Happy Wednesday, family! As the sun also rises on yet another Wednesday Pensday in the District and beyond, we pause and reflect upon the mystery of Karl Alzner’s mustache and its terrible, haunting beauty. A Requiem for a Shaving Cream.
Last week saw the Capitals play three games against previously Western conference foes, two of whom have now come east to roost. Let’s take a swing through the Midwest and see whether the Caps played like homely milk maids or foxy farmers’ daughters.
QUICK TAKES: Last Week: 3-0-0
- Columbus Blue Jackets Win 4-3 (OT) – Ovechkin had the dandy winner in overtime, and I spilled my scotch in the celebratory hoopla. If only some product existed to Guard against Scotch. Oh, well.
- Detroit Red Wings Win 4-3 (SO) – All Nick Backstrom does is win scoreless overtime shootouts, an does so with moves filthier than a Beijing fog cloud. Michael began climbing the NHL Latta with his first career goal, and gave us the most shock-uberant celebration of the season.
- St. Louis Blues Win 4-1 – Ovechkin potted two daffodils to take the league lead in goals, and Braden Holtby was stunning. I mean, he played well too, but his hair – flawless.
Taking six out of six points will work any week. Caught up, let’s take stock of where the Capitals are now.
Quarter Pole or Cole Porter: The Caps’ De-Lovely Season
Well, looky here! A quarter of the way through the season, the Washington Capitals find themselves one point shy of first place in the newly-minted Metropolitan division. And like another first-rate Metropolitan – the Parisian subway – this baby is underground. ESPN.com currently has the Caps a paltry tenth in their power rankings, despite being just three points out of first in the East. Is the East weak? Like a half-assed blockade of Berlin. But a tidy dismantling of the St. Louis Blues and the specter of Jaroslav “Sorry About Your Playoff Hopes” Halak does plenty to speak to the strength of this team.
Wednesday’s tilt against the barely-in-first-place Pittsburgh Penguins will be another useful measuring stick. The Pens are mustard-stained, Yuengling-soaked interlopers from the Land That Time Forgot, but they are a model franchise of perennial Cup contention.
Sidney Crosby is the most complete hockey player in the world, and their roster is deeper than Rob Ford’s navel. If the Capitals can claim first place in the division, and do so by knocking off the Penguins, it will give credence to the following statement: This is the most complete Capitals team I can remember, from the net to behind the bench, from the first line to the fourth.
Ovechkin the Obestkin
Alex Ovechkin, like the surface of the Sun or a not-to-code industrial foundry, is hot. Extending to last season, he has forty goals over his last forty-two games. On the powerplay he drums up goals from the circle like a motivational speaker at Burning Man, and he’s better off in the face-off than a chimp attack victim with a positive outlook.
Ovechkin is now tied for the league lead in goals with Alex Steen, St. Louis Blues forward and Clive Cussler character. What is striking is the variety of goals Ovechkin is scoring. Last season, most of them came via one-timers from the circle, on the powerplay. This year, Ovi has dangled, dinked, dunked, dipped, dived, deked and decked for his supper. Whether a curl-and-drag snap shot over the shoulder or a bunkerbusting slapper from just inside the zone, the Russian Machine, like a fine escort, is lubed up and rolling.
Just One Contract to Give: Backstrom or Ovechkin?
I wondered this to myself, and I think it bears asking, however rhetorically: If you were the GM of the Washington Capitals, and you only had one contract to give, would you give it to Backstrom or Ovechkin? “Blasphemy! Heresy! Lunacy!” cry the unwashed masses. “I’ve no interest in your ne’erdowell suppositions!” Yet despite these old-timey exclamations of incredulity, the question remains: who is more key to the Capitals’ continued success?
Alex Ovechkin is Alex Ovechkin, X equals X and water is wet. He is the three-time Most Valuable Player of the League, and the only player ever to win the award from two different positions. He will own every Capitals franchise record when it’s all said and done, and will likely go down as one of the game’s all-time greatest players.
But Nick Backstrom is the glue of this whole team. Take away all the assists (in which he has led the team in five of the last seven years), take away all the goals (which he seems to score effortlessly), take away anything easily measurable.
Backstrom is the fulcrum this offense pivots on. Whether establishing the attack in the offensive zone, making smart entries through the neutral zone, or playing good possession-to-breakout hockey in his own zone, Nick is the Capitals’ sanity in the midst of Beltway bedlam. Remember when people said Ovi was washed- up and over the hill? Guess whose injury and absence that coincided with: Backstrom. A cannon is a cannon, but if no one’s around to load it, it’s just a sideways trashcan.
Now let’s shift chronological gears and turn to the week ahead, and the segment that Richie Incognito once belittled within an inch of tears:
LIABLE TO LIBEL: A BAKER’S DOZEN LIES ABOUT THIS WEEK’S OPPONENTS
1. Penguins winger Jussi Jokinen always warms up in his favorite pair of sweatpants that say “Jussi” across the butt in glitter.
2. Marc-André Fleury has the best hyphen-to-soul-patch ratio in the league.
3. Gazing down upon the festering Gomorrah before them, the city’s founders stated the obvious and called it Pittsburgh.
4. Some say that if you enter Consol Energy Center after dark, you can still hear the ghost of Sidney Crosby moaning for a call.
5. Montreal center Danny Brière asked his new teammates to call him “Brie,” but it was too cheesy.
6. Nine different bridges enter and exit Montreal, because wouldn’t you want eight backup plans when it’s time to leave?
7. Like fellow Montreal product Cirque du Soleil, no one can follow Canadiens games, but still clap politely because it seems like everyone else is.
8. Goalie Peter Budaj is good player and a swell guj.
9. The Toronto Maple Leafs have sent several letters to the mayor’s office informing him that their logo is not, indeed, a pot leaf, and to please stop calling.
10. Rob Ford is now the biggest thug in Toronto, beating out previous title-holder Drake.
11. While some question the pluralization of the Maple Leafs name, no one mentions their minor league affiliates the Windsor Gooses or the Halifax Childs.
12. Phil Kessel is not actually fat, he just stores all his unrealized potential in his cheeks.
13. Winger Mason Raymond was named after his parents’ investment firm.
So there you have it, Caps fans. Plenty to be optimistic about, and some fun hockey to watch this week. Pound the Pens, halt the Habs, lick the Leafs – simple stuff. With that I bid you adieu, and as always: Goodnight, good luck, and Go Caps.
Editor’s note: Follow Jason on twitter @HeyJayJRogers