Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Alex's Ice Time

A lot has been made about Alexander Ovechkin’s ice time during these playoffs. For a thoughtful dialogue on the issue, check out Post Sports Live A lot of great points are made here, but I sense that it’s getting blown out of proportion a little. Here’s my take on it.

First of all, Dale Hunter is no dummy. He knows that he needs Ovechkin scoring to win the Cup. So my thought is that this is as much about putting Ovechkin in position to score as it is about masking his defensive liabilities and matching lines. I read an interesting blog article Monday about Ovechkin's production and how teams are defending him. The big theory is that teams are defending the spots on the ice from where he likes to shoot rather than defending Ovi himself. Therefore Ovi must change his game to score from different spots on the ice. But the big statistic that no one is really talking about is the percentage of shots taken by the Capitals during Ovechkin's 5 on 5 shifts. It has gone down dramatically over the last two years, along with Ovechkin's production. Which means, teams are defending him by making him play more defense.

If you watched Game 1 vs. the Rangers, in which Ovechkin logged more ice time yet only one shot on goal, he spent most of his shifts mucking the puck out of his own end and then had nothing left in the tank at the end of his shift when the Caps got the puck. So, if you're Hunter, and you want a fresh Ovechkin on the ice to attack the net, you may try to pick your spots to get him on the ice in the offensive zone. You also see him playing more with Laich, Brouwer and Ward, forwards who can fish the puck out of the corner and get it to Ovechkin in transition. Like I said, I think Hunter is smart and trying to put Ovechkin in position to be successful, which could also mean less ice time and different line combinations than what we’re used to seeing. If you look at Ovechkin's Game 2 stats (other than ice time) you'd think he played the whole game - a game high 7 shots on goal, GWG and a couple of hits. He was darn close to scoring more than one goal. Yes, I would like to see Ovechkin on the ice more, but if he can be that productive in 13 minutes, then I say let him be rested for a long Cup run.

My guess is that tonight in Game 3 you'll see Ovi’s ice time increase as Hunter can dictate more advantageous line match ups with the last change. You’ll also see his minutes go up if the Caps can take less penalties and/or be on the man advantage more often. It may not be the minutes he's used to seeing, but they will go up.

And a final footnote for Ovechkin - the Caps are 0-2 in the playoffs this year when he has logged more than 20 minutes of ice time.

Let's go Caps!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why the Caps will Win Game 7

The Washington Capitals have long taunted their fans with tastes of greatness and then fallen short of expectations in the playoffs. Last year’s second round loss in 4 games to Tampa Bay being the latest example. Their dismal record in Game 7’s (2-7) offers little reason for optimism. Defeating the defending Stanley Cup Champions on the road seems like a daunting task. So, why will this year be different? In short, because it can be different, and here’s why.

The Underdog Caps have defied the experts for months

No one expected the Caps to be here, and by no one, I mean all the smart guys in the media. During the last month of the season, when the Capitals were battling the Sabres for the final playoff spot in the East, not a single analyst picked Washington. Zero. One analyst went so far as to say, “the Washington Capitals don’t scare anyone.” Then the Caps dug deep, played some of their best hockey of the season and got into the playoffs. So much for the experts.

Once they got in, the Caps continued to get overlooked. Not a single analyst picked the Caps to win this series with the Bruins, despite the Caps having won the season series with the Bruins (3-1) including two “must win” games down the stretch. Most analysts picked the Bruins in six games (sorry experts). In fact, Jeremy Roenick went so far as to call the Bruins his “lock of the week” in the first round. That means Homer Simpson has his mortgage riding on the black and gold. And the Caps won. And won. And won. Doesn’t sound like a lock to me.

Now it comes down to a best of one, winner take all game, and guess what – no one is picking the Caps. Despite all of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, historical performances and picks by the media, I believe the Caps are in the best spot because they have NOTHING TO LOSE. They are not defending the Cup, they are not at home, and no one expected them to be playing this game anyway, much less to win it. Preseason predictions aside, the Caps have already gone further in the last two months than anyone gave them credit for. And so, they can play loose and confident and they can win this game.

Dale Hunter is one tough SOB

Game 7 is going to be a street fight, and if there’s one guy on either team that I’d want on my side in a street fight, it’s Dale Hunter. Sure, the Bruins are loaded with tough guys and carry a reputation as the toughest team in the league. But I grew up watching Dale Hunter and he doesn’t take crap from anybody. That is why the Caps haven’t backed down from the rough play or intimidation tactics employed by the Bruins. In fact, they’ve embraced the more physical style of play.

