Ovechkin, Unassisted: Capitals/Penguins Game 7

“Ovechkin, unassisted”;  in addition to being the offical scorer’s line on Washington’s first goal tonight, those two words provide a useful guide to most of the series between the Capitals and Penguins.

The NHL zebras aren't the problem, Caps fans

As I write this, the third period is winding down and running out the clock on the Capitals’ season.  Already,  the fans of DC’s hockeyists at Japers’ Rink are lamenting their fate, turning on their team and blaming the referees in earnest.  Caps fans are convinced that the zebras are against them in general, likely because of a suspicion (rooted in paranoia, but also based on the Penguins’ historical dominance over their club) that the league is in the tank for their poster boy, Penguins forward Sidney Crosby.  Going in to this game, the Caps had been shorthanded 11 more times than their Pennsylvanian rivals;  the conspiracy theorists would have you believe that this is evidence of bias in the officiating, but it’s not.  The officiating has been terrible – Laich’s penalty with two minutes to go in a tied game 6 was brutal, and the penalty on Morrisonn at the eleven minute mark of the first period tonight was laughable.  It is true that the Penguins’ goal on the ensuing power play ignited the rout.  But all in all, the Caps were undisciplined and reckless;  that type of play inevitably results in time spent in the penalty box.  Stung by the Penguins power-play in general (and Crosby in particular), the Caps refused to adjust and paid the price for their intransigence.  The league and its officials didn’t do the Caps in;  they didn’t have to.  The Caps did a good enough job of that for themselves.

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Ovechkin Needs More of His 'Mates in the Picture

There is plenty of blame to go around for the loss of this series.  After playing a terrific first two games and showing some defensive responsibility and commitment to teamwork, the wheels fell off the Washington bus.  In general, the Capitals seemed to simply wait for Ovechkin to carry them to victory;  the balance of the supporting cast – with the exception of Backstrom, who (in my opinion) was tremendous – played either poorly or ineffectively and the Penguins won 4 of the next 5 games.  Ovechkin unassisted indeed.

The Capitals’ failure began in net. Simeon Varlamov coughed up brutally soft goals in at least two of those games, including the second Penguin goal tonight (a cheap five-hole gift scored 8 seconds after the first Penguin marker).    Bad goals are like gut punches; it takes the wind out of a team and steals energy straight from their legs.  Certainly in tonight’s game 7, the difference between the Capitals’ level of jump pre- and post- second goal was noticeable.  It seemed that the team disappeared almost entirely after Varlamov coughed up a hairball at a critical moment in the game.  The Penguins had clearly identified a weakness in Varlamov’s game high on the glove side, and the soft goals kept coming, derailing any chance of a comeback.  The Capitals couldn’t, and didn’t, recover from subpar goaltending.  I know the fellows in the game thread at Japers’ Rink were busy talking themselves into Varlamov as their goalie of the future, or at least challenging Michal Neuvirth for the number one spot.   The young goalie played very well at times, especially early in the Rangers series – but the fact remains that this stone cold rookie was only in the series at all because veteran netminder Jose Theodore had laid a stinking turd in the first game of the playoffs;  bad enough for coach Bruce Boudreau to give up on him almost immediately as the post season began.  In addition, even while winning the Rangers series, Varlamov seemed panicked and scrambly, fighting the puck at times;  he was fortunate that the Rangers offence was so anemic.  He would not be so lucky when he faltered in round two against Crosby, Malkin and the rest of the Penguins.

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Too Many Pucks Got Behind Capitals Goaltenders This Year

Bottom line:  even with a 2-0 series lead, you can’t afford to have your goaltender give away two games to the defending Conference champions and expect to win.

Varlamov was not alone in coughing up defensive hairballs;  one enduring image of this series for me will be the sight of Sidney Crosby standing unopposed off the right post of the Capitals’ net, whacking at loose pucks repeatedly – and NOT being bowled over for his efforts.  All of the Capitals defenders were guilty of playing the puck and not the man in desperate times, and it cost the Capitals five or six goals over the course of the series.

Speaking of the Capitals defenders, Mike Green seemed simply unable to contribute in his usual fashion.  Aside from one or two plays – I am thinking of a pass he made to Ovie for a bullet one-time goal in game two and the play he made walking in off the point before scoring top cheese on Fleury in game six – Green was not a factor.  This despite this blog’s call to him for action.  I believe that Green had to have been injured throughout the playoffs;  he simply didn’t show the dazzling speed and laser-quick transition to attack that we saw in last year’s postseason and throughout the league schedule this year.

Laich and Semin too seemed lost and easily handled by a steady but unexceptional Pittsburgh defence.   Too often when the Capitals were facing a deficit and needing a spark, these players and others (including Ovechkin himself) chose to attempt to generate chances and offence all by themselves, preferring a relatively easy shot from the perimeter or a lone-ranger rush rather than working together to produce quality high percentage scoring opportunities.

