Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ah, to be at Kettler, now that the cherry blossoms are in bloom

We took in the Caps' practice at Kettler this morning, and if the boys were nervous, they sure didn't show it. We were struck by a few things... in plural. We say at least a couple of video cameras chronicling the proceedings. Although we don't know which outlets were represented, their presence attest to the time of year and increased attention this club is getting.

Crowd...for a workday/weekday session, it was rather well-attended. And, there were the casual fans and newcomers. We heard one woman exclaim, "isn't this neat?!" And, there was the gentleman patiently pointing out Alex Ovechkin to his companions, noting that he started his playoff beard early.

Alexander Semin...has the soul of a sniper. Wherever a puck was laying around, he was shooting it at the net. It could be a puck lying innocently in the crease, he was poking at it. The young man isn't satisfied unless a puck is nestled in the twine, it seems.

Olaf Kolzig...grabbing Ovechkin by the collar of his jersey and shaking him back and forth. All in good fun...or maybe they were discussing the post-practice lunch arrangements. Sushi!...Pizza!...Sushi!!...Pizza!!

Brent Johnson getting some work in, then participating in the shooting accuracy drill at the end of the session (no, he did not use his goalie stick). How was he? He's a goalie, how good do you expect him to be?

Skating...there was a lot of it. Not much talking from the coaches. A few seconds of instruction, and off they went. It was a pretty concentrated 60 minutes or so.

Steve Eminger and coach Jay Leach "fighting" for a puck in the corner. I sure hope Eminger was going easy on the coach...

It just had the look of a bunch of kids having a real good time in the midst of the time of their lives.

Beginning and end...

A beginning and an end…came for two teams in 18 days spanning the period of December 29th through January 15th.

On December 28th, one team was 25-8-4 and in the midst of a three-game winning streak. The other was 14-19-5 after losing an overtime game to its arch-rival.

On December 29th the teams met. It should have been a one-sided game, and in a way it was. One player had four goals. Five players had multi-point games. One team had 12 players on the plus side of the ledger and only one on the minus side…

…it wasn’t the team with the 25 wins. That team gave up eight goals in the game – more than they’d given up in the three game winning streak they entered this game with, combined.

Meanwhile, the team with the 14 wins – now 15 – became the first team to defeat the team with 25 wins twice in this season.

On New Year’s Day, the teams met again. The team with the 25 wins scored first…then they scored again. Maybe those two wins by the team with 15 wins were a fluke, a couple of lucky punches. Surely, order was being restored.

Then, the team with the 15 wins scored…then they scored again…and again…and again. In barely 15 minutes of game time, the team with the 15 wins scored four goals. It was like watching Rocky Balboa coming back, bloodied and battered, with shot after shot to Apollo Creed’s ribs and jaw. When it was over, the team with the 15 wins – now 16 – had a 6-3 win, and became the first team to defeat the team with 25 wins three times this season.

Two weeks passed…the team with 25 wins won four of their next five, the team with 16 wins split four decisions. They met for one last time, the team with the 29 wins looking to avoid the embarrassment of a sweep at the hands of an inferior opponent. The team with the 18 wins was looking to climb just another game closer to .500.

The teams sparred against one another through the first period without either finding the back of the net. The team with the 18 wins scored early in the second. The other team came back to score and score again to take a lead. Then…a terrible giveaway, a deke, and another deke later, and the game was tied. A power play drive and a poked puck later, and it was the team with the 18 wins who came out on top, sweeping the four games played between the two for this season.

After that, the team with the 18 wins – now 19 – went on to finish the year 24-10-3. The other team, the one with the 29 wins, finished up 14-19-4.

The two teams finished with the same record – 43-31-8. But which one was better, Washington – the team that swept the series…or Ottawa – the one whose season fell apart after suffering those four losses?

What happened to Ottawa?...Washington happened to Ottawa. The Senators never recovered from those 18 days. And Washington never looked back.