holtby-paddle-save

Photo credit: Justin K. Aller

After having one of their best periods of play all season, the Washington Capitals completely collapsed in the second, allowing the Pittsburgh Penguins to score five unanswered goals. Five. That’s painful to type. It was more painful to watch. Michal Neuvirth, who started the game in net, was pulled mid-way through for Braden Holtby after looking shaky on two goals. Holtby fared no better, giving up three goals on his first twelve shots.

There was one good moment however — a spectacular, amazing, did-that-just-really-happen one. On one of the Penguins bajillion (maybe more) power plays in the second period, Evgeny Malkin found Sidney Crosby streaking wide open in the slot. As Crosby took the pass, he attempted to tap the puck into the wide open net on his forehand.

Holtby, however, had other ideas.

As the puck starts careening towards the yawning net, Holtby throws his paddle down in a move of desperation.

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Alex Ovechkin checks Sidney Crosby

Photo credit: Nick Wass

Almost four years ago to the day, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby — at the height of their rivalry — nearly fought at the Capitals bench. After Ovechkin bumped Crosby on his way to a shift change, Sid shoved him in the back. The two exchanged pleasantries until Ovi ended the conversation by ripping Crosby’s helmet off. Between their heated races for the Calder and Maurice Richard trophies, it was the first time the two showed anger towards each other on the ice. It was glorious.

The rivalry has cooled since then. Ovechkin’s goal scoring has slowed with age. Crosby has dealt with injury.

But on Sunday, while the Penguins blew out the Capitals 6-3 and Crosby edged Ovechkin 3-1 in points, the Russian machine established dominance in his own way: checking Crosby into the net.

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Nick Backstrom is Visiting a Specialist in Michigan

backstrom

Photo credit: khl.ru

On Tuesday morning, far-flung Caps players reunited at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for an informal practice session. Present but not skating was the team’s star center, Nick Backstrom. Backstrom has not played since late December, when he took a hit from behind in a Dynamo Moscow game. According to SportsBox.ru, a doctor in Moscow said the injury was just a bruise, but Backstrom’s agent has since said his player’s status may be week-to-week.

On Tuesday night, we learned that Backstrom is visiting a specialist in Michigan.

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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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Photo credit: Suzanne Kang

Our friend Suzanne went to the Hershey Bears game this weekend, and this happened. I’m not sure we have the vocabulary to describe it, but here goes: It’s a Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin mash-up shirsey, the holy grail of what Greg Wyshysnki would call a “jersey foul.”

In one way, it makes sense. This is a fan at a Bears game in Pennsylvania. The Bears are the farm team for Ovechkin’s Capitals, and Hershey is only a few hours away from Crosby’s Penguins. These are the two stars of the two big teams that matter to this person. It’s almost defensible.

But no.

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Apparently, Winnipeg Jets fans have a short memory.

Oh, you Canadiens. You’re so very clever. Next Friday though, it’s on.

S/T to @whistler and The Pensblog for initially posting the video.

NHL All-Stars Suffering from Concussions and Head Injuries

Special thanks to Gary Bettman for letting the guys out of the Quiet Room long enough for us to snap this pic. Enlarge. (Photo illustration by Ian Oland)

The stars of the All-Star Game were a little less bright this year. Some of the familiar faces that fans expect were absent for reasons that are becoming all too familiar in the modern NHL: head injury. Approximately 85 head injuries have been reported this year, meaning that nearly ten percent of all active players have been injured. 28 of 30 teams have reported at least one head injury, while some franchises have dealt with as many six or seven. With star center Nicklas Backstrom now sitting out due to concussion, the issue has hit close to home for Caps fans.

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Capitals During Wartime: Centerless

[Editors note: over the next month, we'll be looking at the challenges the Capitals face, the trade deadline, and the playoff chase. It's not gonna be fun, but we gotta do this.]

When Nick Backstrom took a blow to the head from Rene Bourque on January 3rd, the Capitals lost the service of their number-one center. Backstrom was on track for a better than 80-point season, which would have been a strong recovery from the slump of ’10-’11. Instead, the team lost the anchor for its top line and its most productive forward.

Without Backstrom, the Capitals have only three strong options for centers: Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Jeff Halpern. Additionally, Mathieu Perreault, Cody Eakin, and Matt Hendricks have done center duty in a pinch. Meanwhile, the Capitals offense has  been shut out twice in the last three games and have averaged only 23 shots on goal since mid-December. That’s just not good enough.

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Pittsburgh Penguins Pregame: #renamePittsburgh

It’s time for your Puck Buddys pregame! Follow @PuckBuddys and adopt a dog.

The Pregame: Cartoonist Bill Griffith, who just this week turned 68, sees the overlooked and forgotten corners of America with blinding precision. We were reminded of this recently as we took a drive through portions of Pennsyltucky – clearly where the phrase “fat of the land” has great meaning – and its meth-addled capital, Pittsburgh. Or, borrowing from Zippy’s creator, Dingburg.

Previously we anointed Pittsburgh as the Epicenter of Suck. Following our travels, we can confidently proclaim that it has become, in fact, the Pinhead Center of the Universe. The gangrenous, foul-smelling trash pile of contemporary civilization. The trucker-stop, Thunderbird-guzzling, used baby diaper of cities. Imagine if Paul Verhoeven remade “Showgirls” today with the same cast and you’ve got Pittsburgh, only with less sexy and more elastic waistbands. It’s exactly that awful.

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Frustration, Hope as Caps Offense M.I.A Once Again

(Photo credit: Nick Wass)

The Dale Hunter era hasn’t exactly started with a bang. With Hunter looking for his first NHL win behind the bench and the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby playing Washington for the first time since his Winter Classic concussion heard ’round the world, everybody from TSN to The New York Times descended on the Verizon Center Thursday night. And for the second game in a row the Caps were easily outplayed and doubled up in shots on goal (65 to 36 over the two games) — even if they lost by just one tally.

Still, the Caps aren’t exactly playing like Bruce Boudreau remains behind the bench. The team has instituted Hunter’s new defensive system (they had the second worst goal-against average in the league under the old regime) which will take some getting used to. The players, of course, know this as they made an even more dramatic shift in their play in the midst of their eight-game losing streak less than one year ago. So far, though, it’s yet to yield a victory.

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