The Hoff's Sports Blog

Michael Hoffman's take on local sports in the Maryland, Virginia and DC area.

You're well within you rights to be mad about the uncalled transgressions against the Washington Capitals this series.

Chimera Tim Thomas.jpg

 Nothing to see here, just Tim Thomas kicking Jason Chimera with his skate! (Photo credit: Russian Machine Never Breaks )

You're well within your rights to question the judgment of NHL head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, in handing out NHL playoff suspensions.

In one case, a player was suspended only for one game for punching a guy while the victim was down and defenseless. In another, the NHL levied no suspension against Shea Weber, who put Henrik Zetterberg's into a headlock and slammed his face into the boards.


If you're upset about that, you're probably correct.


However if you think the one-game suspension on Nicklas Backstrom is unfair, you're kidding yourself. (Watch the replay and pause it at 18 seconds.) It's clear as day that Backstrom is going high with his stick. I'm not even sure how you can question it.


Of course there are people who believe the moon landing was faked so I guess you can question almost anything. Hey, again that's your right!

Moon landing.jpg

 Filmed in front of a live studio audience

Just don't tell me that the best way to deal with deplorable punishment decisions, and a high level of targeting, is to apply the questionable standards used in those decisions to everything else. The NHL messed up badly in allowing Shea Weber to go unpunished for slamming someone's head into the wall, so the only solution is to allow everyone to be able to slam someone's head on the wall?


That's the definition of insanity! If discipline has been a problem in the past, the way to deal with it is by not disciplining when it is needed in the here-and-now?


What kind of backwards-ass thinking is that?


A lot of people are saying, (Hi, Alan May) 'he did it first, he did it worse, and you didn't even notice it!'


You sound like a bunch of petulant little six-year-olds, complaining to mommy.


That argument didn't work then, it definitely doesn't work now.


The interesting thing here is that the guy who actually committed the act isn't having any of this.


Unlike the Capitals water-holders, cough, umm.., I mean objective bloggers, who on Twitter have told us everything from holding your stick to your face implies a malicious intent to attack, to that the attack was actually Peverley's fault, Backstrom today had none of it.


"I think it was stupid on my part. I've got to deal with it now."


Being accountable for your own action and not making excuses? What a novel concept!


Here is a statement on the suspension from the Washington Capitals


"We disagree with the NHL's decision to suspend Nicklas Backstrom," the statement said. "This has been a competitive and physical series, and we do not understand why a suspension was imposed in this case while other incidents in this series have not been reviewed. Our singular focus now is on Game 4, and we look forward to the energy that our great fans provide."

Even in a decidedly white-collar city like Washington, we, like everyone else, cede to blue-collar vernaculars in terms of describing the leading ingredients of a successful playoff run.

Fortitude, courage, tenacity and fight are just some of the words you'll hear thrown around quite liberally, in describing what qualities the Caps need to show this post-season. 

Indeed, it goes without saying that all of these 'things' are quite necessary. These playoffs are no joke.  When Mike Knuble told us that he felt more confident in how this team would play in the playoffs, it wasn't because his new teammates knew how to 'Dougie.' (Thanks John Wall!)

"I think the guys we brought in are going to be great come playoff time. They're durable, they're up and down guys and they play playoff style of hockey. I think that's the biggest difference. We don't need guys who dance during the regular season. We need guys who grind it out in the playoffs."

Or as Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke once said, "Hockey is a man's game. The team with the most real men wins."

So if it takes 'real men' to win hockey games, if it takes 'grinders,' and not 'dancers,' in the playoffs, why are we suddenly hearing members of the Caps use the word, fun? How at all does 'fun,' fit into our blue-collar list of buzzwords?  Don't the Capitals know that the playoffs are serious business and that they can't be saying things like this!?

"Coming into the playoff, there's nothing better, you know it's all on the line, and its fun playing these games." Dale Hunter

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity and starting in Boston, it's going to be a hostile environment and that's what the playoffs are all about. Just having fun and embracing it and staying in the moment is key." Joel Ward

"It's the type of game I like to play, it gets me more into the game.  I have a lot more fun playing a game like that. It feels more like it's a real competition. I'm not going to go looking for it by any means, but I think that's what brings out the best of my abilities and a lot of the guys on our team." Braden Holtby on the potential for heavy traffic near his crease.  (Thanks to Kings of Leonsis for that quote.) 

