Friday, January 29, 2010

Containing the Rabble

Well, I spent all day at the Washington Auto Show on Thursday, which was the second day it was open to the public. I was helping out at the WDCR-SCCA area, and was supposed to be answering questions and generally trying to "sell" SCCA events as a great legal alternative to playing on the street.
the autocross cars

The first thing I noticed after about noon was how light the crowds were, even for a week day. I didn't get a chance to venture much out of the area (I did talk to some of the National Capital Region Mustang owners, but that was about it), so I don't know if the light crowds were due to the area we were in, but what a difference from last year. The other thing I noticed, and this was immediately, was that as soon as the doors were open to the public (10AM), there were people gathing in line to see some WWE wrestler (I looked it up later -- his name is Randy Orton). The wrestler wasn't due to be on stage until 6PM.

Well, the wrestling crowd that was gathering for this game was unfortunately of the stereotypical wrestling fan type -- very white trash. They were also completely ignorant of the chains that Ian and Carrie set up around the autocross cars, and I found myself constantly telling them to not push past the chains or move the chain holders. At one point, I had Mike Collins, the floor manager over to help move the chains back in position, hoping that his "officialdom" would make an impression. I should have known that if my suit and name badge didn't convey authority, neither would his.

I was very disappointed, because Ian had told me on Sunday, when I dropped the car off, that the Capitals would be signing at the stage that was about 100-150 feet from my car. Nick Backstrom, Mike Green and Bruce Boudreau were due for signings, but they turned out to be upstairs by the Ford exhibit. I asked Mike was the chances were that he could get one of them to come and pose by my WRX before they left, and he said he'd see what he could do.

Brooks Laich was also present, though he was there for Potomac Garage Solutions, who'd done a garage makeover for him. He wasn't very far away from our area, and in fact, Carrie went over to get his autograph on two hats (we all know they are both yours, Carrie!), and then since the wrestling crowd was dying down and we had enough coverage of our area to keep the rabble in check, I caved in and got my hat signed. I told him I figured I'd get his autograph on it, since I'd pledged to throw it the other week when it looked like he might get a hat trick. He laughed and said that he'd try to get one against the Panthers on Friday night, to which I said, "But now I don't want to throw this one! I'll have to get another to throw."

I felt like a moron for being up there in my suit and with my exhibitor's badge, so I didn't get a picture or anything. Carrie was needling me about that when Mike came back over to see if things were still okay. I asked him about the other players, and he said that they actually left early, so he didn't get a chance. I told him that Laich was still there, and so he went over there and told me that the "handler" said once the line died down, he'd call Mike on the radio.
the 'diorama' with rescue1 and obadia's spec miata was in front of my wrx

Well, it was approaching 9PM, which was the close of the show, and the line was pretty much gone. But suddenly, there was some drama going on with the wrestler's fans, and Mike was called away to deal with that fallout. So, I asked Carrie to come with me (for moral support, of course), and we went back over to where Laich was. I waited until the rest of the autograph seekers were done, then asked the "handler" about if I could get a picture of Laich with my car. He acted unsure, and deferred to a younger guy behind him, who introduced himself as "Brooks' cousin." I asked him about getting the picture, and he asked where my car was again, what kind and color the car was, and then said, "I'll make sure he walks that way on the way out." I thanked him, and then Carrie and I went back to the SCCA area, realizing how many Subarus there were right there and I was very thankful he'd asked about the color!

I wasn't completely convinced that it would still happen, but a minute later, Carrie says, "Oh my god, they're coming!" and sure enough, Brooks, his cousin and the manager walked over the the car. Brooks noticed the weagle magnet on the car right away, then asked where he should stand. I hadn't even thought that far ahead, and so said, "Just anywhere." His cousin was telling him to smile for the camera, "No, really smile, Brooks!" and then after Carrie had taken one picture, he told her to "take another, keep shooting!" I couldn't stop laughing.
brooks laich graciously allows me to get a couple of pictures in front of my wrx

We thanked them for taking the time to come over, and they headed out. But how cool was that? :)

So tonight is an attempt to prolong the winning streak, taking it to what would no longer be a tie for the second-longest streak in franchise history. The Florida Panthers are coming to town, and Brooks Laich said he was going to get a hat-trick, while Tomas Fleischmann said he needed to get started on scoring 45 goals for the season ASAP. It's a good time to be a Caps fan is all I can say.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Auto Show : Change Happens Here

The 2010 Washington Auto Show is open to the the public starting January 27 and runs through January 31, at the DC Convention Center. The theme this year is "Change Happens Here," and the highlights will be alternative energy, such as hybrids, biofuels and the like.

And, my Subaru Impreza WRX will be part of the WDCR SCCA exhibit again this year. :)
the WRX at FedEx Field for a regional WDCR autocross, photo by Danny Kao

Monday, January 18, 2010

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

ovechkin gets ready for his sixth career penalty shot

"We just want to give fans free chicken wings and give them free food, you know?" said Ovechkin after the Washington Capitals put away the Philadelphia Flyers for the third time this season. He made it sound simple, despite the fact that it was his first career goal via penalty shot, after five previous attempts. His shootout percentage is marginally better (1 for 5 this year), but the decision to award a penalty shot for Coburn's actions during Ovechkin's late breakaway had some in the stands wishing for a traditional two-minute power play.

Ovechkin's 30th goal wasn't the story of the game however; that distinction belonged to Brooks Laich who snapped an eighteen game scoring drought after a one-on-one video session with Coach Boudreau.

"We went through the shifts from the Toronto game and at the end of it we discussed what we saw. And the term he used was 'You’re kind of just existing out there.' And the term I used was that 'It kind of looked uninspired' – the way I was playing," Laich told the media after being named first star of the game. He scored twice, once short-handed and once even strength, and added an assist in the 5-3 undressing of a Philly team that is trying desperately to climb into a playoff position before April.

Laich certainly wasn't just existing on the ice during the matinee matchup. After his first goal, which tied the game at two, he played his position solidly and relentless, resulting in the short-hander against a Flyers squad that has allowed six other SHG this season.

knuble in his office

Since coming back from a broken pinky finger, Mike Knuble had been slow to get back into form. But, in the last week, "Noobs" has netted five goals in five games, working to a +2 overall, and virtually none of those goals were from more than five feet away from the net.

Since switching Tomas Fleischmann to a center position and pairing him with Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin, Coach Boudreau seems to have finally found a happy medium with his lines. As much as he's known for switching things up every game, and oftentimes during a game, the 8-19-22, 28-14-21 and 16-9-25 lines seem to have clicked and as such, have persisted for over five games (which is likely a record for Boudreau's Capitals). The only line that has seen change is the fourth line, as Boyd Gordon and Quintin Laing have been in and out of the lineup.
backstrom waits patiently for the flyers to begin a breakout

Maybe not coincidentally, the Capitals have won four of the last five games, and scored an average of 5.6 goals per game. The last time the Capitals scored fewer than four goals? Their loss to the Los Angeles Kings on January 2nd. In that span, Capitals faithful at Verizon Center have netted free wings in the Glory Days promotion three times of a possible four (only four goals were scored on the Canadiens on January 5th).

It's been said that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Looks like the exception to that rule is if you're a Caps fan!

The real test for the team is coming up in the next week. The Stanley Cup finalist Detroit Red Wings come to town tomorrow night, and then the Capitals visit the Cup winning Penguins on Thursday. The week wraps up back at home with the Phoenix Coyotes -- a surprise of the season with 61 points as of this writing -- coming to DC. If the Capitals are going to contend for the Cup in a serious fashion, these next three games will illuminate strengths and weaknesses for sure. And the Coyotes game is the next Caps on Tap bar crawl, so it will be entertaining in more ways than one! :)

For some other enlightening reading on the Flyers/Capitals matchup, check out : The Examiner, Japers Rink, Rock The Red, Washington Post and Russian Machine Never Breaks.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Raindrops Keep Falling...

Last time the Capitals played Philadelphia, it was snowing. This time, it's pouring rain. It would be nice to have a sunny day during the Caps vs. Flyers contest, but I digress.

In the last week, we've seen the extreme side of the Capitals' offensive ability; they currently lead the league in goals-for, with 177. Chicago is the next closest at 161. Going back to the January 5th game against the Canadiens, the Caps have scored an average of 5.1 goals per game!
just another celebration of a Semin shot in Atlanta

The defensive work is what is still troubling. Despite the overwhelming ability to score goals, the team still lost one game and had another go to shootout in the last week. Those two games also saw rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth give up a total of 8 goals over the span of about 50 minutes, and get replaced by veteran Jose Theodore. In the first of those two matches, against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Theodore unfortunately lived up to the derisive nickname of "ThreeOrMore" by allowing another 3 goals to slip by even as the front line juggernaut tied the game at 4-4. In the second game, however, "Contract Year" Theodore came in to stone the Florida Panthers for the final period and a half plus overtime, and then held on during the shootout. "Contract Year" Theo also played against the Maple Leafs this past Friday night, where he stood on his head to keep Toronto to a single power play goal even as six were scored against Vesa "For All Your Backup Needs" Toskala.

Just before the Canadiens game, Brooks Laich told the media that the team has a hard time buying into defensive work, even though, as he put it, it's when they play good defense that they get the opportunities to score four, five goals. Sure enough, that night against Montreal, they played well defensively, and they scored four goals. Two nights later, again, the defensive effort was decently solid, and they scored five. Those two games however, may have led to the shoddy first period in Atlanta, where it was only due to Neuvirth that they weren't chasing the Thrashers after one, considering the 18-7 shots-on-goal differential. However, Johan Hedberg's and Ondrej Pavelec's sieve-like qualities likely led to the disaster against the Lightning; the Capitals got lucky in Atlanta, knew they got lucky, and still didn't adjust their defensive game in Tampa until it was too late. And when things got "chippy" in the third period, they'd expended too much energy in the second just to pull into a 4-4 tie, and they had nothing left.
neuvirth works up a sweat against the thrashers

Did they learn their lesson? No. The next night in Sunrise, the exact same thing happened, almost to a tee. There was no Matt Bradley-coming-to-Ovechkin's "rescue" this time, though.

capitaLOLs hits the nail on the head

A quick first period goal on Friday night took some of the fight out of the Maple Leafs, and the defensive work was fairly solid, despite John Carlson not arriving at Verizon Center until 6:10 (literally minutes before warmups) and Brian Pothier's late scratch.

So what is to be expected against the Flyers? The last game was a rout, partially due to Daniel Carcillo's ill-advised "fight" with Matt Bradley and the resultant nine minutes of power play that netted a couple of goals. It's almost inevitable that the Flyers will try to punish the Capitals, as it's widely thought that Boudreau was just running up the score at the end (when he put Semin, Backstrom and Green out on a late power play... even though the point was to help David Steckel get that elusive first goal of the season). However, if the Capitals play like they did Friday night -- solid defense, cutting back on the cross-ice and cutesy passing, and unrelenting on the shots on goal -- they should improve their Eastern Conference leading home record to 16-3-3 easily.