Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hockey Mom Hangs Up the Skates

Well sports fans, I've proscrastinated as long as possible but HM has had to come to the difficult decision to hang up the skates. I'm hanging the "Closed" shingle out on Musings of a Hockey Mom after almost four fabulous seasons covering the Capitals and youth hockey. For those of you who've followed me along this journey (I am sending you all great big virtual thank you hugs right now), you know that I'm a single working mom of teenage twin boys - who travel far and wide with hockey, lacrosse and now golf. As the much as I loved this blog and the outlet it's provided, several realizations hit me over the course of this season, the main one being that unfortunately, I no longer have the time to dedicate to provide the type and frequency of posts that I feel Caps fans deserve. The second realization (in addition to increased responsibilities at my full-time job and adding one more sport to the mix in golf), is that the aforementioned boys are starting high school this fall. When they say kids grow up fast, believe it - I cannot comprehend that I only have four more years with the boys in the house :(  That said, I want to spend as much time as I can with them because I'm sure it will fly by.

So it's with a very heavy heart that I say goodbye. My passion for the Capitals and this blog has taken me places I never thought I'd go and actually helped me get through some tough times in my personal life. I'd like to think my blog provided a unique (and snarky) voice amongst the many who do such an outstanding job in covering our beloved Capitals. During my time in the press box, I've met so many wonderful people and have become fast friends with many including the gang at On Frozen Blog, Storming the Crease, Homer McFanboy, Capitals News Network, Ed Frankovic, Caps Girl and so many others who I will miss seeing on game nights. And countless thanks to Japers Rink for the link love over the years as well. Through my involvement with Scarlet Caps, I've met so many awesome women whose passion for the Capitals and the NHL is contagious.

In addition to my awesome readers, I also owe the growth of this blog and the opportunities it presented to the Capitals organization, starting with Ted Leonsis. I also want to send a heartfelt thanks to former Caps Communications guru Nate Ewell as well as Paul Rovnak, Kelly Murray and Sergey Kocharov for all of their assistance and support. I'd also like to thank the Caps' marketing staff for letting me share my love for the game as an integral part of their women's initiative.

I hope that someday soon, I'll be able to see the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup (meanwhile, am rooting for my second team, the Canucks this year). I've loved every minute and every pixel that went into Musings of a Hockey Mom and I will always adore this team. But now I'll be watching from the stands and waving to my pals up high in the press box. So as I ride my zamboni into the sunset, I thank you all again for your patronage and if you see me at a game, the rink or the yoga studio (I have to have some stress relief with twin boys in high school, right), be sure to say hi!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Another Heartbreaking Early Exit for the Washington Capitals

It's happened again. This team, loaded with more talent than it knows what to do with, got run out of the second round of the playoffs, quicker than this hockey mom can bandage a boo boo. Speaking of boo boos, everyone in Caps nation is feeling that old, sinking feeling in their hearts today after another stunning exit. The boys simply did not show up - especially those "young guns" - who get paid the big bucks to do just that.

Stanley Cups are won by a combination of talent, luck, team work, work ethic and probably most important of all - heart. The Lightning had much less offensive talent (and were missing a big key in the cog with the injury of Simon Gagne) but their heart and soul guys Sean Bergenheim and the pesty Steve Downie came up big when it mattered. Guy Boucher totally outcoached the affable Gabby and the Bolt's stars Lecavalier, Stamkos and St. Louis were game killers. So after a second season of finishing number one in the East and not getting to Conference Finals, what to do?  Here are some of my thoughts (just a thought, not a sermon folks):

  • Unfortunately, I think Bruce Boudreau's stint as bench boss should come to an end. They need a hardass in there who scoffs at the mere thought of an "optional" skate. Yes, Gabby was successful in transitioning the game plan to a more defensive style of play, but he apparently lost their attention as that plan went out the window in the Tampa series.
  • Alex Semin too - he's proved time and time again that he is ineffective in  post-season play.
  • Young guns: No more pictures of you partying all over D.C. during the season- agree wholeheartedly with PucksandBooks of On Frozen Blog who touched on this earlier- if you're seen out the night before a game, bag skate.
    Yes, Sidney Crosby might be a total nerd who stays home with his milk and cookies but in the playoffs (when he's healthy and all hockey fans hope that is soon), he schools opponents. Plain and simple.
  • On aforementioned note, more bag skates in general.
  • Ovi should not be the captain. I said it when they gave him the 'C' and say it again. Just because he is one of the most elite talents in the world, does not mean he is the guy to hold fellow players accountable for not stepping up. I hope that in the aftermath of yet another post-season undoing, the team can manage to hold onto Jason Arnott - who would be the perfect guy to wear the "C", or Mike Knuble.
Here are some other thoughts on the aftermath  from some of the Caps most recognized scribes: Tarik El Bashir, Stephen Whyno, Homer McFanboy  and of course, the boss himself.

