Monday, March 31, 2008

First-Place Nats Own the Ninth

Ryan Zimmerman (the most clutch player in the Majors?) after last night’s brilliantly scripted (yes, Paul Lo Duca’s passed ball was scripted to bring about the storybook/Hollywood/perfect ending) 3-2 season-and-park opening victory over the Braves: “We’re tired of being mediocre. We’re ready to win and we’re ready to win now.” Ready to win now. Two games into this undefeated season, with first place in the NL East firmly in hand, and with the team’s playoff (first to say playoffs!) destiny similarly firmly in hand, we at DCO say: success!

Could it be possible that the painful rebuild is over early? Could last year’s mediocrity, of which Zim is already sick, be a thing of the past? Quite possibly. After all, mediocrity was supposed to be the impossible dream of last season, something to pine for all summer as 120 losses piled up. That level, of course, was easily achieved, to the shock of all. Now, most projections I’ve seen for the Nats have them somewhere in the ballpark of 70-73 wins. Mediocrity. Time to shatter those low expectations again. Could all of these things come about to thus shatter them? Undoubtedly yes.

Sports Illustrated at least has predicted them to finish ahead of the Marlins. A non-last-place prediction suits this team just fine, as does SI’s lazy regurgitation of the team’s record last year as its predicted record this year. Doesn’t matter.

It’s not hard to see the hand of the Master in each of these season-opening ninth-inning wins. Freakish passed ball to lose a lead in the top of the ninth? Stay positive and win it in the bottom. Blow a 6-2 lead over a couple of innings to be tied against the Phillies in front of their Phaithful during their home opener? Stay even more positive and lay five on them in the top of the ninth, bringing about that chorus of boos Philadelphians are so fond of phaithfully laying on their beloved teams. Seriously, what a sweet sound that was as the last Philly batter haplessly grounded out to finish the formality of the bottom of the ninth. It’s all Manny, keeping the team focused and optimistic, unlike so many rabid Philly fans waiting for the first sign of trouble (or first five signs of trouble) to turn on their boys.

How about Lastings Milledge. The crack of his bat in the sixth inning announced a two-run homer, but it also might as well have announced blossoming validation of the trade that brought him here. We look for more of these 3-run, 2-for-4 outings from Lastings this season, rather than the getting-the-jitters out 0-for-4 performance he turned in last night. Jitters over, time to hit 30 home runs. There should also be plenty of totals of 30 or more doubles on this team by October, if today was any indication. The only thing that could stand in the way of those totals would be those hits finding a few more inches and becoming home runs, as all four Nats’ ninth-inning doubles nearly were.

Now, a day off before the quest for 162-0 continues. In all, a pretty perfect couple of days to start the season. Of course, we need our optimism-haters out there to try to knock us down a bit, and today’s comes in the curmudgeonly form of Post writer Philip Kennicott, whose main beef with the Nationals seems to be that he can’t see the Anacostia River from the new stadium’s third level. That and the sub-standard carpeting in the luxury suites. And the fact that the stadium architecture does not make enough of a world-impacting/shattering statement to suit his high-brow standards. Or something. You’re not welcome to the parade, Philip.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Year in 'tism

A year ago this very day, we launched this blog with a modest post with a modest goal: bring a little optimism to the sometimes bleak-seeming DC sports landscape. Mission accomplished? Who knows, but let’s look at some of the positive developments from the last year:

Wizards overcome dastardly evil injuries to still make playoffs and give battle to NBA golden boy and victim of Finals-sweep LaBron James before finally succumbing to the injustices of knee sprains, etc.

The Nationals shock every baseball expert alive, and possibly some dead, by not losing 162 games. We are introduced to The Master, Manny Acta, whose relentless positivity leads to fewer than even 90 losses. It also leads to criminally few votes for Manny as Manger of the Year, Decade, Century, and Existence. He’ll get those yet. Especially the Existence one.

The Redskins overcome more than a couple brutal losses, one very brutal murder, and a couple of coaching botches to run the table towards the end of the season to make the playoffs. They put up a courageous fight against Seattle and their massively clichéd 12th man in the wild card round.

The Capitals fail to fold after a 6-14 start as we are introduced to perhaps an apprentice Master in Coach Bruce Boudreau. Hence, while last year we celebrated minor victories like Matt Bradley’s fourth goal, this season we find encouragement in every victory that pushes the team towards the post-season. And regardless of what happens, the NHL knows that, at last, this team is finished re-building and is ready to make a serious run at the Cup, whether it’s this year or next.


While the accomplishments of our local teams and the ultimate satisfaction that everlasting faith in the established braintrusts and contented superstars has provided in the past 365 have been a driving thrust of our dot-blogspot, there is a more unifying underlying force at work here. We coined the term ‘tism: a chopped up slang term meant not just to create some sort of meme that maybe one day would be said to us by a stranger, but also a philosophy regarding strong, lasting pride and faith in a unified stance behind the teams. Many have decried the state of Washington sports teams, not just their on-field performance, but their overall struggle to gain a foothold in the national sports picture, especially with the wealth and prestige (and unreasonable cost of living) that living in this first-rate metropolis provides.

When you have a city that is known mainly for gathering outlying potential government employees, military personnel and lobbyists from all over the country, it will seem to be impossible to harness a local roots-up sports landscape, when the people that make up much of the city spent their formative years in West Virginia enjoying a team as loathsome as the Penguins. Thus, at pretty much every Washington-area sports game, the representation for the other squad is intense, regardless of the opponent. Never witnessed a die-hard Milwaukee Bucks fan? Come to the Verizon Center, where fans of this hapless team still manage to hoist signs, don jerseys, and, as Bobtimist overheard at Clyde’s before a Bucks-Wizards game, not even know the name of the team the Bucks are playing against, despite buying tickets for the game, attending that team’s stadium, etc. Games against teams from Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh, or media darling-types (Cowboys, Raiders, Lakers) are often a fifty-fifty toss up as to who actually possesses a crowd advantage. The Wizards recently hosted a Lithuanian team in a preseason game, and the strangely uniformed team from Eastern Europe drew a crowd that was doubly vocal and raucous than any of the attending Washingtonians.

But it hasn’t just been the transplanted nature of the city that has hampered these teams and the potential fanbases that have lied dormant for all but one burgundy and gold juggernaut. Previous transgressions of mismanaging owners, managers, and coaches, and often, just plain bad luck have made for years of ineptitude and indifference, with only gasps of mediocrity that kept long-time supporters mumbling nonsense like “we are cursed” to themselves when not keeping their fingers clenched together in a crossed position. However, recent years have shown a shift from old-guard team owners to a new generation of locally-raised revenue hounds who see a potential in this large, moneyed area for sports legacies.

Abe Pollin’s legacy has always been tough to gauge, as he ran his teams like lovable mom-and-pop operations, who during the 70’s-heyday-era of the Bullets, were able to make noise as the processes of competitive balance earned them championship-level building blocks. Unfortunately, Pollin’s business model couldn’t properly apply to the expanding nature of the sports world and thus, his teams had taken to suffering. Old hands remained constantly involved in operations despite an obvious lack of ability, and once the problems of poor drafts and poorer trades beset themselves, the Bullets/Wizards frankly, sucked. They even took to a stunt Michael Jordan hiring that included a disastrous comeback attempt in a desperate plea for relevance.

Pollin’s Capitals suffered through some awful formative years before David Poile fashioned a team of consistent competitiveness and constant collapses. New owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee inherited that legacy of solid play until a series of forward-thinking free agent and trade moves went bust, leaving the team without its once venerable fanbase, save a few very vocal, frustrated online mavericks.

