Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Montreal: le Benefactors (or whatever)

Now that some of the anger has died down north of the border in the wake of the Capitals’ thieving acquisition of Cristobal Huet from the Canadiens, we at DCO feel it is time we finally thanked the city of Montreal for the many gifts it has bestowed upon us in Washington over the years. Let’s take a look at a representative sample.

1775: American forces, as ordered by George Washington, capture the island of Montreal in the same way that a Washingtonian of a different kind, Alex Ovechkin, would capture the hearts and wild imaginations of the city of Montreal 232 years later. This obviously has nothing to do with sports, but it’s an interesting intellectual stretch, wouldn’t you say? We almost had us a 14th province named Canada. Wouldn’t that have been something. But anyway…

1982: A big one. Rod Langway, Craig Laughlin, Doug Jarvis, and Brian Engblom are bestowed upon DC in exchange for the forgettable Rick Green and only slightly less forgettable Ryan Walter. Langway of course became the Capitals most famous member, grabbing a couple of Norris trophies and bringing a scent of respectability to the Caps, in the form of many consecutive playoff appearances, after years of expansion team frustration. Jarvis also went on to grab great recognition in the form of a Selke Trophy (soon to be renamed the Quintin Laing Shot-Blockin’ Trophy).
Craig Laughlin: well, where would Washington hockey be without him? How much poorer would we all be having never heard a player was “ka-bonged” or pulled off a “dipsey-do” or that a game was “donesy”. Who else could ever convince us that 100 points in 150 games equaled “about a point per game”. Where would play-by-play maestro Joe Beninati be without Craig? Not pulling that plum Bruno Cipriani commercial, that’s for sure.

1992: The Canadiens sign Donald Brashear, giving him his break in the NHL, leading to his inevitable landing in Washington and ultimate complete pummeling of hapless Montreal forward Aaron Downey on December 27, 2006 (below), one of the better hockey fights I have witnessed in person.

We’ll make the assumption that the humiliation contributed to Downey leaving town for Detroit the very next season.

2001: Montreal sends Washington Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus, and a second round pick in exchange for perennial disappointment Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik, and a first round pick. Linden never quite worked out, though the Caps were able to recoup that first-round pick by shipping him to Vancouver. Call it a wash. Though Zubrus never had the enormous breakout season we all hoped for, he was enough of a versatile catalyst on Jagr, Bondra, and Ovechkin lines to make this trade another reason to thank Montreal for their contribution.

2005: A non-hockey move! Expos to DC to become the Nationals! At last this Major League Baseball team went to a market that deserved one. That is, the proper “stage”. Am I right, Montreal media? Don’t know what happened to that ridiculous mascot, but I’ll make the wager that Screech’s natural predatory instincts got the best of him at some point. Sure, the team is still a bit of a work in progress, but when that parade is going down Pennsylvania Avenue, let’s not forget to, again, thank Montreal and their indifference for making it all possible.

2008: A #1 goalie. Fan reaction in this instance tells you all you need to know. Too bad for the Canadiens this move wasn’t telegraphed like the potential Redskins’ hiring of Jim Fassel or it might have been likewise prevented. Now the Caps have one less weakness for message board moaners to, um, moan about (time to rekindle the “why isn’t Mike Green locked up for 15 years yet?” complaint I guess). Huet is a good old fashioned robbery (especially if he’s re-signed) at the cost of the second round pick acquired via Brian Sutherby. Much as this essentially free goalie fell into the collective lap of the Caps, an essentially free ticket to last night’s game fell into my singular lap. I was pleased to see at least one fan had improvised a Huet jersey using masking tape on the back of the Caps’ home red. This expression of team pride helped purge the taste of bile from my mouth brought on by the tool wearing a ridiculous-looking Sidney-Crosby-jersey-and-black-turtleneck combo, and the insufferable (yet inevitably found, unfortunately) ass in a Cowboys’ hat and jersey.

So thank you, Montreal, for the above transactions that have benefited sports (and possibly history) in our town. We look forward to working with you again. Is anyone on the Alouettes available by any chance?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hooray for Huet!

In honor of the Caps acquiring Cristobal Huet from the Habs in exchange for a second rounder, we will check a sampling of the reaction from Canadien fans via the TSN message board.
um is
montreal like trying to lose in the playoffs ...

Price isn't ready... ...


a ripoff! Is that all we could get? Let's hop ...

crazy!!! ...

habs got fleeced. ...

For a
second round draft pick??? You have got to b ...

My. God.

WAY!!!!!!!!!! Clearing Cap Space? Using the 2nd ...


the h..? I know he was flacky for the last ...

WAY!!! This must be false. I am sure Bob isn't ...

trying to figure out the Montreal logic in tra

its own, this was a surprise...more to follow t ...

Why would you trade your No.1 goalie for ...

won't make it out of the first round now. Th ...

hope that Price is ready for prime-time, as ...

This is a disaster having 2 rookies, Pri ...

mistake for the Habs! Price isn't ready fo

This is nonsense! How can they do this to ...

MISTAKE!!!!! HUGE!!!!!! ...

me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.
better lead to something big or that 2nd roun

doesn't make much sense. It better be settin ...

as if Mr. Gainy is prepping for a big deal ...

a bad move by the Habs! ...

George McPhee can't feel his face right now.


"This is a man's league and he is man. In the dictionary next to that word there
is a picture of DeShawn Stevenson."
The Washington Wizards are collectively waving their hands across their faces in tribute to DeShawn Stevenson's time-expiring, curse-lifting, Steve Buckhantz-on-cue-taglining shot that sank what not only was one of the NBA's best teams, but also the idea that this team was doing anything even close to fading down the stretch.