I'm sure you're with me when I say I'm pretty tired of hearing "wait til next year".....

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Lightning Strikes Down Caps in Game Two

    After a lackluster performance resulting in a Game One loss (despite the fact that Tampa Bay suffered the loss of Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina during the course of the game), the Capitals got a chance to even the series on home ice last night.

    The offense was bolstered by the return of Mike Knuble to the lineup and fans hoped to see the net-crashing action that was amiss Friday night. Apparently John Carlson was questionable after getting dinged up in Game One, but the defensive dynamo was ready and raring to go. The Caps came out with much more energy than we saw in Game One but the floundering power play continued to plague them. The first period alone saw three consecutive power plays for the home team, of which they converted zero. Despite outshooting the Bolts 11-6 in the opening 20 minutes, the Caps could not permeate the crease of grizzly old timer Dwayne Roloson. Roly the goalie, in his elderly state, proves to be as nimble as kids half his age and kept the Caps off the board in the first. It was a penalty-filled affair, including several missed calls. Martin St. Louis, who’s already lost three pearly whites thus far these playoffs, was again hit right in the choppers. The speedy right-winger helped get his team on the board first at 19:01, with a sweet pass to captain Vinny Lecavalier, whose slap shot earned the Bolts a power play goal.

    End of first period: Lightning 1 – Capitals 0

    The Caps had a few prime opportunities in the second period, including shot that went wide, attempted by Marco Sturm as he took advantage on a breakaway. His mates continued to go hard to the net though and their efforts paid off at 14:52. St. Louis failed to clear the puck and John Erskine redirected it to a waiting Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom, who has yet to score a goal of his own these playoffs, got the puck to Brooks Laich who beat a solid Roloson to tie the game. The Caps continued to pour the pressure on Roloson, directing 11 shots his way as Neuvirth only faced three from the Bolts.

    End of second period: Capitals 1 – Lightning 1

    The third period saw another swing in the Bolts’ favor at the 7:35 mark as St. Louis flipped the puck across the net, and Mike Green was in the right place at the wrong time. As Green tried to ensure nothing went into the Caps' net, St. Louis's shot deflected off of Green's skate to give Tampa Bay the lead.

    At 8:32, Green found himself again at the center of attention as he went to hit Steven Stamkos and raised his elbow. The nasty impact resulted in a roughing call against Green. Meanwhile, Stamkos ans crew had the better chances in the third period, outshooting the Caps 11 to 5.

    Gabby made the decision to pull Neuvirth with 1:43 left in the final frame and Alex Ovechkin took a feed from Jason Arnott and crashed the net, scoring to tie the game with 1:07 left on the clock.

    The crowd unleashed the fury once again as this one was headed into a nail-biting OT.

    As sloppy as the Caps were at many points during this contest, it was the sloppiness of a poorly timed line change that proved to be their undoing. While Caps players were scrambling for the change, Vinny Lecavalier went top shelf off a wide pass from Teddy Purcell to give the Bolts the win and their fifth road victory in a row (as Jeff Schultz totally missed his coverage doing his best scarecrow imitation).

    Final Score: Lightning 3 - Capitals 2

    Now the Caps are down 2 games in the series and have lots of making up to do - starting Tuesday night in balmy Florida.

    Here are some other takes on the loss from Caps News Network, Japers Rink, CBC and Capitals Insider.

    As disappointing as this loss was, the mood in the nation’s capital changed from frustration to jubilation as shortly after the game, the news of the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. forces was announced. On Frozen Blog has some commentary on the contrast, while RMNB has photos of Caps fans joining the celebration in front of the White House.

