Thursday, May 11, 2017

Waiting to Exhale

Made wary and weary by thirty years of playoff frustration, most Washington Capital fans I know spent Wednesday waiting to exhale.  Would the conclusion of Game 7 bring a resigned sigh nodding to history or a sigh of relief followed closely by a whoop of joy?  I want to write more, I wish I had poetry or beautiful prose to add, but words don't come easy this morning.  Honestly, you can pick about a half dozen of my previous May posts that convey the exact same sentiments if you want to read what I think about Caps playoff flameouts. Failing that you'll have to settle for a little math:
Curse >Mr Game Seven
Hockey gods>My positivity
Shaft of Fleury's stick>8's shot
30 years>My patience???????

Thursday, April 27, 2017

If not now, when?

I have been ruminating for days on a Caps/Pens blog post.  With so much history, much of it lopsided, there are not many fresh angles to take.  Pens almost always win, Caps dominate a game but lose, puck deflects in off defenseman's skate, no-name cheesedick in black and gold becomes a hero, hot goalie, blah, blah, blah.  Perhaps a deeper topic will emerge over the course of the series.  Until then, my brief fact/opinion preview of Capitals v. Tundra Pigeons:

Fact: Practicing mindfulness teaches us to live in the present moment, existing unburdened by the past or the future.
Opinion: In regards to the this series, I presently wallow in the past and fear the future.

Fact: Injured Penguins defenseman Chris Letang will not play in this series.
Opinion: Even without Letang, the Pens boast the douchiest roster in the league.

Fact: Despite being a whiny brat, Sidney Crosby fearlessly works in the dirtiest parts of the rink.
Opinion: His favorite "dirty parts of the rink" to work in are other players' crotches.

Fact: This is the tenth postseason series in which the Caps and Pens have met.  The Penguins have won eight of the previous nine.
Opinion: The hockey gods do not care about the law of averages, being "due", whose "time" it is.

Fact: Alex Ovechkin is 0-2 in the playoffs versus the Penguins.
Opinion:  Ovi and his mates have never been better equipped to defeat the Pens.

Fact: Good things happen when you go to the net.
Opinion: The Penguins do this better/ more often than the Caps.

Fact: The Pens are fast.
Opinion:  Having just dispatched the speedy Leafs will help the Caps.

Fact: There are two schools of thought regarding the Capitals first round series with the Leafs. One: such a close series versus the eighth seed was tiring and shows how vulnerable Washington is versus Pittsburgh. Or...the tough series made the Caps battle-hardened and ready for anything the Pens bring.
Opinion: We are waaaaay overthinking this.

Fact: Nate Schmidt played well while replacing the injured Karl Alzner. 
Opinion: When Alzner returns, Schmidt should stay in the lineup as well.

Fact: The Caps have twice (1992 and 1995) blown 3-1 series leads to the Pens. (Remember when we though that was as bad as it could get? Hahahahahaha, we were so young and foolish.)
Opinion: They won't have to worry about that problem in this series.

Fact: Pierre Maguire, the Doug Llewelyn of NHL hockey, will be interviewing a hero from the winning team at series' end.
Opinion: That player will be wearing.....Red.
Fact: Typing it doesn't make it true.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Mailbag

On the morning of Caps/Leafs Game Four, my inbox is jammed with letters from readers asking about (surprise!) Game 4.  Let's dive in and answer a few questions from actual That's No Moon readers.  (It's called a plot device people.  Did you never watch Viewer Mail?)

Hi Bryan,  Given that he appears to be getting outcoached through three games, is #InTrotzWeTrust still a thing? - Doubtful in D.C.

Thanks for the question, Doubtful.  Yes, Barry Trotz seems to be getting outcoached thus far, with CSNWashington analyst Alan May going so far as to say that Toronto head coach Mike Babcock is "running the Capitals" right now.  Yes, Trotz seems too caught up in matchups, instead of trying to use his teams superior talent to dictate play.  Yes, one of my major criticisms of former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was his inability to adapt over the course of a seven game series.  We'll see if Trotz and staff can and/or will.  Yes, Trotz, despite his resume, his professionalism, and saying all the right things, resembles a man who is just trying to keep his head above water as he begins to comprehend that he had no clue what it would be like to be swept up in the wave of curse that is this franchise.  But, yes, #InTrotzWeTrust is still a thing because I paid a lot of money for all those bumper stickers.

