Washington Capitals Mid-Season Awards

Idea taken from my friend(s) at First Round Bust. I always do my monthly review of the Washington Capitals but I thought mid-season awards would be a fun idea since we’re at the All-Star break now and there’s nothing going on (aka no games for me to write about). I’m sure the many other Capitals blogs are doing this too but hey, I like to waste my time by writing about sports so why not add another one?

MVP: While his production and goal totals aren’t nearly as good as they usually are, it’s hard not to say that Alex Ovechkin is the MVP of this team. Leads the team in goals, points and has taken it upon himself to play better defense and you can definitely see it when you watch him this season. Alexander Semin was making a strong case for himself as the team’s best player early in the year but since December, he’s turned back into the enigmatic player that we all know. If he had scored one maybe two goals since late November then maybe he would have won this over Ovechkin. Maybe. I will say that the offense has definitely suffered in his absence. For the first month, it was goaltender Michal Neuvirth who was keeping the Caps in pretty much every game but he’s come back down to earth since then so I don’t think you can consider him the team’s MVP. There’s plenty of names you can throw out there for a team that’s under performing but Ovechkin has definitely been the driving force behind the team and that’s had a lot to do with their struggles.

Most Improved Player: Karl Alzner always seemed to struggle during his call-ups in the last couple of years but he’s really stepped it up this year from a defensive standpoint. He’s been on ice for the less goals scored than any other regular defenseman on the team and has also contributed well on the penalty kill. Not to mention, him and John Carlson have become the team’s best defensive pairing. I think John Erskine’s play this year is also worth mentioning. He’s outperformed just about all expectations I’ve had for him and has settled in as a solid 3rd pairing defenseman, which is about all you can ask from him. He gets this award for playing tougher minutes early in the season, contributing offensively and standing up for his teammates. His fight against Eric Boulton was also one of the best of the season.

Most Disappointing Player: There’s a lot of people who could be up for this honor. I think you have to consider Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for their lack of goals but they have been the two of the team’s offensive players so it’s hard to give the honor to them. Brooks Laich’s production definitely has tailed off this season. I feel like he’s on the verge of a break-out season every year and I thought he was close to one last season but this year, it’s not looking like it. Only 9 goals and 27 points. Mike Knuble got off to a rough start to the season but he’s picked it up as of late. I know I’ll probably sound stupid for this, but I’ve been disappointed with Tom Poti. He definitely over-performed last season but this year, he’s either hurt or playing awful. Maybe I’m just disappointed because we extended his contract. The biggest disappointment for the Caps in general this season is the powerplay, no question about that one.

Best Rookie: This is an easy one for me. John Carlson won over Caps fans last year with his game-winning goal in the gold medal game in the World Juniors and in the playoffs and he’s continuing to gain even more fans this season. Early in the year, he was playing over 20+ minutes a night while Mike Green and Tom Poti were hurt and he did very well contributing both offensive and defensively. Now him and Alzner are playing top 4 minutes nightly and are usually assigned to shut-down the opponent’s top line and they’ve done a good job at that. He’s also played well on both the power play and penalty kill.

Best Off-season Acquisition: There isn’t much to choose from here because the Caps really didn’t make any big signings this off-season. However, I do think that the late-signing of Matt Hendricks has worked out well for the Caps. He might be a third/fourth-liner but he’s definitely brought a lot to this team. Decent two-way game, grit, toughness, can play both center and wing, etc. One thing on my “wish list” this off-season was to get a cheap forward who adds toughness to the team and Hendricks fits the bill for that perfectly. He’s also not a liability in every other aspect of the game like a certain enforcer that we traded for.

 

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Washington Capitals Month In Review: January

While everyone knows that December was a rough month for the Caps, January wasn’t that much better. They finished with a record of 5-5-4, were shutout three times (all by division opponents), went 1-2-2 in the Southeast Division and only scored 1.75 goals per game. Yikes. To make things more frustrating, they have been trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Southeast Division title by at least 2 points almost every night and were shutout by Dwayne Roloson Tampa twice. The offensive drought that has been going on has been well documented and a lot of it has to do with the Caps playing a more defensively responsible system (I’ll refrain from mentioning the “T-word” here). I’ll get to that later but I figure I should post the woeful offensive numbers first.

Let’s start out with the powerplay, the NHL is a league where you live and die by special teams and the Caps powerplay was abysmal this month. Only converting 3/29 tries, good for a pathetic efficiency rate of 10.3%. It got so bad that head coach Bruce Boudreau gave guys like DJ King and Jay Beagle shifts with the man advantage to make a statement. I understand that they are playing a more responsible, less risk based system so there’s going to be less firewagon hockey going on but if we want to be taken seriously around playoff time, the powerplay has to get better. You can’t do much worse than 3 PP goals in a month, really.

The Caps scored only 21 goals this month, which is an average of 1.75 per game on the month and well…that’s not that good. Alex Ovechkin only scored 5 goals (3 came in the Toronto game) and Nicklas Backstrom scored only 1. What’s the scary thing? Those two led the team in points. While I appreciate what Matt Hendricks brings to the team and how well he’s playing, he shouldn’t be tied for second on the team in goals for a month (3). I mentioned in an earlier post that the Caps have had to shuffle lines a lot this month to help generate some chemistry and offense and it hasn’t exactly worked out for the best aside from the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Chimera first line having a few good games. The struggles with the offense can also be attributed to the lack of a second line center and injuries to players like Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr. Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson have been alternating centering the second line for now and while the latter hasn’t been bad, the former has been awful and was recently sent back down to Hershey after producing only 1 point in 12 games. When your top players are struggling, you need secondary scoring, something that Eric Fehr brings and he’s missed six games this month. Although, it would be helpful if Brooks Laich also broke out of this slump he’s in (only one goal on the month). As for Semin’s injury, before he missed the last nine games with a leg injury, he was goalless since November 28th, 2010. His creativity and scoring is definitely missed, regardless.

Let’s talk about the good things now. While the Caps didn’t score that much, they only allowed 23 goals (1.95 goals per game) this month and you can credit to both solid play by the defense and good goaltending. The defense by both the forwards and blueliners has been solid this month but a lot of credit should again go to the tandem of John Carlson and Karl Alzner. These two are the ones who get paired against the other team’s top lines nightly and they have done a good job at keeping them in check for the most part. Also the duo were on ice for the least goals scored of any defensive pairing. Mike Green also had a pretty solid month defensively has he’s done a fairly good job at keeping his game balanced this month, I’ll get to that later, though. One thing is certain, though the forwards playing better defense and playing a less high-risk game has taken a lot of pressure off the entire defensive corps and goaltenders.

About the goaltenders, all of three of them had good months. Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby all had even strength save percentages of over .930 for the month. The only complaint I have is that the first two can’t seem to stay healthy and that’s the only reason Holtby was even called up but he played very well during his time with the big club stopping 69 of 72 shots in 3 games. Washington’s goaltending has been the subject of critciism among the stat community lately and all three played well above average this month, even if that is a small sample size.

Another subject of criticism has been the Caps penalty kill and it was 90.4% effective for January and is 2nd in the league overall right now. While I agree that this success rate isn’t sustainable throughout the entire year, I have to give credit to where it’s due and say they were fantastic this month.

Definitely a month with some highs and lows and the Capitals aren’t exactly the most exciting team in the NHL to watch anymore since their “firewagon” style of hockey has been abandoned in favor of a more responsible game but I guess we’ll see how far it leads us in the end. In January, we ended up with the same number of wins in a month as we did in December, five. What exactly does that mean? Well, I don’t want to jump to conclusions right now but I think it’s unfair to blame the new system immediately. Like I said earlier, the injuries to Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr are pretty big. There have been other numerous injuries as well with Tom Poti always being hurt and Matt Bradley missed all but one game, as well. Anytime you have to call up Brian Willsie for a game, you know you have injury problems. The Caps aren’t in any danger of losing a playoff spot but they definitely need to fix their powerplay and get their key players back on track if they want to win the Southeast again.

Top Performers

Braden Holtby – I think most people that read my blog or Twitter feed know that I’m not a huge Holtby fan yet but he was great when called up and had a wonderful performance against the Maple Leafs stopping 35 of 36 shots. I don’t think he will be with the team come playoff time but he stole a couple wins for Washington this month and deserves a lot of credit. Huge improvement compared to how he did during his first call-up.

John Carlson/Karl Alzner – see above. Carlson’s all-around ability is a welcome addition to just about any team and it works well with Alzner’s defensive game. On a few nights, these two were the Caps top defensive pairing instead of the usual 52-55. Not bad for a coiuple of rookies, eh?

Matt Hendricks – 3 goals and an assist doesn’t seem like much but that contribution from a 3rd/4th liner is huge on a team struggling for goals right now. Hendricks surprised a lot of people with this highlight reel goal against the Leafs last Saturday and this breakaway tally against Vancouver wasn’t too shabby either. His two-way game and toughness is appreciated, as well.

Alex Ovechkin – 10 points is a less than stellar month for Ovechkin but he led the team in goals, +/- and corsi so technically, he’s a top performer.

Semyon Varlamov – Varly got a lot of starts this month and he had an ES percentage of .934, which gets him a positive mark for this month. There’s a lot of problems with the team right now but goaltending definitely isn’t one of them…aside from Varly always getting hurt in some fashion.

Marcus Johansson – He had a handful of good and bad games this month but ultimately, I have to give him a positive rating for his solid work on the third line. 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) and he even spent some time on the 1st line as a winger which he definitely made the most of. However, the last thing this team needs is another center converted to winger so I’m hoping his play as a center continues to develop for the rest of the year. I keep saying it, but I see a lot of good things from him but he still has yet to put it together. Case in point, half of the points he’s had this year came during this month. In retrospect, that doesn’t look good but it shows that he’s improving.

Under Acheivers

Nicklas Backstrom – The playmaking is still there at times and the 9 assists show that but Backstrom hasn’t looked like himself this season. He’s been playing better over the last week or so but there’s been a lot of games where he just looks off and lazy at times. That and only 1 goal in a month isn’t acceptable for him, really.

Brooks Laich – 1-2-3. That was Laich’s scoring line for the month. Not good. Laich also hasn’t really looked like himself this year and it’s hard to give him a negative rating since he’s one of my favorite players but I’m definitely expecting more of him. You can definitely argue that the constant line shuffling is contributing to his struggles though. Putting him and Mike Knuble (who is basically the same player aged 10 years) on the same line will never, ever work. That and he’s been playing with Mathieu Perreault as his center most nights and that hasn’t gone too well, either.

Jeff Schultz – Remember when Schultz was the best defensive defenseman on the team? That hasn’t been the case since he returned from his injury. He was a -4 on the month and had a brutal corsi rating of -37. That said, his play has improved a bit lately but it definitely wasn’t a month to remember for Sarge.

Jay Beagle – Remember how I said it was injuries that led to Brian Willsie being called up? Well, injuries probably had a lot to do with Beagle being active for EVERY GAME in January. How many points did Beagle score in those games? Zero. He also skated with the second line briefly…yeah, I don’t get it either. I don’t even know if this is considered under acheiving or just bad considering I have no expectations for Beags.

Mathieu Perreault – For a guy who is highly touted for his offense, he really didn’t show it this month. No goals and one assist in January for him. I usually have high expectations for him because he tends to do well when he’s called up and he did at first but that’s died down a lot. Why Boudreau kept assigning him to center the second line when he wasn’t playing well is beyond me. I would say he’s a candidate to be sent back to Hershey but who else is going to center the 2nd line now? Go with Johansson full-time? Not sure about that yet…

Other Notable Performers

Mike Green – Like I said earlier, he’s becoming a better defender and still brings a fair amount of offense to the table. The number of defensive blunders from him are definitely lower this year. What’s keeping him from getting the positive rating is the 10.4% effective powerplay which he quarterbacks.

Jason Chimera – Spent time on the first line and they scored in three straight games since his addition but I figured it would wear off eventually since I don’t see what he brings to the table that Mike Knuble doesn’t aside from his speed. 6 points for Chimera on the month, not great but not definitely not bad at all.

Rangers-Caps recap

This game was a lot less eventful than the previous two meetings but there’s definitely a lot to talk about. Like about how the Capitals offense went to sleep again or about how Marc Staal completely shut down our top line again or about Matt Hendricks being on a two-game goal streak. What’s going to show up on the highlights are Wojtek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello deking Braden Holtby out of his pads in the shootout. As bad as he looked during then, it’s hard for me to blame the loss on him. When you only have 17 shots on net in regulation time, you’re not going to win much. Either way, it’s another two points that got away from us in a skills competition and another OTL in the books. The good news? We still keep pace with Tampa Bay a bit.

Thoughts/Observations

– Just as I thought, Marc Staal was all over Alexander Ovechkin for the entire game. He didn’t have much room to work with and the first line didn’t seem like a factor until overtime. He skated over 29 minutes tonight and his only job was to get in Ovechkin’s way and he did just that.

– There was a point where Washington only had 13 shots on net through 52 minutes and that’s just not going to get it done. It doesn’t matter who you play or who is in net. What was worrying me the most was that the shots we were taking didn’t have any speed or velocity on them at all. Marty Biron only had to move to make a save a couple times in the game. However, Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson can only produce so much offense on their own.

– Mind telling me what happened to our second line? I know that having Mathieu Perreault center the line kind of limits their effectiveness but Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble were invisible the whole game.

– I’m going to call Matt Hendricks “the secret weapon” now. Had a pretty goal in the second period to put the Caps on top 1-0 and an even nicer goal in the shootout. Also, Johansson set him up perfectly on the first goal. I keep seeing great things from MoJo90 in pieces so I’m excited to see what he can do with a little more experience under his belt.

– Like I said, don’t blame Holtby for the loss. Don’t get me wrong, he was abysmal in the shootout but in regulation, he stopped 28 out of 29 shots and kept Washington in the game the entire time. The shootout is kind of like Kryptonite for a goaltender like him, though. Really aggressive, loves to challenge shooters, goes out of his net a lot, he was just asking to be faked out on both of those two goals. Frustrating but what do you expect from a kid who has 8 starts under his belt? He’ll learn soon.

– Is it safe to say that Gaborik is still a Caps killer? Scored the game tying goal for the Rangers…….kind of. The puck was originally shot by Brian Boyle but it went off of Gaborik’s hand and Alzner’s stick and into the net. Fluky goal but shit happens.

– What in the world happened to Michael Del Zotto this year? He was brutal tonight.

– The powerplay still sucks and it looked worse than I’ve ever seen it before tonight. Can’t control the puck in the offensive zone, can’t get shots on net, can’t even enter the zone properly. When DJ King is getting shifts with the man advantage then you know something’s wrong.

Three Stars:
1.Marc Staal

2.Matt Hendricks

3. Marian Gaborik

Rangers-Caps preview

I’ll try to keep this abbreviated. We’ve played the Rangers twice this season, both at Madison Square Garden. The first meeting was one of my favorite games of the year where the Caps won 5-4. We got to see goals from John Erskine, Brian Boyle, Matt Hendricks and even Derek Boogaard in that game, which is why I loved it. The last meeting, however, was one to forget where the Caps were blanked 7-0 and it was the game which made Bruce Boudreau switch over to a more defensive system (the T-word). Since that low point, the Caps have been back to winning for the most part but the goal scoring’s still kind of absent. They are coming off a game where Alex Ovechkin recorded his first hat trick of the season, so hopefully the rest of the team can build off that.

