[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.
Wednesday was a night of hardware in the NHL as the league’s annual awards show took place in Las Vegas. The night’s biggest winners? Corey Perry of the Ducks picked up the Hart, Ryan Kesler of the Canucks hoisted the Selke, baby-faced Jeff Skinner of the ‘Canes took home the Calder, Stanley Cup champion Bruin Tim Thomas won the Vezina and Washington fan favorite Disco Dan Bylsma of the Pens presented with the Jack Adams Award.
Ovi tackles his teammates after Mike Knuble's second period goal. (Photo credit: Dave Sandford)
Photo credit: Gregory Shamus
After a year of build-up and three glorious episodes of HBO’s 24/7, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins finally met at Heinz Field in front of 68,111 loud, screaming fans to compete in the 2011 Winter Classic. Much like the 39 games before and the 42 games to follow, this game counted the exact same amount in the standings: two points.
But both you and I know it meant waaaaaay more than that. You could see it in how the Caps played, celebrated and spoke after the game. This was the biggest game they had ever played in their NHL careers. And it showed.
At 8:17pm the first puck dropped. It would then take over twenty-two compelling game minutes to see the 2011 Classic’s first goal. In the second period, Marc-Andre Fleury made a routine stick save along the ice on Alex Ovechkin. Kris Letang then took the rebound and alertly flung the puck up ice where he found a streaking Evgeny Malkin. The Capitals’ defense, caught on a bad change, allowed Malkin to go in all alone on Semyon Varlamov. Malkin went five-hole and the the Penguins took a 1-0 lead.
We really want to talk to the person who gave their tickets to these guys. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)
There was certainly a special buzz in the air today. With most schools shutdown and most work-places deserted for the upcoming Christmas holiday, Caps fans traveled in droves to Kettler Capitals Iceplex to cheer on their hometown team during their pre-game skate. Why? Because the Pittsburgh Penguins were in town.
The energy the Caps felt in the morning certainly translated to the game as one minute in, Alex Ovechkin laid out frenemy, Evgeny Malkin, with one of his biggest hits of the season. The crowd went wild. The Penguins lost their composure. And seconds later, as Evgeny Malkin looked for retribution, he took a two minute interference call. The Capitals get a powerplay!
Unfortunately for our heroes, there was too much standing around, and there wasn’t enough crashing of the net in their ensuing man advantage. The Penguins savvily killed off the powerplay and seized back momentum immediately on a beautiful deflection goal by Sidney Crosby at 3:21.
Thirty-one game minutes later, the Capitals tied it up at the tail end of a 5-on-3 powerplay. Mike Green, who had pinched-in to the top of the face-off circle, riffled a slapshot to the top corner of the net. The game stayed tied 1-1, until the beginning of the third, when Sidney Crosby challenged three Capitals players, flicked the puck towards the net, and found Chris Kunitz who backhanded a shot home.
Things looked dicey until team leader Mike Knuble converted on a crazy 2-on-1 goal while the Caps were shorthanded. The two teams then went to Overtime. Despite what looked to be another goal by Mike Green, the extra five minutes of 4-on-4 hockey could not decide a victor. After an exciting shootout, Pascal Dupuis scored at the bottom of the 7th round. Pens beat Caps 3-2 (SO).