Responsibility in Blogging

This is sort of a PSA to any hockey blogger who cares to read. It’s some inside journalism stuff, so feel free to move along if this minutiae isn’t your lede.

Blogging is often a place to provide added analysis, arguments, pleas and an aggregated potpourri of the internets so you’re kept in the loop. Sometimes that requires actually talking to someone to enhance the story.

Sports blogging has found a way to find 10,000 niches in an individual sport or league, whether it’s the jerseys and logoswhat refs are officiating the game  or strictly how the farm system is faring.

Several of those blogs mix quantitative, qualitative and opinionated analysis. Some on a higher level than other.

Most sports blogs hone in on their favorite team, though.

There can only be so many fan blogs that aggregate what the mainstream media or team embedded media reports only to be “enhanced” with their own roasting hot takes. Some focus on the mix of People magazine meet TMZ aspect of the team but at least use its credentials to gather original reporting  to enhance the blog (and sometimes photos/videos) on their slice of hockey life reporting.

Blogs often critique player performances, propose trade scenarios and even have the open letter—a definite no-no on editorial pages because it’s basically a column. Don’t try to cheat.

Most of that can exist in somewhat of a vacuum, but certain blogs may need a question answered to give a fair analysis. You know, acknowledge that someone from the organization you are writing about is affected in all of this. Or that we can’t pontificate from the keyboard and may the internet kingdom hear all. (This entry is one of those pontificating blogs.)

I ran into that issue recently about the Washington Capitals decision to move its equipment sale and Fan Fest from a Saturday to a weekday.

The basis of the blog was going to be that popularity comes at a price and it’s difficult to make everyone happy. The solutions are few to make it better for everyone, including those working the event.

I needed to ask the organization why the move was made. The reason could be very different from what I thought the reasons would be and I’d have to start from scratch. You cannot assume what the answer is. That’s how you get sued.

However, I was asked not to contact the Capitals media relations department on behalf of the credentialed blog because they wanted to keep a positive relationship with the team. If you fairly offer critiques about player performance and front office decisions on players, coaches and prospects, then the marketing and fan experience items are fair game. Every event is a money-making opportunity for the team, even if admission is free.

Some aspects managed crowds better by allowing season-ticket members priority access to certain activations and the equipment sale.

I could have contacted the organization myself, but while my track record and reputation is good in several journalism circles, the Capitals media relations department has no clue who I am. Most Caps fans don’t know who I am either on here, or that they come here for news. This site is a hobby. Other sites were opportunities, even though as a professional journalist I should not be working for free, for anyone.

I asked the Caps PR twitter account about the change but I didn’t receive a response. It was a long shot but contacting them that way would get things in the open. Anything beyond that, phone calls, emails, I’d leave for something I’d be getting paid for.

Here’s what I would have asked:

  • Why was the Fan Fest and equipment sale moved from a Saturday to a Wednesday?
  • Depending on the answer, then I’d follow up with, Was it because the event tends to be crowded, verging on overcrowding, each year? (It’s held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where reminders are frequent to not stand or sit in the bleacher stairways because of the fire code.)
  • Did the Metro construction on the Blue/Orange lines happening that week affect the decision? (It would have proved troublesome on a weekend to get there for some fans.)
  • Is this a one-time decision or likely be repeated in future years?
  • Do you keep track of the crowd or attendance at Fan Fest? Has it increased or decreased or stayed the same each year?
  • If crowding continued to be an issue, would returning the Capitals Convention help lessen the crowd at Fan Fest?
  • Regardless, are there any plans or talk that the Capitals Convention to return? What would it take for that event to return?

That helps cover a lot of areas, helps build rapport with an organization giving you access and helps form an informed opinion. You don’t want to risk a libel lawsuit or even be forced to write a correction or retraction because you didn’t ask the source for their side of the story.

The organization can chose to not answer any and all requests (keep records), or answer some but not all, but it still helps with building a story. With as many national and international media properties cover NHL teams, a blogger or freelance request could seem like a headache to them that they can brush off. But you never know how many clicks certain posts can produce, so at times you have to at least acknowledge the request.

I blame some of my journalism brethren for a habit by columnists to creep into blogging. I’ve seen too many columnists in daily papers, mainly at smaller circulations, hypothesize and place blame on someone or something without asking the person they’re hurling suggestions (or blame, maybe even praise) to in 550 words. The best practice in columns is to ask that source of the issue what they think, even if it leads to an awkward conversation, to get a complete view of the issue. Your thoughts may change, maybe backing down from what you originally thought, but it makes a better piece.

Your source continues to trust you. Your readers continue to trust you. And that’s not something you can easily reacquire after it’s lost.

Duplicate Blue Jackets’ Winter Park on the National Mall

If Washington couldn’t host a Winter Classic on the National Mall, hosting some shinny could be a nice consolation prize.

The thought that a marquee event like the Winter Classic would ever be on the Mall was somewhere between daydreaming and lunacy and the Caps dismissed that idea back in 2012. The reason being is that there would be no way to get 20,000 to 40,000 quality temporary seats placed on the Mall.

But you still could put an ice rink there for a couple of months.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have brought outdoor hockey to the city’s downtown this year after trying it out in 2015 to build excitement for the All-Star Game. The team calls this regulation size rink and its environs Winter Park.

Here’s what the Jackets said back in 2015 about the rink:

It features everything you’d see in a normal hockey rink or hockey arena, except for a roof. Locker rooms, skate rentals, concessions, merchandise tents, a broadcast perch for the FOX Sports Ohio “Blue Jackets Live” broadcast team of Bill Davidge and Brian Giesenschlag…this rink has it all, and it figures to be the centerpiece of a one-of-a-kind experience that the Blue Jackets and several of their local partners want to bring to the city.

I saw a few flyers about the rink when I saw the Caps play in Columbus on Jan. 2 and was both super pumped about a regulation rink with all the proper dasher boards and glass in place for public use and super bummed that it wasn’t going to be open until after we left town.

The Blue Jackets have not only hosted public skating, but team practices (where John Tortorella earned his fractured ribs) and pick-up hockey for the public (!!!).

Yes, it’s $25 but shit, they have heated tents to get changed in. Well worth it, boys. Even if it means having to play at 6 a.m. I was amazed at the accessibility of the rink being across the street from Nationwide Arena in McFerson Commons.

(The Blue Jackets also had another idea that’s on-point: Dad’s Charity Game. Alas, this wasn’t at the outdoor rink and instead at Nationwide Arena where the players’ fathers played against First Responders.)

