[Ed. note: Jason Rogers, Sperm Whale captain and hockey Hemingway, is back for your amuse bouche. But be warned: do not take his insights as mere foam on the web: so far, he’s been more spot on than Vinnie “Legs” Baggodonnouts. You are warned. Follow him now here. Thus endeth the editor’s finger-wagging.]The Early Morning Skate: Like a piece of old taffy or an oft-abused Slinky, this season is reaching its final stretch. The Washington Capitals sit a few points out from the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and on Tuesday the good guys from DC take I-95 South (avoid the mixing bowl!) to North Carolina to face the Staal & Staal Traveling Circus, featuring “Sasha the Incredible Human Enigma?”
This will be the fourth of five meetings this season between our Caps and the Tropical Depressions, and it is time for this Washington team to decide whether it wants to spend May playing hockey or golf. Watch and learn.
The Mourning Skate: What is the length of one point? Is it the width of one puck crossing or not crossing the goal line? Is it the size of one of John “Towelie” Carlson’s skate edges slipping and giving the other team a breakaway? Is it the distance between wherever the first round of the playoffs is held and Jeff “Sgt.” Schultz’s favorite local golf course?
Rhetorical queries aside, three points now separate the Capitals from the final playoff spot. Now, if we know the Caps, there’s plenty of room for them to implode in on themselves with the unfathomable mass of a thousand suns and persist only as a hockey singularity, a black hole of puck the likes of which are rarely seen outside of Scottsdale, AZ. (Really dorks? We looked it up and it happens. Or, at least, so says Stephen Hawking. And you gonna argue with Stephen Flipping Hawking? Thought not!)
But that is also enough for the Washington Capitals to make the postseason and win, to follow the model of the Habs and Kings of seasons’ past and make an unlikely eighth-seeded run…and to tell Mike Milbury to trade it where the sun don’t shine. (heh)
In its final season of existence, the Southeast Division is going out less with a bang and more with a “meh.” But right in the thick of this maze of malaise are the Carolina Hurricanes, one-time Stanley Cup champions and current financiers of Alex Semin.
Is it surprising the Canes are in the playoff hunt? Sure. Is it mind-boggling why there is a professional hockey team in North Carolina? A louder, stronger “yes, y’all!” But with the Caps and Canes tied in points and Carolina having played two fewer games, the Capitals not only need to win, but they need teams like Carolina to lose.
They can do both on Tuesday night and kill two mocking birds with one stone, two surfers with one shark, or two Staals with one team, whichever is easiest for Carolina to understand. (We imagine it’s something to do with “bacon.”)
With that, it’s time to turn to the segment that launched a thousand Facebook statuses:
LIABLE TO LIBEL – A Baker’s Dozen Lies About Today’s Opponent
The Puck Drop: Do You Binky Swear? I’ve said before that the only thing more lethal than Steven “Binky” Oleksy’s fists is his Soviet-era good looks. I’m just Putin that out there. And like the tips of the Christmas-bulbed spires of the Kremlin, Binky looks sharp at the point. Whether pulling the string and back-skating two steps to give himself a shooting lane, or cycling the puck like a well-maintained Maytag, the Pride of Chesterfield, Michigan gives us a fresh dynamism that is consistent with an Adam Oates system.
We’ve gotten used to watching Mike Green botch the zone and quarterback the point with the stability and steadfastness of a ligament in RG3’s knee. Now we can watch Oleksy operate there, and while this kid is younger and rougher around the edges than a prepubescent porcupine, we have reason to believe the future will be bright. Or at very least, less Green.
No Kvetchin’ ‘Bout Ovechkin – Look, we need to have at talk about Alexander Ovechkin. If his contract were up today, maybe I wouldn’t give him $130 million. Maybe I wouldn’t sign him for thirteen years. But there may not be a more dynamic player lacing them up anywhere in the world. He is pure kinetic energy, raw power, and emotion set in movement with a quick hop-step.
Alex Ovechkin is a tidal wave that smiles and says, “Sorry, Penguin” before crashing on the beach on destroying a village. He is the word POW! wearing ice skates. I don’t care about his even-strength goal production. You know why? Because when he scored 65 goals in a season, people said, “Yeah, but is he a team player?” So Ovechkin started passing more, and people said, “Well what about evolving his game? He’s getting older.”
So Ovechkin stopped trying to do everything and found his sweet spot low in the circle on the power play. And guess what? He has become the exact weapon we need him to be. He is not just a big gun. He is the big gun. He is a cannon packed with dynamite, cocked and loaded and waiting for artilleriet Sergeant Nicklas Backstrom to trip the hammer. This guy is a leader, he is a captain, and his numbers are proving it.
The Safe Word is “Mojo”: The Rise of Role Players – Detractors will tell you the Capitals’ roster is about as deep as Bruce Boudreau’s salad bowl, and this season the numbers have supported that. Once you move beyond the usual suspects of Ovechkin, Brouwer, Ribeiro, and Backstrom, few players have really distinguished themselves with offensive production.
But in today’s NHL, you can win by committee. If tonight it’s Marcus Johansson making great entries into the zone, tomorrow it might be Joel Ward winning possession scrums in the corner. Hockey is an experiment in the inescapability of cause and effect. Goals are built like pyramids, not ladders. Every goal is the result of a hundred little battles that were absolutely necessary to win. It is not a game of pacing yourself. It is not a game of futures. Hockey is a game a million consequent nows, won or lost by tenths of seconds and widths of skate blades.
It’s life, agony, and ecstasy unable to be parceled out or separated but a few times each game. But that, itself, is the point. If you spend all your time looking for the punctuation marks, you’ll miss the sonnet. The Capitals have players who can do the unglamorous things than win teams games. The question is whether they want it badly enough to bleed and fight for it.
The Late Line: And so I, like you, will be anxiously awaiting the drop of the puck at 7 pm in Raleigh. Good luck, God speed, and Go Caps.
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