Friday, November 09, 2007

The fashion choices are set...

...for the "AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic" (that's the outdoor game on New Year's Day).

Blue for the on white for the Sabres. Excellent will match the skin color.

One of a kind...

Let me start by saying this…Sidney Crosby is a sublime hockey player, perhaps the best of this generation and with a plaque already waiting for him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But hey…you guys in NHL marketing…you folks over at Versus…we know you’re trying really hard, but maybe you’ve put too many eggs in one basket to sell this league.

Caps Chick notes in A View from the Cheap Seats a couple of snippets from the life that is Alexander Ovechkin’s, taken from a report in the Ottawa Sun

“…[Ovechkin] took the time to go into the hallway - in his underwear - and read a couple of lines of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas for a feature TSN does each year. Alexander Ovechkin read the lines at least a half-dozen times, laughed while doing it and when he was thanked by Brent Wallace of TSN, replied ‘No problem.’ And you wonder what makes a guy a pro."

“[F]ormer NHLer Bob Probert was outside the Caps dressing room after the game. He introduced himself to Ovechkin. The star walked away and asked somebody, "Grobert? Who's Grobert?’”

If you go to the blog, Alexander Ovechkin, you’ll see that he is a quote machine, sure, but also that he is precisely the sort of infectious personality wrapped around world-class talent that this league desperately needs to sell its product.

As we suggested, Sidney Crosby sits at the top of the heap – talent-wise – in this league. As a hockey fan, I love watching the kid play. But he has the personality, at least for public consumption, of oatmeal that’s been sitting on the kitchen table for a while. I can’t fault Crosby for that. By any measure, he is a community-oriented, earnest, humble, personable sort…at least from any report of him I read. He is a fine young man, certainly mature beyond his years in dealing with the pressure and the spotlight. And perhaps the combination of his youth and the spotlight always being on him lends to a preference for care in the manner in which he presents himself to the public. But for whatever reason, there seems to be this wall around him, which leaves him like a talent in a glass case – there for the watching, but not much else.

On the other hand, there is Ovechkin, whose improving English, natural effervescence, and timing make him not only quotable, but magnetic. His quotes aren’t the edgy sort that made Brett Hull a favorite of journalists, and he doesn’t seem to be the more “look at me” sort that too often seemed to characterize Jeremy Roenick’s public image. His are more of the entertaining "did he really say that?" variety that leaves folks alternately smiling and scratching their head.

Ovechkin is one of a kind. There is the “twinkle in his eye” image that surrounds his game and off-ice antics that stands in stark relief to the cold “eye of the shark” image in Crosby’s game and persona.

While there are a lot of fine youngsters in the league -- the brothers Staal (Eric and Jordan, with perhaps more to come), Paul Stastny, Ryan Getzlaf, Evgeni Malkin, Anze Kopitar, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, to name but a few -- who will be competing for trophies and press accolades, Ovechkin and Crosby are at the front of the line and very well could be for years to come.

If these guys were TV shows, Ovechkin would be the classic comedy -- well done, with good humor and a message (that being, I’m a pretty good hockey player). Crosby would be an episode from Masterpiece Theater – artfully done but often just a bit cold and distant. One might be technically “better” than the other, but this isn’t a technical issue. Which would you rather watch with a bunch of friends?

Just a thought...

Was it the speech?

And The Peerless has to doff the prognosticatorial cap to the folks at Off Wing Opinion, who have been kind enough to recognize our work quite a bit these days in their blogging roundups. Thanks, guys...

A TWO point night: Caps 4 - Senators 1

You might want to stake out your places on the parade route, now, Caps fans.

OK, that’s The Peerless’ snarky moment, but doesn’t winning beat the ever livin’ crap out of losing? Of course it does, and a 4-1 win over the heretofore 8-0 in their last eight games Ottawa Senators – on their ice, no less – is even better (OK, we know, doing it to the Penguins would top this).

So, how’d they do it?

Pretty simple, they scored more goals.

Actually, there is a story in that, too. This might have been a coming-out party for a couple of kids. We must guard against getting carried away, but after the common sight of an Alexander Ovechkin goal – one that cemented the win with less than four minutes left in the contest – having both Tomas Fleischmann and Nicklas Backstrom score goals in the same game is a breath of fresh air.

The game certainly had its moments, though, when Caps fans might have slumped in their chairs and muttered, “here we go again”…like right off the opening faceoff when the Senators broke behind the Caps’ defense, Patrick Eaves setting up Chris Kelly in alone on Kolzig. Eight seconds in, Kolzig might have saved not just Kelly’s backhand but the game as well. If Ottawa scores there, then it might have been the Caps slumping, not just their fans.

Kelly was there at Kolzig’s doorstep again six minutes later, splitting Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina off a stretch pass…Kolzig made that save, too…

But Kolzig made those saves, and the Caps did to the Senators what a lot of teams have done to the Caps this year…they hung around. Playing the home team even past the halfway point of the game, Viktor Kozlov won a battle for the puck along the boards, spun between Wade Redden and Randy Robitaille, and stepped to the net to slip the puck past goalie Ray Emery.

Then the kids took over…Nicklas Backstrom got what would be the game-winning goal barely two minutes later when Kozlov walked the goal line to Emery’s left on a power play. Faking a move to come out on Emery’s glove side, he dipped around the net and fed the puck to Backstrom, camped at the top of the crease. One swat later – and getting knocked over in the process -- Backstrom was celebrating his first NHL goal from the seat of his pants.

Then it was Fleischmann barely three minutes after that, taking a nice blue line-to-blue line feed in stride from Kozlov, skating in on the right side, and firing the puck far side over Emery’s leg pad. Three goals in 5:45…it was positively Senatorial, so to speak. A minute later, the Senators reminded everyone why they had that eight-game winning streak with a snappy “give-and-get-go” from Daniel Alfredsson to Dany Heatley to Mike Fisher and back to Alfredsson for the easy lay-up. That could have been the start of a dam-break, but Kolzig and the Caps skated out the third period without further damage and added the Ovechkin clincher for their first two point night in ten days.

In every respect, this was the photo-negative of the games the Caps played on their four game losing streak…

-- They had 35 shots on goal, but only 13 of them blocked. That is the latest in a downward trend in that statistic since having 30 shots blocked against the Rangers (30-25-20-13-13). Getting shots off isn’t quite the same as getting shots to the net. Parenthetically, Ottawa’s Anton “Hakeem Olajuwon” Volchenkov had…one. Of course, he only played four minutes, leaving early-on with a bruised hip, but still…

-- Their 20 misfires (13 shots blocked and seven misses) was barely half of those put up by Ottawa (35: 14 shots blocked, 21 misses)

-- Ottawa got off fast with the breakaways in the first seven minutes, but failed to capitalize…it was the Caps who would weather than storm and post the first goal.

-- The Capitals took frequent penalties (three in the space of 3:22 in the second period) and didn’t allow a power play goal, including killing off 1:04 of a 5-on-3.

-- The Caps had 13 power play shots (on six man-advantages) from eight different players. Although the Caps scored only the Backstrom power play goal, that kind of production will be rewarded in more games than not.

-- Conversely, they held the Senators to seven shots on five power plays, four of them coming from Alfredsson.

-- Although Ovechkin dominated the shot chart, at least he had help…Fleischmann had six shots, himself, and Kozlov had four. Combined, they had 20 shots and only seven misfires (three blocked, four misses). Not coincidentally, perhaps, each had a goal. Motto – shoot the puck…intelligently (that is, get it to the net)

It’s worthy of mention that the Caps came into this game on a losing streak, skated in a difficult arena where they haven’t had a lot of success, did it against a club that was steamrolling the rest of the league (outscoring their opponents 30-13 on their eight-game winning streak), still missing their captain and second-leading goal scorer from a year ago (a combined 68 goals from 2006-2007), and…won.

The first star might have gone to Viktor Kozlov, the big saves might have been made by Olaf Kolzig, and Alex Ovechkin might have had another multi-point night, but in a way, this one belonged to a couple of kids who needed a breakthrough kind of game. For Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann, it might be just a nice game in a long season, but then again, it might be the signal that they’re arriving.

The Peerless knows it’s against Caps fans’ nature to think otherwise, but at least until Saturday night, let’s think of it as the latter.

Nice game, boys.