With last season's final months looking to replicate itself over a longer stretch of this more promising season, the last few weeks of Wizards basketball had been something of a distressing time period. But with the Wiz winning three of their last five with one loss coming in overtime and the second coming as a result of David Stern-approved, Phil Knight-approved, Norby Williamson-approved game fixing, they seem to be in pretty good shape, despite missing their biggest guns for who knows how long.

The reason for this return to steady play, even against the league's best? The same reason the Hornets returned to their oh-so-superior Western Conference homelands with a crucial loss: DeShawn. Against the Bobcats on Saturday (aka, the atonement game), DeShawn hit three three-pointers in the waning fourth quarter moments to push the Wiz to another win over Michael Jordan's blunderfesting Bobcats. (The 'cats were once again without stat-mongering, Gilbert knee-kicking, overall jerk Gerald Wallace, whose absence from active action will always be cause to cheer.) The night before that, Stevenson was driving the lane hard in the waning seconds of ESPN's LeBron lovefest, drawing uncalled fouls that Stevenson's coddled counterpart LeBron draws without abandon from his friendly striped teammates on the other end of the court. (Of course, if LeBron didn't get his requisite preferential whistles, he might flash that oh-so-lame frustration face at the non-abiding officials. If only Gerald Wallace was stat-grabbing and knee-kicking against the Cavaliers this year.) Both of these strong performances lead to last night's career-high achieving heroics, taking what was once a 15-point second-half deficit and turning it into awe-inspiration. DeShawn was driving to the hoop drawing contact, hitting lay-ups, going 7-for-7 from the line in addition to unleashing the "Apropros Dagger" Steve Buckhantz had been just dying to expound upon this season.

What a fantastic moment, which, as per usual, was a result of questionable officiating. While Hilton Armstrong was attempting to permanently affix goat-status to himself for his waning seconds foul on DeShawn (unbelievably called in the Wizards favor, after another unbelievable charge was called in Brendan Haywood's favor two possessions earlier) by missing two crucial free throws, the refs decided Antawn Jamison, and not not-possible-er Morris Peterson violated the lane, giving Hilton (insert Kornheiser-approved Paris Hilton joke) Armstrong another chance to sink a ref-abbetted third freebee and tie the score, which he did.

But that slight lead to glory. DeShawn, noting the lack of timeouts in a non-Webber-like fashion, drove the lane, crucially crossed up Peja Stojakovic, slipped to the edge of the three point line, rose high with his reaching-for-the-lightbulb release and unleashed the dagger. Just like that the Wizards supposed tailspin came to a halt. The playoff picture remains as bright as Oleksiy Pecherov's skin tone (BTW: who didn't love the way he was just hugging everything in sight after the game winner?). No Caron, no Gilbert, no Etan, no problem.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Caps' Successful Non-Losing Streak Continues

The Capitals again continued their almost-three-month-long streak of not losing consecutive games in regulation. We could feel bitter that it’s their third straight non-win, and fifth non-win in six games, but why, when they remain solidly in contention for the division lead and even still a sixth, seventh, or eighth playoff seed? Besides, some are much worse off.

Again helping us feel better about our team are the Philadelphia Flyers, who were good enough to not win for the tenth straight time. For the second time in a week, their OT loss point seems less beneficial than the Caps’ similarly gained point. It’s all about perspective. While the Caps fought for a point during a temporary-yet-season-preserving up and down stretch, the Flyers flailed for a point while grasping desperately during a nothing-but-down stretch that first destroyed their division title hopes and now is threatening their playoff dreams. I don’t know how I missed this before, but this beautiful streak of rotten Philly phortune began at the hands of…the Capitals. How about that? An rival's distress hasn’t felt this satisfying since that little Mets collapse of this past Fall. But enough about that.

The Southeast Division race is clearly far from over, the momentousness attached to last night’s defeat to temporary division leader Carolina notwithstanding. Five points back with two games in hand is not a terrible place to be. A couple of wins here, a beating of the Hurricanes there (i.e. March 25 and April 1), and it’s right back to where we were a couple of weeks ago: on top. Isn’t it simply grand we’re even talking about single-digit point deficits and a division race after all that happened in October and November? And they’re still above .500, such as .500 is in these days of OT losses. The Rangers even did the Caps a division-related favor by managing to not blow a 5-0 lead in beating the Panthers today, giving our team one less nuisance to worry about. No reason to feel glum here.

The entire game against the Devils was much like the first period against the Hurricanes (though I can’t speak for today’s overtime, being deprived of it as I was due to the vagaries of DVR non-overtime-recording). That is, the Caps likely should have lead 6-0 at some point in each. It was the offensive-pressure-filled hockey we enjoyed during the season’s initial three-game win streak and for weeks at a time during the Boudreau era.

Finally, look who’s back in the scoring race, and doing it with assists as he waits for the inevitable return of the goal-scoring touch. Certainly Alex Ovechkin’s four (primary) assists in the last two games (not to mention several magnificent passes that could have resulted in more) are an affront to some analysts who bemoan his supposedly subpar “playmaking” ability (this statement usually seen in head-to-head comparisons with Sidney Crosby and, more recently, Evgeni Malkin).

So there you go. Despite a couple of weeks of relative non-success, there is still a quarter of a season to go, and really no all that much ground to make up. It’s still looking very good.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Capitals Also Not Losing Playoff Positioning

Even with this little “slump” the Capitals are in the last couple of weeks, they nevertheless remain in prime position to either jump into the Southeast Division lead or the eighth seed in the East. I say “slump” because even though it might seem the Caps are losing an awful lot lately, there have still only been two pointless evenings this fortnight. Let’s compare this to the Flyers SLUMP, which saw them go seven games without a standings point before last night’s heroic overtime loss to the Senators. That SLUMP has pushed Philly and Lil’ Danny Briere to Atlantic Division irrelevance and a tenuous hold on the playoffs in general. Not so with the Capitals who, despite sloughing through the least-prolific period in the Bruce Boudreau era, remain on the fringe of postseason greatness.

