16 Days Out: The Honeymoon is Over in Pittsburgh

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Our friends at the Pensblog wrote an interesting item last week about how the five-year post-championship grace period is already over for their Penguins. If that’s true, it’s gonna be an interesting season for Pittsburgh, as we find out exactly how traumatized that team has become following two epic flameouts in the postseason. It’ll be like a funhouse mirror for Caps fans.

Marc-Andre Fleury had an .883 save percentage in last season’s playoffs and has not peeked above .900 since 08-09. The team chose to bone up its roster at the trade deadline by getting older and slower. Dan Bylsma, all of a sudden on the hot seat, received from Ray Shero a vote of support slash kiss of death. The team fared very poorly when Crosby and Malkin were off the ice, and those marquee players– now 26 and 27– are nearing inevitable declines as they enter their late 20s.

This isn’t me saying the Pens are doomed– they’re not the Maple Leafs or anything. They’re just gonna be a fun team to watch as they work their way through the kind of issues that can derail a team. Then again, maybe Beau Bennett will put up 30 goals and everything will be hunky dory.

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Photo credit: @JessieMartin

The Washington Capitals had a few pleasant surprises from their prospects last year. Tom Wilson showed the kind of offensive output everyone had hoped for. Connor Carrick displayed NHL potential. Garrett Mitchell proved he’s NHL-ready in Hershey. But the “Performance Way Over Expectations” award this year goes to Riley Barber, who had a tremendous rookie year at Miami University. Barber was named CCHA Freshman of the Year and played on the top line during the USA’s surprising gold medal win at World Juniors.

A player who wasn’t drafted until the sixth round has somehow turned into a dominant college hockey player.

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Sweep

Joe Sargent

Photo credit: Joe Sargent

Everyone writing about the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins talks about how the rivalry isn’t what it used to be. I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to harp on the diminished luminosity of Alex Ovechkin’s star or the Penguins’ 9-game streak going into Tuesday. Not gonna do it. I’m not going to ruminate on the struggles in Washington while Pittsburgh sits atop the Eastern Conference. You won’t hear about that from me. That’s just not how I roll.

Instead, I’ll stick to the game– a high-tension affair in Western PA that saw neither team establish momentum for long. Both goalies played terrifically, and then one bad goof at the end of a long power play cost the Caps the game.

Penguins beat Caps 2-1.

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A Less Than Superb Owl: Penguins beat Caps 6-3

Greg Fiume

Photo credit: Greg Fiume

The Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins have a storied history– especially on Superb Owl Sunday. Snowmageddon, anyone? This Sunday’s game belongs in history as well. But, like, next to the bombing of Guernica or childbirth before Ignaz Semmelweis.

Right after a faceoff, Chris Kunitz (may have) deflected a shot by Paul Martin into the Washington net. Mike Green responded by finishing off a great sequence and scoring a pretty one-timer goal– more on that one later. Deryk Engelland re-established the Penguins’ lead with a thoroughly screened blueline slapper, redirected by Matt Cooke. John Carlson tied it up with the Weirdest Goal of the Year: a center-ice dump-in off the boards that tricked Vokoun into leaving the net before the puck bounced in.

Then it got weird. Kris Letang took the lead back with a golden opportunity up close on Holtby. Chris Kunitz made it 4-2 shortly after that. A phantom trip call on Wojtek Wolski and Karl Alzner’s broken stick afforded Chris Kunitz either his second or third goal.

Mike Ribeiro gave life to the Caps with a powerplay goal made possible by some great hustle by Ovechkin, but despite some late-game heroics, that’s all they could muster. Chris Kunitz got either his hat-trick goal or his FOURTH of the day on a last minute power play goal. Yikes.

Penguins beat Caps 6-3.

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This t-shirt can be bought here. (Illustration by Rachel Cohen)

Wednesday night was supposed to be the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first visit to Verizon Center this season. Because of the NHL lockout, we won’t get to see Matt Cooke trolling or Sidney Crosby caterwauling plaintively at the refs. We’ll just have to settle for candy instead.

Hating Pittsburgh sports is coded into my DNA. I’m physically sick over this. Gary Bettman is depriving me of my regular Sidney Crosby hate, and now I am indescribably sad.

To cheer myself up, I have compiled these GIFs from the Alex Ovechkin “Sorry, Penguin” commercial. And now I share them with you. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll wave $15 goodbye.

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Alternate Cut of the Alex Ovechkin Suspension Video

Our Russian spies have infiltrated NHLHQ and recovered this alternate cut of Brendan Shanahan‘s suspension video for Alex Ovechkin. This video, archived by RMNB contributor Max Duchaine, contains several revelations about Shanahan’s mental state.

What we find is a broken man at the edge of madness, hated by all, who retreats to a lonely room to watch teen dramas and weep quietly. Do not loathe this man. Pity him.

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TSN’s Bob McKenzie on Possible Alex Ovechkin Suspension

Photo credit: Ryan Remiorz

11:46 PM Update: NHL.com reports that both Ovechkin and Michalek will meet with the Department of Player Safety on Monday.

Bob McKenzie of The Sports Network is hockey’s version of a public intellectual; his thoughts matter concretely to the game. On Sunday night he took to Twitter to address Alex Ovechkin’s hit on Zbynek Michalek and possible discipline that may follow from it. We won’t call it “supplemental” discipline, because there was no primary discipline– although there certainly should have been.

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Everything is Happening! Pens beat Caps 4-3 (OT)

Photo credit: Justin K. Aller

Yawn. These Washington Capitals / Pittsburgh Penguins games are always such tedious affairs. Nothing interesting ever happens.

Okay, but for real. This game was a monster. The Capitals looked wounded in the first period, surrendering easy goals early and firing just four shots on net. They came back in the second transformed and reinvigorated. After Mike Knuble crashed the net and just barely missed a goal, the offense turned on. The Capitals regained the shot lead and kept their foot on the gas until the very end.

No one challenged Kris Letang on the power play, so he had a great lane and great screen on the game’s first goal. James Neal flicked one past Neuvirth right after a face off to make it 2-0. The game was six minutes old.

In the second, Dennis Wideman set up Brooks Laich for a crucial goal during 4-on-4. Alex Semin cleaned up Mathieu Perreault’s rebound to tie the game and blow our freaking minds.

In the third, Alex Ovechkin caught a wide pass from Alex Semin and beat Marc-Andre Fleury to open up a lead. James Neal finished off a brilliant zone entry by Evgeni Malkin to knot the score again. That tie took us all the way into overtime, where Malkin casually tipped in the game-winner. Pens beat Caps 4-3 (OT).

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At the end of the second period between the Capitals and Penguins, Paul Martin seems to say words to Jason Chimera that are supposed to verboten in the new NHL.

Around 2.5 seconds into the video above, Paul Martin appears to call Chimera a derogatory name for a gay man. (Sorry to be so stilted about it, but it’s hard to discuss these things for a wide audience. Plus, there’s no audio, so we can’t be certain.)

Martin started the third period in the penalty box for a slashing penalty that we could not locate.

So if Paul Martin is seen calling another player a [expletive] on national television and the league does nothing about it, then they’re just feckless and craven worms, right?

Reminder: our comment policy is strictly enforced. Be mindful of the difference between “what they did” and “what they are”.

Thank you to @tonytenor1 for pointing this out, and thanks to Peter Robbio for the video.