After months of coaching the Caps we are finally seeing the team take on Dale Hunter’s personality. They are committed to shot blocking, defense and fighting it out for pucks in the corner. Everybody is contributing. Even Alex Ovechkin threw his body on the ice to block a shot in Game 6 (okay, it was a little ugly and his teammates and coaches probably had a laugh with it, but the fact is, when the Great 8 does it, everyone is committed to it). They have rallied around a rookie goal tender who is playing great hockey. And, they never give up. They are not intimidated by the Bruins or by Game 7. And given the Caps record on the Bruins’ home ice, I’d say it’s the Bruins who should be scared.

Because the Caps have more talented playmakers

Remember all those playoff losses to Lemieux and Jagr? Lafontaine? Hextall? Well, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green possess a truckload of talent. And while this has been a tight checking, hard fought series, and these players have under delivered over the course of the season, it is talent that usually wins out in these situations. Alexander Semin in particular has impressed me over the last 6 games. I have never seen him consistently fight as hard for pucks or throw his body in front of shots like he has in this series. And Ovechkin reminded us of what a threat he is when he put a wicked wrister between Tim Thomas’ legs before he had a chance to react. The Caps had plenty of chances to score in Game 6 with brilliant play by all four players mentioned. As long as these guys don’t try to be hero’s, limit mistakes, finish opportunities and play within the system, the Caps will be in it.

Braden Holtby is in the Bruins heads

Despite the high(er) scoring nature of the last two games, the Bruins have launched far more pucks at Braden Holtby than the Caps have at Tim Thomas. Holtby’s statistics in the playoffs are stellar (.935 SV% 2.18 GAA). The Bruins are now admittedly trying different tactics to just get a better scoring chance. Some of it has worked (like shooting at the goalie’s head) but a lot of it has not. And, in a pressure packed Game 7, it will be the Bruins who are desperately trying to create scoring chances, not the Capitals. And, if I’m the coach, Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Playoff series is not where I want to be reinventing my offensive game plan. If the Legend of Braden Holtby hasn't been written already in these playoffs, Game 7 might be the first chapter.

Because anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs

In sports as in life, the Caps have done the one thing they needed to do – put themselves in position to do something great. In a game of hot goalies and bounces of the puck, that’s all you really need, a chance. When you put yourself in position to be successful, good things usually happen. The Caps have been on the wrong end of Stanley Cup playoff mojo for a long time. But I believe it’s their turn to be great. It’s a time when this team, these players, this franchise, and this hockey city turn the corner. Michael Jordan once said he missed more game winning shots than he made in his career. But he always wanted the ball, he always took the last shot, he always wanted to be in that position, exactly where the Caps are tomorrow night. Dale Hunter said that as a player, you have to embrace the moment and have fun with it, and as a fan that is what I'm going to do. For one, I’d much rather be Alex Ovechkin playing in Game 7 than be sitting at home with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

Let's go Caps!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some Things I'm Thinking

I haven’t made a blog post in a couple of weeks. I don’t have a whole lot on my mind right now but I also don’t want to be like that guy who posted LOST recaps and then never posted one for the final episode. So here it goes with a few things I’m thinking.

A long overdue conclusion to the Cherry Blossom

I crushed the Cherry Blossom, running it in 1:23:25, a pace of 8:21 per mile. I beat my personal best by a full 5 minutes. In fact, Eric, Ted and I all set PRs. I was most impressed with Ted, who had barely trained for the race and only decided to run it the Wednesday prior. Congrats to all the runners. All your training and hard work paid off!

My prayers go out to the family of Lloyd Blackwell, who suffered a heart attack while running the Cherry Blossom and later died on Easter Sunday. It is moments like this that remind us of how fragile life is and helps us to appreciate the people in ours.

I now have the Buffalo Half Marathon circled on my calendar for Sunday, May 26th. It’s not that I want to run another fast race, but I do want to give myself a goal to keep up the weekly grind of running. My goal for this race will be to break 2 hours, which seems within reach given my performance in the Cherry Blossom. My personal best for a half marathon is 2:13.

Some Thoughts on Beer

While in DC I picked up a few cans of DC Brau, the hot new brewery located in the District (on Bladensburg Road, just inside the Maryland border). Beer is available only from the brewery in growlers and in cans, although retailers anticipate that the beer will be available soon. The canned beer – the Citizen, the Public and Corruption – is all very solid. Most patrons opted for the Citizen, a Belgian style pale ale, but I preferred Corruption, a hoppy IPA. The Penn Quarter Porter – currently available only on tap – is also a rock solid beer. It is a fitting tribute to our forefathers from a DC brewery. George Washington was known to favor porter, and even brew his own. The vibe at the brewery was awesome with approximately 100 people hanging out, sampling beer, taking tours and listening to music. There was also a food truck parked outside to serve hungry patrons. It was a very vibrant scene with people of all ages enjoying the renaissance of craft brewing in the District. It’s worth a visit when you’re there.

