At the All Star Skills competition the most charismatic hockey player the game has ever seen vaulted himself straight from superstar status to legendary.
If Muhammad Ali is a hockey fan, he must certainly appreciate the showmanship that Alex dazzled the league with Saturday night. Particularly since the glitz is attached to some of the most lethal talent ever witnessed. If there was a buzz about what Ovechkin would do in the breakaway challenge, it was elevated to "brood X" cicada volume afterwards.
The Malkin factor was only the first element of the unexpected. Watching him clean the sunglasses and squirt the water bottle for Alex was a wrinkle straight out of WWE's handbook. Who could have expected that with all the swirl preceding the event about the bitter feud between the two players.
Secondly, his get-up was priceless. With a look that melded Bono with Crocodile Dundee (complete with a Canadian flag jutting out of the hat) Alex surprised us even more by grabbing Malkin's stick for a double barreled sortee on goal that must've had the poor goalie as dumbstruck as the viewers. Then, to ratchet up the surprise even higher, he casts away his normal right handed stick and takes his shot with Malkin'sleft handed one.
As the rebound shot trickled over the goal line, the image of him twirling away to partake in one of his trademark jubilant celebrations will forever be etched on the psyche of those who witnessed it, if for no other reason than it was adorned by those gaudy sunglasses.
With a personality as dynamic as his ability... all must hail Alexander the Gr8.
I can remember when I used to get excited before All Star games. I can even remember when, once, I was excited during an All Star game.
But usually I found myself a little miffed by how differently the game is contested compared to a game that actually counts. A little at a time I just sorta drifted away until my interest in the game had fully evaporated. But the All Star break still serves a purpose for me.
Much like New Year's day or an anniversary, it's a moment to reflect back on what has come before it, and to project ahead to what may come next.
As this team embarked on the 2008-09 season, there was a different feeling in my gut. Somehow, I was able to shed the protective layer of caution that had become my cozy companion after so many jarring disappointments of years ago and found the conviction to push all of my emotional chips to the center of the table.
This squad is either gonna break my heart, or make my decade.
Buying into a team that deeply is a recipe for almost certain disaster, but as we reach the quasi-halfway mark of the season, I gotta say:
The plan is right on schedule.
Now, play time is over. The real competition begins when this break is complete. The good teams in the league know when it's "go time". I can't wait to see if these guys in red can set aside the surges and lapses of the first half and settle in and grind out a solid finish to the season.
I'm the man in the box Can't control my stick Won't you come and save me?
With both Alex's becoming so familiar with the penalty box, Theo just couldn't save them against the Senators.
There'll be no weeping and gnashing of teeth from me on this one. It was the back end of a "two games in two nights" affair, with a nice break ahead, and they just played a stupid, unfocused game. It's not like they're in do-or-die mode.
One player who was very focused (on winning the Academy Award) was Jarkko Ruutu. His performance on the play that banished Mike Green to the box for roughing was Shatner-esque. Soccer players from around the world must have rejoiced at the way he collapsed to the ice as though he'd been shot by a sniper. I'm sure they'll advise him to get helped off the ice in apparent agony by team-mates next time only to come back ready to go for his next shift. What a pest that guy is...
So it's break time for a while so the league can showcase the turd that is the All-Star game. I'm hoping the guys get some good down-time (including Backstrom, who wisely opted out of the Young Stars game). Maybe they'll return more with a renewed mental sharpness.
Just about everybody who sits near me in section 403 has heard the rant. I blurt it reflexively every time I see the a puck loft over the glass from the defensive end.
I hate that stupid "delay of game" penalty.
I can't stand compulsory penalties in general (so you can pretty much guess where you can shove your trapezoid). There always used to be a thing known as "point of emphasis" by which teams could be put on notice that enforcement of certain elements of the rule book would be heightened or more closely scrutinized. Why isn't this approach used in delay of game?
Frankly, I've seen it botched too many times to forgive the mandatory nature of this call. Besides that, only about 10% of the delay calls actually have any merit. With pucks rolling, skittering, and bouncing the way they do, it's inevitable that some pucks will come off the blade in unintended ways. This, regrettably, only results in power plays and momentum shifts which get sprinkled randomly throughout games.
Just ask Alex Ovechkin.
