Thu Dec 23 09:56am EST
Two of the most memorable props from Episode 2 of "HBO 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: The Road To The NHL Winter Classic" were a shovel and a hard hat: The former given to the hardest working player in the Pittsburgh Penguins dressing room after a game, the latter to the Washington Capitals player for the same reasons.
This was the NHL-as-blue-collar-workers episode. Matt Hendricks(notes) and his nasty eye, talking about how fighting helped him get to the show. Brent Johnson(notes) as the journeyman goalie making the most of his shot with the Pens. The equipment guys working long into the early morning after the Penguins plane lands back home, setting up fans in the locker room to rid it of "hockey stink." The refs sharing a postgame beer like construction workers.
And, above all: Being scared to death that you're going to lose your job.
That was the emotional escalation for the Washington Capitals between the first and second episode of "24/7." We met Bruce Boudreau and the Capitals last week as a sullen group mired in an inexplicable slump, unmotivated by Boudreau's profane rants. This week, there was a lot of Boudreau again but also of his boss, Capitals GM George McPhee, grabbing the back of his head in frustration during games and taking on the team's many detractors.
The sense, for most of the episode, was that a 30-year veteran of the game like Boudreau could be in danger despite his tireless efforts. But it wasn't just his job on the line, as he said in a memorable rant during the Capitals' eventual slump-buster in Ottawa:
"This is a really important period for this year. You gotta say it's [expletive] over. If you don't say it's over, then something bad could really [expletive] happen. I don't think we want the bad things to happen. Too many of us are enjoying it here, [expletive] like it here. So let's get out of our [expletive] funk and do it now."
The Capitals did just that, giving this episode a better balance of highs and lows between the teams. The bar was set so high by the premiere that it was impossible for this one not to be a comedown; it meandered a bit more and in the Penguins case didn't take us out of the arena all that much. Call it a solid 'B-plus" effort. Coming up, a recap, some awards and some video from "HBO 24/7" Episode 2. (SPOILERS AHOY)
This Week on 24/7
"Philadelphia is ... the definition of a road game."
That's Sidney Crosby(notes) at the start of Episode 2 of "24/7", as the Penguins pay a visit to the Philadelphia Flyers. Soon we're in a hotel room with Sid and Pascal Dupuis(notes), and we're given a hilarious moment of candor: The two Penguins in separate beds, watching as VERSUS commentators wonder aloud if Alex Ovechkin's(notes) fight with Brandon Dubinsky(notes) (chronicled in "24/7" Ep. 1) was meant to fire up the Capitals like Crosby's fight with Matt Niskanen(notes) did the Penguins. They share a laugh over the comparison and then over Sid's fighting prowess.
The fight showed a different side of Crosby; the Flyers game showed a different side of the Penguins on "24/7," as their first loss in over a month produced the kind of stern faces and locker room frustration that was missing in the first installment.
The Capitals also fit into the fight meme: Bruce Boudreau talking to Ovechkin about his fight, Matt Hendricks and his creepy eye talking about how fighting has kept him in the League and all the Capitals talking about their greatest fight: Against their increasing losing streak.
Back in Pittsburgh, Coach Dan Bylsma is assigning grades to players after their loss and suiting up for a pick-up game between Penguins employees ... including a 45-year-old member of Penguins ownership named Mario Lemieux, who played to prep for the Winter Classic alumni game and looked as if he still has better hands than 99-percent of the League.
Back in Washington, the focus is on Boudreau. He gets to the rink early. He hates to lose. He writes things on the whiteboard like "they rely heavily on this line" under "Getzlaf/Ryan/Perry" before the Ducks game. And when that line combined to score the game-winner against the Caps in OT, he gave another F-Bomb laden speech that sought to find a silver lining.
Back in Pittsburgh, it's a feature on "old man" Brent Johnson, a loss to the Rangers, and an update on Jordan Staal's(notes) injured hand. Best part of the segment: HBO cameras inside the referees' dressing room, where it's Miller Lite, Coors Light and laughs. Alas, no one checked a BlackBerry for Colin Campbell emails.