The Caps have held outdoor practices when they could at the Chevy Chase Club, but that’s not quite accessible given the private club atmosphere. With the Caps Convention gone for a couple of years now, this would be a neat way to do something different in the District and more for the community.

The National Gallery of Art has an outdoor ice skating rink, but it’s strictly for skating. You won’t see a full-on game going on here or Ovi working on his shot here.

The Mall is just as accessible with a Metro stop on the west end, is relatively flat and D.C. is definitely a walking city. If a budget team like the Blue Jackets are able to find sponsors and build a full rink, then the Caps could and have Kettler in charge of managing it.

The only thing is I don’t know how much the National Park Service would charge to rent out that large enough of a space on the Mall.

Cost may not be the issue, really. It’s probably the incredible restrictions for special events on NPS land. The chief one is about the storage of propane cylinders and restrictions of storing fuel on NPS property.

That could cause an issue if the only Zamboni you have uses propane as a fuel source. And then there’s the electrical access.

Marketing and advertising restrictions would mean the Caps would have to be careful how they use it and market it. Strictly promoting a commercial brand (NHL, Capitals) is a no-no. A special event featuring advertising of sponsors? It’s OK.

Oh, and this part won’t help you sign up season-ticket holders:

Soliciting personal information such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, zip codes, etc., or any other such information which may be used for future solicitation or marketing purposes, is strictly prohibited.

Sigh.

OK, I’m not so sure now. I don’t even know how you’d be able to do this for a weekend rink if D.C. ever gets an All-Star Game. There would have to be a huge community or charitable cause, like raising funds for the National Mall, to mask this as in order to work. Exactly the mission of the rink. The community part—not the part about hiding under the guise of a charity.

It would probably be less restrictive to do something like this on the West Potomac Park, which is south of the Lincoln Memorial along the Tidal Basin. This is where you’ll see some major concerts like the Landmark Music Festival which was like a D.C. Lollapalooza with a charitable cause (though how much it ultimately raised, who knows).

Hey, nothing’s going on in RFK during the winter anymore other than using its parking lots to deposit snow. The stadium has way more space than you need, but you’re not staffing the whole stadium for this. You’re closing off access to the upper bowl, and really, any bowl. Just get people access to the locker rooms to change and a way to walk out to the rink.

(Honestly, I know that’s a pipe dream. But maybe offering to do an outdoor World Juniors or NCAA game there would be a way in.)

D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation has ballfields that could work but with them mainly being in neighborhoods and beside schools it doesn’t have the same sort of ambience or access.

All that leaves you with is fields at American and Howard universities. Ehhhhh.

None of those other choices have the allure or accessibility of the National Mall.

Mr. Leonsis, it’s time to Rock the Rink on America’s front porch.

 

 

A Unicorn NHL TV Market and Why NHL Network Is Blacked Out in Frostburg

NHL Network LogoUpdate 2: I realized I never provided an additional update. Sorry.

The technician visited and explained that as I originally thought, the NHL Network is not available to Frostburg area customers.

However, the tech added that if I was in the Garrett County side of Frostburg instead of Allegany County, I would have access to the NHL Network, and many more channels in general. Of course that doesn’t make a lot of sense because Garrett County is as rural as you can get. It has more than 76,000 acres of public lands and lakes, which I believe is the most in the state.

 

Update: After asking NHL Network via Twitter to help fix this issue, another agent from @ComcastCares reached out and he believes the station is actually available in the Frostburg market.

After testing a different package not shown on the website, the channel didn’t appear, so they are sending a technician on Friday.

The technician will examine if they have my box on the right program guide (I don’t know why there are two different channel line-ups for one ZIP code), examine signal flux and my box.

This ought to demonstrate to the NHL Network to barter a bit better to be included in a lower tier of sports channels to have more viewers because other people would give up at this point to subscribe.

Original: Trying to watch hockey on TV shouldn’t be all that hard.

Given the battles to make it easier to watch games online, you’d think the TV end would be mainly issue free.

Not in Frostburg, Maryland, where territories of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins converge in the mountains.

Frostburg is a unique National Hockey League television market where you can watch both the Washington Capitals on ComcastSportsNet Mid-Atlantic and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Root Sports. It’s a swing county when it comes to hockey allegiances for these bitter rivals, to be honest.

I decided that this year I was going to go without a NHL GameCenter Live subscription. It didn’t make any sense to me anymore despite the new single-team packages being offered thanks to a class-action lawsuit. Broadstreet Hockey exceptionally covered the problems with GCL’s new set-up that’s supposed to be consumer friendly.

When I moved to Florida four years ago, I watched both Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals games, and while I enjoyed the idea, it didn’t quite work out for me, outside of the constant video buffering.

The Lightning and Caps would often play on the same nights and start a half-hour apart. And when they didn’t, one of the two teams were blacked out (typically the Caps) for being on national TV. And the Lightning would mainly be blacked out for being on the NHL Network.

And nothing ticked me off more than being blacked out for a “national” game on the NHL Network, considering it’s not in standard sports channel packages. It’s included on DirecTV (which if they had broadband Internet and not DSL here, I’d be there in a heartbeat).

So, I opted to dive in an extra $9.99 a month to get NHL Network with my current Xfinity package along with some other sports channels like NBA TV (that I’d never watch) and Encore that are included. I figured the NHL Network should be a better deal this year with a new operator taking over, new talent and better programming.

What comes next is five hours of hopelessness between three Comcast agents, one in an online chat, another on the phone and a third via the @ComcastCares Twitter account. And oh yeah, the NHL Network’s website.

Let’s cut to the chase first: The NHL Network is not available on Comcast Xfinity in the Frostburg market. The channel is advertised as part of a Digital Preferred Package when ordering on the Comcast website and three agents fist believed that I should have the channel until they dug deeper to find out that it isn’t available after all.

Now, look at this map of NHL TV territories made in 2013 by Mile High Hockey. Do you think this same issue would lead the NHL not to provide the NHL Network in Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis and New York City where other teams share TV territories? Nope.

2013 NHL TV Territory Map

2013 NHL TV Territory Map

This is a Direct Message from a @ComcastCares rep “DB” who spent several hours trying to fix my issue, including resetting my box for a signal flux issue:

A Comcast rep explains why the NHL Network isn't available after several hours thinking it was.

A Comcast rep explains why the NHL Network isn’t available after several hours thinking it was.

