Saturday, August 31, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 31

The 31st day of the month brings us to number 31 of our elemental look at the Washington Capitals.  Fearless…the keyboard is yours.


Gallium is an element in search of a role.  At the moment it is something of a johnny-one-note of the periodic table, with almost all of its uses coming in the field of electronics.  Microwave circuits, semiconductors, light emitting diodes…those are the sorts of applications in which you find gallium.  You will not find it in many, if any, biological applications.  To the extent it is found there, it is largely limited to those in which it can mimic the behavior of iron.  It can be used, however, as a reflective surface.  When coated on glass it makes for a brilliant mirror.

Gallium is a physically unimposing element.  It is soft, by metals’ standards, and it is brittle at room temperature.  When it diffuses into other metals, it makes them more brittle as well.  It will melt in your hand.  In fact, chemists, being the pranksters that they are, love to pull off this prank at tea parties with spoons made of gallium that look like fine silver…

We do not recommend drinking the tea (really...).

Although Gallium has a low melting point (evidenced by its ability to melt in your hand), it has an extremely high boiling point.  In fact, it has the greatest ratio of boiling point to melting point (measured on an absolute temperature scale) of any element.  Put another way, it is a liquid over a very wide temperature range.  It does not react with air or water, owing to what is referred to as a passive layer – an oxide layer that forms on its exposed surface that makes it unreactive.  To the casual eye, it behaves a bit like water.  It “wets” surfaces such as glass or even your hand (it will cling to them in its liquid state), and it is another of those rare substances that expands when it freezes.  It does not exist in free form in nature, but rather in other substances, such as gallite, bauxite, and coal.

We are looking at a physically unimposing element that has not reached a level of mainstream applications, one that exists in nature only in the presence of other elements.  It is not particularly reactive with other elements, and it is characterized as soft or brittle, but it can be brilliant in some applications.

Gallium…the “Stanislav Galiev” of the periodic table of the elements.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 32

There are just 32 shopping days until Opening Night of the 2013-2014 NHL season, and Fearless is shopping for number 32 on the list of elements…


Germanium was an idea before it was an element.  That requires some explanation, one that starts in Siberia.  That is where the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev was born.  Mendeleev would grow up to be one of the most important figures in the field of chemistry, the creator of the periodic table of elements.  The table, based on Mendeleev’s “Periodic Law,” allowed for the prediction of elements not yet discovered.  In 1869 Mendeleev predicted the existence of several elements using this Law, one of them occurring on the periodic table between silicon and tin.   

It would take another 16 years before that element was discovered, at a mine near Freiberg, Saxony, Germany.  Chemist Clement Winkler isolated the new element from a mineral that also contained sulfur and silver.  He named it, “Neptunium,” not knowing that the name had already been assigned to another theorized element (that did not work out…the name ”neptunium” would not be used until an element was discovered in 1940, but we digress).  Left with having to use another name for his newly discovered element, Winkler plumbed the depths of his imagination and came up with “Germanium.”  Winkler was German, the element was discovered in Germany…duh.

The early history of germanium was hardly promising.  It was a metal, but was generally thought to have poor conducting properties.  Then, however, applications for it were identified – use as a semiconductor material, specialty electronic devices, transistors, fiber optics, night-vision appliances, precious metal alloys.

It is generally characterized by low reactivity, but can react violently with certain chemicals.  It is one of only a few substances that expands as it solidifies from its molten state.  And, although it was theorized by a Russian and discovered in Germany, much of its production these days in in China and the United States.

What we have then is an element that existed in theory, but one that would not become a reality until discovered years later (sort of like a player who is drafted in the first round, but who does not become a full-fledged starter for more than eight years thereafter).  It is an element discovered in one place, but is produced mainly in other parts of the globe (not unlike a player born in one place, but who lived in a number of other cities before he settled in the city in which he would spend his career).  It is that rare element that expands when solidifying (not unlike a player who needs to fill a space to be a “solid” contributor).  It is an element that is often stable and unreactive, but one that can react violently at times under special conditions (the equivalent of a volcanic temper you might find in a player?). 

Germanium…the “Olaf Kolzig” of the periodic table of elements.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Washington Capitals -- Chasing Records: Part II, Points from the Blue Line

A little while ago we posted about the Washington Capitals record book and the manner of chasing records in it.  Our look at the club record for longevity was the first of what we intended to be a periodic look back at some of those records and the possibilities that any of the current Capitals might take their place among the franchise’s record holders.  In the second installment we take a look at points by defensemen. 

On November 22, 2000, the Washington Capitals defeated the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2, on a goal by Andrei Nikolishin with 43 seconds left in overtime.  In that game, Calle Johansson recorded an assist, his eighth of the young season.  More important, the point lifted him out of a tie with Scott Stevens for the franchise record for career points by a defenseman with the Capitals.  Johansson would add to his total, compiling a total of 474 points as a Capital before retiring after the 2002-3003 season (then coming out of retirement late in the 2003-2004 season to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs).

Those 474 points still stand as the franchise record for points by a Capitals defenseman. It begs the question, who among the current defensemen on the club might threaten Johansson’s record?  For all intents and purposes, this conversation is limited to two players – Mike Green and John Carlson. 

Mike Green was, as Caps fans know, the NHL’s top offensive defenseman over a three-year period ending with the completion of the 2009-2010 season.  Over those three seasons, only six defensemen recorded more than 150 points, but Mike Green was the only one who would rack up more than 200 points over those three seasons.  His 205 points were 27 more than the runner-up over that period, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom.

Had Green been able to maintain that scoring pace since 2010, we might be talking about his breaking the franchise points record in the 2014-2015 season.  Here is how that might have unfolded.  Over his big-three seasons Green recorded 205 points in 225 games (0.91 points-per-game).  Those 225 games represented 91 percent of the games played by the Caps over that period.  If he played in 91 percent of the games played and scored at a 0.91 points-per-game pace, he would have entered the 2013-2014 season with 396 points.  The 2013-2014 season would leave him close to the record, and he would break the record early in the 2014-2015 season.

Alas, things change. A combination of events conspired to reduce Green’s offensive production profoundly.  After the Caps surprising early exit from the 2010 playoffs in the first round and struggles early in the following season, the club changed its philosophy to emphasize more defensive responsibility.  Points were not as plentiful for the club as a whole. 

Then there were the injuries.  Green played only 116 of 212 games the last three seasons owing to a variety of ailments – concussion, ankle, and groin injuries.  In those 116 games he recorded 57 points (0.49 points-per-game).  While he did come back in 2013 to finish with 26 points in 35 games (0.74 points-per-game), he is not the offensive force he was in those big-three years ending in 2010.

