Sports editor Mike Hume takes his monthly dive into his magical mail bag.
What's up with the Caps? They've lost 10 of 12 and show no signs of recovering. What do you see as their big problem?
This was far from the start the Washington Capitals envisioned when the team added Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti in the offseason. After 15 games — and a 3-0 start — the Caps sat with just 11 points on Wednesday morning, tied for the fewest in the league.
The headlines have categorized Washington’s biggest problem so far as a lack of scoring. Seeing as how the Caps were 26th in the NHL in that category on Tuesday, such an assessment would be accurate. If it’s any consolation though, Washington, at 2.36 goals per game, is still averaging about a half goal per game more than defending Stanley Cup champs Anaheim and the free-spending New York Rangers.
Alexander Semin’s ankle injury has hobbled their scoring efforts considerably, limiting last year’s second-leading scorer to just four games in which he contributed just one assist. Without Semin, the pairing of Michael Nylander with rookie Tomas Backstrom on the same line hasn't really worked. The Swedes appear to be too unselfish when paired together. Passing, passing, passing and then passing some more with no one willing to put the puck on net. Backstrom’s played in all 14 games and has just 10 shots on goal. Five different Washington defensemen have more shots on goal than Backstrom. If that pairing is going to work, there needs to be a goal scorer on that line and without Semin, the Caps don’t seem to have one that can do the trick.
But the anemic goal output is only part of the problem and the lesser of the Caps’ early season evils in my mind. Penalties are bleeding Washington dry. The 16 power play goals allowed by the Caps are the sixth most in the league. Three of those came Monday night when the Carolina Hurricanes blanked Washington 5-0, with three of the Canes’ first four goals coming with the man advantage.
Not only are the not Capitals scoring, they’re not playing solid defense, taking penalties and giving up power play goals about as often as that guy in the upper deck at Verizon Center toots his air horn. In my opinion, there’s enough scoring talent on this team that when Semin gets healthy, the goals will come. If Washington doesn’t rededicate itself to playing defense and strapping down its special teams, raising its scoring average another goal per game might not matter that much.
Hoya Saxa Hume,
No. 5 for the Hoyas in the preseason AP and Coaches polls. What do you believe the future holds for Georgetown's quest to return to the Final Four?
I ranted pretty vehemently against preseason polls last week, so it would be a tad hypocritical to endorse the preseason basketball poll just because Georgetown is No. 5. I will say two things about it though: 1.) The basketball poll is much less problematic because at least there are 65 teams that have earned a fair crack at the national title come March, not just two. 2.) The basketball poll is just as built on hype and reputation as the football poll. If you don’t think so, then please explain how a Duke team without Josh McRoberts and no other solid interior threat is actually the No. 13 team in the country after mediocre regular season in 2006-07 and a first round exit in the NCAA tournament last year? The Blue Devils might have a nice freshman class coming in, but please make them prove something just this one time before affixing them to the top of the ACC with North Carolina.
I’ll refrain from my lengthier look at Georgetown’s chances this year until I’ve seen them in action this Saturday, but I’ll tell you my points of concern heading into this year. Roy Hibbert has the talent to be the best center in college basketball this year. Of course, he had that talent last year too but was often derailed by fouls in several of the Hoyas’ most important games. Vernon Macklin ought to be an effective substitute, but how do you replace arguably the best center in the country? Answer: You don’t. That’s why I’ll be wincing every time I hear a whistle in the paint this year.
There’s no arguing that DaJuan Summers is a legitimate rising star, but there’s still a lot that can go wrong, namely with his decision making. This year he’ll likely be asked to fill the departed Jeff Green’s role as the Hoyas’ playmaking forward. Last year there were a few instances when shot selection plagued Summers and he went cold for games at a time. From last year’s Feb. 17 game against Villanova through the end of the regular season — a stretch of five contests — Summers didn’t post more than two field goals in the same game. When he’s on, he’s a star. When he’s struggling he reminded me of former enigmatic Hoya Brandon Bowman, trying to do too much and often getting in his own way. If Summers can take the next step and play smarter this year, Georgetown might not miss Green that much at all. If he doesn’t? Well, Hibbert better stay out of foul trouble.
With all the things coaches do to try to gain a competitive edge — Spy Gate or more recently artificial crowd noise — what would you do to gain an advantage if you were a coach?
Yeah, I’ve heard the latest accusation that the “skipping” sound from the CBS telecast confirms that Indianapolis pumps crowd noise into the RCA Dome, but the only people I’ve heard comment on that are ones that were watching the TV broadcast. If the “CD” actually skipped, someone, including the fleet of newspaper writers and TV personalities actually inside the stadium would have heard it too. Until I hear more, I tend to believe it was a CBS technical glitch.
As for my home field advantage … I’ve put a lot of thought into this and, pending the legality of a shark-filled moat lining the field, I’d have to go with a pregame seance with Miss Cleo. Why would you need secret video tapes to analyze when Miss Cleo can tell you the future? And she can also help your personnel department by keeping your players out of relationship trouble. She’s a two-for-one! Call her now!