Washington baseball had either meant travelling up to Baltimore to watch their problematic team, or regaling in the World Series that ended up in Minnesota. To remedy this, and the league’s barren Canadian market, owners of the Expos handed the region it’s old withering, poorly operated baseball write-off. But once the euphoria of district baseball wore off, more ugly sports was to be seen, as the newly-dubbed Nationals had to weed out the awful contracts, barren minor league system and general lack of infrastructure that belied a team operated by 31 other baseball owners in tandem just three years ago.

These outlying sporting problems often affected the team that is cited as the only one that matters in the area. Thus, when the Redskins experienced their mild brushes with success, followed by their multi-million dollar final nudges towards a championship, and the crushing demises that followed after, these potently numbered fans would turn their attentions towards negativity and indifference. Thus, tism.

It takes more than just a pair of visionary minds to see that the machinations of these four franchises were heading in a positive direction after being historically weak and recently wretched. We ultimately saw that after the Wizards turned their operations over to a basketball-minded, talent-culling understander like Ernie Grunfeld, the team would be in great shape, even if they suffered some very traumatic season endings. We understood how improbable having a talent as world-defying as Alex Ovechkin’s was to the Capitals, and we knew that with this, once-in-a-lifetime piece of the puzzle in place (in addition to some other great draft picks), the Caps would return to relevance. We ultimately knew the organic growth of the Nationals through shrewd late-season dealings, unbelievable amateur drafts, a jewel of a new ballpark, and a brilliant manager would provide a contender for years to come. We understood the ultimate goals of the Redskins in their quest to quench the championship-starved, 90-something-thousand+ season ticket holders, and we saw a group of players that defied the recent fly-by-night tradition of the skins and remained “core.” We needed to let the people know these things, and that is why we possess, and bestowed this Kool-Aide ingesting, blindly-homeristic faith philosophy deemed ‘tism to you all.


Now for a quick look back at some of our favorite postings:

The oft-referenced anatomy of a knee-sprain post.

The first of several Manny Acta Optimists of the Week: the since-left-for-personal-reasons Mitchell Page

Last year's prophetic DCO Wizards playoff preview

A peek into Brendan and Etan Thomas's passionate off-season date

The first meeting with the Master

Finding the good in a 15-1 Nats loss

Manny's Happy Place

That time we filled in for the bog before the post editors put the kibosh on it

The Nats-not-losing-100-games celebration

The Peter King important stat counter

Predicting a Redskins Superbowl, twice

The Ronnie

Ovie's new contract

Our mocked (yet eerily fruitioning) NHL post season awards predictions

The Ted Leonsis-approved Nats-Caps parallel victoriousness post

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Toronto Is Useless; Fleischmann Is Not

The Toronto Maple Leafs have had trouble accumulating points all season. Tomas Fleischmann has had trouble accumulating points this month, which is to say he has had none. The Leafs spent the night being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but Tomas came through with his biggest point of the season, scoring the overtime game-winner following a game full of Beninati-and-Laughlin insistences that he has done well vs. the Lightning pretty much forever. Perhaps he took advantage of some of that loosey-goosey hockey Laughlin accused Tampa of playing.

In any case, Tomas came through with the goal, fed nicely by Brooks Laich, still fresh off his 20th goal on an amazing shorthanded sequence in the first period. Of course it’s foolish to mention that goal without first mentioning Cristobal Huet’s amazing penalty-killing save moments before. Such was the grandeur of the save I commented to Mrs. DCO that it could have been the save that clinched his contract extension. Let’s hope so. Let’s also ignore the fact that Jeff Halpern scored moments later on the very same power play.

Well, we were a little wrong with a couple of our prognostications, namely the Ovechkin-pulling-away-in-the-scoring-race prediction and the tied-with-Boston, ready-to-take-on-the-Canadiens-in-the-first-round prediction. No matter. Each was merely delayed, like Judgment Day was merely delayed in Terminator 2.

While everyone knows Alex eschews personal gains in favor of team wins (no more perfect example than tonight), let’s look at the scoring race anyhow. Evgeni Malkin picked up one point tonight, to put him still four points behind Ovechkin (no goals or assists for Sidney, though I’m sure each of his three shots on goal in his triumphant return were positively mesmerizing and further proof he is the Greatest Hockey Player Ever For All Time). Not a bad place to be for one who is chasing a scoring title and an MVP trophy. Of course, second intermission guest and respected opinionater Phil Esposito called Ovechkin the MVP “without a doubt…even if [they] don’t make the playoffs he’s still the MVP. Love you, Phil.

The Caps are still two mere points back. It surely would have been nice to be tied at this point, but with Toronto’s whimperingly pathetic, silent fade into the offseason against the Bruins, it wasn’t meant to be. Not yet anyway.

Caps Set to Cool Off Another Opponent

Fresh off of cooling down those red-hot Hurricanes, the Capitals are now threatened with the red-hot Jeff Halpern, he of the 15 points in 13 games. Or is that the Treasonous Jeff Halpern? Maybe. We did appreciate Halpern’s time in Washington, particularly his enthusiastic dislike for all things Pittsburgh; everyone can get behind that. We appreciate almost as much the irony in his bolting of the young, struggling, re-building 2005 Caps (not to mention his captaincy, after that lovely season-closing speech on Fan Appreciation Day) for the lush, contender-laiden fields of Dallas, only to end up in imminently struggling, re-building Tampa. From his perch as a center in the Lightning lineup, he will have a fine view of his now-division-rival Caps as they ascend to the realm of Contender he so eagerly sought (perhaps as eagerly as that $2 million/year salary he got from the Stars). Oh the irony. Jeff Hamlet.

Expect a couple of things from tonight’s game. First, expect to see Alex O. further extend his lead in the NHL scoring race against a dilapidated Tampa lineup. Evgeni “not MVP” Malkin has helped already with a pair of consecutive pointless games (hmm, sounds like a certain teammate’s last two playoff games), and Ovie can do a big part in putting that race to rest tonight. Second, expect the Caps to be tied for that eighth spot in the Conference by about 10:30 PM. Boston may have fought off Toronto on the road earlier this week, but they’ve lost 8-2 at home against the Leafs before and they can do it again. So in tomorrow’s “If the playoffs started today…” columns, we’ll see Montreal vs. Washington as the first matchup. And disregard Boston’s precious game in hand. Such things mean nothing to a fraudulent, slumping team.

As if that weren’t enough to look forward to, we can also eagerly anticipate a flood of glowing stories tomorrow morning dramatically chronicling the return of everyone’s favorite anointed golden boy prince. He feels “strong”, and “a lot better”. Wow. If that doesn’t spell “sizzle” and/or “dazzle” I don’t know what does.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Honoring Ovie and Debunking Myths, All In One Article!

The March 24th issue of Sports Illustrated contains a (prophetic?) feature article on Alex Ovechkin and his now-completed quest for 60 goals. It’s a fine piece of sports journalism, one rife with complimentary superlatives from foe and friend. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this article, however, was the complete absence of any reference to Sidney Crosby. Finally, perhaps, Alex has shed nearly three years of his name never being more than a breath away from Sid’s. Even at the All Star Game, Ovechkin’s potential solo-ness was overshadowed by the fresh grief of NHL writers everywhere over Sidney’s tender little ankle.

Brilliant article penner Michael Farber caught the attention of DCO Hall of Fame ballot-casters with his masterful tribute to the quest for 60. This work does indeed make a strong case for his induction, though the DCO HOF ultimately decided to exercise prudent restraint, knowing that the hallowed halls honoring DC names such as Stevenson and Lannan must be carefully guarded. While Farber is on a short list of potential future inductees, we must always be wary of a backslide into robotic Crosby worship, which would clearly be an embarrassment to the DCO HOF (and make for some awkward situations in the Deshawn Stevenson Accurate Player Assessment Wing). For the moment, however, well done Mr. Farber.

We at DCO also appreciate a small, easily overlooked portion late in the article that helps to debunk some Ovechkin myths. First, the silly notion that Ovie’s stats are padded by playing in the Southeast Division. Farber statistically annihilates this nonsense. Second, Alex’s growth as a “playmaker” are acknowledged, in that he “passes smartly and uses his teammates more effectively than he once did.”

This last part especially is important, since it contradicts the top knocks on Alex by Crosby apologists who positively bristle at any perceived threat to their Anointed One’s status of Greatest Hockey Player Forever mantle. These knocks include the notions that Ovechkin is “selfish”, “not a playmaker”, does not possess “good vision” (i.e., the ability to consistently blindly and randomly throw the puck into the crease, occasionally resulting in a good-looking goal) or “not good at defense”.

Last week’s game against the Predators contained concrete examples to debunk such absurd detractions. Selfish? Not a playmaker? See the beautiful, hockey-vision-aided set-up of Nicklas Backstrom in the first period for a 2-0 lead (a similar but more beautiful set-up was seen in the win against the Thrashers). Selfish? Not good at defense? See the heart-stopping, potentially foot-breaking, body-bruising shot blocking, particularly towards the end of the game with the Predators’ net empty and Nashville pushing hard for the tying goal. See also the lack of an attempt to wildly fire the puck towards the empty net. See the calm, time-killing easy chip out of the defensive zone that just happened to result in an empty net goal. Unselfish, team-centric play rewarded. Unselfish, team-centric style of play also confirmed by his +23 this season.
More on “not a playmaker”: this derision likely stems from some sort of misguided mathematical notion that one must have a certain proportion of goals to assists (that is, more assists than goals) to qualify as a truly well-rounded player. So a player like Crosby or non-MVP Evgeni Malkin might more readily qualify as a “playmaker” because they score fewer goals and rack up a few more secondary assists, comfortably “balancing” their stat lines towards the assists column.

Ovechkin makes plenty of plays, too, they just happen to be goal-scoring plays. Lots of them. Ironically, perhaps too many of them for the “playmaking” crowd’s liking. If he were sitting at 45 goals and 46 assists instead of 60 goals and 46 assists, he might more readily be called a well-rounded player, and not a “selfish” one. And what’s that all about, “selfish” being the go-to derisive label for prolific goal-scorers (at least those without the aforementioned cozy goal-to-assist ratio)? Is a league-leading total of ten game winning goals selfish? Those helped the team quite a bit.

It is perhaps ridiculous to sit here and complain about the detractors when Alex is rightly piling up accolades as he churns towards multiple trophies and the Caps churn towards the playoffs, but it’s always good to brush up on counter-arguments to ridiculous statements made by ridiculous people who blindly accept ridiculous proclamations on who is supposed to be the NHL’s best player.

Thus the NHL's non-anointed-from-birth best player leads his team against the Hurricanes tonight; those pesky Hurricanes who just will not give up their division leading perch. They're 11-2 in their past 13 games. Pretty hot, you could say. But we know what happens when the play hot teams, don't we?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Comeback Win of a Comeback Season

Could last night’s stirring third-period storm-back against Atlanta have been more representative the Caps’ season? Coming back to win a game when trailing after two periods (by two goals no less), after compiling a record of 0-45-5 in their last 50 previous such situations? Could this be, on a smaller scale, equivalent to coming back from a record of 6-14 (last in the Eastern Conference) in November to make the playoffs in April? Yes.

Losing to the Thrashers would not only have been a horrid blow to post-season hopes, it would have been completely, maddeningly frustrating, seeing as how Atlanta has been utterly useless of late in helping the Caps gain ground in the playoff hunt. Their apparent punting of their season a few weeks ago at the trading deadline was almost as much of a blow to the Caps’ chances as a loss last night in Atlanta could have been. With the teams the Caps are chasing piling up wins and points at the Thrashers’ expense, it was important for Washington to do so as well.

Perhaps Nicklas Backstrom is finally heeding the call to shoot more when presented with an open lane to the net, rather than making the final, perfect pass for the exceedingly beautiful goal (which he is capable of making). His two-goals-in-32-seconds were a harbinger of seasons of greater goal-scoring prowess to accompany his already well-established assist accumulating acumen. Call his saving of this game and season yet another exhibit for his Calder trophy case. Once that trophy is in hand, perhaps he will no longer be confused with similarly named players.

Then of course there’s Ovie and his 60 goals, a feat last accomplished in the NHL when he was ten years old. How appropriate that the March 24 issue of Sports Illustrated featured an article on this now-completed quest. More on that, and a debunking of some cruel Ovie myths, in another post.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Acquisitions Help Acquire Wins

In our recap of Friday’s game vs. the Thrashers, we noted that all the Fedorov-to-Cooke shorthanded dagger lacked was a sparkling save by Cristobal Huet to complete the Trade Deadline Payoff Play. It turns out all we had to do was wait a couple of days for Huet to shut down the Bruins to complete the Trade Deadline Payoff Weekend, which was far superior to the preceeding Attempted Hope-Crushing Weekend.

Not that Fedorov, Cooke, and Huet haven’t been sparkling since the moment they donned Caps’ uniforms, but this weekend was truly their we’re-comfortable-with-our-new-team coming out. Fedorov and Cooke nearly repeated their shorthanded mastery against Boston, and Fedorov threw in a solo scoring chance for good measure, all while continually stealing faceoffs and generally thwarting Bruins’ power plays whenever possible. So successful was the penalty kill effort that it (again) took help (or non-help) from the officials to get Boston into the net.

While the trail official casually picked up a discarded stick behind the Boston goal, Brooks Laich was hooked/hauled down/mauled at center ice, opening a lane for the Bruins to score. Too bad, because this game had Huet Shutout #2 written all over it other than that little breakdown. As it was, Cristobal had his shutout of sorts in the shootout, denying paltry Bruins’ attempts to score.

For the weekend, it was Fedorov with 1 goal, 2 assists, a +2, and innumerable faceoff wins to compliment competent penalty killing. Cooke had 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 and plenty of intangible peskiness and relentless forechecking. Huet stole the extra point Sunday with his .975 save percentage and aforementioned thievery in the shootout.

Not bad for a trio obtained for a 2nd round draft pick (thanks, Anaheim. How’s Brian Sutherby? I’m sure his lone assist in 37 games was sparkling.), Matt Pettinger, and an obscure prospect. Lock up Huet for a couple more seasons’ worth of these weekends (following this year’s playoff run, of course), and it’s even more of a steal.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

NBC Courageously Presses On

Hats off to NBC for bravely showing today's Penguins-Flyers game, even with The Only Reason To Watch Hockey Ever, Sidney Crosby, again out nursing his injured ankle. We can only hope that there is enough Evgeni Malkin fawning/swooning available to pick up the slack. Godspeed, NBC.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Hex-Busting, More Reason To Think Playoffs

We already know hot teams are no match for the Capitals. Well, now we know that completely non-hot teams, like the Thrashers, losers of 10 of 12, are fodder as well. Further, with last night’s 4-1 win over Atlanta, we see another curse apparently broken. Recently, the Caps have solved Boston goalie Tim Thomas and the entire city of Buffalo, and now they can check Kari Lehtonen off their list of tormentors, he being the tormenting type that annoyingly likes to stop almost 40 shots, turning away a dozen or more quality scoring chances in the process (there’s still that irritating Pittsburgh hex to work on, but that could be taken care of by, say, a playoff victory this spring).

