Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Tortoise and the Hare

Hare ran down the road for a while and then and paused to rest. He looked back at Slow and Steady and cried out, "How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?" … Slow and Steady walked and walked. He never, ever stopped until he came to the finish line … Hare stretched and yawned and began to run again, but it was too late. Tortoise was over the line. After that, Hare always reminded himself, "Don't brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!"

At the moment, four teams are bunched atop the Eastern Conference standings with more than 50 points: Philadelphia (53), Tampa Bay (53), Pittsburgh (53) and Washington (52). But not all teams get to 50-plus points the same way…

Pittsburgh had a 12-game winning streak along the way. Without that, the Penguins are 13-12-3.

Tampa Bay is 9-1-1 over their last 11 games. Take that away, and the Lightning are 15-10-4.

Philadelphia had a 9-0-1 streak earlier in the season. Absent that run, the Flyers are 15-10-4.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Caps had an 8-0-1 run at one point, but they followed it up with an 0-6-2 drought. Take away the streaks, and the Caps are 15-6-3.

Over an 82-game season teams are going to have streaks, good and bad. But maybe it is what you do when you’re not on a streak that matters with so many games and so long a season. Fits and starts didn’t stand the test of a long race for the hare, and maybe the tortoise’s “slow and steady” will win the 82-game race in the end for the Caps.

Top Ten Stories of 2010 -- Number 8: Oh Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

On January 5, 2010, the Washington Capitals named Alex Ovechkin the 14th captain in the history of the Washington Capitals’ franchise. He had already achieved much in his brief career – scoring titles, most valuable player awards, most outstanding player awards – and he was by that time the living face of the franchise. It seemed inevitable that he would, when the opportunity presented itself, become the team’s captain.

That opportunity was presented when the Capitals traded then captain Chris Clark to the Columbus Blue Jackets along with defenseman Milan Jurcina for forward Jason Chimera. The change in captaincy was stark, to say the least. Clark was a heart-and-soul guy with a reputation for leaving everything on the ice. He was a gung-ho sort whose physical skills had begun to betray him as a result of a series of injuries – shoulder, face, groin, forearm among them. By the time of the trade Clark was a shadow of the player who scored 50 goals over his first two seasons in a Capitals uniform, often playing along side Ovechkin on the top line. What it meant was that Clark was more a locker room captain.

Ovechkin would be a captain on the ice, and by that we mean a leader by performance example more than he would be a vocal captain. The change bore immediate dividends. Starting on January 5th, with a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps went on a 17-1-0 run in Ovechkin’s first 18 games wearing the “C.” And you could say he led by example on the ice. In those 18 games Ovechkin went 16-20-36, plus-23. He had three multi-goal games (including a hat trick against the Pittsburgh Penguins) and six games in which he registered at least three points, including a five-point game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 6-1 win on January 15th.

The Caps barely slowed down after that white-hot run. After losing three straight leading into the Olympic break, the Caps finished the stretch run of the regular season going 13-2-5. Overall, the first season (partial) of Ovechkin’s captaincy resulted in a record of 30-4-7. Things were going better than any reasonable person might have scripted them.

But then, the Caps were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens, and as quickly as Ovechkin was praised for leading the team to the powerful regular season finish and the team’s first Presidents Trophy, he was being criticized for not being able to lead the Capitals out of the first round. After summer of having to stew over that misfortune, Ovechkin returned for the 2010-2011 season as leader of a team looking for some measure of redemption for their early exit. Again, his was a lead-by-example style, and he was fast out of the gate in applying that style. In his first five games of the new season he was 4-4-8 with a pair of game-winning goals and recording points in all five games as the Caps started 4-1-0.

The “example” on the ice, however, hasn’t been quite as bright a beacon to lead with, though, since those first five games. In 36 games since, Ovechkin is 10-24-34. He has not scored a power play goal in more than two months (has not scored one at Verizon Center all season), has not had a multi-goal game since his two power play goal effort against Calgary on October 20th (his only two power play goals of the season). He is 4-13-17 over his last 23 games and is on a pace to finish the season 28-56-84. Not a bad season, but Ovechkin has set a high bar for his performance, and this pace is well under that bar.