In Washington, it's new gear day, or as Alex Ovechkin calls it "Christmas for me." He picks up a "sick" skate. Jason Chimera(notes) gets two left gloves, joking that he's hit rock bottom. It's here we also get an Arturs Irbe sighting, as he attempts to shape up the Caps' young goaltenders.
Overall, the mood is considerably lighter for the Capitals here, as captured in this Ovie-at-home segment:
(We also get a Dan Bylsma at home segment and a children-at-the-rink segment in Pittsburgh, in which we discover Craig Adams'(notes) young son knows all the names of the Penguins. An NBC executive in training!)
With about 18 minutes left in the show, the tone shifts. Back in Washington, local sports talk stations are buzzing about the Capitals' losing streak and Boudreau's job safety. McPhee and Boudreau dismiss the criticism as coming from uninformed, unqualified critics. The Capitals play the Bruins and get down 3-0 early; that's when alternate captain Mike Knuble(notes) steps up:
"It will not [expletive] turn into a 5-0, 7-0 [expletive] laugher where they're [expletive] giggling getting out of their [expletive] mess here. We're [expletive] down 3-0, and we are going to come back and were gonna [expletive] win this thing. We're not [expletive] going in the tank. That's enough right there. That's [expletive] more than a year's worth. It's not going to happen again."
The Capitals lost the contest, but found their game in the third period. Still, this leads to images of Boudreau burying his head in his hands and McPhee with a furrowed brow in a black trench coat, looking all emo in the corner of an elevator, looking like Gabriel Byrne if he managed an NHL team
Back in Pittsburgh, the Penguins have (gasp!) a 2-game losing streak. They arrive for a game against the Coyotes, and we learn about Sidney's idiosyncrasies with his pregame routine. His stick taping. His PB&J sandwich with specific types of each. Soccer. Stretches. And the lucky cup he's had for years that should be confiscated by the CDC immediately before an outbreak.
The Penguins won the game. Geno Malkin dominated. All was well. Which meant it's time to see if the Capitals could find their own remedy.
Washington traveled to Ottawa where Boudreau had a message for the team in the 8-game slide: "Chicago lost nine in a row last year. They lost nine in a row and they won the Cup."
After the Senators too a 2-0 lead, the message intensified in the dressing room with Boudreau's "let's get out of our [expletive] funk and do it now."
Final score: Capitals 3, Senators 2. Washington's reaction to the win was like getting laid after seeing "Star Wars" for the first time with a pizza on the way. Now the Capitals and the Penguins are both partying, both playing well, both ready for their showdown(s) in the coming days. And the Capitals could finally unleash this unique brand of hell on an unsuspecting public: DJ Paulie D's "Beat Dat Beat," their unofficial victory song:
Next week: Capitals vs. Penguins, Round 1.
F-Bomb Count: Our count was 79; the Pensblog had 94(!).
Nudity Report: None, although Ovechkin gave Mike Green a view of Russian pride via an open towel early in the episode while both were in the trainers room.
Hockey Geek Moment: While Mario is probably tops, we'll give a stick tap to the appearance of Arturs Irbe, which was probably a kick for everyone but Detroit Red Wings fans.
Missing In Action: Not a lot on Alex Semin during a time in which the wheels were coming off his season; language barrier maybe?
Money Quote, Capitals:
"When you're having a tough stretch, that's when there are too many reactionaries out there. All the experts come out, all the pundits come out with their opinions. And the truth of the matter is that if they knew anything about the game, they'd be in it."
-- GM George McPhee on criticism during the Caps' losing stream.
"Sick Fanny Pack. You got your keys in there?"
-- Mike Rupp to Sidney Crosby, as part of Sid's gear resembled ... well, a fanny pack.
3. Mike Knuble, Washington Capitals
His locker room speech will no doubt spark some "and he's not the captain ... why?" discussions.
2. Evegni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
He found his offensive game since last episode, dropped a couple of F-bombs and was the subject of a funny Crosby story about their pregame handshake.
1. George McPhee, Washington Capitals
There were as many shots of McPhee passionately defending his team as there were McPhee grabbing his head in palpable frustration. He exuded confidence ... yet one gets the sense that he was one loss away from taking a goalie stick to a glass wall inside that practice rink. One of the more interesting characters we've "met" on the show.