Being the smart readers that you are, I know you detected our sarcasm a few paragraphs ago.  In past seasons, with the heightened expectations that came from being one of the top regular season teams, I never heard much mention of how the playoffs should be fun. 

Sure, a few guys mentioned how much they looked forward to proving themselves when it truly mattered.  Any yet fulfilling expectations and doing what you have to do, can be a very different motivator than doing what you want to do and having fun with it.  As we talk about how the Capitals may be a looser team thanks to being a significant playoff underdog, with little outside expectation, the fact that the Caps are so openly mentioning 'fun,' means that this is a looser team.

That my friends, is a very good sign. 

Notice if you will how choked up and unsteady the Caps played against Buffalo recently, after Dale Hunter compared the importance of that game, to that of the seventh game of the playoffs.

Notice how much differently and confidently the Caps looked playing the Rangers, compared to that Sabres game, after the Capitals already secured a playoff berth?

It's a pretty big difference, and the better game clearly came when the Caps were a looser team.

And if a looser team is a better team, maybe Braden Holtby is in fact exactly the right man for the job.  "It's going to be a lot of fun, obviously, if I get the opportunity to play, I'd like to bring my level [of play] up to that of other goalies. It's in my mentality that I've always liked a challenge. There's no better feeling in the world than going up against the best in your profession in the world and trying to outduel them," said Holtby on potentially playing in the playoffs.  (Thanks to Mike Vogel for the quote.)

An attitude like that can be contagious.  A work place where handling a challenge is considered 'fun,' will likely be a workplace in which everyone looks forward to doing their best.  Right now that seems to be exactly the workplace the Capitals have.

Hang loose yall!

Caps notes: In a very much unexpected move, the Caps today recalled Mattias Sjogren from Sweden.

He isn't the best skater in the world; he doesn't have the best shot in the world.  Yet from 2002 to the end of the 2010-11 season, Mike Knuble had nine straight seasons with at least twenty or more goals.  How was he able to do this?

Let's just say Knuble is a bit punk rock.  He just doesn't give a you know what.  He puts himself directly in front of 100 mile-per-hour slap shots, goalies that treat crease intruders with the rage of a Montana militia member finding a trespasser, and of course the occasional dirty defenseman.

Mike Green also once called Knuble a 'gringly player.'  It doesn't get much more punk rock than that. 

But why does Mr. Knuble choose to live such a 'gringly' lifestyle?  There are two reasons.

1. At 6'3, 230 pounds, Mike is a big boy and can handle it. "When he gets planted there, nobody's going to move him," said Daniel Briere who played with Knuble while he was on the Flyers.

2.  Quite simply, Mike Knuble crashes the crease because that is where many goals are scored.  On any given night in the modern NHL, (Especially in the playoffs) you may see far more goals come off the rebound of a shot, rather than on that initial shot.  If that doesn't make sense to you, maybe an analogy about cattle will work.  Take it away Mr. Knuble  "Guys like Brooks [Laich] and I, that's what we've done very well this year. We go to the net. We're like cattle. I mean, you know where you're gonna eat down there, so you're gonna keep going back," said Knuble in 2010.  It's still one of my favorite quotes of all-time.

Sadly however, Knuble's production this season hasn't just slowed down, it's almost stopped.

With only three goals and nine assists in sixty games, at thirty-nine, this may in fact be the last season of Knuble's career.

It's been a career that was redefined far later than most as Knuble easily has played his best hockey in his 30's.  In doing so, Knuble has knocked father time on his ass every time he rose up to challenge him.

Now however, things have changed.

Knuble barely saw any time on the first line this season, a place where in the past he's seen consistent ice-time.  Prior to last Saturday's game against the Bruins, Knuble was a healthy scratch in six of the last seven games.  Even when he does play, Knuble is often not even on the top three forward lines.  

To say it's been tough would be an understatement, and Knuble has not been shy about voicing his frustration.  Two weeks prior to the trade deadline, Knuble even went so far to tell reporters that he would rather be shipped out of Washington, then not be used.

As we all know, Knuble was not traded and actually returned to the Capitals lineup the past two games.  After Sunday's 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs I was able to ask Knuble how he was feeling after returning from so long.  Here's what he had to say.

"I'm feeling good right now.  You're never happy sitting there.  Just try to do your chance when you get in.  You don't try to do too much because you're just going to get yourself in more trouble. The big thing is I haven't finished this year. Missed a wide open net yesterday (Against Boston) so that's a bit frustrating, but it seems like the last two games I've played, I had a good solid chance every game."

