Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Do we all feel better now?

OK, then it’s time to move on. Sometimes, I think to myself that if there is a fan base with lower (at times, folks...only at times) self-esteem than those of the Washington Capitals, someone needs to point them out, because we’re not aware of them.

Your Ol’ Uncle Peerless is now going to give you folks in Caps Nation one of those lectures that you roll your eyes at, the one that starts, “now in my day…”

Now in my day, back when we had a hockey team in these parts that won a few games, but suffered the burden of no one in the media paying attention (those being the days before the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, message boards, texting, sports talk radio, and indoor plumbing), we just took comfort in the fact that sooner or later (usually sooner, because we had this thing called the “Patrick Division”), the Flyers, the Rangers, the Islanders, or the Penguins might be coming to town (the Devils being at the time, as Wayne Gretzky famously called them, a “Mickey Mouse operation”), and we Caps fans could take out our frustration at the lack of media attention by heaping grief on those teams and their fans in other sweaters who showed up at the Capital Centre.

We didn’t much care that the Washington Post had “only” the legendary Bob Fachet (and pretty much just Bob Fachet) writing about the Caps, that Dave Fay really wasn’t yet the legendary “Dave Fay” (the Times just getting started at the time), or that there was only the infrequent 45-second segment on a local TV news outlet. Hey, so what – just give us the damned hockey!

But now, Caps Nation gets all in a dither over whether local radio pays enough attention to the exploits of the warriors on ice, whether the local papers devote enough column inches to chronicling the Caps, whether this columnist or that is properly respectful of the game and those who follow it, whether TV has enough “film at 11” of the Caps.

To all that, your Ol’ Uncle Peerless has two words…


C’mon folks, really – does it matter to you that the Washington Post doesn’t have more writers, more columns, more stories devoted to the Caps? Does it matter to you that Andy Pollin or Steve Czaban or Chad Dukes doesn’t devote more of every broadcasting hour on local radio to Caps features? Does it matter to you that Channels 4, 5, 7, and 9 devote a grand total of two minutes of air time combined to Caps news a week on their late night news? Does it matter that Mike Wise or Mike Wilbon devote more column space to basketball players who don’t even play in this time zone than they do to Caps hockey players who play a few blocks from their office?


Folks, we have a hockey team. Las Vegas doesn’t. Kansas City doesn’t. Hamilton doesn’t. Hartford doesn’t. Raleigh doesn’t (ok, that was a cheap shot). In fact we have a fine hockey team, an elite team, a team that could very well have a parade in these parts come the middle of June. They are entertaining, too. We fill the arena every night, a sea of red. And it’s loud… good heavens, it’s loud. I walked out of that game against the Red Wings last night, and it wasn’t until I stepped off the train out in Virginia that the ringing had stopped in my ears. And you’re in a snit that so-and-so doesn’t pay enough attention to the Caps?


YOU are paying attention. YOU are enthralled. YOU are schlepping to the arena every night in red jerseys, red paint, red costumes, and astronaut outfits. YOU are blowing horns, ringing cowbells, chanting “LET’S GO CAPS.”

And I don’t think for a moment that this kind of devotion is lost on the coaches or players. It’s not like it was three or four years ago, when you could probably carry on a conversation with the person (and there might have been only one) across the rink from you in the balcony at Verizon Center while the game was in progress. And while the boys were working hard on the ice, it couldn’t have been terribly inspiring to them to see thousands of empty seats. YOU are that seventh man on the ice now. And you’re going to be insulted, frustrated, dispirited over TV sports segments devoting time to drag racing instead of the Caps?


You have hockey. You have a team that wins and looks good doing it. You get to spend 41 nights a year in a sold out, ear-splitting funhouse that other teams can’t look forward to playing in. Then, you get playoffs!

The folks who do the pound the beat doing the covering – the Tarik El-Bashir’s, the Lisa Hillary’s, the Corey Masisak’s, the folks who are lonely islands of Caps reporting – we don’t have any problem with these fine folks. They do great work (maybe they just don’t get to do enough of it, or they don’t get enough support doing it). But if the folks who decide where to have their reporters spend their time and attention in covering local teams don’t get it, then who cares? If those who write opinion columns (as opposed to fact reporting) choose to write about basketball or baseball or soccer or NASCAR or the most recent firearms expo on 7th Street or whether the Large Hadron Collider will ever work, instead of the Caps, then who cares?

WE GOT HOCKEY!!! And we have a lot of people -- bloggers, fans, even some of those media folks -- who do spend countless hours covering and chronicling the Caps because they want to. We have us, so to speak. While it’s hard to replace nuts-and-bolts reporting from journalism professionals who might not get all the opportunities they (or we) would want to cover the Caps, Caps fans really don’t lack for written, spoken, or visual reporting of the comings and goings of the Washington Capitals.

And that’s quite enough for your Ol’ Uncle Peerless.

Now…go eat your vegetables.

A TWO-point night: Caps 3 - Red Wings 2

Can you give all three stars to one guy?

Well, even if you can’t, no star in this game shined more brightly than Jose Theodore, who almost single-handedly pilfered a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings tonight that the Caps, frankly, had no business winning.

For you Caps fans unfamiliar with the practice, that’s called “a goaltender stealing a game.”

Theodore stopped 44 of 46 shots – too many of them quality chances – and gave the Caps a chance to win late, which they did when David Steckel scored the game-winning goal with 5:59 to play.

Caps fans might be forgiven if they looked upon what unfolded in the first period and thought, “we’re gonna get beat so bad…” Why?

-- The Red Wings outshot the Caps 13-0 in the first 14:26.
-- The Red Wings out-attempted the Caps 22-7 in that first 14:26.
-- If there was a time-of-possession clock in that first 14:26, the Caps might not have registered a digit in the “minutes” column.

It bordered on embarrassing. More ominously, it conjured images of last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, when the Caps spent minutes at a time chasing the Pittsburgh Penguins around in their own zone.

But Theodore did what a goaltender sometimes has to do – he held the fort while the Caps were busy trying to find their legs. Trouble is, it took the Caps most of the game… well, no, they never really did find their legs, not when the other guys get 46 shots on goal in 60 minutes and out-attempt you for the game by an 83-54 margin. The Red Wings had more of their shots blocked (25) than the Caps had on goal (23).

The Caps could thank two things (other than Theodore) for this win. First, the Wings lack finishers. That’s an odd thing to say about a team with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and a host of other names any casual fan would recognize. But the Wings missed at least a half-dozen chances to stick a fork in the Caps. As brilliant as Theodore was, there are going to be openings when 83 shots are launched on goal, and the Wings missed just about every one of those opportunities to swat in a rebound or bury a loose puck.

Second, Chris Osgood was at the other end. This being a regular season game, Osgood might not be expected to be sharp (he seems now a playoff goalie only, which is probably fine if you’re the Red Wings), and his being out of action except for a few scant minutes since December 20th didn’t help him find his edge. Still, Osgood was not sharp, except the Caps weren’t testing him nearly enough. The first goal – scored on a fine drive to the net by Matt Bradley when Jonathan Ericsson was woefully late to pick up what Bradley was doing, was not Osgood’s problem. But the second goal, scored when Nicklas Backstrom stepped around Brad Stuart as if he was a pylon and snapped it in, should have been stopped (Osgood looked as if he was late anticipating the shot and never got set to defend it as the puck was sliding through his pads). The third goal was scored when Osgood couldn’t react fast enough to a puck that changed direction enough to find David Steckel’s stick, and the soft backhand Steckel chipped toward the goal beat Osgood past his blocker.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin: no shots on goal. Call CNN! Not only was that the first time that happened this year, it is the first time it happened since October 8, 2007, when Ovechkin had no shots on goal in a 2-1 win over the Islanders.

-- If a Gordie Howe Hat Trick is a goal, and assist, and a fight, then what do you call a 44 saves, an assist, and a hard hat? Whatever you want to call it, Jose Theodore earned it.

-- On that Bradley goal, nice recognition by Mike Green at his own blue line to find the Red Wings on a line change. His long diagonal pass to Boyd Gordon at the other blue line got the play started.

-- We hate to say it, but Tyler Sloan looked badly overmatched tonight. We were scratching our head as to why he was out there against the Datsyuk-Zetterberg duo.

-- Of course, a lot of Caps looked badly overmatched at times. There were stark differences on display between the clubs, especially in terms of how they handled the puck in their own end. It seemed as if every single Red Wing pass had a purpose. Every puck was put on a teammate’s tape. The Caps? Uh, not so much. The result was that the Wings moved the puck out of their end smartly, and the Caps left loose pucks lying around that the Red Wings could gobble up to maintain possession in the Caps’ end.

-- Top line: six shots. Second line: five. Third line: three shots. Fourth line: four shots. Defense: five shots. Hard to generate offense out of that.

-- The Caps had four power plays and 6:35 of ice time with the man advantage. Total shots on goal: one (Nicklas Backstrom’s goal).

-- The Caps have 31 wins this year; this was only the fifth in regulation when they scored three or fewer goals.

-- It is probably worth noting that Brendan Morrison registered only five seconds more of ice time (11:56) than did Matt Bradley (11:51). It was his second shortest tour of the sheet this year.

-- It’s sort of difficult to generate offense off set plays when: a) you get only 12 offensive zone draws, and b) you lose eight of them.

-- Every Red Wing skater except Jonathan Ericsson registered at least one shot on goal.

-- Valteri Filppula had more shots blocked (five) than any Cap had on goal (Backstrom: four).

-- Darren Helm really does have a knack for putting defenders back on their heels. The guy can flat out fly. Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski shined in the defensive end, but Helm was the best player for the Wings at the other end of the ice. Unfortunately, though, that is not generally something that Wings fans are going to want to see – not with Datsyuk and Zetterberg both skating more than 20 minutes.

Let’s face it, the Caps were the second-best team on the ice tonight. But teams that have big aspirations are going to find themselves in that situation from time to time. The trick is to find a way. Tonight, the Caps cobbled together a win from great goaltending and a couple of opportunistic plays that took advantage of a goalie at the other end who wasn’t as sharp as their own. In terms of teams with an ability to finish, though, the Caps step up in weight class on Thursday against the Penguins, who got a six-point night out of Sidney Crosby this evening as a warm up for the clubs’ first meeting.

The fun week continues.