The Pre Game: Some weeks… they exist to test our mettle. Or remind us of what’s truly important. This has been one of those weeks.
First came news of the passing of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. A brawler of the first order and a retired sports ambassador of highest rank, we were jolted first thing Monday to learn of his death at just 67. “Respect and admiration,” is how Muhammad Ali remembers him. We join our fellow Michigander in his descant.
We just wish it were with that kind of dignity and accolade that Joe Paterno could’ve retired, but this week wouldn’t have it. Sucked into the vortex of a repugnant scandal swirling around him or partly of his making (everyone else is judging so we leave it up to you), JoePa has coached his last Big Ten game, just one week after achieving what must have been a long-held goal – most wins of any Division I coach, ever. He has coached at Penn State as long as I’ve drawn breath. The alleged horrors of Coach Sandusky and the criminal process will stand on their own. The lingering acrid smell of individuals with their eye on something other than the children’s and players’ well-being hangs foul over Happy Valley.
And then Thursday we learn of Nats catcher Wilson Ramos being kidnapped from his home in Venezuela, bundled away by several men in an SUV. One man gone, another pushed aside, and a third hanging in the balance. We’re left empty, with no target meriting lampoon. If there’s anything to be earned by this horrid week, perhaps it’s perspective on the Capitals slump.
The Puck Drop: Is it a slump? As always, it depends who you ask. If Coach Boudreau, Mike Knuble, and Brooks Laich are to be believed (and how could we not trust Brooksie?), that Caps 7-0 start got players a little soft, a little lazy. “Working harder” is something being thrown around a lot now, like manure in the Spring, and we’re sure Coach will do just that during practice. But at risk of sounding like a Dilbert strip, however, perhaps it’s not hardness but focus and purpose that the Caps are needing.
Which, frankly, isn’t something that can be said now of the Devils. Against inconsistent teams (*coughCarolinacough*) they’ve eked out a few victories, but faced with quality (don’t make me say who) or just odds, they’ve been turning up sour on the draw. Except recently. They’re 3-1 in the last four, compared to 2-4 in our last six. When is a streak a streak? When it continues. When is a slump a slump? When it doesn’t stop. Bringing us to the Devils key weapons:
What Makes Them Hot
1: Adam Henrique. What is it about French names… or at least Quebecois? The 21-year-old rookie may be no Patrick Elias, but he’s testing the limit, becoming the first rookie Devil (after Elias) to score two back-to-back game-winning goals. 7 points overall, and 4 goals in the last 3 games make this one red-hot Devil. And yes, we know that Henrique is an Ontarian, not Quebecer, but still, c’est bon! Shutting this guy down is job #1 for the Caps D.
2: Patrick Elias. Oh, him. Once upon a time, Elias was the hottest prospect cooking. Then he became a Devil, and has be a demon since. Devils Coach Dipwad or whatever has talked recently about his squad pulling it together, and cited Elias on several occasions as a unifying figure. Experience, skillz, and numbers so far this season (points in nearly every game) make Elias and wannabe Henrique lethal shooters.
Rookie Adam Larsson leads the Devils’ D in ice time. There have been some chinks in his previously ‘unflappable’ play of late, but he’s still as fine an 18-year-old defenseman as I’ve ever seen. Smooth on the body and on the puck. If only he had Seguin’s looks, I’d make you guys Devil fans!
First off, no, you won’t. Not ever. Second, he’s right about Larsson’s performance of late. Third, we’ll put up Skelleftea’s Swedish son against Seguin any day.
What Makes Them Not
1: Ow! My Groin! Words you never want to say, but hear too frequently when it comes to NHL players. Among them, Ilya Kovalchuk, a stalwart for the Thrashers before traipsing up to the Garden State. Frankly less a name than a bad hand a Scrabble, Kovalchuk is out on a “lower-body injury.” Which, wink-wink-nudge-nudge could be code for glass groin. Don’t expect to see him Friday or Saturday unless it’s all been a lark to rest him for the Caps.
2: Old Man “Mar-tahn”: Martin Brodeur was the stone in our soup last year and arguably one of the Devils’ keys. Perhaps that lock has now been picked. He had a craptacular game against Toronto, but has stepped back up in the last two. However, we think we’re staring to see “Abe Simpson” syndrome here; great guy, lotsa talent in his day, needing maybe to rethink what he can do against the young hot-shots sniping at him. Call us nuts, but while Brodeur is in the web, we’re feelin’ good. (H8rs can cut and paste that now to avoid the rush.)
3: Matchy-matchy. Brlgh. Despite being homosexicals, we confess we don’t know the first thing about fashion. We do, however, know about things that just shouldn’t be. Stripes with patterns? Even we know that’s wrong. What’s worse: the Devil’s matchy-matchy ensemble. What’s black, white, and red all over? A hideously dressed Devil. Seriously, there’s red and there’s red, and you can either pull it off or you can’t. New Jersey: please don’t make us say what everyone wants us to say; we don’t want to have a messy intervention.
The OT and Shoot Out: Like we said, we’re just not feeling up to taking cheap shots at our opponent this week. It’s reminded us how hard it is to be a professional athlete, how difficult it is to manage a sports operation, and how fickle fate can be. And also, what a garbage hole New Jersey is.
As Seen On TV: Tune into CSN at 7:00pm for Joe B. and Locker with the call, and for the viewers among our rapidly diminishing New Jersey fan base, it’s on MSG. Speaking of MSG, guess who’s a new pal of Mr. Devil himself, Ken Daneyko? Our very own Brian Marshall, that’s who! Gay hockey is the new black. Or Red.