Ah, the Southeast Division.
If the Caps were in the Atlantic and facing the division leader tonight, a loss would drop them to eleven points out of first place. In the Pacific, a similar hypothetical would find them an even dozen points out of the top spot. In the Northeast, another loss would have the Caps sitting in the division's basement.
But not in the Southeast, baby. With a loss tonight, the Caps would be a half-dozen points out of first place, and with a win? Second place, just one win out of first.
For all the mediocrity we're seen out of the Caps so far this year - an MVP scoring champ who can't score, a high-priced goalie who can't stop pucks, a Calder Trophy finalist who couldn't find the net with a map and a compass, a defense that has collectively regressed since last Spring's run to the playoffs, and so on and so on - the Caps are still right there, regardless of tonight's result.
That is, of course, not to say that this evening's match-up with the 'Canes at the VC is meaningless, because it is anything but. It is, after all, the Hurricanes, and a four-point swing in October could be the difference between the playoffs and the links in early April - just ask them.
Carolina comes into the game scoring in bunches, but also allowing plenty of goals (especially lately, allowing four goals to Toronto in each of their last two games). They're 5-1-1 against the Eastern Conference, 5-1-2 on the road (let's hope they leave the bandwagon down in Raleigh), and 2-0-0 within our beloved Southeast Division. They've been good five-on-five, but in the lower-middle of the pack with a man (or two) advantage or disadvantage. Bottom line: these are the Carolina Hurricanes. You know them - always injured, always diving, always a tough out (and for more from their side of things, head over to CanesCountry).
The Caps will turn to their number two netminder (yes, he's still number two) tonight, and hope he can replicate his 42-save effort of Tuesday night. But if he doesn't, he doesn't - as Bruce Boudreau said yesterday, "If Brent goes in and is crappy tomorrow, then obviously I am going to use [Theodore] Saturday against the Rangers."
See? No drama. No "must-win" vibe. No real sense of urgency (whether one is needed yet or need be projected in any case is debatable).
And therein, perhaps, lies the problem. Because while everyone knows that Alex Ovechkin will score more than the 14 goals for which he's currently on pace, many of this team's issues are looming larger every day... and time's a-wastin'.
When Rod Brind'Amour and Sergei Fedorov first played against one another in an NHL game, Bruce Boudreau was en route to a 40-goal/120-point season in the IHL, Glen Hanlon was one of Fedorov's teammates and Karl Alzner (remember him?) had just turned two-years-old. Chris Chelios, mind you, was in his eighth season in the League.... The Caps have more hat tricks (8) against Carolina/Hartford than against any other team in the League other than Philly (9), but Alex Semin (who has scored more goals against the 'Canes (13) than he has against any other team in the League) is the only current Cap to turn the trick against the 'Canes as a Cap (did somebody say Russian hat trick?).
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
The boys at The PensBlog will no doubt love to hear about Semin and Alex Ovechkin being "young and passionate" pillow fighters.... This is what passes for journalism in certain Russian circles.... In case you're wondering where the Caps stayed while in Buffalo last weekend, here's a picture.... Puck Daddy looks at the brawler bargains around the League. Colton Orr? The Donald is not impressed.... The dude whose nut Mike Green nearly exploded in the playoffs last season is doing well for himself over in Switzerland.... An old timey Cap is going to be erased from the record books this weekend. Thanks for sucking, Olli Jokinen!... Caps prospect Eric Mestery has been traded (but is still Caps property).... Finally, you've gotta love HFBoards when it hooks you up with something like this (only 0:38 for me).