I learned today that Alex Ovechkin is back in Russia to be with his ailing grandfather. As you can imagine, I'm deeply concerned about the serious situation that underlies Alex's sudden return home. I think Bruce Boudreau spoke eloquently when he said:
“He had to go and he wanted to be near him, but if you know Alex, he doesn’t want to leave his teammates, So that’s always a struggle, but in the end, he knows what he needs to do—and that’s family first.”
I couldn't agree more.
Sadly, this type of situation occupies needless hours of sportstalk radio, whether the athlete misses games due to childbirth, unwell relatives, or even family crisis. Without fail, this leads to hand-wringing amongst fans about where priorities should be aligned, but to me, this one is a no brainer. Consider the fact that the man Alex is going back to be with has propagated some of the most absurdly talented genes ever to have been passed along to the next two generations of descendants.
Of course he made the right decision.
Consider what part of the season it is, and how few games are on the docket over the next couple of weeks. Not to mention that close family like that is just intrinsically more valuable than the sometimes myopically over-exaggerated bond that pro teams form during a competitive season. When it all boils down, we're all accountable to our own flesh and blood more-so than the ones we've chosen to bleed for.
I wish the best for your family Alex, and I will cheer as loud as I can when you return.
Inter-league play in baseball doesn't get underway until mid-season, but it's cranked up to full swing already in this early NHL campaign. With five games played, the Caps have already dispatched two Western Conference contestants, and are slated to cast their fortunes against three more this week.
Of the upcoming roadies against the Flames, 'Yotes, and Stars, the matchup that most grabs my attention most is the first game against Calgary. I see this Flame's team as an exciting up-and-down team that has enough veteran experience and star power to provide an excellent barometer for how far the Caps have progressed in their ascent to respectability.
Phaneuf, Iginila and Kiprusoff command enough respect on their own, but (like the Caps) their secondary cast of characters is above average and could make an impact. Add to that the fact that this team as starved for points, and I'd say our boys are in for a dogfight.
Tom Poti's injury forced the Caps to recall Karl Alz... errrr... Sami Lepis.... errr.... Tyler Sloan from Hersey. Yeah, umm Tyler Sloan. That's the one. Three things about this recall actually make sense. He's both huge (6'4) and mature (27 years old), plus, he's a Calgary guy (like Mike Green) and should rise up to play in his own hometown, and, on top of that, this will be his NHL (regular season) debut. I'm thinking this guy is gonna be pretty fired up.
Give 'em hell Caps, and we'll be waiting here at home to exchange the "C" of red with the "sea of red".
Attention Capitals players: If you are wearing a jersey with a number in the teens, please see me after class to discuss your impact in the game against the Devils. C'mon guys, we're counting on your skills to make a difference this season. You can't all disappear at the same time!
Having said that, both teams played a very strong game. As a fan, I've been more than pleased that the early-season sloppiness that we've become conditioned to expect in the past is largely absent this year. What hasn't been absent is the home crowd at Cap's games. The difference between October '07 and '08 is gratifying.
Big "ups" to Brent Johnson for the best Caps goaltending performance in this young season, and to Alex Semin for his continued dominance. Federov is also starting to win me over as a "D" man with his puck moving skills.
Alex Ovechkin was held to only "glimpses of greatness" but almost no offensive impact. If history is any indication when it comes to situations like this, God help the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, because OV will stew about this game until he has a chance to rectify the situation on the ice.
Even without GR8's contribution, these Caps were able to mount a comeback for a miraculous 4th time in 5 games! (even though it didn't hold up in Atlanta) That, to me, is ridiculously amazing. You have to give these guys a puncher's chance to win on any night under any circumstances. And when they iron out the kinks in the goaltending/defensive dynamic...
The sky is the limit.
Much respect for the Devils for an impressive road win. Perhaps the favor will be returned in November.
The game against the Penguins was like a dream come true, but it took all three periods for that to become evident. I was as aggravated as you were when John Erskine was called for delay of game even though the puck rode off the rink on Miro Satan's stick instead of Erskine's. (And I did wonder if Bradley's punching bag imitation would have an adverse effect on the game).
But, in spite of all that, our guys showed a ton of heart (and I'm convinced that OV's rude treatment of Malkin was a big key).
It all just confirms what this teams showed you at the end of last season. NEVER count the Washington Capitals out of a game.
Apparently there's some truth to the rumor that too much (Canadian) Thanksgiving turkey can put you into a tryptophan induced stupor. That's the only way to explain the Canuck's visit to DC on Monday.
I thought the ugliest thing about Vancouver was their historically hideous jerseys until I got to witness this debacle. Three shots in more than two periods? Six minutes into the third period I leaned over to a nearby fan and quipped that "Even if Brent Johnson was perched on top of his goal like Snoopy, the Caps would still be winning this game".
Every imaginable break went the Cap's way tonight. Every missed pass inadvertently landed on another Cap's stick, every overlapping pass scheme led to sustained offensive zone time. And the Cap's karma even extended past the game to the ride home.
(I swear I am not making this up) The vehicle I drive has a lazy fuel gauge, so, as I drove home from the game, I ignored the "running on fumes" reading on my dashboard and favored my odometer method. Well, that was a bad idea. As my fuel-starved vehicle coasted lifelessly to a stop, it came to rest.... directly in front of the gas pump I was aiming for.
Everything, it seems, was going right for Caps players and fans on this night.
Attention Jose Theodore: your account of good will in the bank of Cap's fans is overdrawn. Please make a deposit immediately before attempting to make another withdrawal. I mean, seriously.... Early impressions of Olie Kolzig in his first season as starter were of him giving himself brain-freeze from standing on his head all the time. Consequently, he'll receive a hero's welcome later this season despite 50 games of marginal play last year. Ya see how it works Jose?
Caps faithful went into this season with bravado, knowing that our team could stand in blow-for-blow with the best in the league. After 26 seconds of the home opener, 18,000 people were on pins and needles every time a shot came toward our goal. With one bad goal, the vibe switched from optimistic confidence to hesitant relief in the victory.
In all fairness, Theodore made a handful of nearly acrobatic saves as the game progressed (thanks in large part to the Cap's newfound propensity for taking garbage penalties). But you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Thanks a lot for letting all the air out of my balloon in the first week of the season. At least Ovechkin has a reputation for pumping me back up.
I can't help but notice how similar the Chicago Blackhawks are to our very own Capitals. You kind of get the feeling that there's a new-ness and an energy swirling around both of these franchises. It's almost as though the Hawks looked at the template that the Caps were establishing last season and jumped right in to follow along.
The comparisons between the young, up-and-coming talent were illustrated in a very obvious way last season as Nicklas Backstrom dueled it out with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the Calder Trophy (which Toews should have won despite the number of missed games).
Sadly and ironically, much of the fresh feeling around the Chicago club was generated after the passing of their longtime owner Bill Wirtz. He was and old-school owner who insisted that Hawk's games be blacked out on TV if the arena wasn't sold out (which it seldom was). Therefore, a recent generation of hockey fans were missing out on exposure to their home team.
Since then, the team has been overhauled into a faster, more energetic group and they served notice that they're ready to compete this year when they signed swift skating defenseman Brian Campbell and that good-for-nothing traitor Cristobal Huet during free agency. I hope the Caps score 10 on him (but I digress).
Just as Chris Clark, Green, and Brooks Laich have emerged for the Caps, the buzz around the NHL is that this season will be a breakout year for Dustin Byfuglien. (pronounced Buff-Linn, but the juvenile in me usually goes with Butt-Fugly-en)
Fortunately for Caps fans, we got a head start on them in this tuning up process, and perhaps the evidence of that will be on display Saturday night.
Whenever I write something that sounds like I'm talking out the wrong orifice, please consider this (paraphrased) quote from former NY Ranger and NY Islander GM Neil Smith on NHL On The Fly last night. (Regarding the Toronto Maple Leafs)
"There's never been a team that said we're going to be bad on purpose. Every other bad team has been due to ineptitude, but this is the first time a team has come out and said our design is to lose a lot of games"
As you can see, people who are far smarter than me can miss by a mile.
I end up in conversations all the time that basically revolve around the question: Who would you compare OV to?
My answer reaches back even further than my own experience can go (which essentially means I've NEVER seen a guy like Ovechkin in my life). But if you put a gun to my head, my answer would be the one and only Bobby Hull.
Call it a blessing, or call it a curse, but the fact that the Capitals play in the much maligned Southeast Division means that this team has an express lane to one of the first two seeds for the playoffs this year.
I've resisted, and on many occasions, resented the derisive mocking that NHL fans have heaped on the so called "South-Least" division, but as I look ahead to the approaching season... it's time to give up the ghost. The rest of this division stinks.
So, as the Caps sprint away from the pack like Usain Bolt, they'll be contested for the #1 spot by the Montreal Canadiens (eh?) of the Northeast. The Hab's will likely float above the fray while their second tier division mates squabble amongstthemselves for the second divisional spot.
Which leaves the real humdinger of a division in the Eastern Conference. The Atlantic. This murderers row of goalies and bruisers (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, NY Rangers, NJ Devils, NY Islanders) will hopefully pummel their own selves into powder before a winner finally limps out to accept the 3 seed in the conference.
So basically, whether or not the Caps are the best team in the East, they may very well still be sitting on top at the end of the season. Let's Go Caps!
A pretty good clip of an interview with Ted Leonsis is posted at On Frozen Blog and there's a hilarious post that grills my co-nemesis Philly at Off Wing Opinion about a preseason tune-up. This fledgling blogger genuflects in their general direction.
Many, many times at Caps games, I've heard the question asked about the "whoop whoop" that cascades from the crowd when former Caps have the puck. (And you should hear some of the answers I've heard) So I thought I could help clear this up a bit.
Ironically, this tradition didn't begin with a former Cap, but with one of our own. None other than Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy. And the original jeer was actually a "whoops".
Opposing teams all had the book on Larry Murphy, who was a finesse player rather than a banger. So the recipe for success was to dump the puck into Larry's corner, then send a player crashing in on the forecheck. This would occasionally cause Murphy to lose his nerve and the result would be "Whoops... gave the puck away!"
The sarcastic jeers from the DC faithful escalated exponentially when Murphy returned as an opposing player and "poof". A tradition is born.
Now I can hear some of you reasonable people wondering aloud "Wait, the fans were doing this to their own Hall of Fame player?"
Please.... never let petty accomplishments like that get in the way of a good sarcastic taunt. In fact, cruel treatment of our own defensemen is almost a part of Capitals culture! (Isn't that right, Milan?)
OK, now that we've got that cleared up, here a handy guide to using whoops in today's NHL
How to Whoop a former Cap (Volume 1)
First rule: Only defenseman get whooped. If you're whooping Jeff Halpern- you're committing a faux pas.
Second rule: Insanely physical players are exempt. If you were whooping Scott Stevens back in the day, I would have politely asked you to "fut the shuck up!" It's never a good idea to taunt a guy who might bludgeon one of your own if provoked.
Last rule: Use it on worthwhile players. If you're whooping Lawrence Nycholat- you're probably taking the tradition to the very extreme. Even a guy like Steve Eminger is a bit below the threshold of whooping. (Although, considering that he's a Flyer, I'm willing to let him hear a few)
So with these guidelines in mind, here is a list of whoopable former Caps:
Sergei Gonchar Brendan Witt
Long list, huh? Let's just hope we never need to use it on Mike Green!
The next goal that Sergei Federov scores will vault him past exhilarating sniper Alex Mogilny as the most prolific Russian scorer in NHL history. (I guess Russian guys named Alex just score like crazy)
I'm pretty sure we don't need to hold our breath waiting for Feds to secure his place at the top of this impressive list. But Sergei, if it's not too much to ask, please keep the record nice and tidy until the next Alex can reclaim it.
This young Caps team is showing some wrinkles in this preseason, and I'm not referring to elder statesmen Federov and Nylander. Bruce Boudreau has been trotting out a decidedly different looking penalty kill these days. I had to do a double-take at the sight of Ovechkin and Alex Semin logging minutes on the PK. Initial impressions from my first two glances at this experiment ( home game against Carolina) weren't so positive as they both resulted in a Caps goalie fishing the puck out of the back of the net.
Seriously, wasn't there a time when Semin need to stop and ask directions to the defensive zone? And he's on the PK??!
Since then I've seen OV deposit a couple of shorties (the most demoralizing thing a team can do) and I've seen some gloriously entertaining puck "ragging" which relegated the other team's power play into spectators like me. So is this experiment a good idea or not?
All the conformation I needed for this was provided in the last preseason game when, in a panic-inducing moment, Alex Ovechkin went down after a Bruin's shot tattooed him. (Thankfully he bounced back up) It's a high risk position to put your best offensive players in. And while, if it were me, this experiment would not translate into the regular season- I totally love the stones that Boudreau has to try it.