That's obviously big of Mike to admit that he hasn't played up to the level he needs to this season.  Obviously Knuble was frustrated to not get playing time, but it appears that frustration also carries over to his own play.

Of course, we expect nothing less of the most candid man in the Capitals locker room, a guy who didn't hesitate to say that the Caps were playing like 'a bunch of losers,' earlier in the season.

Honest and also wise. Before this season began, Knuble wisely told us that you have to be build for the long run when you get ready for the season.  "You want to play good hockey in October, but you don't have to be playing your best hockey in October, you'd rather see it in March and April."

In looking at how the Capitals started the season in gangbuster style, going 7-0 and then floundering the rest of the way, that quote is especially pertinent.

We certainly hope that the Capitals current-three game winning streak is indicative of a team finally getting back to playing their best hockey.

Maybe just maybe, Knuble is also ready to show us he still has a little something left in the tank for the remainder of March, April, and anything that comes beyond.  We're certainly rooting for him.

For more on the Capitals, check out Capitals Examiner
Did Gibbs have knowledge of what Williams was doing?
Did Gibbs have knowledge of what Williams was doing?

A 'bounty-system' in Washington? - Most of the NFL investigation seems to hinge on what former Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams recently did while defensive coordinator of the Saints in supposedly paying defensive players to take other players out of the game. As we all know though, Williams did coach in Washington, and the NFL is investigating if Washington also had a bounty reward system in place.

From all indications, they did.

Former defensive line coach Greg Blatche, (who operated during the Gibbs years,) said that Williams (who coached Washington's defense from 2003-07) did pay players for what he termed to be, 'kill shots.'  Among those we may have been targeted, and strongly affected by the targeting is Peyton Manning.  During a game in 2006, Manning took a hit that targeted his head.

The particular hit did not force him to leave the game, but according to then Colts coach Tony Dungy, Manning told backup Jim Sorgi to start warming up, and told the coaching staff that he could remain in the game but the next play would have to be a run.

Manning never left that particular game, but Dungy recently told the media it was this hit that may have started the neck problems that would eventually threaten the all -pro's very playing career.

In other 'bounty' related news, Blatche was adamant that Joe Gibbs and most of the offensive coaching staff knew nothing of William's 'kill shot' system.

But hold the press! Today, an original member of the hogs, George Starke, told WJFK that Gibbs would personally hand 100 dollar bills to playes who made big plays.  Knocking someone out may not have been an explicit demand for getting the money, but as Starke implies, it certainly wasn't frowned upon.  (This is football after all.)

But still, Starke only knows of Gibbs's first coaching turn, not his second coaching stint in the 2000's.  What still isn't known is if Gibbs did or did not know about Williams was doing.  We will say that Williams in honor of the fallen safety, did have the Redskins start with 10 members of defense in the game after Sean Taylor's death.  Gibbs would later say that he had no idea Williams was going to do that, so it certainly is within the realm of possibility that Gibbs had no knowledge of what Williams was pulling.

In fact, we can't even be sure if Willaims was running the program, that's how many different things are being said here.

Never one to shy away from controversy, former Redskisn cornerback Fred Smoot has gone on to say that the 'bounty-system' was an idea that came from the players and not from Williams. 

Smoot also asserted that it was nowhere near as vicious as some people are saying, claiming that the reward system was based on interceptions and forced fumbles, and not on injuring the other team.

"I never saw anyone paid for knocking someone out of the game. Did we as players put in pots to make plays, what we called the Big Splash Plays Pot? Yeah, we did that. WE did that. Players. That started by the captains on the team," Smoot told WJFK.  (Thanks to DC Sports Bog for the reporting of this quote.)

Welcome to football's version of whodunit.

Attention mid -level managers, you face a double -double of office productivity threats.  Not only is the dark plague of baseball fantasy drafts looming, but come mid -March, the madness begins!

You can look it up, the NCAA tournament brings $190 million a year in lost productivity, and after all that, last season's championship between Butler and UConn was about as inspiring as a John Beck downfield pass.  

'Scrappy' Butler turned 'crappy,' only making 12, yes 12 shots the entire game! Not only that, but normally fluid guard Kemba Walker was emblematic of the overall play from both teams as he went 5-19 and UConn played little better than a rec league basketball team, shooting 34.5 percent from the floor. 'Hoosiers' this game was not.

However, we sure did love that run from VCU! Poise under pressure?  The team had so much of it they could have packaged it, sealed it and sold it at wholesale!

So who's going to make the jump to the tournament in our area?   Right now it isn't a big list. 

Georgetown (12-5 in Big East.  22-6 overall.) - The only 'sure-shot' tournament team our area has, the Hoyas under a Princeton Offense that is based on making back-door cuts, high and wide spacing, and often has the center and forwards receiving the ball out of the paint near the key, while other players make back-door cuts to the basketball.  Because of this, Georgetown's forwards have tended to be good passers.  We've seen this is the past from Jeff Green, and we see it this season from Center Henry Sims who leads the Hoyas with 3. 5 assists, per game

They Hoyas are also lead by Jason Clark, a tenacious, 6'2 guard who plays just as aggressively on defense as he does leading the Hoyas on the counter-attack. 

The Hoyas are a very deep, well coach team who has excellent size, a perfect combination for the rough-and-rumble Big East where smaller, non-athletic teams simply don't have a chance.

With a win on Saturday against Marquette, the Hoyas would enter the Big East Tournament as a #2 seed.  For the far more important NCAA Tournament, they are a lock to get in, a strong candidate to go far, but could be susceptible to a good three-point shooting team that has a few forwards who can hang. (See VCU last season.)

Maryland  (6-9 in ACC.  16-13 overall.)  - The Terps just don't have the experience and the chops yet to hang late, a downfall that will keep Maryland from the NCAA tournament unless they can pull off a miracle and win the ACC Tournament.  Maryland shot 23.3% in the second half of a recent loss to Georgia Tech. The numbers were even gaudier in a blowout loss the Virginia Cavaliers as Maryland made exactly five shots in the second half and shot 20.4 % in the final twenty minutes of basketball.  Not so good. 

With Sean Mosely the only Maryland Senior who can really be relied upon, Terrell Stoglin the only guy who can create his own shot, and with a 1-8 record on the road in the ACC, a strong ACC tournament appears to be a distant pipedream. 

Virginia (8-7 in ACC.  21-8 overall.) - With a last-second loss on a three pointer by Ian Miller to give the Seminoles a 63-60 win on a game that four minutes earlier, the Cavs lead by 11, it was the second straight game that Virginia could no longer close out a team, as the Cavs missed a number of open three point shots in the last minute during a 54-51 loss to 7th ranked North Carolina.

Now all of a sudden, in what has been  a very good season, the Cavs no longer appear to be a sure lock to make the Tourney if they stop right here. 

We don't think they will. 

The Cavs under Tony Bennett are second nationally in team defense, only giving up an average of 52.2 points per game. The Cavs are also 5th nationally in three point defense as other teams shoot on average only at 28.8 percent.

On offense, the Cavs have been relying on power forward Mike Scott, (Who has seven double-doubles already the season.) for a long-long time. 

Jontel Evans also gives the Cavs some great outside range, shooting three pointers at a 45.5 percent clip and leading the Cavs in assist.

At 8-7 in the ACC, the game this Saturday at Maryland is a must win. 

If the Cavs do win and at least take one game in the ACC Tournament, we expect that they will finish around a 6th seed in the Tourney.  For the first time since 1995, Virginia also has a decent chance of at least making the Sweet Sixteen if they make it in.

Virginia Tech (4-11 in ACC.  15-15 overall.)  - After beating number #1 Duke and reaching the ACC Tournament Semifinals, the Hokies should have been invited to the NCAA Tournament last year.  Maybe Hokies coach Seth Greenberg was being a little melodramatic when he said of the NCAA selection committee that, "you almost wonder if someone in that room has their own agenda and that agenda doesn't include Virginia Tech," but he certainly had a right to be mad.

This year though Greenberg can't make the same argument.  Tech is an abysmal 4-11 in conference, playing good teams like Duke to overtime and only getting beaten by 1 against #21 Florida State, but they don't give NCAA Tournament bids to teams whose major accomplishment is not getting blown out. 

VCU 25-6, 15-3 CAA) Having won 14 of the last 15 games, the Rams should be a tournament team, especially when you consider the vainglorious run they went on last season. 

However most NCAA tournament insiders expect the perennially underrated CAA to only have one team make the tournament.  That means that VCU or the also deserving George Mason (23-8 overall and 14-4 in the CAA) likely will have to beat Drexel in the finals of the CAA tournament.

With a shooting percentage of .405, you wouldn't think that VCU would even be in contention for the tournament as this team does not have the 'gunners' they had last season.

The Rams high intensity defense though often is the deciding factor in games.  In terms of pure thievery, VCU is one of the best in the nation, averages over 10 steals per game.

On offense, Bradford Burgess is the most important holdover from the Final Four team of 2010-11. Burgess is more than capable of 'going off' has the speed and ability to create his own shot, and if he starts 'feeling it' behind the arc, it's over as Burgess already has played three games in which he made five or more shots behind the arc. 

George Washington (10-19 overall.  5-10 in Atlantic 10.) Not much to see here and no tournament hopes to speak of as first year head coach Mike Lonergan has been searching for but been unable to find consistency from his Colonial squad.

The very lucky Washington Capitals

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Guten Tag, konnichiha, ola and if you're reading this is France, bonjour!


My name is Michael Hoffman, and while we will be covering national sports on this blog, our primary focus will be on the personalities,  teams and random idiosyncrasy that make up D.C. sports.


With the putrid state of that landscape, hopefully reading this blog won't lead to any heavy drinking on your part. It's a little bit depressing out there folks. I mean if the Wizards aren't bad enough, we've now even have Maryland losing ACC games by 27 points!


The light at the end of the tunnel? I think it may come from the recharged Washington Nationals but I'll save that blog posting for another day.


I'd give you my background and detail how much I like long walks on the beach but this is not a dating site and I'm not here to bore you to death. I'll just say that if you like what you read, give us a shout out and tell your friends.  If you hate it, keep it to yourself and please reassess every single life decision you have ever made.


Alright, let's talk Washington Capitals.


Capitals fans, we all have a lot to be thankful for.


If that sound like an odd statement considering the wide litany of things that have gone wrong, I'm going to try to make myself look even more foolish my listing the following facts below...


To date the Capitals have...


- Not won consecutive games since January 13th.  A stretch of sixteen games.

- Not had a consistent 2nd line center. 

- Had a streak of thirteen consecutive games in which  they were outshot.  (January 7th-February 4th)

- That post-all-star game push?  So far it hasn't been present as the Caps have gone 3-5-2 since the break. 

- Of teams in the playoffs, or in contention for the playoffs in both the Eastern and Western Conferences, at 10-16-3 no one except for the Tampa Bay Lightning have a worse road record.

Alexander Ovechkin and two of the three non-goaltending offseason acquisitions in Joel Ward and Roman Hamrlik are on pace for career lows for regular season points. (We're listing season's in which both Hamrlik and Ward played in most of the regular season games.)

- That's now twenty games and counting without Nicklas Backstrom.  The Capitals also had been without Mike Green for half the season as big #52 had missed 47 games due to injury. 

- Forget about the lack of offensive production, defensively many normally stout Capitals have faltered.  John Carlson for one is tied for second worst (With Ovechkin) with a plus-minus of -7.  As Kings of Leonsis so expertly noticed, Carlson was also on ice for 22 of the 32 goals the Capitals gave up in January.  Ouch!

-Since Backstrom's injury the Capitals punchless power-play has gone 8 for 55, a success rate of 14.5 percent. (Stick tap to Katie Carrera for that nugget.) Major league batters have been benched for far less tenuous streaks. 


Any yet, miracle upon miracle, the  Capitals barely sit out of a playoff spot with the Toronto Maple Leafs only leading for 8th in the East by one point.  Toronto has also played one more hockey game than the Washington Capitals.


With both playing 58 games so far, the Southeast leading Florida Panthers also only lead the Capitals for the division by two points.


Looking at some of the figures above, it's somewhat amazing that this team is even in position to be buyers during the trade deadline.  Despite all the bad injuries and heartbreaking losses (See losing to Winnipeg after leading 2-0 with less than three minutes left and giving up the game-tying goal on a 69 foot shot.) that have befallen this team, is it possible the Capitals are actually somewhat lucky?


The answer may be yes. 


Despite another down season so far for Ovechkin, despite having no real 2nd line center to speak of, despite failing repeatedly on the road and on the power play (Want a championship? You can't be 0-2 in those two things.) despite 67 lost games and counting between Green and Backstrom, despite less than solid play from the teams most previously reliable defenders, the Capitals are still very much in this thing.


However, with only 24 games remaining in the regular season, it's high time for the Washington Capitals to be a little more than lucky.  That is unless come mid-April, the Capitals want to find out if their good fortune extends to playing golf.


For more on the Capitals check out Michael Hoffman's column's at Capitals Examiner


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