As he heads into the 2013-2014 season, Green has 277 points in 433 games as a Capital, 197 points short of the franchise record for career points by a defenseman.  He has two more seasons on his current contract with the club, meaning that he will not break the record under his current deal (unless he channels his inner Paul Coffey).

Contract aside, there is the matter of trying to assess Green’s production going forward.  He had lingering groin problems last season but did dress for the last 19 regular season games and all seven playoff games.  It would be a stretch to think of him as an ironman, 80-game defenseman, but 65 games per season at this stage of his career (assuming he has worked out his groin problems) would not appear unreasonable.  As far as point production is concerned, those days of averaging close to a point a game would appear out of reach, given the league-wide trends in scoring and the game the Capitals play these days.  There is the notion that Green is also something of a creature of the power play.  He was third among NHL defensemen in power play points per game last season (0.40, behind P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov).  However, his even-strength points-per-game was respectable (0.34, 17th overall among NHL defensemen). What is tantalizing, though, is that overall he scored 19 points in 19 games after his last stint on the injured list.

If he can rehabilitate his offensive game to be a consistent version of the 0.74 points-per-game player he was in 2013 and play in 65 games per season, Green would be looking at reaching Johansson’s record early in the 2017-2018 season, by which time he would be turning 33 years old.  Injuries could always derail Green’s progress once more, just as it could for any player, but it would appear that the matter of his breaking the club record for career points as a defenseman is at least as much a product of whether the realities of salary caps, contracts, and free agency will allow him to reach that 2017-2018 season as a Capital.

John Carlson is not ever likely to be as prolific as Mike Green at the latter’s peak of production. However, Carlson has improved his offensive output since entering the league in the 2009-2010 season.  He is also among the most durable of defensemen.  He is one of only five defenseman who dressed for every game over the past three seasons.  Over those 212 games he has 91 points (0.43 points-per-game, a little more than half of the productivity of Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson at 0.79 points-per-game over the period). 

It is difficult to get a feel for Carlson’s overall upside on offense, given that he is the number-two option on the power play (he averaged barely half of Mike Green’s power play ice time per night).  However, Carlson did finish tied for fifth in even strength points last season after finishing tied for 17th in 2011-2012 and tied for fourth in 2010-2011.  One gets the feeling that with more power play time, Carlson could deliver.

As it is, at Carlson’s level of production over his last three seasons (0.43 points per game), he would have to set another team record to reach Johansson’s club points record.  To get to 474 points Carlson would have to play in more than 1,100 games with the Caps.  Johansson currently holds the club record for games played with 983.  Even if Carlson’s ironman streak was to continue, he would have to string together more than ten more such seasons to get there.

Carlson’s current contract expires at the end of the 2017-2018 season, meaning that even if he has a chance to reach Johansson, it would have to come under terms of a new contract.  Even if Carlson was to ramp up his production (say, to 0.60 points per game), he would need almost eight years’ worth of games to reach the mark, meaning it would come under another contract. 

In some ways, Carlson resembles Johansson in that he is more of a two-way defenseman than Green is (or has the reputation for being).  He could be more productive, but that would not seem likely so long as Mike Green is the number one option for offense from the blue line.  If Green, for whatever reason, was to have his Capitals career interrupted, or if he should move on to another team, Carlson could fulfill the responsibilities for offense from his position, although perhaps not as productively as Green.  In any case, if Calle Johansson’s club record for points by a defenseman is to be eclipsed, it is almost certainly going to be Mike Green who has the best chance to do that.

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 33

If it’s Thursday, we’re down to number 33 in Fearless’ look at the Caps and their positions in the periodic table…


Arsenic is one of those elements that conjures visions of a skull and crossbones on a glass bottle, the poison of choice for mystery writers. Before it took on cultural connotations, it recorded quite a history on its own merits.  Arsenic compounds were known to Greeks in the fourth century.  As “orpiment” (arsenic trisulfide), it was important trade commodity in the Roman Empire.  In China it was used for medicinal purposes.  And, of course, it was used as a poison, preferred for the difficulty in identifying it as the cause of death (well, at least until the 1830’s when James Marsh published his results on a method for detecting arsenic).

It does have other, less nefarious (not to mention less lethal) uses.  It was used as a wood treatment, preserving it against insects, bacteria, and fungus, but less so in the United States over the past decade or so.  It has had a variety of medicinal uses, used to combat parasite-caused diseases and even cancer.  In compound form it has a wide range of uses – with lead in car batteries; with gallium in semiconductors, lasers and light-emitting diodes.  It has been used in pigments, fireworks, and lead alloys for bullets.  It has been used in optical glass and in taxonomy to preserve samples.  However, many of these applications have fallen into disuse because of the toxic and environmental effects of arsenic in larger concentrations.

Arsenic is one of those elements that has been known for quite some time, one that in small doses or in compounds with other elements can have beneficial uses.  At higher concentrations or larger doses it can be quite harmful.  Care must be taken to find that balance between bane and benefit.  It is not unlike a hockey player who, while having been around for a while, might, in some situations, provide quality minutes and a measure of intensity that is useful.  However, that same player, if given to overexposure (maybe getting top-four minutes when he is suited to something less), might lead to problems for his team. 

Arsenic… the “John Erskine” of the periodic table.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 34

There are 34 days to Opening Night of the 2013-2014 NHL season, and lookee here…we’re down to 34 in Fearless’ countdown of the elements…


Selenium is one of those elements that are like another.  It is like sulfur in that it replaces sulfur in some metal ores.  It is like tellurium in that it produces compounds that have odors similar to those containing tellurium.  Depending on whether heated or cooled, it can take the form of a brick-red colored powder,  black bead-like particles, or a soft gray-colored substance.

The name “selenium” comes from the Greek word, “selene,” meaning “moon.”  It was given this name by one of its discoverers --  Jöns Jakob Berzelius – because of its similarity to tellurium, which was named for “earth.”  It has six naturally occurring isotopes (one of which has a half-life of 327,000 years) and has had 23 other other isotopes identified.  It takes a variety of forms.

Although something of a rare mineral, one can find selenium in a variety of places.  It occurs in a variety of inorganic forms and replaces sulfur in a number of metal ores.  It can be found in several amino acids, it is at times found concentrated in plants, and can be a product of coal burning.

It has a number of applications, including: glass production (where it provides a red color), replacing lead in some brass manufacture, production of solar cells, rubber production, photocopying, and X-ray crystallography.  It also can be found as an active ingredient in anti-dandruff shampoos (as anyone who saw the abominable move, “Evolution,” could tell you) and as an anti-fungal agent.

