Monday, February 08, 2010

Travel, Schmavel

Dan Steinberg gave voice to Caps fans everywhere in the Post today in discussing NBC's creepy affection for all things Penguin. Of special note was the attention being paid to the travel itinerary of the Penguins, who -- horrors! -- took a chauferred bus to Montreal's airport after Saturday's game, boarded an airplane (we're guessing not on the Indians' charter from "Major League"), then took another chauferred bus ride to Washington, where they slept in a hotel (probably not a Motel 6) before waking up to go to work against the Caps on Sunday.

Dan noted...

I understand that travel woes and visits to road-side Burger Kings make for great copy. And yet the Caps have now tied for the third-longest win streak in NHL history. Only two teams have gone longer. That means their accomplishment has to be more rare than a bad travel tale in a league that plays games in Edmonton and Calgary. The Penguins can't possibly be only the third or fourth team to have to eat fast food while on a late-night bus ride the night before a game.

And yet the Penguins' travel woes made up a larger portions of the telecast than the Caps streak. There certainly was no context given to Sunday's comeback, no sense of how many other times the Caps had rallied with a flurry of offense throughout their month-long run, no discussion of whether they could seriously challenge the all-time record of 17.

There was a graphic showing where the Pens had traveled and how long it took, but none that I remember charting the progression of this win streak.

Well, let's take a look back at what has happened so far with the Caps, knowing full well that this journey is not yet complete...

January 12 -- The Caps lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-4, in what was perhaps the most unexpected loss of the season, the Caps having defeated the Lightning 12 straight times dating back to November 2007. The Caps then headed out to Miami to face the Panthers. Distance traveled to Miami: 204 miles (all distances "as the crow flies").

January 13 -- The second half of a back-to-back set on the road, the Caps came back from a 4-1 deficit to force overtime and win when Tomas Fleischmann scored in a Gimmick. From there, it was off to the airport to head home. Distance traveled to Washington: 928 miles.

January 15 - 19 -- A three-game home stand against the Maple Leafs, the Flyers, and the Red Wings. The Caps unleash some offense in putting up six on the Leafs (a 6-1- win) and five on the Flyers (a 5-3 win) before taking on the Red Wings in what would be a hard-fought affair. The Caps came back from a 2-1 third period deficit to win, 3-2. Then, it's on to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins in the teams' first meeting of the year. Distance traveled to Pittsburgh: 189 miles.

January 21 -- The Caps spotted the Penguins the first goal, gave up the lead, then tied things up at three apiece as the teams went to the locker rooms at the second intermission. The Caps put up three in the last 20 minutes to win, going away, 6-3. Then, they went away, boarding a flight back to DC. Distance traveled to Washington: 189 miles.

January 23 -- The Phoenix Coyotes paid a visit, a dangerous opponent in that: a) the Caps don't see them much, and b) they were having a surprisingly good season. The Caps built a lead off two goals in the second period to give the home team a 3-1 lead at the second intermission. Phoenix made it interesting with a goal early in the third, but Michal Neuvirth slammed the door after that (he had saves on two shorthanded breakaways in the game), and Alex Ovechkin scored an empty netter for the 4-2 final. Then it was off to play the Islanders. Distance Traveled to Uniondale, NY: 221 miles.

January 26 -- The Caps made quick work of the Islanders, scoring four in the first period on their way to a 7-2 win. There was trouble looming though, as Jose Theodore was injured in the game and gave way to Michal Neuvirth for the final 20 minutes. But it was back to DC for the boys. Distance traveled to Washington: 221 miles.

January 27 - 31 -- Another three-game home stand, this time against Anaheim, Florida, and Tampa Bay. Defense was the name of the game in this trio of games, the Caps hold the three opponents to a total of four goals while getting 12 of their own. Neuvirth was especially sharp, saving 65 of 67 shots in the first two games. Theodore got the call in the third game - a tough 3-2 win over Tampa Bay - and got the win as the Caps tied a franchise record for consecutive wins. Then it was off to Boston. Distance traveled to Boston: 393 miles.

February 2 -- It was sort of like Groundhog Day. Wake up, hold another opponent to fewer than three goals. This time, Jose Theodore did the trick, allowing only an early first period goal to the Bruins in a 4-1 win. It was the seventh time in nine games the Caps allowed two or fewer goals. Then it was a date in the Big Apple. Distance traveled to New York City: 187 miles.

February 4 -- It sure looked grim here, and in an unexpected way. The Rangers - a team having immense trouble scoring goals, took a 2-1 lead after one period. Then after allowing the Caps to take the lead with two goals early in the second, came back with three of their own to take a 5-3 lead. But Alex Ovechkin scored with nine seconds left in the second period on a sick move through Michal Roszival to get the deficit to one at the break. Tom Poti scored on a power play less than a minute into the third, then Nicklas Backstrom potted the game-winner a little over five minutes later. The Caps held the Rangers to six shots in the third period, and Jose Theodore saved them all for the 6-5 win, earning the Caps a trip back home. Distance traveled to Washington: 206 miles.

February 5 - 7 -- A two-game home stand, one against the struggling Atlanta Thrashers, who traded star winger Ilya Kovalchuk to the Devils, and one against the arch-rival Penguins in a rematch of the 6-3 Caps win in Pittsburgh. The Caps disposed of the Thrashers in a 5-2 game that was a bit closer than the game indicated, which set the stage for the Penguins and their trek from Montreal to DC to play a game on Sunday afternoon in snow-bound Washington. The Pens started fast, but the Caps closed faster, coming from 4-1 down to win 5-4 in overtime. The game, featuring a pair of early goals from Sidney Crosby and a hat trick from Alex Ovechkin (one goal shattering the case cover of the goal camera), has already been dubbed by some as the "game of the year."

Total Games: 14
Total wins: 14
Total score: 68-33
Power play: 17/55 (30.9%)
Penalty killing: 53/65 (81.5%)

Total distance traveled: 2,738 miles

True, 2,738 miles is a heavy week's worth for some teams in the Western Conference, but travel is a part of the game, whether it's hockey moms and dads ferrying kids a couple hundred miles to a pee-wee tournament, teenagers riding buses across prairies in juniors, prospects and guys at the end of their careers looking out bus windows in the AHL, or even hopping the occasional bus in the NHL.

14-game winning streaks are somewhat less common.