Sunday, February 7, 2010

Caps 5 - Penguins 4 (OT) The Most Exciting Game Yet This Season

Today the Caps and Penguins faced off in an almost meaningless regular season game on national TV at the Verizon Center. ... Yeah Right... In the end it was a TWO point game for the Capitals, and man am I ever glad I spent all that time shoveling out my driveway yesterday and my Subaru Outback Sedan has almost as much ground clearance as an SUV so I could get to the game. Truthfully, today's game was about as good as a regular season game could get when it comes to watching a really, really good and exciting hockey game. I'd be saying that even if the Caps didn't pull it out in the end.

I'm a little late pulling the trigger and getting this posted so there's already a set of really great posts on the game and Tarik El-Bashir's WaPo gamer is up and I don't know what I can add but this game was so good. I took some pictures the first one really tells the story and it's kind of the bottom line.

However, this game always had a lot of hype. For me, I was still sorry I missed Friday night's game. So, I spent a considerable amount of time shoveling myself out between Friday night and Saturday to make sure that if it was at all possible I'd see this game live. It was the last home game before the Olympic break, it was nationally televised and of course it was the Penguins. All my life I've backed teams that have a huge rivalry with the Penguins. Back when I was a kid in Philly we lived to beat out cross-state rivals. Then 7 years ago when I started transitioning to be a full fledged 100% Caps fan, well the rivalry with the Pens was a very easy thing for me to continue. This game was going to be a good one and I was going to be there. of course that might take a little bit of "dedication" and a strong back. If that meant yesterday I had to spend ~8 hours shoveling the drive and freeing both cars on the drive - so be it. With the drive fully shoveled the next thing was to figure out if I could make it out of the un-plowed subdivision. When it became apparent VDOT wasn't going to get to the side streets in subdivisions, I hacked through the last ~ 4' between the driveway and the street. Then at ~11:30PM last night I walked the "block" to figure out if the trusty Outback had the ground clearance required. I returned to the house and went to bed thinking it was at least a 50/50. At 8:00 this morning I got the snow shovel and all the recommended materials layers, etc. to make a run at it. I knocked down the snow bank between the drive and street some more and made a dash for it. The 5 miles to RT 66 from the house were ... well "interesting" but the roads were passable. In the end I got to Verizon Center and parked in Gallery Place at 10:30. I had to admit, my wife was probably right, "this", you know hockey and the Caps, has become a bit of an obsession and not entirely healthy. After my breakfast - a buffalo burger - medium - with Swiss Cheese and sauteed mushrooms at RFDs I got into Verizon in time to see the last half of warm-ups. The fun began, and if you were a Caps fan by the end of the game you were pretty happy.

The game was a good one in that when somebody made a mistake it usually cost their team or their team's goaltender needed to come up with an awesome save to prevent such an eventuality. When you have two teams loaded with so many talented players you're going to see at least 3 or 4 plays that make you shake your head and say - how did they do that? This game, I lost count at how many of those moments I had. To be clear, I'm a Caps fan so that means I "sports hate" the Penguins. However, their first two goals, Crosby's first two goals were all about him, one of the four or five best players in the world, showing up with his A game and somebody making a mistake he capitalized on. The first one, everyone and I mean everyone in Verizon, had to be saying to themselves - "Tyler, (Sloan) what were you thinking?" The second one was another misplay where 3 out of 4 penalty killers went to Evgeni Malkin, another of the best players on either team, and left Crosby open to receive the pass and with room to maneuver. Maybe if it's a different set of guys or a different team, Jose Theodore stops those, but these guys are just too good that they aren't going to score 85+% of the time when your team let's them move like that. End of first period Penguins 2 Caps 0.

The second period started out better for the Capitals, they didn't make any big mistakes and they got several shifts of sustained pressure in the Penguins zone. Additionally, they seemed to come out from intermission pretty jacked up, surly and playing with an edge but not over it. However for the first ~8:45 Pittsburgh kept the Caps off the board and maintained their 2 goal lead. Then Jeff Schultz found Alex Ovechkin with an excellent stretch pass that sprung Ovie on a breakaway. Ovie flew in on Fluery and rifled it past him, the shot actually was so hard it broke the protective cover on the camera in the net. Score Penguins 2 - Caps 1. At this point life was breathed back into the crowd and we Caps fans present started thinking ... "here we go"... alas that wasn't what was really going on though, because just over 2:00 later Jordan Stall combined with his line-mates Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke to score his first goal of the afternoon and restore the Penguins 2 goal advantage score Penguins 3 - Caps 1. The only consolation is unlike the first two Penguin goals, there really wasn't any "bonehead" moves by the Caps to set this goal up. Stall, Kennedy and Cooke just all played solid hockey and got just enough ahead of the Caps on the ice at the time (Pothier, Sha-Mo, Bradley, Ovechkin and Backstrom) after it looked like Pothier had broken up the play, the puck just seemed to catch back side of Theodore's pad as Stall threw it at the net and went in. So there we Caps fans are thinking it's okay, " it's hockey, things like that happen, at least we aren't still making stupid mistakes." Ah but wait... just 1:24 later Tom Poti, Poti - the guy who has been playing so, so well and so smart lately, botches a breakout pass putting it right on Evgeni Malkin's stick (you remember him, dontchya?) Malkin, ends up with he and Staal going in on Theodore, makes a great pass - Staal bangs home his second goal of the game at the 13:07 mark. Score Caps 1 - Penguins 4, ugh...but hey we're the Caps faithful and we persevere, continue cheering our team on, but I have to admit at this point I had my doubts about the outcome of this game. "Spoting" the current Stanley Cup Champions 3 goals didn't really feel like a winning plan, especially with the penalties the Caps seemed to be taking, etc. Enter one Eric Fehr - at the 17:12 mark of the second period, Brendan Morrison put the puck on Fehr's stick, he drove the net, shot and followed it in to his own rebound, putting "the biscuit in the basket" - a real hockey players goal. That's the way the period ended Score Caps 2 - Penguins 4.

As has been the story over most of the season and particularly these past 14 games, the third period was the Caps best of the game. This time it was because their Captain, a two time NHL MVP, Alexander Ovechkin along with fellow "young gun", Nicklas Backstrom and line-mate Mike Knuble, a longtime "Penguin Hunter/Killer" decided "this is our house". They seemed to feed off the crowd and vice versa as the period went on. Don't get me wrong the rest of both teams also decided that "it's showtime" however, the Caps first line made it happen during this games final 20 minutes of play. First at the 6:51 mark Ovechkin displayed great hand and netted the puck after a shot by Tom Poti had been knocked down by Brooks Orpik, score Caps 3 - Penguins 4. Then at 11:06 he buried an off speed shot from the face off that beat Fluery cleanly. Score Caps 4 - Penguins 4 - new game. How did that happen, well in the third period both teams played a cleaner game AND the referees pretty much let them skate. During the first two periods there were a total of 15 penalties doled out, and there were questionable calls on both sides of the ice, as well as missed calls on both sides too. To say that this wan another really poorly officiated NHL game would be an understatement. For the Caps it's hard to say what was the worst call or non-call was it the lack of a penalty when Jose Theodore got kicked in the head? The 10 minute misconduct to Nick Backstrom for nothing? The lack of a call against the Penguins when Ovechkin got charged into the boards? All bad calls or non-calls to be sure. However, the worst call of the game if you're a Caps fan - that would have to be the one penalty called in the third period, a slashing call against Jeff Schultz for merely being in the vicinity of Matt Cooke when his stick broke. Seriously, I don't know what folks watching on TV saw but at Verizon while Schultz was in the box they showed the replay on the jumbotron and Sarge didn't even touch Cooke or his stick. Thankfully the Caps killed of the penalty and regulation ended with the score tied 4-4.