Know Your Enemy: Rangers edition

The Rangers are currently muddled with injuries with the latest one being Brandon Dubinsky suffering from a fractured fibula and out for at least a month. This added with the injuries to Alex Frolov, Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan made a lot of people think the Rangers would go through an offensive drought soon but that hasn’t been the case, completely. Marian Gaborik recently woke up from a long slump with a four goal game against Toronto and they’ve been getting offense from players like Brian Boyle and rookie Mats Zuccarello. They also recently traded Michal Roszival and his contract to Phoenix for Wojtek Wolski, who should be a great addition to their top six. The guys we know all about for the Rangers are on the back-end, though. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are a tandem that can shut down Washington’s top lines and  they have done that in many of the team’s meetings, especially in the 09 playoffs. There’s also goaltender Henrik Lundqvist but he won’t be playing tonight.

Games Notes/What to Watch For:

– Braden Holtby is making his 3rd consecutive start for the Caps and he did well in his last two games against the Islanders and Maple Leafs. The latter being his best performance in the NHL. Here’s hoping he can keep it up against a group of stronger forwards.

– Martin Biron is starting for the Rangers tonight, which should hopefully make things easier for Washingotn but I’m not holding my breath.

– Marian Gaborik is a Caps-killer and we need to contain him as much as possible. No Callahan or Dubinsky should make him easier to shut down but like I mentioned earlier, other forwards have been getting the job done for the Rangers, as well so even if we do shut him down, guys like Zuccarello and Boyle might take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

– Marc Staal should be giving the Caps nightmares by now so keep your eyes on him, too.

– The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Chimera line has accounted for at least one goal ever since they’ve been paired together (which is roughly 3 games). Time to find out if this is just a lucky streak or if this line might actually have some staying power.

– Johansson and Perreault haven’t been getting much ice time at all the past few games which is weird since the former was on a brief roll until about 2 games ago. Boudreau has to start playing one of them more, right?

– DJ King is active tonight for Washington, yet Boogaard isn’t for the Rangers. Not sure what the purpose is but I have tot hin it’s injuries. Still no Fehr, Bradley or Semin.

Enjoy the game and let’s go Caps!

Revisitng my NFL Predictions

Back in July (aka before this blog existed), I posted this lengthy preview of the NFL season on my Tumblr and I thought it would be a fun idea to see how well I predicted things. I was bold on some picks and it payed off on a few…others not so much. Let’s go in the order it shows up on the page.

AFC West

Prediction:
1. San Diego (finished 2nd)

So, I was off on the Chargers winning the division again but who really saw the Chiefs being so good this year? I didn’t. I was right about Philip Rivers not losing his touch without Vincent Jackson, though. He was playing some of the best football of his career for awhile. The Chargers main flaw came on special teams, something I kind of neglected in my preview. As for my breakout candidate (Antoine Cason), he had 4 INT’s. Not sure if that’s a breakout season or not, though. I also said their defense would be fine without Merriman and they had the best defense in the league.

2. Oakland (finished 3rd)

Hey, I said they wouldn’t have double digit losses and they finished 8-8! Only thing is they fired Tom Cable because he’s basically an asshole. Oh well. I should have predicted that Darren McFadden would have a breakout season instead of Rolando McClain. It’s always cliche to go with the rookie but this was Run DMC’s last year to prove he’s not a bust and he was incredible this season. He could be the team’s MVP too but Nnamdi Asomugha is still one of the best cover corners in the league. Too bad he’s leaving next year.

3. Kansas City (finished 1st)

“The Chiefs are a long way away from being a playoff team again.” Oops. I did say they would start to improve, at least and that Jamaal Charles would be their MVP. You could argue that honor goes to Matt Cassel, though or Dwayne Bowe, who I said would be replaced by Chris Chambers. Oops. I did a slightly better job predicting the defense since I got Glenn Dorsey being a breakout candidate right. Wish I had said something about Tamba Hali or Eric Berry being in that category too.

4. Denver (finished 4th)

Saw them taking a huge step back and I was right. Wrong big time about Kyle Orton not being a QB who couldn’t win games, though. Also wrong about no one on the team being able to replace Brandon Marshall’s catches because Brandon Lloyd did that just fine. Then there’s the defense which I said would be one of the worst in the league since Elvis Dummervil didn’t play and they were definitely a wreck defensively. When you need to enlist Ty Law for help at corner, that says a lot.

AFC North

1. Baltimore (finished 2nd)

I should really talk about how much coaching plays into effect for some teams because Cam Cameron’s playcalling doomed the Ravens in a few games this year and they could have won the division if it wasn’t for that. There’s also their defense which sort of took a step back, at least in the secondary like I predicted. There was also my prediction of Ed Dickson being the team’s new #1 tight end. That didn’t happen. Instead, Todd Heap had his best season in awhile. I suppose me saying that Joe Flacco improves every season was wrong too since he really seems to be stuck on the same level in big game situations.

2. Pittsburgh (finished 1st)

Well, I focused a lot of this feature on what the Steelers would do without Ben Roehtlisberger and said “they would rely on Rashard Mendenhall and their defense to win games for them” which is basically how they beat the Jets yesterday. Calling Troy Polamalu the MVP of the team might have been a stretch too since James Harrison was back to his DPOY form this year but both were outstanding this season. Speaking of which, I also said the Steelers D would be dominant if they stay healthy and both remain true. Although, Hines Ward really isn’t the best receiver on the team anymore with the emergence of Mike Wallace, my breakout candidate.