I recently returned from a week-long vacation in Hilton Head, SC where I got to sample a bunch of local brews. My favorite was an IPA from the Hilton Head Brewing Company, although I recommend skipping the food and going only for the beer. We had the worst experience ever there and the service was as poor as I can remember. Other beers worth sampling when you’re down that way are Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale and Palmetto Pale Ale. While neither beer is particularly memorable, both are good beers and a welcome selection for vacationing beer enthusiasts. Stop by your local Piggly Wiggly to pick up a 6 pack or grab one on tap at the Salty Dog.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thoughts Before the Cherry Blossom

I have trained hard. I have fought the good fight. I did not train as much as I wanted. I trained enough to set a PR. Physically, I feel the best I have coming into a race, perhaps ever. I am in shape and have no nagging injuries. Mentally, I am confident in my abilities. I know the course well, having run all or parts of it multiple times in previous Cherry Blossoms, Army 10-Milers and the Marine Corps Marathon. It has been a long road and the race is almost here. Now I am settling in to my taper runs and it is time to focus on and enjoy the upcoming race. What am I looking forward to most?

  • Running with my friends and family. This is what got me into running and keeps me running. I love my daily runs with the guys in the neighborhood, but it is the excitement of competition and the camaraderie of doing it with the people I love that keeps me getting out of bed every day at 5:15am. This year, I am running with my brother-in-law, Eric, and some peeps from the old neighborhood in Silver Spring. It is Eric’s first 10 mile race and I am excited to be doing it with him. Hopefully, he doesn’t kick my butt, at least not yet.
  • Running in DC. It is my favorite city and I say that not because I am from there (ok, maybe a little bit), but because it truly is one of the most beautiful cities to run in. This will be my fifth race in DC and I can’t think of anything more beautiful and inspiring than running past the monuments and cherry trees, even if Mother Nature brought Spring a little early this year.
  • Running for a PR. Last year, my brother and I ran the Cherry Blossom together and I’ll never forget the moment I looked at my Garmin and thought to myself, “We can set a PR.” I hadn’t really trained for a PR and didn’t really think about breaking the 90 minute barrier. But somehow we put ourselves in position to do it. We ran our butts off for the last couple miles and came in at 1:28:25. It was a great feeling. This year, I am older and wiser and have learned how to train for races rather than just going out and running every other day. I followed the Intermediate level virtual training program offered by the race organizers. I’m pretty sure I can beat last year’s time, but if I don’t, it won’t make or break my race.

Over the next week and a half I’ll probably concern myself with more trivial matters, such as which songs to load on my iPod and what I’m going to wear on race day. I’ll scrutinize the course map and over analyze a “race strategy”. And I’ll keep running until I cross that finish line.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Clementine Hefeweizen Tasting Notes

I’m finally getting around to posting my tasting notes for the Clementine Hefeweizen. It is long overdue. I will cut right to the chase and say that my esteemed panel of judges (me, Dennis Beecher and Tim Godzich) reaffirmed – with numbers – that this is, in fact, the best beer I’ve ever brewed. While Polly chimed in and said, “it’s great, but not as good as last year”. Well, I guess you never forget your first Clementine. Meanwhile, Dr. John Butsch can be heard asking, “Clint, do you have any more of those Hefeweizens?” All the good vibes means this one will become a more regular part of my brewing rotation. And if you’re lucky enough, you might be able to order one at Cole’s some day.

Before moving on to the tasting notes, I wanted to touch on a personal achievement that I hit with this blog post. Over the last couple of years, I’ve promised myself to spend more time on my blog. And while I wish I could find more time to write, this year I’ve found enough to post my 15th blog post of 2012. This output exceeds the total number of blog posts from 2009-2011. I am very excited to be back and writing actively on my blog! Thanks for your readership and for sharing my love of beer, running and sometimes business.

And without further ado, here are the tasting notes.

Beer description: A wheat beer fermented with German ale yeast to produce a crisp, clean, lightly hopped beer with orange liqueur in the nose and a sweet Clementine finish. ABV ~4.5%

Appearance (0-3 points): the beer pours with a nice head and has good carbonation. The head fades within a couple of minutes, but keeps a nice layer of white bubbles throughout. It is a slightly hazy, orange-copper that is clearer throughout than most hefeweizens. Average score: 2.67

Aroma (0-4 points): the nose is dominated by orange liqueur notes and a crisp, citrusy malt aroma. Hop aroma is subdued. Typical banana and clove notes are missing due to clean fermenting ale yeast. Average score: 3.33

Taste (0-10 points): Starts with a soft wheat malt flavor then transitions to a sweet Clementine flavor as it rolls over the tongue. Good balance and conditioning. Has a slight grainy, Clementine aftertaste. Overall flavor profile was enjoyed by the judges. Average score: 9.00

Overall Impressions (1-3 points): Just a great beer to have one or more than one. Goes well as a food pairing or alone at cocktail hour. Average score: 3.00

Total Score: 18.00

Coming soon: more beer tasting notes and updates on the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler