Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Role Models for a New Captain

Yesterday the Washington Capitals named Alex Ovechkin the 14th captain in team history. The honor makes Ovechkin, at 24 years of age, the third-youngest captain in the NHL, older only than Jonathan Toews (21) and Sidney Crosby (22). He inaugurated his reign with a rather poetic quote that seems to capture how Ovechkin plays the game…

“I have a 'C' on my heart, but I'm going to do the same thing."

It’s one thing to play the same way with or without a “C” on your heart, but wearing that “C” confers a certain measure of responsibility. He will not lack for role models, though. History is littered with captains. You can’t swing a deck chair or a yardarm (would that be “metre-arm” in Canada?) without hitting some captain who might serve as an example to the young Ovechkin. We’ve taken a few moments to scour the history books to see which style of captaincy might best suit Ovechkin…

Capt. Merrill Stubing

Posting: Master of the Pacific Princess, a cruise ship notorious for weekly romantic escapades in exotic locales.

Style: Good natured, father-figure to crew; skilled seaman (amazing that the Princess never sailed rough seas or sailed through stormy weather) but occasionally bumbling in dealing with his daughter, maybe because she didn’t show up until the second season.

And this applies to hockey…how? A locker room is like a cruise ship… lots of different personalities, lots of guys sent up, sent down, sent out, brought in. A captain needs to be affable and approachable to all sorts of personalities. And Stubing wears shorts… like hockey players.

Capt. Francis Xavier (Frank) Furillo

Posting: Captain, Hill Street Precinct

Style: Often reserved, with occasional flashes of moral indignation and temper, other times passionate (usually when canoodling with the public defender, Joyce Davenport). Subplot involves his long-suffering relationship with ex-wife, who is a whack job, not unlike some high-strung athletes.

And this applies to hockey… how? Police captains have to deal with a lot of nasties. Think of a city full of Sean Avery’s and Daniel Carcillo’s. Oh, and they have to deal with slow-witted police chiefs… sort of like referees, without the orange arm-bands.

Capt. Georg Ludwig von Trapp

Posting: A really big house in Salzburg, Austria…certainly a bigger house than you’d think a Captain could afford on his salary.

Style: At times rigid and overbearing, but with a heart (and voice, even if it was dubbed) of gold. Lacks management skills in some respects, requires assistance of a governess to oversee his seven children. Plays a mean whistle.

And this applies to hockey… how? Every kid wants to do his or her own thing, and it takes a stern hand with a gentle touch to keep all of them in line. You can let Mike Green wear a Mohawk, but you can’t let him wear curlers and bunny slippers.

Capt. Ahab

Posting: Master of the Pequod, a whaling ship

Style: Maniacal obsessive. Had this thing for a big fish (ok, “marine mammal”). Big quote: “To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.” Sounds sort of like what one might say about Sidney Crosby in a Game 7 of a playoff series.

And this applies to hockey… how? What, you aren’t getting the Sidney Crosby analogy? What are you, dense?

Capt. Barney Miller

Posting: Captain of the 12th Precinct, NYPD

Style: Flexible, able to juggle many balls in the air at once. Manages a squad that can only be described as, “eclectic” (a habitually late subordinate whose name no one can pronounce, to a detective who writes books and produces adult films on the side, to a veteran nearing retirement who has lost a step (or six), to a wisecracking squad member who gambles a bit too much and makes bad coffee, to a uniformed apple-polisher who will leave no behind unkissed in his pursuit of a detective’s badge). Requires quick-thinking, tolerance, and an ability to look good in a 1970’s era moustache.

And this applies to hockey… how? You’ve seen Barney Miller having to deal with Inspector Lugar? Well, it’s kind of like dealing with Bill McCreary.

Capt. Wallace B. (“Old Leadbottom”) Binghamton

Posting: Commander of a patrol boat fleet in the Pacific theater of World War II

Style: Relentless, temperamental, perpetually frustrated, and… oh, yeah… loud. Seems to have spent entire tour of duty in a single-minded pursuit to catch a subordinate PT boat commander red-handed in one of his weekly opportunistic schemes.

And this applies to hockey… how? Well, it probably has something to do with being loud. We’re working on that.

Capt. Horatio Magellan Crunch

Posting: On the front of cereal boxes for almost half a century

Style: Well, stylish (it’s an epaulets thing). As a problem-solver, uses a method best described as “crunch-a-tizing.” We have yet to find this method in the management literature.

And this applies to hockey… how? C’mon, any Captain named “Crunch” is born for hockey. He couldn’t be any more “hockey” if his first name was “Brendan.” Besides, have you seen Ovechkin actually play?

Capt. James Tiberius Kirk

Posting: Captain of the Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701)

Style: Scene-chewing, but oh, how the ladies love him. A port in every star cluster, as it were. No one faced higher odds against him in battle; no one faced grimmer situations in going where no man has gone before (or in trying to settle one of the interminable arguments between Dr. McCoy and Commander Spock). He could be flip with a phrase one moment, deadly with a phaser the next. No Starfleet regulation was stiff enough he couldn’t bend it, no Romulan tough enough he couldn’t vanquish him.

And this applies to hockey… how? OK, OK, Ovechkin likes the ladies, too. But on the other hand, he can be flip in a commercial one moment, deadly with a laser wrist shot the next. Besides, couldn’t you imagine Ovechkin in the locker room before a big game saying, “we may go up in the biggest ball of fire since the last sun in these parts exploded, but we've GOT to take that one-in-ten-thousand chance!"

So… what sort of Captain is Alex Ovechkin going to be? Ahab-like with an obsessive desire to vanquish Sidney Crosby? The “crunch-a-tizer” that reflects a certain “Captain Crunch” mentality? The flexible and accommodating leader of an ensemble cast like Barney Miller? The hard-charging, rules-be-damned Captain Kirk? Or like the quick-with-a-whistle von Trapp? Only time will tell, but there is no shortage of role models to look to for advice.

He just might want to think twice about taking it.

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Canadiens 2


It wasn’t pretty, or more to the point, the Caps weren’t effective when they tried to be pretty. But when they just let fly, good things happened. They parlayed some welcome offense from Alexander Semin (two goals) and Tomas Fleischmann (goal, two assists), and a strange goal from Eric Fehr into a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 AO (After Ovechkin was named permanent captain).

It wasn’t just a night of firsts for Ovechkin, either. It was Tomas Fleischmann’s first night as a full-time (well, almost full-time) center, and the early returns are quite encouraging. Of course, the only reason the Caps are doing this is as prelude to a blockbuster trade (hee-yeah… right).

But back to the game, it was a case of the Caps taking advantage of what looked like an off night for the Montreal defense (for the sake of Habs fans, we hope so… you’d look far and wide before you found a defenseman in white who had a good night). It would have been worse on the Canadiens had not the Caps all too often tried to make one last pass, foregoing a shot at netminder Carey Price. Bobby Bigpants had a decent game, but for the early part of the evening he either had really good looks at shots, or the Caps misfired (the Caps had 30 shot attempts in the first period, 11 on goal, none in the net).

In the second period, the Caps made things a bit easier on themselves by making things simpler for themselves. It didn’t hurt that Montreal took a couple of boneheaded roughing penalties – Scott Gomez for starting a kerfuffle moments after Semin scored to put the Caps up 3-1, retaliating for Semin tripping a Canadien who dropped Semin to the ice; and Maxim Lapierre for starting a scrum at the Washington net at a stoppage of play. The Caps didn’t score on either of those power plays, but coming in the latter parts of the second period, with Montreal down 3-1, the Canadiens could not establish any offensive rhythm to get themselves back in the game.

After that, it was a matter of clamping down. That does not mean playing prevent defense, and it looked for a while as if the Caps were doing just that. It made it easier for the Canadiens to make a game of it when Mike Knuble took the first of his two penalties in the third period. The Canadiens scored on the resulting power play, causing an uneasy grumble among the Caps faithful.

But that’s as close as Montreal would get, Semin slamming the door on the comeback by rifling a shot past Price with just over two minutes left in regulation. And thus, the Reign of Alexander The Captain began with a glorious victory… well, a victory.

Other stuff…

-- We are always impressed by Price’s preternatural calm in net. Nothing seems to faze him. But calm can become sleepy in the blink of an eye, too. Price’s calm served him well when he could get good looks at shots and let Caps commit (his waiting on Mike Green to go high glove when Green had space and time to wind and fire anywhere he wanted was the best example). But later, when Caps like Semin and Fehr were shooting from odd angles or through screens, Price could only wave at the puck.

-- The goal by Fehr was well-deserved. It wasn’t pretty, to be sure. He took a feed from Brooks Laich and just shoveled the puck to the net. But in the “good things happen when you shoot” file, it hit a body in front and caromed into the net. It’s a bit of a reward for all the hard work he does at the other end forechecking. That’s two goals in three games for Fehr (with a healthy scratch thrown in).

-- One game at center, one three-point game… Tomas Fleischmann’s first three-point game of the year. Shoot, he even won six of nine draws.

-- Whether he was a winger or a center, Fleischmann made a really smart play when defenseman Andrei Markov ended up without a stick. He skated right at him from the corner. With Markov unable to employ a stick to poke check or otherwise harrass him, Flesichmann had more or less an unimpeded path to the net, where he beat Price low to the stick side.

-- John Erskine had a rough night. He couldn’t keep Scott Gomez from bothering him off the puck behind the Caps net just before Montreal scored their first goal of the evening, and he seemed to have a devil of a time keeping his skates under him. It showed in the third period. Whereas he had 5:48 and 4:17 in ice time in periods one and two, he was limited to 2:43 in the third.

-- Interesting move with Montreal on the power play and a faceoff in the Caps end. The Caps sent out Nicklas Backstrom late with David Steckel taking the draw. Insurance, one supposes (since Backstrom came off right after the draw). Such is the Montreal power play that you’d want that second center out there in the event Steckel was tossed from the circle.

-- Here’s a line… 2:42 in ice time, no shots, no shots blocked, no missed shots, no hits, no giveaways, no takeaways, no blocked shots, no faceoffs taken . That’s your line, Georges Laraque.

-- Michal Neuvirth tied for the team lead in giveaways. OK, it was only two, but still… that’s not a stat you want your goalie tying for the team lead in.

-- Neuvirth was solid in the usual goaltender responsibilities. Montreal scored on goal off a deflection and another when a pass nicked a skate on the way through. Hard to fault Neuvirth in either instance. But something to note about Neuvirth is that the skaters look to play with more discipline in their own end in front of him. Whatever the reason, he is now 4-2-0 in his last six decisions, 2.34, .918. Pretty respectable for a guy who under normal circumstances would be starting in Hershey.

-- He didn’t get a star, but should have (we hope he got the hard hat). Matt Bradley had ten minutes of raw cracklin’ energy out there. He was chugging all over the ice hunting down Canadiens and had a couple of nice scoring chances (he had four shots to Ovechkin’s three tonight).

-- When Alex Ovechkin signed his contract extension with the Caps, he celebrated the way you might expect – he went on a six-game goal scoring streak. David Steckel signed a contract extension today, and he celebrated the way you might expect him to – he won ten of 12 draws. Each man playing their role.

The Caps looked a bit listless in the first period and tried to get a little too cute when they did have some energy. If not for that, this game might have been over early. Frankly, we were very much underwhelmed by Montreal. Perhaps it was the absence of the Kostitsyns, who provide quite a bit of skill to the lineup. But at five-on-five the Canadiens weren’t much of a threat to score, and in fact did only by way of a fluky bounce.

But two points is two points, and on the night when the Caps reached the 25-win mark, they churned out the points in a workmanlike effort, the kind that will see them through the long days of January.