3. Cincinnati (finished 4th)

I bought into the TOcho hype and picked them to be a 9-7 team. LOL, was I wrong there. Not even close. I still think that the Bengals have a good linebacking corps and one of the best cornerback tandems in the league but I didn’t take into account that Carson Palmer is basically overpaid and close to being at the end of the line. Also, it was a dumb thing to say that Antwaan Odom was their MVP.

4. Cleveland (finished 3rd)

“Colt McCoy won’t see playing time until next year.” Yeah, bad call there. Should have figured that Delhomme and Wallace would be replaced sooner rather than later. I definitely overrated James Harrison and didn’t speak much of Peyton Hillis here, either. Harrison ended up being traded while Hillis was most of their offense and one of the few things that made them watchable this season. I guess calling Josh Cribbs their MVP isn’t true anymore with Hillis either but I still consider him a big game-breaker in special teams. Their secondary improved like I thought, as well but it was the rookies Joe Haden and TJ Ward stepping up instead of Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown.

AFC South

1. Indianapolis (finished 1st)

“The Colts remain the team to beat in this division until proven otherwise.” Yep. Almost wasn’t the case this year with all of the injuries and Peyton Manning’s INT problems but they got the job done at the end of the year by beating their divisional foe in consecutive games. Manning keeps that team a competitor no matter what and you saw that this year with him making the most of a depleted receiving corps and joke of a running game. Then there’s their run defense which was gashed on a lot of games.

2. Houston (finished 3rd)

I’ve been picking the Texans to make the playoffs for the past couple of years and it never happens. They even found a running game this year and it still didn’t happen because they had one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL. I was being nice when I said their defense “isn’t anything dominant” but I really thought Brian Cushing would have a better season. Kubiak was also retained after another season out of the playoffs, yeah I don’t get it.

3. Tennessee (4th)

Can’t believe I said that they would be “in good shape” offensively when I should have figured Vince Young would blow it sooner or later. Yeah, Chris Johnson is still there but with that QB situation and their best WR being Kenny Britt, that isn’t exactly a sign of a great offense. Neither is having Rusty Smith start a game at QB for your team. I also said that their playoff hopes rest on their defenses shoulders because I thought it was a suspect unit. While it wasn’t anything great, it was the offense that kept them out of the playoffs.

4. Jacksonville (finished 2nd)

I really thought the Jags would pull the plug on both Garrard and Del Rio at the end of the year since they had a perfect opportunity to make the playoffs but alas. Garrard played better than I thought he would, though and MJD is still their best player. Anyway, most of my predictions on the Jags were kind of rights since I said they wouldn’t be in the playoffs but I thought they would finish last, not 2nd.

AFC East

1. Miami (finished 3rd)

This was probably my worst prediction… I should have known that Chad Henne wouldn’t be the right answer in Miami even with Brandon Marshall to throw to. Mind telling me why they kept relying on Henne so much to win games instead of their running game? Ronnie Brown didn’t exactly show too many signs of slowing down and Ricky Williams didn’t have a bad season either. Yeesh, I don’t get Dan Henning. Dolphins defense did improve like I predicted, though.

2. New York (finished 2nd)

I said they were a bit overrated since everyone had them winning the division this year and they were the wild card team again. My prediction about Shonn Greene being a break-out player was wrong, though. In fact, LT was relied on more than Greene in a lot of games this year, mainly in the beginning of the season. In the playoffs, Greene outperformed Tomlinson. However, Sanchez was limited in a lot of games and continued to make the same mistakes he did last year. I guess, as a whole, I was right about the Jets. “The team can only go so far.”

3. New England (finished 1st)

Brady is still an elite QB like I said and he used all of his receivers effectively, too but I was wrong about the Pats being one-dimensional. BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Dany Woodhead helped their running game out a lot even if the two alone aren’t anything amazing. I assumed they would be afterthoughts given how many running backs they have on the roster. The Pats D did struggle, though. It didn’t get thought about because their offense was scoring so much.

4. Buffalo (finished 4th)

I was such a dick to the Bills before the season started, haha. I said they wouldn’t win 3 games and would be the worst team in the league. They were winless for awhile but they didn’t look like one of the worst teams at all. I still think that Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the answer for the team even if he didn’t play well but I definitely underestimated Chan Gailey’s ability to get the most out of his players. Also, saying Fred Jackson was their best player is kind of debatable but he had a great season. One more thing, “Trent Edwards would be a backup on a winning team.” He’s a back-up on a losing team too! I was one of the many people on the CJ Spiller hype-wagon too but that didn’t go as planned…

NFC West

1. San Francisco (finished 3rd)

Didn’t everyone pick SF to finish first in this division because they were the least crappy team? I did question Alex Smith’s ability to lead a team but I was completely wrong about their defense being able to lead a team to the playoffs. That secondary is pretty damn bad even if Patrick Willis is a stud.

2. Arizona (finished 4th)

Derek Anderson played worse than I thought he would and I think I wrote this when Leinart was still on the team. LOL. I thought the Cards would be more of a run-based team with their running backs and QB situation but injuries to Beanie Wells prevented that from happening. Not even playing in a weak division could help their playoff hopes this season.

3. Seattle (finished 1st)

“They have enough talent to contend in a weak division” is what I said and that’s pretty true. A 7-9 team winning a division and getting a home playoff game is proof of that alone. Hasselbeck didn’t play that well when healthy and he still has injury problems but the Hawks want him to stay for another season. I still think they should go after another QB soon because he’s not getting any younger and Charlie Whitehurst sure as hell isn’t the answer. Also, Justin Forsett didn’t play nearly as well as I projected him to and calling Lofa Tatupu their MVP because I couldn’t think of anyone else was silly.

4. St. Louis (finished 2nd)

The Rams may not be “a long way from being good again” since they had their best season in awhile this year and might be in the hunt very soon. Sam Bradford definitely played well for a rookie but he (along with the rest of the team) had a lot of growing pains, which I thought would happen. Predicting him for the team’s breakout player instead of Laurent Robinson would have been a smarter decision.

NFC North

1. Green Bay (finished 2nd)

So they didn’t win the division but they’re on their way to the Super Bowl so that has to count for something, right?!!?! I did say that they would get past the Vikings and they beat them twice but it wasn’t enough to off-set bad losses to the Redskins, Lions and Dolphins. For the most part, I was right about the team being a big contender in the NFC but I could have made some better predictions. Like saying Clay Matthews would be the break-out player and not Jordy Nelson.

2. Minnesota (finished 4th)

I said Favre wouldn’t duplicate his last season and while I was right, I didn’t see him being this awful and I was wrong about them being a contender with him on the team. Not even Randy Moss could save them. I should have just predicted them to be out of the playoffs instead of saying they would be one of the best teams in the NFC but other teams will find ways to slow them down.

3. Chicago (finished 1st)

Clearly I underestimated Mike Martz since he did well with Cutler and that offense this year. Made the plyaoffs despite having one of the worst offensive lines in the league. I don’t think I even mentioned Isreal Idonije in my preview either. I just said that teams would double-up on Julius Peppers. That was probably a dumb prediction. Devin Aromashadu was also nowhere close to being a break-out player like I predicted.

4. Detroit (finished 3rd)

“They might see some positive results this season” and 6-10 is pretty good for a team who probably didn’t win 6 games over the last three seasons. I was right about the addition of Shaun Hill being a good move, them having a good pass rush and Jahvid Best giving them some life in the running game but I was way wrong about their secondary getting a little better. Basically, I was trying to be nice and say that it couldn’t get any worse than last season and somehow, it did. Also, “The Lions need to address other needs before thinking of the playoffs.” When was the last time they even thought about the playoffs? Did I write that at 1 AM or something?

NFC South

1. Atlanta (finished 1st)

I knew they would be a huge threat in the NFC with a healthy Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, and they were. However, thinking that Brian Williams would be their #2 corner over Brent Grimes was dumb, so was thinking that Dunta Robinson would make their pass defense stable when it wasn’t. Also, Harry Douglas the break-out player? I don’t think so.

2. New Orleans (finished 2nd)

Hey, I was right about this too! Guess that’s what I get from knowing this division well. However, I didn’t really say anything about the Saints regressing, just the rest of the division getting better. Drew Brees was turnover prone and they suffered a lot of injuries to their running game. I think I overrated their secondary, too.

3. Carolina (finished 4th)

How a team I had little expectations for could disappoint me so much is amazing. I was right about Matt Moore regressing now that teams had some more tape on him but I thought Jimmy Clausen would play better. A lot better. I also said the defensive line was the main concern, and while the pass rush was the problem, there were about 100 other things wrong. I don’t think Jonathan Stewart is the MVP of the team anymore, that might be Jon Beason now. Sherrod Martin had a good season but ‘break-out” is a stretch since I had big expectations from him. James Anderson or David Gettis is a better break-out candidate. I think we can cross off Steve Smith as one of the “top 10 playmakers” in the league now.

4. Tampa Bay (finished 3rd)

It definitely was a season to remember for the Bucs as they surprised everyone. I said that there was no rush for Josh Freeman to be spectacular and while that’s true, he was indeed spectacular this year for the Bucs. I think opposing QB’s don’t fear Aqib Talib as much as I do because they kept throwing is way. I also think that I overrate Barrett Ruud because Bucs fans seem to hate him and I saw why this season. Then there was my prediction of Cadillac Williams being their MVP but that was before LaGerrette Blount was even added to the team so I’m giving myself a pass there.

NFC East

1. Dallas (finished 3rd)

Really, who didn’t see Dallas as the team to beat in the East at the beginning of the year? Granted, they’re a team who always seems to find a way to screw up no matter what but I didn’t see a 1-5 start coming at all. Most of the flaws I pointed out were there only magnified by 100. The secondary got burned and the offensive line struggled with penalties. Then there was me calling Tony Romo an elite QB. I’ll wait another season before I amend that statement. Saying that Felix Jones would be a break-out player was kind of iffy too since Tashard Choice is a better candidate for that.

2. New York (finished 2nd)

I was right on the placing but I thought the Giants would be a playoff team and that wasn’t the case even if they were close again. I also said that the running game wouldn’t be that good when Brandon Jacobs got better after a slow start and Ahmad Bradshaw had a pretty good season, too. Eli Manning played worse than I thought, though. I did say that their defense would improve and they did, I think. Antrelle Rolle isn’t their MVP though and that’s who I listed in that category. Oops.