The moment the Lehtonen hex was lifted was easy to spot. It happened mere microseconds after Alex Ovechkin’s wrist shot brutally tore through his five-hole. The scored-upon-four-times Atlanta goalie smashed his fists on his pads in obvious frustration, perhaps rage. The game was already quite over by that point, given the constant Washington domination that preceded it, but that goal sealed the game as securely as Atlanta’s non-playoff fate is sealed.

Even when Slava Kozlov’s tricky little shot snuck past Kolzig to put Atlanta up 1-0, ‘tism levels in the arena noticeably did not take a hit. It clearly had something to do with the magnificent tilt in the ice last night towards the Atlanta defensive zone. Maybe it also had something to do with the massive deficit the Thrashers were accumulating in shots. Maybe the 18,000+ in attendance felt that, this time, all those chances against the mighty Kari were going to lead to something.

Of course, they were right, and optimism was rewarded just a few minutes later when Brooks Laich, clearly becoming a fan favorite if the pre-game introductioncheers are any indication calmly roofed his 18th goal.

Laich was at it again a couple of minutes into the second period, getting Verizon Center vibrating (and my ears truly hurting for the first time at a Caps game all season) by grittily poking the puck into the net as it was about to be knocked askew. At that point in the game, Brooks had as many goals as Atlanta had shots (their last shot coming on their goal 11:41 into the first period). He continues to form into the player I had always hoped Matt Pettinger would become: that grindy, gritty player who could park in front of the net, kill penalties, and score 30 goals a season while doing it. Hmm, sounds like a soon-to-be-returning injured captain, doesn’t it. Two guys like that on a team offer all sorts of line balancing combinations. Put Laich in line just behind Mike Green as the next player in need of a 13-year contract extension.

The highlight of the second period, though, had to be the Trade Deadline Payoff Play, brought to you by George McPhee. Fedorov assists Cooke on a shorthanded breakaway goal. Fedorov almost did it again about a minute later, brilliantly setting up Matt Bradley for a layup on a 2-on-1 break. Just barely not enough air for Brads, though. Oh well. Point made. The only thing that could have made the sequence more perfect (vindicating?) would have been an electrifying save by Cristobal Huet on the penalty kill. As it was, Kolzig had it well in hand anyway. Thus the period ended with the Caps up 3-1, holding the Thrashers to all of six shots, and making my neck sore from having my head turned towards the Atlanta goal for almost all of the period’s 20 minutes.

In the third, Fedorov kept it up with all that faceoff winnin’ and started a power play that ended with the aforementioned lethal Ovie wristshot goal. Laich also reminded us what a stout defensive player he is with a blocked shot on a penalty kill that boomed and resonated throughout the areana. Later he assuaged fears he might have been injured by the shot, declaring it only hit his shin pad. Still, it sounded dramatic enough to be injury-inducing.

Bruce II summed up the game nicely afterwards, calling the team “determined” and christening the Caps’ effort “as complete a game as I’ve seen.” Hard to argue with that. And with the Hurricanes suffering a hopefully confidence-and-season-crushing 7-1 defeat to Buffalo, the division lead suddenly doesn’t seem such an absurd goal again. Five points back, one game in hand, two games vs. Carolina. Pretty good. Regarding the fall-back plan of the #8 seed, they are three points behind the Flyers, who are soon to lose to the Bruins, who are in turn set to lose to the Capitals on Sunday. Thus the circle is complete and the Caps are closer to the postseason.

So you still can’t count the Capitals out of anything. As the soon-to-be-20-goal-scorer Laich said, “We were written off early in the season too”, and we know how that turned out, so it is way, way premature to write off their chances to catch the Hurricanes.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Deshawn Stevenson Newest DCO HOF Inductee

Last night wasn't just another night of strong contributions from Deshawn Stevenson despite an atypical 13 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals in a most unlikely to TNT win over the Lebrons. No, last night there was one, doubly important contribution made that immediately thrusted the occasionally accurate shooting god (aka "Man") into the DCO pantheon that includes such hallowed names as Suisham, Lannan, Khayat, and Davis. After the game, in which he was blanketing the ballyhooes that echoed around the anointed one, causing an unbelievably called charge and a miss at regulation, Deshawn stepped to Ivan Carter's tape recorder and spit hot fiya.
"He's overrated," Stevenson said. "And you can say I said that."
Upon the reading of this quote, the DCO has begun construction of an entire wing of the HOF headquarters in Lanham in remembrance named the "Deshawn Stevenson Accurate Player Assessment Wing," where architects are fashioning a giant hand-like structure that waves itself across the entrance way as if the building can no longer feel its facade.

Stevenson, he of the vet's minimum loyalty and reasonable contract signed as a result, the big-time dagger against the Hornets, the locksmith defense on Ray Allen in Boston, the high-arching, air-reaching three point bombs (working on a career high), was so spot on in his analysis of Lebron James that proper attention must be paid forthwith. Who has said anything other than glimmering compliments about his anointedness?

Lebron, as a result of this first-ever badmouthing, likely scowled his way back to the locker room with a second straight loss and no ref-delivered heroism to build upon his phony legacy. His well-rehearsed scowl will cause reporters to fawn at his passion for missing unnecessary threes at the end of regulation when down two. Maybe these fawning reporters will ignore the seven Wizards in double figures and instead concentrate on how an "undermanned" Cavs squad played solid defense — defense meaning every big man took turns hurling themselves to the floor as violently as possible to draw an offensive foul call. The flopping from the Cavs was so furious last night that I was convinced a spate of epilepsy had been passed across the Cleveland bench. Ah, but those basketball gods, having punished Washington enough, finally realized the blasphemy that constantly pretending to be hurt or violated presents and actually atoned with that push off call with 13.2 seconds left. Where amazing happens indeed.

The Cavs "hit-the-floor" defense made me think about how one comes to adopt this method of head-hurling as opposed to, I dunno, shot blocking, stealing, putting hands in the face (as Deshawn did during 'Lebrick' at the end of regulation), talking smack, punching in the groin, etc. Then I saw this lame coach K commercial constantly bombarded upon us during these Mad March days:

Now I get it. These NBA guys have gone to that Coach K school, where they learn the art of flopping as hard as possible to draw the favors of officials. Coach K, he of the egregious Gilbert snub and resulting failure in the basketball world championships, does have a Cavs connection with pupil Lebron James who now likely infects his squad with these teachings. The predillection to flop combined with the fawning treatment from officials seems to have matriculated results, but it casts an unfortunate light on the Association. Why would us basketball consumers want to watch players mimic themselves after someone who has admitted to us all that he sucks?

But enough about the death of cohesive basketball for the satisfaction of corporate partners. The day belongs to Deshawn, whose owning up to what could potentially be posted on a bulletin board was so special and un-athlete-like that players around the league may follow suit. Maybe the next time the Cavs lose to the Nets, a wily Bostjan Nachbar will decry the overratedness of Mr. Anointed. Maybe after the Cavs fizzle in the playoffs, a bold sports commentator will think he is overrated. Maybe ESPN will revoke his "Whose Now" award, as if the trite banality of the proceedings wasn't lame already. Deshawn is starting a revolution here, a revolution against fawning, against coddling, and against latent douchebaggery. Lebron may be scowling, but we are endowing.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

ANALY-TISM: Analyzing MAOism

Bill Ladson of recently sat down with the well-read master for a brief chat regarding how awesome the Nats will be next year. Think the master would let us down with a John Chaney-esque pessimistic viewpoint of his Nats, with what some would say their underdeveloped talent, latently contract-extended possibly disgruntled stars, constantly questioned questionable attitudes, and fragile pitching staff that practically IVs cortizone into surgically restructured ligaments between innings? HA! Below you will find Ladson's interview transcribed via copy and paste, with our patented 'tism analysis (ANALY-TISM) following every answer.