If you can’t read the picture, it says:

“Sorry for the delayed response, I just got confirmation that the NHL isn’t available in your region. I wasn’t able to confirm this earlier. I do suggest still sending a tech out to resolve the signal flux so you don’t experience any issues in the future. ~DB @ComcastCares

“Was there a reason given why it is not available”—@ImYourChuck

“Just that there hasn’t been an agreement reached yet to provide it in your area. Requesting it thru the feedback link will let your region know that it is in demand. Which could make it possibly available later. ~DB @ComcastCares”

Why did I deal with three reps? The first one tried to resolve the issue and couldn’t find the channel. Because I grew tired, I called to speak to someone so I could remove the service. That was relatively quick. The rep, a hockey fan, tried to help but figured out that it’s not available because the NHL decided it shouldn’t be. I spent from 5 to after 11 p.m. going through all of this.

I vented on Twitter and a @ComcastCares manager decided to reach out to me and figure this out in DMs.

Worse, is that when I enter my ZIP on the NHL Network website, it says I should have it. See below:

The NHL Network shows that the channel should be available in Frostburg, Md., on Comcast cable. However, it is not available.

The NHL Network shows that the channel should be available in Frostburg, Md., on Comcast cable. However, it is not available.

The passive way to resolve this, as suggested by Comcast is that I need more people in the Frostburg area to request the NHL Network be made available through both the NHL’s website and Comcast Xfinity feedback. However, that’s a daunting task considering the small population in this region.The FSU student population from Central Maryland helps, but those students are opting for either GameCenterLive, Center Ice or going to the bar.

This isn’t the first delivery issue I’ve had with NHL games in Frostburg. I’m looking forward to the Oct. 31 Caps vs. Panthers game on CSN+ to check to see if I don’t have another channel I’m supposed to have.

I wonder how much of all of this has to deal with this unique territory where rival NHL teams from two markets are shown on local TV channels. And how much has to deal with Xfinity not being able to separate this tiny market from its Pennsylvania customers because its local office is based in Meyersdale, Pa., after shutting down its Frostburg office last year.

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I want to know.

But really knowing why not is not as important as knowing when I will get the NHL Network.

Old Washington Capitals in New Places as NHL Training Camps Begin

It’s too real, guys.

Like seeing your girlfriend with another guy in the case of Mike Green with the Red Wings.

Or something more subtle, like asking Curtis Glencross “Did you get new glasses?” when you see him on a PTO with the Maple Leafs … but can’t even seem to find a photo of him as a Maple Leaf invitee.

So, here’s a photo and video round-up of Caps from last season, along with some other prominent ex-Caps, in strange new surroundings:

Mike Green, Red Wings

Mike Green practices with the Detroit Red Wings (Instagram @detroitredwings)

Mike Green practices with the Detroit Red Wings (Instagram @detroitredwings)

Green Life 52 is now Green Life 25, a number he was more familiar with while playing in Hershey.  Squeezed out from his contract and depth in the organization, Greenie gotta go.

Two to three seasons ago, Caps fans would be less disappointed if Green was traded, having his value somewhat decrease from injuries and the defensive mistakes he was making while his offense dipped. Last season, he really turned things around and we had to let him walk and not get anything in return. Godspeed on your Vespa, sir.

Troy Brouwer, Blues

Troy Brouwer [Video Screenshot: St. Louis Blues]

Troy Brouwer [Video Screenshot: St. Louis Blues]

The 2015 Winter Classic hero was traded in the offseason for T.J. Oshie and is also sporting No. 36 instead of No. 20 that he wore in D.C., because it’s worn by captain Alexander Steen.

Pheonix Copley, Blues

Mainly forgotten in the Brouwer/Oshie trade is goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley, who went from raw prospect to someone who could be a stud in the stable after his past season with Hershey.

Couldn’t find any good photos of Copley practicing, but we have his new pads, which is enough said for a goalie:

Michal Neuvirth, Flyers

Neuvy bounced around last year, splitting time with the Sabres and Islanders while dealing with injuries. Now he’s with yet another bitter Caps rival:

Eric Fehr, Penguins

Here’s a bowl full of awkward. Fehr scored in the 2011 Winter Classic against the Pens in Pittsburgh. Before he even landed in Pittsburgh, he stopped in Cincinnati to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play. The black and gold is striking enough even if it’s one of the other Steel City teams.

Because Fehrsie is rehabbing an injury (look at my shocked face), there aren’t any good photos of him on the ice other than this Sasquatch sighting:

Steve Oleksy, Penguins

Also joining the Dark Side is Steve “Binky” Oleksy, who mainly played with the Hershey Bears during his five years in the organization, managing to fit in over 60 games spread out over two seasons yet only saw one game with the Caps when Barry Trotz took over.

Joel Ward, Sharks

J. Randal Ward will always have a place in Caps lure for years to come and when he retires one day, I’m sure he will be welcomed with open arms back in D.C.

Wardo was the closest thing we had to Justin Williams before we got Justin Williams, scoring an OT GWG in Game 7 against the Bruins in 2012 and the amazing GWG with 1.3 seconds left in Game 1 against the New York Islanders.

He’s looking sharp in teal, especially in these throwback sweaters that will be worn in San Jose this year.

Alex Semin, Canadiens

Sasha Cares. At least on the first scrimmage of preseason. Semin, a sniper sorely missed in D.C., despite his perceived shortcomings. OK, a little soapboxing right now. Yes, he took a lot of slashing penalties. And he was hot and cold, but I remember another Cap great who had the same issues: Peter Bondra. /endrant.

After being bought out by the Hurricanes because he lost a step and didn’t buy in. From looking at how the Hurricanes played last year, a lot of guys didn’t buy in. Now he’s in Montreal on a one-year deal, wearing lucky No. 13.

And he’s sniping Carey Price in practice:

Tomas Fleischmann, Canadiens

Joining his one-time Caps line-mate in Montreal is Tomas Fleischmann, but Flash is in a tough spot. He’s on a pro tryout. Semin has a perception and baggage, but he has skill and proved he can pot 40 goals.

Flash is a good two-way player but the expectations always have been he should be producing more offense, whether that was in Washington, Florida, Colorado, Anaheim and now he has to prove it in Montreal. This is his sixth NHL Club, being drafted by the Red Wings.

Boyd Gordon, Coyotes

One of the Capitals who had to survive through the ugly rebuild, Gordon overcame groin injuries during his time in D.C., and was a face-off specialist until younger, cheaper options came through.

He’s returning for a second tour of duty in Glendale thanks to a trade from the Edmonton Oilers, which is probably the worst time to be traded from the Oilers given Connor McDavid is now on the team with essentially, an all-new team.

So again, Gordon plays on a team that is in the midst of the rebuild, does OK, and is dispatched before the team will get better. And now he’s on the very much so rebuilding Yotes.

Dishonorable Mention

Curtis Glencross, Maple Leafs

A trade-deadline acquisition from Calgary, he started off well in his first couple games then fell off a cliff. One-hundred percent bust, from regular season through the playoffs.

He went from scoring .58 points per game in Calgary to .38 with the Caps in 18 games. Then he was scratched in a few games in the playoffs, and scored one meaningless goal in 10 games.

Now, he’s on a PTO with the Maple Leafs. Not only couldn’t he find the net, a scoresheet or a team that wanted to sign him, I can’t find footage or photographic proof of him in Leafs attire at camp.

As much as the Caps wanted to forget his time here, nobody even wants to remember

Oshie to Caps: It’s a Great Day For America

I’m glad I reserved judgment of the Caps’ moves, or lack thereof, until Thursday.

In consecutive days, the Capitals signed Game Seven Hero Justin Williams and traded for All-American Hero T.J. Oshie. 

I was afraid general manager Brian MacLellan would fall back in a conservative mode like his predecessor and former boss, George McPhee, and be reticent to make major offseason trades, so the young players would replenish the stock with the core.

MacLellan is definitely bold but let’s see what the results are before we proclaim victory.

My concern about the lack of big movement wasn’t solely motivated by what Pittsburgh did bringing in Phil Kessel. But instead looking at what the Tampa Bay Lightning and others did to rectify postseason failure in a hurry.

It’s scary to see how machine-like Yzerman moved through last summer to get rid of deadweight and use the return, even if it was just draft picks, to identify the exact type of player he needed in free agency and trades. The deft hand got the Bolts within two wins of the Stanley Cup.

What helped Yzerman was that the Bolts were swept out of the first round the previous season. Despite the close games on the scoresheet, it was clear what he needed and went out and got it. (Except a healthy goalie all the time when Ben Bishop’s groin broke down at the worst time.)

For whatever reason, the Caps convinced no matter what, they were only just one or two players away.

Smart general managers know they can’t buy their way into the Stanley Cup via free agency. They need to draft, develop and have smart trades. Sure, a couple free agents help in the process.

For whatever reason, changing the core with the Caps has taken longer.

At the same time, we all wish that giddy feeling when in 2009 Sergei Fedorov scored the GWG in a Game 7 against the Rangers would last forever, especially into the next round against the Penguins.

The last time the Caps were swept out of the playoffs, by the Lightning no less in the second round, was in 2011.

Here’s what McPhee did:

  • Traded for Troy Brouwer
  • Signed prospect Mattias Sjogren, who didn’t pan out and didn’t want to play in the AHL to get to the Caps
  • Signed Jeff Halpern after being away from the club for years
  • Traded Varlamov for picks, which one of them ended up being Filip Forsberg
  • Signed Joel Ward
  • Signed Roman Hamrlik
  • Signed Tomas Vokoun
  • Traded Eric Fehr to Winnipeg for prospects who haven’t panned out
  • Acquired depth defenseman Tomas Kundratek, who was useful for a season.

So that year after bringing in Marco Sturm, Scott Hannan, Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott—all veterans needed on a young team—it didn’t cut it.

McPhee went out and got a young player with a Cup ring for the young core to relate to, a faceoff specialist for the bottom six, a clutch playoff performer, a stay-at home defenseman to counter having Green and Carlson and another veteran goaltender to continue the carousel.

All of those types of players were what the Caps needed but it’s clear that McPhee didn’t go out and be aggressive enough to get the best players available that fit that mold. You’d think by that time his reputation with player agents and some GMs caused issues with acquiring players either via trade, even if they had to waive a NMC, or by free agency.

This all would lead to Bruce Boudreau being fired the following season and by then, there should have been turnover of the core, core and not the outer fringe of the core.

Alex Semin, Mathieu Perreault, Mike Green and Michal Neuvirth would all eventually part and all without any significant return. Two of those players lost to free agency. Perreault let go for a minor leaguer and a pick and Neuvy brought back a shaky Jaroslav Halak, who didn’t even get the Caps to the playoffs.

After Hunter got the Caps into the playoffs for two rounds, Adam Oates came in and salvaged a poor start to get the Caps into another seven-game defeat with Mike Ribeiro, Wojtek Wolski, Aaron Volpatti, Steven Olesky…and Martin Erat for the ride. Sigh.

In came Mikhail Grabovski, who was pretty good for the Caps, then deadline acquisitions Halak and Dustin Penner and an Oates disciple in Alex Urbom…who definitely er… bombed. That all exploded the careers of Oates and McPhee.

MacLellan has so far, made moves getting the Caps back to the right direction. He can’t do everything as GM and certainly can’t undo everything in his first season. It look awhile for Yzerman to undo his previous regime’s mess, but that included having to stockpile picks. Once he had those picks he could wheel and deal hard.

MacLellan’s moves to get the Caps at least back in the playoffs brought both Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen at a steep price but absolutely the right players. Taking Justin Peters as a back-up was a sacrificial lamb having to pick someone who was OK to not play so Holtby can get his game on track. It worked. Worked so well that Philip Grubauer had to spell Holtby in the playoffs because it was ages since Peters played any game.

As for Tim Gleason and Curtis Glencross…I’d give a B for Gleason and a D for Glencross.

GMBM: Year Two

Now what we’re looking at is Year Two GMBM Retool.

There’s enough turnover here saying goodbye to Joel Ward, Eric Fehr and Mike Green combined with the other players the Caps parted ways with from the former Young Guns Gang where he has to see what he has now.

He upgraded in the Playoff Clutch Scorer Category.

In Oshie, he’s great in the shootout but that doesn’t count in the playoffs. Can this finally be the winger we’ve always wanted? Can he reach that ceiling that everyone expected him to hit?

Evgeny Kuznetsov, drafted by McPhee, is finally on the team full-time and showed in the playoffs he can be a No. 2 center. Can that be sustained?

Can Burakovsky be a dominant Top Six forward that can finesse? It looks like it.

