Tuesday, April 30, 2013

East and South 2013 NFL Draft grades

Now that the 2013 NFL Draft is more than in the books, let's do some draft grades.  I have been given the task of the East teams and the South teams.  There were certainly some surprises in this year's draft and, of course, the obvious picks.  Alright, let's get right into it.

AFC East
Buffalo - eight picks, overall draft grade of B-
The Bills are done with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, need someone to compliment WR Stevie Johnson and S Jairus Byrd and need to add depth all over the field.  They accomplished two of those.
     EJ Manuel, QB - He can run, has a big arm, can take a hit, and allows receivers to go up and get the ball.  Most importantly, he has tremendous character.  After his name was called by Roger Goodell, he stopped his interview to honor the military service members.  Should start Week 1.  Pick grade, A
     Robert Woods, WR - Can catch and run, does well on the sidelines, and can take a hit while catching the ball.  He doesn't make many hand catches though, resorting to catching the ball with his body.  Pick grade, B
     Kiko Alonso, LB - Has a nose for the ball and blitzes well inside.  He can get caught in traffic though, forcing him out of the play and has had two police run-ins.  Pick grade, B
     Marquise Goodwin, WR - Quick between blocks, has return ability, and can track the ball well.  He should play a flex position, switching from the slot to the back field.  Pick grade, C
     Duke Williams, S - A big hitter, can wrap up, has good closing speed.  Between him and Meeks, Buffalo has added some safety depth.  Pick grade, C+
     Jonathan Meeks, S - Has a little speed but needs to be more consistent.  Seems to sit out some plays.  Pick grade, C-
     Dustin Hopkins, K - A power kicker who kicks well in Buffalo type weather.  Pick grade, C+
     Chris Gragg, TE - Has some hops for a TE and speed as well.  Has some health issues.  Pick grade, C-

Miami - nine picks, overall draft grade of C+
The Dolphins are an up and coming team but need a lot to get past the Patriots.  They had holes on the front seven and at DB.  They got that in the draft.  What they didn't get was O-line.
     Dion Jordan, DE - Has some speed, plays with ferocity, does not give up on the play.  Should be a good compliment to Cameron Wake. Pick grade, A
     Jamar Taylor, CB - Plays for the ball and wraps up well.  He also seems to blend into the turf well.  Pick grade, B+
     Dallas Thomas, OG - Should play tackle for Miami, can block down field, and plays well in a passing offense.  He can miss the first level if their not rushing and just continues to the second level.  Pick grade, C+
     Will Davis, CB - He gets his hands up but can get lost on the field.  Pick grade, C+
     Jelani Jenkins, LB - He's short and his size plays against him.  Can get lost in blockers.  Pick grade, C-
     Dion Sims, TE - A big target with no top speed.  Pick grade, C-
     Mike Gillislee, RB - Miami wants him to be Reggie Bush's replacement, he won't be.  Can be a good pass catcher.  Pick grade, C
     Caleb Sturgis, K - Will eventually replace Dan Carpenter.  Was consistent kicking the ball.  Pick grade, C+
     Don Jones, S - Does not have top speed and is better playing over the top.  Pick grade, C

New England - seven picks, overall draft grade of C+
The Patriots have no one at WR except their TEs.  They need a lot of help at DB.  They did get the positions but not the players.
     Jamie Collins, LB - Doesn't have great size, but is quick and can run over the ball carrier.  Looks more like a safety.  Pick grade, B-
     Aaron Dobson, WR - Will be compared to Randy Moss because he can make the spectacular catch.  Is not Randy Moss.  Pick grade, B-
     Logan Ryan, CB - Can tackle but tackles low.  Can give up short yardage all day long and has moderate speed.  Pick grade, C-
     Duron Harmon, S - A big hitter but plays too deep sometimes.  Is not a good blitzer.  Pick grade, C+
     Josh Boyce, WR - Can catch the deep ball and has size of slot player but not the speed.  Pick grade, C+
     Michael Buchanan, DE - Is a leverage player and more of a pass rusher than a run stopper.  Pick grade, C-
     Steve Beauharnais, LB - Plays with brains over talent.  Is a pass rusher.  Pick grade, C-