Likewise, Alex Ovechkin, three scoreless games aside, remains solidly in control of the goal-scoring race, and is still in wondrous position to regain the scoring lead and win the scoring title. This we must all hope for, and not just for the sake of rooting for our hometown superstar. No, Ovechkin must also win this scoring title to save us all from story after story of Evgeni Malkin the Savior, who saved the NHL playoffs (i.e., kept Sidney Crosby in them) by winning the title and propelling Pittsburgh into the postseason. If you thought Sidney-fawning was bad, Evgeni-worship could be much worse. Alex can’t let that happen, he won’t let that happen, and he can’t let that happen.

But on to last night’s game. Everybody dislikes blowing a 2-0 lead and losing in overtime. However, everybody absolutely HATES blowing a 5-0 lead and losing in overtime. As the Flyers helped us put the Caps “downturn” in general into perspective, the Rangers help us see how not terrible this one specific game was. While a point is a point as they say, this Capitals’ point earned vs. the Islanders must taste worlds better than the Rangers’ point earned vs. the Canadiens. And anyways, we all know that the Capitals specialty is coming back from two-goal deficits, not holding on to two-goal leads. We’ve seen enough Washington comebacks to know that.

So all is well. Two points back from Carolina and two games in hand. Still sounds like a division title.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Wizards Not Losing Playoff Positioning

You could, like some people (me) smash your head with your Comcast remote after seeing the Wizards blow another late fourth quarter lead against a team whose existence seems to be mainly for either jockeying for lottery ball positioning, or providing comedic routines for hack sportscenter anchors, but then afterwards, while nursing a sore forehead and bearing the brunt of your significant other calling you a child, while wondering why you don't just live by yourself --than you wouldn't have to deal with this constant scrutiny, and you could watch the Wizards lose soul-crushers to the Knicks in peace and not be called a child while ramming universal remotes into your face (which consequently didn't change the station), but then you might look foolish. Because that game last night, no matter how much it made you crave self-mutilation, didn't really matter outside of bearing the brunt of a Knick fanbase that despite a few years of "suffering" remain as intermittently hateable as all fans of New York- (or New Jersey)-based sports teams.

The Wizards still hold firm to that sixth seed in the East, and they continue to do so without the services of, well pretty much everyone who matters, not to mention the services of offensive cohesion, defensive non-chokiness, and adequate player substitutions. You could blame the loss last night on the sudden bone-headedness of Antonio Daniels, who last night was hell-bent on providing one ghastly turnover to balance out his assist-to-turnover perfection, in addition to his lack of ever being able to make a freakin' shot. You could also blame the loss on Eddie Jordan, rightfully uplifted for his coddling of the team together during the hard-fought Gilbert-less recent months, now resorting to benching the only remaining dynamic scorer (Nickname Young, still sitting despite actually lighting the Knicks on fire, a fire put out during a time-out by Zach Randolph [a fiery situation completely ignored by the increasingly excruciating TV play-by-play team of Phil Chenier and Steve Buckhantz. Phil and Buck, please wake up out of your elderly slumber and stop sucking. I don't care if you are a part of what looks to be the greatest bobble-head night of all time, your suckiness has me resorting to putting on a time-delayed Dave Johnson and Glenn {Knick-lover} Consor on a clock radio that hummed an ear-piercing tune of death during the first half.] Where was I?) oh yeah, Eddie Jordan, what is the deal, bro? Darius Songaila has pretty much resorted to sucking completely, why does he get minutes while highly entertaining, and occassionally effective Oleksiy Pecherov sits on the bench, not being able to jack up unneccessary three-balls? Why run isolation plays where the entire team watches Roger Mason Jr., chuck up a Gilbert-sized three-ball with seven left on the shot clock? Why does Jamison not see the ball for the final possession?

So many questions, yet only one truly remains viable: When will we get our freakin' guys back? Well, according to reports out of the gym, soon. So while last night sucked worse than a typical Hayden Christiansen acting performance, the understanding that help, in the form of finally healthy Gilbert and Etan, not to mention velvet-jacketed Caron Butler is on the way ought to be comforting. Just listen to a non-trading, pat-standing, tis-dom purveyor and Wiz bozz Ernie Grunfeld's assessment of the team:
"I like this team," Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. "We just have to get healthy and see what we can do here in these final 30 games."
See? Everything will be fine in due time. Now I am getting some ice.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Team Holding Steady, and an MVP Reconsidered

After a long weekend away Up North, including a return trip that featured a series of wrong/missed turns in northern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania (curses forever on Allentown), I’m pleased to return home to find the Capitals holding steady. There they sit, still in a second-place tie with Atlanta and only two points behind destined-for-not-first-place Carolina. One game in hand over the former and now back to two in hand over the latter. Holding steady. Good stuff.

Also holding steady: Alex Ovechkin as the league’s leading scorer, still a full solid point ahead of New Savior of Hockey Evgeni Malkin, despite apparently playing the last two games with the flu.

Brief aside on Malkin: It’s hard to poo-poo his recent hot streak of 25 points in 13 games, but it’s not hard to suggest we should all give real consideration to revoking Sidney Crosby’s MVP award from last season. An assumed premise of awarding the Hart trophy is that the MVP makes his teammates better. It’s astoundingly clear given Malkin’s sans-Sid performances the last several weeks that Crosby’s presence and media-imposed “shadow” did nothing but severely impede the development of Malkin. Yes, Malkin won the Calder last season, but was that nothing more than the hockey media’s way of repenting to their deity Crosby for not granting him his birthright of the same award the previous season? Did they do this even perhaps knowing that their MVP god was holding back his supposed prodigy? Is this ranting perhaps being propelled by the delirium resulting from a rather frantic and stressful seven and a half hour drive down the East Coast? Probably. Nevertheless, the Canadian media should immediately begin penning articles to the effect that Evgeni Malkin should be signed by the Maple Leafs or Canadiens, because his talent clearly deserves a greater stage than will be provided in Pittsburgh once Sidney retunrs. End of no-longer-brief aside.

So where were we? Oh yes, Caps still very nearly on top, Ovechkin still on top. Even the seventh or eighth seed Plan B looks good, with scant points between the Capitals and those positions should this Southeast Division title miraculously not prove as imminent as we believe it to be.

Two final positive items of note: it seems that secondary scoring we’ve been hearing is so necessary picked it up a bit while Alex was bravely fighting through his flu bug. Newly extended Tomas Fleishmann picked up a couple goals, and Alex S. took a break from hooking and slashing to record a game-winner. All the while, Olie Kolzig continues his recent run of success. I’m truly sad to have missed his reportedly masterful mastering of the Lightning. Look: the GAA is now below 3 (2.99)! And look out Johan Holmqvist and Ray Emery: you’re about to be vaulted in terms of save percentage. Like the Caps as a whole, Kolzig is on the rise late in the season after a rough start. We see that save percentage settling nicely in the respectable area of .900, just as we see the team settling in the most respectable area of #3 seed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sherm, Stump, and my man the Z-Man

(Go ahead and press up those t-shirts now).
Who says Dan Snyder couldn't find any great coaching names? The offensive committee the Z-Man is gearing up for 2008's glorious season is shaping up to be magnificient. Newest offensive coordinator Sherm, the former running backs coach from the Titans, seems Rain Man peppy (and likely a kick-ass Kelli Johnson Tuesday interview, unlike Al Saunders, who usually found 10,000 excuses for some of those heinous fake quadruple-reverses). Check out this quote:
"Anyone would . . . look forward to working with my man Z-man and the staff he's
putting together. I've talked to a lot of people I trust, and they've told me
this sounds like a good move for me at this time in my career."
Guess working for the Redskins ain't the soul-crushing death knell the whole league is avoiding in droves, huh, Sally? Quotes like these get the DCO excited, as Sherm seems to beam an effervescent spirit that likely aided his prodigious ability to turn seemingly hopeless prospects like Lendell White into thousand-yard forces of playoffitude. And, as if hiring this run-first o-coordinator wasn't enough, the skins went and signed on another big-time back burgeoner in Stump Mitchell. Stump had been festering over there in Seattle along with the Z-Man, just waiting for the time they could abandon Shawn Alexander's diminishing returns and instead join a historic running team already having a solid foundation. A focus on the running game ought to be paramount for this team, with a top-five running back and a perfectly adequate backup already locked in. Want more awesome quotage?
"You don't win football games because of plays, you win football games because
of players executing and making plays."
The DCO loves this quote as well. Why? Well it dispells some of the myths that many of the Redskins faithfuls are wrestling with right now. Sure a Hall of Fame coach has left the building for good, and the guy all the players wanted to be hired wasn't hired, but damn if the skins still don't have a pretty darn solid core of players, beginning with their offensive line, which will finally be healthy in 2008. Players make plays, not brainy coordinators. The Redskins lost many players last year (including one we will never get back), and yet the still made the playoffs. A new-ish (don't forget Greg Blache is back coaching the D) coaching staff isn't going to plunge the team deep into the abyss of crappyiness just because the replacement coach hasn't already been featured on a Wheaties box for his crafting of the 7-10 split option 48 blue-green shank flip. Get a couple of blue collar motivators (all of whom are former NFL players, including the Z Man -- a key to earning locker room respect according to former 'skin lineman Ross Tucker) that don't tote some bally-hooed system with them, and have the players respond with their talents.

One must feel further confidence in the Z-Man for his hiring of Sherm and Stump, in addition to the addition of offensive detail mongerer Chris Meindt (sorry, no cool nickname for you yet, bro), giving the Z-Man ample time to work with still-QB of the future Jason Campbell (remember him?). We have a feeling that this internal promotion just might pay off.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wizards Maintain Playoff Positioning Thanks to DCO

After last night's stirring triumph over both adversity and the Los Angeles Clippers, the Washington Wizards ended the first half of the season on a positive note. With visions of 2007 forcing themselves back onto our consciousness, it was nice to see that with a bit of health (thank you AD), and with a bit less sexual assault via officiating, the Wizards were able to not blow another double-digit lead and emerge victorious against a team that, well, sucks. In the nine games since Bobtimist last posted Wizards-related appraisal, the team has been a bit unlucky, struck down by the hands of god via lingering hip injuries and lingering ankle injuries as a result of lingering knee injuries, losing face-punchingly bad games to the Sixers, and the Warriors, in the midst of losing other, more predictable games to the Suns, Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Globetrotters, Patriots, and the Republican party. Unforgiving officials in Oakland and Phoenix didn't understand the effort put forth by a team missing every point guard, and half of it's all-star contingent, and proceeded to ignore the remaining Wizards' most impressive game-clinching efforts in order to appease the NBA's cadre of elitist bigwigs. Why else would Antawn Jamison be called for a loose ball foul while Grant Hill's fragile ass had him locked into the sleeper hold in order to prevent 'tawn's inevitable offensive board during the Phoenix debacle? Why else would Oakland-based officials decide to quit sending Wizards to the free throw line in the final fourth quarter minutes to trump up a collapse all too familiar to this team? Deshawn Stevenson may have been perfect-plexed to the floor by Andres Biedrins on a drive to the hoop, but the officials decided instead to stare into the regions of the nether, allowing the Warriors to shove Antawn out of the way for boards, and cut the lead to nothing.

If you listen to Stephan A. Smith's brilliant halftime-of-the-Suns-game analysis (and it is pretty hard not to, with it, like all ESPN analysis, being SHOUTED), you would know that the Wizards, "need Gilbert and Caron," and without them, they are not just ordinary, they are 2000-2001 era ordinary. Yeah, the eight-game losing streak was pretty bad, but with the Eastern Conference Playoff picture looking about as asthetically appealing as Mike Starr headlining a romantic comedy, the Wizards remained locked into the sixth seed. Not so bad right? But they did need this sort of win to steady the waning levels of sanity. Thankfully, 'tawn's tip found it's home, and the hard times are officially behind us. One probably thinks that the manner in which 'tawn's tip somehow circumvented three Clippers, and the desperate-to-call-a-loose-ball-foul officials to find its proper place as a game winner had some sort of mystical attributions, right? And the purveyors of this brilliant display of fortitude in the face of damning via unearthly spirits? Why, the DCO, of course. Back before the start of the season, Bobtimist was traversing the internet, spreading the 'tism in a manner that didn't occur like once every three weeks like it does now, and he encountered a troubled young lady who had lost the predilection to root for her favorite basketball team. She needed a new team to root for in light of this glaring void, and Bob was happy to provide so many reasons the Wizards were the team to love. And with bandwagon non-Wiz supporters filling the Verizon Center on a regular basis, he felt it was necessary to spread the weath in an opposing manner. Why love the Wiz and not insufferable Canadian teams like the Raptors?

1. Everything Gilbert has ever done and continues to do (lol at Canadian interneters getting salty about his spot-on assessment of Jose Calderon)
2. Andray Blatche's colorful legal past and powerful post moves
3. Caron Butler's colorful legal past and powerful current presence (when present)
4. Antawn Jamison's continued wilyness around the basket
5. Oleksiy Pecherov's existence
6. Deshawn Stevenson's dancing (not his ball handling)
7. Brendan Haywood's locker room brawls and resulting on-court improvement.
8. Nick Young and Domenic (12 boards!!) McGuire's youtube-marked companionship
9. the greatest website ever
etc. etc. etc.

Shortly after registering all of these awesomes, she was convinced, and became a steady supporter of the Wiz, all the way over in Long Beach California, buying tickets to one of the Wiz's only visit's to the Southern California area, vs. those hapless Clippers. But what to wear to this perrenial event? Instead of springing for one of those cute smedium blog show tee-shirts with a clever internet saying that becomes passe a day post shipment, she sought the archives of the Optimilitia, and we were happy to oblige, FedExing a shipment of three, well-worn Wizards memorabilia items to Long Beach for usage at said Clippers game. The package arrived, the losing streak ended, and photos are on the way! (Including screengrabs from an innocuous TV appearance!)

First-Place Capitals Again In First Place

It wasn’t a shutout. It wasn’t another somewhat-uninspired 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Thrashers, and it gained one crucial standings point. Again, the ultimate nemesis was Kari Lehtonen. How has this guy not started every game for the Thrashers, compiling a record of 59-0-0 with a 0.00 GAA and 1.000 save percentage? The Caps would have had a runaway 5-0 lead in the first period alone against any other goalie. Frustrating, yes, but at least the Caps did not play poorly; Lehtonen just again stole the game. But he couldn't steal the division lead. That stays with the Caps (even if they have to temporarily share it).

On the other side, Olie Kolzig continued his streak of solid-to-above-average performances, inching that save percentage back towards .900 (Mrs. DCO credits the recent uptick in his performance to her meeting the Caps goalie at Tysons Corner this past weekend. Though we have only a two-game sample to analyze, the hypothesis seems feasible for the moment). Goals allowed in the gimmicky endgame of the contest aside, he matched a few of Lehtonen’s saves in the third period, looking as sprightly as he did ten years ago and holding the deficit at one until Alex O. found that little slice of open ice he needed to tie the game (and maintain his runaway pace in the goal-scoring title).

Mike Green continues to look good in overtime, doing his best impression of a hybrid defenseman/forward. Seriously, I’ve never seen a D-man behind the net or in the corner in the offensive zone so often, usually after leading the rush up the ice. Of course, Shaone Morrisonn was always there to cover and keep 3-on-1 Thrasher breaks from developing. Like the Post mentioned a few weeks back, Green is so much better when Morrisonn is there to bail him out defensively, allowing Green to keep racking up OT game-winners.

It might not have happened last night, but it was close on numerous occasions. And at least we can now watch an overtime/shootout without the sense if impending defeat that hovered over such proceedings for much of the last two seasons. Now it almost seems like there is a sense of inevitable victory when the Caps head into the extra session (not that we don’t always feel there is a sense of inevitable victory, because we definitely do. Whew, premise of blog saved).

This one standings point does result in a three-way-tie for first place in the division, cleverly and originally referred to as the South-Least Division in some quarters. Haw haw. But there is that wonderous game-in-hand the Capitals have over the future also-rans in Atlanta and Carolina. Another OT loss (not to one of them)and we're again talking about sole possession.

Remember the last time the Caps eeked out a point against the Thrashers by losing to them in overtime? That point earned a tie for last place, to the delight of one derisive blog commentator. Things certainly have changed. First place is starting to look delightfully familiar.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Time For Some (Non-Sarcastic) Optimism

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you staggered into the office this morning, read Sally Jenkins' latest regarding Head Coach James A. Zorn, saw the headline “The Power of Positive Thinking”, read the phrase “the only choice now is optimism”, and were uplifted. Maybe you thought Sally had again shunned optimism-hating and might soon issue retractions for recent anti-optimism columns. Maybe you almost excitedly forwarded the article to a co-worker and fellow blogger, reveling in another turn to the bright side, a la Mike Wise.

