23 April, 2014

Suddenly, I'm Seriously Missing Sergei Fedorov

Cup'pa JoeA little bit of sandpaper out on the ice, I think, might have helped the zone clearing cause during those 90-some-odd seconds that seemed like 90 minutes when five Capitals’ skaters were powerless in the third period, clinging to a one-goal lead, to clear the puck from their end against New Jersey Monday night. The shift that ended up — and didn’t you just know it was coming! — resulting in the game-tying goal. 

  • But there is no sandpaper — well, certainly no sandpaper added from the offseason — on this Capitals’ roster. The absence of sandpaper, particularly on the blueline, seemed priority one for management to address during the summer after Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby read James Michener novels beside Semyon Varlamov’s crease for so much of last spring. The Capitals looked helpless during that Devils’ game of infuriatingly prolonged keep-away in the home team’s zone, and sandpaper in hockey helps prevent and limit helplessness.    

  • The Capitals had I believe 53 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage in the third period and the draw deep in the Devils’ zone on Monday night. Last season, nine times out of ten, Sergei Fedorov would have hopped over the boards and taken that draw. Seven times out of ten he’d have won it. Monday night, Brooks Laich took it instead, lost it badly, and in an instant the puck was cleared and 15-20 precious seconds of a two-man advantage vanquished.   

  • Every hockey team every offseason makes additions and subtractions with its roster, and in the middle portion of the new season’s first month we may be learning just how much the Capitals already miss Sergei Fedorov. We knew he’d be missed on draws. We knew he’d be missed for his defensive prowess — most particularly on the penalty kill. But there’s more — much, much more, I fear.

  • After the Capitals lost the offensive zone draw at the start of that near minute-long 5-on-3 — the power play that could have iced the game — the Caps’ attack attempted a hard-around dump in into the Devils’ zone, one that wasn’t hard enough to elude Martin Brodeur’s deft stick behind his cage. Another easy clear followed. The home crowd exhaled in exasperation. Last season on the power play, Sergei Fedorov often carried the puck into the opposition’s zone, penalty killing forwards helpless to check him off it. Because of Fedorov’s prowess with the puck, the Capitals were frequently able to gain entry and establish their power play and at times utuilize prodigious amounts of the two minutes they were up a man with the puck in the offensive zone. This season (admittedly early)? Not so much. Nicklas Backstrom is quite good on the puck, and at times he enters the zone artfully and distributes efficiently to one of his trailing wingers. But he’s no Sergei Fedorov. Not yet.    

  • As if to put an exclamation point on the Fedorov train of thought: there were more than a few dozen shifts last season when I thought Feds was the best blueliner in red.

  • You could attend every hockey game played at Verizon Center for the next 20 years and not see a set of consecutive, game-saving saves the likes of Jose Theodore’s against the Devils’ overtime power play last night. The Devils’ enjoyed such close-range, hair-greying chances in OT because a 4-on-3 power play affords so much open ice playmaking, a shooter almost always in tight to pounce. It took three solid replay viewings on big-screen high-def upstairs for me to comprehend what JT had done. He gloved aside a Zach Parise sure-bet snipe — while on his back or side — and then a nano-second later used his blocker to thwart another goal-line dagger while still down on the ice. A fair and honorable script would have had the Caps prevail in the shootout, so that bloggers like me who’ve been critical of JT could have carried him out of the locker room on our shoulders to his car in the Verizon Center garage. 

  • We were visited by hockey royalty in the press box Monday night — an eminent emissary from the reigning Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears, John Walton, made like the media star he is fast becoming and did interviews on Washington television, radio, and blogs. And yes, when you’re a part of a hockey organization that makes it a virtual annual habit to claim championships you are hockey royalty in my book. In one of the all-time highlights of my press box career JW allowed me to try on his Calder Cup ring during the second intermission. That’s as close as I’m getting to championship hockey in this lifetime — other than scoring the Stanley Bucket winning goal in my beer league a few years back — and I’ll remember the massive and massively beautiful weight of that jewel on my hand the rest of my life.   

