Rookie Tournament: Leafs 1 at Penguins 4

Spouse and I did make the drive down to Kitchener last night (earlier this evening, actually) to watch the Leafs rookies vs. the Penguins rookies.  I’ll have more to say about the game later – right now it’s late and I need to get to bed if I’m going to be a productive member of society tomorrow – but here are some preliminary thoughts:

  • Kid Kadri!!!!1  He’s the real deal, people.  He could use some bulking up, especially up top, but the guy is slick smooth with incredible hand/eye co-ordination and a retinue of subtle moves, little shifts from side to side, slight changes of pace, small stick movements, etc. – that put his opponents off balance and allow him to sift through defenders and to find open space.  I don’t think he’s NHL ready right now, but I would be willing to bet he’ll make the Leafs next year;
  • Jesse Blacker has a howitzer for a shot.  That kid is some steady, too.  I was impressed with his play, though he was on the ice for the Penguins’ second goal, scored on a soft little spinerama move on the goalline  by Moon;
  • Stalberg and Stefanovich showed lots of promise and combined on the Leafs’ only goal of the evening – basically a short 2 on 0 after a Penguin defender turned it over to Stralberg in the high slot;
  • I didn’t notice Bozak and Hanson as much as I thought I might.  I did see Hanson a lot, and he seemed to be playing well positionally, but they didn’t seem to accomplish much.  The power play (which featured these two prominently) was an abomination worthy of an actual big league Maple Leafs power play – it was that bad;
  • Dale Mitchell continues to get noticed.  He’s full of energy and plays a smart positional game, especially defensively.  He played on a line with Gilati and Kurtz, and these three were more visible to my eye (especially in the late stages of the game) than Bozak and Hanson (though Stalberg, the third forward on that line, did impress me);
  • Andrew Engelage (former goaltender for the Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires) unfortunately didn’t do much to increase his chances of landing and keeping a big league deal – the Leafs had scored to make it 2-1 and were coming on in a big way and threatening to tie the game midway through the 3rd when Engelage coughed up a Raycroftian hairball and whiffed on Robert Bortuzzo’s weak shot for the 3rd Penguin goal, effectively extinguishing the Maple Leaf comeback attempt.   Too bad for Andrew, I’d like to see him get a shot somewhere.

Here’s a quick mashup of some video I shot at the game.  There are no fancy transitions, ’cause I haven’t figured out how to use that part of my new video editing software yet.  Shown in this video are:

  1. A picture of the teams lined up for the national anthems;
  2. The Leafs skating out on to the ice for the 3rd period;
  3. The Penguins first goal, the one iPhone and I combined to describe on Twitter as a “Quasimodo breakaway” – you gotta love “autocorrect”.  And yes, those people in front of me DO have rather large heads, and yes, I should have used the “zoom” feature.  Thanks for your help;
  4. The fight between Slaney and Bortuzzo.  Bombs away, this is truculence;
  5. A bit of the play – featuring Bozak, Hanson and Stalberg, if I recall correctly; and
  6. Kid Kadri doing some stuff, and then unfortunately getting drilled – he’s the guy taking the draw and wearing number 43.

I’ll take a little closer look at the footage I’ve got on Friday night and see if I can’t cobble together a little something better than this.  In the meantime, enjoy.

Ralph Wiggum Makes an Appearance at the Joe

Y’know, I hate it when guys say stuff like I told you so, but I did correctly predict the winner of tonight’s Stanley Cup Final and the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy.  No doubt the media will be arriving on my front lawn tomorrow morning wondering about the secret to my prognosticative prowess;  here’s hoping I can get some chores done in between interviews.

Speaking of interviews, the line of the night goes to Jackson Cooke, the five-year-old son of Penguins forward Matt Cooke.  Here’s a clip from the tail end of Scott Oake’s on-ice interview with Cooke from CBC:

Runner-up prize goes to Marc-Andre Fleury. Asked by Oake to describe how he felt when he saw the Red Wings swarming his crease in the final minutes of the 3rd period of the game, Fleury smiled, shook his head and said, “Oh shit!” Spouse and I exploded with laughter.

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:

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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.

Stanley Goes to Motown. Again.

Mike:  You can exhale, uncross your fingers and toes, uncover your eyes, put down the four-leaf clovers, and – for heaven’s sake – let the rabbit have his feet back.  The Wings’ Cup championship was well deserved;  they outlplayed their rivals from Steeltown, and it would have been an unjust result had they not prevailed.  There had to be a few million Maalox consumed in the Motor City, though, following the harrowing final seconds of the game, with Osgood down and a loose puck bouncing – like deja vu – to the right of the goal and a Pittsburgh attacker whacking away at it with his stick as the clock.  Ticked.  Slowly.  Down.

In other hockey news, the Leafs have apparently made Ron Wilson an offer.  The guy has put up some decent numbers with teams in the regular season, he was at the helm of the Capitals (failed) run to the final in 1998,  and he coached the U.S. team to victory in the 1996 World Cup, but it’s somewhat troubling to me that the Leafs – professing a desire not just to qualify for the playoffs each year, but to actually win the Stanley Cup – are hiring a guy that was just fired for, at least in part, not being able to get that job done.   I worry too that much of Wilson’s success came in the obstruction/holding era of the late 90’s.  On the other hand, Wilson’s teams have tended to be pretty good on both power play and penalty kill – two areas that were absolutely woeful for the Leafs this year.

Again I say, it’s almost impossible for an outsider – someone outside the dressing room – to really know whether a hockey coach is “good” or not.   So only time will tell, assuming Wilson takes the job, whether this was the right decision.  But Messrs. Peddie and Tanenbaum need to look over their blue and white clad shoulders – with 11 Cup championships now, the Wings are fast catching the Leafs in the “number of championships won” category.  I spent the early part of my life hoping that Mike Palmateer and Darryl Sittler would propel the Leafs past the hated bleu, blanc et rouge to the top of that list at some point in my lifetime;  now I just hope we don’t get passed by the likes of the cephalopod-waving juggernaut from Hockeytown.

Bold Prediction Dept.

If Pittsburgh should happen to beat Detroit tomorrow night in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, whether the Penguins win or lose the Cup, Marc Andre Fleury is going to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs.  That kid played absolutely out of his mind last night for the entire (three overtime) game, but especially so after the pressure had really been ratcheted up.  When the Penguins tied the score and sent the game into extra time, any missed shot would have spelled the end of the Pens’ season.

This save looked like it was staged specifically for the purpose of appearing on next year’s Hockey Night in Canada opening montage.  Wow.  In spite of my genetic pre-disposition to despise all things Wing-ed, I kind of found myself feeling a little sorry for Chris Osgood;  Ozzy was certainly fighting the puck a little bit down at the other end of the ice.  It wasn’t that he let in a bunch of bad goals – the Penguins’ first would have been a tough stop for any goaltender, and the second resulted from naught but bad, bad luck – but he wasn’t exactly instilling the kind of confidence in his impermeability as his counterpart in the black and gold.

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.

Team-Elect Announced

After a very carefully run election (no doubt involving United Nations observers), the Leaf fans at Pension Plan Puppets have at my suggestion adopted the Washington Capitals, champions of the NHL’s NASCAR division as their foster team for this year’s NHL playoffs.

The first (and hopefully last) adoption of one poor underserved hockey team is complete and the poll was a landslide. The Washington Capitals are our team. For now at least because once the hockey gods find out that Leaf fans are cheering for a team their season will end in a cruel and scarring way. Maybe we should cheer for the Habs? I just hacked off the fingers that wrote that sentence.

Anyway, we’ll keep up with the Leafs but we’ll run game previews and recaps for the Capitals as they take on the Flyers.

A few technical questions presented themselves, of course:

  • whether, for the duration of the playoffs, adoptive Capital fans are to spell words like “honour” and “colour” without the “u”;
  • whether Mike Green is a “defenceman” or a “defenseman”;
  • whether we need now be specific that the game we are watching is “ice” hockey.

I am advised that no such alterations are necessary. Essentially, we’ve done the sports rooting equivalent of twinning our “city” with Washington. In other words, we get to enjoy al the benefits of being a Capitals fan right now without fearing that cultural imperialism will destroy our colourful customs and quaint provincial ways, rather like the way we were promised “Free Trade” would work. Of course, Rupert Murdoch and Clear Channel now control my thoughts, so you know – things don’t necessarily always work out according to plan.

Some have accused those of us who are choosing to root for the Caps of blaspheming; I have to say that I don’t feel this is the case. My team is not competing in the tournament I am following, but it is natural to root for one team over another when following along. I have to say, it’s actually kind of liberating. I am looking forward to learning the line combos and back-stories of all the players, and I’m feeling a little excited to cheer on Ovechkin. And hey, maybe if enough of us try on another team for size, it will scare Leaf management into worrying about what might happen if we find that we actually like it.
On an unrelated note, as I write this, I am watching Game One of the Penguins/Senators series. It’s early in the second period and Anton Volchenkov just got struck in the face with a Malkin slapshot from the point. CBC cut to a shot of the injured/scratched Sens players in the Ottawa box, I would guess because they assumed the Senators players would be displaying noticeable concern. The result: essentially a close up of Daniel Alfredsson contentedly snarfing down cheese fries. Methinks Alfie’s going to have some ‘splaining to do when the team watches the tape of this one – awkward!