Hopefully, like me, you first paused to read the rest of the article. Clearly, the wise thing for me to do was read the entire column for complete context, instead of basing a perception of Sally’s ‘tism levels on this one line. It’s similar to the way in which one should not compile hockey power rankings based merely on standings alone (or preconceived notions of a team’s greatness. Hello, Rangers), and not, say, ridiculous two-month streaks of dominance with exactly zero back-to-back regulation losses.

While at first it looked like we were being treated to a lovingly optimistic welcome letter to the new Coach, what we were really in store for was paragraph after paragraph of backhanded “compliments”, smarm, stealthy ‘Skins-bashing and detriment that would have found welcome homes in the prose of Redskins Insider. Ha ha! another Tom-Cruise-has-some-sort-of-ill-defined-relationship-with-Dan-Snyer-and-is-a-wacky-Scientologist joke! Funny, Sally. So timely. Maybe Jay Leno can work that never-tired joke and reference into his never-tired monologue.

No matter. Let Sally (and certain like-minded co-workers of ours) revel in their Philly-like negativity (we could also, possibly more accurately, call it New-York-like negativity). We’ll sit back and continue to support our team, hoping (optimistically, sans smarm) Jim Zorn is another Gibbs-like riser from obscurity to championship-winning.

Speaking of championship-winning, those Caps ended the weekend just as they started it: in the driver’s seat for the Southeast Division championship, intervening Friday night speed bumps aside.

Olie Kolzig reverted to 1998 should-have-won-the Conn-Smythe form and baffled the Rangers on Sunday in the way point-producing has recently baffled Jaromir Jagr. Mike Green in overtime was, well, Mike Green in overtime, which is to say he beat New York. Alex Ovechkin notched three points and spared us all a gluttonous influx of “Evegeni Malkin Ties For Scoring Lead, Saves Universe” stories. That alone is reason to feel good today.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Temporary Divisional Standings Realignment

Carolina is still doomed. Tonight’s little 2-1 setback against the Hurricanes does little to change that. The Capitals can make up this single point deficit the same way they made up the double-digit deficit that existed back in November. The statement has been made: they can come back from anything, so it’s not the biggest loss in the world that they slip back into second place for the time being. Plus, there’s still that huge game in hand over Carolina, which the Hurricanes can’t hid from forever. Sooner or later that game will translate into the two points the Caps need to jump back ahead.

Once again, the Caps stared down a 2-0 score. Once again they didn’t panic and subsequently give up a flood of goals. They produced numerous chances to score, and though the power play wasn’t quite up to snuff tonight, there were long stretches of sustained, encouraging pressure put on the Hurricanes. It was enough to rile up the 18,000+ in attendance and make it the loudest game I’ve been to this season. When Alex Semin finished off a seemingly eternal puck possession with his 14th goal, it looked like another comeback from 2-down was on the way. Not to be, but this thing is far from over.

It’s probably inevitable, given the logjam that is the Southeast division, that we’ll see plenty of lead changes over the last 26 games of the season. But there’s a key difference amongst the competitors.

There are four teams in this tight division race that have been playing poor to mediocre hockey all season. They are named the Hurricanes, Panthers, Thrashers, and Lightning. The Capitals, on the other hand, have been playing above average to elite hockey in the two-plus months since the definitive turning point of the rise of Bruce II. That all spells Caps division title, regardless of the jockeying we see from here until mid-April.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

First-Place Reign Continues

Love you, Vancouver. Loved you as a brief honeymoon stopover a year and a half ago, loved you tonight when you took care of Atlanta. Love the Capitals-like third period comeback you pulled off to keep our boys on their well-deserved first-place perch.

Of course, tomorrow night’s game against dethroned Carolina is key. As we’ve previously mentioned, the DCO Optimilitia will be there in full force, along with about three dozen friends and co-workers, watching from section 401 as the team opens up a solid 3-point lead in the Southeast, with a game or two in hand over all pretenders to boot.

Even we optimists are surprised at this rapid rise to the division top. Back in January, when the team crawled back above .500 for the first time since those halcyon days of October, we foresaw a first-place team by mid-February. In retrospect, such a prognostication might qualify as the greatest form of heresy in the eyes of this blog: optimism-hating. Fully a week (or so) before that heralded mid-February, here we are, watching the suddenly frontrunner Caps fend off the teams they’ve crawled past since Thanskgiving.

A three seed and some nice home-ice advantage would look good heading into the playoffs. That six seed opponent is still Pittsburgh right now. That might be enough to bring chilling visions of 3-1 and 2-0 series leads lost (not to mention 4-overtimes and Petr Nedved) to even the most ardent lover of optimism, but as we’ve seen in the two-plus months since the ascension of Bruce Boudreau, this team is different. They don’t choke. They may make it sporting by turning a 4-1 lead into a 4-3 lead before pulling out a win, but a decided lack of choking is evident. They don’t go on prolonged losing streaks, important in not blowing a big playoff series lead. And, as OFB put it, “Heck, they even win shootouts now.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Top

We're (Almost) #1

It’s become a series of (welcome) trends: the Capitals laugh at two-goal deficits; the Capitals absolutely refuse to go two games in a row without grabbing at least one standings point (two-plus months and counting); Alex Ovechkin, night after night, seems to be desperately seeking a 70-goal season while making ridiculous plays to carry the team. Not even cement-footed, Shaone Morrisonn-tripping Bill McCreary could ruin last night’s comeback.

The division deficit is back to one point. With a chance to finally make up one of those two games in hand over Atlanta and Carolina, first place is within the Caps’ grasp tonight. A win in Philadelphia (site of Bruce II’s first game with the team and one of his greatest triumphs) and first place is secure, making Friday’s contest with the Hurricanes an important pad-the-lead type of game.

How about Tom Poti? Throwing hits, blocking shots, scoring a tying goal so stunning it took a replay to confirm it, deftly playing cross-ice catch with Ovechkin on the overtime winner. There’s a reason he quietly eats up so much ice time every game, derisions about his very occasional defensive zone turnovers aside.

Yes, just like the season as a whole, last night looked really bad before it looked really good. Now, suddenly, as the Capitals found themselves needing just one goal for a win last night, they find themselves needing just one win for first place and a three-seed in the standings. We eagerly await seeing such standings. In addition, we eagerly await the debate with a new set of optimism haters who will poo-poo such a lofty status for the Caps and who will ridicule the weakness of the Southeast Division and declare the team somehow undeserving of a conference rank higher than Pittsburgh (likewise we await the detractors of imminent scoring champion Alex Ovechkin. Detractors who will wave the But Sidney Was Hurt flag. Their efforts will also fail).

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Redskins A Lock To Win Super Bowl XLIII

In 1987, the New York Giants defeated the Denver Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl XXI. I was a nine-year-old Redskins fan disappointed to see one of the teams I hated the most winning the world championship. That disappointment was lifted a year later when the Redskins beat the same then-pathetic Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII.

In 1991, the Giants beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19 (Scott Norwood, everybody!) in Super Bowl XXV. I was a 13-year-old Redskins fan slightly enraged to see one of the teams I hated the most winning another world championship. That slight enragement was abated a year later when the Redskins beat the same eternally pathetic Bills 37-24 in Super Bowl XXVI.

Tonight, I was a 30-year-old Redskins fan watching mildly disappointingly as the Giants beat the Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII. The disappointment/enragement is only mild this time around as I have no love for the Patriots either. While this was not a Super Bowl rooting conundrum such as that of Giants vs. Ravens a few years back, it did leave me severely conflicted and half-wishing the game never existed so I wouldn’t have to watch one of these two teams win (if it ever becomes Cowboys vs. Ravens, I will indeed fully wish the game never existed).

Looking back, did I have it all wrong? Should I have been rooting for the Giants all along, knowing that it will inevitably bring about a Redskins Super Bowl win next year? A win over these same dynastically fading and apparently completely beatable Patriots? The pattern is there, too obvious to miss: Giants win, next year the Redskins win over the same opponent. It has to happen. It will happen. This slight head-coach-hiring chaos is just the storm before the calm sense of peace brought on by a title.

So we can take solace in that even as our NFC East rivals and their never-fair-weather, demanding-a-coach-firing-in-week-2 fans celebrate their victory. Ours is coming. And it could have been much worse. It could have been king doofus Tony Romo parading out there under a rain of confetti, defiling the Lombardi trophy with his non-field-goal-place holding hands. We at least owe the Giants a debt of thanks for preventing that.

We do NOT owe the Fox network or Pepsi a debt of thanks for keeping the Super Bowl Romo-free. It was subtle, it was brief, but that was Mr. Jessica Simpson in that Pepsi commercial. Night ruined. Brief aside: back in high school I engaged my good friend Joe in a months-long debate over the merits of Coke vs. Pepsi, I being of the opinion that Pepsi was far more meritous, and better tasting. The competition culminated in an experiment of sorts (really, I won’t go into it here; that experiment deserves its own blog), in which I was ultimately proven correct. For years I have held on to those experimental results as definitively proving the superiority of Pepsi over Coke. I can no longer hold that view. The Phillips/Romo/Jones Pepsi Max commercials have been bad enough to endure over the last several months, but this backhanded insertion of Romo into the Super Bowl is unacceptable. Pepsi, you are dead to me.

That aside was not quite brief. Anyway, as we welcome (if grudgingly) the Giants to the three-Super-Bowl-title club, let’s look forward to the Redskins joining the four-time winners next year. It will be over the destined-not-to-be-four-timer Patriots. It’s undeniable historical fate. We'll even give you a score, based on actual statistical analysis of the scores of the previous Giants and Redskins Super Bowls (seriously): Washington 23, New England 20.

Also, let’s not forget the weekend victory that far eclipses that of the Giants: the victory of Art Monk over curmudgeonly Hall of Fame voters. They came around. We knew they would. Darrell Green was an equal no-brainer. Russ Grimm is next.

Friday, February 1, 2008

In Praise of All-Stars

It may/should have been lost in the pandemonium surrounding Alex's justification of a 13 year extension via one game, but yesterday, the reserves for the NBA All-Star game were announced, and, justifiably so, both Caron "Tuff Juice" Butler and Antawn Jamison were added to the Eastern Conference roster, chosen after a league-wide poll of coaches and assistant coaches deemed them worthy. For the fourth straight year, Wizards are represented in the Eastern Conference All-Star game, the third of four with two Wizards in the perrenial attempted-alley-oop throwing, Mutombo-reaction-face-causing gathering of luminous black celebrities.

Two-thirds of the Wiz big three were justifiedly added due to their continuously awesome play despite missing the most electrifying of the triumverate, Gilbert Arenas. We have lavished a fair amount of praise in Juice's direction, but I feel like more of these precious web spaces ought to be devoted to Antawn Jamison. Once written off as a flimsy gunner who would do little to advance the team in a positive direction unless his contract was involved in a swap for a "legit 20 and 10 big man," Antawn has stepped up his game in such a manner that the pay cut people expect him to experience after this season seems as foolish as suggesting him in a trade for Zach Randolph. See, Jamison is that 20 and 10 big man everyone had been clamoring for, and as if his consistent production offensively and on the rebounding side wasn't enough, he has now become devoted to defense in a manner that we haven't seen during his most respectable Wiz tenure. He hounded Dirk Nowitski during the Wizards punishment of the Mavs a few weeks ago, causing the regal German to wilt (as per usual). Then, with Juice nursing sore hips from exerting every last ounce of toughness to cut an 11-point, minute left in the fourth-quarter lead to zero against the Bucks, Jamison nabbed 20 rebounds in the huuge overtime win over those effete floppers from north of the border (sorry Canada, that PREDICTABLY POSSIBLE regulation buzzer beater will not net you a standings point).