There he sat in the penalty box, helplessly, as the zebras inverted the momentum. It makes me nuts.
You could just see the vengeance in his game when he got back on the ice. If it takes a zebra to take away momentum, it only takes a rabid phenom of a hockey player to steal it back.
What a joy it was to watch a game between two very talented teams that was contested at such a high level. Both teams were acutely alert about passing opportunities and defensive responsibilities alike. Boston and Washington tested each other fiercely, and the good guys prevailed.
I wish I could say something snarky like "Take that you impostors!", but after watching that game, I can't deny that the Bruins are legit.
But keep your eyes on the Caps, nine points in the standings can slip away before you know it.
In the last meeting between Washington and Boston, it was essentially the Bears topping the Bruins. This time the Capitals get a crack at it.
Look out Bruins, this Caps team isn't another one of those cup-cakes you've been feasting on this year. (Maple Leafs, Islanders, Senators, Southeast teams...) The Caps will be a much tougher test for Boston, without a doubt. And I'm quite sure the home crowd will be in full throat to reinforce that.
This game is one of those that Caps fans have circled on the calender. A win for the home team would shrink Boston's lead in the conference standings to less than a handful of games. In fact, as the standings currently sit, the Bruins are the only team to chase. With so much season left to play, it sure would be nice to see the Caps perform a little reality check on the Bruins as to what the level of competition is this year in the East.
Side note: Ever have a friend/acquaintance who was a die hard Bruins fan? I did. Aren't they some of the most pompous and obnoxious people on Earth? For this exact reason I've always had an extra ounce of bile for Boston.
Side side note: Check out this article from Puck Daddy for a recount of one of the most infamous incidents in modern hockey history. Classic!
The "War of Attrition" that the Capitals waged so effectively earlier in the season has degenerated into the "Chore of Addition" as they struggle to find chemistry with the players that are returning from injuries.
Against the Oilers, they looked disorganized and disjointed. The special of the night was turnovers, and that was served with a generous helping of perimeter shots that had no threat of going into the net. The way they've played for the last week, you'd think they were trying to win the shot clock total rather than the goal total.
It was the first game this year that I thought was a stinker.
There's precious little time to turn things around with a game against a rival on the road (and the back end of consecutive games). A much tighter defensive effort (ahem.... Karl and Juice) is gonna be needed to keep the slide from turning into a free-fall.
Back to the little things, guys. Like beating the Pens.
Yes, Caps Kremlin (my favorite blogger), this one is aimed directly at you.
Again, the notion that Capitals fans would prefer to jettison the drek company they currently keep in the Southeast division and bolt off to the Atlantic division has started a little blog buzz.
CK outlines a number of entirely cogent points as to why this would set the franchise back. In fact, every point he makes is unquestionably true.
Yet, I have the complete opposite opinion. I'd jump into that Atlantic division scenario so fast, there'd be a sonic boom.
Before I get to why I'm for this idea, I need to digress for a second about the article that Caps Kremlin is responding to. When I became a hockey fan 25 years (or so) ago, the NHL was a league that was steeped in it's majestic history. I loved the fact that its divisions were named for pioneering men that advanced the game from it's infancy. It made me go back and learn about them and, along the way, I learned of many of the other men that mattered so deeply to the league. Teams were located in established places and stocked with recognizeable players.
I long for those days again.
I hated every malodorous, vile, soul-less opponent in the Patrick division, and I resented how they fought to spoil our dreams.
Truth be told, as much as I try to watch hockey with my cerebrum, I always end up watching it with my brain-stem. If you've been visiting this blog for even a short while, you know my arch enemies are the Flyers and Penguins. I just can't, for the life of me, get worked up about the Panthers or the Thrashers.
I want my real enemies back.
Sure, it would make things a lot tougher. But, just maybe, it would make the Caps tougher too.
Leave it to a guy named Mason to stone the Capitals shots all night.
These Jackets didn't seem like the kind of outfit that would cool off the Caps home hot streak, but that's what can happen when you have a goalie that can stand on his head.
Although the boys from Washington didn't have their "A" game, they definitely weren't sloppy or disinterested. 45 shots is a pretty good indicator that they were getting their chances (not to mention all the near misses that didn't make it on goal). Some nights, ya just don't get the breaks.
We've grown accustomed to seeing those chances go in. I'll simply tip my hat to the guy who denied them.
I'm really gonna get spoiled if every time I go to a game, they win.
I would really love to get a chance to survey the crowd and find out how many superstitious rituals are being invoked by fans before and during games so that the positive "mojo" isn't disrupted. Winning all the time feeds that engine like crazy.
I don't want to beat a dead horse, but there was a basketball game before the Caps played, and the building was on the warm side, so the ice surface looked like it was not in peak condition. Pucks were rolling, players were whiffing on passes and shots, and combine that with the pressure system the Rangers used... the game was somewhat less than elegant.
Kudos to the Caps for matching New York's effort and being able to clamp down defensively at 5 on 5. Considering the rather puzzling way that games are sometimes officiated nowadays, it comes as little surprise the special teams would determine the outcome. Mike Green is such a difference maker on the power play that it almost can't be overstated. Add him into a dynamic with Backstrom and the snipers... it's practically unfair.
Close, gritty games like this one also bring to light a wrinkle that's seldom mentioned when this team is discussed. The league-wide impression of the Caps is one of wide open attacking (run-and-gun) style. I think it's time to take the "wide open" part out of the description. As the season has worn on, our forwards, from the top down, have become extremely effective back-checkers, and our defense (even in light of the decimated roster) has been pretty smart about when to jump. Certainly, these guys love to attack, but I see more and more balance in Boudreau's system than most people outside of DC have been willing to give him credit for.
Comically, gritty games can also reveal a wrinkle that I will never forget, but hope to never see again. I could go into a mini-diatribe about how our stars get run all the time to the point where they have to take matters into their own hands- but I've been there, done that. Instead we focus on the bout between Alex Semin and Marc Staal:
You are looking live at the cafeteria of Columbia Middle School for the match-up of the day. Looks like tempers are starting to flare up over there by the cookie stand! There's shoving! And it looks like we have a rumble... they're wrestling, Marc just insulted Alex's momma. Marc slips! Alex is loose! (slap, slap, slap, slap). And the teachers are there to break it up. Looks like a trip to the Principal's office for Alex.
I don't mind that he was willing to show some spark. But if he never does that again...
OK. I realize it's the only game they've played this year... but it was fugly.
The refs stunk, the linesmen stunk, the goal judge stunk, the players stunk (and by golly, if I could get down there I'd have stunk too!)
The 3 stars according to Nation's Capital Blog:
Verizon EMS crew
Bruce the organ player
Wes the PA announcer
At least a bull fight only has one matador. That was about as putrid of a defensive effort by both teams as I have seen in a long time. It seems like our home town team thinks that there are some opponents that they can just coast against. With only a few exceptions (Lecavalier, Halpern, Bradley, Clark) I thought this game was conducted by a lot of disinterested players. Not since the game against St. Louis have I left a winning game in more sour spirits.
My thoughts go out to some former Caps after this game. First and foremost, the whole experience of the game changed when Jamie Heward went down. I hope I never have to see something like that again. After a minute I was pleading for him to get up, after 7 minutes I was dejected and frightened. I wish with all my heart that he's OK. As far as Jeff Halpern is concerned, now that I can see that he is over his injuries... let's do away with this dalliance with other clubs and bring him back here where he belongs. And with Steve Eminger... he's getting the "whoop" treatment? Please refer to my previous post for my feelings on that.
9 wins in 10 games... why am I so bitter?
Maybe I'm a curmudgeon, but I'm not as grumpy as I sound. Just keep winning, guys.
For all the ecstatic anticipation of great deeds to come in 2009, I still wonder if it can measure up to the lofty heights of the year that just concluded. It was so exhilarating as this team began to coalesce like clouds churning together to form a devastating storm. Even as the force of the storm lashes strongly into the new year, we can only speculate about the results. However, the results for 2008 are in...
And they are delicious.
This team came from decrepit jalopy status to become a high-performance street rod right before our eyes this year. I think it may have been one of the most incredible calender years I've witnessed in 27 years of being a Caps fan. Although the high point of that time came in 1998, the floundering follow-up performance at the beginning of the next season muted the memories of Juneau and Hasek by the end.
The "hunt-you-down relentlessly" attitude that Bruce Boudreau has imparted on this squad, along with all of the hardware and accolades that were handed out to the team is a refreshing change of pace from the dismissive mockery that we've become all-too-accustomed to. It's nice to be considered a team to be reckoned with.
Finally, in 2008, I could hold my head high and talk some trash.
Sometimes I think the guys from the media who select the 3 stars of the game take the easy way out by perusing the stat line and issuing the awards based on that. Against the Sabres, Brian Helmer was given first star status but that just doesn't jive with what I saw with my own two eyes. So, having said that, here are the the stars according to Nation's Capital Blog:
Derek Roy didn't even show up on the score-sheet, but he had a very good puck possession game and consistently moved the puck through the neutral zone. Alex Ovechkin just showed up all over the place, and clearly was the best player on the ice (he's gonna be my #1 star a lot). That breakaway goal he scored was just as sick as the breakaway he disrupted on the back check.
Helmer? Nice game kid. Glad you could mix in some assists while your game is coming around.
If some people around the league think of Mike Gartner as the guy who played over 1400 NHL games and never won the Cup, I'm here to tell you he was so much more than that.
Mike Gartner was a elite quality finisher and an electrifying skater. Had he played on teams with a better cast around him (sadly, that counts for his time here too) he could have been a top 15 all-time scoring list candidate. Instead, he resides at the #27 spot.
To prove my point about how lethal he was as a goal scorer, the all-time list illustrates it perfectly. To find the next player on the list with more goals than Gartner (708) you'd have to scroll up the list all the way into the top 10 with Phil Esposito (717) and then you'd have to scroll up four more places to find the guy after that. That's world class.
Conversely, when you look at the list to find guys who have gathered points with fewer assists as part of the total, you'd have to plunge all the way down the list to #45 (TeemuSelanne). Conclusion? Gartner was there to put the puck in.
His offensive consistency was unparalleled. He holds the record for most 30 goal seasons which he accomplished in 17 of his 19 seasons in the league. He was as adept at being where the rebounds and scrambles started for tip-ins as he was for his dazzling speed on breakaways.
So, in recognition of all this, on December 28, the Washington Capitals will raise his #11 jersey to the rafters. And, in spite of all I just pointed out...
I'm not sure about how to feel about this.
For 20 years since he last played in Washington they've seen fit to issue #11 to scrubs like Tim Bergland and Jeff Nelson yet suddenly NOW it's worthy of all-time retirement?
The Capitals rarely seem to "get it" when it comes to this kind of thing. As much of a fixture as Yvon Labre has been in the organization, the fact that his number 7 is retired is laughable and mildly embarrassing. In fact, the only retired number the Caps have that I'm totally comfortable about is Rod Langway's #5. (Dale Hunter supporters crush me on this routinely).
Yes, I'll cheer loudly and appreciatively for a guy who deserves the applause richly. But it just seems like this ceremony just arrived out of the blue.
Perhaps the organization could take a pointer from one of the most history rich hockey organizations in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although they were the first to retire a number after Ace Bailey's tragic encounter with Eddie Shore, they have the fewest number of retired numbers in the league. Instead, they've chose to "honor" 13 players in the rafters while their numbers remain in circulation.
I wish this was how the Capitals did it. With guys like Olaf Kolzig and Peter Bondra coming up for consideration, I'd just like to have them be gracefully recognized without all the hand-wringing about their worthiness for retired number status.
After three quick Ranger's goals I thought "They left the Caps too much time to mount the comeback". After the fourth goal I felt they were defeated. After the debacle in Philly could you blame me? But then, one of the most improbable goals Ovechkin will ever score knuckle-balled its way past Lundqvist like a guided missile.
Ovechkin, who's game is ballistic by nature, took that to mean that he could bring the team back.
I'm sure if you're the Rangers, you'd have to feel like you've put in a good night's work when you jump out to a 4-0 lead. It's only natural to let off the pedal a little bit. But with one curve ball of a goal, the snake-bitten road team became charmed.
The force of will that one player had was enough to inspire a team and simultaneously lift them to unreasonable results. (Did you hear the cheering from the crowd when he tied the game? I think we're gathering a following out there!)
There are two things I've said consistently all season long. 1) Never count the Caps out of a game, and 2) Alex Ovechkin is the Captain of the Washington Capitals.
Clarkie, its way past time for you to pass the mantle.