New York - seven picks, overall draft grade of C+
The Jets need a lot on both sides of the ball.  After cleaning house they need a great draft, and after Dee Milliner they didn't have it.
     Dee Milliner, CB - He's not afraid to lay some lumber, is fast, and watches for the ball.  The man thinks he's the intended receiver.  The Jets have sold Revis Island and drafted Milliner Island.  Pick grade, A+
     Sheldon Richardson, DT - Consistently pressures the QB and sees screens developing.  He can't be double teamed.  Pick grade, B+
     Geno Smith, QB - This is the right spot for him, no QB truly deserved the first round.  He's a scrambler who can put a lot on the ball.  He is very confident and at times reminds me of Brett Favre.  Should start week 1.  Pick grade, B+
     Brian Winters, OT - A strong lineman who gets shoved back entirely too often.  Won't play tackle for Jets.  Pick grade, C+
     Oday Aboushi, OT - He controls his man but can also be pushed back.  Won't play LT like he did in college.  Pick grade, C
     William Campbell, OG - Will play D-line for Jets as their previous two picks were O-line and he did half and half in college.  This is a depth pick so he won't play much.  Pick grade, D+
     Tommy Bohanon, FB - A pass catcher who will play anywhere.  Pick grade C+

NFC South
Atlanta - eight picks, overall draft grade of C
The Falcons don't need much, other than depth.  They did get what they wanted.
     Desmond Trufant, CB - Can play big and has excellent hands.  Can play over zealous. Pick grade, B
     Robert Alford, CB - Looks like the intended receiver most of the time but lacks top speed and size.  Pick grade, C+
     Malliciah Goodman, DE - Great size and can run around the blocker.  Uses the fall down tackle.  Pick grade, C++
     Levine Toilolo, TE - He falls forward when tackled but is a blocking TE, not a catching TE.  Not Tony's replacement.  Pick grade, C-
     Stansly Maponga, DE - A depth pick who won't start anytime soon.  Pick grade, C
     Kemal Ishmael, S - Good at run support and is a good tackler.  Lacks coverage skills.  Pick grade, D+
     Zeke Motta, S - A big hitter who plays zone well.  Will not run down WRs.  Pick grade, C
     Sean Renfree, QB - A depth pick who will grow under Matt Ryan.  Pick grade, C

Carolina - five picks, overall draft grade of C-
The Panthers wasted this draft after they picked Lotulelei.  They needed a lot more than five picks.
     Star Lotulelei, DT - Can get off the block and stays with the play.  A huge anchor for the D-line who has the ability to blow up the play in the back field.  Pick grade, A
     Kawann Short, DT - Plays well against a double team and always pushes his man.  Sometimes just watches the play.  Pick grade, B
     Edmund Kugbila, OG - Could dominate in DII but won't in the NFL.  Has some technique issues but good size. Pick grade, C
     AJ Klein, LB - An old-fashioned LB who plays zone well.  Not very quick though.  Pick grade, C+
     Kenjon Barner, RB - He is quick which means he's not a power runner.  Has return ability.  Pick grade, C

New Orleans - five picks, overall draft grade of C
The Saints were dreadful on defense last year and needed more DB help than they drafted.  This defense hasn't improved much after Vaccaro.
     Kenny Vaccaro, S - A big hitter who finds the ball quickly.  Can rush the QB well playing off the D-line.  A great start to a better defense.  Pick grade, A
     Terron Armstead, OT - Blocks well down field, but doesn't always stay with his man.  Can lose his battle on run plays.  Pick grade, C+
     John Jenkins, DT - Good size and initial burst.  He follows the ball well when he's not swept off his feet.  The double team renders him useless.  Pick grade, C
     Kenny Stills, WR - Has some speed with a long body.  Can play all over the field but won't be a top receiver.  Pick grade, C
     Rufus Johnson, DE - He will take awhile to be good in the NFL.  Pick grade, C-

Tampa Bay - six picks, overall draft grade of C+
The Buccaneers snatched Darrelle Revis from New York and need a compliment.  They have a pretty good offense needing only depth on both sides of the ball.
     Johnthan Banks, CB - A big hitter who uses his hands well and looks for the ball.  Pick grade, B+
     Mike Glennon, QB - Great size and looks like Matt Ryan.  Throws off his back foot too often.  Could replace Freeman if he doesn't have a good season.  Pick grade, B-
     Akeem Spence, DT - Has pursuit ability and can blow up the run play.  Can be taken out of plays and isn't a pass rusher.  Pick grade, C-
     William Gholston, DE - Has long arms and gets them up.  Can destroy plays in the flats.  Pick grade, C++
     Steven Means, LB - Good size but should play DE.  Pick grade, C+
     Mike James, RB - Uses brain over talent but will be a special teams player.  Pick grade, C-

AFC South
Houston - nine picks, overall draft grade of B-
The Texans have finally taken control of Texas and needed players at some key positions.  They got them.
     DeAndre Hopkins, WR - Catches passes through contact and uses good speed variations.  Can turn on the jets and has good initial footwork.  He can jump too.  Pick grade, A
     DJ Swearinger, S - A big hitter who can come up and tackle.  He may be fined often because of his hit style.  Pick grade, B
     Brennan Williams, OT - He can't play the blind side and has trouble against top caliber rushers.  Pick grade, C+
     Sam Montgomery, DE - Has good size and stays with the play.  Has flashes of brilliance.  Pick grade, C++
     Trevardo Williams, DE - Not great size but may fit anyway.  A relentless rusher.  Pick grade, C+
     David Quessenberry, OT - A depth pick who will play OG.  Pick grade, C-
     Alan Bonner, WR - He's not a burner like Hopkins but a possession receiver.  Also a depth pick.  Pick grade, C-
     Christopher Jones, DT - A tough player who shows up every play.  A shorter player who is a depth pick.  Pick grade, C
     Ryan Griffin, TE - Not a big play threat.  He's a possession receiver who needs to develop his blocking.  Pick grade, C-

Indianapolis - seven picks, overall draft grade of C
The Colts made the playoffs last season due to hard work and a lot of Luck.  They needed a better draft to get back.
     Bjoern Werner, DE - Can look like JJ Swat and sheds blockers well.  Still a lot of football experience to have,  Pick grade, B-
     Hugh Thornton, OG - Can play tackle.  Is a bigger O-lineman.  Pick grade, C
     Khalen Holmes, C - Can read the defense but be easily pushed back.  Pick grade, C
     Montori Hughes, DT - He doesn't get consistent pressure but seems to get lucky on some plays.  Pick grade, C-
     John Boyett, S - Has some health issues but is a depth pick.  May start in the future though.  Pick grade, C
     Kerwynn Williams, RB - Not a power runner but has top gear.  He can catch the ball and has return ability.  Pick grade, C
     Justice Cunningham, TE - A blocker who can catch the ball in a crowd.  Is Mr. Irrelevant.  Pick grade, D+

Jacksonville - eight picks, overall draft grade of C+
The Jaguars needed a lot on both sides of the ball.  They shored up LT, but that's about it.
     Luke Joeckel, OT - Has excellent quickness and gets off the defender with great footwork.  Can block down field and take on two defenders.  Has power.  Will play 12+ NFL seasons.  Pick grade, A+
     Johnathan Cyprien, S - A big hitter who knows how to tackle.  Played in Sun Belt.  Pick grade, B
     Dwayne Gratz, CB - Plays smart and finished plays.  Not a flashy corner who gets beat when he has safety over the top.  Pick grade, B
     Ace Sanders, WR - Fast with return ability.  A patient runner.  Pick grade, C+
     Denard Robinson, WR - First WR to catch the deep ball at combine.  Fast with return ability.  No experience.  Pick grade, C+
     Joshua Evans, S - A big hitter who is a depth pick.  Is not a center fielder.  Pick grade, C
     Jeremy Harris, CB - Has speed but needs to bulk up.  Uses hands well.  Pick grade, C-
     Demetrius McCray, CB - No top gear and is a depth pick.  Pick grade, C

Tennessee - eight picks, overall draft grade of C-
The Titans needed an O-line and receivers and some defense.  They got part of the first half.
     Chance Warmack, OG - Has strong arms and is quicker than he looks.  A good pulling guard.  You don't mess with The Belly.  Pick grade, B++
     Justin Hunter, WR - Has good size and speed.  Looks like AJ Green but tries to do too much sometimes.  Pick grade, B+
     Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB - Has long arms and uses them.  Can take some bad angles.  Pick grade, C+
     Zavier Gooden, LB - Has good tackle ability given his size.  Lacks some instincts.  Pick grade, C-
     Brian Schwenke, C - Knows his assignment  but can get pushed aside.  He can get to the second level.  Pick grade, C+
     Lavar Edwards, DE - Has good size and strong hands.  Pick grade, C+
     Khalid Wooten, CB - Has good instincts but not a man defender.  Tackling needs improving.  Pick grade, D
     Daimion Stafford, S - No top speed.  Plays better over the top.  Pick grade, C-

NFC East
Dallas - seven picks, overall draft grade of C
The Cowboys seemed to be out of it during the draft, or maybe just Jerry Jones.  They got some need picks but not the right players.
     Travis Frederick, C - Blocked for record-breaking RB in Montee Ball.  Always seemed to move forward.  A slower O-lineman.  Pick grade, B
     Gavin Escobar, TE - Can create space and is a big target.  Has great hands but needs to improve blocking.  Pick grade, B+
     Terrance Williams, WR - Can put it into high gear.  Not going to get that extra yard but can be an edge run blocker down field.  Pick grade, B
     JJ Wilcox, S - A big hitter who wraps up.  Looks for the ball and uses his hands.  Didn't play top teams in college.  Pick grade, C
     BW Webb, CB - Takes advantage of bad throws and not afraid to tackle.  Has return ability.  Pick grade, C+
     Joseph Randle, RB - A receiver in the back field but not a strong runner.  Pick grade, C+
     DeVonte Holloman, LB - A depth pick that will play special teams.  Pick grade, C-

New York - seven picks, overall draft grade of C+
The Giants need help on both lines, at RB and DB.  They picked okay to start and it went downhill from there.
     Justin Pugh, OT - Can be the lead blocker and is relentless.  Can become flustered and continue after the whistle.  Pick grade, B-
     Johnathan Hankins, DT - A bull rusher who doesn't give up on the play.  Can be double teamed.  Pick Grade, C++
     Damontre Moore, DE - Senses the snap well and has good size.  Can get pushed out of the play.  Pick grade, C+
     Ryan Nassib, QB - Throws well in the rollout and just looks like Eli.  Fires the ball every throw and needs some technique work.  Pick grade, C+
     Cooper Taylor, S - He has an awkward size being too big for S, but not big enough for LB.  Will be backup S.  Pick grade, C
     Eric Herman, OG - A run blocker who plays gritty.  Pick grade, D+
     Michael Cox, RB - Not much experience.  Only a two down back who might be a project player.  Pick grade, D

Philadelphia - eight picks, overall draft grade of C+
The Eagles are now coached by Chip Kelly and  his first draft went well.  He got players that fit his schemes and added depth where they needed it.
     Lane Johnson, OT - Can get down field and takes away the lead rusher.  Can play either side and played fast at Oklahoma which fits Kelly's offense.  Pick grade, A
     Zach Ertz, TE - Can catch the tough ball and doesn't go down easy.  More receiver than blocker.  Pick grade, B+
     Bennie Logan, DT - Can get outside and uses hands well.  Is a bull rusher.  Pick grade, B
     Matt Barkley, QB - Can make reads to change the play.  WRs can catch in stride.  Can escape from pressure but is sometimes oblivious to it.  Pick grade C+
     Earl Wolff, S - Can wrap up and is a big hitter.  Plays centerfield.  Pick grade, C+
     Joe Kruger, DE - Has good size but needs to play lower.  A depth pick.  Pick grade, D+
     Jordan Poyer, CB - Plays the ball but is small and has no top speed.  Pick grade, C
     David King, DE - A run stopper who is a depth pick.  Pick grade, D+

Washington - seven picks, overall draft grade of C
The Redskins needed some DB help and depth on offense.  They may have their DBs and got a couple steals, but not a great draft.
     David Amerson, CB - Tackles bigger than he is and uses his hands well.  Can be beat and plays better in zone.  Pick grade, C+
     Jordan Reed, TE - Not really a TE.  Should play flex but needs to grow at receiving.  Pick grade, C+
     Phillip Thomas, S - Can snag ball from the air and is a big hitter.  Led nation with 8 ints last season.  Pick grade, C++
     Chris Thompson, RB - A speed back who can compliment Alfred Morris.  Health issues let him drop.  Pick grade, C+
     Brandon Jenkins, LB - A pass rusher and a depth pick.  Pick grade, C-
     Bacarri Rambo, S - A nose for the ball but is a depth pick.  May start in the near future.  Pick grade, C+
     Jawan Jamison, RB - No top speed but falls forward when tackled.  Pick grade, C

Well, that's it.  Criticize me if you like.  I'm sure I've made some mistakes but overall it was not a great draft for any team.  We will truly see how well I did by the time September rolls around.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Some Future Outdoor NHL Games We Want to See

Last week, reports broke that the NHL plans to add five more outdoor games to the 2013-14 schedule that take place in Chicago, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and two games in New York. With this decision and the past success of the Winter Classic, one could assume that more open-air NHL games are to come in the near future. Here's a few matchups off the top of my head that I would love to see played.

Detroit vs. Columbus
Ohio Stadium
Opened: 1922
Capacity: 102,329
Columbus is one of the league's most promising up-and-coming teams. With superstar Marian Gaborik and Vezina candidate Sergei Bobrovsky leading the way, the Blue Jackets finally look like a team on their way up. With the University of Michigan getting an outdoor game on their campus in the form of the
2014 Winter Classic, it's only fitting that Buckeye country gets a crack at hockey as well.

Detroit is only about three hours north of Columbus and is sure to draw a crowd where ever they go, making them the perfect team to help Columbus fill the Horseshoe's 102,000 seats. Columbus has been division rivals with Detroit since the team's inception in 2000 (although this will end in 2013-14 with the NHL's planned realignment) and went 4-0 against the Wings this season. If for some reason Detroit can't make the trip, the Pittsburgh Penguins would also be an ideal opponent to play Columbus in Ohio Stadium.

Dallas vs. Minnesota
Target Field
Opened: 2010
Capacity: 39,021 
If there is one city who hasn't hosted an outdoor NHL game and that deserves too, it's Minneapolis... or St. Paul.... well, you get what I mean. When you imagine what these outdoor NHL games might look like, it's hard not too include the frigid weather and hundreds of frozen lakes that Minnesota is famous for. Plain and simple: Minnesota is perfect for an outdoor hockey game.

The state of Minnesota was blessed with watching their Minnesota North Stars form 1967-1993 before owner Norm Green bought the team and moved the Stars to Dallas. Minnesota would be without an NHL team for seven seasons until the NHL announced that Minnesota was awarded an expansion team to begin play in the 2000-01 season. When the NHL first announced their planned division re-alignment starting in the 2013-14 season, the one positive many fans spotted was the possibility of a Dallas-Minnesota division rivalry. What better have to add fuel to the fire then a nationally televised outdoor hockey game?

Chicago vs. St. Louis
Busch Stadium
Opened: 2006
Capacity: 46,861
St. Louis is filled with up-and-coming talent and play very well with head coach Ken Hitchcock's team first style. Combine that with the beauty of Busch Stadium and the Gateway Arch that overlooks the field (or in this case, the rink), and St. Louis has a legitimate case for an outdoor NHL game.

The Blackhawks and Blues have played in the same division since 1970, a fact that will remain true with the NHL's re-alignment. Admittedly, St. Louis isn't the biggest of hockey markets. This season, the Blues are 23rd in attendance in terms of percentage of tickets sold with 94.3%. Not to say that St. Louis can expect to play in front of a half-empty Busch Stadium, but whether or not there are 46,000 people willing to buy NHL tickets in the St. Louis area is unclear. By playing Chicago, one of America's strongest and wide-spread hockey markets, St. Louis would be sure to generate the ticket sales and attention from the media that these outdoor games require.

Montreal vs. Boston
Fenway Park
Opened: 1912
Capacity: 37,400
I'll admit it: Montreal-Boston is, without a doubt, my favorite rivalry in the NHL. Both teams have original six roots and the history that comes with them, both teams are consistently good, and, probably most importantly, both teams are great at finding reasons to hate each other. 

As any fan of both baseball and hockey like myself will attest too, there is just something that would be awesome about watching a hockey game at Fenway. If I had to choose one possible game to take place from this list, this would be it, without a doubt.

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia
Beaver Stadium
Opened: 1960
Capacity: 106,572 
Beaver Stadium, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, is the fourth largest stadium in the world in terms of capacity. State College is conveniently located almost exactly half way between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and would serve as a glorious venue to one of the league's most heated rivalry games.

Edmonton vs. Winnipeg
Investors Group Field 
Opened: June 2013
Capacity:  Approx. 40,000
Since finally witnessing the return of their beloved Jets in 2011, Winnipeg has proven themselves as one of the best hockey cities in the NHL. When the NHL announced that the Atlanta Thrashers would be moving to Winnipeg, fans all over Manitoba pulled out old Jets jerseys from the attic and lined up to purchase tickets. As thing stands now, it is believed that the Jets have already sold out every home game for the next three to five years. 

In June 2013, the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers will unveil their new venue, Investors Group Field. What better place to celebrate hockey in Winnipeg?

I debated with myself about who I would most like to see play Winnipeg in this theoretical match up, but finally decided on the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton is a young, fun-to-watch team that has the potential to have multiple superstars on their roster by the time this match up would take place (January 2015, at the earliest) and once had a bit of a rivalry with Winnipeg in the 90's before the Jets departed to Atlanta. Other viable options include the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes.

Florida vs. Tampa Bay
Local Roller Hockey Rink
Opened:  ???
Capacity: 343, including standing room only tickets
According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, warm cities in Florida and Arizona are the only thing keeping the NHL alive and without them, markets like Toronto and Detroit would crash beneath themselves and the league would be bankrupt within a year. I say, let's take an afternoon to celebrate hockey in these great markets and expose the world to the hockey hot bed (no pun intended) that is Florida. LONG LIVE WARM WEATHER HOCKEY!!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

How the Capitals Can Finally Get Over "The Hump"

On February 7th, the Capitals looked dead in the water. Washington held a 2-8-1 record that placed them dead last in the NHL standings and looked like anything but a team that was one game away from playing for the 2011-12 Eastern Conference Championship. Superstar Alex Ovechkin had only three goals, playoff standout goalie Braden Holtby's play had returned to earth, the PK unit couldn't kill a carnival gold fish, and one quarter of the way through the shortened NHL season, the Capitals season was essentially over.

Ask a Caps fan today though, and they might try to tell you that those days are a life time in the past.

Recently, the Caps have gotten off the schneid and find themselves with a 84% of making the playoffs according to SportsClubStats.com.  Washington has a two point lead in the Southeast Division with four games remaining, Ovechkin has roared back from his early season slump and might be playing the best hockey of his career, Holtby has finally convinced a few people he is in fact the same Braden Holtby who played for the Caps during their playoff run last season, and, once again, D.C. has a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in the Washington Capitals.

But with the Capitals late season run comes the agonizing memories Capitals fans have of their team constantly choking away opportunities in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If the Caps want this years Cup dreams to have a different ending then that of their recent nightmares, here is what needs to be done.

Keep Ovechkin Scoring

As predictable and obvious as this first point is, it doesn't mean that it needs to be left unsaid. I could use this next paragraph pointing out some stats that prove my point, but I'll keep it simple for all of us: this Capitals team only goes as far as Ovechkin takes them.

If the goal every three or four game Ovie that we seen at the beginning of this season shows up,  Washington may as well accept their first round exit graciously and get a head start on the golf season. But, if somehow, someway, the Capitals get the oh-my-god-how-did-he-score-that-goal-it-should-be-illegal-to-have-a-shot-that-nasty Ovie.... the Capitals are serious Cup contenders in the East. Last year, Ovechkin only netted five goals in 14 playoff games.

Get Good Goalie Play

The main difference between recent Stanley Cup Champion teams and their runner-ups seems to be the man between the pipes. When I say this, Johnathan Quick, Tim Thomas, Antti Niemi,  and Chris Osgood should all come to mind. We all know the Caps can out-score anybody more often then not, but what remains a question, is if they can find a consistent-enough net minder to seal the deal.

Holtby played outstanding in the Caps 2012 playoff run finishing with a 1.95 goals against average and .935 save percentage. For the Caps to finally make a deep playoff run, another fantastic outing from Holtby will be mandatory. Holtby has played well this regular season putting up a 20-11 win-loss record and .917 save percentage despite the dreadfully slow start the entire Capitals team suffered.

Play Strong, Tough Hockey

The Capitals are built to play offensive, possession based hockey from head to toe. Washington only has three players in the top 100 hitters in the league (Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks) and give up the 12th most goals per game at 2.77. In a sport where every player transforms himself into the ultimate team player who blocks shots, finishes checks and backchecks as hard as they forecheck come playoff time, the entire Capitals roster will need to buy in and outwork opponents if they hope for a deep playoff run.

Stay Healthy

Unfortunetly for many past Cup contenders, the things that you have the least control over often times are of the most importance, including staying away from the injury bug. Washington's biggest injury this year comes in the form of Brooks Laich (41 pts in 2011-12) who has been limited to only nine games in 2013 due to a lingering groin injury. Other Captials that have dealt with injuries this season include the offensive-blue liner Mike Green (19 pts in 31 games), forward Marcus Johansson (46 pts in 2011-12, currently listed as day-to-day), and defensemen John Erskine (+8 in 26 games).

Injuries will surely strike some where this postseason, the Capitals, like every other playoff team, just have to hope luck is on their side.

Play Discipline

Washington finished the 2010-11 regular season with the second best penalty killing unit in the NHL killing off 85.6% of penalties. That Caps would see that number drop to 81.6% in 2011-12 and now have the third worst PK in the NHL ahead of only Nashville and Florida. Going into the playoffs where games are often decided by one goal, the Capitals number one team priority should be improving the penalty kill. Washington is 14-4 when not giving up a power play goal and have given up two or more power play goals in eight games.

The fact is, Washington's penalty kill unit just isn't all that good and can't expect to see improvement in the playoffs. If the Capitals have any chance of winning the close, hard fought, decided by one bounce of the puck games that the NHL playoffs are famous for, they merely can't afford to take bad penalties.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Healing Process

Sports are and forever will be the greatest healing power ever created. In wake of tragic events, sports represent the return to normalcy. There are many steps in the healing process. The first? Honoring those whose lives were lost. The second? Supporting the families of those lost and those who were injured. The third? Keeping calm and not letting our emotions get the best of us. The fourth? Moving forward. Sports lets us move forward. Our teams play, we watch, thoughts of the victims still in our minds. It reminds us just how great this country can be. We are strongest when faced with tragic events and our country's timeline can prove that. Whether we like it or not, life must go on though. We must move forward and continue our lives, allowing sports to help the process. We will always remember the tragic event and forever honor those lost. Continue your life, "Keep Calm and Carry On". Thoughts and prayers to the great city of Boston.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Pens v. Hawks: Which Streak is More Impressive?

As the shortened 2012-13 NHL season winds down to it's conclusion (most teams will play their 36th out of 48 games this week) the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks sit atop their respective conferences with relatively large cushions between them and the second place team. Both teams wield two of the most impressive streaks in NHL history.

The Blackhawks started the season gaining at least one point in each of their first 24 games, making Chicago the home of the longest point streak to start a season in NHL history. Recently though, an impressive streak in it's own right has been thrown together by the Penguins, who are currently riding a 15 game win streak into April, only two games short of the NHL record of 17 in-a-row. With all this said, one can't help but ask the question: which streak is more impressive?

First, the Blackhawks case. Chicago's streak started on January 19th when they ruined the LA Kings' Stanley Cup celebration with a 5-2 victory to usher in the new season.

The point streak would rage on for six weeks before hitting it's peak on March 3rd in Hockeytown itself, Detroit, Michigan. The 10-8-3 Detroit Red Wings were looking to end their division rivals' streak after losing an early season matchup with the Hawks 2-1 in OT. With all of America and Canada tuned in to the nationally broadcasted showdown, the Hawks barely escaped Detroit with their streak intact. With only 2:02 remaining in the third period and Chicago down 1-0, Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane would finally bury a power play equalizer to keep the point streak alive. Kane would go on to score the only goal of the shootout to earn Chicago the full two points.

After 24 games, the Blackhawks streak would come to an end on March 8th in a 6-2 lose against the Colorado Avalanche. Over the course of the streak, the Hawks would average 2.8 goals and 1.8 goals against per game. It's also worth noting that the Blackhawks point streak included an 11 game win streak and five victories by three goals or more.

As Chicago's streak came to an end, the Penguins were laying down the framework for a streak of their own in western Pennsylvania. On March 2nd, the Penguins defeated the Montreal Canadians 7-6 in OT to snap a two game losing streak. Since then, the Pens have won 14 in-a-row, gone undefeated in the month of March, and now are only two wins away from tieing the NHL's record for longest winning streak at 17 games. With newly acquired veterans Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, and Douglas Murray all in the lineup for Pittsburgh, the Pens look unstoppable.

But, of course, we wouldn't want to make things too easy on Pittsburgh, would we?

As has been the case for most of the streak, injuries to key players could slow the Pens pursuit of history. Going into the Penguins next game against Buffalo on April 2nd, the Pens could be without netminder Marc-Andre Fluery (18-5-0, .918 SV%), defensemen Kris Letang (28 Pts), Paul Martin (6 G, 15 Ast), and after suffering a broken jaw in the Penguins most recent win against the New York Islanders, league-leading scorer Sidney Crosby (15 G, 41 Ast).

If the Penguins defeat the Buffalo Sabres on April 2nd, they will play for the longest win streak in NHL history against the New York Rangers on April 5th.

The Penguins streak has included four shutouts, six wins by two goals or more, and only three games going to overtime, one of which was a shootout victory. If Pittsburgh's streak extends past 17 wins, it would have to go down as the most dominate streak in recent NHL history. Even if the Pens were to drop one of their next few games, it is hard to argue that Pittsburgh has been more dominate over the course of their streak then the Blackhawks were during their run. Sorry Chicago, as impressive as 24 straight games with a point is, the Penguins take this faceoff.