It’s not all gloom and doom for Caps fans.  The team has a core of quality offensive talent, including the game’s most exciting and gifted offensive talent, and a Norris-trophy candidate defenseman.  Backstrom is under-rated as a puck carrier, playmaker and offensive threat, and Laich, Semin, Bradley, Steckel Fleischmann and Erskine have all shown evidence of playing at a high level and performing useful functions for a winning team.  Remember that in the 90’s, the Detroit Red Wings had to endure a series of half a dozen disappointing playoff exits before gaining sufficient postseason experience to enable them to win the Stanley Cup in ’96-’97.   Even the great Oilers team of the mid-80s had to lose to (then) perennial Cup Champion New York Islanders in the Final before learning what it takes to win and starting a dynasty of their own.  Hell, all the Washingtonians had to do is look across the faceoff circle deep into the Penguins’ eyes;  Pittsburgh is a young team that feels the ache of getting to a Cup final and losing – it happened just last year.  Only time will tell if the Penguins have truly mastered the lesson taught.

The point is that the Caps weren’t supposed to win last year, and they weren’t supposed to win the Cup this year either.  The team has, however, been in a playoff crucible over the past two seasons, playing seven win-or-go-home  games while contesting just three seven game series.  No doubt, management has learned much about the team, and the players have learned much about themselves.  The club knows what it has – and what it does not.  Defence remains a priority, as does a physical presence that can generate energy on the third line.  I pointed out to Caps fans back in February that goaltending was a concern, and in my opinion poor goaltending nearly cost the Caps the series against the Rangers;  that deficiency (in the form of too many soft goals) did cost them the series against the Penguins, notwithstanding Varlamov’s occasional brilliance.  As pointed out, the young netminder has shown some true capability, but he has also been shown to have a glaring and obvious weakness on his glove side;  he will need to address that problem with significant work over the summer to have a chance of remaining in the league in the long-term.   If Capitals management is smart, they will pursue an upgrade in net over the summer whether through the draft, or more likely via free agency or the trade market.  The window of opportunity for a young and talented Capitals team will begin to open perhaps as early as next year;  the organization cannot affort to wager the future on Varlamov at this time, because – in addition to moments of undoubted otherworldly brilliance – he has shown himself to be pedestrian at times.

It’ll be a long and bitter summer for Ovechkin, his teammates and Washington management.  If they all learn the proper lessons from it, it will prove to be a good thing for the team in the long run.

(h/t to Fehr and Balanced for the post title)

Game 6: One More Like That, Please!

Wow, Washington and Pittsburgh served up another beauty tonight.  At one point in the third period, I recall Gord Miller telling me that there had been four lead changes in the game.

The final two minutes of the 3rd were beyond belief.  The slashing penalty that caused all of this called at the blueline by referee Denis Larue was ridiculous in my estimation, and the Caps would have deservedly felt they had been hosed out of the series had the Penguins been able to bang one home on the ensuing power play to win the game.  Happily, the hockey gods seem to have a sense of justice in this series – a playful one, one in which the team scoring first does not fare very well – but a sense of justice nonetheless.

And so we come to another Game 7 Wednesday night in D.C., where the faithful will be Rocking the Red for sure and blowing the lid off the joint.   Hopefully, the Caps step on to the ice a more determined, prepared and disciplined crew than they did in the last game, or the Crosbys will be the ones smiling broadly during the post-game handshakes.

To try and get some good Capitals (and Varlamov – anybody else think he’s still looking a little shaky?)  mojo going for my adopted team once again, here’s another picture of Ovie that I took at a Caps/Lightning game in February.

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Ovechkin Plus Puck Equals Da Bomb

p.s:  Still working on the tale of my recent adventures – but it was beautiful outside tonight and there was hockey to be watched, so…you get “photographs and meh” instead of the unadulterated awesomeness that naturally evolves from any story in which I collide heavily with objects of even more substantial mass than myself, such as (for example) the Earth.

Mike Green: Game Too?

Prior to Game One of The Crosbys vs. The Ovechkins, I posted a photo I took of Alex Ovechkin in February during our visit to the Sunshine State (otherwise known as the Week We Retired).

Keeping in mind the worldwide influence of this blog, it would seem apparent to me that the appearance of the said photograph directly contributed to the Caps’ victory over their arch-rivals.   No doubt it was my photography that spurred the Gr8 Eight to play up to his potential, begin to justify the hype concerning this series and to chip in a goal to boot.  In addition, I am sure that Simeon Varlamov’s otherworldly performance was his way of attempting to grab the attention of these pages and to earn the posting of an image of his own.

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It's been THIS LONG since I scored. Seriously.

