A 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.