    This news certainly brings the playoffs (and really, sports in general) into perspective as in light of this historic event, we remember those who’ve lost their lives – both military and civilians- as a result of 9/11 and other terrorist acts across the world.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Round Two of the Quest Starts Tomorrow

    After a week of rest and watching their fellow Eastern Conference teams battle it down to the wire, the Capitals will be itching to hit the ice tomorrow against a familiar foe - the Tampa Bay Lightning. The NHL released the schedule for Round Two late last night after the Habs/Bruins and Pens/Lightning games wound up. Here goes, folks:

    Friday, April 29, 2011 7 p.m. TB Lightning at Washington VERSUS, TSN

    Sunday, May 1, 2011 7 p.m. TB Lightning at Washington VERSUS, CBC
    Tuesday, May 3, 2011 TBD Washington at TB Lightning CSN, VERSUS, TSN
    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 7 p.m. Washington at TB Lightning CSN, TSN
    *Saturday, May 7, 2011 12:30 p.m. TB Lightning at Washington NBC, TSN
    *Monday, May 9, 2011 TBD Washington at TB Lightning CSN, VERSUS, TSN
    *Wednesday, May 11, 2011 TBD TB Lightning at Washington CSN, VERSUS, TSN

    The Lightning held their own against a Penguins team that has suffered offensively since losing Crosby and Malkin. The Penguins' faithful actually booed their own team's pitiful power play last night - poor form people, obviously those fans have not read the Blonde Girls' Guide to fandom. Never.Boo.Your.Team....

    Nonetheless, the Pens are toast and we can look forward to more colorful conversation between Bolts bad boy Steve Downie and Caps hero in residence Matt Hendricks. Steven Stamkos has regained his scoring touch, notching seven playoff points, while the pocket-sized but dangerous Martin St. Louis was just named a finalist for the NHL's Hart MVP Trophy. Sean Bergenheim has netted three goals thus far this playoffs, while the Pens series saw the first ever playoff tally from agitator Downie. Lightning netminder Dwayne Roloson (who at the ripe old age of 41, must be taking his vitamins indeed) earned the shut out last night and boasts a .949 save percentage. You'll recall the old man gave the Capitals fits earlier this season. Familiar indeed, but certainly not an opponent the Caps can take lightly as they learned during the regular season.

    The Caps hope to see the return of both Mike Knuble and Dennis Wideman at some point in the series, but though both guys have been participating in practice, that remains to be seen. Get ready for Round Two action - a little more than 24 hours away!

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    Capitals Head for Round Two with Solid Win over Rangers

    Caps fans welcomed the boys home to Verizon Center with a sea of red and chants of “We are louder” as they cheered the Capitals on in a potential close out Game Five.

    The Rangers opened the contest with their thug line of Avery, Prust and Boyle against top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and the always dashing Brooks Laich, who was tapped to replace the still ailing Mike Knuble. Dan Girardi blocked a sizzler from Marco Sturm as the Rags tried to elude an onslaught of shots by the Capitals in the first five minutes of the opening period.

    Green scored  a power play goal from a wide angle at 5:59 as Dan Girardi slid into New Yorks goal crease to try and deflect yet another shot in a brave effort to help his goaltender out. After the goal, the pesky Brandon Dubinsky started an all-out melee in front of the net. Ovi and Arnott were on the side of the ice hugging in celebration, but quickly sped over to help out their mates in the line brawl. Penalties were doled out to Semin and Laich for the Caps and Drury and Dubinsky for New York. Vinny Prospal joined his fellow Blueshirts in the bin after he decided to mouth off to an official and drew a bench minor.

    At around the six minute mark, Mike Green courageously laid out the body to block a shot from Matt Gilroy and appeared to take a puck in the head (screws from his helmet went flying on impact) – eerily reminiscent of the injury he suffered against the Pens in February that kept him sidelined for so long. Both Girardi and Green emulated the intensity that is the NHL playoffs – sacrificing the body and playing through injury for the ultimate goal. Green went off to the dressing room while Girardi (who went missing after the mid-period scrum) returned to New York’s bench with about a minute left in the opening period. Meanwhile, Marc Staal’s frustrations of being unable to contain the Caps (shots were flying from everywhere, though not making the net), were evident as he threw Matt Hendricks into the side of the net after a whistle. The Caps directed 13 shots at Lundqvist while Neuvirth stopped all six from New York.
    End of First Period: Capitals 1 – Rangers 0

    At 7:04 of the second period, Alex Ovechkin blew by the Rangers' defense (specifically Marc Staal) to net an absolutely lovely backhanded goal, sure to make highlight reels on sportscasts across North America. The Rangers’ frustration reached the boiling point as Brandon Prust made a late hit on big John Erskine less than a minute after Ovi’s goal. The Caps were not able to convert on the man advantage.