Hey B, longtime listener, first time caller.  The Caps gave up four goals Wednesday night.  Braden Holtby looks more concerned with hair flips and water bottle squirts than stopping pucks.  'Bout time to go to Grubauer, don't you think?  I'll hang up and listen for your answer. - Overreacting in Odenton

Uh, Overreacting, I'm not sure you understand how blogs, mailbags, or goaltending work.  The first goal took a fluke bounce onto a 40-goal scorer's stick.  The second goal was deflected.  The third goal was scored only after Holtby made an incredible save from point blank range with his defenders out of position, and the fourth goal occurred on a deflection in the waning seconds of a Toronto penalty on a fresh sheet of ice.  Holtby made many impressive saves and one daring (stupid if doesn't work) poke check forty feet from his crease.  Thanks, but even with his tics and peculiarities, I'm riding with the Holtbeast.

Hello Bryan, Do you remember the exact moment you began hating yourself for being a Capitals fan? - Curious in Clarendon

No, I've been spending more time trying to deduce where this franchise went wrong.  The ineptitude in key moments is uncanny.  The lack of confidence in clutch opportunities is bizarre.  The wilting under pressure is nearly inexplicable.  Did Abe Polin build the original Capital Centre on ancient Indian burial grounds?  Did Vincent Price once give Nick Backstrom a cursed tiki idol when he vacationed in Hawaii?  Did Alex Ovechkin sell his soul for 700 goals and zero Cups?

Bryan, Supposing the Caps limp by the Maple Leafs, what is the probability Washington will get smoked by the Penguins in Round Two? - Resigned in Reston

I'm going to let my guy K2SO field that one:

Good morning Bryan,  Do you think fans will be excited when the Caps raise their latest President's Trophy banner to the Verizon Center rafters next fall?  Asking for a friend. - Ted  Fred in Washington


Beezer, If the Capitals lose Game 4 is it okay to burn all my red hats, jerseys, and pompoms tonight, or does fan code require waiting until the actual end of the series? - Kevin in Indiana

Put the cap back on the gas can, Sparky.  I say Washington wins tonight to even the series.  I'd like to say they will handle their business the way the Sharks handled theirs while down two games to one to a young, talented upstart, but I see no way the Caps hang seven goals on the Leafs.  As great as a dominating performance would be, we're likely looking at another back and forth, one goal game.  Heck, at this point, just for the sheer weirdness of it, I'd love to see seven overtime games; make it as a close a series as possible.  I think the Caps win Game 5, lose Game 6 back in Toronto, and return home for another historically-unkind, fraught-with-danger, watch-what-happens, pressure cooker of a Game 7.  As much as we bemoan it, would we fans want it any other way?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Beginning of the Beginning, or Beginning of the End?

And so it begins.  Like Opening Day and pollen-induced sneezing attacks, Spring brings with it another NHL postseason.  Writing about the Washington Capitals' hopes, battles, and failures has become an annual routine which I simultaneously enjoy and despise.  So many Aprils begin with promise only to crumble into disappointment.  Each year we fans can enumerate the reasons it will be different, while wondering deep down if it actually can be.  The reasons for the Caps' demises are sometimes surprising, sometimes predictable, yet always expected.  Each Spring the team treats its collective fan psyche like a United Airlines passenger in need of "re-accommodation."  With only a couple minor changes, last season's postseason preview could serve as today's.  The eternal question remains: Will 2017 be different, or will this team add another verse to the franchise's long-running hit song "The Second Round Blues"?  My notes for the first round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs:

Fact: The Caps and Leafs have never met in the playoffs.
Opinion: By series end, I will have added a new team to my Love to Hate list.

Fact: Leafs coach Mike Babcock has led teams to one Stanley Cup victory and two gold medals.
Opinion: So what?  In Trotz We Trust.

Fact: With Game 2 scheduled for Saturday night, an Easter Epic is possible.
Opinion:  Easter Epics suck.

Fact: Toronto is the media capital of the NHL.  The spotlight on this series will be bright.
Opinion:  Alex Ovechkin loves playing in Canada and will rise to the occasion.

Fact: Toronto rookie center Auston Matthews had a sensational season, finishing with 40 goals.
Opinion: Auston, meet Jay Beagle.  For the next two weeks, he'll be closer to you than your underwear.

Fact:  Olaf Kolzig, during his 1998 playoff run, posted the best postseason goaltending performance in Capitials' history.
Opinion: To win the Cup, The Holtbeast will have to surpass Godzilla's outstanding play.

Fact: The abundant available puns regarding sweeping/raking/crunching/blowing away the Leafs are difficult for this dad joker to resist.
Opinion: Shouldn't they be called the Toronto Maple Leaves?

Fact: This Leafs team is young, fast, and talented.
Opinion: This series would be better with Tie Domi.

Opinion: My beard is better than ever.
Fact: I'm grasping for good omens.

Fact: This season, the Caps earned their third President's Trophy.  No team has won three without winning a Stanley Cup.
Opinion: How you view this fact illustrates how you envision the next two months of hockey.

Fact: By regular season record, Washington is far superior to Toronto.
Opinion:  The playoffs are different.  Washington likes to make things difficult. Caps in six games.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

It's Almost 'O'pening Day

Since 2012, the Orioles have confounded baseball pundits and number-crunching SABREmetricians.  From upside down run differentials to preposterous starters' Earned Run Averages, Buck Showalter's Baltimore teams win despite what conventional wisdom predicts will happen.  Playoff appearances in 2012,2014, and 2016 were fueled by bargain free agent pickups, a talented bullpen, and a little Orioles Magic.  To make the playoffs in 2017 it will take more of the same.  This team, on paper, looks like it will be lucky to crack .500.  Fans hope Buck and the boys have a few tricks up their sleeves.  Trying to predict what the summer, and hopefully fall, holds requires a spirited debate between the head and the heart, between evidence and wishful thinking, between what we know and what we think we know:

Fact: With brash talk and clutch play, Adam Jones led Team USA to victory in the World Baseball Classic.
Opinion: Winning is contagious.  Captain America and the O's get off to a hot April start.

Fact: Manny Machado finished fifth in American League MVP voting last season.
Opinion: Manny will ride 50 doubles and his first 200 hit season to a second-place MVP finish.

Fact: Matt Wieters left via free agency.
Opinion: Thanks to Wellington Castillo and Caleb Joseph, Wieters will not be missed.  Castillo will prove to be one of the baseball's sleeper signings of the offseason.

Fact: Last season, Mark Trumbo was the latest of Dan Duquette's successful scrap heap pickups.
Opinion:  Trumbo will not come close to replicating last year's numbers, further complicating a crowded DH/1B/OF situation.

Fact: The 2017 starting rotation will make no one forget 1971's four twenty game winners.
Opinion:  "Kevin and Dylan and pass the penicillin" may be the new "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain."

Fact: Two teams, the 1996 Yankees and 2001 Diamondbacks, won the World Series the year after dismissing Buck Showalter as manager.
Opinion: Leave my Buck alone.

Fact: The Orioles blasted 253 home runs in 2016.
Opinion:  With this starting rotation they may need to hit 300 in 2017.

Fact: Baltimore did little to improve their corner outfield positions.
Opinion:  The disparity between the quality of the O's infield defense and outfield defense is the widest in baseball.

Fact: Kevin Gausman is scheduled to make his first Opening Day start on Monday.
Opinion:  Gausman will take an Adam Jones post-game pie to the face after a strong Game 1 performance.

Fact: During Showalter's tenure, the Orioles have missed the playoffs in the odd years ('11,'13,'15).
Opinion: This season they "Buck" that trend by defying expectations and sneaking into the second wild card.

Fact: I've been wrong before.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Hey, You Kids Get Off My Rink!

NHL general managers convened in Boca Raton this week in their annual bid to screw up the coolest game on Earth.  They brainstorm and workshop proposed rule changes regarding everything from on-ice play to calculating standings and playoff seeding.  Then the media speculate on what changes could be adopted and offer their own ideas.  Then the trickle-down continues and you get influential hockey bloggers like myself adding my two cents' worth.  My luke-warm takes on some of the ideas floating around NHL rinks:

The Three Point Win: I understand the desire to change the current point system which makes no distinction between a win in regulation or overtime/shootout. Some GMs feel there should be a bigger reward for winning versus losing in overtime.  Proponents would award three points for a victory in regulation, two points for a victory in OT/SO, and one point for an OT/SO loss.  The thinking goes, teams would play harder, in theory elevating play, during regulation if the payoff for winning in regulation were greater.  I think the solution is much simpler.  I would eliminate rewarding a team for losing in OT/SO.  I was pleased to read this morning that, according to USA Today legendary championship architect Lou Lamoriello agrees, “I’m not one personally in favor of a three-point game,” he said. “I’m also not in favor of getting a point if you don’t win. I’d rather see the game be two points and zero (points) or end up in a tie for one and one.” Personally, I prefer the old two points for a win, one point for a tie system to what we have now or the possibility of a three point game.  Since more games are ending in overtime thanks to 3v3 play I would extend the overtime period to ten minutes. We eliminate the dreadful shootout. Go kiss your sister and take your point.  If forced to keep the shootout to ensure there are no ties, then the plan is even simpler.  Eliminate the point system and simply count wins and losses like most other big sports. (I say "like most" because I don't follow soccer enough to know all the implications of goal differential.)  The main point is neither MLB, the NFL, or the NBA reward a team for losing in extra innings/overtime.  It's silly.

Leaving Your Feet To Block Shots: One of the silliest on the list, in my opinion, but a proposal that seems to be picking up steam.  The idea, first brought up by Hall of Famer Bob Gainey in 2008, would make it against the rules to slide or lay down to block a shot.  Sure, there is a lot of congestion in front of the net.  Big deal.  I think if a guy is brave/dumb enough to slide into a slapshot we should give him a high-five not a penalty (or change of possession).  Doing whatever it takes to keep the puck out of your net is an instinctual part of playing defense.

Eliminating Face-offs: Some suggest eliminating faceoffs except at the beginning of periods and after goals.  Why? To generate more offense.  The theory is an offense given uncontested possession at the top of the zone would be able to generate a quicker (better) scoring chance from the whistle.  I don't think it would increase offense dramatically, though I have read analytics estimates that predict it would.  What eliminating faceoffs would do is get rid of one of the more nuanced, least-appreciated aspects of the game.  Certain players have lifted winning faceoffs into an art form.  They study opponents' tendencies, techniques, and body language.  It becomes a subtle game within the game.  It may seem tedious to some, but believe me, this isn't like MLB eliminating the intentional walk. This is more akin to dispensing with pickoffs/holding runners on base.  Sabremetricians may be able to point to numbers showing faceoffs are not as consequential as we think they are, but I would be sad to see them go.  This isn't street hockey.

The Bye Week:  Designed to give players a brief reprieve from a grueling schedule, the extended break instead kills any momentum a team has rolling.  Teams have combined for a 10-16-4 record in their first games back from the bye.  Plus, I see these annoying pictures of my favorite players sunning in Cancun when they should be on the ice.  The only photos I need of my favorite players partying are when they are, hopefully, showing off their newly-won Stanley Cup.  Want to make the schedule less grueling?  Cut ten or twelve games from the schedule and dispose of as many back-to-back games as possible.  This keeps players fresher and allows for more practice time. 

Making the Goals Wider and/or Taller: A fundamental change to the game that should not even be discussed.  Moving on.

 4v4 As the Default Mode of Play: See above.

Tweaking the Offsides Instant Replay Rule:  Please, hockey gods, yes.  I get wanting to use replay to get as many calls correct as possible.  However, being able to challenge an offsides call that happened minutes earlier is counterproductive.  It seems cheap.  It slows the game as linesmen crowd around a tiny tablet trying to determine whether a skate blade was a fraction of an inch beyond the blue line.  It saps momentum and probably instills doubt in the linesmen.  A better use of resources would be to figure a way (I am not proposing using replay or challenges for this!) for referees to not miss as many obvious penalty calls.) 

Continued penalties:  Penalized players would serve their entire two or four minute penalty even if the man-up team scores.  This used to be the rule until it was changed in the 1950's because Montreal's powerhouses would dominate on the power play.  I could be talked into liking this one, but I think a better way to sufficiently penalize a team would be to Call Icing All the Time.  This proposal doesn't allow the shorthanded team a free dump to relieve pressure in the defensive zone.  It makes the penalty more of a punishment without changing the integrity of play.

Wild Card Play-in Games: Yes, baseball's wild card games are often incredibly exciting. I'm still smarting from Eduardo Encarnacion's walk-off dispatch of the Orioles last October.  Yes, hockey Games 7 are about as good as sports get.  Why not recreate that level of excitement for a one game play-in?  Because if you are the ninth and tenth best team in the conference, you don't deserve to be in the playoffs, that's why.  While we are at it, one change I would like to see is the conferences go back to straight seeding for the playoffs.  Best record plays eighth best record and so on,  regardless of division or division standings.  Teams should be better rewarded for a successful 82 (or hopefully 70) game season.

Most of the changes discussed above are on the table because the NHL is searching for ways to increase offense and scoring which they equate with making the game better.  In my opinion, the NHL would be better served to realize it is a relatively niche sport that will not attract millions of new casual fans simply by tweaking the game at the expense of those who already love it.  Can it be better? Sure.  But bigger goals, fewer faceoffs, and carnival games to end games are not the right way to grow the game. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Disney Is So Gay!

Grace recently did me a great service, reminding me, in the way that sometimes only our kids can, of what is important.  Taking advantage of an unseasonably warm winter afternoon, we went for ice cream before starting her homework. (I know, we're so crazy!)  Grace, not entirely pleased with her selection, asked if she could try my sundae.  We were already driving so I told her she had to wait until we got home.  Once home, I offered her a bite of my dessert.  She told me she had changed her mind, threw her arms around me, and said, "Ice cream only lasts a little while, but a hug lasts forever.  Hugs are better than ice cream."  This made me smile for a couple reasons.  One, I didn't have to share my delicious sundae.  Two, it was the perfect reminder that it's not the stuff, the things, the gifts, that our kids need.  Sure, they ask for the trendy clothes or hot toys they see in commercials.  But what they really crave is us.  Our gift to our kids is our time, our presence, our attention.  My kid just wants to hang out with me.  Knowing that feeling won't last forever, what could possibly be more important?

One of our family's favorite ways to hang out is watching movies together, whether at home or on the big screen.  Yes, it can be annoying sometimes.  For every Star Wars or Ghostbusters we get to share with Grace , Amanda and I have to roll our eyes through a Chipwrecked.  It's worth it, of course, because it's about the hanging out, remember?  Next on our list of family movie hang time, is the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.  To hear some tell it, this would not be spending quality time with Grace.  Instead, we'd be doing her a disservice, or worse. From the Washington Times:

Evangelist Franklin Graham is calling on Christians to boycott Disney due to the company's promotion of homosexuality in its children's movies and cartoons.

Pointing to the inclusion of a gay character in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast live-action remake, Mr. Graham said Disney is, "trying to push the LBGT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children."

Look, I understand if you think homosexuality is a sin.  I understand, if as a theater owner, you opt to not show the movie.  I understand if you sign the boycott petition and skip the movie.  What I don't understand is the outrage.  The outrage at Disney including a character (in 2017!) that represents people Grace sees in her daily life and her extended family.  The outrage about an "exclusively gay moment" that has yet to even be fully described.  Unless Lumiere bends Cogsworth over and grinds his gears with one (or more, kinky!) of his six-inch candles, I think Grace will be just fine.  LeFou and Gaston may share a kiss, or hold hands, or stare longingly into each others eyes.  These are actions Grace could see on any street in any town across the country, not something from which she needs to be shielded.  Disney is being inclusive, not promoting, as the actual petition calls it, a "harmful sexual political agenda."

Let's assume Disney does have sinister motives beyond trying to sell movie tickets.  What if I make Grace wear a tin foil hat?  Will that make her less susceptible to having The Agenda beamed directly into her innocent, apparently extremely malleable mind?  Is this hypnotizing Agenda stronger than honest conversations she can/will have with her parents?  I doubt it.  If during the movie her tin hat falls off, I am no more afraid Grace will be turned gay by what she sees on-screen than I am that she will fall in love with a yak in a waistcoat or begin talking to the teapot.  No movie moment is going to destroy your child.  Even if there is a mysterious LBGT agenda, I imagine it has less to do with raising godless fornicators and more to do with equality for all, being comfortable with who you are, embracing those different than you, and loving who you love.  If so, consider the agenda pushed  in our household.  For fun, though, let's spin this scenario one step further.  Suppose, through a little Disney magic and sprinkling of fairy dust, taking Grace to see  this movie actually makes her gay.  So what?  I'd be proud to have a gay daughter.  Heck, for all I know, I have one.  I'm not going to love her less if she likes girls.  I would hope the people signing the boycott petition would not love their gay kids any less either. 

In all likelihood, the "controversial" gay moment will sail right over Grace's head.  If it doesn't, we'll talk about it.  It won't be a big deal. I think she'll be happy enough watching Belle on the big screen while wearing her bright yellow costume dress.  Just to piss off the haters, I might wear mine, too.