In three meetings this season, the Capitals have outscored the Penguins 10-1. Inside the Metro, only Carolina has a worse intra-division record than the Penguins (7-11-4). Crosby’s reportedly having an off-year, and the fans are quite grumpy.
And none of that matters tonight.
The Penguins are still an excellent team. Crosby’s decline is mostly meaningless statistical noise; he’s still the best playmaker in the league, and the team’s record against the Metro doesn’t tell me much about who’s gonna win tonight. Like every game, this one will be decided by who’s got the better goalie and which team helps him out the most. I peeked at the Caps’ lines, and I think it’ll be the home team who wins this one and secures a regular-season sweep for the first time in five years.
Eight days ago, Alex Ovechkin slashed Kris Letang in the ankles. Ovechkin claimed he was trying to shoot a loose puck at the net. Instead Letang fell dangerously into the end boards. Ovechkin was not whistled for a penalty and Letang left the game briefly.
The Penguins, rattled, lost focus on the two points. Instead, they spent the third period doling out cheap shots to Ovechkin and the Capitals, dispensing frontier justice rather than trying to win.
The fans followed their team’s lead. A Penguins fan poured beer on the Ovechkin and trainer Greg Smith during a stoppage in play.
The Capitals kept their eyes on the prize. They scored two goals in the third period, one from Joel Ward and an empty netter from John Carlson, to win 3-1.
I know you can’t print out GIFs and pin them to a bulletin board, but I hope the Caps remember how Pittsburgh played last week. Here’s a reminder.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman released his latest 30 Thoughts article this morning. There are two big nuggets of news. First, he believes Mike Green will be staying in DC for the rest of the year, which corroborates recent quotes from Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz. He also believes the team will try to add a veteran defenseman and a winger to play with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.
“I think there were some things that probably happened before I was here that led to certain things,” Trotz said, speaking in broad terms. “There was some bad advice given to Ovi at times in how they wanted him to play.”
“Ovi’s a guy that will do what you ask,” he continued. “He’s bluntly honest. It’s actually a strength, not a weakness.”
This year, Trotz has moved Ovechkin back to left wing and demanded more of him defensively. Ovechkin leads the league in goals, and the Capitals are challenging for the division lead.
“I made it pretty simple,” Trotz said. “When you have the puck do what you do. When you don’t have the puck, I want you to do what I want you to do. If you do that, you’ll have the puck more.”
Hockey legend Igor Larionov captured the hockey news cycle on Monday with a provocative article in the Players Tribune. Larionov’s thesis is that coaches are so stuck on hockey orthodoxy or so fearful of risk that they stifle and select against “creative” players.
The pullquote: “There’s a reason why Pavel Datsyuk went undrafted in 1996 and 1997.”
I’m skeptical about that example, but I think Larionov is spot-on about conservative coaching in general. We see it in all sports, but hockey seems to have a particularly pernicious strain of Goodoldboysclubitis, wherein exciting, finesse players are considered too “European” and risky, and safe and pedestrian players are wildly overvalued. I suspect that disease is behind symptoms like Top-line Beagle.
It’s a chronic infection that takes the form of valuing of a player’s characteristics over his actual effectiveness. Adding hard-working, “spark”-y Jay Beagle to the Capitals scoring line despite an embarrassingly convincing body of evidence that he actually hinders scoring– that’s an acute case.
If the point of hockey is to win games, why do so many people care more about a player’s description than a player’s production? The only answer is Goodoldboysclubitis.
We’ve seen itcreate necrotized flesh on the Philadelphia blue line after an injection of Andrew MacDonald, and in coming years we will see similar morbidity with the addition of Brooks Orpik in Washington.
“The effect is not going to be in goals and assists,” Brian MacLellan said in July. “It’s going to be in culture and winning and attitude, and that’s what Brooks Orpik does.”
That quote, likely uttered in the throes of a Goodoldboysclubitis fever, sums up the affliction perfectly. It’s like the brain is not able to separate the ways we talk about players (“gritty,” “hard-working,” “last name is also a breed of dog”) from the things those players do to actually help win games.
The teams who can rid themselves of the disease are the ones who do best in this league.
The only cure is information. Let’s do the snapshot.
Saturday night, the Hershey Bears and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (the New York Islanders affiliate) played one of the most entertaining and violent American Hockey League games of the season. The Bears and Sound Tigers combined to score seven goals and earn nearly 200 penalty minutes. The game featured a chaotic line-brawl, a goalie fight, eight ejections, and 12 misconducts.
By now, you’ve probably already seen the video (taken by RMNB alumnus Kyle Mace) of Caps prospects Steve Oleksy, Connor Carrick, Chris Brown, Liam O’Brien, and the Bears’ goalie combatant, Pheonix Copley. By Sunday night, the video had amassed over 130,000 views.
On February 22, 2015, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
The Capitals’ gauntlet of intra-division games continued on Sunday afternoon with a matinee meet-up with the Philadelphia Flyers. A combination of factors led to the extinguishing of Washington’s win streak, but at least Jason Chimera earned some good will.
Starting on the top line, Jay Beagle quickly squandered the opportunity with an offensive-zone penalty that Claude Girioux converted for a goal. Wayne Simmonds made it 2-0 Flyers in the second period by knocking in a rebound.
Two-goal hole. Big trouble, but then the secondary scoring showed up. Tom Wilson nabbed a turnover forced by Michael Latta to get the Caps on the board, then Joel Ward knuckled a loose puck to tie it up before the second intermission.
The Flyers were buzzing late in the third and finally broke though when Michael Del Zotto ripped one through traffic and past Holtby to put the Flyers up late. The Caps had a late-game power play, but couldn’t come back. Bummer.