Friday, January 18, 2008

Closer than it looks...

There it is...the Caps jumped a couple of places in the standings with the win last night, and they lurk only four points (with two games in hand) behind the division-leading, third-seeded Thrashers.

Sure, the Southeast sucks on toast this year (so far), but dem's the win a division, you get a top-three seed.

If you were thinking the Caps would be this close now, say...six weeks ago, then just what is the color of the sky in your world?

A TWO Point Night!...Caps 5 - Oilers 4 (OT/SO)

Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters…here is a tip from your ol’ Uncle Peerless…

…if you taped, TiVo’ed, or DVR’d last night’s game between the Capitals and the Edmonton Oilers…burn it, erase it, or run it through the shredder. Far be it from The Peerless to sneer at two points, but could they have been earned in an uglier way than the 5-4, overtime, shootout, shoot some more, shoot again, shoot maybe one more time (note, we don’t say “score” in the shootout) fashion that took this game past bedtime for people in Edmonton?

By the time Sheldon Souray said, “ah, f**k it” and launched a slap shot, of all things, into Olaf Kolzig’s midsection to put this game out of its misery, seven more state primaries were held (seven different Republicans won, including Harold Stassen and Thomas Dewey).

Where do we begin? Well, at the drop of the puck would be good. The Caps came out guns a’blazin’, as if they’d actually read the interview with our shootout experts in the pre-game prognosto. Five minutes later, the Caps sort of said, “ok, that’s enough…,” and Edmonton took over the, for lack of a better term, “momentum.”

It was that momentum that led the Oilers to score the game’s first goal on…a rebound (gee, whodthunkit?...note to defensemen, “it is permissible to play rebounds out of harm’s way”), Shawn Horcoff doing the honors, following up a shot by Sheldon Souray who can, as they might say of a pitcher in baseball, “really bring it.” Five minutes later, the somnambulistic Capitals coughed up the puck in their own end (bad clear by Jeff Schultz, but let’s not single him out for special scorn…no one for the Caps could clear a puck to save their lives last night). Robert Nilsson took the gift and deposited it in a virtually empty net for goal two.

Then, there was an intermission, and boy oh boy, does The Peerless want to know what was said in the Caps locker room, bottle it, and sell it on the Internet for $19.95, plus shipping. Because whatever it was, it had the desired effect. Nicklas Backstrom scored a minute into the second, and before Wes Johnson could complete the announcement of the goal on the public address system, Alex Ovechkin abused Oiler goalie Dwayne Roloson’s short side for the tying goal.

But hey, you thought this would signal a rain of goals on the head of Roloson (and what’s with the prayer ritual pose whenever he covers the puck, anyway…)? Nope…since the Caps couldn’t cope with the Rock of Gibraltar clothed in a “27” jersey for the visitors parked with his backside firmly in Olaf Kolzig’s face (rumor has it, it was named “Dustin Penner”), a tie-breaking goal for the Oilers was in the offing, except Penner scored it on a nifty feed from Horcoff (can I get you a lozenge for that phlegm problem?), completing a tic-tac-toe that started with Ales Hemsky.

Mike Green answered with his 14th on the power play…taking a cross-ice feed (doesn’t anyone watch film?...or maybe even SportsCenter?) from Alex Ovechkin. With less than a minute left in the second, Alexander Semin completed the Alex daily double with a no look wrister from the goal line to Roloson’s right that ricocheted off a pad and went in to qualify as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Soft Goal of the Night.

Not being satisfied with good fortune and trying to add to it, the Caps once more couldn’t find a way to nudge the puck over their own blue line, and Edmonton scored the equalizer in the third when Horcoff (you really ought to see a doctor about that…) tied it one last time.

Overtime came and went with the Caps and Oilers exchanging a few oohs and ahhs to no productive end for five minutes (although both goalies stopped clean breakaways…Roloson stopping Tomas Fleischmann, Kolzig stopping Jarret Stoll), which brought us to…Bettman’s Gimmick.

Hey, The Peerless will be honest…he was about to fit the Caps for a toe tag in this one once it went to the skills competition. Edmonton was 11-2 in shootouts, the Caps hadn’t won one since they used cow chips on ponds to play this sport. And so it started…here is the detail. It defies description…

…22 shooters, 22 misses. So it fell to Matt Bradley. Oh-for-two lifetime in the shootout…two goals on 45 shots this year.

He wouldn’t have been the betting choice to score.

But there he was, skating in…slowly…

…there was Roloson, with his 8-8 lifetime shootout win-loss record with the Oilers, waiting…and waiting.


A deke and a flip of a backhand later, and Matt Bradley had only to skate back to the bench to accept congratulations…or perhaps a “thanks, Matt, now maybe we can get outta here before the cherry blossoms bloom.” But there was that one last save to make, and Sheldon Souray, if he wasn’t going to score, was going to test the stopping power of Kolzig’s chest protector. As he crossed the blue line, he drifted in, cocked his stick high, and let fire…thud…game.

Some observations…

Both teams played in bad luck – the Caps early and the Oilers late. Quintin Laing and Tomas Fleischmann both rang iron behind Roloson early in the game. The Oilers Ethan Moreau and Marty Reasoner hit pipe in the shootout without the puck going in.

Despite the score, the goaltenders were probably the most consistently good players over the course of the entire game. The highlights are chock-full of superb saves. And, of course, a combined .958 save percentage in the shootout is mighty fine, too.

There was a lot of what ESPN’s Chris Berman would call “rumblin’ stumblin’ bumblin’” around the ice. Alexander Semin blew a tire leading to Stoll’s breakaway in overtime, Andrew Cogliano looked like one of the mites just trying to stay on his skates in the shootout.

Seeing Donald Brashear or John Erskine in a shootout is sort of a man-bites-dog kind of story. Seeing both?...just “bites.”

That was one of the most bizarrely officiated games we’ve seen in a while, and it had nothing to do with the referees…and everything to do with the linesmen. Derek Nansen and Tony Sericolo treated the puck as if it was their own personal Hope Diamond, and they weren’t going to part with it on faceoffs. All that accomplished was getting David Steckel (and Nicklas Backstrom, to a lesser extent) thrown out of the circle more times than The Peerless has been thrown out of bars. It didn’t keep Steckel from winning 14 of the 21 draws he was allowed to take, though.

Sam Gagner played less than eight minutes in a 65-minute game. Remind us why it was a good idea to keep him with the big club?

The Caps are now in 11th place in the East, four points behind Atlanta with two games in hand. As Lewis Black might put it, “un-be-f**kin’-lievable.”

Athos, Portos, and Aramis…oops, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green – The Three Pucksketeers – all scored for the third straight game, all in signature style…Ovechkin with a laser of a wrister, Green with a weak side pinch, and Semin doing something slick. D’Artagnan – uh, Nicklas Backstrom – had the other goal by picking up loose change.

Boyd Gordon, Shawn Horcoff, and Alex Ovechkin will be recorded as the first, second, and third stars of this game, respectively, but The Peerless has to give it to Wes Johnson, The Horn, and The Voice. From the pre-game, through three periods, two intermissions, an overtime, and 12 rounds…12 freakin’ rounds… of the shootout, Wes, Smiley, and Goat were the only things all night with any clarity.