The Nationals were supposed to be historically bad in 2007, lacking starting pitching and having lost outfielder Alfonso Soriano to free agency. However, manager Manny Acta proved detractors wrong, guiding the team to a 73-89 record, and earning four points in last season's Manager of the Year voting.
This year, Acta expects the Nationals to be even better with general manager Jim Bowden's acquisition of outfielders Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes and catchers Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada this offseason. caught up with Acta recently to talk about how good the Nationals can be in 2008.

ANALY-TISM: This is the stock intro paragraph for the Nats this year. Where 2007 was defying expectations, coddling talent, garnering notice, and being overly shrewd with the Plan. Love the mention of the manager of the year (aka "The Manny") votes. After a handful of exhibition games, how do you feel about the '08 Nationals?
Manny Acta: I feel good about them. I think our offense has gotten a lot better. I also don't have to motivate as much as last year because guys are motivating each other with the competition that is going on in camp.
ANALY-TISM: "Good," "a lot better": two terms actively laying out the Plan's progress and the stirring development the Nats have experienced in the offseason, robbing the Mets of their talent in exchange for a salty jerk-type and an unneccessarily praised/paid .230 hitter, brilliantly investing in low-riskers like Dukes, and improving swings with the hitting-catcher signings. Manny no longer needs to chant successories to his dugout as if they were bible verses at Coors Field. Nope, his 'tism laid a foundation that other players are building upon. Entering Spring Training, is this team better than the 2007 Nationals?
Acta: It is better than last year. We have answered some of those questions that we had last year. We have a big improvement in center field with Milledge. We added Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada. We are going to have Wily Mo Pena for a full season. Our bullpen is coming back intact and Luis Ayala will have one more year of rest from the elbow surgery. He is already showing that he has that zip on his fastball.
ANALY-TISM: Doesn't get more definitive than that, Mr. Ladson. We think the authoritativeness was in response to the redundancy of this question. Speaking of questions, aka the ones Jim Bowden and company brilliantly answered this offseason, what other ones might you have for this current squad that aren't speculative? A non-purveyor may come up with these: What if Patter-Hill gets hurt earlier than expected? What if Lastings attends a gogo? What if Elijah Dukes is left unsupervised? Save the what-ifs for 60000 word Bill Simmons articles, bro. This team has answers at every position. The only questions remain in how the Master decides to place each guy every day. A better question would be, why WHY would anything other than "Busting Loose" be chosen as the home run theme at Nationals Park?
Another lovely thing happening in this answer is Manny's knowledge that the brilliance of last season, including their lock-down pen, their nabbing of Wily Mo, and their healthening of Ayala's arm, is intact, and it will further help this season. Talk about your starting rotation. Is it better than last year?
Acta: I think it's better than last year because those guys have a year of experience in the big leagues. It's still not where you want it to be when it comes to competing for a division title, but we'll get to that point. It's a lot better than last year.
ANALY-TISM: Division title: "We'll get to that point"? Frankly, "a lot better than last year" ought to do the trick once all of the Mets' high priced acquisitions belly-up and the Phillies become the Phillies again. Matt Chico has survived the rigors, John Lannan has traversed the long paths, earning high accollades in the process, and young guns Hanrahan, Ballester, and, jeez even O'Connor, await their eventual dances with glory. Those dudes plus two or three good weeks from Patter-Hill equals an NL East crown earlier than even the Boz might predict. You have Milledge on this roster. Based on what we have seen so far, he is a good player. What do you think?
Acta: I think Milledge is the key to the offense. That rotating door that we had in center field last year is over. We had five or six guys. Now, we have Milledge.
ANALY-TISM: Yes, it is lovely that that "rotating door" is closed (stopped? locked in place?), and the answer in center field is not a seldom hitting former switch-hitter prone to terribility. The future of the door-stopper, according to just about everyone, is as bright as all typical Nationals prospects in the eyes of us, and it's great to see the Master acknowledge that. You have brought stability to this franchise. How do you think you have done since the Nationals hired you in November of 2006?
Acta: All the credit goes to Jim Bowden and the scouting department. They are the ones who have found the players and it has been a big, big turnaround compared to last year. I'm just part of the puzzle.
I think the players deserve the credit because they have bought into what we are trying to do here. They saw that it worked last year. Hopefully, they will continue to give us the best effort. We'll continue to move forward.
ANALY-TISM: Typical coy modesty from the Master, deflecting the great amount of praise leveled his way to his benefactors, much in the way he deflected the gushing the DC Optimist sent his way during that fantastic Caps game where he signed one of our business cards. The credited players here wouldn't have "bought into what we are trying to do here," without having a wondrous salesman. What did you learn the most about yourself as a first-time Major League manager?
Acta: All the patience that I was preaching about in the Minor Leagues paid off in the Major Leagues. You still need to be patient because it is such a long season. You need to pay attention to every single guy and make everybody feel important. You have to keep motivating [players] regardless of a winning streak or a losing streak.
ANALY-TISM: And thus, the philosphy of the DC Optimist is properly laid out. Patience, preaching, every single guy, motivation regardless of winning or losing streaks: man Manny can get the eyes welling here. Our faith in these guys may seem blind and unfortunate to some more tism-hating inclined, but to us, and to inspirations like the Master, this undying faith in the progress of the local sports lingering juggernauts will bestow itself positively, trust. Where did you learn to get the patience?
Acta: I learned it in the Minor Leagues. I started managing very early. In the Minor Leagues, it wasn't about winning. It was about developing players. A lot of times, you didn't have the choices of doing what you wanted to do. I was able to sit back and let guys do what they were supposed to do. I also found out that kicking and screaming doesn't get the best out of people most of the time.
ANALY-TISM: Hmmm, the philosophy of "developing players" leading to a better understanding of coaching as a whole is something this highly successful manager learned in the minor leagues? Sounds like eerily paralelling Capitals and their new coach Bruce Boudreau has the same sort of successful philosophy. Also: RE: Lame potential manager candidate from last season, here's that last line again: "kicking and screaming doesn't get the best out of people most of the time." It's been said that you are the only person in baseball with the patience to manage Dukes, who has had his problems off the field. How do you feel about that assessment?
Acta: Well, I always feel I could handle any type of personality, but it has to come from him, too. I think it takes two to tango. We are already doing the best we can to put a program in place for him. Jim has done a tremendous job doing this. Dukes did very well during the offseason -- following everything. I hope that during the season he is able to follow everything. I'm going to do my best to keep him involved here and give him love. But he has to do his part, too.
ANALY-TISM: All Dukie needs is love people. He couldn't find love from his four baby's-moms, he couldn't find love from that decrepit franchise in Tampa, and he couldn't find love from his cellphone provider. Yet the Master is here to provide that man-love needed to elicit strong, 30-home-run potentials. Is it getting misty in here, or is it my sobs of joy? Of the players you had last year, who are you expecting big years from?
Acta: To me, Ryan Zimmerman is ready to turn the corner and have a very good year for us. I think the new ballpark is going to help Austin Kearns turn things around.
ANALY-TISM: People are kinda scoffing that the Planners couldn't get Zimmerman locked into an Ovie-esque deal before his contract runs out in three years. This burgeoning support from the Master ought to help iron out any hurt feelings. And after being bewhildered by Robert F. (not Fick)'s dimensions dimentia, the efforts of Kearns go delightfully noticed as well. If things go according to plan, can this team compete for a playoff spot this year?
Acta: That's the goal. We are going to play out the season. We are not good at making predictions. But I believe in them. We are going to play hard, continue to make progress and we'll see where it takes us.
ANALY-TISM: No, no predictions were made there, but no denial of potential was made there either. "That's the goal," can be counted on as a qualification of Ladson's question, like, if someone were to ask me, "Would you be able to eat three double-quarter pounders with cheese?" and I answered it with, "That's the goal," I think I would basically be saying yes. And three double QPCs aren't even that tough of a challenge, as aren't the Nats postseasoning. As Boz decreed a few months back, " does make it a lot easier for a team like the Nationals to get to the playoffs, or even into the World Series, by coming out of the N.L." As for our prediction? Lets just go with "that's the goal" for now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Why Our Pain = FINALS

The Juice is both practicin' and feelin' good after a good nights, ne weeks, ne endless soul-crushing time periods rest from that cursed torn joint gristle. He is back just in time for the annointed one's uncalled walk back into the Verizon Center. Last time we saw Mr. Annointed, he was absorbing phantom fouls on his way to winning an awe-inspiring game that was filled with NBDL also-rans, typical Damon Jones douchebaggery, and fawning, non-Wizards noticing coverage. With Thursday's game to be broadcast on TNT, will more of the same fellating via officials, television personalities, and corporate partners occur? Why not ask likely play-by-play announcer and tired butt of Leno monologues, Marv Albert: "YES!"

That is why it is so fantastically wonderful that the Juice is squeezing freshly into his #3 jersey, as I did last night for another live-action Wizards game. As a member of one of those crowds Ivan Carter loves to snicker at when they are compared to moronic Canadians who do the freakin' wave, I marvelled at Nick Young's continued postering of lame European big men. After his siiiiiick facial of Aussie #1 bust Andrew Bogut, I couldn't help but yelp, "YOU CALL THAT A DUNK? THIIIS IS A DUNK!" "NO RULES JUST RIGHT!" and other such tired references to his island continent homeland that seemed to fly over people's heads. Being a member of one of those terrible crowds, I managed to run into none other than the best player in the NHL Alex Ovechkin, who was in the midst of having a great laugh with a friend before my sorta-blotto-ed "WHATS UP OV-IE!" was answered with a "hey vwhats up man," as he was obviously surprised that someone recognized him in this hockey/sports/fans/cheering/whatever deathbed. CUE UP 'IF HE WAS IN TORONTO' COLUMNS, eh!!

Anyways, back to the Juice, and back to not waiting for injured players to return any longer and how complete it finally feels to have an entire team hardenly constructed by G'ed up GM Grunfeld to marvel at. Man, that took a while, but during those trying days (where the Wiz, ahem, REMAINED NOT RUINED [UNLIKE A CERTAIN CUT-AND-RUNNING, GREASY HAIRED, OVERLY TANNED-COACHED DEBACLE IN SOUTH BEACH] and held on to a .500-ish record minus so much of their team) other young-uns enjoyed a brief spotlight. This bodes fantastically for the wiz, with major players like Gilbert, Caron, Etan, and now freakin' Jamison being sore, the Wiz were able to gameplay-up n00bs like the aforementioned Young ("Finally getting the pace," as Deshawn Stevenson noted), Andray Blatche, Dommy McGuire (who hoovers offensive boards like a freakishly tall Olsen twin except basketballs instead of cocaine), and Oleksiy Pecherov, whose carving out one of those soft spots in Ivan Carter's heart usually reserved for "real hip hop," and the Vikings. Yep, the increased playing time (and increased crunch playing time) of these kids hastens their development into legit NBAers when the Wizards' bench needs it most.

Forget last season. The season before that, when LeBron was walking his way to a series win, the Wizards were in a starkly opposite situation. They had their big three intact, but their bench was lacking. They had good ole AD, but the rest of the pine-ridahs looked to be Ruffin, Storree, Donnell Taylor, a very nubile, gunshot recovering Blatche, a frustrated Etan Thomas, freaking Peter John Ramos, Billy Thomas, shoot, I think frequent courtside sighting Jason Campbell might have taken a few jumpers. Jarvis Hayes was nursing another season-ender, and those Terrapin legends had left for Portland. Basically, it was the Big 3, Haywood, and some scrub named Jared Jeffries taking on Nike, the NBA's promotional machine, and their teammate Lebron. And you know what? The Wiz almost freakin' won that one. ALMOST.

Now that the big three is rested and ready, the bench has serious weapons (everyone lol'ed at Gilbert basically calling Nick Young Kobe, not last night), and the coach that has weathered serious stormage, there is nothing stopping this team from beating NBA-alloted darlings. No wonder Ernie G wants nothing more than to keep the team together 4-ever, even if it pierces Abe's precious luxury tax (where is Abe anyway?). The wait was a bit painful, but it condensed development into a few tough stretches that takes years for other teams to establish. Finalize it with Finals appearances. YOU HEARD THAT CORRECTLY!!

Caps Devour Streaking Teams

Lest we be intimidated by Calgary’s big scary 7-1-2 record in their last ten games coming into tonight’s contest with the Capitals, let’s remember how the Caps have fared recently against similarly big scary “hot” teams.

February 16 at Tampa Bay – The Lightning boast a 5-1-1 streak, threatening to become relevant in the Eastern Conference again. The Caps win 3-2, with Tampa’s late-game surge from a 2-0 deficit proving as fruitless as their previous attempted surge in the standings. Alex Semin finished off the scoring with three minutes left as Olie “Imminent 300th Win” Kolzig had one of his better games of the season with 39 saves.

February 29 at New Jersey – Oh those nasty Devils and their 7-0-2 mark going up against the Caps (that’s much better than the Flames’ 7-1-2). Cristobal Huet’s first game and first of what should be many shutouts in a Caps uniform. 4-0 was our final that day, with Green, Kozlov, Semin, and Brashear leading the rare four-goal outburst against decade-long nemesis Marty Brodeur. Sergei Fedorov positively sizzled in his first game with the Caps, setting up Green on the game-winner. Too bad he didn't get the recognition he deserved.

March 3 vs. Boston – We remember this one, don’t we? The Bruins came in with a 7-0-1 record, then proceed to flail around and lose 10-2 in their most pathetic non-multiple-late-5-on-3-advantages-aided game of the season. The fact that this monumental beat-down led the Bruins on a mini 1-2-2 slump was a welcome sight, as it would be with any team the Caps currently chase in the East.

So bring on the Flames. 7-1-2 turns into 7-2-2 in the blink of an Olie Kolzig milestone victory.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

One Streak Ends. Another About to Begin

Well, that was fun. Forty-eight games without back-to-back losses that put the Caps onto the fringe of the playoff picture (and, for a few wonderful days, into that #3 seed) was a fantastic ride. Now that the streak is over, though, it’s time to look to the next streak: the ones that will put the Capitals firmly into the playoffs.

It’s a potentially dark time for the team, seven points out of the division lead and six points out of the eighth seed. These potentially dark, playoff-threatening times were of course brought about by this weekend of nearly indescribably maddening hockey. Whether it was a whistle happy native Bostonian referee or a crease-clearing attempt gone horribly wrong, it apparently just wasn’t the weekend for standings point collecting.

However, we see some similarities here to another team’s playoff-threatening loss. Back when the Redskins lost to the Bills they were 5-7 and not in anyone’s conversation regarding the postseason. That, of course, turned out great, what with the 4-game winning-streak and wild-card berth and all.

It can happen with the Caps, too. Nick Backstrom knocking the puck into his own net with less than thirty seconds left in the third period to give the Penguins a win (and set off the avalanche of Sid Is Better Than Alex, Again headlines)? Why that’s just Joe Gibbs calling double timeouts with a similarly limited amount of time left in the fourth quarter to hand the Bills a victory. ‘Skins players stayed with and defended Gibbs, much as the Caps will rally around Backstrom as he gets back on track for the Calder starting Wednesday.

Time for a Redskins-like streak into the playoffs. It can start with a three-game tear at home this week and continue until the Capitals have either the third or eighth playoff seed. Here’s kind of hoping for #8, with Pittsburgh as the opponent, and a chance to put all this Sid-fawning to rest, at least until next fall.

First Intermission Drooling Entertainment

Wow, another profile of Sidney Crosby during the first intermission. Couldn't have predicted that one. I wonder if it will be casting him in a god-like light or a super-god-like light?

I had to mute it about 15 seconds in; just couldn't take it anymore. I made the unwise decision to unmute it as we went back into the studio, only to hear about Sid's "toughness" as we were treated to a montage of him being beaten around the ice during the first period. Finally a near-scolding of Tom Poti for daring to lay his filthy hands on the royal Crosby. I look forward to a repeat of this segment during the second intermission and perhaps the postgame.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Garbage (but hope-inducing garbage)

I wish Comcast would show Bruce Boudreau’s postgame press conference instead of this Duke/Maryland game. It will surely be more exciting, if some of the good coach’s hand/arm motions and lip-read colorful language towards the end of that game are any indication. Seriously, what a crock. Total nonsense.

It was well-established for almost three periods that the Bruins couldn’t score 5-on-5. They certainly couldn’t score 5-on-4, even with a full, uninterrupted five minutes to do it (that call is looking more and more suspect given everything that happened late in the third). But 5-on-3, for two or three minutes at a time? Pretty hard not to score. Making it even less hard is the ability to get away with penalties while they continue to be called on your opponents (hi there, Boyd-Gordon-hooking-and-holding David Krejci).

Sure we can argue all day that Donald Brashear could have kept his cool a little more, perhaps to the level that would have kept him in the box for something less than six minutes, but really four of those minutes were a freak accident, and those other two for roughing could just as easily be chalked up to the drama queen dive by the antagonistic Hnidi). And really, I’m generally not one prone to subscribe to theories involving referee conspiracies. I can’t imagine there’s anyone at NHL headquarters thinking “Hey, you know who would be great in the playoffs, those dynamic 8-and-10-goal-giving-up, no personality Bruins. Make sure they win today.” This one was just a little…inconsistent, and at the worst possible time, giving the Bruins the only possible scenario in which they are capable of scoring anymore.

There, however, is the optimistic lining from all this. Boston’s complete inability to generate anything resembling a worthwhile attack while playing anything less than two men up shows their far inferiority to the Caps, and the tremendous defensive strides the Caps have made. This is also the type of nonsense capable of binding a team together, and getting them good and mad for pummeling the Penguins tomorrow, the Flames mid-week, and those Thrashers and dastardly Bruins again next weekend. It’s a perfect primer for a Redskins-like late season run to the playoffs.

Also, doesn’t it feel good to hate Boston again? I haven’t felt such animosity in my heart towards them since that magical first-round playoff victory ten years ago. Glad Comcast showed us some memorable highlights of that one during the game. Pat Burns. Forgot about that guy. He made Bruce’s in-game outbursts look tame.

What I am upset with the Bruins/refs about is that we really have to root for the Sabres tonight against the Hurricanes. It makes me feel dirty to do so, but we can’t be having a seven point division deficit now. Five is still manageable, especially with two more games against Carolina to make up the ground. If the Caps keep playing like they did up to one of the most bizarre, puzzling, nonsensical, befuddling, mind-numbingly inconsistent, baffling series of penalty calls I’ve ever seen, the Penguins and their sizzling darling superstar can be easily dispatched, and we can count the days until the Bruins come back, ripe to have another ten goals hung on them.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What We're All Up Against

Did you hear that Sidney Crosby is back?

Let’s review some excerpts of the AP account of his return against Tampa Bay.

“Sidney Crosby sizzled in his first game since mid January”
“The Pittsburgh star made a dazzling return in his first game in 6 ½ weeks”
“…it was Crosby’s night.”
“Crosby was as fast, fluid, and creative as ever.”

Wow. Sounds amazing. Too bad I didn’t see the game. It must have been an incredible, point-racking-up, dominating performance! I’d better look at the box score to see how many goals and assists he accumulated as he climbs the points standings. What a return! He really is The Next One! Wait, what’s that in the game summary?

One…secondary…assist. ONE…SECONDARY…ASSIST.

This, obviously, is the most heralded secondary assist of all time. There were nine other secondary assists on nine other game-winning goals Tuesday night, but they all obviously are incredibly insignificant. More insignificant: the goal-scorers themselves, who are practically invisible in their non-Sidney-ness. Such scores and assists certainly lacked the grandeur of:

“Crosby cut through the right circle before sending a backhand pass that deflected off a Lightning player and teammate Pascal Dupuis to Talbot in front of the net.”

Hmmm, a blind pass and a couple of lucky deflections to a wide-open teammate. Sounds like dozens of goals scored in the NHL every season. Clearly none as important as Crosby's, though.

A detailed read reveals more of Sid’s heroics:

“He took Talbot’s excellent cross-ice pass near the edge of the left circle and barely missed an open net after being on the ice for perhaps 20 seconds.” A missed open net! The mind is baffled by the magnificence.

“Crosby missed scoring chance after scoring chance before finally setting up Maxime Talbot for the game’s first goal.” Wow! He failed and failed before stumbling into a couple of deflections for his game(hockey?)-saving “setting up” of Talbot.

“He came off the bench and immediately got loose on a breakaway, kicking the puck to his skate while beating defensemen Paul Ranger and Alexandre Picard. But Smith closed his pads to make the save.” Stopped on a breakaway! Good lord! That never happens! All hail Sid!

Anyone else think that perhaps this “Crosby Triumphantly Returns” piece was written immediately after he was injured a month and a half ago? That maybe Alan Robinson, AP Sports Writer, was going with the angle that, no matter what actually happened, “Sid the Kid” was going to “sizzle” in his return (and what’s with Pittsburgh and lame nicknames? Sid the Kid. Big Ben. Pretty creative)? Write up a few generic superlatives, craft a story around them. That seems to have been the plan. I guess we're just lucky he wasn't a star of the game. That would have fanned the flames of fawning passion amongst NHL writers to dangerous levels.

This is what the Capitals face in addition to the Penguins on Sunday (after dispatching Boston again, of course): salivating Sidney apologists just waiting for the chance to write about him “reclaiming” the Best Player in the NHL mantle from Ovechkin (if they ever gave it to Alex in the first place, having knee-jerkingly, perhaps lazily, merely looked one line down on Pittsburgh’s scoring list for the next best player). All it takes is another dazzling assist or two. Then come the stories with leads such as “With all due respect to Alex Ovechkin…” and “Alex Ovechkin must have enjoyed his moment in the sun with Sidney Crosby out…” Actually those aren’t plausible lines, since they mention Ovechkin ahead of Crosby. That’s just sinful.

Want more? Eric McErlain writes about who the best player in the NHL could be. As he says about early this season, “Nobody dared question the supremacy” of Sid.

Crosby is said to have “gutted it out” in the playoffs last season with a broken foot, providing a convenient excuse for his two pointless games to close out a first round loss. Ovechkin, on the other hand, was described as having “flamed out” for going seven games without a goal. The fact that he kept scoring points to stay in the thick of the scoring race is omitted. Also, there is no mention of his debilitating flu during that time.

