[Ed. note: Oh my. Here we are, once more, teetering on the precipice. Wisenheimers will tell you stat this and odds that. But the PuckBuddys roll different. Yes, PuckBuddy Jason Rogers is back again - you think you could scare him away? - with searing insights into the coming game. Which is, we all agree, big. As in... big. Like nobody frackin' breathe until we wrap this one up. It's a messy job, but someone has to do it. Even former Premier William MacKenzie King is watching. Here's Sperm Whale Jason.]
The Morning Skate: I don’t mean to rain, sleet, or snert on anyone’s victory parade, but the Capitals play in a garbage division. It’s a division so abysmal that next year it will be forever struck from the NHL pantheon, and utterance of its name will be forbade as heresy. But, I believe the Capitals are far and away the best team in the Southeast, the veritable creme d’ la crap, if you will. This game against a very good Habs team will provide a measuring stick for how far the Caps might go in the playoffs. So let’s hope that distance is measured in good ol’ American miles, and not kilometres (freakin’ socizlists.)
The Puck Drop: Secondly, this game matters because we mere mortals get to watch Alexander Ovechkin play hockey again. Now tied for the lead league in goals, OBESTkin is scoring all over the place like Maria ain’t watchin’ (BOOM.) Dale Hunter was content to use him like a tarp, lazily casting him across the penalty kill and hoping he made something happen… somehow. Adam Oates is using Ovi’s precision and power like a shotgun that shoots micro-scalpels.
What we say about Gretzky (bow your heads), we say about Sidney Crosby: he was always in the right place. And that, my friends, does not happen by accident, nor does it cheapen those goals. Good instincts are part of it, but so is having a smart coach who knows how to play his pieces. What we are watching right now is the sexy, sexy marriage of a brilliant coach with a prototypical weapon. Let’s see the Supreme Court disallow that!
And that gives us a perfect opportunity to turn to the segment that the late Margaret Thatcher called “the last real chance Western civilization has” [like she knew]:
LIABLE TO LIBEL: A Baker’s Dozen Lies About Today’s Opponent
- If you rearrange the letters in Carey Price’s name, it spells: Prairie Christ, Lord of the Land. [Ed note: Actually, Jason, it doesn't. Don't make us get all coal mine strike-breaky on you.]
- The rest of the league finds Montreal’s insistence upon French-speaking coaches and players to be charming and not at all off-putting or absurd.
- The main export of Quebec is an undeserved sense of superiority. And bad cheese.
- When PK Subban joined the team as a rookie, veterans made him chug maple syrup and list every Canadian prime minister. He barely made it past William Lyon Mackenzie King. Rookie. [We choked at Sir Mackenzie Bowell.]
- In the Habs locker room, sticks are called batons, players are called joueurs, and losses are called les petites morts. We call that: Hawhawhawhaw. Sic.
- Every water bottle on the Montreal bench is actually filled with 1992 vintage Merlot, the lifeblood of the team. And their towels smell of brie.
- Rene Bourque dares you to laugh at his first name. Come on, he dares you.
- Similarly, Tomas Plekanac and David Desharnais will not acknowledge you until you pronounce their names exactly right. They rarely acknowledge anyone. Because… those names…
- The Canadiens’ arena, the Bell Center, also lists its French name as Centre Bell. In case, you know, you weren’t sure.
- The ice surface in Montreal is made out of frozen bottles of Evian, because, as Habs owner Geoff Molson puts it, “If you’re not skating on Evian, you may as well be skating in dirt.” We suggest LoKo.
- 100% of proceeds from Canadiens home games go to providing cashmere sweaters for the city’s stray and under-dressed dog population.
- When Samuel de Champlain first explored Quebec, he reportedly declared, “Bring me your stubborn masses yearning to speak French.” (Actually, guys, this is really funny.)
- Before naming the team the Canadiens, Montreal ownership passed over more creative names like “The Hockey Team,” and “Dose Guys From Canada What Play Hockey.”
Here We Go Yo:
Health me health you! – Like Snooki’s biography, the Caps are not especially deep (spoiler alert: she smells like booze). But contrary to popular opinion, they’re not bereft of top-six talent, not by a long shot. Recent additions of Brooks Laich (from injury) and Martin Erat (from trade) lift the Caps, like a fine brassiere, from average to something to look at. [He can say that because he's a straight guy writing for a bunch of gay guys writing for a group of straight guys.]
Now of course, losing both of those gentlemen in the last two games makes things more difficult. It’s tricky, because the Caps need to stay healthy to win, but in order to win, they need to play the kind of high-intensity hockey that inherently puts you at risk for injury. As they say in hockey parlance, the Caps need to risk it to get the biscuit.
To Hillen Back Again – I was wrong about defenseman Jack Hillen. I may even be quoted on Twitter as having said:
@HeyJayJRogers: Jack Hillen sucks. Get him off the ice.
Deep, piercing analysis for sure. But what has Jacky shown us recently? How about shutting down the Islanders’ John Tavares and the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos like they were pimple-faced band geeks asking the popular girl to prom.
The Caps defense is spoken ill of more often than the Centers for Disease Control and more prone to injury than Kanye’s pride [look it up, kids!] Karl Alzner and John Erskine are consistent, reliable defenders. John “Towlie” Carlson and Mike “Groin Over” Green can be, and Jeff “Sargeant” Schultz is just awful (seriously, he plays like a nervous Weimeraner with strangers in the house).
That gives us Hillen, who subscribes to Pierre McGuire’ Advanced Theory of Hockey: To win a game of hockey, you must score more goals than your opponent. Jack understands that the fewer goals the other team scores, the fewer the Caps need to score to win. We all remember the Young Guns Caps teams that won games 5-4, 6-5 and so forth. This is not that team. This is a team that can win games 2-1. Jack Hillen is a big reason they are able to do that.
Swede and Sour – Nick Backstrom is a glorious Norse god. After quietly recording his 300th career assist against Tampa, he now also quietly has 34 assists through 39 games, a pace that would leave him with 77 helpers in a full, idiot-proof season. Do not tell me the Capitals are not a better team when Backstrom plays. Don’t even tell me they aren’t a thousand times better. Nicky B is setting up guys left and right like an FBI informant, and you can bet he’ll be getting a lovely Christmas card from Alex Ovechkin.
On the other side of the Kroner you have Marcus Johansson, a tremendously talented forward who’s shown flashes of brilliance but has never found consistency. He roars across the blue line like a lion in a police line-up and can dangle like a Bush-Gore chad. He can’t seem to finish, however. Multiple times this year he’s been given a gift on the doorstep like an unexpected Amazon delivery, and like a hearse with a flat tire, failed to bury it. Great forwards score goals. If Johansson can figure out how to do that, we could have the best Swedish pair since Elin Nordegren.
Which, yes we admit, is really mostly a hetero/homo test for y’all. You know how you passed.
The Late Line: That about sums it up. Now I, like you, will wait for puck drop at 7:30pm from Montreal. Play hard, play fast, and Allez les Capitals!