Friday 6:05 p.m.: This evening at Verizon Center I’m thinking about the lovers of apple pie. Of the men who take their pleadings for the hands of the women they love first to the fathers, for permission. Of citizens who instantly yield their seats on public transportation to the elderly and infirmed. Of men who hold open doors for women. All of these upstanding citizens, those who resist the vogue of the moment and honor tradition — today, they were vindicated: by lethal and cruel and unanimous volume did the Washington Capitals this week sh*tcan Reebok’s uniform system.
The Caps, unanimously, voted to toxic waste site what Reebok delivered to them this autumn and revert to the fabric of last season’s sweaters. The vote was unanimous. Wednesday’s game versus the Rags was the debut of the Caps’ relief from all that drowning sensation. The funny thing is, like everybody else, I didn’t learn about this until earlier today, when our own Gustafsson dug up the jewel buried in some team notes, but watching Wednesday’s game even from up high, I recall something vaguely more appealing about the team’s tops. More telling: after Wednesday night’s game, once media was allowed into the Caps’ room, I saw a couple of Caps still in their sweaters. It didn’t register with me at the time, but in every other home game preceding, the players meeting with the press in front of their lockers were always out of their uniform systems. They were too hot to remain in them. But not Wednesday night.
It’s one thing, isn’t it, for an innovation to fail merely hours after it’s debuted, but something altogether transcendently humiliating for the entire universe of its users to, by roll call unanimous, announce, “This is not fit for lining the garage residence of my canine.”
I just spoke with Nate Ewell about the timeframe for the change. The Caps made the request some time ago, because the first replacement sweaters arrived in time for Brian Pothier to try one out at Carolina on November 30. Pothier’s thumb went up that night, and two weeks later a full compliment of sweaters arrived. I asked Nate if he’d been present at the unanimous vote, the one where not a single Cap opted to retain the faddish faux sweater. He said he hadn’t been. I wanted to know if in executing the vote the players’ arms shot up so fast in support of the motion that some injured their shoulders — is this what actually happened with Michael Nylander? — or if instead they merely screamed their support for dumping the dress dreck. I also asked Nate who paid for the changes.
“I don’t know whether the league or Reebok does,” he told me, “but we don’t.”
I am also thinking about the more than 6,600 men and women, boy and girls, who signed an online petition last summer to protest Gary Bettman’s profaning of hockey’s iconic look. We at OFB signed it as soon as we found out about it, provided updates and encouragement for the tradition-honoring, and took some ridicule for not genuflecting before the altar of vulgar corporate greed. Sometimes, though, David slays Goliath.
I think as punishment, Commissioner Bettman should be required, for the remainder of his tenure, to attend those swanky, offseason Board of Governors meetings — the ones that are always held in tropical temps — outfitted the entire time in a Reebok original sweat chamber. He should have to golf out under hot desert suns with the Governors in one.
5:50 p.m.: An NHL off-ice official wearing his snazzy navy blue blazer approached me at dinner and asked if he could still secure two tickets to Tuesday night’s OFB Night at the Movies. I got a kick out of that. So he’s coming, and if you haven’t signed up yet, you should as well.
6:50 p.m.: Miss New Jersey is back blogging tonight. So far, no Christmas card, no baked gingerbread goodies from her.
7:05 p.m.: The lower bowl tonight is a lot more filled than it was for either New Jersey Monday or the Rangers on Wednesday. So too is the upper bowl. It’s good to see.
7:20-ish p.m.: It’s so feel-good here at Verizon Center this week that a pair of lovebirds pledged their future lives together in high definition in a cleverly planned out surprise for the future bride. She was playing that game of watch the fast-moving puck on the big brilliant center-ice screen, and when she identified the correct puck, instead of the screen saying “You Win!”, it said, “Will you marry me?” Just then her boyfriend moved in to the screen shot and fell to one knee. Being proposed to in such a romantic setting, the young woman had the good sense to answer affirmatively. Briefly I pondered such an arrangement between Miss New Jersey and me.
- Friday night’s game brings the very unwelcomed arrival of self-destructive penalties. Two too many men on the ice infractions, and Coach Boudreau would in his post-game remarks note that a third such penalty could and should have been whistled, but one of the officials cut the team a break.
- Still, the Caps’ first couple of power plays instill more gospel for the newly converted masses. They are wonders to behold. They remind me of precisely what I saw the past couple of seasons in Hershey. Unlike the perimeter “attack” of Glen Hanlon, the Boudreau man-up strategy slices through the four opposing defenders with constant player movement and sharp-angled set-ups, a dab of cross-ice back-door-ing, and chess games of drawing two defenders into poor positioning and exploiting wide-open weak sides. After watching the first two Caps’ man advantages, I want to propose marriage to Steve Kolbe.
- As if mental lapses with respect to penalties weren’t bad enough, Olie authors the blunder of all blunders out in no-goalie’s land. It was understandable that he moved out to try and thwart danger, but his crucial mistake — which he’d own up to afterward — was playing the puck with just one hand.
- A secondary assist on Brooks Laich’s goal? There shouldn’t have been a primary. The primary assist came from the end boards behind Ryan Miller.
- “A strange game tonight, very strange,” Dmitry Chesnokov of SovetskySport tells me. “So many miscues, so many near misses and bad penalties.” It is the least appealing game of the homestand because of these qualities. And, I would learn later in the post-game, it would be Bruce Boudreau’s least favorite. But it’s drawn, apparently, the season’s largest crowd.
- Buffalo, I suppose, has somehow made itself a rival to the Caps, absent any playoff drama this decade. Their legion of fans here the past couple of seasons seems to actually outnumber those for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia back in the day of out-of-town bus convoys to Capital Center. They boo one of the planet’s greatest players every time he touches the puck. On the one hand, you have to admire the loyalty they exhibit removed far and in many cases by many years from home. On the other, you have to pity a metropolitan economy so meager it engenders so massive a mass exodus of the natives. At Friday’s game there was even a Buffalo Sabres Club of Philadelphia contingent in attendance, so their exodus isn’t confined just to D.C. Perhaps their loyalty would be better directed at improving Buffalo’s economy, and sticking around and doing something about it.
8:35 p.m.: During the second intermission I interview Dmitry Kapitonov, a personal trainer to the Caps’ three Russians. And, it turns out, to the team’s two Swedes during his visit. He arrived in Washington around the middle of last month, to assist with the rehabilitation of Alexander Semin’s ankle but also to design and execute in-season workouts for the Caps’ Russians. The Swedes took a liking to what their Russian teammates were doing and joined in. Dmitry is departing for home on December 22. The Russians, not only on the Caps but on teams around the NHL, enjoy working with trainers such as Dmitry during the season. It’s not so much an indictment of the North American way of hockey training as it is a comfort from the home culture.
- Kolzig was devastated after the game, looking down at his skates the entire time he spoke with the media. He spoke of “gift-wrapping” two goals for Buffalo. He’s always a thoughtfully reflective athlete after games, able with his thoughts to paint a wide landscape of his team’s successes and failures from an entire game, but after Friday night his comments were focused almost exclusively on his errors and their consequences. It was abundantly clear that he thought he was responsible for the loss.
- “A lot of crap went on in the third [period],” the head coach said afterward. Ovechkin used an even saltier adjective to describe the team’s third period. Of Kolzig’s miscue, Boudreau said, “That’s an error of effort, and you can forgive that.”
- “The sense of urgency in their team [versus] our team was quite amazing tonight,” Boudreau noted.
- Boudreau on his team’s failure to seize a special opportunity: “This is our chance, this is our opportunity . . . you’ve won three in a row, you’ve started to go do something. It’s the last game of your homestand. Let’s get a run together, and a run is not three games, a run is six, seven games, and you need two or three of them during the course of a season to be successful . . . For whatever reason we didn’t have that sense of urgency . . . I didn’t think we had 19 players playing to their capabilities tonight.”
“I’ll find out a lot about a lot of guys tomorrow.”
- Asked about the too-many men on the ice infractions, Boudreau noted, “[We] should have had another — the ref gave us a break, and I think that goes to show the mental preparation of some of the guys. They knew who was up, they know what the deal is. That’s a sure sign of not being into the game mentally.”