Then there is the obligatory mention of Malkin and his sans-Sidney rise. At last, in the final, truly damning paragraph, questions as to the potential continued success of Ovechkin and Malkin are raised. Who’s missing? Right, the golden boy. No question about his supremacy or continued success. McErlain does not dare raise this heresy. Sid does no wrong, because it’s been ordained that way and we must follow.

None of this should overshadow the tremendousness of the Caps’ accomplishment last night, of course. Putting a dent in Buffalo’s playoff plans in Buffalo is always a sweet thing (though clearly it will never be as nice as Game 6, 1998. THAT was a Brian Bellows/Joe Juneau-applied dent). Having the somehow-still-reviled-in-Buffalo Alex Ovechkin have a heavy hand in it is even sweeter. And seriously, why still boo him. The turning-into-a-check-from-behind Danny Briere is gone. He bolted from your town and your team. Boo him. That is, when he returns from his shoulder injury. It’s his spearing shoulder, so he can’t play without it.

The huge, huge win keeps the Hurricanes solidly within reach, with the Caps soon to reap the Atlanta-playing benefit the ‘Canes enjoyed last night. Twice. Those four points, plus the two from the game in hand, plus the two from beating Carolina on April 1 = division title. In short, nothing has changed. The inevitable #3 seed remains inevitable.

This complaint-filled rant breaks no new ground, I know. Who hasn’t bellyached about “everybody loves Sidney” outside of Pittsburgh and pseudo-Pittsburgian enclaves in West Virginia? But it’s important to always be mindful of this insidious undercurrent of Sid-worship, and how it threatens to stain everything and everyone in the NHL. It’s decidedly un-dazzling.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Curses, Hexes, and Other Nonsense

With curse of formerly Capitals-dominating Tim Thomas firmly lifted (twice! during the Boston goalie’s Grover-Cleveland-like non-consecutive failed outings in net last night), it’s time to look to the comparably minor Buffalo “curse”. A “curse” in that apparently the Caps haven’t defeated the Sabres yet this season. No worry. We could sit here and cite all kinds of historical precedence for why we shouldn’t feel bad about this minor drought against Buffalo and their annoying Verizon-Center-filling (defililng?) fans, what with the whole Super Bowl XXVI shellacking and that minor affair in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998 (with Darren Pang practically choking on his “congratulations” to the Capitals on defeating the Sabres and his precious Dominik Hasek), but that’s pointless. And lest any rabid (and by rabid I mean literally infected with rabies) Buffalo fan try to irk us with memories of a 17-16 Bills victory late last year (complete with blown leads and double time-outs), completing a four-game Redskins’ skid, let’s remember the wise words of Bobtimist Prime spoken the very next day: “I’d rather lose four straight games than four straight Super Bowls.” Well put.

Anyway, it’s a good time for hex breaking, seeing as Alex Ovechkin has apparently broken that dreaded Tony-Romo-ish “girlfriend” hex with his recent offensive outburst. How is it that one superstar (Alex) can so successfully break away from the girlfriend curse while another “superstar” (Tony) can be so befuddled by it as to completely collapse (again) late season and into the playoffs? Simple. Tony Romo is a scientifically proven tool (Exhibit A, the most insufferable backwards hat/smile combination you've ever seen; Exhibit B, the fawning over the same; Exhibit C, Pepsi commercials with...never mind) and Alex Ovechkin is not. Hence, Alex is inevitably immune to such non-existent nonsense.

But enough about tomorrow’s win over the Sabres, how about last night’s win over the Bruins? Much has been written about the Ovechkin trick, the Backstrom feeds, the looming non-issue of Cristobal Huet’s minor, non-season-threatening tight back muscles, and the overall hilarious ineptitude of Boston. What has received no press is the hauntingly prescient comment by the aforementioned Bobtimist Prime to me around 4:45 PM yesterday afternoon. Concluding our discussion of what was clearly an upcoming victory for the Caps, Bob said, “Caps, 6-0”. A wonderful prediction, I casually thought. He repeated it again on my way out the door a half hour later. Two and a half hours past that, I watched in awe as the first period ended Caps 6 Bruins 0. Karmatic prophetic ESP ‘tism (wouldn’t be the first time)? Or something? I think we all know the answer to that.

Other wonderful nuggets from last night: Donald Brashear goading Zdeno Chara into a five-minute rest in the penalty box, freeing Ovechkin from the grasp of the great beast, possibly qualifying as the true turning point of the game. From that point onward, what was possibly a one-or-two goal game turned into nothing more than a two-hour debate on how quickly the Caps could reach double digits in goals. Dave Steckel diving to block a shot with a seven-goal lead. Alex reclaiming, again, the scoring lead, and further staking his claim to the Maurice Richard trophy. Can the Hart be far behind?

Monday, March 3, 2008

It's On

What’s this? Gilbert Arenas cleared to practice? In these post Are-They-Better-Without-Gilbert days, that is certainly reason for optimism. Better yet, Gilbert appears to be willing to take it slow with the comeback this time around, ensuring he will be around when the playoffs start (still stubbornly holding on to that sixth seed), leading the Wizards to that long-delayed parade.

The target return would seem to be “before we go west”, referring to that late March five game road trip that Ivan Carter and Michael Lee refer to as “challenging”. Well, if the exposed patsies and pretenders from New Orleans are any indication of what the Wizards face against the Superior To All Things teams of the Western Conference, all will be well indeed.

Speaking of on, the Caps are on. On Versus. Joe Beninati doesn’t look or sound right sitting or speaking next to someone not named Craig Laughlin.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

An Optimistic Conversation, An Important Win

During one of our daily conversations regarding how truly great all DC sports teams are, and what glorious futures await them all, Bobtimist Prime and I inevitably turned to the Capitals and last night’s eagerly anticipated revenge match against the Devils. Revenge for that stupid game earlier in the week, and the stupid bounces that always seem to go in favor of Marty Brodeur. I for one felt Cristobal Huet was destined for a 31-save shutout. Bobtimist felt equally strongly that Sergei Fedorov would find instant chemistry with Alexander Semin, and that he would play a key role in the game. This instant chemistry would allow Viktor Kozlov to again flourish on the top line with Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.

We further discussed (drooled over?) the coming gluttonous depth at forward the Capitals will soon have, since the now-skating Chris Clark seems to be making progress, if subtle, non-attention-getting progress. A healthy Clark would be a tremendous fit skating with Semin and Fedorov, in the same way he complimented Ovechkin and Zubrus last year, and Ovechkin and Backstrom this year.

Who knew the collective DCO overload of optimism regarding this game would prove so true? Huet may have made 13 fewer saves than I thought he would, but he still stopped everything. Bobtimist was dead-on in his assessment of an instant gelling on the second line, and of a game that felt the presence of Sergei Fedorov in all aspects: even strength, power play, penalty kill. The no-look pass to Semin that seconds later resulted in another Mike Green defensemen-leading score is evidence the second line will again be potent.

Speaking of potency, there may be some manner of growing concern over Ovechkin’s little goal-scoring slump. It may be seven games and counting sans-goal, but it’s not as if he’s not involved in the offense, or doesn’t still present an imminent threat to score every time he corrals the puck. His nifty little cross-ice pass to Kozlov for a score shows he’s still capable of producing in this temporary downturn, even if the road to 60 goals is becoming slightly more difficult. He’ll still get there. In the meantime, there are plenty of primary assists to be had.

The shutout of the Devils was of course important because of the Hurricanes’ inept attempt at playing hockey against the Rangers the other night. The door was open to close the division deficit to three points, and here we are again. Three points back, two games in hand. Time to get closer and make it really interesting during the next five weeks.