On March 19, 2009, Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season in a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ovechkin became the Capitals’ first ever three-time 50-goal scorer (which he has done three more times since), but it was what he did after the goal that became legend. To celebrate, Ovechkin dropped his stick to the ice and warmed his hands as if the stick were on fire.
Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, and Alex Ovechkin. Those are the names most seen in the deluge of chatter about this season’s Hart Trophy, the award given each year to the player deemed most valuable to his team. Washington’s own goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin seems to be the underdog in those conversations for a variety of reasons, namely that he plays in a bad division and wasn’t exceptional until the middle of March. I think those reasons are suspect, but the Hart conversation is already marred by a whole lot of questionable conventional wisdom.
The Hart Trophy is supposed to be awarded to the player that the Professional Hockey Writers Association deems most valuable to his team. While the actual inscription on the Hart Trophy leaves out the whole “to his team” part, I find that little prepositional phrase to be crucial. The NHL is unlike the MLB, whose MVP award has a simpler definition (“most outstanding player“), the same one used for the Ted Lindsay Award.
The Lindsay is the NHL’s real MVP award: voted on by the players and without consideration for team quality or any of the other logical convolutions that make the Hart the cause of ulcers for everyone silly enough to care about it.
John Carlson shot a one-timer to Theodore’s far side that was tipped in by ample bottom of Troy Brouwer, the same gentleman who caught a monster saucer pass from Braden Holtby before unleashing a perfect slapshot on Florida’s Jose Theodore. Joel Ward capped off an offensive-zone takeaway with a snazzy goal from the slot. The Caps cracked the four-goal plateau for the first time thanks to a nifty one-timer by Ovechkin right after the faceoff. Mathieu Perreault earned his first of the year halfway through the third, chasing Jose Theodore from net in the process.
Does Alex Semin Care? That was the dominant headline before training camp. On August 17th, former Cap Matt Bradley spoke candidly to an Ottawa radio station and questioned the Russian winger’s commitment to hockey and the team. “When you’ve got a guy like that, you need him to be your best player, or one of your best players, and when he doesn’t show up, you almost get the sense that he wants to be back in Russia.”
With a minute left in the third period of Thursday’s game and the Caps up only a goal, Alex Semin showed how much he loved DC by putting the Capitals back in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season with a dazzling individual play. As two Florida Panther defenders shadowed Brooks Laich along the boards, Sasha Minor — unguarded in the corner — took a pass, went strong to the net, and lifted a backhanded shot over Jose Theodore.
This is it. The Caps nipping at the heels of the division-leading Panthers, playing to deny them the clinch and maybe snatch their crown.
Jay Beagle scored early, trapping a Troy Brouwer shot with his rump and firing from the sweet spot. Alex Ovechkin got on the board in the second, crashing the net and converting Marcus Johansson’s rebound. Brooks Laich piled on with a sniper shot from the high slot after a long session in the offensive zone. Mikael Samuelsson was all alone in the Caps zone, breaking the shutout with a high wrister. The Cats made it a one-goal game via Ed Jovanovski’s deflect goal early in the third. Alex Semin made it a four-goal night with a minute left. Caps beat Panthers 4-2. We’re playoff-bound, baby!
Early Morning Skate: Our doctor advises those of you with heart issues, temper problems, or who are prone to premature catastrophization to avoid watching the Capitals Thursday night. In fact, why not just turn the TV and iPad off and curl up into a little whimpering ball right now.
The rest of us? We few… we lucky few… are ready for, and this is no hyperbole, the single most cosmically important game for any team since the beginning of time. That said, will the Capitals be ready as well?
Kris Versteeg wipes out. (Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson)
How was your weekend? The Caps won. That was cool. I bet Coach Hunter is psyched. I lost my cell phone. That sucked.
On Monday night, the Capitals hit the road again, leaving a tumultuous three-game home stand behind them. They’ll be suiting up in Sunrise, Florida, which is a ludicrous name for a city. The hosting team? The Florida Capitals.
Marjory the Trash Heap was also assembled from other people's refuse.
Ahh, shoot! Florida Panthers. Sorry. But the Florida roster does sport four ex-Caps: Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, and Marco Sturm (who shouldn’t really count). How did so many Caps players end up in Florida? Over the summer, Panthers GM Dale Tallon got his checkbook out and started signing free agents all willy nilly just to reach the salary floor.
And now– somehow– the Panthers are at the top of the Southeast Division. No one saw that coming. This team was assembled from spare parts. We had joked that it was a retirement home. These guys shouldn’t have a cohesive personality, let alone a winning record. Instead, they’re 14-8-4 and they’ve commited the fewest minor penalties in the league. It’s disciplined and effective hockey they’re playing in Sunrise, which is still is a stupid name for a city.
The Florida Panthers spent their Monday night trouncing the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-4. The Cats used five powerplay goals to fend off a third period rally from their rivals in America’s groin. By now the Panthers are probably already on their way up to Washington.
Here we go. This is the game you’ve been looking forward to. Not the rematch with Tampa, the date with Pittsburgh, or Thursday’s face-off with Jagr. You have been amped for this game: Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, Tomas Fleischmann– all your exes are coming over for a dinner party and it’s going to be AWKWARD.