Can Tom Wilson be a Top Six Forward—the next Milan Lucic? He’s got until the trade deadline to figure it out. Right now he’s the Caps’ Brett Connolly.

Can Brooks Laich finally not put so much pressure on himself and perform? Hopefully, because we need him to be healthy enough to trade him. I don’t expect a good return on him, but at least a pick to help clear space for a bigger move.

Is Braden Holtby the franchise goalie for the Capitals? Will the Capitals be good enough for him to not play 70 games so he can rest for the playoffs?

Is Justin Williams going to be a better Mike Knuble and sustain production beyond his first season here?

Here’s what I see shaking out in the season ahead:

  • Tom Wilson is traded for a veteran bottom-six winger who has more offensive upside.
  • Justin Peters is waived before the start of the season and is either claimed or buried in the minors
  • Brooks Laich is traded to Anaheim or Los Angeles for a pick or prospect since he won’t command more thanks to his health and declining production
  • Justin Chimera will have a rebound season and be kept in Washington for his seventh season here.

Back to Brouwer, Brooks

When McPhee brought on Brouwer, everyone was excited because the team was getting a young player from the Stanley Cup champ Blackhawks. I was pumped, too, because sending a first-round pick must have meant there was a high ceiling for a player who was drafted in the sixth round.

Brouwer played well, setting career highs in Washington, but everyone thought he’d get more than 43 points. Nobody thought he’d be so healthy as to play all but one eligible game for the Caps in his four seasons.

But he became duplicative with Brooks Laich, who came up with the Bears and was still part of that core. Didn’t matter he started with the Ottawa Senators—he barely got a sniff with them before we traded Peter Bondra for him. (Funny because Blues GM Doug Armstrong said Oshie duplicated other players on his roster.)

You’d think Brooks Laich would be the better one to trade with a higher cap hit, declining results and diminishing returns in the post season. You’re not going to get good value for that in return if you want to compete, and interested teams would be wary of Laich’s rash of injuries over the last few seasons.

Instead, you load up and give up the player who makes less, plays all 82 games, contributes much more than Laich on the PP over the last few seasons.

And how can you not forget the beauty of a goal Brouwer scored in the Winter Classic this year?

If we’re comparing the past, well, Oshie isn’t all that much different on straight stats and advanced stats. Biggest difference is Oshie gets more shots to the net, unblocked, and Brouwer is better on the PK. Even that is slight.

Here, the expectations of the guy coming in are even higher. Oshie never played with guys with skill of Backstrom, Ovechkin, Kuznetzov and Burakovsky. The only player coming close to that group is Vladamir Tarasenko, who Oshie hardly played with.

Pheonix Copley shouldn’t be lost in this, but he’s expendable after the Caps selected the best available goalie in the draft. He surprised a lot of people when had to be relied on in Hershey making him wanted in St. Louis where they’re still searching for a franchise goalie.

 

For what it’s worth

After the Lightning was bounced out of the first round in 2014—after not making the post-season the year before—here’s what Yzerman did last summer:

  • Acquired Jason Garrison and rights to prospect Jeff Costello for picks
  • Traded Teddy Purcell to Edmonton for Sam Gagner, flipped Gagne for a sixth-round pick while shipping out B.J. Crombeen to clear salary and contract counts
  • Traded Nate Thompson to Anaheim for fourth- and seventh-round picks in another salary dump and to clear contracts to do the following:
  • Signed Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman,Brenden Morrow and Evgeni Nabokov—the last two to one-year deals
  • Bought out Ryan Malone following his cocaine arrest and trial

Then to round-out the team:

  • Waived Richard Panik following opening night
  • Traded Eric Brewer for a pick
  • Traded once heralded prospect Brett Connelly to Boston for picks
  • Traded promising defenseman Radko Gudas for Brayden Coburn
  • Forced Nabokov into retirement

That’s how you shake up your core, shed salary and use prospects and young stars wisely thanks to a well-stocked system of even younger players waiting for a roster spot. And all of that was after saying goodbye to Marty St. Louis and previously, Vincent Lecavalier.

I don’t think anyone can mirror the Blackhawks no matter how hard they try. It takes a lot of luck with loaded contracts panning out into championships paired with incredibly smart amateur and pro scouting.

It’s been Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Seabrook, Keith and anyone else along for the ride for at least two of the three Cups.

Final Thought

When we’re talking teams in the Stanley Cup Finals—win or lose—are we ready to say this group of defenseman, without Mike Green now, is better? Or is worthy of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance?

Right now it’s floating somewhere in between the 2012 New Jersey Devils, 2011 Vancouver Canucks, 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2013 Boston Bruins. The Flyers, Rangers and Lightning all had better bluelines that still lost out.

Without any changes you have Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, hopefully a health Dimitri Orlov and Taylor Chorney with Connor Carrick and Sean Collins filling in when necessary. Hell, we may even have a Christian Djoos sighting.

A healthy Orlov could have made Green expendable earlier in his career. Now, I don’t even remember how the guy plays and don’t know if he still has it. I sure hope Orlov does.

At least in that Top 4, do you equate them with Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Doughty, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Zdeno Chara and yes, even Andrew Ference who’s had three SCF appearances?

Not until they get to the finals.

 

Sin Bin: The Washington Caps Bar That Isn’t and May Never Be

Last year, I was incredibly jealous reading the news that D.C. would finally get an official hockey bar of its own.

The Washington Post reported in February 2014 that Sin Bin Bar and Restaurant would open as a Caps-themed hangout at 1336 H St. NE in D.C., thanks to David McQuaid and Naveed Ashraf:

“Ultimately we’re going to be a Caps bar,” said McQuaid, a mid-30s D.C. native who, like Ashraf, is a Capitals fan. “We’ve had kind of mixed input on whether that’s a smart idea or not. … We did some nominal market research, and we were just thinking that if there’s any area that would support kind of a bottom-up effort for the Caps, it’d be H Street.”

Nothing online points to this place ever opening or still being in the process of opening. I’m going to try to drive by the address on Saturday to see what it is. It was first pegged for a June 2014 opening according to published reports then November 2014…then…?

From my experience covering retail and restaurants, this ain’t happening. At least not at that location. Photos on blogs showed renovation work being done but there’s a lot of work to be done after the interior and exterior shell is touched up.

The bar’s liquor license was protested but ultimately approved in March 2014 after a settlement, according to public documents. It’s possible that the owners found the settlement too restrictive despite agreeing to the terms and decided to ditch the plan. I’m not sure how well you can control crowd noise on a rooftop bar area that’s operating until midnight on the weekends and how profitable that would be considering it would be blocked off before closing time.

There are bars to watch hockey but there are no hockey bars in D.C. The Greene Turtle at the Verizon Center caters to all and the Chinatown bars are an everyman’s place, in certain situation an every douchebag’s place.

First of all, do you count Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken as a hockey hangout because it’s owned by Jeff Halpern? The menu rivals some items found at Krustyland at Universal Studios. (I see you Lard Lad Donuts and Chicken and Waffle Sandwiches.) Because it doesn’t feature an abundance of hockey memorabilia, or dozens of flat screen TVs or a bar, no.

Could we make this a thing regardless? Because Caps fans are quirky enough, sure. And if Halpern doesn’t have a donut sandwich called the Schoenfeld and Koharski, he is missing out on some menu marketing that writes itself.

Virginia has a hockey-themed bar called Bugsy’s Pizza in Old Town Alexandria, as the Post inserted at the end of its story but there’s nothing actually in D.C., or on the way in Maryland that I know of. At least it’s owned by a former Cap, Brian “Bugsy” Watson.

There’s no way I’d go to Bugsy’s pre- or post-game because it’s out of the way for me and half the Caps fans. (Still, I need to go there regardless.) Riding the Red Line from Shady Grove, Sin Bin would still be pointless for me unless I would go to a game on the weekends. It’s two miles east of Verizon Center and 1.3 miles from the nearest Metro stop at Union Station. In city traffic, that’s still a 30-minute walk.

It’s a great idea but not the best location. It ought to come as close to Chinatown and Verizon Center possible.

Hell, if there was something in Rockville, I’d still go.

Tampa’s Hattricks Tavern is just down the street from Amalie Arena and if you couldn’t guess by its name, it’s absolute a hockey bar. Sure, Gator football will fill airtime when no hockey games are playing, but you won’t find University of Florida gear on the wall. It’s all hockey. There used to be a bar called The Luxury Box in front of Amalie Arena but that shuttered after the lockout and is now an impressive open-air bar with shipping containers called Ferg’s Live.

Brandon Ice Sports Forum has a hockey bar inside of it, too, as an alternative, when open. In Bradenton and Sarasota, former minor league hockey player Tommy Denis and family own a Chicago-themed pizzeria called Joey D’s where the Blackhawks are predominately featured. He’s friends with Mike Peluso and has plenty of memorabilia and in his south Sarasota location, there’s a penalty box bar at the entrance.

Anyway, Russian Machine Never Breaks reported later last summer that Sin Bin would open in November and the general manager needed some ideas.

The manager, Chris Conner, seemed to never get to implement those ideas. On December 5, 2014, he tweeted “I need a job! Someone hire me!!!!”

Tweets from the past few months included showing off his pot collection thanks to the decriminalized marijuana laws in D.C. Not judging, just showing that the feed isn’t filled with Sin Bin Coming Soon tweets.

I reached out to Chris on Twitter asking what happened and will update if he responds. I can’t find reliable contact information for the developers/owners either. Ashraf at least appears to be an active real estate owner from online records.

[Update: Conner confirmed Sin Bin never opened: “nope kinda sucks.” Still would be interested in the whole story.]

At this point, I ask Caps fans and bartrepreneurs to huddle together and open a proper Caps bar once and for all in D.C. or Maryland.

What would you name it? Unleash the Beery? Weagle’s Pub and Grill? Clutch and Grab Bag?

And what should be on the menu? Bonzai Burgers? Zilla Ziti? Dad’s Swedish Meatballs?

Your call. Let’s hear it!

Comcast shuts out Caps, Wizards fans for CSN+ games in Western Maryland

This is what Allegany County Comcast Xfinity viewers saw on their guide Tuesday but were unable to watch the Washington Capitals game because instead of NBCSN carrying the game as shown, it was carried on CSN+. Comcast in Allegany County does not carry CSN+.

This is what Allegany County Comcast Xfinity viewers saw on their guide Monday but were unable to watch the Washington Capitals game because instead of NBCSN carrying the game as shown, it was carried on CSN+. Comcast in Allegany County does not carry CSN+.

Update: A marketing representative from Comcast SportsNet MidAtlantic reached out to me Monday to investigate the issue.

Early indicators show that this is some sort of delivery issue.

The representative explained that CSN+ should be The Comcast Network in my area and ought to be Channel 6 in Frostburg.

After some searching, I found The Comcast Network but it’s on Channel 125 and it gets weirder. The game still didn’t air that night in Frostburg on The Comcast Network. When the Comcast Xfinity agent was trying to resolve the issue, he reactivated my box t make sure I’m getting the right channels.

I saw The Comcast Network flip on but on the channel CSN should be on.  After the system fully adjusted itself, it went back to the way it was. The Comcast Network ended up airing a MMA fight that night.

I haven’t heard back from the representative since I gave her this additional information but it sounds like the wrong feed of The Comcast Network is being sent here. The next opportunity to find out is April 4 when the Washington Wizards’ game is suppose to air.

I’ll post any updates if I receive them.

Original post: Not a lot of people crave to see the Caps play the lowly Buffalo Sabres this year on TV, but with points on the board for Washington’s playoff race, every game matters.

Somewhere in the mess, it didn’t matter to someone at Comcast or its partners for awhile.

Monday’s game between the Caps and the Sabres aired nationally on NBCSN except in the Baltimore/Washington market where the game aired on Comcast Sports Net Mid-Atlantic Plus, or CSN+.

CSN+ was used thanks in part for CSN broadcasting the Washington Wizards and Portland TrailBlazers NBA game.

I realize this is more than the Caps. The Wizards are on CSN+ for 12 games this season. Ted Leonsis, you might want to give Ed Snider a call about this and get it fixed because you’re missing eyeballs you ought to be entitled to.

In Allegany and Garrett counties, here in far Western Maryland, you couldn’t watch that Caps game on TV. The same goes for the other eight games CSN+ aired this year because Comcast in this area does not carry the overflow channel, CSN+. Yes, the normal CSN MidAtlantic is carried.

Why Comcast doesn’t carry an overflow channel within its own company, I just don’t understand. I couldn’t get an answer either. I’ll get more into that later.

Allegany and Garrett counties are in a weird area that has blackout exceptions for the NHL. Comcast carries both CSN and Root here so both Caps and Pittsburgh Penguins games can be aired. I know how much that violates some of you. I do kind of feel dirty watching the Pens when nothing else is on. (Of late, I can watch both of the Caps and Pens on the NHL GameCenter app without blackout restriction either, but I don’t know if that’s because it’s the end of the season, similar to what the NHL did during the first month.)

On the TV guide menu, the game said it was being aired on NBCSN here. I tuned in and it was Barclays Premier League soccer. CSN+ was nowhere to be found and I tried even punching in channel numbers that it could be without any help. The only way I could watch last night’s game was the livestream on NBCSN’s website, which interrupts live action with commercials.

I went online and talked to a Comcast agent just to be sure. The transcript is attached and you’ll see the guy did as much as he could to figure this out, even reactivating my box. After all of this and as much as I could explain to someone about blackouts and such, he determined that Comcast doesn’t carry CSN+ here regardless of package. Visit CSN’s channel finder and you’ll find the same thing. Try typing in 21532, the Frostburg ZIP code and you’ll only see DirecTV—a competitor of Comcast.

I wrote emails to Comcast, CSN Mid-Atlantic and the Washington Capitals last night imploring them to get Comcast to carry CSN+. Frostburg, especially, is a host to at least a few thousands students and professionals from the Baltimore and D.C. area during the hockey season thanks to the chief enrollment figures from my employer, Frostburg State University. Actually, more than 91 percent of students are from the Capitals’ broadcast territory. [Note: This blog is a personal project and is no way endorsed by FSU nor do the opinions reflect employees or students of the university.]

If I knew where in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia other students are from, the figure would be higher. Of note, Comcast subscribers in Franklin County, Pa., have CSN+, and were able to watch Monday’s Capitals games.

The audience is here. Cellular carriers AT&T, Verizon and TMobile have acknowledged how many people with their plans are up this way and have made or are in the middle of upgrading towers to serve its customers in a new area. I hope the same thing can be said for Comcast and CSN+, especially in a territory where Penguins games are also available on TV.

I’d switch TV providers but the rural area here is bound to limited choices. Comcast is the only cable provider. Satellite is available with DirecTV and Dish Network, but if you want high-speed Internet that’s faster than DSL, Comcast is your only option. And Comcast, much like other companies, won’t allow you only to subscribe to Internet service at certain speeds (like 25Mbs) that would make it easy to cut cable completely.

I know this is a small potatoes blog. I don’t update much, but when it comes to hockey and access, I’m all words.

Here’s the transcript: Xfinity-Chat-Transcript-Caps-Sabres

Reflecting on a classic in Washington

Troy Brouwer takes the winning shot against the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2015 Winter Classic. Photo by Charles Schelle

Troy Brouwer takes the winning shot against the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2015 Winter Classic. Photo by Charles Schelle

WASHINGTON—

I was admittedly cranky leading up to the Winter Classic last week at Nationals Park.

I might as well have shouted “how dare they” when it seemed like all the things that make a Winter Classic were being taken away. No open practice, no true alumni game, mediocre music acts and the game wasn’t being held at RFK Stadium.

Facing off a great team and a true winner like the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t counterbalance the others for the build-up. I like the Hawks. I don’t hate them because they were Washington’s twin there after the lockout and obviously made a few steps ahead winning two Stanley Cups since then.

Once my sister and I walked out of the Navy Yard Metro stop, we could feel it would be special despite all the worrisome news of nothing much than cold weather and a big crowd. We both ran into a friend, Artie, from Hagerstown that we each played hockey with (and she had worked with him, too) at the stop. With his wife and kids, they were ready to get in and see the game behind home plate. Us? In the outfield under the scoreboard.

The Spectator Plaza area seemed busier and more cramped than the others I attended in Pittsburgh and Boston, but still jubilant. In between the ska cover band (so very 1990s DC and I love it) and fans chugging beer, a maze of lines leading to things to do snaked their way and eventually met each other. We only got to do a couple of things in the shipping container adorned Spectator Plaza but meeting Peter Bondra and Charm City Cakes’ Duff Goldman canceled everything else out. So what if I couldn’t get a chance to shoot a puck in a dryer? I was going to play pick-up the following day.

Photo by Charles Schelle

Photo by Charles Schelle

Once inside the gates of Nationals Park, everything made sense. It’s about the game. It’s, as one fan said at another Winter Classic game, it’s about the motherfucking pageantry. Not being a fan of the Bruins of Flyers, attending a hockey game in Fenway was special enough to me along with having what amounted to a hockey vacation, sneaking in a game in the TD Garden and watching the Bruins alumni game, too. The Caps-Pens game was itself reason enough to attend.

The production of this Winter Classic with its special set and great gameplay made up for everything. If advances in ice making continue, Tampa fans would go nuts at a Winter Classic or even a Stadium Series game. Here’s an idea: once the Rays finally leave St. Pete, rip the roof off Tropicana Field and play outdoors before the stadium is demolished.

Back to Washington, there wasn’t any rain to deal with in Pittsburgh or snow from a previous storm around Fenway Park. The snowless, crisp, chilly weather with bright sun is your Mid-Atlantic winter. Yeah, Maryland, DC and Virginia get their share of snow but only in bunches. Today would be the start of such bunch.

Players looked faster at warmups on the ice, fans were pumped. Who cares if Billy Idol was retreading old hits? Just go along with it. The twin F-16 jets rumbled and rocked me more than Idol did. The players skating from out behind the replica Capitol building onto the mock frozen reflecting pond would hit me in the feels knowing this moment arrived and a battle was about to rage.

When Eric Fehr, the Caps’ own F-16, streaked down the ice to put the first goal, it felt like we already won. Destiny to have the Winter Classic whisperer in the house after potting two in the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Who would have known then that he would come back and score in another Winter Classic for the Caps? I didn’t think the guy would be in the NHL again after his sluggish time in Winnipeg.

Ovechkin’s tally followed by two Blackhawks score created more drama and tension than I felt in Pittsburgh. I’m convinced it was the speed because of the great ice conditions. With how chippy and sluggish the 2011 game played from the rain-soaked ice, it was difficult to get a read on who would come out of these scrambles with a puck.

Come 12 seconds left in the game, Ovechkin would have his stick broken on his way to the net. Somehow, the puck would come to a halt just in time for Troy Brouwer to spin, push it to his blade for a wrister, low gloveside against Corey Crawford.

This, folks, is the “oh my God, did he just do that? Are we really going to win this thing?” moment. I never got to attend the Caps 1998 run because at age 13, I didn’t have disposable income. The “holy shit” elation was limited to my living room as that team moved on round by round to the Stanley Cup Finals only to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in four straight.

When it comes to pro hockey in Washington, this felt like it was a Stanley Cup Final win. Especially against a two-time recent champ from the Western Conference. It certainly made up for my first home experience back in DC when I snuck in a game at the Verizon Center in December.

It seemed like the Caps would choke at every chance they’d get to seize a big moment, especially at home. Winning against Pittsburgh was great in 2011, but any feeling some sort of hex would be removed didn’t last. The Caps managed to not face the Pens in the playoffs that year and made it to the second round after beating the New York Rangers. The Tampa Bay Lightning, a lower seed, had their number and swept the Caps.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lighting faces the Caps in the playoffs this year, especially in the second round. Maybe this is the year that things would be different (sorry Bolts fans).

All fans and teams can do is try their hardest and wait for things to unfold. Sometimes you don’t even see the shots you make until the crowd screams.

I can say the same thing when I captured the photo above of Troy Brouwer’s winner.

What the heck, Verizon Center?

IMG_2239I was able to get back to Maryland for a weekend recently and as part of my Winter Classic package I had a pair of tickets to catch the Bolts in D.C.

It’s been a couple of years since I caught the Caps in D.C. It’s been such a long 12 months that I don’t even think I caught a game when I was last home in December 2013. I’m pretty sure it was a Hershey Bears game instead.

I didn’t like what I found when I returned and made me realized how spoiled I am with the Tampa Bay Lightning as my Florida home team.

My sister Wendy decided to use the cool upgrade feature and get us into the lower bowl instead of sitting up in the 400s. Ah, I miss that wonderful view from the corner seeing everything down low and seeing the fortress-like concrete above the lodge seating where paper banners hang.

The in-game presentation and intro was top notch, something I always use as a measuring stick when attending games at Amalie Arena. The use of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ “The Lion The Beast The Beat” was phenomenal.

Now, Verizon Center’s always been loud but man, I felt like I was at a rock concert. It got a little overwhelming after awhile and I had to remember, was it always this loud? And this constant? There was never a let-up of music or something going on during breaks. I struggled to hear my sister right beside me sometimes.

But you know what? The crowd was into it, Sam the Horn Guy and Goat were in their element and the music was way better even though it was deafening. I just want a little less buttoned-up gee-golly presentation in Tampa. Greg Wolf does a great job, he just needs more from the arena and the presentation to help match the energy he wants.

What I was actually upset about was a bit of douchiness to the crowd that I don’t remember. There’s always an air of pretentiousness when you see guys coming in their suits from K Street or Capitol Hill roll in, but this was on the other side of the spectrum. So one drunk guy kept going “Hoooolltttbbyyyy! Youuuu’rrreee the man!!!” And every time the Lighting had the puck in the Caps’ defensive zone he kept pleading, loudly, “Geeeettt iiitttt oouuuttt! Cooommmeee on!”

Then some guy trade seats from the upper bowl with his brother directly behind me and the frat bro continues to chat up a conversation during play all during the second period about anything but hockey. Just kept going and going and going. When both of them were at it, I just shook my head and said “I don’t understand what is going on behind us right now.” The guy to my right understood and just laughed.

Then, during Backstrom’s hat trick goal, drunky mcdrunkerson spills his beer on the floor, all over my sister’s purse and another lady’s bag. Also, my throwing of my hat was futile and didn’t make it all the way and some guy just threw it again a few rows down. It wasn’t worth retrieving.

Combine all of that with the ride to and from. I used to not mind driving 50 minutes to the Shady Grove Metro station and then taking another 45-55 minutes to get to the Gallery Place stop. It’s about $9.30 for the fare and then another $8 for parking unless it’s a Saturday (as it was). Driving straight into DC isn’t bad on a Saturday night, about 90 minutes from Hagerstown, it’s just that parking is a pain in the ass in D.C., and starts out at $20 for event parking and up.

Back in Tampa, it takes me 60 to 70 minutes to drive from Sarasota and I park for $3 to $5 for a very short walk to the arena. And I’m home before midnight.

I don’t know if I’ll be moving back to Maryland but if I do, I’m sure as hell going to miss Amalie Arena. How that neighborhood is now won’t be like that for long. That cheap parking will soon be going anyway once Vinikville gets started on those sandlots. On-street parking may still be possible but probably not as close. Instead, there will be more parking garages to overpay at.

The yearning to be at a ton of Caps games that I had when I was in my twenties isn’t there between the expense and the toll to get there. I don’t think I’ll ever live inside the Beltway to make it ideal. At the same time, it makes Hershey Bears games that much more appealing as an alternative.

All of this will be moot in 12 days when I’ll see the Caps play outdoors at the Winter Classic. Save for a longer, more crowded Metro ride. And perhaps, a hangover.

Bolts are beautifully in sync

I caught my first regular season game this year in Tampa Saturday, albeit I switched to my hometown allegiance for the night rooting for my Caps.

It was futile as Washington lost, but I didn’t grow frustrated at the Caps despite their losing skid as much as I’ve become more impressed with this Lighting squad.

Watching pre-season, scrimmages and games on TV this year only tells so much. The takeaway came during a first period power play when Kucherov, Palat and I believe Namestnikov were regrouping for the breakout. They each hit their mark right on the hashmarks skating back, turning in sync to the left to head back up ice. You script these regroups and breakouts on a board and they never go as plan. Try to draw it up in NHL 15 and it doesn’t look as good.

Sitting three rows from the glass, the behind-the-net fadeaway pass to Kucherov was just as heart melting. If this was any other night rooting for the Bolts I would have gone out of my mind. That is a difficult move to actually pull off and for the goalie to bite on the move. Braden Holtby went with the option that Johnson would walk around and pass from the strong side or jam the puck in.

Hotlby had a goalie blind spot playing the angle like he did, but the other option would be to try to see from the far post, then leaving the near side open for Johnson to tap in. None of the Caps had Kucherov covered. Not even a stick was nearby to knock it away.

At 8-3-1 and playing what seems to be a man down every night, the Lightning are on a special run now. The Caps are in an early season spiral that I know will turn around.

The Bolts might see a four-game losing streak sometime this season, but I don’t see them losing too many consecutive games nor being inconsistent where stretches will go win-loss-win-loss-shootout loss, win, OT loss type of scenario.

Enjoy the great play as long as it continues.