(Speaking of that game, is there a more loathesome team in the NBA than the Toronto Raptors? Sure gathering all of those Euros into an embassy-style melting pot of wispy-bearded flavors may appeal to your deepest senses of white guilt, but god, are they not the flopping-est, flailing-est, whining-est group of pansies to ever suit up in purple uniforms with cartoon dinosaurs on them? It's as if often slobbered over general manager Brian Colangelo saw the manner in which Anderson Varejao convulsed when sensing the slightest of contact, and became inspired by his insipid phoniness. He then reached for his batphone and declared, "This team is to be built around the pretending-to-be-hurt!" Then he aquired several sneaker licking divers with accents in their name, implored them to shoot countless threes, and allowed them free reign to ruin comprehensive basketball through their jaunts to the floor in an attempt to draw an offensive foul. Maybe if they were in a city that CARED ABOUT BASKETBALL, the players could play for a team that MATTERS, isn't STRUGGLING IN A MARKET DEVOTED TO ANOTHER SPORT, etc. Hopefully they will be contracted. In the meantime, we are left with viscious-elbow-to-the-grill-deserving point guard Jose Calderon, and the ungodly amount of praise lavished upon him by Phil Chenier [How do you REALLY like that Phil?])

Anyway, about Antawn, simply put, he is the most unique player in the NBA. There is no other powerforward who utilizes his body as if it were a slippery seal (sans flopping), curling his way around taller, more-ballyhooed players to scoop shots into the hoop. When he isn't curling and dragging around guys who don't deserve half of their paycheck, Jamison is doubling his value at the three point line, stroking in big-time bombs that draw defenders away from the basket, where Brendan Haywood can apply his theorhetical "hands" to offensive rebounds. Take 'tawn off of this team, and it is a couple of pretty jumpshooters who occasionally aren't feeling their face. There has never been a time where we felt 'tawn wasn't a huge part of the picture. Take last season (or forget it), when the other two went down, Antawn just went out and nabbed 32 points per game in that unfortunate playoff series. Power forwards who average 20 and 10 and step it up to 32 per in the playoffs do not grow on trees (nor in Abe's in vitro fertilization farms), which is why we hope that the Wizards can somehow retain Antawn at the end of this season, in addition to giving Gilbert his due pay raise.

Scoring Lead Secured. Next: The Division

Whether it was motivation for revenge over that nasty little game in Montreal a couple of days ago or merely a desire to keep a great turnaround season going (still no consecutive regulation losses since Thanksgiving, as we all know), the Caps jumped all over the Canadiens from the start last night. It is well that they took a 1-0 lead in the first period (and killed a Montreal power play before doing so), because it was the only just result after the way Bruce’s boys took it to Canada’s darlings in the first ten minutes. A Montreal lead would have been the greatest injustice since Alex Ovechkin’s non-start in the All Star Game.

And how about that Alex Ovechkin? That guy’s super. Easily on a 60-goal pace now, and creeping up on 70. His performance last night was, like every other game of his in the past three weeks, completely unmarred by the dreaded Huge Contract Complacency (HCC). Like the equally dreaded Temporary New Coach High, which we often heard was the sole reason for the Caps December about-face, HCC is not going to happen with Alex. Such was the grandeur of his play last night that Tarik obviously couldn’t even sleep, having to blog at 12:42 AM about the Russian machine and his ever-increasing productivity. Looks like a scoring title is in the future.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, continued to postpone their inevitable collapse in fending off the Maple Leafs in OT. No matter. As we’ve previously discussed, their non-first-place fate is sealed as they hurtle towards February 8 and a showdown at the Verizon Center. The fall of the Hurricanes is as unavoidable as the ultimate arrival in DC of trophies by the names of Jack Adams, Art Ross, Hart, Richard, and Calder. Pretty good haul for a team written off at 6-14 back in November. Pretty good for a team still struggling for complete acceptance in a league always eager to fawn over a select few teams and nobody else.

We keep hearing that the Capitals are starting to get attention across the league as legitimate contenders (and a nice little story). We don’t doubt that, and the jocking of the team by Barry Melrose a while back (Jack Adams for Bruce II; Calder consideration for Nicklas Backstrom; Norris consideration for Mike Green) was welcome (we like Barry in the studio hyping up the Caps, not behind the bench coaching them, as one of the rumors back in the dark days of November stated he might be), though we do wonder when some of those underestimating power rankings will pull the Caps out of the 20s and into the teens, with an ultimate Top 10 destination. We also await massive and multiple retractions/apologies from irksome stains such as MSNBC’s Bob Duff for their playoffs-are-not-worth-watching-without-Sidney attitudes. No Penguins = no star to showcase, Bob? How about the guy who is about to score 60 (perhaps 70?) goals, 110+ points, and does it all without a single dive? Is he still less important than Evgeni Malkin, “the most essential hockey player known to humanity?” Stop writing embarrassing columns. And change your name, so you don’t sully the good name our own Bobtimist Prime, not to mention the world’s finest brew.

Regardless of attention and respect across the US and Canada, it would seem this comeback team is catching on a little more at home. Mike Wise has his second recent column column on the Caps in today’s paper. I’m listening to a Junkies podcast right now and they’re talking about players on Edmonton and Anaheim, plus some specific details from recent Caps games. It’s been going on for at least three or four minutes. This from four guys who have voiced their disdain for hockey over the years and at times have outrightly refused to discuss the sport at all. It’s more hard evidence (along with little upticks in attendance) that local attention is slowly turning towards the hockey success story building here. Optimilitia members knew it all along, though, right?