I know what call against the Penguins both Bill Guerin and Brooks Orpik think was the worst of the game. Uhh, that would be the call against Orpik in Overtime for high sticking Alexander Semin. Orpik's quote per Tarik El-Bashir's WaPo gamer following the game: "He sells it all the time. The kid's a baby. I've got zero respect for the kid. But the kid does that all game long. It's tough to lose on that." Wow, interesting let's dissect this, all of it. First Brooks, it's not hard to "sell" a high sticking call when you put your stick into another players face between their face and face mask, this I saw first hand from my perch in section 103 about 100 feet from the infraction. I'm comfortable making that statement since I was at least 50 - 75 feet closer to it than referee Fredrick L'Ecuyer was to most of the calls he made today. Second, re the "kid" statement Orpik age 29, Semin age 25...uh "kid" huh... yeah, I guess you don't have any respect for him, but you know what I'm pretty sure he doesn't care all that much. "Sells it ll the time" - I don't think so. Semin is one of the best forwards in the NHL, and as such he gets targeted and hacked on, like Ovechkin, Zetterberg, Kopitar, Gaborik, the Sedins, Marleau, Backstrom, Thorton, Crosby and Malkin as well, and his ability to draw penalties and "sell it" are but a few things he isn't known for doing well or often on a hockey rink. Orpik is on of the NHL's most well known "tough guy" defensemen, that means he's known for hacking on guys early and often. Today he did just that, no issue here that's what he gets paid for but come on guy, don't whine when you get a penalty for doing it, especially in a game where you got away with at least 3 slashes and 2 elbows before you put your stick into Semin's face. Personally, if you're a Penguin fan I think the worst call of the afternoon is the non-call against Shaonne Morrisonn when he knocked Crosby into Theodore and then pinned him to the ice. I loved it from an old tyme hockey perspective, making Crosby pay for that real estate in front of Theo so maybe he's thinking about it "next time" but I have to say i was pretty amazed Sha-Mo didn't get 2:00 in the sin-bin for it.

In any case if I had to hazard a guess at Orpik's post-hockey aspirations, I'd say law school as the irony of the whole thing is if anybody is trying to "sell" anything or plead a case here it was Orpik. Personally, I really get a kick out of the bulletin board material "Old Man" Mr. Orpik has now given Semin for both the upcoming Olympics, the two remaining regular season games, and if it happens another Caps - Penguins playoff series. Personally, I hope Sasha uses the material well and lights Orpik and his teams up for a goal or two a game. In the meantime I pretty much feel the whole Orpik post-game diatribe is just a cover up for taking a stupid penalty, and in the end a stupid penalty that cost his team the game and a point. I haven't looked at the Penguins faithful commentary on their blogs and message boards but in anticipation of their usual banter I'd just like to say "Stay Classy..."

As for the Caps since they were given a chance to put away the game, even though it was/is just a meaningless regular season game, they must have just said why not? Or maybe the just wanted to get home and settle in before the big super bowl game. In any case following Brooks Orpik's entering the penalty box, it only took the Capitals 13 seconds to score the game winning goal. So basically right about the time Orpik got his "wrongly" penalized butt settled into his seat in the box he had to get up again and skate off the ice. Of course he couldn't just do that he had to mouth off to the referees so he earned himself a game misconduct, that of course is an all but meaningless penalty but it makes his post game statement all the more comically ironic.

Thank you, Brooks Orpik. You loaded the gun, then Ovechkin passed it to another experienced Penguin Killer, you're just used to seeing him in a different uniform. Perhaps you've been wondering what happened to him on your last few trips to South Philly...

So just a couple more thoughts and pictures from the game since today was the last home game until March 3rd.

The first star of the game ... Team Captain Alexander Ovechkin.

Do you think they'll leave it like this until March 3rd? Why have the Zamboni resurface the ice after a game when the next one isn't for almost a month? I like the lighting though how about you?

Me Too!!

Next up, the Canadiens in Montreal on Wednesday Evening.


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