Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Karlsson's Epic Season Just Got More Epic... Get Serious About "Goon" ... And More Napkin Scribbled Game Notes

Ottawa 4 Washington 2

Erik Karlsson scares me.

Did you see that slap-pass off the boards from deep in his own end, straight onto Milan Michalek's stick in the first period? When Michalek stormed in and scored that highlight reel goal (probably the prettiest of the season for any Senator), I was still squinting in disbelief at my television, trying to process how Karlsson made that play look so easy and natural, like flipping on the light switch and whistling 'Strangers In The Night'.

To me, Karlsson's slap-pass makes David Rundblad's now famous lob-pass earlier in the season look like some kind of amateur play you might see a drunk beer-leaguer make in Cornwall on a Thursday night. A lucky bounce.

Karlsson's pass was no Hail Mary effort. It was fast, precise and sickening to watch for even hardened viewers of the game.

The kid made everything look effortless tonight and if this is just a hint of what he's capable of, how is anyone going to stop him once he hits his prime in five or six years? Right now, he's running on 90% skill and 10% experience. When that experience quota starts to fill up, he's going to be even more lethal. Now before I start growing hair in weird places and morphing into Eugene Melnyk, I'm not making any predictions that Karlsson will be "one of the greatest defensemen of all-time". No need to. He's already one of the best in the game right now and I don't think Ottawa fans even realize what kind of player they have here.

But enough of the hyperbole. The season's too long to tolerate some hack blogger going on and on about some kind of split-second play that seemed to scare him more than it impressed him.

It's like that story I've told before where Wayne Gretzky made some ridiculously unfathomable play in an Oilers practice in the early 80's that made the once bustling rink go quiet in real depression because guys like Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe couldn't believe what they had just seen. It ruined their day.

But there I go again. The Melnyk disease has gotten to me. Names like Gretzky and Messier slip out uncontrollably.

I better get on to another topic before I threaten everyone's sanity and say something really embarrassing.


So, how about those Washington Capitals?

Remember the fun old days in Washington? When Bruce Boudreau just opened the bench doors and let his players play the game they way it's supposed to be played? With speed, passion, skill and a few laughs along the way? Sure, the Caps had some playoff disappointments playing that wide open style but that had just as much to do with having a group of young guys than it was their system. Those losses created such a shit storm of criticism that the team seemingly had no choice but to stop the on-ice party and "get serious".

Only problem was the new style didn't fit the personnel. Alex Ovechkin reminds me a lot of the old Jaromir Jagr. He's a guy who needs the latitude to do what he does best or it just doesn't work for him or the team he plays for. Same goes for players like Mike Green and Alex Semin. These guys are born to freewheel but Boudreau was forced to try and tame them or lose his job (he lost it anyways) and now Dale Hunter looks like he's just come in and pulled the reins tighter. He might have to leave in the summer.

The body language on the Caps is depressing. To a man, they know they're capable of running teams out of the rink, or at least used to be, but management wasn't brave enough to stick to what made them great in the first place, and that was the run and gun style that maximizes Ovechkin's game. That's probably an over-simplification of what ails the Caps, but as a general take, I think it's pretty close.

It's strange, because they're only a handful of wins away from overtaking the Panthers for first in the Southeast and third in the East, but back to back tank jobs against Carolina and Ottawa makes you think they're farther away than anyone can imagine.

If you're going to lose (and there are 29 losers every single year), you might as well go out playing the style you do best. The Caps haven't just lost their identity. They actually might be close to the point where they have to tear half the team down. It seems insane, but....

Black Aces Senators 3 Stars

1. Erik Karlsson
2. Milan Michalek
3. Craig Anderson

Honourable Mentions: Kyle Turris, Nick Foligno, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil.


TSN analyst Mike Johnson was speaking over a video of Alex Ovechkin on his phone walking into the Kanata rink this morning when Johnson hinted that Ovi might have only been pretending to take a call to avoid having to make eye contact with anybody. Wow. Ovi is getting torched every day now. Guy can’t even talk to his girlfriend without someone saying he’s dogging it….. For some reason, this reminds me of ex-Islanders GM Mike Milbury who, upon trading for Alexei Yashin from Ottawa in 2001, came to the defence of his new acquisition by telling the press that "Mother Teresa would have a bad reputation in Ottawa. You can't go down the street and so much as sneeze without something going wrong." For some more classic hockey quotes, check out this string of posts I did a few years back.....  Sportsnet was showing a program called “Marathon Highlights” tonight. I clicked on it and guess what I saw? A bunch of people running down a road. And it was an hour long show. Riveting stuff….. Erik Karlsson had the great TSN play-by-play man Chris Cuthbert hitting some vocal high notes in the first period. Cuthbert and Johnson had just finished marvelling about Karlsson’s stats this season when “the kid” started a give and go in the neutral zone and then led the rush to the net for a close scoring chance. Cuthbert barely had time to catch his breath before Karlsson laced a perfect shot between Tomas Vokoun’s legs for the first goal of the game, which made Cuthbert bark out “The Kid does it again!!” Listening to Cuthbert call a hockey game is to listen to the best there is…. Not to be outdone on the Team 1200 radio broadcast, Dean Brown called the second period Chris Phillips goal by screaming “Number Four, Bobby Orr!!”....

..... A few chaps seem to have a chip on their shoulder about a new hockey movie called “Goon”, presumably because the title and the advertising campaign seems to “glorify” the violent, nasty side of hockey (some of the ads got pulled because of an unrelated sexual innuendo - no surprise there). But what some completely fail to recognize is that comedy has no responsibility to be politically correct or universally sensitive, nor should it ever attempt to be. It’s a movie. It’s not real life. Relax. Some people take the game so seriously they fail to realize that nobody outside of their little insular world could give two shits about what they think is funny or not. The movie might be great or it might be moronic (I have no idea and I don’t really care) but I can guarantee it wasn’t made for people who want to find some kind of deeper meaning or political statement. Neither was Animal House, Slapshot, Happy Gilmour, Dumb and Dumber or Caddyshack. (Even Adam Proteau of The Hockey News, perhaps the most hardline anti-fighting voice out there, realizes the movie is just entertainment and gives it a good review.) ......

.... It wasn't funny seeing Mathieu Perrault score a goal off his face and go down in pain in the third period, but it was pretty funny watching Karlsson look over hopefully at the ref, as if there might be some arcane rule where a goal couldn't go in off someone's grill. No luck Erik.….. With all this talk about Rick Nash and Jeff Carter being on the trading block, wouldn’t it be mind-blowing to see both of them go in the same deal? How about a mega-swap with L.A. that sees Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Bernier and Jack Johnson going the other way? There’s my big contribution to the invented rumour mill…. Strange. According to Cap Geek, the L.A. Kings don’t have a single roster player with a No-Trade clause. Start carving guys….. Douglas Murray of the Sharks “fracturing” his Adams apple has to be the most painful sounding injury of the season….. Let’s all give Sens prospect AndrĂ© Petersson a mulligan for his “Binghamton sucks” comments to a Swedish newspaper. All NHL prospects don’t want to be in the AHL and most of them probably feel they deserve to be plying their trade for a big city NHL team. The fact they are stuck in small cities off the glory trail probably fuels some natural snobbery, especially in young guys like Petersson. They all say the same things to each other in private but Petersson made the mistake of doing it publicly. It’s happened to players before and it will happen again. It doesn’t make him a punk. It makes him young, and after this mini public relations disaster, he’ll be a little older and wiser with his words. Plus, if Erik Karlsson vouches for him, that sort of closes the case, doesn’t it?.....