Biologically, it is an essential nutrient (although it can be toxic in large quantities), playing a role in the function of the thyroid gland and in reducing the effects of mercury toxicity.  As an essential nutrient, it can be found in a number of foods, including: seafood and meat, nuts, cereals, and eggs.

What we have here is an uncommon element that can be found in a number of places, in a number of forms, with a variety of applications, and that is essential to healthy function.  Sounds like a player who might be an important cog because he can play a variety of positions in a range of situations.  So what we have here is…

Selenium… the “Brooks Laich” of the periodic table.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 35

We continue our look at the elemental aspects of Washington Capitals hockey with, well, Fearless’ walk through the periodic table in the countdown to opening night.


Here is what you need to know about bromine.  Its name derives from the Greek word, “bromos,” meaning “stench.”  It is not so much a stench that characterizes it as it is a foul smell that resembles that of chlorine, which, like bromine, is a member of the group of elements referred to as “halogens.”

At room temperature, bromine is not solid, but rather takes the form of a reddish-brown liquid.  And, if exposed to air it evaporates easily to give off an orange vapor.  It is highly toxic and corrosive.

It was discovered independently by two chemists.  The first – Antoine Jerome Balard – discovered it in the ash of seaweed found along the southern coast of France (who takes long walks along the beach rooting around in seaweed?).  The second – Carl Jacob Löwig – isolated it from mineral water, subjecting it to a number of treatrments until he was left with a brown liquid (chemists are generally people who as kids did disgusting things with food).

Bromine has no recognizable essential biological functions in people – any mammals for that matter – although it can be found in some enzyme reactions among lower sea life.  It does have some industrial applications.  Or rather, it used to have applications.  For example, it once served as a gasoline additive.  There, its purpose was in binding to lead to prevent engine knocking.  Of course, now that gasoline is unleaded, and environmental regulations have been established to reduce lead emissions, you don’t find this application much these days.  It used to be used in pesticides, but since 2005…not so much.   It used to be used in sedatives back in the 19th century, but today?... mmm, no.

It does have some uses.  It is found in some vegetable oils that are then used in the manufacture of some soft drinks (those containing citrus, for example).  It is found in a number of dyes; it is used in swimming pool cleaning. 

So here we have a reddish-brown, toxic, corrosive, disgusting looking liquid discovered in seaweed.  It has no biological functions in people, and while it used to have some uses, these days it does not have as many and even those are kind of uncommon.  It gives off an orange color (sort of like a traffic cone) as it evaporates into air.  Some folks would find its smell off-putting.  Frankly, we think bromine gets a bad rap, but there is is…

Bromine, the “Jeff Schultz” of the periodic table.

..yeah, we know, former Cap, but what, you thought we were going to give this to a current Capital?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Washington Capitals: When Adam Met Mikhail

The dreams, the dreams.  I really, really have to give up pepperoni, anchovy, and marshmallow fluff pizzas.  Now I’m dreaming of romantic comedies involving hockey players and coaches.


It is July 2013, and the Washington Capitals need a second line center.  Meanwhile, in Toronto, the Maple Leafs have a very good center who was misused into a role at the end of the bench by their new head coach.  The Leafs decided, to the surprise of many, to exercise their compliance buyout option of the player. The player called the coach an idiot on his way out the door.  The Capitals talked to the player a couple of days into free agency, but the player was about to go off on his honeymoon after getting married, and the team just didn’t have the resources to compensate him as he would have liked.

The days and weeks rolled on.  The player was incommunicado (honeymoons are like that).  The team professed its preference for another of its own players to fill the role of the second line center.  Meanwhile, it seems that everyone with a keyboard and a passing knowledge of hockey knew…just KNEW…that the team and the player were meant for one another.

So why wasn’t it happening?

Well, maybe it was.  Fast forward to early August.  Far from the madding crowds of Washington, Toronto, and the usual suspects of free agent bidders, the player and the coach met.  Mikhail and Adam, in Los Angeles.  

Maybe it was a meet cute at a coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard.  And maybe, just maybe…

Mikhail: You know I'm so glad I didn’t sign early.  It’s just too much… general managers, media, my cleaning lady.  And I was just about to get married.  And I just would've ended up being some mercenary in their eyes that would have been blamed if things didn’t work out. 

Adam: Why are you getting so upset? That was weeks ago.

Mikhail: Yes it was. They are a human affront to all players, and I am a player.

Adam: Hey, but this is different.  I think this can work for both of us.

Mikhail: How do you know?

Adam: What do you mean how do I know? I know.

Mikhail: Because...

Adam: Yes, because...

Mikhail: I’m just tired of dealing with general managers and coaches.  I have to fool them just to get them off my back.  All players do it.

Adam: What are you saying, that they fake interest?

Mikhail: It's possible.

Adam: Get outta here!

Mikhail: Why? Most players at one time or another have faked it.

Adam: Well they haven't faked it with me.

Mikhail: How do you know?

Adam: Because I know.

Mikhail: Oh, right, that's right, I forgot, you're a coach…you have a plan.

Adam: What is that supposed to mean?

Mikhail: Nothing. It's just that all coaches are sure it never happened to them and that most players at one time or another have done it so you do the math.

Adam: You don't think that I could tell the difference?

Mikhail: No.

Adam: Get outta here.

Mikhail: Ooo...Oh...Ooo...

Adam: Are you OK?

Mikhail: Oh...Oh god...Ooo Oh God...Oh...Oh...Oh...Oh God... Oh yeah, I’ll sign right there Oh! Oh...Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes...Oh...Oh... Yes Yes Yes....I’ll sign! Oh...Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes...Oh...Oh... Oh... Oh God Oh... Oh... GIVE ME A PEN!!! Huh...

While at another table, a lady turns to a server and says, “I'll have what he's having.”

And we know how the story ended…

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 36

If it’s Monday, we must be down to element number 36 in Fearless’ relentless walk through the rows of the periodic table and its relationship to the Washington Capitals.


Krypton has an important part in American culture.  It is, as most folks know, the fictional planet that is the native world of Superman.  It also had the unfortunate circumstance to have been destroyed.

“Krypton,” the element, has a far less romantic history.  It was discovered just before the dawn of the 20th century when two chemists – Sir William Ramsey and Morris Travers – evaporated liquid air.  The residue left behind included the newly discovered element Krypton.

Krypton is one of a class of elements referred to as “noble gases.”  Because of their physical properties, such elements are odorless, colorless, and have low reactivity with other elements.  Even the name “Krypton” suggests an element that is apart and secreted from other elements.  The name derives from the Greek word “kryptos,” which means “hidden.”

That is not to say that Krypton is entirely incapable of bonding with other elements.  There have been instances of the synthesis of compounds that include Flourine, Barium, Oxygen, among others.  And, Krypton does have uses that suggest a more flashy character.  Krypton-based bulbs can be used in photography to serve as an intense source of white light.  It can be used in energy-saving fluorescent lamps.  Its higher light power density than neon make it a suitable element for laser shows, expressing itself in the color red.

Here we have an element with a hook in popular culture, but that is a bit less interesting in the real world.  It exists as a gas and has little to do with its fellow elements, although it can show flashes of brilliance in certain applications.  What does that sound like?  Maybe a player who is a lot more sizzle than steak so far, who has been hidden away, who has not (yet) been inclined to play with others (at least in Washington), who has a bit of “flash” to his play and demeanor on the ice.  A player who has offered a lot of gas about where and when he might or might not play in his future.

Krypton… the “Evgeny Kuznetsov” of elements.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 37

Fearless is down to 37 in his trek across the periodic table of elements and its relationship to the Washington Capitals (really, has the summer come to this??)…


Rubidium is the element in search of a role.  Pity that.  As an alkali metal it oxidizes rapidly in air, is easily vaporized, and is highly reactive.  In nature, it occurs as two isotopes.  One, the stable one, comprises about three-quarters of the substance found on the planet.  The other, the radioactive one, has a half-life of 49 billion years.  To put that in context, the European Space Agency’s “Planck” mission found that the age of the universe is only 13.82 billion years.  It is about as common in nature as Zinc.

But, poor Rubidium.  There is no known necessity for its use by any living organisms, even though it resembles potassium – a critical element in the function of all living cells.  Not that it does not have some uses, but they are generally of the infrequent type, such as laser cooling, vapor turbines, or in atomic clocks.

The name “Rubidium” comes from the Latin word “rubidus,” which means “dark red.”  But, as if to throw its meaning just a bit off kilter, its application in fireworks is to give the sparkle a purple color.  That suggests a certain unpredictability, and it in fact it is usually kept sealed in glass in an inert atmosphere or shielded with mineral oil to prevent its spontaneous, even concussive reaction with air.

OK… As common as Zinc, behaves like Potassium, but it is an element in search of a role.  The more energetic isotope has a half-life longer than the age of the universe…sort of the iron man of elements, but the rarer instance of it.  Its name means “dark red.”  It suggests a player in search of a role, who, if in his less common “iron man” state could be quite energetic.  For now, though, there are not a lot of uses for it.

A defenseman comes to mind here.  One who might be a productive one on offense, but the Caps have Mike Green and John Carlson to fill those roles.  One who can be a timely defensive player (hip checks being his signature, if infrequent, signature).  He has spent a lot of time recently hermetically sealed on the shelf with injuries.  And, since “Rubidium” starts with the letters, “Ru”…

Rubidium… the Russian defenseman “Dmitry Orlov” of the periodic table.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 38

Fearless is down to number 38 on his curious countdown to opening night through the chemical elements.  What’s he got in the lab for this one?...


Strontium is a rather unassuming, silver-white or yellowish metal that looks rather common, at least at first sight.  But it is a highly reactive element, especially with oxygen and water (things you might find, say, at an ice rink).  In its powdered form it will ignite spontaneously in air, which makes it a valuable commodity (when combined with other elements) in fireworks.  And, in that application strontium gives off a deep red color as part of the show.  It occurs naturally only in compounds.

It is also referred to as a “bone-seeker” in that it behaves similarly to calcium, which when ingested is taken up in bones and bone marrow.  Its radioactive isotope, (referred to as “Strontium-90”) has a half-life of 28 years, and it decays into Yttrium. 

So, Strontium occurs naturally only in compounds, sort of like a defensive pair.  It’s highly reactive, especially in the presence of oxygen and water.  It is a rather common element, but it is uniquely a “bone-seeker.”  Sounds like a former journeyman defenseman who might be more than a bit feisty on the ice, who hits opponents so they feel it down to their bones, who has a teammate relationship with the “Yttrium” of the Capitals, and who will turn 28 half-way through the 2013-2014 season.

Guess you could say Strontium is the “Steve Oleksy” of chemical elements.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Washington Capitals -- Mikhail Grabovski: The Virtues of Patience and Our Next Contestant

“Marry’d in haste, we may repent at leisure.”

-- William Congreve, “The Old Bachelor”

Today’s signing of center Mikhail Grabovski by the Washington Capitals serves as an example of the virtues resisting the temptation to “marry in haste.”  Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal had this question yesterday about a potential Grabovski signing…
“If it’s true as a radio report in Belarus says that the much-maligned ex Maple Leafs’ centre Mikail Grabovski is signing a one-year $3 million deal with the Washington Capitals…what took the Caps so long to jump on this guy after losing Mike Ribeiro to Dallas as a free-agent with Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle as the No.  2 and No. 3 centres behind Nicklas Backstrom?”

In his Dump and Chase post earlier today on what was, in fact, Grabovski’s signing by the club, Mike Vogel had the information that serves as the answer…
“Teams went hard after top tier centers in free agency; the likes of Mike Ribeiro (four years at $5.5 million per), Stephen Weiss (five years, $4.9 million annually), Tyler Bozak (five years at $4.2 million annually) and Valtteri Filppula (five years, $5 million per season) were all signed within the first few hours of free agency and Derek Roy (one year at $4 million) signed with the Blues a few days later.”

Ribeiro, Weiss, Bozak, Filppula, and Roy are all fine players.  You might debate whether Grabovski is on a par with them (we think at the very least he compares favorably).  Nevertheless, Grabovski fills a perennial urgent need for the Caps – someone to provide reliable and productive minutes as the second line center.  One would think that he will assume the role of Mike Ribeiro at both even strength and, perhaps, in Ribeiro’s role as the trigger man on the power play from the goal line-extended in head coach Adam Oates’ scheme.  He is sturdier and better defensively; he is likely to be a more effective five-on-five player.

That is the obvious benefit of Grabovski’s signing.  The less obvious one has to do with patience.  In a salary cap world, teams cannot just go out a buy up talent (the New York Rangers’ apparent operating plan of a decade or so ago).  Dollars have to be stretched, and if a club can save a million or two dollars in cap room by evaluating the contours of the market, recognize the potential in waiting, and then still fill a need with a player who might have gone for that million or two more in July, that has to be a good thing. 

Why?  It’s not just getting a bargain signing in Grabovski.  It is what that bargain allows the club to do.  That extra million dollars (or two) can be put to productive use – fitting Marcus Johansson comfortably under the salary cap on his new deal (whenever that happens), obtaining the services of a depth forward, holding the cap room in reserve for the time when a trade might have to be made later in the season to fill a need or find a missing piece to the playoff puzzle.  The team has options on the ice in how Grabovski's signing affects the rest of the lineup; the club has options on how to address needs as they might arise as the season unfolds.

Grabovski is a fine player who looks even better under the cold light of possession data.  Signing him will make the Caps better.  But it is that extra cap room found by waiting that might be a valuable asset down the road, too.  Keep that in mind in the weeks and months ahead.

There is a “but,” however.  If you look at this deal in the here and now, it looks like a clear win for the Caps.  Grabovski has talent, and the team has saved cap room while plugging the second line center hole with a real second line center.   As we suggested, the signing opens up many more options among the forward lines that head coach Adam Oates can ponder and evaluate.  In 2013-2014, the Caps suddenly look much more capable of competing in the Metropolitan Division.

If one looks at the front office in the light of this deal, one has to conclude that it not only was the right move to make, but that the timing was impeccable.  It makes one wonder, how is it that deals such as this (and it is not an isolated circumstance) look so good – make the front office look so good – yet the Caps still struggle in the spring?

Part of it might be that we have been here before.  Just last year, in fact.  Cody Eakin and a draft pick were sent to Dallas in June 2012 for Mike Ribeiro, making Ribeiro (who had one more year on his contract) the solution du jour for the second line center position.  Before that, it was giving the kids a try – Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault.  Before that, it was Jason Arnott as a rental.  Before that, Brendan Morrison on a one-year deal.  Before that, it was Sergei Fedorov in the twilight of his career (made necessary when Michael Nylander went down to injury).  After he was obtained at the trading deadline in 2008, Fedeorov was signed…to a one-year deal.

The position has been one cobbled together with the hockey equivalent of spit and baling wire for the last half dozen years, a series of experiments, rentals, and one-year deals.  In that context, Grabovski is the latest wad of spit or loop of baling wire.  His signing is already being framed as a chance to secure a bigger payday (presumably with another team) if he performs well for the Caps.  Well, that’s what Mike Ribeiro did, too.  In the end, what good did it do for the Caps last spring?

In this context, the theme might be less the musings of a 17th century playright on marriage but the opening to that old panel game show of the 1950's and 1960's, "What's My Line?"...

"...Will the next contestant enter and sign in, please?"

We do not mean to splash cold water on the good time Caps fans are having at the moment.  This deal on its own merits has no apparent down side, and Grabovski will make this club better.  Adding to this era of good feeling is the role of Adam Oates in the signing, described in some detail in Mike Vogel's post.  Oates knows what he wants to do and has a plan for Grabovski's role in it.  One has to admire and take as a good sign this kind of organized thinking.

However, when we (or anyone else) says that Grabovski will make this club better, the operative phrase there is "this club" -- the 2013-2014 edition.  There is never a permanent (meaning: more than one year) solution to this problem the club seems to face every year.  We have seen this movie before.  The earlier releases of it did not have happy endings.  Perhaps this sequel will have that happy ending.  It is a happy beginning.

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 39

It is 39 days to Opening Night of the 2013-2014 season, and that can only mean one thing in our countdown of the elements.  Take it away, Fearless…


Yttrium -- atomic number 39 -- is often described among chemists as being a “transition metal.”  It is also described as a “rare earth element.”  In fact, it is name for a village in Sweden – Ytterby – that is the site of a quarry where, in 1787, Carl Axel Arrhenius (whose day job was in the army, but who found time to practice a little chemistry) found a heavy black rock.  He thought it was an unknown mineral containing tungsten, itself only recently discovered.  He named the mineral “ytterbite.” Alas, “yttrium” would not be isolated in its elemental form until more than 40 years later.  Seems Arrhenius thought he had one thing, when in fact it was something else.

It is a soft, silver-metallic, lustrous and highly crystalline metal that is stable in air.  If finely divided, it can spontaneously ignite in the presence of very high temperatures.  Seems it needs some help to get fired up, so to speak.

Yttrium has a variety of uses.  In its oxide form it is used as a component of the phosphors used to produce the red color in television picture tubes. The oxides also have potential use in ceramics and glass. It can be used as part of materials to filter microwaves and as transmitters and transducers of acoustic energy. Yttrium is used as a catalyst in the polymerization of ethylene (we looked this up).

Let’s see… discovered in Sweden… a “transition” metal that can be used as a catalyst… shows up in red on television… described as soft, but stable… needs to be in the presence of something very hot to ignite… thought to be one thing, say, a center, when it turns out to be something else (maybe a left wing).

Aha!  Yttrium… the “Marcus Johansson” of chemical elements.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 40

Fearless is bored, and a mind as fecund and nimble as Fearless’ should never have to suffer boredom.  So, he’s going to take over some of the blogging duties as we drag our way slowly toward opening night of the 2013-2014 season.  Take it away, cuz…

Thank you, cousin.  Hockey is an elemental sport, a combination of strength, speed, power, and grace.  While we are taking our long, slow walk to opening night, I thought I might explore the relationship of this elemental sport with, well, the Periodic Table of the Elements.

It is 40 days to opening night.  Number 40 in the periodic table is…


Zirconium is a lustrous, grey-white, strong transition metal that resembles titanium.  It is found in abundance in S-type stars, which as you know, are cool giants the display evidence of zirconium oxide in their spectral signature.  Zirconium also has been identified in the sun and meteorites, and analyses of lunar rock samples obtained during the various Apollo missions to the moon show a significant zirconium oxide content, at least when compared with rocks of this earth. So, much of what can be called “zirconium” is not of this place.

Zirconium also takes many forms.  Naturally occurring zirconium contains five isotopes, while 26 other radioactive isotopes and isomers are known to exist.  It is a quite diverse element.

It is a grayish-white lustrous metal. When finely divided, the metal may ignite spontaneously in air, especially at elevated temperatures. However, the solid metal is much more difficult to ignite. The inherent toxicity of zirconium compounds is low.  So, it is capable of being ignited, but is generally inoffensive to we humans.

There are many uses for it.  It can be found in surgical appliances, light filaments and watch cases.  It can be used as an alloying agent in steel, in photoflash bulbs, in explosive primers, in lamp filaments, and many other items.  It is used in poison ivy lotions.  With niobium, zirconium is superconductive at low temperatures and is used to make superconductive magnets.  It is quite the versatile element.

So there we have it… strong, ignitable (but agreeable), versatile, and often not of this place.  Zirconium is the “Brooks Laich” – Saskatchewan’s finest – of chemical elements. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Washington Capitals: Rivalries Reborn -- The "MetroPatrick" Division, Part VII: The End of It

In the end, 14 years of play in the Patrick Division was a mixed bag of results for the Washington Capitals.  There were the moments – the five-goal night Bengt Gustafsson had against the Philadelphia Flyers; the Bobby Gould knockout of Mario Lemieux; Steve Leach scoring goals ten seconds apart against the Penguins (a club record for fastest two goals scored by one player), part of a three-goals-in-21-seconds sequence.

But those were moments in the regular season.  The playoffs were a continuing disappointment for the Caps.  Even when something memorable would take place – Dale Hunter scoring a game-winning, series-clinching overtime win in Game 7 of a playoff series – it would be taken away in short order, the Caps following up their Game 7 overtime win over the Flyers with a seven-game loss to the New Jersey Devils.

In 14 seasons in the Patrick Division the Caps reached the playoffs in each of their last 11 seasons.  In 88 post-season games they posted a 42-46 record in games, averaging 3.4 goals per game for and 3.3 goals per game against.  But within that record was a deeper one of frustration.

The Caps were capable of stringing wins together.  Four times they compiled four-game winning streaks, accounting for more than a third of their total playoff wins over the period.  Oddly, perhaps, none of those streaks came in a single series.  The Caps, in fact, have never swept a seven-game playoff series in franchise history (they did sweep best-of-five series against Philadelphia Flyers in 1984 and the New York Islanders in 1986).

On the other hand, the Caps also had three four-game losing streaks in their Patrick Division playoff history.   They did, however, avoid ever being swept in a best-of-seven series in their 14 years in the Patrick Division.

During this period the Caps were the big tease, which led to the big disappointment.  In 16 playoff series played against Patrick Division teams, this being a period when the first two rounds were intradivisional play, the Caps were 11-5 in Game 1 results.  And what came of those 11 Game 1 wins?  The Caps went on to lose eight of those series.  Worse, the Caps won only one best-of-seven series out of eight tries when they won Game 1, that coming in the 1990 division semi-finals when they beat the New Jersey Devils in six games after winning Game 1.

The Caps were never able to sustain early series advantages.  In winning Game 1 on 11 occasions against Patrick Division opponents over this period the Caps won Game 2 only four times and only once in eight tries in a best-of-seven series (1992 versus Pittsburgh; the Caps would go on to lose the series).

It did not get better as series went on.  Game 3 was a minefield for the Caps in the playoffs.  They were 6-10 in Game 3 in 14 playoff years, winning only three series of the ten in which they lost Game 3.

Game 4… Game 5… Game 6… it was more of the same.  The Caps had a below-.500 record in those games during their Patrick Division years.   Not abominable, mind you (Game 4: 6-8, Game 5: 5-8, Game 6: 4-5), but bad enough to be a team that spent a lot of time trying to come from behind.

That brings us to games in which the Caps or their opponents faced elimination.  There were 15 occasions over 11 playoff series in which the Caps faced elimination at least once.  Their record in those games was 5-10, and three of those wins came in their 1988 division semi-final against the Philadelphia Flyers in which the Caps came back from a 3-1 deficit in games to win the series.  Other than that, when the Caps dug a hole, it was filled in behind them.

On the other hand, in ten series in which the Caps had the chance to eliminate their opponent they posted a 6-10 record in games.  Three times they lost three such games in a row in a series, dropping the last three games of their 1985 series against the New York Islanders (a best-of-five series), their 1987 series against the Islanders, and their 1992 series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  When the Caps blew up, they blew up big.

Game 7 deserves its own mention.  Four times in 14 seasons in the Patrick Division the Capitals played in a Game 7 in the post-season.  Three of them came in consecutive series over the 1987 and 1988 playoffs, two of them in overtime, all of them one-goal decisions.  The fourth featured an empty-net goal for what would end as a two-goal defeat for the Caps.  Those contests put into clear focus one of the great shortcomings of the Caps in this period – one-goal games.  There were 35 one-goal decisions involving the Caps in Patrick Division playoff series, and the Caps finished with a 15-20 record in those games.  Five of those one-goal losses came in games in which the Caps were eliminated.

Taken together, 14 years in the Patrick Division was a period of growth for the Capitals franchise, a period in which it was quite literally saved from extinction.  However, only once in 14 seasons in the division did the Caps win a regular-season division title, that coming in 1989.  Six times in 14 seasons the Caps finished third or lower in the division.  Only once did the club advance beyond the divisional rounds of the playoffs, that being in 1990 when they beat the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers to reach the conference finals, where they lost to the Boston Bruins.

The 14 years in which the Caps battled in the Patrick Division was a period of “haves” and “have nots.”  Of the six teams that played in the division over the majority of these seasons, Patrick Division teams reached the Stanley Cup finals nine times.  But three teams – the New York Islanders (five), the Pittsburgh Penguins (two), and the Philadelphia Flyers (two) account for all of the appearances.  Six times in those 14 seasons – the Islanders four times and the Penguins twice – the Patrick Division would become home to the Stanley Cup champion.

On the other hand, you had the New York Rangers, the New Jersey Devils, and the Washington Capitals.  The Rangers were 9-12 in post-season series, but did reach the conference finals twice.  The Devils were 2-5 in series, but did reach the conference finals in 1988.  The Caps were 6-11 overall (6-10 in the division), but did reach the conference finals in 1990.  You would have to say, though, that these teams were the “have nots” of the Patrick Division.

The Rangers and Devils would cast their Patrick Division frustration aside shortly after the league abolished named divisions.  The Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, and the Devils would win three Stanley Cups over the 1994-2003 period along with a loss in the finals in 2001.

The Caps, however, would continue to know little but frustration.  They would reach a Stanley Cup final in 1998, but it would be the only time they would escape the second round since they took the Patrick Division banner into the conference finals in 1990. It is a record of frustration that continues to this day.

Caps fans probably remember the Patrick Division days as being better than they were, at least in terms of on-ice performance.  It was a competitive division of teams that asked for and gave no quarter.  It was rough and hard-fought, often over the line of the rulebook.  The Caps often won more than they lost, their 221-195-35 regular season record in the division and 11 straight playoff appearances to close their divisional history being evidence of that.  But the hope that success sparked in the hearts of Caps fans was almost always extinguished in the post season, often in cruel and unexpected ways.  In a way, the profile of their Capital Centre home during those years was a visual representation of the deflated dreams of Caps fans.

