Well last night the red hot Pittsburgh Penguins came to DC to take on the rejuvenated Washington Capitals for their first of four regular season games this NHL Season. The game was well anticipated by fans of both teams, as just next week these two teams will meet outdoors in the NHL's Winter Classic, at Heinz Field, in Pittsburgh on New Year's Day. I wasn't at the game as I had donated the tickets to our seats to a raffle that was part of a charity golf event earlier this past summer. Wingman and I also id an act of kindness last night and took a donated Christmas Tree to a family in need who didn't have one and stopped for dinner on the way home so I watched the first period at a restaurant in the area from a less than excellent vantage point. I was home in my usual seat in front of CSN HD to watch the full 2nd, 3rd, OT, and all 7 rounds of the shoot out it took to decide last night's game though.
So let me say this at least as far as the Washington Capitals 37 games played so far this season, last night's was probably the best game to have watched and one of the most, if not the most exciting to have watched. Sure it was and will be extremely heavily "hyp'ed" as a lead up to the Winter Classic, which is actually nothing more or less than another regular season game for two points, that just happens to be played outside on New Year's Day. However here's what it also was:
1) The first of four regular season games between two teams, at least one of which - if not both, who will likely be very well entrenched right in the middle of the road to the Stanley Cup this summer.
2) A game that had implications for the current standings in two Eastern Conference Divisions. The result of last night's game along with the results of the Lightning - Rangers and the Thrashers - Bruins Games mean the Penguins are the first team in the NHL to reach the 50 point mark and they have taken over first place in the NHL, Eastern Conference and the Atlantic DIvision from the Philadelphia Flyers who have "just" 49 points in 35 games played. It also means that the Capitals, who as a result of their less than desired December so far are in a battle for the Southeast Division with Tampa Bay and Atlanta, dropped from first in the Southeast to second and Tampa Bay who has the same 45 regular season points as the Capitals in two less games played is now in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference and 1st place in the Southeast Division Standings. The Capitals drop to 5th in the Conference and 2nd in the Division. The truth is none of that is all that much worth getting excited about just yet, the Salary Cap is now mature in the NHL and parity is being achieved. That means the regular season battles, at least in both Conference will matter for the foreseeable future. It also means the position the teams are in the standings will jostle regularly for at least the next month because in the case of the Eastern Conference the distance between first place and eighth place is just 10 points and in the case of the teams currently in 9th through 12th if any of them get hot and put together say a 6 game winning streak, between now and mid-February, they too would be in the hunt for a playoff spot. In the Western Conference things are even tighter, as we approach mid-season the distance between 1st and 13th is just 10 points and the distance between 5th and 13th is just six (6) points or three games - with over half a season to play. So yeah, every game counts, and I'm pretty sure that's what the goal was with the salary cap - parity. So why doesn't every game count the same amount of points in the standings, again. Hold onto that thought please, I'll be revisiting it. In the mean just take a look at these standings after last night's game:
If you are looking for a great game recap then stop reading this blogpost and go over to read The Peerless' here - it has it all and I'm not going to rehash it here. The fact is I've come to terms long ago knowing that there are folks who are just plain better writers in the world then me. Here in the Blogsphere in general and in the community of bloggers that discuss the Washington Capitals my favorite is The Peerless, to me he's aptly named, and his post after the last game is one of his best. A close second for best recap, at least in my estimation, of last night's game goes to Becca over at Japer's Rink for this effort. Of note, Garret over at Puckhead's Thoughts points out in his recap that Jay Beagle also had a good outing even though he's not overly prominent on the score sheet - I just want to say I agree. If you really like to see a guy like Matt Cooke, or more specifically the actual Matt Cooke, have a bad night and get a strange, but mandatory delay of game penalty at a most inopportune time, then go here and watch his 185 foot clearing attempt out of the rink and into the stands from last evening. Thanks Matt, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, I wonder how many people have copied this link and sent it to Marc Savard...
So no I'm not doing a gamer but I will add a few musings about last night's game, that I don't think have been included in other folks thoughts and bloggings this morning.
1) This was a great hockey game and as I noted it had implications in the standings. As will many other games the rest of the way between now and the end of the season. So two questions occur to me. a) Why doesn't every game count for the same number of points. Last night alone there were 13 games played in the NHL, this being one of them; in four of the thirteen or 30.7% of those games a total of three (3) points were awarded to the participants, while in the remaining majority of them only two (2) points were awarded. I've posted numerous musings on how illogical this is to me. After last night I feel even stronger on the subject. Here's my suggested BETTER, MORE LOGICAL alternatives to the current way of doing things in the NHL.
First of all, no matter what, I think the skills competition/shoot out needs to be done away with. Just watch the shootouts that decided last night's Capitals-Penguins and/or Lightning-Rangers Games and tell me that you feel one or the other team really bested the other in the game based on that shoot out, I mean why don't they just roll out some nets and play a game of HORSE on skates with the Captain of each team being the shooter to see who gets "the gimmick point"?
Second, fine if you don't like my feeling that EVERY game should be worth three points such that the team who wins in regulation gets all three points, then leave the game be worth two points - every game. Then go to this option, during the regular season if a game ends tied in regulation, then go to a 10 minute overtime and play 4 on 4 hockey, with no touch icing and the OT winner, if their is one gets two points, while the looser gets zero points. if the game ends tied after one OT period in the regular season it ends tied and each team gets one point. The truth is the extra point in some of the games messes up the standings more and more as parity gets more real in the NHL. At the actual mid season I will recompute and look at the playoff implications of what "every game is a three point game would mean, but I'm pretty positive it would have some impact to who makes and doesn't make the playoffs. I'll also take a look at what things would look like if the SO was done away with and every game was two with ties after OT resulting in one point per team.
2) The hardest thing I think for anyone to do after last night was pick the three Stars of the Game - I love it when that happens and I bet the coaching staff's of both teams do too. That's it nothing more profound when it comes to to that thought.
3) Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich - thank you, for that short handed goal.
4) Mike Green, great game in every respect, thanks for making hockey so fun to watch and thanks for making Matt Cooke pay for his faux paux last evening.
5) Alex Ovechkin, thanks, just thanks for being you and playing your game last evening.
6) Sidney Crosby and, now you too after last evening, Marc-Andre Fleury we Capitals fans "hockey hate" you but have to admit you played great last night and you usually do. If instead of you two guys, the Penguins had mere mortals who were a just real good first line center and starting goaltender, our favorite team's record against you most hated flightless birds would be much, much better.
7) Evgeni Malkin, if you are wondering why Ovechkin and the Capitals all try and hit you and knock you off the puck, or slow you down when you play them, it's probably the same reason your teammates do so to Mike Green - you're both really good too. You should expect more of the same next Saturday in Pittsburgh, only then it will likely be really cold and hurt more too. On second thought Evgeni, maybe you don't want to play in those cold conditions next Saturday, perhaps you, Sidney, and Marc-Andre should stay in and instead of going to Heinz Field in the cold, play WII and watch the big screen in Mario's "man-cave" right next to the basement guest room that Sid still likes to stay in. ... Seriously ...
Next up for the Capitals - Carolina on Boxing Day in Raleigh, NC. In the meantime, I wish everyone who might read this today a happy and healthy holiday season. Merry Christmas and I hope that in some way, shape or form, the joy of what this season can be finds its way into your life and home. I probably won't post another blog until before the Montreal game on Tuesday because of all that generally goes on elsewhere in my life this time of year.
Remember kids, put out the milk and cookies for Santa and ... LETS GO CAPS!!!