    It was the home team down a man at the ten-minute marker when Matt Bradley got whistled for interference. The penalty unit took care of business but things got ugly in front of Michal Neuvirth. After the whistle, uber-pest Sean Avery took a blatant slash on Neuvy’s hand prompting Brooks Laich to step in. In the ensuing scrum, Avery ripped off his glove and yipped at the ref “He bit me” when we all really know he just wanted to show off his freshly lacquered playoff nails. John Erskine took the second Capitals penalty when he annihilated Brandon Prust in the corner and was slapped with interference. The great news is that Mike Green returned to the Caps bench towards the end of the period, even though he saw no action.
    End of Second Period: Capitals 2 – Rangers 0

    The Caps continued to do a good job of keeping New York hemmed in their zone during the final period as they held onto a 2-0 lead with 20 minutes separating them from advancing to the second round. The Rangers did have a few odd break outs with Brian Boyle and Erik Christensen having the best scoring chances that were absolutely stonewalled by Michal Neuvirth. Neuvy has been stellar and came into the game having played the second-most minutes among goaltenders in the playoffs (289:11).

    It was Alex Semin who stuck the fork in the visitors and added the insurance the boys needed to go forward. His line mate Marcus Johansson evaded Dan Girardi and Semin picked up MoJo’s cross-ice pass and proceeded to roof it over Lundqvist, sending an already jubilant Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy. With their playoff hopes quickly fading and their goal tender on the bench for the extra man, the Rangers had a solid last minute shot to get on the board from Derek Stephan. But Neuvy made yet another incredible save in an attempt to preserve the shut out. Despite Neuvy's extraordinary performance, the Rangers finally lit the lamp courtesy of Wojtek Wolski with under a minute left in the game. Tempers flared once again as Ruslan Fedotenko tried to take on John Erskine.

    Final Score: Capitals 3 - Rangers 1

    The Caps shook the monkey of last season’s first round exodus off their collective backs and celebrated the hard-earned victory with their fabulous fans. The new emphasis on 'defense first' hit a few bumps in the road during the season but was key to victory against a hardworking and physical New York team. Speaking of Rangers, former Ranger and longtime Capital's enforcer Donald Brashear is focusing on a new career path where he can employ his finely-tuned "work skills."

    In the meantime, Hockey Mom is off to celebrate this fabulous win with a glass of “red” wine as we await our next opponent and give the boys some much needed rest. Please join me in a toast – to the Caps!

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Caps Headed Back to Big Apple for Crucial Game Four

    The Caps are preparing to return to Madison Square Garden tomorrow night to face the New York Rangers for what's shaping up to be another hostile meeting between these two clubs. New York will most certainly have Gabby's recent comments dissing its landmark rat-poo infested arena (along with its accompanying Rangers fans) posted as bulletin board fodder. Washington's bench boss, in what seems to be an attempt to diffuse the focus from his players, also accused the thugnasty Rags of deliberately targeting Mike Green's recently healed melon and wanted the league to review Staal's late hit on Green. Never one to keep mum, Ranger's coach John Tortorella stuck to the "we just have to stay focused" party line when asked about Boudreau's comments.

    HM expects New York to continue the thuggery we witnessed on Sunday and the Caps will have to remain focused on keeping their cool. That and I'd have John Erskine, Matt Bradley and Matt Hendricks ready to smack down Brandon Prust, Brian Boyle and Vogue intern/runway model wannabe Sean Avery from the first face off. Though not nearly as offensively talented as the Capitals, the Rangers enter Game Four with a 198-214-8 record all-time in 420 playoff contests, including a 110-82-2 mark at home. New York has posted a 39-28 record all-time in Game Fours of playoff series, including a 5-0 mark in Game Four since 2007.

    Of course this is the playoffs folks and with teams fighting for the coveted chance to battle for Lord Stanley's chalice, things are bound to get ugly. The NHL handed down two suspensions today to Tampa Bay's poster boy for bad behavior, Steve Downie, and Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz. HM was watching the Vancouver/Chicago game and can attest that the Torres hit on Brent Seabrook was absolutely brutal - the debate on that one will continue for some time and Seabrook did not take the ice in tonight's Game Four in Chicago.

    Finally, all you members of the Mike Milbury Fan Club (okay, all one of yuz) can rejoice! The NHL announced a new broadcast deal with NBC/VERSUS for the next 10 years - meaning that Mad Mike and Pierre McGuire will be gracing our airwaves for at least the next decade. The good news is that we hopefully get to see more of the funny and overemotional Jeremy Roenick - along with the ongoing evolution of Brian Engblom's fabulous mullet.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Rangers Beat Caps in Broadway Battle

    Michal Neuvirth has been one of the feel good story lines of this series so far and he started today’s game strong with a sweet save early on Matt Gilroy, as Gilroy took advantage of a pass from Ruslan Fedotenko in the opening moments of the first.

    The Rangers were hitting hard with the irritating line of Prust-Boyle-Avery making the most noise. Brooks Laich had some choice words for the nail-polish wearing Avery after a late whistle. He later broke the bad boy’s stick during a face off, making the agitator even more agitated. The first Caps’ power play came at 15:01 when Matt Gilroy went off for a hook. The boys took 2 shots during the man-advantage but they fell back on some bad habits, shooting with most of those coming from well outside the circles instead of crashing the net.

    The Caps didn’t have much luck on the power play but the penalty killers came up huge about two minutes later, when they had to kill of a Rangers’ 5-on-3. Matt Hendricks was whistled for goalie interference (even though it appeared he was pushed in by a Blueshirt) and in trying to clear the puck during the first kill, Mike Knuble swept it into the stands and joined Hendricks for some coffee and conversation in the MSG sin bin. The defense was sharp while down two mates, but Michal Neuvirth (who made 22 saves for his first career postseason shutout in the last meeting) remained cool and collected as he kept the Rangers off the scoreboard. Rangers’ sniper Marion Gaborik’s drought continued into the first period and he completely missed the net during their power play. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, New York’s Erik Christensen took an interference penalty and the Capitals would go on the power play again at the start of the second period. End of first period: Scoreless

    The man advantage to start the second period didn’t last long. Mike Green was called for tripping, the boys played a bit of 4-on-4 and then the Rags went on their second power play. Marcus Johansson had a fabulous short-handed opportunity as he swept the puck and used his speed to get a shot off on Lundqvist, who swiftly gloved it. The action came to a halt when a referee had a mishap behind the net and fell awkwardly. The injured ref apparently hurt a knee and play stopped until the replacement stripes could get to the ice. Once play resumed, both teams were still playing hard with a chip on their shoulders. John Carlson lost his cool early on and cross-checked Marc Staal. The Rangers’ ailing power play found some life and New York lit the lamp first on a difficult shot from the side by Erik Christensen.

    The Capitals seemed to lack the discipline that helped them win the first two contests. Ovechkin took the Caps’ fifth penalty of the game as he hooked Gaborik at the 8:50 mark. The refs weren’t calling it both ways though, as Scott Hannan got pegged with a pretty bogus holding call, giving the Rags their second 5-on-3 of the game (if only for 9 seconds). Meanwhile, the dastardly duo of Prust and Avery took runs at Michal Neuvirth after virtually every whistle. Ovechkin scored the tying goal with less than one minute left in the period, a tip-in right in King Henrik’s grill. Right before the play, Mike Green went down and appeared to be hit high – causing Caps fans around the country to hold their collective breath (glad to say he returned to the game).

    New York thought they had taken the lead at literally the last second of the period but after heading up to Toronto for review, the officials ruled that the puck crossed the line as the clock hit the 0.00 mark. The call will certainly be the subject of much controversy amongst Rangers fans and other Caps haters but it stood at 1 -1 at the end of the second period. It even stirred controversy in my own house as one of my own kids (wearing a Hendricks shirt, mind you) kept quipping “that was a goal.” Nice…

    Vinny Prospal gave New York the lead off an uncharacteristic Neuvirth rebound midway through the third period while the Caps trod a familiar path to the penalty box. Nick Backstrom took the team’s seventh penalty for tripping at 9:13. Bruce Boudreau commented on the officiating, angrily stating he thought there were some “ticky tacky” calls were made throughout the opening periods. Hockey Mom can only imagine what was going through Gabby’s hot head in the third – f-bombs galore I’m sure.

    The penalty killers saved the day once again. This game got so chippy that even the normally serene Marion Gaborik got busted for a cross-check. The tempo changed once again as Mike Knuble scored a power play tally with help from Ovi and Backstrom to even the score. The rough stuff was by no means over, as John Carlson (who along with Mike Green, seemed to have a bulls-eye tacked to his sweater) tussled with Brian Boyle. But in the end, the Rangers emerged victorious in today’s battle, as a shot from Brandon Dubinsky (who I deem runner-up in the cheesy mustache contest – Sid is always first) scored on a deflection with under two minutes on the clock. Final Score: Rangers 3 – Caps 2

    A disappointing day for Caps fans, but we’ve been in this spot before and Wednesday brings yet another opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead. The Hockey 101 key to victory: stay out of the box (even though some of those Rangers are as abrasive and annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard).