"Everybody understands the magnitude of the game. We need to be ready."
-- Capitals goaltender, Olaf Kolzig, on the importance of tonight's game against Carolina
And sometimes, it's big enough to let the general get the troops ready...
Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a hockey game by taking a penalty for his team. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard take a penalty for his team. Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about the Caps not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the contest, is a lot of horse dung. Caps traditionally love to fight. All real Caps love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball player, the toughest boxer. Caps fans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Caps play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Caps have never lost and will never lose a game. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Capitals.
Now, a hockey club is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, checks as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for ESPN don’t know anything more about real hockey games than they do about fornicating.
We have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit and the best men in the world. You know, by God I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against. By God, I do. We’re not just going to check the bastards, we’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to tape the blades of our sticks. We’re going to hit those lousy Hurricane bastards by the bushel.
Now, some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you'll chicken out under fire. Don't worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty. The Hurricanes are the enemy.
Wade into them.
Spill their blood.
Check them into the boards.
When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face, you'll know what to do.
Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything. Let
There’s one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what did you do in the great National Hockey League, you won’t have to say, "Well, I shoveled shit in DC."
Alright now, you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel. Oh, and I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle – anytime, anywhere.
When midnight falls, the Caps will still have three games in hand on Carolina. They could find themselves within two points of Carolina or as far back as six points behind.
This is, as Kolzig put it, the "biggest game of the year." It is the biggest game for the Caps since the double-overtime loss to Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the first round of the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs.
While every game will be big from here on out, this is the first really big test for the young Capitals in their march back to competitiveness. And, they will be taking on a team that has hit its stride. Carolina is 9-5-1 in its last 15 games, 4-1-1 in its last six. In these last six games...
Goals for/against: 20/18
Power play: 3/25 (12.0%)
Penalty killing: 12/18 (66.7%)
Record when scoring first: 4-0-0
Record when trailing first: 0-1-1
Carolina has gotten off to fast starts in the games they've won over this short stretch of games. Oddly enough, it's been at around the three minute mark of the opening period that has spelled trouble for opponents. In the first three of the four wins in these last six games, Carolina scored at 3:01, 3:13, and 3:21 of the opening frame. And, even in the games they lost, their opponent got off fast -- New Jersey scored 2:02 into the game in a 5-1 win, and Boston scored with 4:50 gone in the first in a 3-2 shootout win.
When you look at Carolina's overall stats for the season, you wonder, "how does this team lead its division?"
Goal/game differential: -0.24 goals/game
Power play: 19th (17.0%)
Penalty killing: 30th (76.6%)
Winning pct. after two periods: 23rd (.808)
The goaltending they're getting out of number one netminder Cam Ward isn't a lot better:
GAA: 36th (2.89)
SV: 37th (.900)
OK, both rankings are higher than that of Caps number one goalie, Olaf Kolzig, but Ward is younger, presumably playing on a team that was supposed to be a contender this year. He is only recently a Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP in the Stanley Cup playoffs. His numbers this year are roughly what he finished the year with last year (2.93, .897), and last year was not thought to be an especially good one.
What Carolina does reasonably well is play five-on-five. They are 11th in the league in five-on-five goals for/goals against ratio. They are also front-runners -- seventh in the league in winning percentage when scoring first.
What Carolina lacks these days is their captain, Rod Brind'Amour, who suffered torn ligaments in his knee on Valentine's day. Three days before that, they moved veteran forward Cory Stillman and defenseman Mike Commodore to Ottawa for forward Patrick Eaves and defenseman Joe Corvo. Eaves is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, and Corvo is not generally thought of as an impact defenseman. What this means is that a larger share of the burden falls to the shoulders of Eric Staal and Ray Whitney to generate offense. It's early to tell about these two, but in three games since Brind'Amour's injury, Whitney is 3-1-4, +4; while Staal is 0-3-3, +1.
One wonders if Carolina can sustain their recent good fortune over the season's last six weeks. The loss of Brind'Amour is, to use an overused term, "huge." Even absent, he remains high on the Hurricane stats lists:
Goals: 3rd (19)
Assists: T-1st (32)
Points: 3rd (51)
Power play goals: T-2nd (6)
Power play assists: T-3rd (12)
Power play points: T-3rd (18)
Game-winning goals: T-2nd (4)
Ice time: 1st (22:27/game)
Blocked shots: 1st among forwards (38)
Takeaways: 3rd (31)
Add to this that he is one of, if not the, best faceoff men in the league (3rd among players taking 500+ draws -- 58.3 percent), and use of the term "huge" with respect to the effect of his absence is not an overstatement.
For the Caps, this boils down to the prototypical road game. Do not let the 'Canes start fast...take the crowd out of the game by controlling the pace...play for a lead, then play smart (without resorting to a prevent defense)...get good goaltending.
On this last matter, Olaf Kolzig is 26-13-8-1 against Carolina in his career. He is the veteran among veterans on this, a young Caps team. It's a big burden to bear, but this game rests largely on his broad shoulders. If the Caps are to overtake the Hurricanes, Kolzig has to play large, and this is precisely the game in which he has to do it.
Another great movie leader of sorts, Herb Brooks, had what is perhaps the most relevant take on what this game is for the Caps in their effort to replace Carolina at the top of the division...
"This is your time. Their time is done. It's over."
Carolina is yesterday...tomorrow, the Caps will wake up two points behind the Hurricanes.
Capitals 4 - Hurricanes 1