Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An Audience With The Master. A Victory. First Place In Sight

The Optimilitia descended upon Verizon Center last night, eager to see another effortless Capitals victory over the Senators. We were also eager to seek out our inspiration, the Master of ‘Tism himself, Manny Acta, who brought his ever-smiling positivity to the lower concourse before gametime. We arrived at the Nationals’ meet-and-greet table just before the cutoff time of 7:00 PM to find DCO Hall of Famer John Lannan and future rotation cornerstone Jason Bergmann, but…no Manny. We greeted the pitchers, with Bobtimist Prime exhorting Lannan to continue plunking Phillies, though all the while we feared our audience with ChairManny was in jeopardy.

Then, like a Nationals’ (or Capitals’) surge out of last place, Manny came out of nowhere. We only briefly chatted with the good manager, but it was long enough for Manny to declare he was a “sucker” for optimism (was there any doubt?) and to yet again confirm our not-quite-blind faith in The Plan and to perhaps also rekindle our disgust at the Ovechkin-All-Star-game-like snub Manny endured in November.

Bolstered by our encounter with the DC area’s font of optimism, it was time for the inevitable Caps’ victory and sweep of Ottawa, which must have disappointed/enraged all of Ottawa, possibly Don Cherry, and very definitely the blathering Senators’ fan sitting behind us, who early in the contest profanely cajoled Brent Johnson to get off the ice after being run in to.

It’s amazing how the result of a game between a supposed bottom-rung team and a supposed conference powerhouse can never seem in doubt. Even as Ottawa scored two unanswered goals to take a 2-1 lead, there was never a sense that the Capitals would not come back. The overwhelmingly competent and encouraging tutelage of Bruce II will do that to a team. And what better player to start the turnaround than Alex Semin, the latest recipient of a press-conference-call-out from the motivating coach. If Semin took some heat for contributing to the downfall vs. Philly, he should (and has) take a lot of credit for this all-important win, especially in light of his undressing/posterizing/all-out-humiliating of Wade Redden and Ray Emrey to net the game-tying goal. At the very least, his series of moves deserved better than the bland AP recap, which declared that Semin tied the game by “intercepting a pass, driving down the right wing and lifting a shot over Emery.” Ooohhhh, it’s like I’m there all over again. (Disclaimer: DCO does not claim to have a monopoly on moving, ethereal prose. We just find the description of this momentous and game-changing goal to be woefully underwhelming).

Standings: I’m as shocked as anyone to find the Atlanta Thrashers in first place in the Southeast. The last time I really thought about them, they were in the thralls of a tailspin after that whole “new coach euphoria” wore off (note: the same does not appear to be happening here, nor do we expect it to ever happen). But good for those Thrashers: well on their way to defending that division title that so inspired them into a first-round sweep last year.

The Caps trail those mighty Thrashers by five points; ditto the distance to the clinging-to-a-first-place tie Hurricanes. With games in hand against both clubs, and with softies Edmonton and Florida on the docket, the Caps can easily polish off this homestand with eight out of ten points and be directly competing for the division lead by Monday when it’s time to go to Pittsburgh. It’s almost set up too perfectly: a win in Pittsburgh could conceivably give the Caps the division lead if all goes according to plan. Too perfect. Like Viktor Kozlov’s cross-ice power play pass to Mike Green for a score was too perfect (and how about that Pepco Energy Services Power Play last night? Clicking).

Just think: a week from this very moment we could be talking about a first-place Capitals team. It's a long way from November 21, isn't it?

No comments: