the Stars Some Shine

Of course, as always at this time of the year the two conferences are quite jumbled up and the Kings and Sharks are behind the Ducks by only three points; however, aside from the Sharks and the Kings underachieving, the Stars have received help on all ends.

The Stars have seen stellar seasons from Brad Richards with 49 points through 43 games and Lou Eriksson just behind Richards with 46 points. Not to mention, they have Kari Letohnen and Andrew Raycroft, surprisingly, have worked well together, combining for a 2.33 GAA and a .924 save percentage for Dallas. Now with the old-new addition of Jamie Langenbrunner who was absolutely miserable in [Hell] New Jersey, the Stars look to add more scoring to give them more of an offensive attack.

This is just a notice, look out for them. The Minnesota Wild beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0 last night, and got their butts whopped by the same score tonight by the Dallas Stars.

The Anaheim Hillers

Anaheim may not have much offense (even less now that Ryan Getzlaf has been out for a significant length of time because of injury) and the Ducks have a hard time keeping opponents out of their zone. That, however, hasn't stopped their goalie Jonas Hiller from being unstoppable in net.

Hiller completed his second consecutive shutout tonight against the Sharks in a 37-save performance. Through the two shutouts, Hiller stopped 80 shots. In fact, according to Jim Neveau's piece for The Hockey Writers about the Blackhawks and the Ducks game, he states that:
"...the Ducks currently are allowing the most shots per game of any squad in the league, with 34.6 pucks per game finding their way through the defense and onto the net."

Of course, this is telling that his defense won't do much to protect him, and it is possible that after sometime, Hiller could crack. But for now, it does not seem so.

With the Ducks in fourth place after tonight's win, it's not impossible to see them in a playoff spot come the end of the year. But as mentioned before, the conferences are packed tightly at this point in the season, and three points separate the fourth seed from the eleventh seed in the Western Conference. It would depend on if Anaheim is able to find any kind of scoring when Getzlaf returns and if somebody learns to block shots before Hiller wears down. Riding on a hot goalie can only take a team so far, as we saw last year with Montreal, who lost in the conference finals to the Flyers, who had a much more complete attack.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For Shamless Plug time, I did a few more spots on radio this week. January 6th, I was a busy woman appearing on two shows.

The first was a second appearance on Rink Side Rants with Tim Redinger and Frank Rekas. Here I recapped the Winter Classic, my experience at the Winter Classic and a few other "shenanigans" in the NHL, including my learning about the NHL Guardian Project.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rinksiderants/2011/01/07/rink-side-rants-happy-new-year

Shortly thereafter, I joined Gabriel Morency on Sports Rage to talk more Capitals and post-Winter Classic consequences for both the Caps and Penguins. Was rather impressed, as I learned that folks in Canada do their homework on hockey and don't hang on to yesterday's news about teams (like no "Caps struggling" questions).










I was on one more show tonight, Game Points with Matthew Ross on The Team 990 from Montreal to talk, yes, more Capitals, and my biggest surprises in the NHL this year. No link right now, but I'll see if I can get you guys one.

Pucking this much has never made me happier.....

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The 2011 Winter Classic - AWESOME

Hey puckers! I'm back in Washington, DC after spending most of the past week in Pittsburgh for the final leg of coverage of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. As the Washington Capitals correspondent for The Hockey Writers, I received credentials to go cover the event and traveled to Pittsburgh to take advantage of my position to give you all the best coverage possible.

I just have to say off the bat that the whole thing was fantastic. From the first day I got there, from getting booed coming off the plane in Pittsburgh because I had on my red scarf and red Winter Classic t-shirt, to going to Quaker Steak & Lube for a 22 ounce Yuengling and some awesome wings, I totally was eating up all of my early experiences in the Steel City.