The Caps now join their old Patrick Division rivals in the new Metropolitan Division with a chance to write a new history.  Years from now fans will have memories of individual battles, team rivalries, and memorable games won and lost.  Here’s hoping that there are more happy endings to seasons than what fans of the Caps during the Patrick Division years witnessed.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Washington Capitals: Rivalries Reborn -- The "MetroPatrick" Division, Part VI: Pittsburgh Penguins

Our look back at the Washington Capitals’ history against their rivals in the old Patrick Division finally gets to the team that Caps fans have grown to love to hate – the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins had an intradivisional rivalry that preceded their Patrick Division rivalry.  When the National Hockey League expanded to 18 teams for the 1974-1975 season, adding the Washington Capitals and the Kansas City Scouts, the Caps were placed in the new Norris Division of the Prince of Wales Conference.  There they would reside with the Penguins for the next five seasons until the league expanded to 21 teams for the 1979-1980 season.  The Capitals were sent to the Patrick Division, while the Penguins remained behind in the Norris.  The Penguins would make their move to the Patrick Division in the 1981-1982 season, taking the place of the Calgary Flames who, one season removed from their relocation from Atlanta, were realigned into the Smythe Division of the Clarence Campbell Conference.

The Caps and Penguins had something in common in that first year together in the Patrick Division.  They were not very good.  However, since four of the five teams in the conference would make the playoffs, the Penguins would get in by virtue of their fourth-place finish.  They made it largely at the expense of the Caps, who they defeated in the season series, five games to two with one tie.

When the Penguins won the first game of the 1982-1983 season series it might have seemed as if it would be more of the same in Year 2 of their Patrick Division rivalry.  It was not.  When the Caps beat the Penguins, 5-4, at Capital Centre on December 2, 1982, it touched off a span of 27 games over which the Caps would dominate the Penguins to the tune of a 23-2-2 record.  It was not as if the games were especially close, either.  Over those 27 games the Caps averaged 4.8 goals per contest, holding the Penguins to 2.6 goals per game.  There were only six one-goal games in that 27-game span, the Caps winning all six.  There were 14 games decided by three or more goals, the Caps going 12-2 in those contests.  Twice the Caps beat the Pens by 9-1 scores.

Not even the entrance of Mario Lemieux into the rivalry made much of a difference.  Lemieux started his NHL career in the 1984-1985 season, but only once in his first two seasons could the Penguins beat the Caps, an 8-1 win on February 12, 1986.

Although the Caps utterly dominated the Penguins, it would be hard to think of this rivalry as being all that intense, especially when compared to the Caps’ experience against the New York teams and the Philadelphia Flyers.  Even when the Caps 23-2-2 run came to an end with the end of the 1985-1986 season, the Penguins could not swing the pendulum entirely in the other direction and make this a rivalry to challenge the intensity of the other Patrick Division rivalries the Caps had, at least not right away. 

The Pens did turn things around somewhat in the 1986-1987 season, winning four of the first six games of the season series.  It was the seventh and last game of that season series that Caps fans might remember best, though, and one that might have set the stage for a more intense rivalry to come.  On March 20, 1987, the Caps and Penguins were rolling into the last ten games of the regular season battling for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Patrick Division.  The Caps went into that game in fourth place with a 30-32-9 record, while the Pens were in fifth place with a 28-33-11 record.  The Caps were leaking oil, though, having gone 1-4-1 in their previous six games.  The Penguins were not blazing themselves, but at least they had a 5-3-0 record in their previous eight contests.

That was the setting for a late-season Friday night game in Landover, Maryland.  If the Capitals-Penguins rivalry lacked a certain intensity to that point in their Patrick Division histories, the urgency of a late-season rush for a playoff spot added some fuel to it.  It exploded 77 seconds into the second period.  It started with a scrum along the boards to the right of the Penguins’ net.  The Caps’ Gaetan Duchesne and Pens’ Troy Loney exchanged shoves while the linesman was separating the Penguins’ Mario Lemieux and the Capitals’ Bobby Gould.  Gould started skating up ice when he was challenged by Lemieux to a throwdown.  Gould obliged before the linesman could get back between them.  Three right hands from Gould later, it was over.  Gould dropped Lemieux with those wallops before Penguin forward Craig Simpson jumped in and pulled Gould off the fallen Penguin center.

The dazed Lemieux had to be helped off the ice, and the Caps would go on to defeat the Penguins, 4-3.  It started an 8-0-1 run for the Caps to finish the season in second place in the Patrick Division.  The loss would be the first of a 2-5-1 finish for the Penguins that left them out of the money in the race for a playoff spot in the 1986-1987 season.

Starting with the 1987-1988 season the Caps would lose nine of the next 11 games they played against the Penguins and would go 8-18-2 against Pittsburgh through the end of the 1991 regular season.  Caps fans did not know it at the time, but it was the advance wave of a new source of frustration and heartbreak for the Caps.  This is when the Caps-Penguins rivalry fans came to know started coming into being.

That 1990-1991 season was the first in which the teams would meet in the post-season.  Pittsburgh finished first in the Patrick Division, seven points ahead of the third-place Caps.  Washington eliminated the New York Rangers in the division semi-finals in six games, while Pittsburgh knocked off the New Jersey Devils in seven games in their semi-final series.

The division finals opened in Pittsburgh, and the home team took a 2-1 lead into the third period of Game 1.  The Caps tied the game in the third period on a Kevin Hatcher power play goal, and Al Iafrate put the Caps up for good with less than five minutes left in what would be a 4-2 Caps win.

The Caps had a chance to put the Pens in a deep hole in Game 2 in Pittsburgh, and it looked as if they would do just that after the Pens took another lead into the third period.  With the home team leading, 5-3, Dino Ciccarelli scored two goals in the first eight minutes of the period to tie the game.  Calle Johansson scored just over two minutes after the second Ciccarelli goal, giving the Caps a 6-5 lead.  Goalie Mike Liut – playing in relief of starter Don Beaupre – could not make it stand up, though, allowing a Randy Gilhen goal with less than five minutes left in regulation to tie the game.  It would be Gilhen’s only goal – only point – of the 1991 playoffs.  Kevin Stevens might have saved the Pens’ season when he scored just over eight minutes into the overtime to tie the series at a game apiece.

It was all downhill for the Caps after that.  Washington was able to muster only a single goal in each of the next three games, the victim of Penguin goalie Tom Barrasso stopping 97 of 100 shots.  Pittsburgh won all three games and the series, and would go on to win the first Stanley Cup in their history.

In the 1991-1992 season the Caps won five of the first six regular season meetings and did so in commanding fashion, outscoring the Pens by a 32-11 margin in the five wins.  The teams had one more meeting, though, in what would be the Caps last game of the regular season.  For Washington, the game did not mean much.  The Caps already clinched the second spot in the division.  For Pittsburgh, the game did not mean a lot more.  The Penguins already clinched a playoff spot with two games remaining.  However, there was the matter of seeding.  Pittsburgh came into game 79 of their season in fourth place in the division, two points behind the New Jersey Devils, who were wrapping up their regular season the same night as the Caps and Penguins were meeting.  A win and a New Jersey loss would vault the Penguins into third place in the division and a first round playoff matchup against the Caps.

That confluence of events made the meeting between the Caps and Pens on April 15th in Pittsburgh something of a “Game 0” of the Patrick Division semi-finals.  And Pittsburgh would go into the game missing their leading scorer, Mario Lemieux, who was on the shelf with a badly bruised shoulder.  The Penguins had another weapon, though.  Second-year forward Jaromir Jagr scored his 31st and 32nd goals of the season to lead the Penguins to a 4-1 win over the Caps, third place in the division (the Devils lost that night), and that first-round matchup against the Caps.

The Caps took advantage of Lemieux’ third straight absence from the Penguin lineup when they took Game 1 of the division semi-finals.  Peter Bondra led the way with two goals for the Caps, and goalie Don Beaupre stopped 32 of 33 shots in a 3-1 Washington win at Capital Centre.

It looked even better for the Caps in Game 2.  Mario Lemieux returned to the lineup and contributed assists on the first two goals of the game.  That would be the extent of Lemieux’ contribution and the Penguins’ offense for the evening.  Peter Bondra and Michal Pivonka had identical 1-2-3 scoring lines, Dino Ciccarelli and Dmitri Khristich each had a goal and an assist, and Don Beaupre stopped the last 28 shots he faced in the Caps’ 6-2 win.

The Caps headed off to Pittsburgh looking to drive a stake into the defending Stanley Cup champions.  That would not be the operative metaphor for Game 3.  “Street fight” was more like it, and it was not one that the Caps would win.  It was a penalty fest.  Eight penalties were called in the first period, all of them leading to power plays – none of the penalties were of the coincidental variety. 

The Caps came out of that first period with a 2-1 lead, but the tone had been set.  Pittsburgh – behind a four-point period by Lemieux – wiped out the Caps’ first intermission lead and took a 5-2 lead into the third period.  The Caps got back to within a goal on scores by Al Iafrate and Kevin Hatcher, but Lemieux scored an empty-net goal to complete a hat trick and six-point night in the Penguins’ 6-4 win.  A total of 23 power plays were awarded in the game, the Caps going 2-for-11 and the Penguins going 3-for-12.

Washington shook off the Game 3 setback and put the Penguins on the brink of elimination in Game 4 in Pittsburgh.  The Caps got two goals in the first eight minutes of the contest, took a 3-0 lead into the locker room at the first intermission, and chased starting Penguin goaltender Tom Barrasso.  Dino Ciccarelli put the Caps up 4-0 early in the third period before the Penguins could find their offense, getting one back off the stick of Mario Lemieux.  It was too little, too late for the Penguins.  The Caps scored three more times, Ciccarelli ending the evening with a four-goal night and Mike Ridley finishing with three assists in the Caps’ 7-2 win.

Then it was back to Washington for Game 5 and a chance for the Caps to close out the series.  The celebration would have to wait, though.  Pittsburgh played a smart road game, forsaking run-and-gun for clamping down on defense.  The Penguins held the Caps to just four shots on goal in the second period and Dino Ciccarelli without a shot on goal over the first 40 minutes.  Meanwhile, former Cap Larry Murphy scored a power play goal in the second period to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead they would not give up.  Jaromir Jagr scored on a breakaway later in the period, and the Pens would add a late goal in the 5-2 win

Game 6 in Pittsburgh turned into a Nightmare in the Igloo for the Caps.  The Penguins scored the game’s first two goals, both by forward Kevin Stevens, both set up by Mario Lemieux.  The Caps came back with four of their own, two of them by forward Peter Bondra, to take a 4-2 lead early in the second period.  The Caps could not stop Lemieux, though.  Only Lemieux could…to the Penguins’ advantage.  With the Penguins nursing a one-goal lead, Lemieux drew a penalty from Dino Ciccarelli, a call some folks might have thought Lemieux embellished to referee Andy Van Hellemond.  With Ciccarelli in the penalty box, Lemieux converted the power play, and the Pens were in the clear, eventually winning Game 6 by a 6-4 margin.  Lemieux finished the night with two goals and three assists.

That left it up to Game 7 at Capital Centre.  Going into that game on May 1st, there had been only 10 teams over more than half a century of Stanley Cup playoff history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in games in a best-of-seven series.  The Penguins made a bid to make it 11 when Mario Lemieux scored a shorthanded goal in the first period to put Pittsburgh up, 1-0.  After the Caps tied the game on a goal by Al Iafrate, Lemieux set up Jaromir Jagr for a power play goal to restore the Penguins’ one-goal lead.  The visitors clamped down after that, holding the Caps to a total of 19 shots on goal for the game.  Joe Mullen scored into an empty net in the game’s last minute to complete the comeback and send the Caps to the golf course for the summer.

The Penguins would go on to win their second straight Stanley Cup.  The Caps would go on to make it something of a cottage industry in dropping playoff series after taking two-game leads.  That division semi-final loss to the Penguins was the second time in six years the Caps dropped a series after taking a 3-1 lead in games.  They would go on to do it in 1995 (again to the Penguins), would lose a 2-0 lead in games in 1996 (yes, to Pittsburgh), lose a 2-0 lead in games to Tampa Bay in 2003, lose a 2-0 lead in games in 2009 (again with the Penguins), lose a 3-1 lead in games to Montreal in 2010, and would lose a 2-0 lead to the New York Rangers in 2013.

All of those series came after the Patrick Division was dissolved after the 1992-1993 season.  The 1991-1992 division semi-final series against the Penguins was the last time the teams would meet as Patrick Division rivals.  But the storm clouds had already gathered overhead in what would be the Capitals-Penguins rivalry that would carry over into their Atlantic Division years that would last through the 1990’s and into their post-season rivalry of the early 2000’s. 

It always seemed to rain on the Caps, a disappointing period of hockey for the team and their fans with the Penguins replacing the New York Islanders of the 1980’s as the agent of heartbreak.  As fans would come to realize in the Capitals-Penguins rivalry in the Patrick Division, regular season domination – that 23-2-2 run in the 1980’s by the Caps – would not be what was remembered, but what would happen in the playoffs.