🙁 (Photo credit: Rob Carr)
A few years ago, the Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins rivalry was the NHL’s top draw. Led by the league’s best players, the teams spawned epic playoff series and fantastic regular season games. Eventually, though, Sidney Crosby got hurt and Alex Ovechkin got stale. For the past couple seasons, Caps-Pens has been a bit hollow.
This year, however, Ovi vs. Sid is relevant again: Crosby came into the game tied for the league lead in points, Ovechkin was tied for the lead in goals. Wednesday, the Caps were just one point behind the Pens for the Metropolitan division lead. With NBC in town, the good old days of the late ’00s were back — even if Brooks Laich didn’t give a crap.
Unfortunately, the game was less Snovechkin and more 2009 Semifinals game seven.
Paul Martin put the Pens up early through a screen that make Braden Holtby look foolish. Rejected Gossip Girl character Beau Bennett stretched the lead to two on a two-on-four — yes two-on-four — for Pittsburgh midway through the first. The second frame was utterly boring until ya boy Sidney Crosby unleashed an Ovi shot from the Ovi spot on the power play to put the Pens up by three. James Neal added another in the third.
Worst. Pens Blank Caps 4-0.
The play happens at the 38-second mark.
During Friday’s series-sweeping Boston win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Brad Marchand did his thing. But I’m not here to chronicle another Louganisian dive or a infuriating cheap shot, instead I want to take a look at what happened when he tried to steal Sidney Crosby‘s stick during a line-change.
As Crosby dumps the puck into the Bruins zone, Marchand, loading up to make a big hit, instead softly shoves the Penguins captain in the left shoulder. Crosby skates away, but Marchand isn’t finished chatting. He grabs Crosby’s stick and refuses to let go.
Marchand is a toddler, sure, but the interesting part is Pierre McGuire and his reaction. Pierre, with a look of concern, raises his right hand twice and then, after flinching backwards from the players, lunges forward, and smiles. It’s creepy.
The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the 2013 playoffs as the best team in the East. Hands down. They led the league in goals despite losing ever-vainglorious Sidney Crosby to plastic surgery mid-season. It seemed like a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals would be a cakewalk, even moreso once The Kid returned.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s first round cognitive flatulence from last year made an (un?)expected return. He was benched after four fecal games against the Islanders. Opting instead for Tomas “I have a really surprising amount of tattoos” Vokoun, the Pens’ rickety ship got rightened long enough to beat the Islanders and the Senators.
But now, against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, hockey’s golden goose Sidney Crosby has been diagnosed with a virulent case of the Fleuries. Crosby had a bevy of boondoggles in game one, which I’ll document below, including a Sean Avery-esque shove of Tuukka Rask at the end of the second period that in a just world would have resulted in a They Live-style brawl. Then, in game two, on his first shift, Crosby served up a tasty turnover that led to Boston’s first goal. That set the tone for the game, which was the most deliciously pathetic thing we’ve had the privilege to watch in a long time. The Bruins lead the series 2-0, and the Pens — well, they’re in trouble, dude.
Listen. I’ve been taunted by Penguins fans all my life. This is overdue.
Photo credit: Andre Ringuette
Earlier I wrote about how the Hart Trophy was a poorly defined award of limited value. Now I’ll share why I think Alex Ovechkin absolutely must have it. I’m going to share some stats and rebut some excuses, but the whole thing boils down to this: the Capitals needed the best from Ovechkin, and he delivered it.
But first, I’m going to repeat what we talked about before. This is the most valuable player to his team, not just the best all-around player. If we’re talking best player? I’d say it’s Sidney Crosby. Hands down. But most valuable? And to his team? That’s a more interesting conversation. And now, baby, you’ve got a stew going.
Photo credit: Francois Lacasse
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.
I saw this on eBay and I just had to have it. Capitals Sport & Decor, a memorabilia shop at Dulles Town Center, sometimes hosts signings with Washington Capitals players. They put up some of their extra signed merchandise up on eBay, and that’s where I unearthed this gem. It’s a signed 16 x 20 photo of Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz checking Sidney Crosby down to the ice. Schultz’s signature is at bottom. To the left is an inscription that reads, “Hows the Wood Sid!”
I repeat: “Hows the Wood Sid!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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