The Caps finished their seven-game road trip last night in Raleigh with a 6-5 overtime loss to the host Hurricanes. Despite finishing the trip with a 3-1-3 record, including 2-0-1 against the Southeast Division champ 'Canes, last night's game stung, as the Caps grabbed a pair of first period leads, then fell behind 4-2 during a horrid second period only to tie the game at four and then at five in the third period before losing on a powerplay goal in overtime after failing to score on a 5-on-3 advantage of their own in the closing moments of regulation (I can draw a diagram of that last sentence if it would help).
As in the previous three games against Carolina, the Caps did a great job of handling the duo of Baby Face (0 points in his last four games against the Caps) and Baby Food (.831 save percentage in the last four Carolina/Washington tilts), but got beaten by perennial thorn-in-the-side Butt Fugly (another three points last night) and the recently rehabilitated Josef Vasicek, who had a pair of goals to match his pair of assists. It certainly didn't help matters for the Caps that they played the whole night with only 10 forwards (Matt Pettinger was unable to play after warm-ups and the Caps have been skating 11 forwards and 7 defensemen lately to begin with) and played half the second period without another forward, captain Jeff Halpern, who was in the penalty box serving fighting majors for beating down a slash-happy Baby Face and later tussling with a creaky Doug Weight, but excuses are, as they say, like Tony Kornheisers (more on him later). The Caps simply didn't get it done last night, whether it was getting the big save, clearing a rebound, scoring on a gift-wrapped 5-on-3... Seventy-four games into the season and the fact remains: the effort and attitude are there but the talent and results simply are not.
The WTimes recaps the game here, the WaPo here. Speaking of the WaPo, I wonder how Caps beat writer Tarik El-Bashir feels when he busts his tail covering the team for a paper that prints an article entitled "He Shoots, He Scores, America Snores" (web-titled "NHL? Nobody Cares"). Yes, hockey fans, Tony Kornheiser has once again decided to trash our beloved sport for no apparent reason. Eric over at OWO takes him to task on it, but I wanted to make a couple of points myself.
Kornheiser begins beating his dead horse with the bold assertion that "Hockey is dead" (interesting, as attendance is way up league-wide over the 2003-04 season), then backtracks by qualifying his claim with "At least it's dead right here, right now." Looking merely at ticket sales, that would be hard to argue, as the Caps have lost the second-most ground at the box office over two years ago of any team in the League. But let's not forget that two years ago, the Caps had big expectations and big draws Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Robert Lang, and Sergei Gonchar for more than half the season, whereas this year the team was expected to be awful and, despite exceeding those expectations (and the record of the 2003-04 squad) and boasting arguably the League's most exciting player, the public perception of this team has been too much to overcome. Kornheiser continues:
The Caps have played 74 games. They only have eight left, and they've been playing since October. And when was the last time they came up at all in conversation? Not just the Caps, any NHL team? For five bucks, name the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, I dare you.Obviously I'm not a good judge of this, since the Caps come up in nearly every conversation I have, but his "name the coach" example is ridiculous. How many people could name the head coach of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks? Or the manager of the Colorado Rockies (the baseball team)? Or the head coach of the New Orleans Saints of the mighty NFL? Are those sports dead too? For the record, Tony, Gerard Gallant is the head coach of the Blue Jackets. You owe me five bucks.
Hockey is so dead in America, the players may as well still be locked out.See attendance figures, as there are millions of fans who will disagree with you. In fact, more people have already attended NHL games this year (18,954,089) than attended NFL games last season (17,200,324) and ten of the NHL's 30 teams are playing to capacity (or more) crowds, while 12 of the NFL's 32 franchise did the same in 2005. The article goes on with gratuitous shots at the local team, its star and the League on the whole, and maybe later I'll discuss it further. But for now there are two major points I'd like to make.
First, who is Kornheiser's audience here? Presumably hockey is so dead that the only people who will read this piece are the dozen or so hockey fans out there who read the WaPo. In that case, TK is telling his audience that they're a bunch of dolts who would be better off waiting for parachute pants to come back than for the NHL to be resurrected. On the other hand, if casual sports fans care enough about hockey to read this drivel, it seems proof positive that there is interest in the sport and that perhaps it simply needs a marketing makeover. So take your pick - either Kornheiser is condescending to and insulting his readers (and colleagues) or he's dead wrong on the central premise of his article. Journalism at its finest either way.
The second point is more narrowly focused on the Caps. With just eight games remaining in a season that has long been about goals other than those measured by wins and losses, what purpose is served by writing this article now? The Caps are rebuilding and Ted Leonsis, George McPhee et. al. are doing it the right way, and that takes time. Of course they're not winning right now, and attendance reflects that. But with the team's best player chasing 50 goals, 100 points and the Calder Trophy, why pen such a mean-spirited piece of garbage? Why not write an article about how this team is headed in the right direction and how people should take notice and get in on the ground floor? Then again, why would I expect Kornheiser to start being positive or constructive now after 20-plus years of pissing in people's Cheerios?
Thread of the Day: Uh Oh, Tony K. On The Caps And Hockey (Caps fans react to TK's latest)
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
- Cristobal Huet and Steven Reinprecht are your Defensive and Offensive Players of the Week, respectively, while Ray Emery and Jaromir Jagr are the Defensive and Offensive Players of the Month, respectively, for March. The key to Jagr's success this year? He's found that he's inexplicably drinking a lot more Gatorade (tip of the cap to Eric at OWO for that last link).
- Happy Birthdays to former three-time Jack Adams Trophy winner Pat Burns (54), Hall-of-Famer Dale Hawerchuk (43) and Roberto Luongo (27).
- Hart: Mathieu Garon (23-save shutout win over Vancouver keeps LA's playoff hopes alive)
- Ross: Josef Vasicek (4 points)
- Norris: Marc-Andre Bergeron (Goal, 2 assists, +2)
- Vezina: Miikka Kiprusoff (Shootout loss, 41 saves on 42 shots against through OT)
- Richard: Josef Vasicek, Ray Whitney, Rico Fata, Dany Heatley, Vincent Lecavalier, Rob Blake (2 goals each)
- Calder: Dion Phaneuf (Goal, 5 shots on goal, hit, 2 takeaways, 0 giveaways, 3 blocked shots)
- Aiken: Curtis Joseph (Loss, 6 goals against on 25 shots in 39:48 before being pulled)