Sunday, December 31, 2006

It was a pretty good year . . .

2006 . . . What a year . . .

In the space of four days in January, Alexander Ovechkin registered his first hat trick in the NHL and then managed to score a goal while sliding on his back away from the net at which he was . . . uh, shooting. It was a memorable January – the Caps finished 5-8-2.

In February, the Caps played an abbreviated schedule due to the Olympics. But, Mike Green scored his first goal as a Capital, in a 4-1 win against Toronto. Alexander Ovechkin scored a goal by somersaulting into the rafters and banking a wrist shot off of Don Cherry’s tie knot. The Caps finished 2-4-0

March . . . the Caps saw a return to a full slate of games, although what a metamorphic rock derived out of sedimentary materials has to do with schedules for a professional sports team is a mystery. The Caps secured their only win of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins, highlighted by a goofy goal from the stick of Ivan Majesky, who fired (“blooped” would be a more apt description) the puck from the boards near the Caps’ bench in an effort to clear the zone while killing a penalty. The puck landed near the Penguins' blue line – in full sight of Penguin goaltender Sebastien Caron – upon which Alexander Ovechkin gave the puck the evil eye, willing it to bounce out of the reach of Caron and into the net, leaving Caron embarrassed and Penguin fans wailing about how this will cost them a new arena. Brendan Witt was traded to the Nashville Predators for a boxed set of Loretta Lynn classics. Kris Beech was added as a throw-in. The Caps finished 4-6-5.

April . . . the Caps played 328 games against Carolina. Well, not that many, but it seemed like it. Alexander Ovechkin scored a goal by levitating above the ice and casting the puck into the net on a lightning bolt emitted from his eyes. Olaf Kolzig and Brent Johnson split ten decisions – Johnson won three, Kolzig won two. Caps fans immediately called for Johnson to be installed as the next season’s starter and Kolzig banished to collecting parking passes at FedEx Field. The Caps played the role of spoiler, ending Atlanta’s bid for a playoff spot in the next-to-last game of the year. Thirty eight people saw it at MCI Center. The Caps finished 5-3-2.

May . . . Caps fans huddled around their TV screens and computers to follow the latest progress. Redskins rookie camp was said to have gone well. No one killed Gregg Williams.

June . . . Alexander Ovechkin announced the Capitals’ first pick in the NHL entry draft – Nicklas Backstrom of Brynas in the Swedish Elite League. He did such a great job, he was given the responsibility of announcing the meal choice of the guys at the Caps’ draft table – Kung Pao Chicken and Polish sausage sandwiches.

July . . . The free agent signing period began, and the Caps were active – unfortunately, no one thought to charge their cell phones, and Zdeno Chara ended up in Boston. The Caps made up for lost time by signing Richard Zednik. Trevor Linden could not be reached for comment.

August . . . the club, acknowledging that the new skating facility in Ballston would not be ready for training camp, announced that camp would open in the frozen food section of the Wegman’s on Route 28 in Loudoun County. Fans attending on the first day of camp would receive coupons for Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.

September . . . The Redskins opened camp, the Nationals’ season was winding down, the Terps were opening their ACC football season, DC United was trying to hang onto the top spot in the East in the MLS. That constituted sports news on the local front for . . . oh, yeah . . . the Caps opened camp (Wegman’s did not run out of fish sticks).

October . . . The National Hockey League season opened with a thud as the Caps served as useful props for the Rangers’ opening night win. Dozens of Caps fans attended the home opener a couple of nights later. Alexander had a hat trick. No, not that one, the other one. The Caps finished 4-3-4. Fans were planning parade routes for the Stanley Cup celebration.

November . . . was a month of firsts . . . the Caps did something in Philadelphia they hadn’t done since January 1998 – they took a team wizz on the Rocky statue. It must have worked, since the Caps also won their first game in Philly in all that time. Then, Olaf Kolzig did something he hadn’t done in his entire career. He beat the Dallas Stars . . . then he celebrated by almost losing his lunch when Jamie Heward had a new set of nostrils carved into his face by a Mike Modano skate blade. The Caps finished 6-6-2.

December . . . Alexander Ovechkin started off the month scoring a goal by stuffing the puck in Daniel Briere’s mouth and shooting him into the Buffalo Sabre net. Briere spent the next month complaining of neck pain and . . . cramps with bloating. Then, the Caps did two things they hadn’t done in more than a decade – they swept Philadelphia, and they horked up a four goal lead to the Penguins. The next night, Ovechkin scored the tying goal in the last minute of regulation against Atlanta, then won it six seconds into overtime. Then they beat the Flyers again and celebrated by driving to Philly and wizzing on the Rocky statue. Then they gave up six goals in 37 seconds (ok, it only seemed that way) to Buffalo. It was a helluva month for a club that finished 6-7-1.

And it was a helluva year for a club that is making small, but sure steps back to respectability. Alexander Ovechkin is everything he was said to be and more. Olaf Kolzig remains the cornerstone of the franchise, in and out of the locker room. Alexander Semin dazzles with his stick work, and if you blink, you’ll miss that wrister heading to the back of the net. Mike Green plays with a veteran’s sense of patience. Shaone Morrisonn is growing into the stopper that the Caps need. Matt Pettinger has given indications that his breakout year last year wasn’t a fluke. John Erskine has been a pleasant surprise. The boys in Hershey are taking up right where they left off in June with their Calder Cup win.

The future looks a lot brighter in these parts than it has in some time. 2006 was a year of progress. Here’s to 2007 being one of achievement. And pretty soon, all of us can celebrate by heading to Philly and wizzing on the Rocky statue.

Happy New Year, hockey fans.

1 comment:

Gina said...

Really excellent read. Happy new year!