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.
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.
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 Backstromnow sitting out due to concussion, the issue has hit close to home for Caps fans.
[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 Backstromtook 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.
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.
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.
On December 1, 2011, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
Hit em for Beagle: John Erskine vs Arron Asham (Photo credit: Rob Carr)
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ first appointment in D.C. might also mark the beginning of drastic reformulation for the Washington Capitals. This was also the first meeting between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in 335 days and Crosby’s first date in D.C. since his concussion. Lots of hype, very little offense. Here’s how it went down:
Arron Asham hooked up Craig Adams for a lay up made even easier by some bad D from Orlov and Schultz. Chimera tied it up in the second with a blind backhand. Chris Kunitz beat everyone to give the Pens the go-ahead goal. The Caps just didn’t shoot. Pens beat Caps 2-1.
The Pre-Game: I think it was Benjamin Disraeli who said “Sometimes cities just suck.” Or maybe it was Don Rickles. We’re getting our historical figures mixed up.
Look, there’s nothing that stinks about San Diego, the actual place. It’s lovely. Or Phoenix, for that matter, if it weren’t for all the whack-a-doodles. Vancouver: now there’s a dandy city for you! If you can just get over all the residents piously reminding you just precisely how dandy it is.
On the other end, there are places like Mogadishu, a city that, I can comfortably assure you, sucks. Or vacation paradise Pripyat! – home to the entombed Chernobyl perpetual light bulb. Pyongyang. Philadelphia.
Then we come to the middle ground: decent places inhabited by truly awful organizations. Pittsburgh comes to mind. Hoorah, it’s beautiful and their food isn’t too toxic and the local rumor is that there’s even a museum or something. But it’s also home to the rat burrow of unctuous fink Richard Mellon Scaife and his poisonous heirs, and the ‘Terrible Towel’, which we rank as only just below Scaife as scabes-inducing. The Pittsburgh Penguins… and Dan Bylsma. Think about that for a moment: both the Penguins AND Bylsma (and his douche-hat) compressed into one geographic point. That single distinction alone is enough to push Pittsburgh to new title holder: Epicenter of Suck.
Rituals bind us to one another. In a fan community, rituals take many forms. In the clothing we wear, the cheers we shout, the fives we high– that’s where togetherness happens. It’s like a wholesome mob mentality, and everyone’s allowed in the mob so long as they can do a couple simple things.
Problem is: sometimes those rituals get us into trouble. Some rituals become bad habits, and those bad habits have got to go. You know what I’m talking about: It’s all your fault, Who Cares?, RED!, and a certain nickname for Sidney Crosby. It’s not cool anymore. Let’s discuss.