Because the Caps are my adopted team once again this post-season, and because I believe very strongly that the Penguins will play better in Game Two, I am going to use some ninja psychology on the 21-year old Capital netminder:  I am going to decline once again to post his photograph hereabouts.  Instead, I shall post a picture of Calgary speedster and Norris trophy candidate Mike Green.  I am posting this photo of Green because:

  1. It might help him remember what to do if he happens to be involved in a play during which the Capitals advance the puck into the Penguins’ net – unless he’s been drywalling his ceiling at home, it’s been a while since Green has had occasion to raise his arms over his head; and
  2. If the appearance of this photo doesn’t spur Green on to change his approach to the game, a public posting of this image might get it considered for use on the side of the milk carton that will inevitably begin circulating inside the Beltway as those Rockin’ the Red begin to earnestly wonder about Green’s wherabouts.

Seriously, Mike, one shot on goal in twenty-six minutes of ice time and a partially blown coverage that led to your boy Simeon’s masterpiece save just aren’t getting it done right now;  not for a marquee player that the Capitals are depending on.  Anyway, Ovie, Green and their mates better cowboy up and get ready for a different kind of rodeo tonight.

Update 12:10 p.m. : On Frozen Blog is reporting that Capitals defenceman John Erskine left the morning skate early and that the Caps have recalled prospect defensemen Karl Alzner and Tyler Sloan from their AHL affiliate, Hershey (a club that is itself involved in a playoff series, believe it or not against the Penguins’ AHL farm team).  Erskine was half of the duo I saw Boudreau matching up with Sidney Crosby in Game One (Fedorov was Sid the Kid’s shadow by times as well).   Injuries on the blueline to critical personnel combined  with an undoubted sense of urgency among the Penguins to bring a better game mean that the Caps’ task tonight will be significantly more difficult.  I’m pulling for them, but I foresee a Penguins victory tonight following an improved showing from both Crosby and Malkin.

Elsewhere on the Ice Tonight

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Keep on checking to make more checks: Go Spits Go!

A certain Major Junior A team from a certain City located in the extremities of Southwestern Ontario takes to the ice tonight against the Brampton Batallion for Game 3 of the Ontario Hockey League Championship Final.  I have had some difficulty getting the live streaming audio from CKLW AM 800 to work properly for me throughout the OHL playoffs;  I am hoping that won’t be the case tonight.  Obviously, I have a choice to make – Crosbys vs. Ovechkins or Spits/Batallion.  I think I’ll probably watch the NHL game on the tube and try to record the Spits broadcast using Freecorder;  then I’ll listen to the .mp3 of the Spits game broadcast on my iPod when I go to bed.  How far indeed – and yet not so far at all – we have come from those days falling asleep listening to Dave Quinn’s call of the game over my crystal radio set.  The technology has changed radically;  35 years later, I’m still looking forward to the excitement of the Spits on the radio.

This Afternoon…

It is, as Spouse has dubbed the Series, “Crosbys vs. Ovechkins” in an intriguing second-round matchup of two of the game’s most marketable and thrilling stars. My allegiance, of course, lies with my adoptive team: the Washington Capitals. A playoff orphan, in view of the continued on ice suck-itude at Bay and Front, I am once again cheering for the Caps and this guy:

Alexander Ovechkin Feb 14 09 vs. Tampa
Ovechkin prepares to drop a bomb from the point on the Tampa Bay goalie

Update: Holy goalie Batman, Simeon Varlamov was awesome.   Ovechkin had a great game (at one point early in the second period, I had him with one goal, two posts and another quality scoring chance that Fleury stoned him on) – but Varlamov made the difference in this one.

I thought the Capitals came out a little flat and let the Penguins control the play in the first period, and the young goaltender stood his ground pretty well.  He couldn’t be faulted for missing Crosby’s rocket from the slot at around the 5 minute mark.   The Washingtonians seemed to come on after Steckel got what was essentially a fluky goal on a weird bounce right on to his stick in front of Fleury.  The Gr8 Eight started to put on a bit of a show following that, including one sequence where he went basically Harlem Globetrotters on Matt Cooke in the neutral zone, irritating the Penguin forward enough to cause him to draw a hooking penalty. The Caps scored on the ensuing power play.

The Crosbys drew even in the second period on a long shot from the point that Varlamov appeared to misjudge;  the puck glanced off his glove and ended up behind him.  Momentum in the game could easily have swung back to the Pittsburgh bench at that point – after all, despite carrying the play for the majority of the game, the Penguins were even up on the road.  Crosby and his mates sensed the opportunity and put on a push late in the second, and it was here that Varlamov truly shone.  In what may turn out to be the save of the entire playoffs, just minutes after the blunder that tied the game, Varlamov turned away a certain goal off the stick of Sidney Crosby on a bang-bang play in deep.  A turnover up ice had given the Penguins an opportunity on the rush.  The Penguins played their attack perfectly, criss-crossing on the way into the Washington zone. Mike Green and Tom Poti bungled the defensive coverage, with Poti switching off fluidly but Green seeming to hesitate. The end result was that Sidney Crosby was briefly totally uncovered to Varlamov’s right. The Penguins’ puck carrier Chris Kunitz saw the opening and fed the puck quickly cross ice to Crosby, leaving the Capitals’ cage essentially undefended from the Penguin captain’s vantage point. A Penguin goal seemed inevitable, but Varlamov would not quit. As Crosby redirected the pass perfunctorily towards the open net, Varlamov turned, dove across the crease and extended his stick in an emergency maneuver. He blocked Crosby’s tap-in at the very moment that it arrived sliding along the ice at the goal line.  With that save, instead of facing a one-goal deficit at the end of the second, the Caps headed to the dressing in the intermission with a chance to regroup and get back to the responsible defence and deadly counter-attack tactics that had served them well since approximately half way through the first period.

The third period was almost an anticlimax;  you could sense at that moment that the Caps had regained whatever confidence had momentarily been lost in their 21-year old rookie goalie.  They continued to press the attack and – although Pittsburgh, to their credit, did not fold – the final result was never seriously in doubt.

Following game 7 of the Rangers/Caps series, Spouse and I were both of the view that the Caps could not beat the Penguins.   I am equally certain now that I was wrong about that;  I had not given the Caps enough credit for their defensive ability.  They won’t fool anybody into believing they’re the vintage trap-era New Jersey Devils, but – aside from the opening eight or ten minutes of the game – they played a discipline and committed system.  Sergei Fedorov and John Erskine in particular were both generally terrific on Sidney Crosby.  Malkin and Jordan Staal were more or less invisible.

On the whole, the game was exciting and filled with fast moving, creative and exciting hockey.  I won’t be missing a minute of it.

Keeping in mind that in days gone by I have been one of the all-time hugest defenders of CBC play-by-play man Bob Cole, it has to be mentioned that Bob is definitely showing signs that he is now well past his prime and ready for retirement. That Simeon Varlamov play? Coley missed it entirely – he had Crosby’s shot going off the post. The most amazing save of the playoffs, and Bob didn’t see it.

Brian Burke: Is You Is Or Is You Isn’t?

As much as I hate the suits at MLSE with the white hot burning heat of a thousand suns, I can’t quarrel too much with their deliberate pace on this hiring decision to date.  It’s a tough decision, and one that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of the organization.  The reason that I despise the current board is, of course, its abject failure to avoid meddling with the affairs of the hockey team over the last few years, coupled with its failure to install a chief executive Brian Burkewith sufficient vision and experience to plan for success in the post-lockout environment.  That having been said, it would appear that the board has, since the firing of John Ferguson Jr., made the right decision: to correct its mistake in that regard and hire a top-quality chief executive to whom control over the hockey operations will be ceded.  In other words, MLSE has decided that maybe they ought not to do this job themselves.  I congratulate them for making the right call at this critical first step of the decision-making process;  it is so obviously the right decision, it’s kind of like congratulating your kid for deciding (for the third day this week!) not to eat a jar of paste while at school, but it’s important to celebrate even modest successes with those who have intellectual challenges and to positively re-inforce behaviour we want to encourage.  So yay, MLSE!

Step two of the hiring process was to find the right person to replace John Ferguson Jr.  Apparently unable to locate a person with the right credentials on a permanent basis last spring, the club turned to Cliff Fletcher and asked him to act as steward of the club’s fortunes during the initial stages of the rebuilding process. In doing so, the Leafs successfully managed to put one foot in front of the other. (Again, yay!)  Fletcher has, it must be said, acquitted himself quite well since his appointment: he made a deal on draft day that got the Leafs into position to pick up Luke Schenn;  he signed Niklas Hagman and Jeff Finger; for every questionable acquisition (Ryan Hollweg), there has been a great pickup (I’m looking at you, Mikhail Grabovski); for every Jamal Mayers, a Mike Van Ryn. It is too early to say whether these players, and others (such as recently acquired Lee Stempniak ) constitute the necessary pieces of the puzzle, though it is unlikely that they form the core of a Cup winning team.  To get there, some of these assets will have to be moved elsewhere, and fresh talent added to the basic building blocks at a later date.  At this stage, as we’ve been told by team officials, it’s not about wins and losses:  it’s about changing a culture of entitlement that had settled over the dressing room – a debilitating malaise that somehow begun interfering with the players’ performance.  At step two, Cliff Fletcher earns the MLSE another passing grade.

Ovie’s Overtime?

Game 7 between the Capitals and Flyers is now going to overtime. A pretty good game with some (again) horrid officiating. It is difficult to know what gets a guy a penalty in this league any more. Ritual decapitation? Is that always a penalty? Even late in the third period of a tied game 7? Argh. The situational ethics of NHL officiating continue to frustrate me.

My picks for the goal scorer: for the Caps, I have to go with Ovechkin, he’s had at least four amazing chances so far tonight, the guy is just a force of nature; for the Flyers, I just know it’s going to be Daniel Briere, and then I’ll have to think about that stupid fist-pumping thing he does for the next few weeks.

Update:  Crap! At least it wasn’t Briere.  Dilemma:  sounds like the Habs play the Flyers in the next round.  I hate both teams.

Gr8 Game Seven Coming

Watching Game 6 of the Caps/Flyers series tonight, I was struck by how great a game Mike Green was having. From the hit he laid on Sami Kapanen (the one where they had to get the Philly Fire Department to pick l’il Sami out of the rigging up in the rafters) to his rapid and purposeful sprints up ice, to his masterful puck handling along the Flyers blueline while on the attack, Green made me a believer. I wish this guy was on our team.

Of course, Green’s play was overshadowed by that of certain a hairy Russian force of nature. What a play Ovechkin made on the go-ahead goal; he blocked the point shot of his constant tormentor Timmonen, then immediately broke for open ice between the two Flyers defencemen, instinctively knowing that the partially blocked shot would surely be recovered by Kozlov and that he had an opportunity for a breakaway – but only if he didn’t hesitate. Ovechkin took two lightning quick steps towards centre and was eight feet past a now very alarmed Timmonen and the much maligned Kozlov hit Ovechkin on the tape with a beautiful pass as Ovie blazed up the middle of the ice. Everybody in the rink, including Martin Biron, knew that Alex the Gr8 would not be denied, and moments later the Caps had taken a very improbable lead.

The Philadelphia fans had barely resumed breathing through their open mouths when, for a change, it was the Flyers who took a “too many men” penalty (really, Gabby – three of those in the last couple of games is waaaaay too many). On the ensuing powerplay, Ovechkin was served up another beautiful pass, this one from Brooks Laich and Ovechkin hammered that thing so hard, everybody seated in the stands behind the goal ought to immediately drive to the nearest church, synagogue, mosque or temple and thank the resident deity or deities that Ovie’s shot bulged the twine, because if that puck had hit the glass it would have killed everybody in the first six rows. Do you think that game will shut the TV monkeys up about Ovechkin needing to “step up”? Probably not; five’ll get you ten that’s still the main theme harped upon by the flapping gums – “monster” or not.

Alex’s interview on TSN after the game was awesome; it was so obvious to me that he wanted to strap the blades on and play Rasputin-PDGame Seven RIGHT NOW. This guy is Rasputin on skates – aside from the near spooky physical resemblance, there is the matter of Mr. Ovechkin’s superhuman constitution to be addressed. He played a shift in the second period that lasted well over two minutes of concerted attack. The Flyers may well need a group of Russian assassins and some cyanide-laced confections to take down their hirsute nemesis, because neither the substantial hits applied within the rules by Richards, Umberger and others, nor the straight up punches to the back of the head administered by the ever-classy Derian Hatcher have done the trick, and the hitherto-successful Philadelphia scheme for Ovechkin prophylaxis by the constant application of major doses of Timmonen has run its course. Ovie has figured out how to get away from that coverage, as evidenced by the six shots he had on goal in Game Five and the further seven (not to mention two goals) he added tonight.

This is going to be a great Game Seven.

Can I ask what the hell Pierre McGuire was babbling on about when he kept referring to Martin Biron’s “active glove”? Umm, Pierre, that’s just stupid. No goalie has a “passive” glove. They catch stuff with them. They’re called “trappers” and “blockers” for a reason; these items of equipment represent an active concept. Anyone who stands there just waiting to get hit, is… well, Andrew Raycroft does that. Perhaps that’s a bad example, but you get my meaning.

As for the other game this evening, I didn’t see much of the Habs/Bruins Game Seven. I did see Game Six of that series and much of Game Five too. One thing I don’t understand is the media babble about Carey Price supposedly having come apart at the seams. The so-called experts point to the ten goals surrendered by the Habs ‘tender in those two games and lazily conclude that Price played poorly. Now I’m no Habs fan, but I do know a classy and talented kid when I see one – Spouse and I were lucky enough to see almost all of Price’s games with the Hamilton Bulldogs during last year’s Calder Cup winning run – and Price is most certainly getting a bum rap from the wags on that one. Yes, he coughed up the puck late in Game Five to put the B’s ahead, and yes, he looked rattled after he made that rookie mistake, but none of the five that got past him on Saturday night in Game Six could be called soft goals. The pundits ought to have been asking where the defensive coverage and veteran leadership was on the Habs bench; how, it might fairly be asked, were the Bruins allowed to continually come back and score throughout the third period? With the series on the line, the Habs got a questionable effort from the Kovalev unit, for example, which was a -3 on the evening. I do not recall hearing much mention being made of that fact; it’s too easy, I guess, to point the finger at the goalie. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for whatever kind of Habs-related misery there can be, but it’s the job of those in the media to correctly identify the reasons why the Habs suck, not to pin the whole shootin’ match on  a twenty year old rookie who was playing in the WHL last year at this time.

Birds, Louts, and Losing

A couple of days ago, I congratulated myself for sticking with this blog project fairly consistently. I then promptly disappeared for a couple of days. So it goes.

A few things:

As I type this post, I am seated out back of the family estate here in Juniorvania on a Muskoka chair that needs a coat of paint and some TLC. Nevertheless, the birds are chirping, the wind is rustling through the trees, even I can see that there are buds in places that used to feature only bare branches, and the daffodils have announced their yellow presence throughout my general vicinity. I am in my shirt sleeves and the sun is shining. I do not have to work today, and in a couple of hours I’m going to go in and watch a playoff hockey game. The wireless signal produced by the JBC geegaws is of sufficient strength to permit me to chronicle my indolence from this most favoured position.  Life is good.

I became aware of this as a result of a comment by PPP in a post over at Pension Plan Puppets. It’s truly sickening.

Hugo Contant’s only connection to countryman Jean Pierre Masse was that he happened to be close enough on Causeway Street after the game to see Masse try to walk past about two dozen drunken Bruins boors.

“He (Masse) was wearing glasses,” Contant recalled yesterday. “And he had a red Canadiens shirt on. When he approached them, they began yelling things like, ‘Go home, you French (expletive)’ – things like that. I heard (Masse) laugh and say, ‘We don’t want to fight . . . we don’t want any trouble,’ as he tried to pass. Then someone punched him once, maybe twice, in the face. He went down and his eyeglasses came off.

“That is when I see this other man in the Bruins shirt walk up and kick him in the head, while the man was still laying in the street,” Contant said. “And then he kicked him again in the face. That’s when I ran to him, because I thought they would kill him. When I got to him, I thought he was dead. That is when I screamed, ‘Look what you’ve done!’ ”

It is truly astonishing to me that some people apparently have so little going on in their own lives that they would even consider physically assaulting a complete stranger because of his support for a rival sports team. All joking aside, I have real difficulty conceiving of the complete and utter lack of basic civility and humanity that facilitate the commission of such an act.

Obviously, such behaviour is unacceptable. As I indicated in my reply to PPP’s comment, I think that morally, we are obliged to prevent such things from happening where possible, and that we must see to it that those who do offend in this way are punished severely. If we do not, we are to a certain extent complicit in this outrage. There will be a tendency among newspaper columnists and other social commentators, eager for the easy angle I suspect, to try to make this an issue about Boston sports fans, or perhaps American culture; any such attempts to neatly confine the issue are, in my opinion, misguided because they fail to admit of the possibility that it could have happened anywhere. Neither the City of Boston nor the United States of America has cornered the market on hooliganism and loutish behaviour.

Keeping that proviso in mind – that I do not suggest that either Bostonians or Americans are uniquely or especially morally defective – it seems to me that at the very least, the Boston Bruins ought to be all over this incident. They ought to be making an example of the waste of skin in the Jason Allison jersey ( ! ) who did this to Mr. Masse and any other person that they believe to be involved. For starters, they ought to be taking steps to ensure that nobody who participates in anything remotely like this is ever admitted to a Bruins game again. They ought to go public with an announcement to that effect, and they ought to make it clear that they will not tolerate, under any circumstances, any kind of association with those who behave in such a fashion. The other NHL clubs ought to be adopting similar policies and security measures, and the league as a whole ought to speak out immediately and emphatically on this issue, making it clear that violence and hooliganism will not be tolerated in any way. I recognize that the NHL is big business, and that taking such a stance may be more problematic in certain markets than others (I’m looking in your direction, Philadelphia). I further recognize that the last thing the league wants to do, on the best of days, is to re-ignite the eternal debate about the role of violence in hockey, a topic that will inevitably arise as those with sport-related agendas and small brains will point to fights on the ice as somehow “causing” an incident like this. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for the league to take a principled and ethical stand on an issue of general societal importance; we ought to demand no less from good corporate citizens.

As for our own individual conduct, we should each of us remember this sickening incident and see to it – by policing ourselves – that no one around us is ever permitted to cross the line separating civilization from barbarism again. Long before the scumbag in the Allison jersey went off on Mr. Masse that night, he was asshole. There were people around him who knew he was an asshole. They failed to make it clear to him that he was behaving like an asshole and that he needed to not be doing that. Those who failed to discourage such behaviour are not guilty of assaulting Mr. Masse; they do not have his blood on their hands. They have, however, most assuredly failed us and failed our society in general.