  • Much is made of the symmetry and synergy that’s been fostered between Washington and Hershey since the organizations re-affiliated in 2005, but there’s perhaps a telling difference, philosophically, between the rosters: Hershey doesn’t enter any season without serious sandpaper on at least one forward line and serious sandpaper as well on the blueline. To state it plainly: there just hasn’t been in recent seasons, nor is there now, a Dean Arsene-like figure for the Caps making life miserable for every opposing sweater out on the sheet in his end. Arsene left Hershey for Edmonton’s organization this summer, but look at what’s there in Chocolatetown: Darren Reid, Brandon Sugden, Grant McNeill, Greg Amadio — sandpaper skaters.     


  1. Katie32 wrote:

    I absolutely agree with the Federov missing – however, he was guilty of quite a few penalties as well. Would he help us in this situation, or would his help be considered a wash because of the penalties that seemed to be whistled his way in the worst possible moments?
    I fear on the last point – you may have left out some sandpaper skaters. Steve Pinizzotto, Sean Collins, Patrick Wellar, and Andrew Joudrey. Theoretically, the Bears have 8 sandpaper skaters. With Joe Finley just a recall away – you could say 9. Many Giant Center visitors in the regular season ask why so many – I never do see those same people back at the Giant Center in May or June to ask them if they still need that question answered…

    13 October, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  2. TAS wrote:

    I don’t miss Fedorov or his contract one bit. Goodness gracious.. you mean Semin and Morrison didn’t mesh well together when they didn’t even practice as a line the day of a game.

    13 October, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  3. Grunthos wrote:

    I think this is part and parcel of what Bruce was saying about “learning to win again”. At some point, some of the other players on this squad have to grow up, accept the responsibilities that Federov was carrying for them, and bear down every night to get the win. Sandpaper is an attitude as well as a skill.
    This opening segment of the season leads me to believe that the youthful Caps still haven’t realized just how much work a Stanley Cup requires. In that sense, they absolutely deserve the losses they are tallying, and ought to keep tasting the draughts of defeat until they learn to stop taking stupid penalties, pay attention to their defensive responsibilities, and never let up until the final horn sounds.
    As you mentioned before, they need to learn to approach the game like Detroit approaches the game.

    13 October, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  4. MulletMan wrote:

    Can someone please help me understand, why Semin was moved off the first line (which I agree with) for taking stupid pens yet he is now on the first PK unit? I think that is opening us up for 5-3 chances against…your thoughts?

    13 October, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  5. @mulletman: Semin wasn’t taken off the first line because of the penalties, he was taken off because he doesn’t get back on D and plays out of position too often.
    he’s on the PK because when he plays there he does a very good job of it, and generally plays much more controlled hockey when he’s asked to do so. BB putting defensive responsibility on him.
    just wish he’d learn that defensive responsibility is needed at 5-on-5 as well.

    13 October, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  6. Iafrate's Baldspot wrote:

    Sergei Fedorov missed 30 games last season; unless I’m forgetting, the PP didn’t fall to pieces due without No. 91 for more than an entire third of the season, did it? Tough to finish as the league’s No. 2 PP unit otherwise.
    Also, Sergei Fedorov wasn’t the most popular guy on the team last year until there were about 5 minutes left in Game 7 against NYR. He was a penalty machine, and we certainly don’t miss that.
    Sergei’s influence might very well be missed, but let’s not overstate his influence and/or totally overlook the future Hall-of-Famer’s considerable faults as last season wore on.

    13 October, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  7. Eric wrote:

    Sergei’s influence on Semin is all that I miss. He clearly coached him up and made him a more responsible player on the ice. The Caps obviously could not absorb Fedorov’s cap hit any longer. I’m starting to think they can no longer absorb the irresponsible and downright selfish play of Semin if they wish to be true Cup contenders. I don’t care how many times you can curl and drag on one shift if your next move if you don’t score is to take an offensive zone penalty. I wouldn’t mind seeing Semin involved in a deal for a true #1 goaltender or a shutdown defenseman that would really help this team make it to the proverbial next level.

    13 October, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink