Sunday, August 22, 2010

The King hath returned.

I've been catching a belly full of Hell from my fellow blogettes recently. And fair enough, it has been some time since I last posted. But it's the summer and the NHL doesn't have as much going on. Plus, my usual blogging computer was limited in the services it offered which didn't afford me convenient blogging opportunities.

Well, for now, those days are over. So let's make fun of someone.

You know it’s nearly August when Max Talbot saying he hates Alex Ovechkin before calling him a “real douche” while on Pittsburgh radio to promote the Winter Classic gets more publicity than the fact the Pens and Caps will actually play the Winter Classic Jan. 1 at Heinz Field. But that’s the way things go during the dog days of summer in NHL Land.

::panting:: Trying to...catch my....breath...from that....run-on sentence. Whew. Ok, yeah. First sign of nearly August: Max Talbot is on the radio.

So Talbot has added some fuel to what is essentially the best recent rivalry in hockey. But the question is which is the better team? In my mind there’s one clear answer: Pittsburgh.

Sure, there's an argument to be had there. It goes something along the lines of more depth, especially defensively. And, yes, I'll even say better goaltending.

Obviously Washington can boast oodles of talent – you don’t win the Presidents’ Trophy by eight points and score 45 more goals than the next best team without good players. But a loss to the Pens in Round 2 of the 2009 playoffs and an ouster at the hands of Montreal in the opening round last April proved the Capitals vulnerable.

And then Pittsburgh showed their veteran poise and captaincy and leadership and grit and heart and hustle and grind and eye-fire and eye-look and North American and put the whooping on Montreal in the very next round.

Also, what a blowout series that was in 09, too. I bet if they played game 7 in 2009 over and over and over again, Pittsburgh would always win. You think anything can happen in game 7?! That isn't why they play the game.

While Pittsburgh did lose to those same Canadiens one round later last May, the Pens also have a run to the 2008 Cup final and the 2009 Cup itself under their collective belt, no small feat in this day and age of NHL parity.

Why, pray tell, mention the Montreal series at all? It doesn't help your argument, which I may've mentioned earlier (I can't recall), and then you openly admit it.

And it took Pittsburgh 3 consecutive seasons of playoff qualification to win the Cup. Last year was Washington's third, so I guess they are a year behind the curve. I understand they lack a deep playoff run in "this day and age of NHL parity" but how much parity is there really? There are more teams than 15, 25, 50 years ago. With 6 teams and a lopsided system for obtaining amateur players, yeah, there might be some imbalance.

Pittsburgh, of course, has one or two talented players itself. But the Penguins’ post-season successes have steeled them to the rigors of hockey in springtime; they know how to win when it counts. Run ’n Gun will get you far in the regular season, but playoff hockey is a game unto itself. And the Caps have yet to learn how to play it.

How about explaining why? No? Yeah, fuck that. All you have said thus far, Mr. Grigg, is that Pittsburgh wins in the very shortened post-season and Washington does not. Is that your argument as to why the Penguins are a better team? That's wafer thin, sir. Or this is a monumentally long set up to the evidence. I'm biting my nails with anticipation.

Now, this may be Washington’s year. This could be the season Ovechkin’s sublime skills net him more than just the individual accolades he’s become accustomed to. This could be the year Alexander Semin starts going to the net and Mike Green remembers he’s a defenseman. But I don’t think so. Although Washington is still a team to beat in the East, Pittsburgh is the team to beat.

Sven: John Grigg, will this be Washington's year?
JG:This may be Washington’s year.
Sven: Oh, you think so?
JG: But I don’t think so.
Sven: Why not?
JG: But I don’t think so.
Sven:: Wait. You don't think so or you don't think you don't think so?
JG:: Washington is a team to beat.
Sven:: Well, uh, yeah, I guess. As are the Ducks, Thrashers, Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Hurricanes, Blackhawks, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Stars, Red Wings, Oilers, Panthers, Kings, Faygosota Wild berry, Canadiens, Edmont-accidently-still-a-team Oilers, Devils, Rangers, Islanders, Flyers, Coyotes, Blades of Steel, The Landfill, Here a team, there a team, everywhere a team team, Rossman Health Care, KOYO Heat, Kyoto Heat, MSE, My Fist Your Face, LAGNAF, Salon Joelle, Rob Deer Pro Shop, Honky Tonk Badonkadonk, and the Penguins.
JG:: The Penguins are the team to beat.
Sven: You might be dumb.

Sorry, Caps fans. But the team you watched wilt under pressure in the post-season – the one that refused to go to the hard areas of the ice and fired volley after volley from the outside – is the same one GM George McPhee, so far, has on the 2010-11 menu. And that despite more than $5 million in cap space to play with.

First off, we don't know if Washington has a self-imposed salary cap. No one is looking at Atlanta and saying, "C'mon, you dumbass bums. You've got over $22 MILLION in cap space! Sign everyone!" We might assume that Washington has a limit, but then we make an ass out of John Grigg.

Also, again, we saw Pittsburgh "wilt under pressure" as well. Having 2 games to eliminate the daunting physical presence of the oversized Montreal Canadiens and failing to do so.

Yes, I know, Washington ran into the hottest goalie of the playoffs in Jaroslav Halak, but the team scored once – Once! – with the man advantage in 33 opportunities and lost to a squad that finished 26th in goals-scored with 103 fewer during the regular season. The Caps did manage 17 scores in a three-game span that series, but when the offense was silenced, the defense and goaltending was exposed.

In the final two games of the Montreal/Pittsburgh series, Pittsburgh was 1/11 on the power play including 0/6 in Game 7. Small sample size be damned. 8/28 in the series all together. But get this, their "defense and goaltending was exposed" no matter how the offense did. 7 game sample! Hoorah!

And that’s essentially the same defense and goaltending that’s back for another kick at Stanley’s can again this year. Not good enough, especially when your two current goaltenders have a total of 19 games of NHL playoff experience and zero beyond the second round.

Unlike the goalies in the 2010 Cup finals, who I think each have 19 CUPS. Fleury had 25 invaluable, experience-gaining games before the '09 playoffs and 5 before the '08 playoffs when Pittsburgh lost in the finals. Then there's Emery in '07. And Ward and Roloson and Markkanen in '06.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, suffered a similar fate against the Habs; the difference being GM Ray Shero went out and did something about it. Rather than overpay the aging Sergei Gonchar to stick around, Shero first took a stab at Dan Hamhuis by trading for his negotiating rights, then inked Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek.

While those two aren’t the flashiest of names, Martin is smart as a whip and about as underrated as they come, while Michalek is a hard-nosed, defense-first, shot-blocking machine. All of a sudden, Shero has assembled a blueline that looks more like the ones the Pens had in the 2008 and ’09 post-seasons than the one that crumbled in Round 2 of the 2010 playoffs. Couple that with Pittsburgh’s strength down the middle and the Pens are once again looking like the class of the conference.


Paul Martin is fast becoming one of those players where it is mention so often that he is underrated he is now overrated. Paul Martin is a what you see is what you get kinda player. He's decent. He's not going to be Gonchar on the power play and now there might be some injury potential there, just as there is with Sergei.

Also

08 Penguins Playoff defensemen: Gill, Gonchar, Letang, Orpik, Scuderi, Whitney
09 Penguins Playoff defensemen: Gill, Gonchar, Letang, Orpik, Scuderi, Eaton
10 Penguins Playoff defensemen: Goligoski, Gonchar, Letang, Orpik, Eaton, Leopold

That's a turnover of 2 each season. And Martin/Michalek > Gonchar/Leopold? Probably. Yeah. Nice job, Ray Shero.

That’s not to say everything is perfect with Pitt, there’s still a dearth of scoring wingers and bottom-end blueline depth, and not a lot of money to rectify those problems. But GM Ray Shero has shown a knack in the past for working those sorts of problems out as the season rolls along.

In the meantime, I’ll take Sid, Geno, Jordan, Fleury and the Pens’ blueline over Ovie, Backstrom, Semin and Green anytime – except in my regular season fantasy league.


Oh, you'll take 10 players over 4? Are you sure?

For the 09/10 record:
Ovechkin+Backstrom+Semin+Green=370 pts.
Sid+Geno+Jordan+Fleury+the Pens' blueline=401 pts.

Having 4 players seems unfair, but then when you look at it...

I still can't believe this guy used the Montreal series' in his argument. Pittsburgh is probably a better team and signing Martin and Zbynek were well moves. Washington only has 6 defensemen under contract and there has been major talk of them trading Fleischmann for either Bieksa or Souray which would certainly upgrade them at the back end.

Anyway, for now, I'm back.

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