I got about one hour of sleep before the alumni game the following morning, as it started at 9:30 a.m., and then met up to drive into 45-minute traffic on the bridge to the Caps and Pens alumni game. I completely enjoyed watching Jay Caufield from the Pens' squad drop down and block a shot late in the game. However, nothing was cooler in the alumni game than watching former Capital Peter Bondra get the game-tying goal for a 5-5 final. Even better? Going down and interviewing him. I'm sure he doesn't remember a twelve-year-old me, asking for an autograph, but it was definitely a flashback in time for me there. Of course, though, I kept the journalist hat on and did my job.

It was New Year's Eve on the same day of the alumni game, and since the main event on New Year's Day was moved to 8 p.m. because of the weather, I decided to take advantage of some extra time, as I wasn't due to write again until after the game. So I hit up one of my sources and found a cool little house party to go to. It was here where I learned that some of the people from Pittsburgh, even the Penguins fans, although disappointed that I grew up a Caps fan from DC, were pretty cool and open to discussion. Certainly not as bitter and as mean as I remembered them from my childhood...

I finally got a few more hours of sleep, and then woke up to Winter Classic coverage. All day long, NBC showed clips of past Winter Classics, along with discussion about the Caps and Penguins. It was really awesome, even though I think they got so much wrong about the focus of the game i.e. setting things up for failure by hyping up Sid/Ovie more than 100 times. I knew I'd do the game justice whatever the outcome was anyway.

With the stadium lights on, 65,111 fans in hockey jerseys filling the stands, the noise, and the importance of the game, the setting for Winter Classic was complete. The playoff and borderline Super Bowl atmosphere matched the the hype associated with this grandiose event all for a regular season game. I couldn't tell you how unreal it was to see that many Caps and Penguins fans get together for a regular season game, and how pretty the view was. I was already proud to be covering such a proud moment for hockey fans and the game.

The game itself ended up living up to the intensity as well. John Erskine and Michael Rupp fought in the first period, the puck sloshed on the wet ice from the rain that began to pour about mid-way through the game, and even though the ice quality was poor both teams still found opportunities to buzz around the net at times. All of this was way cool, even as Ovechkin and Crosby did not score a point. Unfortunately, the mainstream media, as well as fans who were told to expect big numbers in the game, will look at that as a failure. But for hockey fans and anyone that knows better, this game was a solid one (no pun intended) and the Caps earned the 3-1 victory and the two points.

I typed up my post-game article after going down to the locker and news conference rooms to grab interviews, and didn't get done until about 1 or 1:30 in the morning. After that, I took my last trip into Pittsburgh debauchery and had another great time.

Finally today, I helped out freelancer Mike Asti with a Winter Classic recap video and passed the time before my 6:30 p.m. (that became a 7:10 p.m.) flight. The video was definitely a great way to cap off the trip, talking about probably the most exciting events I have ever covered as a young hockey writer with NHL credentials. I definitely will consider going to future Winter Classics and covering them, and now we know that The Hockey Writers have a positive reputation with the NHL!

... Oh yeah, my awesomeness didn't end there though: on my flight back to DC as we entered into the terminal to board the plane, I saw a pack of Caps fans in front of me, and I said, loudly, "Let's Go Caps!" Soon enough, we had a short burst of "Lets Go Caps!" and "C-A-P-S, Caps, Caps, Caps!" chants to go around. Even better, unlike my first flight where I sat behind a whole family of Penguins fans, I sat next to a Caps fan, who was extremely knowledgeable and could relate to everything I was saying about the team's past. It was pretty fun to talk hockey with a fan, especially the group of guys that joined my Caps chants being entirely belligerent all the way in the back. Nonetheless, it was great, and my trip proved to be worthwhile from top to bottom, all the way down to my plane ride home.

Talking with NHL media personalities and writers that I've read growing up, networking and meeting other writers, sort of bonding with the DC folks that give great coverage on the Capitals regularly, and making some friends was an added bonus to the fun

So I'm going to sleep for a few hours, because just like the Caps and Pens, I have to go right back to work, right away...

*All photos were taken by The Hockey Writers own Tom Turk*
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