3. Washington (finished 4th)

I live in the Metro area so I thought the new coaching staff and Donovan McNabb would make the Redskins a better team. They were a better team but not by much, really. Still a lot of drama and controversy in the nation’s capital. Brian Orakpo needs to learn how to break out of offensive linemen’s holds if he wants me to call him one of the best pass-rushers in the league again. I was stupid for thinking Devin Thomas would finally turn it around in their receiving corps too and neglecting the wonder that is Anthony Armstrong. The defense did a pretty okay job at limiting big plays with Haslett’s system, that Eagles game not withstanding. I do think the Redskins improved this year and that they will get better next season as soon as they can bring some better talent there. Shanahan inherited a mess and is still trying to clean it up.

4. Philadelphia (finished 1st)

I thought Philly’s offense would be fine even with Kolb at QB but I picked them in last because their defense is still really young and inexperienced. Thankfully for them, the offense put on a show this season with Mike Vick leading the way. The only prediction I made regarding him was that the Eagles would give him a chance if Kolb got hurt, they did and he made the most of it. I guess you could say I overblew the Eagles defensive problems off-setting their offensive talent but I just saw them as only an 8-win team compared to the rest of the division.

Caps-Leafs recap

I know I admitted to being wrong about Braden Holtby the other night but I think it deserves another mention here. Alex Ovechkin getting his first hat trick of the year was awesome but this game could have easily gone ind the Leafs favor if it wasn’t for the play of Holtby. He allowed only one goal 36 shots with 19 of them coming in the third period. Whenever the Caps play on Hockey Night In Canada, we usually get one of their best or worst performances of the season. While tonight wasn’t their best performance, it was certainly a good one from select players. Hat trick for Ovechkin, great goaltending from Holtby, a dazzling goal from Matt Hendricks and some good play in the defensive zone..for the most part. When we’re in a tight division race like we are right now, wins against teams like Toronto are big because it keeps us only one point behind of the Lightning.

Thoughts/Observaitons

– Like I said, HNIC brings out either the best or the worst in Washington’s players and we saw the best of Braden Holtby tonight. That was easily the best game he’s played in the NHL. He had to stand on his head many times tonight. First on Tyler Bozak’s breakaway goal, then another on Mikhail Grabovski in the second period and finally, a great save on Grabovski again in the 3rd period. He deserves props for tonight’s game but I am still not completely sold on him yet. He seems to have worked on overplaying pucks which is good but I’m going to wait and see more of him before I decide if he’s a good fit for a full-time spot with the big club next year. That said, having three young goalies playing well is never a bad thing. Though Neuvirth has been shaky his past few starts.

– Of course, I have to mention Ovechkin’s hat trick. In fact, it was a great night all around for #8. He was forechecking hard, blocked 4 shots, fired 8 shots at the net and definitely made a huge impact tonight. If the Caps are going to win games, he needs to be the best player on the ice and he definitely was tonight. Let’s keep it up, Ovie.

– Matt Hendricks…wow. What a goal for him. He was also one assist away from a Gordie Howe hat-trick if you count his scrap with Mike Brown as a fight. His breakaway tally in the third is the prettiest goal you’ll ever see him score but it’s good that we’re still getting bottom-six guys like him contributing. Now I just hope that Boudreau doesn’t get any crazy ideas like putting him on the second line to helps “spark them” a bit. Great goal but he’s not going to work out there at all.

– So, maybe I was wrong about the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Chimera line not working out. They’ve contributed for 4 of the Capitals last 6 goals and Chimera’s speed is always welcome even if he isn’t that creative offensively.

– 4 combined shots for the Leafs first line of Macarthur-Grabovski-Kulemin. While that’s not the most threatening first line (aside from Grabovski), it’s good that Carlson and Alzner were able to keep these three in check and not allow a meltdown to happen like the last time we played the Leafs.

– Capitals had 24 blocked shots compared to only 9 by the Leafs. I would say it was a great defensvie perofmrnace but there were some occasional slip ups. One being Mike Green fanning on a shot on the powerplay which led to a three-on-one for the Leafs, which Holtby shut down. There were a few other bad slip-ups as well, one of which being John Erskine losing track of Tim Brent, which resulted in a Leafs goal. No major damage, thankfully. That’s really my only complaint in this game.

– Dion Phaneuf had a good game offensively for the Leafs with 7 shots but he was on ice for all three of Ovechkin’s goals. There was also him taking a few extra shots at Holtby which kind of bugged me.

– 0/2 on the powerplay, 3/3 on the penalty kill, getting redundant isn’t it?

– I actually thought Jeff Schultz scored that first goal before I saw Ovechkin get his stick on it. It was kind of surprising since most of his shots miss the net completely but he did well on that play. Also had a solid game with a +3 rating.

Three Stars

1. Braden Holtby

2. Alex Ovechkin

3.  Matt Hendricks

NFL Championship Week Preview/Predictions

I just realized that I never wrote any formal predictions for the playoffs this year. Better late than never I suppose. I made predictions for every week this season but neglected the playoffs…what kind of writer am I? Anyway, let’s get this going. I already made my Super Bowl predictions a few weeks ago and the two teams I picked are still alive. Who did I pick you ask? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
NFC
Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears


These two teams split the season series between each other with the Bears winning back on Week 3 and the Packers winning on week 17 to clinch a playoff birth. The Bears that first matchup due to poor discipline on the part of Green Bay and few poor decisions by Aaron Rodgers. The second meeting between the two teams was more of a defensive struggle. I’m expecting this game to be more like the first matchup with it being back-and-forth and having a close ending.

The Bears offense has really gotten better throughout the course of the year but Jay Cutler is still prone to throw a bad pass or two throughout the game and you can bet he’s going to keep the ball away from Packers corner Tramon Williams, who is has a couple huge INT’s in the playoffs already this year. He also needs to watch out for Charles Woodson on the other side as he’s always capable of making a play on defense. Cutler has gotten better with his decision making later in the season so if he should be fine if he knows when to check it down or throw the ball away. There’s one issue, though; the Bears’ offensive line is one of the worst in the league and they have to deal with BJ Raji and Clay Matthews this week. Yikes. Short passes to Greg Olsen and Matt Forte could be Cutler’s bail-out option here to avoid the blitz and turning the ball over but he was able to get the ball downfield to Johnny Knox in their first meeting so we’ll see what happens. The Packers defense is coming off a strong performance against a strong Atlanta Falcons offense so they must be licking their chops to face this Bears team again. They could surprise them, though.

The Bears have stayed in most of their games this season because of their defense and I can imagine that being the case again this Sunday. They have a tough assignment, though; stopping Aaron Rodgers and they should be able to get a substantial amount of pressure on him since their front four is one of the best in the league and can get pressure on QB’s without sending linebackers in on blitzes. Green Bay’s offensive line isn’t anything great either so they should be able to get in Rodgers face a little bit. Rodgers has been on fire this post-season and has made weapons out of basically anyone on the offense. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones, etc. The Bears defense is one of the best at creating turnovers, though so if Rodgers makes one miscue then they can make you pay.

Special teams will play a factor in this game, as well since the Bears have a huge threat on punt and kick returns in Devin Hester and the Packers allowed a kickoff to be returned back for a TD by Eric Weems against Atlanta last week and Hester returned a punt for a TD against Green Bay earlier this year. They can easily take him out of the game by not punting to him but Matt Dodge will tell you that directional kicking is easier said than done when playing outdoors so we’ll see what happens.

I’m going to side with Green Bay in this one, though for a couple reasons; 1) I think Aaron Rodgers is playing on another level right now and while, this will be his toughest test this season, I say he lives up to it and has a great game. 2.) I don’t want to see Julius Peppers in the Super Bowl (Sorry, Chris Harris….). I do think the Bears will be able to hold their own in this game, though. It’s not going to be a repeat of the Atlanta game.

AFC
New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers


The Jets did the unthinkable last week by knocking off thePatriots in Foxboro and they did it by playing basically the most perfect defense you can imagine. The front four was able to get pressure on Tom Brady and the coverage was outstanding. No one was open for Brady almost the entire game and he ended up taking a lot of sacks and throwing the ball away, killing drives as a result. The Jets will have to repeat that performance against the Steelers and I’m not 100% sure they’ll be able to do it.

One thing that works in their favor is that the Steelers have a porous offensive line and it was like that last week against the Ravens. Terrell Suggs was in the backfield on almost every play and wile the Jets don’t have a pass rusher as effective as him, they have a solid linebacking corps that should be able to get into the backfield consistently. Bringing down Ben Roethlisberger is a much bigger task, though. He’s a lot bigger and stronger than Brady and his reluctance to throw the ball away could end up killing him in this game if he ends up taking too many sacks or throwing a bad  pick. Brady’s flaw last week was that he constantly waited for the Jets coverage to break down and it wasn’t happening. If that happens again then it could be a long, frustrating game for the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s receivers are a tad more dangerous than New England’s, though. If only for Mike Wallace’s ability to stretch the field. Rashad Mendenhall could be relied on a lot in this game, too.

What about the Jets offense? Should we just assume that the Steelers defense will shut them down completely? Well, it’s stupid to just blindly assume things but the Steelers have a much better defense than the Colts and Patriots so Mark Sanchez is going to have his hands full. It’s going to be more difficult for him than it was on Week 15 since Troy Polamalu is playing this time and he preys on inaccurate passers like Sanchez. However, Sanchez has played well in the playoffs and looks a lot more composed than usual so things could be different. One thing I will assume is that Ladainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene will have nowhere to go in this game because the Steelers D can definitely stop the run no matter what and the duo will probably be shut down so the game could lie on Sanchez’ shoulders. If he can beat Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden over the top and get the ball to Santonio Holmes and/or Braylon Edwards again then we could see another upset.

Yes, special teams will play a factor in this game, too. Both teams have strong kick returning units and shaky field goal kickers. Shaun Suisham has played well since the Steelers signed him but he’s still questionable beyond 40 yards and we all know about Nick Folk.

I’m going to pick the Steelers to win this game. Mike Tomlin usually has his guys ready to finish off an opponent in the playoffs and the Steelers defense won’t let the Jets offense do that much unless Sanchez takes a huge step forward. Going with the proven QB in this matchup is the safe route even if he is a total asshat like Big Ben.

So, my Super Bowl prediction is Steelers/Packers. Let’s see how it turns out.