Game Five, Washington/Philadelphia: I was left with two lingering thoughts following Knuble’s goal in double overtime to end Game 4. First, I wondered where this game would fit for Caps fans in Bill Simmons’ “Levels of Losing” taxonomy. At first, I was convinced that this had to be a “Level XII” or “Achilles Heel” loss because it seemed to me that Washington’s defencemen were revealed to be so obviously and woefully overmatched in this game (particularly the uniformly execrable Milan “Here, Let Me Tee That Up For You” Jurcina) that no other description could possibly apply. On further review, however (he says, holding the little black phone to his ear and jamming the other finger, the one with the whistle clipped on to it, in his other ear to staunch the crowd noise) I believe this to have been a “Level VIII” or “Dead Man Walking” loss: Jurcina in particular had played badly in the series prior to Game 4, and even the otherwise heroic Mike Green had committed some costly turnovers in all three previous games, so I think it would be a little false to characterize this loss as revealing a hitherto secret weakness on a contender. Rather, it seems to me that this loss was one from which mentally, it is likely that there is no coming back for the team. The Capitals got such outstanding goaltending from Cristobal Huet, and as a team they hung in there so tough in the face of an amazing amount of adversity – the five minutes shorthanded in period one, brutal officiating that allowed the Flyers to unleash their elbows at will, their own stupidity in taking not one, but two “too many men on the ice” calls, more brutal officiating that had Victor Kozlov in the box for a laughable goaltender interference penalty with less than three minutes to go in a tied game that they HAD to win – and they came so close to winning in spite of it all, but it was not to be. The point is that they had the chance to turn the tide in the series – a win in that game, in the face of all that adversity would have given their legs an incredible burst of energy stemming straight from enhanced confidence. Instead, they went down 3-1 and have to suspect, in their heart of hearts, that it is not meant to be. They are Dead Men Walking.

Second, as I have noted elsewhere, in my opinion the person who ought to be most ashamed of his performance in this post-season (with the possible exception of the aforementioned Mr. Jurcina) is Steven Walkom, the NHL’s Director of Officiating. Seriously, what the hell is going on this year? There have been goals scored when the attacking team was offside. There have been goals disallowed because the official was “intending” to blow the whistle. The types of calls being made within games and from game-to-game vary so broadly and erratically that the referees have become nothing but a laughable source of frustration for the fans and players of every team. In what world was it fair for the referee to banish Kozlov for goaltender interference (please read, “being propelled into the goaltender by an opposition player”) with 3 minutes remaining in the third period of a tie game, and yet no call at all was made when a Philadelphia player (it may even have been Knuble, now that I think of it) steamrollered right over Huet in overtime? Bugger the fiction that it’s fair to “let the players decide” by putting the whistles away: that philosophy of officiating gives an advantage to a team that takes physical liberties with its opposition. If you can make it into overtime with a bunch of muggers and goons, your opposition is doomed because they don’t stand a chance of surviving the extra frame. This type of “situational ethics” is exactly the kind of thing that engenders suspicion of the officiating in general. If it’s a penalty in the first period, it’s a penalty in the second overtime. Call it, and call it the same for both teams. How hard is that to understand as a mission statement for the zebras?

Twenty-five minutes to game time now. I need to go run a couple of quick errands, then settle down in front of the tube. Ovechkin and Semin need to dominate early in this game, and the Caps need to score early and often. If they can win this one, who knows what might happen – but I suspect they are Dead Men Walking.

Manifesto Dept.

By now – not now, as in “when you’re reading this” but now, as in “while I’m mashing the keys with my sausage fingers”, the nervous anticipation is starting to settle in among Caps fans. I remember it well from 1993 in particular, this anxious thrill that comes over a fan when “his” (or “her” – my Canada includes loser domi too) team is competing in the playoffs and there is an undeniable feeling that something very memorable is about to happen.

I have read what Sean has to say about the fan-tourism of the Adopt-a-team project over at Pension Plan Puppets, and I respect the singularity of his dedication to his chosen team – my chosen team. I can’t help but think, though, that he’s missing the boat on this one and is feeling his principles unnecessarily under attack with the invitation to join us in cheering on the Capitals. After offering a anecdote involving Kerry Fraser-related catharsis in D.C. (well, okay, it would have been Landover, Md at the time) Sean confesses to a soft spot for the Caps but says:

…I can’t do it, PPP. I can’t jump on another team’s bandwagon, even temporarily. I’ll watch. Maybe even cheer. But I won’t call the Caps my team. I’m a Leafs fan and a Leafs fan only until the day I die (which will be this summer, by the way, of self-inflicted head wounds when we don’t get Brian Burke.

In this, I think Sean implicitly confesses to a slight misunderstanding about the nature of our project. I too am a Leafs fan. I’m not rooting for a “second favourite” team as we go along in to the playoffs; what I’m doing is choosing to support a particular team now that my team has been eliminated from competition, simply to enhance my enjoyment of playoffs as a hockey fan.

Let me explain: It happens (almost) every year anyway. As I follow the playoffs and watch the Stanley Cup final, once the Leafs have been eliminated, I find myself preferring one club over the other; in this series, I want the Red Wings to lose (old Norris division rivalries die hard) so I cheer the Predators or Sharks; in the next, the Senators must lose to please my sense of sporting justice, so I hope – at least for the moment – that Malkin’s aim is true and Marc-Andre Fleury can channel the spirit of Tom Barrasso out of the rafters of the Igloo (and yes, I know none of that is going to make me any friends among the Washington faithful). This year, what I have done – in the absence of a Maple Leaf entry in the tournament – is cast my overall rooting sympathies into the corner of a team with which the Leafs have no particular grudge, and for whose fans the average Leaf supporter can feel some empathy.

Project Adopt-a-Team Underway.

Blatantly swiped graphic from Japers’ Rink, posted there as a welcome for those of us clambering aboard the bandwagon and shouting “Just say OVIE!”


Thanks to the folks there, and the folks at On Frozen Blog for throwing out the welcome mat for us in a big way.

I got home right at 7:00 only to find that TSN was showing golf, for God’s sake. I know it’s the Masters, but dude – anyone who’s still chasing their ball around the course at 7 pm isn’t likely to win, am I right? Thus, as a result of some idiot in Programming’s questionable decision-making, I was consigned to watch as some fool in even more questionable pants stood with his hands on his hips in the middle of a wooded area, evidently in the area of a golf ball, instead of Ovie and the boys taking to the ice as the Phone Booth goes batshit for playoff hockey. I also missed Donald Brashear’s opening goal, though I did manage to catch the replay of both the goal and the most unco-ordinated seizure masquerading as a celebration I’ve ever seen.

Instead, I flipped over to CBC and caught a bit of the first period of Game 2 in the Ottawa/Pittsburgh series. The first period is now over and the Senaturds are down 1-0, having been outshot by a margin of 20-8 in the opening frame. What a bunch of lame ass mailer-inners, and I oughta know – I watched a lot of Leaf games this year.

Anyway, apparently enough old guys are now finished spraying their Titleists into various ponds to permit the telecast of the Caps game to continue. Excuse me, I’m going to enjoy having a team in the playoffs for a while.

Update: What a finish! The Caps had a collective brain fart there in the second period and coughed up three quick ones to Philly. Down 4-2 to begin the third, first Mike Green and then the Great 8 willed the Caps on to a rousing victory. First Green pots a backhand on a lovely feed from an apparently rejuvenated Sergei Federov, then he goes all Bobby Orr and pops one in past a stunned Marty Biron and wooshes overhead like some badass F-18 for good measure. Then, with the score tied and little more than a minute remaining, Ovechkin makes like a freaking wizard, casts some crazy voodoo spell on Kukkonen and turns him into stone steals the puck deep in the Flyers’ zone. In a flash, he’s rocketing towards Biron, who tries to go to his left as fast as Ovechkin is cutting for far post. ovtallBiron seems to stumble and is going down; simultaneously, Ovechkin-wan-Kenobi unleashes a fucking laser that hurtles through space so quickly Einstein sits up in his grave and says “holy shit.” 5-4 Caps, and Ovechkin looks like he’s trying to knock down the rink board glass as the entire Phone Booth has a collective brain aneurysm and collapses inward under the weight of its own joy. Game over, comeback complete, and a classic moment for the ages from a truly remarkable player. Just say Ovie!

I flip quickly over to CBC to see what’s up with the Sens/Pens. I am dismayed to see that the Senators have finally managed to put a couple biscuits in the basket and the game is tied at 3-3. I curse loudly. No sooner has the profanity left my lips than Marty Lapointe draws a high-sticking minor. His arse has barely grazed the bench in the penalty box when the Pens scramble the draw and Ryan Malone tucks one past a sprawling Martin Gerber on a wraparound. In the final minute of the game, Ottawa can’t even get the puck out of their own zone long enough to get Gerber to the bench; they may not have managed to get the extra attacker on at all except that Gonchar makes like a dimwit and ices the puck with 12 seconds left; not to be outdone in an impromptu imbecility exhibition, Bryan Murray one-ups the Pittsburgh blueliner by calling a time out to permit the tired Penguin defenders time to rest, so that they can manage to diffuse the attack after one final faceoff in their zone and extinguish the final fading hope of the National Capital Region gang. A shot of the Ottawa bench during the said timeout showed the Senators players looking like Wile E. Coyote after yet another ACME-product related, smolder-inducing incident with that damn bird. “Meep meep” say the Penguins and race out the Zamboni doors, leaving a trail of fire behind them.

It’s been a good night for the Leaf fan-tourist.

Further update:

This post from Theory of Ice says it best about Ovechkin:

Ovechkin was irresistibly charismatic as a high-scoring rookie; as a nearly record-setting goal scorer, he’s like crack with an accent. Everyone’s hooked.