…. A book I highly recommend you find a way to read is Al Strachan’s “I Am Not Making This Up” which was just published in 2010. It’s purely an anecdotal collection which makes for an easy read on the bus or on the go somewhere and Strachan is one of the last old-school iconoclasts of the hockey journalism gig. The guy seemingly can’t go a page or two without clawing into Bettman and the NHL head office but he has the utmost respect for the actual players, an attribute that seems to be missing in today’s breed of writers who grew up in an era that demonized the players as “greedy” and now feel no need to challenge that theory for the public. Anyhoo, here’s Strach relating one of these stories and it involves the barely English-speaking Valeri Zelepukin of the early 90’s New Jersey Devils and head coach Jacques Lemaire:

“One day, when the Devils were going through a bad stretch, Lemaire gathered the players in the dressing room and started laying down the law… ‘We’ve not been playing well,’ he said, ‘and if we keep on playing like this, you know what’s going to happen, don’t you?”

He looked at the team. There was total silence. Heads were down. Then Zelepukin gingerly raised his hand.

“Coach get fired?”


I’m off to Toronto this weekend for a wedding, so there likely won’t be a post until Trade Deadline day on Monday after the weekend games against the Bruins and Islanders. See you then folks. I'll try not to drink too many beers but Hogtown may drive me to unseen levels.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that you hit it out of the park on the Capitals analysis.

This was a team that went from picking first overall in 2004, to winning the President's Trophy within five seasons. They had a player that was voted by his peers as the best in the game, twice. He won the Hart trophy twice as well.

They went from a dormant hockey market to a market that was alive and filling the building. NBC regularly picked up their games for national broadcasts. Even Ken Hitchcock was quoted as saying that Ovechkin was worth the price of admission.

A winning, exciting hockey team with the best player in the game. That should be every hockey market's dream.

The way I see it, all that happened is that they ran into a hot goalie, Jaro Halak. It happens.

Every few years, some goalie goes nuts in the playoffs and stops everything. You can't do much about it. It happens.

Let's not forget that Halak beat Pittsburgh as well. For some reason, Ted Leonsis announces that they were out coached and next thing you know the President's Trophy winners think that they must make a bunch of changes.

I'm not a Caps fan, but I blame management. They messed up. When the Oilers got bounced by the Islanders in the 1983 Finals people said the same things. They said that Oilers were not good enough defensively.

Fortunately, the Oilers stuck to their guns and stayed offensive and won the Cup in 1984 against the Islanders. I think that win helped usher in the era of firewagon hockey that was the late 80's and early 90's.

A lot of players probably owe their Hall of Fame numbers to the fact that they got to play in that era.

The sad thing is that Ovechkin, a guy who has single-handedly grown the market in Washington is getting slapped pretty hard. He's probably a couple of months away from being tagged an "enigma".

I have a sneaky suspicion that almost all superstar players are "enigmas". It's just that under good management we never see that side of them.

What I'm getting at is that if you put the superstar in a position to succeed by taking advantage of their strengths, you'll get a great player.

If you put the superstar in a position that frustrates them to the point of breaking their spirit, well then you label them an enigma (or lacking work ethic) before people start point the finger at you for wrecking the formula that was working.

Here's the translation of the Caps body language: "Dale, go back to London."

I think these guys will turn it around very quickly if they get a coach like Paul Maclean.

Erik Karlsson is a treat to watch.

As good as he is, I disagree with the talk of "if he's this good now imagine five years from now".

It seems that a lot of the young guys across the league have had an impact very quickly. Every time a young player has had early success, the same type of overly optimistic projections have followed.

Ovechkin scored 106 points is rookie year. Imagine how good he'll be in .... He's topped out at 112 poins.

Phaneuf got nominated for a Norris his second year. Imagine how good he'll be in ... He's still very good but ...

Doughty was on the Olympic team his second year. Imagine how good ... Still good but not some imaginary ideal defenceman.

Even Crosby is the best in the game, but it's not like he's winning scoring titles by 50 points like Gretzky.

I think that there is so much parity in the game that teams eventually adjust to the great players. They're still great players, but it's tough to be absolutely dominant.