From the stands he appears to have been trying to fill the gaps by being more vocal and encouraging of others on the ice, leading cheers from the bench, and being more assertive with referees. And his performance, while not reaping as much as fans are used to in terms of results, has for the past couple of weeks been of the sort that might have one saying, “he’s this close to breaking out.”

Ovechkin is a work in progress as captain. The jackrabbit start to his captaincy, when the Caps won 17 of 18 games, probably did him no favors in this role. It made things look a bit too easy, especially when the Caps did a face-plant in the first round of the playoffs. But take away that 17-1-0 start for Ovechkin as captain for a moment. He is 36-15-13 in the regular season as captain since, still a 109-point pace for his club. He is doing something right.

Leadership is a subject bandied about in books, blogs, and board rooms. What it is and whether a person is born with the talent or can develop skills to learn it is a matter of endless discussion. Whether one type of leader is more effective than another seems more a matter of taste than science, except for this – if you are winning, in the marketplace or on the field of play, leadership is not a problem. The Caps suffered a profound disappointment in the playoffs last spring, and as the team’s captain Alex Ovechkin bears no small share of responsibility for that outcome. But 2010 – the year in which he assumed the duties and responsibilities as team captain – his team finished the calendar year 52-16-12, too. If he is going to get a measure of blame for the early playoff exit, he deserves praise for the regular season results, too. And for all of that, Alex Ovechkin assuming the captaincy of the Washington Capitals is one of the top-ten stories of 2010.

The Alternative Book of Genesis

We scribbled this as part of an entry over at Japers' Rink and offer it as some morning light reading.  Sort of, how Genesis might have unfolded as a hockey tale...

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be frozen water; and there was frozen water.

And God saw the frozen water, that it was good: and God divided the frozen water from the land. And God called the frozen water "Ice," and the land he called, well…land. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the ice, and let it divide the ice from the ice. And God made the firmament, and divided the ice which was apart from the firmament from the ice which was on the other side of the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament a "hockey rink." And the evening and the morning were the second day.

And God said, Let the ice upon the hockey rink be gathered together unto one place, and let the red and blue lines appear on it: and it was so. And God called the ice in the middle the "neutral zone;" and the gathering together of the ice at either side he called "attacking zones:" and God saw that it was good.

And God said, Let the firmament bring forth equipment, CCM yielding skates, and Reebok yielding sticks upon the ice: and it was so. And the firmament brought forth skates and sticks: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the ends of the ice; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for goals and for periods: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the ice: and it was so.

And God made two great lights; the red light to signify a goal, and the green light to signify the end of a period: he made the TV timeout light also. And God set them in the ends of the ice to give light upon the hockey rink, And to rule over the ends of the ice, and to divide the periods from the periods: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

And God said, Let the heavens bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life upon the open firmament of the hockey rink. And God created Henry and Linda, also called "Staal:" and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the ice upon the rinks, and let Staals play hockey upon the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

And God said, Let Henry and Linda bring forth the living creatures after their kind, Eric, Jordan, Marc, and Jared: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind – pretty much the Philadelphia Flyers: and God saw that it was good.

And God said, Let us make a hockey player in our image, after our likeness: and let him have dominion over the creatures on the rink, and over the media in the locker room, and over all the hockey rink, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth – like Daniel Carcillo.

So God created Sidney in his own image, in the image of God created he him. And God blessed him, and God said unto him, Be fruitful, and multiply your goals and assists, and replenish the record book, and subdue it: and skate with the Staals, and have dominion over the players not from Pittsburgh, and over every living thing that moveth upon the locker room.

And God said, Behold, I have given you skates, gloves, Staals galore, which is upon the face of all the hockey rink. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the hockey rink were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made while watching Hockey Night in Canada.