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Watching Game 1 of that Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers series, I started to get nervous.
A lot of people had written off the Caps' chances in this series given how they played against the Rangers in the regular season (poorly) and their performances in recent postseasons (inexplicably awful). If they hadn't signed the Caps' death certificate straight away, they'd at least put them on life support prior to the series starting.
This was odd, given that they won the East despite an ugly eight-game losing streak that all the world got to giggle through on HBO. They went 30-11-7 after that, and surged from a tie for sixth all the way back up to first. Meanwhile, the Rangers bumbled along and had to sit around watching a Carolina Hurricanes game (the horror!) to figure out if they made the playoffs.
And somehow people were giving the Rangers a chance?
Oh, but you see, the Rangers were one of the best shot-blocking teams in the league this year (fourth) and that's exactly how the Canadiens beat the Caps in the first round last year. That and Jaroslav Halak standing on his head for seven straight games, of which a world-class netminder like Henrik Lundqvist is more than capable as well.
But the reason the Caps' opening playoff game had me nervous was that none of those expectations were met. Yeah, the Rangers blocked a lot of shots. Twenty-eight in fact. That's not an unreasonable amount.
But the Capitals blocked more. Thirty-two to be exact. Karl Alzner and Jeff Schults alone combined for 14. Only one Ranger had more than three. Washington also threw more hits than the Rangers (35-31) and, I would argue, were more successful in puck battles and in maintaining possession.
So as it turned out, that whole Bruce Boudreau commitment to defense and hard work, rather than floating around and scoring 12 goals a game, wasn't a load of crap. And everyone bought in.
Nowhere is this more typified than in the Alex Ovechkin goal.
(Coming Up: Why the Coyotes fans should want their team to leave; why posting NHL Awards ballots is a good thing; and your pearls of BizNasty.)
Did you, in your entire life, ever think you'd see Ovechkin scoring goals stationed at the side of the net with a defenseman jumping on top of him?
Certainly, it has to be one of the least-occupied areas of his career shot chart, and, in terms of the amount of determination it takes, the extra 35 feet or so from his usual sniper's nest -- at the top of the circles to the spot immediately to Lundqvist's right -- may as well be a mile.
Take also, the example of Alex Semin's game-winner. I'm not going to buy into the nonsense that his prolonged inability to score on Halak on 44 shots over last year's crushing seven-game defeat was in any way indicative of a HE'S NOT CLUTCH-type trend.
But he also looked rather unlike even the Alex Semin of the regular season. His half-loaded game-winning one-timer in OT was just about as perfect as that shot could possibly have been. And that he was in the right place to crush it into the back of the net after that lazy, terrible clear attempt by Marc Staal shows his killer instinct is anything but unrefined.
But what should scare people the most is that they still feel like the same ol' Caps. Look at those gleeful celebrations not only on the Semin goal, but the Ovechkin tally as well. They still play with that airy looseness and confidence that made the firewagon Washington teams of two and three seasons ago so fun to watch, but now that demeanor belies the rigidity up and down the roster that's been instilled by Boudreau.
And so now, one reason I'm nervous is that my prediction of Capitals in six isn't looking so strong. It's probably closer to five, and it wouldn't be in any way surprising if they swept.
The way they've started out, that could be true of whoever they get in the next round too.
If I were a Coyotes fan, I would now want them to leave
Saw this on Twitter earlier in the week, then Greg linked it again Thursday, but this has to be just about the most embarrassing thing I've ever read in my life.
Now granted, I live in Boston. I don't know what it's like for the local team to be in danger of pulling up stakes one bright summer day and never coming back. They'd need a crowbar to pry the Bruins from this city's hands. So maybe I'm being insensitive.
But with posts like this being published by the city's paper of record, begging for visiting fans to dress so they look like local fans? Ridiculous. Saying it would create the illusion that Phoenix is somehow a viable hockey market really puts almost too fine a point on the exact reason Phoenix isn't, wasn't and never will be a hockey town. It might not even be a proper sports town.
So what if the Coyotes do leave, as all the chatter seems to indicate they will? No one would really notice. Not in the grand scheme of things. I don't doubt there are people in Phoenix who love the Phoenix Coyotes. Photos I've seen of the rink on game nights confirm there are somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000. That's not an NHL market. It's barely an AHL market.
Besides, this failed experiment in the Great Sunbelt Expansion of the 1990s is different from the expansion franchises in Tampa, Sunrise, Atlanta. It effectively did to Winnipeg what Winnipeg is about to do to it. So I've got no sympathy.
I hope the Red Wings fans that bother to show up down there wear neon green.
In the last few days, we've seen a lot of hockey writers posting their full ballots for the NHL awards, often with explanations for why. That's a thing that should be compulsory, and not just in hockey.
This is a great way to weed out the idiots. You know some writer for a local paper with a PHWA membership is going to vote for like, Max Talbot, as the league's MVP, and we should be able to find that out and properly scorn him. Even if he made a reasonable choice but had an unreasonable explanation -- like the number of game-winning goals a player had. Because that, like plus-minus, is an irrelevant and inherently stupid stat that tells you nothing.
Understanding how and why people vote the way they do is, I think, important. It lends credibility and importance to these awards that can be rather silly at times. Let's say Michael Grabner somehow wins the Calder over Jeff Skinner. Wouldn't you want to know why?
That kind of transparency would do nothing but good.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on celebrity couples: "Wonder if Natalie Portman would date a fourth line grocery stick. Im in love."
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